Are the Grateful Dead Really the Great American Band?

Categories: Only in SF
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Jay Blakesberg
The essence of America?

What is the Great American Band?

This was a question posed by esteemed rock writer Michael Azerrad over the past July 4th weekend.

After due consideration of Fugazi, R.E.M., the Replacements (whom we're obviously fond of/indebted to), and others, Azerrad settled on San Francisco's very own the Grateful Dead as The Great American Band. His reasoning:


If you're looking for a band that embodied the American spirit of individualism, who were popular from the '60s through the '90s, who nurtured a vast, multi-generational community around itself, a band that appealed to and drew from north and south, east and west, contained elements of American idioms like country, bluegrass, blues and folk, that not only reflected but affected the spirit of its time and its culture, a band that contributed many iconic songs to the rock lexicon, influenced musicians as disparate as Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews and Animal Collective, a band that appealed to beatniks, hippies and, yes, punks, and did it all on their own terms, well, it's hard to beat the Grateful Dead.
So I'm going to come right out and say it: the Grateful Dead were the Great American Band.

Now, as an avowed Deadhead and Haight street denizen, this sounds pretty solid to me. Also, it oughta put an extra spring in our step that a band from San Francisco -- which so many Americans believe is out of step with the rest of the country -- should represent the essence of America.

But as Azerrad points out, plenty of strong cases can be made for other bands, including the Ramones and the Beach Boys. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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