Precision, Confidence, and When The Dead Peaked

The other day I found this New York Times story, Bring Out Your Dead, about The Dead’s “resurrection” tour this Spring, and it both cracked me up and got me thinking.


I asked [a guy I’d met] when he thought the Dead reached its peak, game to try out a half-formed argument for 1975 or thereabouts.

“Well, I agree with the people who say it was May 8, 1977,” he said.

Take a minute to think of the different levels at which one could answer the question, when did The Grateful Dead peak?

  • By album (e.g., Workingman’s Dead)
  • By decade (e.g., the 1980s)
  • By song (e.g., Touch of Grey)
  • By era (e.g., the Pigpen era)
  • By keyboardist (e.g., the TC period)
  • By year (e.g., 1987)
  • By date (e.g., May 8, 1977)

Clearly the specificity with which you answer a question is some implicit sign of knowledge. Ask a layman the height of Mount Everest and you might get “about six miles.” Ask a mountaineer and you’ll get “29,029 feet.”

Sometimes other factors drive specificity. Ask my friend Jon Temple how long he worked at Business Objects and he’ll say “36 quarters.” I say “9 years.” The difference? Jon was in sales and I was in marketing. So specificity can also reflect mentality. (By the way, it’s my 20th quarter at Mark Logic.)

But I loved the Deadhead’s answer because it wasn’t just a precise date — which itself would have been astounding given the band’s 30 years of touring — it was a whole level beyond that:

  • Awareness of the existence of
  • A group of people who believe it was May 8, 1977
  • And concurrence with their opinion


The article goes on to discuss the Grateful Dead’s taping culture and its consequences, which I’ve long believed provides a forgotten roadmap for media companies in dealing with digitization.

One response to “Precision, Confidence, and When The Dead Peaked

  1. The Dead perfected using the tribe as a business model.How many shows did they sell without spending anything on marketing?(well not much more than a recording on a toll free line).The tapes were the entry point for most future Deadheads, and the show the entry point to the tribe. The challenge with this model was that to make it work, you need to make the experience (the show) unlike anything else in the world. If only we could get enterprise software to adopt this model….PS for me the Dead peaked when I finally say them perform at Autzen Stadium, August 22, 1993.

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