Joseph Campbell and the Grateful Dead
“The Deadheads are doing the dance of life and this I would say, is the answer to the atom bomb.”
“I had a marvelous experience two nights ago. I was invited to a rock concert. (laughter in the audience) I’d never seen one. This was a big hall in Berkeley and the rock group were the Grateful Dead, whose name, by the way, is from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. And these are very sophisticated boys. This was news to me.
Rock Music has never seemed that interesting to me. It’s very simple and the beat is the same old thing. But when you see a room with 8,000 young people for five hours going through it to the beat of these boys… The genius of these musicians- these three guitars and two wild drummers in the back… The central guitar, Bob Weir, just controls this crowd and when you see 8,000 kids all going up in the air together… Listen, this is powerful stuff! And what is it? The first thing I thought of was the Dionysian festivals, of course. This energy and these terrific instruments with electric things that zoom in… This is more than music. It turns something on in here (the heart). And what it turns on is life energy. This is Dionysus talking through these kids. Now I’ve seen similar manifestations, but nothing as innocent as what I saw with this bunch. This was sheer innocence. And when the great beam of light would go over the crowd you’d see these marvelous young faces in sheer rapture- for five hours! Packed together like sardines! Eight thousand of them! Then there was an opening in the back with a series of panel windows and you look out and there’s a whole bunch in another hall, dancing crazy. This is a wonderful fervent loss of self in the larger self of a homogeneous community. This is what it is all about!
It reminded me of Russian Easter. Down in New York we have a big Russian Cathedral. You go there on Russian Easter at midnight and you hear Kristos anesti! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! It’s almost as good as a rock concert. (laughter) It has the same kind of life feel. When I was in Mexico City at the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe, there it was again. In India, in Puri, at the temple of the Jagannath- that means the lord of the Moving World- the same damn thing again. It doesn’t matter what the name of the God is, or whether its a rock group or a clergy. It’s somehow hitting that chord of realization of the unity of God in you all, that’s a terrific thing and it just blows the rest away.” —Joseph Campbell (1986)
“The next great, proud moment was when Mickey Hart and Bob Weir come along and tell me I’ve helped them. Well, I never — the rock music never appealed to me at all. It was largely monotonous, it seemed to me. Then they invited Jean [his wife] and me to an event in Oakland that just became a dance revelation. I got something there that made me note that this is magic. And it’s magic for the future. . .
They hit a level of humanity that makes everybody at one with each other. It doesn’t matter about this race thing, this age thing, I mean, everything else dropped out. The wonderful thing was, compared to the Hitler rallies that you see in the film that were used to a political purpose, here it was just the experience of the identity of everybody with everybody else.
I was carried away in a rapture. And so i am a Deadhead now…” —Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey
” …it seemed to me we had the kind of awakening that the great religions first intended, and that somehow it involved everybody. There were kids there. There were old people there, and in other parts of the building there were people just dancing and dancing… we had a chance to awaken our hearts, unbound by any particular cultural or religious commitments to this group or that. It seemed to me, and I’m meaning this very seriously, a prime religious experience that transcended all the bondages and definitions of who and what we are that are the curse of the world today. This, I would say, is the answer to the atom bomb.” —Joseph Campbell speaking about watching Deadheads at a Grateful Dead Show