MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Grateful Dead fans all over the world are breathing a sigh of relief. They can once again easily download their favorite concert recordings. For decades the band encouraged fans to record concerts and trade tapes, but then the Internet made it easier for fans to share music. And recently the band asked one popular site to stop allowing fans to download concert recordings for free 'cause The Grateful Dead had started selling their own. Fans were outraged and so vocal about their anger that the band announced it's changed its mind. The band members said it's OK with them if downloading audience recordings continues.
Well, commentator Jake Halpern wonders if he is the only fan who's disappointed by this news. He thinks the Internet is the wrong place for Deadheads to be trading their bootlegs.
There are basically two types of people in the world, those who really love The Grateful Dead and everybody else. I know, a lot of people roll their eyes at the band's music, especially the live music, which is often ridiculed as nothing but sloppy, jangling, mind-bending fodder for druggies and leftover hippies. There are a lot of jokes about this, my favorite of which is: What did The Grateful Dead fan say when his acid wore off? Man, this band really sucks.
As far as I'm concerned, however, the live music is what makes the band so good. I've never had any interest in buying a Grateful Dead CD that was recorded in the studio. I go for the bootlegs, the grainy, warped, tinny-sounding recordings that various fans have made at concerts over the years. You know what I'm talking about. You've heard the stuff oozing down the hall of a college dorm or out the back window of a rusting 1960s VW van. Maybe, if you were lucky, you heard a bootleg of a really great concert like Halloween night, 1980, at Radio City Music Hall or perhaps March 22nd, 1990, at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, or best of all, Cornell '77.
Historically, the thing about these bootlegs is that they were hard to come by. You couldn't order them. You couldn't find them at a record store. And you certainly couldn't download them. You simply had to stumble upon them. I remember when I first found Cornell '77. It was so random. A neighbor of ours, a family doctor named David Silverstein who was my parents' age, had a bootleg of the show. As it turns out, Dr. Silverstein had gone to college at Cornell during the 1970s and through a friend of a friend of a friend or something like that, he got a copy of the show. And I? I'd struck pay dirt. It was like being in Soviet Russia and coming upon an underground copy of George Orwell's "1984," and that right there has always been the beauty of being a Grateful Dead fan. You had to find the truly good shows, and when you did, there was a sense of connection, not just to the fan who gave you the bootleg, but to the actual show itself. I knew that through Dr. Silverstein I was just a few degrees of separation away from that bleary-eyed headband-wearing fan who in 1977 put his little recorder near the stage where it all happened. Just gives you the goose bumps, doesn't it?
I think what everyone has forgotten is that it was never just the music that made The Grateful Dead so cool. It was the experience of finding guys like Dr. Silverstein and chatting with him in his living room and hearing about concerts that he attended when I was still in diapers. That's what made it so cool. And in our haste to have it all and have it all at once, we've lost something that can't be regained.
BLOCK: Jake Halpern is author of the book "Braving Home."
ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.