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DVD Review: Dawn Of The Dead: The Grateful Dead and the Rise of the San Francisco Underground

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In the 1960s, many of us thought we were going to change everything about our culture. And we did.

One of the main things we changed forever was music. The Grateful Dead were a large part of that as were other groups from San Francisco like Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Charlatans, and Jefferson Airplane.

San Francisco was the center of the hippie scene and the emerging political activism of the late ’60s. The scene and the music were bound up with the use of psychedelic drugs. It was entirely new and bursting, in those early days, with optimism and creativity.

Dawn of the Dead explores the music and the culture it represented mainly through the story of the Grateful Dead. Through their connections to the community, the DVD also explores such iconic figures of the time as Bill Graham and Ken Kesey. It also covers events like Altamont, with a completely different version of what happened there than I was aware of before.

The DVD is smartly timed, alternating performance footage with interviews and vintage footage to keep things moving along.

The interviews are fascinating, with vintage stories from Jerry Garcia and contemporary commentary from Dead manager Rock Scully, publicist Dennis McNally, and journalists Robert Christgau, Ritchie Unterberger, and Anthony DeCurtis. Musicians represented include Mike Wilhelm of The Charlatans and Peter Albin of Big Brother and The Holding Company. In addition, the Ken Kesey connection is covered by Merry Prankster Ken Babs.

This is a documentary as entertaining as it is informative. The stories are riveting and the performances remind us of why we have loved the Dead all these years.

Dawn of the Dead will be of interest not only to Deadheads but to anyone who is interested in the history of America in the ’60s and of pop music in general.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.