Whilst many of our younger readers may not have heard of The Grateful Dead’s music, there are probably a few that have heard of them because of the stars’ legendary and controversial antics.
This is certainly the case with the Grateful Dead, an American rock band of the 1960s, which was formed in San Francisco. Known for its unique and electric style, the Grateful Dead formed a strong threshold of followers, whose dedication towards the band earned them the name the “Deadheads”. (1)
The Grateful Dead’s roots lie primarily with the singer/songwriter of the band, Jerry Garcia. Garcia’s health and lifestyle remained under intense speculation in the world of the Grateful Dead, and in 1986 the rock star almost died from a diabetic coma. (2)
After years battling with heroin addiction, Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack in 1995 while staying at a drug rehabilitation facility in California.
The Grateful Dead and LSD
In the 1960s, particularly San Francisco’s famous ‘Summer of Love’, it was no secret that the FBI was concerned about the affects that such rock bands, associated with drugs and controversy, were having on America’s youth. The Grateful Dead, alongside Jefferson Airplane, were two such bands that the FBI seemed intent on persecuting.
In obtaining a once secret FBI file concerning San Francisco’s Summer of Love, AB7 News I-Team reported how John Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI of the United States had concerted great effort into exposing both bands’ apparent involvement with LSD.
For many years, critics accused Hoover and his ‘G-Men’ of using the FBI to, “harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods” (3)
According to the I-Team report, Jefferson Airplane’s lead singer, Grace Slick had told ABC7 News that she had no idea that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had been following her and snooping into her background, including her private school days. (4)
The released FBI file refers to both the Grateful Dead’s and Jefferson Airplane’s alleged involvement with LSD as being a potential “Internal security” threat from the “New Left”, stating that “LSD originated from San Francisco through a renowned rock group known as Grateful Dead.” (5)
Was the Grateful Dead in the Drug Business?
The notion that the Grateful Dead played a dominant role in the LSD movement in America in the 1960s and were having a negative effect on America’s youth culture of the time, has been referred to by some as being ‘ludicrous’ and that the FBI was involved in building a Grateful Dead Conspiracy.
As Dennis McNally, a Grateful Dead historian told the I-Team, “The notion that the Grateful Dead was in the drug business is just ludicrous.” (6)
A report published on APBNews.com in 1999, titled “Did They Spike FBI Agents’ Drinks With LSD”, spoke of how in the 1960s, when much of America was “awash with drug use”, rock bands that were associated with youth counterculture, such as the Grateful Dead, caught “much of the government’s attention”.
The report referred to Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady’s comments that whenever the band performed live, shadowy figures would appear in the audience.
“We would hear of it happening, people taking movies or people observing, writing notes, taking picture,” Casady told APB News. (7)
Whilst many band members and fans of rock bands like the Grateful Dead viewed the FBI’s attention towards them as some kind of conspiracy, according to a file titled “The Grateful Dead” that is currently available at The Vault section of the FBI website, the band was allegedly purchasing large quantities of LSD whilst residing in San Francisco. (8)
Whilst much of the information on the file has been blacked out by marker pen, the FBI report viewed the Grateful Dead’s alleged antics as a “dangerous drugs matter”, addressing the file’s attention to the “narcotics and dangerous drugs unit, organised crime”.
FBI Scrutiny Went Beyond Grateful Dead
The concluding sentence of the FBI’s ‘The Grateful Dead’ file, states:
“LSD originates from San Francisco, California through a renowned rock group known as Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead is well known to DEA, San Francisco.” (9)
The FBI’s scrutiny of well-known rock bands and stars, whose drug-infused antics caused much public and media attention, has never been kept a secret. John Lennon, for example, a perceived “threat” to the U.S. government, was also the subject of much FBI harassment.
In the 1970s, Lennon was convinced that government agents were watching him. Almost 20 years after the rock legend’s death, it turned out that Lennon’s ‘paranoia’ that he was being watched by the FBI was true, when an FBI document was finally released containing almost 300 pages containing Lennon-related text.
FBI and CIA Surveillance of the Grateful Dead, which was widely known for using drugs and attracting a drug-using audience at concerts, was substantially more acknowledged. FBI agents would openly appear at Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane gigs so often that there are accounts they sometimes had their drinks spiked with LSD.
As Paul Kantner, lead singer of Jefferson Airplane admitted:
“Our whole generation got away with stuff we really shouldn’t have gotten away with. We broke the laws daily.” (10)
In this sense, the FBI’s surveillance of the Grateful Dead in the 1960s and in subsequent years, far from being a ‘conspiracy’, may have actually been justified.