October 11, 2011

Archive Benefit Coming Up!

The Archive is pleased to announce a special one-night only benefit and preview of the Grateful Dead Archive, from 7 to 10 pm on November 5, at Dead Central, the exhibit room for the Archive in UC Santa Cruz's beautiful new McHenry Library.

Guests will enjoy great food and wine, live music, and a tantalizing preview of the Archive's treasures, focused around the poster art of the Grateful Dead.

Famed poster artist Stanley Mouse is our guest of honor, and we are honored to have been able to commission him to fully realize his delightful sketch "Writing Music," now created as a beautiful painting commemorating this exhibit. Guests will receive a signed, numbered copy of the poster of that painting, along with a delightful 225-page keepsake book that will help you remember the exhibit.

Tickets are on sale here (or paste this URL in your browser and follow the steps: http://events.ucsc.edu/attics).

We hope to see you there!

June 14, 2011

A Most Unusual Archivist

Usually this blog focuses on recent donations to the Archive, but the reprint of David Lemieux’s superb interview from Glide magazine (May 20) at Dead.net warrants mention here for several reasons. As anyone who reads David’s column or listens to his radio show knows, he is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and erudite of Deadheads—both a fan and a sharp-eyed (or eared) critic, and someone who leavens his enthusiasm and critical acumen with a healthy scholarly—and emotional—perspective.

That perspective, and the hard work that informs it, is one of the many fascinating facets of this interview. Every Deadhead who has marveled at the quality and caliber of a recent Road Trips or Vault recording will be interested to read what goes into each release.

And for professors or graduate students in archival studies interested in understanding how that profession’s training can inform other work, it is hard to imagine a more extraordinary job description for someone with an MLIS (David’s degree focused on film archiving, which was his first position with Grateful Dead Productions). Thanks to David for sharing his thoughts and describing his work.

April 27, 2011

Grateful Dead Archive Receives Vital Dick Latvala Materials

The Grateful Dead Archive is honored to announce the final accrual for the Dick Latvala Collection, a vital affiliated collection in the larger Grateful Dead Archive. Personally delivered to UC Santa Cruz’s McHenry Library by Latvala’s son Rich, this generous gift completes the Latvala Collection with a number of important recordings, many in Dick’s inimitably hand-decorated boxes, along with a cache of files.

Scholars and fans will be pleased to note that Deadheads often illustrated their letters to Dick, just as they did their missives to the band. While the Archive generally does not accept gifts of equipment, there was no question about the significance of the Technics reel-to-reel recorder that accompanied the bequest: This is the machine that Dick used to create his incomparable collection of reels, now housed with the Grateful Dead Archive. In keeping with Dick’s commitment to sonic perfection, it was maintained scrupulously, and arrived in pristine condition, like it had just rolled off the assembly line—except for the gold-toned Steal-Your-Face sticker, prominently mounted on the front.

Best known as the namesake of the famed recording series Dick’s Picks, Latvala (1943-1999) became an avowed fan in 1966, first seeing the Dead perform at the fabled Trips Festival held in San Francisco’s Longshoreman’s Hall that January. A longtime taper who attended more than 300 shows, he went to work for the band later and eventually was named the first Vault Archivist, a role that finally allowed him to midwife the series of live recordings bearing his name and much beloved by Deadheads to this day.

His centrality to the scene and the contribution he made the Grateful Dead phenomenon were as outsized as his ebullient personality, and his unwavering drive to care for the band’s recorded legacy made him one of the two dedicatees of Dennis McNally’s authorized band history, A Long Strange Trip, along with Jerry Garcia. As McNally said in an interview, “there’s God and His chief disciple … the dual dedication is very heartfelt. Garcia gave me my chance … And Dick was his great follower.” The Archive is most grateful to Rich and his mother Carol for this gift.

February 28, 2011

Native Funk and Flash

Alexandra Jacopetti. Native Funk & Flash: An Emerging Folk Art. With photographs by Jerry Wainwright. [San Francisco:] Scrimshaw Press, 1974. Softbound, 23 x 26 cm., 111 pp. Gift of Josh Alpert.

This delightful book was recently donated to the Grateful Dead Archive by a colleague who spotted it in a local used book store. It is a remarkable book, documenting a rich vein of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture that birthed the Grateful Dead and that they in turn did so much to nurture, shape, and carry on after the neighborhood’s demise. Its well-illustrated pages document textile art in the Haight-Ashbuy and throughout the broader hippie world in Northern California, focusing on embroidery, quilting, and clothing. Jacopetti’s story is an important entry in the literature on the Haight and its diaspora: married to well-known Haight habituĂ© Roland, later Ben, Jacopetti, she documents an important feature and legacy of the Haight, clothing art.

Though not a memoir, Jacopetti recounts some of her own experience in the Haight, mentioning the Trips Festival, watching Bill Graham “get the Fillmore together” (7), and spending time at famed hippie commune Morningstar Ranch. And most of the artists and works featured in the book have Haight-Ashbury connections, some notably so, such as Alton Kelley, Patti Towle, Lynne Hughes, Tom Donahue, Mari Tepper, and Ben Van Meter.

But the book does not celebrate the Haight’s elite: in classic hippie fashion, it celebrates the democratic urge toward decorative dress, documenting the art of transforming mass-produced clothing like blue jeans through embroidery, beadwork, and patchwork, making them personal and expressive; and carrying that instinct through waves of learning, practice, and study, culminating in exquisite mastery. That is one of one of the most difficult aspects of the Haight-Ashbury milieu to convey, and this book captures and expresses that attitude, philosophy, and continuum, directly and indirectly, often within a single paragraph:

There aren’t any patterns in this book because the patterns are all within, languishing and longing, like dreams, for expression. Don’t be daunted by lack of skill or technique; there are scores of books and several friends who can teach you French knots or chain stitch and, God knows, we’ve lost a lot of other skills since Grandma’s day. Many of the pieces here are amateurish by her standards, but do heed the message from within, and try to break through the channel of these visual images. (12)

The author’s selection of images is equally measured, with some pieces startling in their sophistication and achievement, others whimsical, a few crudely delightful.

Jacopetti’s text is as important as the pictures. Her description of her participation in the Haight’s craft movement reveals a thoughtful, educated reflection on the ideals, philosophy, and worldview that defined so many of the themes of the 1960s. And she describes her own development as an embroidery artist, demonstrating her sophistication in weaving, textiles, and fabric, an illustration of another often-overlooked aspect of the Haight, which was an old-fashioned drive for excellence. She discusses textile art and fabric construction precisely, but they never undercut the broader hippie ethos; when she explains denim’s construction, it is to provide a way of understanding its qualities as cloth lend itself to embroidery, moving easily from the technical details of her craft to its hippie embodiment:

The white weft threads were just showing through the faded surface warps—that nice denim depth of blue-on-white is achieved in just that way. Embroidering a fantasy flower on Roland’s elbow was discovering a new dimension in an old favorite. Denim holds a needle without fraying and pulling. (7)

Jacopetti has enough of the prankster to leaven the seriousness with humor, and even those asides can be significant. Next to a full page photograph of a beautifully embroidered swath of denim featuring a man, flying in a plume of smoke rising from a joint in an ashtray, she writes:

All those people who took acid in the sixties are ten years older now. I remember wondering what would happen when we got older and began to form our own culture, infiltrating the old one by ingenious drug-crazed peace-and-love tactics. (21)

But fundamentally, what Jacopetti’s book reminds readers is the degree to which the Haight-Ashbury’s mosaic of beliefs and expressions did combine to form a worldview that has much to commend it, and whose achievement can be measured in so many of its arts, not only the music and poster art but also the singular, the perishable, the folk.

Cultural historians will find a wealth of useful detail in the book. She is quick to acknowledge the influence of the hippie trail, noting that hippies would buy clothes and crafts abroad for resale; shots of hippie street vendors note that “Some stuff has been brought back from travels across the borders and the seas, but much of it is home-grown” (91). But the importance of those travels and experiences she makes plain at the outset of the book, writing:

Many of us have hungered for a cultural identity strong enough to produce our own versions of the native costumes of Afghanistan or Guatemala, for a community life rich enough for us to need our own totems comparable to African or Native American masks and ritual objects. (5)

That quintessentially American contradiction, that emblematic expression of the Haight’s democratic, yet elite, worldview, is what confounds so many critics; it is the core of the challenge underlying so much of the difficulty of assessing the Haight and the lingering image it etched on the retina of American history and culture.

Historians have bemoaned the difficulties of studying the counterculture, in part for the lack of good archives and scholarly library collections. Books like Native Funk and Flash are a reminder that these resources do exist; and more importantly, that a topic like the counterculture requires historians to adapt their skills to assay a brief, small press publication with the same kind of open-minded acuity that Robert Darnton called for in his landmark cultural history, The Great Cat Massacre, where he famously remarked, “We constantly need to be shaken out of a false sense of familiarity with the past, to be administered doses of culture shock. There is no better way, I believe, than to wander through archives” (4). Scholars of the 1960s, the counterculture, and the Dead need to expand their notion of archives to include the ephemeral, the uncollected, the obscure, just as the hippies of the Haight celebrated their own exploration of those forgotten cultural byways.

This may seem like a lot to hang on a slender, pretty book. But how we treat such texts is a fundamental expression of the work of a scholar or archivist. Where critics only saw dilettantism or even a kill-your-parents nihilism in the Haight’s appreciation for lost or hidden wisdom, there is at heart a powerful intellectual core to that stance. One of the defining aspects of the Haight was the belief that everyone could contribute something artistic, something individual, to the stew; as Mickey Hart remembers:

What I remember best about the Haight was the incredible feeling of creativity. Everybody was an artist, whether they had a craft that our culture would recognize as 'art' or not. Everybody was high with the spirit of adventurous exploration; everybody was busy becoming new. (Drumming at the Edge of Magic, 133)

While the bands and the poster artists are the most obvious artistic legacies of the Haight, what participants also remember is the dazzling array of arts and crafts that defined that foggy little neighborhood adjoining Golden Gate Park and energized its participants into making community. Jacopetti’s book is one of the rare documents of that broader ethos, and the Archive is most grateful to our colleague and friend, Librarian Josh Alper, for making this gift.