We talked about The Brotherhood starting the 60s, and Rainbow family in the 70s. Then, in the 80s, we saw the emergence of another crew: GDF. Grateful Dead Family. GDF is an anarchistic group with tribal elders, more like Rainbow Family than The Brotherhood. Arguably the original, and most famous, members were The Wrecking Crew, Fast Eddy and his friends. (See my post about Fast Eddy and the WC.) I would say the most famous facet of the GDF crew is the LSD thumbprinting initiation ritual.
Normally, I wouldnt even talk about this, but, apparently someone wrote a book about the scene last year. Its called ‘Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America,’ and it was written by Jesse Jarnow. (Haha what a name, “jar… now! lol). You can buy it on Amazon. Everything in here you can find there, so its all public knowledge now.
So, who is the Grateful Dead Family?
In today’s scene, there are always people who claim to represent the Grateful Dead Family. Just go to any jamband festival and you’ll meet half a dozen of them in the parking lot alone. But the GDF are not a unified group, rather one of the many cliques in an increasingly anarchistic tapestry of crews.
Very little has been written about the story of LSD and it’s role in the Grateful Dead culture, post-1970’s (after LSD was illegalized, see my post about Psychotropic Substances Act of 1971). Enter Jesse Jarnow’s new book, Heads, published in the winter of 2016. Relying on a great deal of research and interviews with various acid chemists and high-level suppliers, he was able to tap into the spine (har har) of the connection between the Grateful Dead and LSD.
According to Jarnow, and others (like SWIM, but I’ll get to him later), Grateful Dead concerts were the country’s primary network for LSD distribution up until the 1990s. The book does not directly address the legend of the GDF and the thumbprint, but Jarnow was gracious enough to clarify in later publications (so people like me don’t have to sound like we are making this shit up!).
The LSD network surrounding the Grateful Dead existed as a part of the larger subculture of the band and their fans. For three decades, the band toured relentlessly, playing a different set of songs each night. Dedicated heads would travel across the country, to attend every single show. An ecosystem evolved around the concerts. Pre- and post-show tailgating evolved into a carnival bazaar of VW buses, drum circles, tie-dye, and the occasional naked dude running around yelling about God. To pay for the journey, many people sold simple foods and beer as well as home-made T-shirts and artwork decorated with Grateful Dead-themed iconography (or acid…). (We call it “the lot.”)
The scene was colorful, wild and weird. In addition to countless teenagers and college students making the trip as a coming-of-age adventure, Grateful Dead shows served as a magnet for the country’s fringes. It was in this swirling marketplace and social scene that the LSD dealers flourished.
When the Grateful Dead went to Iowa, LSD would show up in Iowa. I used to think acid has seasonal when I was a kid. Now I know it was just the ebb and flow of the GD tour… but in fact, it was that high-level and low-level dealers went on tour, following the band just like thousands of other Deadheads. At any given Dead show, you could easily buy individual hits as well as sheets of acid (one hundred hits per sheet). Those in the know might even acquire grams of raw crystal — powdered LSD straight from the lab (one gram equaling ten thousand doses at standard dilution rates).
Dead shows also served as a meeting point for all kind of dealers. In a lot of cases, Dead shows were the social network for distribution that would happen through other channels, like the mail.
It was just a bunch of people doing this in kind of a loose configuration, informally connected in this sort of holistic way. The process was cell-like, with fluid cliques of people moving in and around each other, and around Grateful Dead concerts, just like with The Brotherhood. Sometimes the dealing process was so decentralized as to be nearly anonymous. The biggest dealer sometimes didn’t even know the real names of the people they bought crystal from (see my post about the Brotherhood for details on Triage method.)
That was part of the anarchistic structure that kept these scene alive. It’s hard to call them rules, but it there are certain practices that GDF engaged in — one of which is using Earth Names so you dont even know the names of the people above you, for example. This degree of anonymity worked to protect the chain of dealers. It’s hard to get busted when no one knows your name!
Mega-doses, or what you might call a thumbprint, were in fact another loose practice. For those with surplus supply, dipping a finger — a thumb even! — into a bag of raw crystal was not uncommon. Amazingly, a few dealer cliques were not content with merely eating raw crystal, preferring to snort it instead. But as for a formal thumbprint initiation, it’s not common. I had to do it (see my post about this a few months ago), but when I did it, the gram was compressed and so (basically) nothing got on my thumb and it didn’t even have an effect. (Key point, make them lick their finger first…).
Jarnow even explained ergotamine tartrate. (ET phone home!)
“There was this group of very secretive people who were able to acquire the precursor, mostly in Europe, but by the 1990s there was just this one guy left.” (Yikes! Not supposed to say that broham…)
He goes on to say that this lone ET supplier was responsible for the ‘acid drought’ of the early 21st century.’ (Not Pickard’s bust in 2000… seems dubious). Regardless, he links “well-documented acid drought” to the Grateful Dead LSD ecosystem. No argument there…
There is still invariably LSD available at GD shows, no one debates that, but he contends the heady days of yonder are gone, with Jamband concerts now one of many public gatherings where LSD can be found. Burning Man, electronic dance music, and the festival circuit — not to mention the proliferation of Internet-based drug sales on the Dark Web — make for even more decentralization.