Dead, Schmed

So what's with all these Jewish Deadheads? Doug Gertner has a theory or two.

A gerontologist by training, Adams made her reputation among Grateful Dead fanciers when she assigned students to go on tour with the Dead for three weeks in order to gather information for papers on Deadhead subculture. "That got a lot of publicity," Adams recalls. "Jerry offered to read the papers after the class, and he met with me right after the class was over. That kind of made me famous."

At present, Adams, who's not Jewish, is involved in researching a book tentatively called Deadheads: Community, Spirituality and Friendship. She's corresponded with Gertner about his ideas and sees both virtues and weaknesses in them.

"I've explained the predominance of Jews among Deadheads in terms of cultural compatibility rather than rebellion against Jewish culture, which is part of Doug's theoretical explanation," she says. "I see the Deadhead culture as a comfortable place for Jewish people to be. The commonalities are that they are both ritualistic, they're both spiritual and they're both very analytical and intellectual--and that's an area where other religions don't necessarily have the same commonality. Deadheads tried to analyze the structure of the shows so they could predict what would happen next. And they've been so supportive of my research. It's like I've got a thousand research assistants, because Deadheads are very analytical about their own lives. And that's a characteristic of Judaism--to study itself."

Leora Lawton is certainly an example of this characteristic. A New Jersey-based sociologist and demographer who describes herself as "an Orthodox Jewish Deadhead," she at one time proposed a full-blown study of the Deadhead universe but couldn't secure funding to complete it. Lawton, who's also been in contact with Gertner, is more critical of his views than Adams is.

"I told him that I don't agree with his assimilation hypothesis," Lawton says. "There may be something about the Dead that attracts Jews, but he never presented much evidence to me. Are Jews more proportionally attracted to the Dead than non-Jews? I don't know." In her opinion, Gertner's notions "sounded more like interesting journalism to me, which is fine. In terms of it being scientific, I just haven't seen the data. But I think Deadheads definitely represent a subculture that may be generalizable to other subcultures in terms of understanding their attractions."

The Gertner talk has proved attractive as well; representatives at the Jewish Community Center are surprised at the interest it's generated thus far. Gertner, meanwhile, plans to give those who wish to listen extra value for their time: Hal Aqua, a friend of Gertner's, is scheduled to sing "Ripple," a track from the Dead album American Beauty.

"There's an old type of Jewish music called a niggun," Gertner remarks. "It's a wordless melody that's used to invoke emotion and calls us to God's presence. And 'Ripple' ends with a 'la-dee-dee-dee-die' section that we're really going to draw out in order to emphasize that that song could be considered a niggun. Also, we may have a drum circle. It'll be a little Jewish Deadhead hootenanny.

"I don't want anyone to think that I'm deadly serious about this. I just want to say to people, 'What do you think of this?'" But, he adds, "I am consulting my rabbi.

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