The Deadhead Demographic

In conjunction with the “Fare Thee Well” 50th anniversary tour of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, an actual Mellman Group poll has been released looking at the band’s image and base of fan support. It’s not at all big news that the core Deadhead Demographic skews older and wealthier and whiter than average, though I was a bit surprised to learn that 35-44 year-olds–people whose musical tastes were formed in the 1980s and 1990s–are as likely to know and love the Dead as their Boomer elders.

But the headline we’ll probably be seeing about this poll is this one:

[A]mong partisan subgroups, the greatest intensity of favorable feeling for the Grateful Dead is found among independent-leaning Republicans.

At Bloomberg Politics, William Leitch doesn’t find that especially startling:

[W]hat about these rich Republicans who love them? Well, there’s a lot to love. The Dead songs were never overtly political—they were never overtly anything—so this isn’t like Paul Ryan loving Rage Against the Machine or Chris Christie’s constant unrequited love notes to Bruce Springsteen. The Dead’s songs, if anything, are about freedom, and whether you see that as the freedom of being young and untethered to traditional song composition or as the freedom of being released from Big Government, well, that’s entirely up to you.

Leitch also notes there’s a robust Grateful Dead following among Millennials:

The Dead’s youth wing makes sense, of course: The whole Grateful Dead ethos is about living freely and avoiding responsibility, something These Kids Today are excellent at. (If just because we don’t have jobs for them.) And the Dead represent that even more today than they did 50 years ago. Today’s generation didn’t live through the culture battles of the Baby Boomers and don’t have to associate the band with anything other than a good time. For them, they’re just forerunners of Phish, or Widespread Panic, or Umphrey’s McGee, or any of the other Jam Bands whose 15-minute-long noodling sessions are more about unshaped, aimless partying—the point of being young.

I’ve always liked the Dead just fine, but have never even attended one of their concerts, and so cannot really second-guess Leitch’s snarky judgments. I’ll defer for further comment to WaMo’s resident Deadhead, Martin Longman.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.