Foreword by Bill Walton

Words alone can never do justice to what is the Grateful Dead. In the all-encompassing sensations that consume us, never discount the power of the visual and sensual aspects of our dreams to convey our undying love, admiration, respect, appreciation, gratitude, and need to belong.

The world of the Grateful Dead is one of hope, joy, opportunity, celebration, pride, loyalty, curiosity, exploration, experimentation, peace, and love. These powerful and hard-driving emotions are often sadly tempered by the cold, hard realities of life. None harsher or starker than “How do I get in to the next show?”

The Grateful Dead have always inspired incredibly intense response and activation from the legions of participants in the life and times of this remarkable band of warriors from the Golden State.

Of all the countless factors that compose the Grateful Dead universe, interaction would have to be right up there at the top of the smoking crater of what makes being a part of all this so very special. Clearly we could not get what we want as fans without them. And the band certainly reached levels that they could never get to on their own because of us.

Paul Grushkin is a Dead Head of the highest order. He’s been living the dream for so long now that one might say that the greatest story ever told is really his own personal biography. And now his latest masterpiece, Dead Letters, takes us back to another time and forgotten space. A place where we find out that everything that we dreamed, lived, and believed in really did happen—only on such a grand scale and scope that we end up asking ourselves, “Were we ever there at all?”

Dead Letters is the documentary evidence that it did and we were.

The Grateful Dead touch everything that really matters in our individual lives: art, history, music, education, information, communication, love, health, and family. Being part of this special team is truly life at its fullest and finest.

Dead Letters captures this spirit, drive, and desire perfectly with its collection of replicated documents, artifacts, and memorabilia that exquisitely chronicle not only the creative juice and force that is the supplication of our need to be on the bus and in the game, but also the never-ending struggle of getting a ticket to ride.

When something as important in your life becomes amazingly popular with others later on down the line, it’s always difficult to comprehend the magnitude of what was at all times so clear, easy, and natural for you. Things changed over time in the world of the Grateful Dead, maybe nothing as drastic for the ever-growing numbers of communicants as the difficulty in obtaining admission to the ceremonies.

From the early party days at Olompali to the free shows in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park to the ends of so many roads where finally there were so many countless thousands of people who showed up with absolutely no chance of ever getting in, the dream lived on—the dream that you were going to be able to play in the game of life that day with the Grateful Dead.

As the soaring flight began with the charge “Dead Freaks Unite” that came with “Skull & Roses” in 1971 and the request to “send us your stuff” amid the proclamation that “we’ll keep you informed,” nobody had any idea what the last station on this line might be. In those innocent days of infancy it was Mary Ann Mayer handling the mail that started as a trickle but soon swelled to a spring flood runoff that required the help that showed up in the angelic grace and classic beauty of Eileen Law.

From that early pairing came the first Grateful Dead newsletter and the Hotline, with Eileen’s calm, reassuring, closing tone and tune, “Thank you, and stay in touch.”

Ticket sales then were “at the door,” through Ticketmaster, or at the local record stores.

But with the ever-growing and changing demographics of the audience, Eileen and Mary Ann could soon barely keep up with the mail that flowed to P.O. Box 1065, San Rafael, California, as they steadily built the proudly confidential and ever-important mailing list.

As with all things Grateful Dead, inspiration moves us brightly. So it was in the early 1980s that Danny Rifkin, as true a saint of circumstance that has ever lived, came up with yet another totally unique vision of the band staying pure to its mission of being wholly self contained. This dream conjured the Grateful Dead selling their own concert tickets through their newly created entity, GDTS—Grateful Dead Ticket Sales.

One of the many powerful mantras of the Grateful Dead over the years has been, “We do what we want.” And one of the real benefits of being in the Grateful Dead was that you got to hire your friends and family members for what turned out to be not only the coolest of jobs but the most important ones as well.

When Danny Rifkin, Rock Scully, and Alan Trist were sifting through the dizzying numbers of applicants for the head of the GDTS force, and with the fate of the known world in the balance, in walked the recently unemployed Steven Marcus. Steven was and is a Dead Head. Steven desperately wanted and needed this dream job, but the process and interviews were tangibly difficult and painful. Steven was thinking to himself that it wasn’t that long ago that he was completely shut out of his own miracle ticket, sitting and fretting in the parking lot on October 10, 1982, at the Dead show at Frost Amphitheatre at Stanford University—unable to even get in the gate. And now here he was interviewing for the job that would put him in charge of all the tickets.

When the inevitable question came to Steven about what happened with his last job and why he didn’t have one now, he shyly responded that he had been fired from his previous job as an assistant to a concert promoter because he was regularly complaining about the overselling of the house. Danny, Rock, and Alan immediately pounced on that and barked in unison, “YOU’RE HIRED.”

And so it all began. What started as a day-to-day existence for Marcus that Rifkin figured might last six weeks just kept rolling away and ultimately became just like the music itself—it never stopped.

There was no advertising for any of this, just word of mouth and the Grateful Dead Hotline. At the beginning of GDTS in March of 1983—literally a dawn of its own new era of communication—things started slowly. The first “office space” was Billy Grillo’s cool apartment next to the Front Street studios and clubhouse. Steven was eventually joined by Calico and Frankie Accardi as the volume swelled. While they worked, they could hear the band rehearse through the walls. They stored everything in The Vault next to all the treasured racks of the recorded music.

Momentum started to build rather quickly, and it was tough to decide whether everything was getting better and better or worse and worse.

Shows and tours were announced on the Grateful Dead Hotline, generally a couple of months in advance. When the 1983 New Year’s Eve show was announced, Steven, Calico, and Frankie were overwhelmed, as if standing before the flood. There were more than 40,000 requests for the 9,000 tickets available for the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. The dream had come true. Figuring that this phenomenon had legs and was built to last, the decision was made to go for some real space, so GDTS moved into the upstairs unit above Camille’s Travel Agency across the street from the Grateful Dead offices at 5th and Lincoln in San Rafael. Despite the fact that the number was never publicized, the phone never stopped ringing.

Grateful Dead Ticket Sales only had access to about a third of the total number of available tickets. The number of tickets sold over the years grew at a phenomenal rate. From more than 24,000 in the first year (1983), which really spanned only about six months, to being on pace to far surpass 700,000 in the last year before everything changed forever in August of 1995.

The challenge for all fans became how to distinguish yourself so that you became one of the chosen few from the tsunami of requests. Typically for a show that might have 15,000 seats, more than 60,000 requests would show up at the door.

Dead Letters, which opens with a letter from the Dead, is the story of shining the light on why you should make the cut and be allowed to play. Grushkin creatively begins with a copy of a beautifully handwritten, three-page explanation of a lot of things by Jerry Garcia. It’s a personal response to an inquisitive fan letter from Craig Corwin in Fair Oaks, California, sent to the band in January 1967. The return address on Jerry’s plain, white envelope simply says, THE DEAD. Its closing reads “Gratefully, Jerry Garcia (Cap’n Trips).”

And then the show and ride take off on a cultural, historic, and artistic time machine road trip through the galaxies as only Grushkin can orchestrate and navigate.

Eileen, Nancy Kaplan, and Diane Geoppo, along with Steve, Calico, Frankie, Joanne, and Carol at GDTS, saved the best of the best of the generous offerings that came to the Grateful Dead in meticulous and chronological order, carefully protected in cardboard boxes at first and then ultimately in filing cabinets.

Today, there are more than 15,000 of these preserved envelopes that are decorated, painted, inscribed, and drawn, out of the countless millions that were submitted in search of the ever elusive miracle ticket. Those 15,000 select gems are currently stored in the Grateful Dead Archive, safe and secure in the libraries at University of California, Santa Cruz where Grushkin had unfettered access for this current work of genius. The artwork on the envelopes is incredible. With staggering imagination and creativity, the Dead Heads have interpreted the life and times of their heroes, songs, and friends. Page after page of the most remarkable art, in conjunction with Grushkin’s painstakingly researched text, takes even the most experienced travelers to unimagined and previously unknown and unreachable destinations and elevations.

As you ponder the beauty, the hard work, the effort, the precision, the accuracy, the spirit, the time, the love, the desire, the interpretation, and everything else that has gone into all of this, never forget what was at stake. Was a complete stranger, a full-on Dead Head, who couldn’t be fooled or tricked, who had seen so much, who was right in the middle of it all, going to notice you—and then make your dream come true?

And all of this art is done completely by hand. No computers, no technology, no ability to go back for a makeover. And all on Dead line and time. One time, one chance, and everything—all driven by sheer panic—all having to be better than perfect.

A good thing in and for the process was that all the people making the decisions were Dead Heads themselves; and they all had had their own personal nightmares of just how tough it was to get these cherished tickets. So when the Dead Heads would interpret the songs, the logos, the commercial art, the album covers, and anything and everything else to try to honor and appease the ticket gods, there was always the sense of myth and mysticism that accompanied their symbolic pleas.

The animals, nature, the storylines and storyboards, the figurines, the hieroglyphics, the serpents, the skeletons, skulls and roses, the sacred scrolls and language, the subliminal messages—they’re all here, all with the Grateful Dead as the center of the universe. The way it should be. The way it is.

The freeform, collagist art that took creative, playful license in rearranging in mash-up style the vivid imagery of the Grateful Dead is not professional in that it was not done for silver. No, it’s better than that, because it’s done for life—the life that could only be had by getting a ticket into the show.

This in no way diminishes the spectacular quality of these one-time pieces of art—one-time in that there was never the slightest chance of any of it ever coming back.

Imagine what the postman thought as he would deliver truckloads of this stuff every day.
There was even discussion that it might be best to wear gloves in handling some of these precious jewels.

The band members themselves were very aware of all this. Marcus and his team would regularly post the best of the recent crop on The Wall, a 20 x 10-foot display museum board in his office. Grushkin has this photographic evidence as well. The guys would come by GDTS for a dose of inspiration and affirmation. It gave them a reason to believe in everything they were doing, including the special ability to see beauty in a sad world. Both sides of this master equation were fully aware of how much the fans drove everything and how meaningful all the feedback was.

The best part of it all—besides that it was saved for us today—was that it worked.
When you witness the magic of Dead Letters, your awestruck reaction will undoubtedly be the same as the people who first saw it decades ago.

“How can we not let these people in?”

The fans’ reward for showing and sharing their heart was their ticket. This is your entry to the Promised Land.

Dream on, and enjoy the ride.
Dead Letters is essentially a love story—letters and all.

It’s also living history that the eternal flame from the stage has now spread to the floor.
And for those of us who are Dead to the core, we know our love will be forever more.