Dead to Rise
at Opening of Interactive Museum

by Steve Silberman 
5:01am  23.Sep.97.PDT 

The surviving members of the
Grateful Dead will play their first official reunion
concert since the 1995 death of Jerry Garcia on
New Year's Eve 1999, Wired News has learned.
The reunion, to be held at an unspecified location
in the San Francisco Bay Area, will celebrate the
opening of Terrapin Station, an interactive
multimedia venue that will attempt to recreate the
experience of a Dead show in all its multi-sensory
richness by using state-of-the-art digital sound and
lighting. 

Combining a holographically-enhanced dance
hall-in-the-round called "The Wheel," a
live-performances venue to be christened "the
Jerry Garcia Theater," an archive of recordings
with custom CDs available on demand, and a
research center for scholars of the experimental
music tradition, Terrapin Station is aiming be
much more than a walk-through tribute to the
Dead's 30-year history. 

Calling Terrapin Station "equal parts interactive
museum, sensory playground, and social/cultural
laboratory," Gary Lambert, editor of the band's
official newsletter, The Grateful Dead Almanac,
describes the planned facility as "a circus of the
synapses, evoking the most dazzling sounds,
sights, and paramusical phenomena of a Grateful
Dead concert ... a continuation and extension ...
of an ongoing experiment in peaceful public
assemblage, and a safe haven for free and
spontaneous expression." 

"We want to build a place where Deadheads can
feel something of the community and freedom and
abandon of Grateful Dead shows," former Dead
bassist Phil Lesh explains. 

Hip enough? 

"To me there's something slightly unsettling about
the notion of a Grateful Dead museum,'" observes
Blair Jackson, author of the upcoming biography
Garcia: An American Life. "The Dead were always
so conscious of not standing still long enough to
become museum pieces themselves, as
happened with so many of their musical
contemporaries." 

Jackson allows that "if Phil and the others involved
in this project are hip enough, they can make
Terrapin Station much more than a dusty shrine
showing off the ossified remains of the
once-glorious Grateful Dead scene. What it will
take is thinking hard about what the essence of
Dead experience was, figuring out ways to
translate that into audio-visual terms in creative,
non-static ways, and above all, making a
commitment to interactivity, because that was so
much at the core of the whole thing." 

Interactivity will be the guiding principle of Terrapin
Station as an extension of the "creative exchange
of energy between the band and its fans - past,
present, and future," says Cathy Simon, the
director of architecture at Simon Martin-Vegue
Winkelstein Moris, the San Francisco firm that
designed the city's new main library, and interiors
for Apple and the Bank of America. 

"It will not be a theme park, but a living, breathing
place that is centered on their music... and the
openness to experiment that is what San
Francisco is about," Simon declares. 

Exhibits at the site will change and evolve
continually, says Simon, in keeping with the
Dead's commitment to "the capability of
transformation" via music. There will be displays of
fan art, including the thousands of elaborately
illuminated envelopes sent to the Dead's
mail-order ticketing service. A room called "Eyes
of the World" will feature multimedia recreations of
celebrated venues from the Dead's 30-year career,
from the Victorian dance halls of the electric
Kool-Aid era to the Great Pyramid, where the band
jammed with Egyptian musicians during a lunar
eclipse in 1978. 

The exhibits will be made even more intimately
interactive, Lesh says, by a plan to offer Terrapin
Station memberships that include participation in
a database that will siphon images to the site's
displays. "If you're a member, you'll swipe your
card at the door, and when you enter The Wheel,
you'll see yourself as part of the visuals," Lesh
says. 

As part of the effort to recreate the experience of a
Dead concert in every Proustian particular, visitors
will enter the building via "the Parking Lot,"
complete with virtual weather projected on the
ceiling, and "tofu dogs and hacky sacks" for sale
under the fractal sky, says Lesh. In another room,
Deadheads will be encouraged to join an ongoing
drum circle that will be piped to a rooftop garden
for dancing. In a room called "The Music Never
Stopped," digital recordings of many of the band's
3,000 performances will be available on demand
as custom CDs. 

To raise the estimated US$2 million necessary to
undertake the ambitious high-tech project, the
Dead are releasing a collector's-edition three-CD
set this week called The Terrapin Limited, a live
recording, limited to 25,000 copies, that will only
be available via phone order and on the Terrapin
Web page at the band's official site, dead.net. 

Recorded on Lesh's 50th birthday at a concert in
Landover, Maryland, on 15 March 1990, the set
features artwork by Alton Kelley and Stanley
Mouse, the San Francisco poster artists who
crafted much of the band's distinctive
skull-and-roses iconography. The unedited
performance includes an extended musing on
"Terrapin Station" - a song by Garcia and lyricist
Robert Hunter that Lesh compares to "one of
those spooky, weird pieces of Americana that
Greil Marcus writes about in Invisible Republic" -
as well as a rarely played encore, a cover of the
Beatles' "Revolution." 

In addition to housing the Dead's own extensive
archives of music, artifacts, and instruments,
Terrapin Station will be home to two other
collections of significant historical interest: the
Center for the Preservation of Music Culture
(formerly the Bay Area Music Archives), and the
Musician's Reference Library - a collection of
extremely rare 78s, sheet music, books, and films
documenting the development of jazz, gospel,
ragtime, R&B, and rock and roll from the earliest
days of recording on cylinders. The recordings in
the Musician's Reference Library alone, amassed
by Santa Cruz vinyl enthusiast Glenn Howard,
have already made an impact on the current pop
scene, informing the innovations of such
roots-aware musicians as Beck and Mike Gordon
of Phish, as well as Garcia. 

A place to gather

News of the project and the reunion concert
should be welcomed by Deadheads, who have had
a hard time maintaining the kind of communal
Úsprit that flourished - both at shows and online -
when the Dead were playing 70 to 80 shows a
year. 

David Gans, host of the nationally syndicated
radio show The Grateful Dead Hour, observes that
"Deadheads still love to get together and dance,"
but says that since the band called it quits in the
wake of Garcia's death, "we've been at a loss.
Since we lost our principal excuse for gathering,
the community has fragmented and atomized for a
number of complex reasons." Gans is involved in
another, grass-roots attempt to give the homesick
Deadhead community a haven in the Bay Area -
the Deadhead Community Center, at a club called
the Ashkenaz in Berkeley. 

Even the online Deadhead world is feeling the
strain of keeping the virtual fires burning without
seasonal infusions of real-world fuel. Daily traffic in
the newsgroup rec.music.gdead has fallen to half
of what it was before Garcia died, and in the
absence of "show reports" from the road, the
celebrated Grateful Dead conferences on The Well
have been roiled by testy flame wars in recent
months. 

"The community needs a place to gather so they
can continue feeling as connected to one another
as they did on tour," Lesh observes. 

Both Lesh and lyricist Hunter have embraced the
Net as a way to keep feedback channels open to
the band's fans since Garcia's death. 

A Web enthusiast when he first logged on, Lesh
still enjoys an occasional foray into the ether.
"Trying to figure out where you are on the Web is
like trying to keep yourself coherent after you've
smoked a doob," he says. "It's like, 'This is cool -
but how did I get here?' At least least on the Web, you
have your browser history."