Monday, Nov. 01, 2010

The Grateful Dead Skull

The Grateful Dead was never just a band. It was a way of life. To become a deadhead was to adopt a persona, which often meant the consumption of a psychotropic substance or two and an embrace of an aesthetic symbolized by the psychedelic skull. When the group formed in 1965, the Dead provided an American alternative to the overpolished and squeaky-clean Beatlemania still captivating the world. The Beatles, of course, would eventually come around in agreement. But it was the Dead, among other acts, who set the tone for the let-it-all-loose rebellion of the '60s. Could there be a better insignia than a tie-dyed skull to celebrate the revenge of the turned on, tuned in and dropped out?

The Dead wove the image of the skull through much of their presentation, from album design to music-festival art. Two skull-based logos that hold up include the red, white and blue lightning bolt and the rose. The first was the creation of sound engineer Owsley Stanley, also known as "the Bear," who says he wanted to put a mark on the band's equipment so he knew who owned what at multiact music festivals. The Rose was the artistic work of Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley. The duality of virgin floral beauty and the cult of death was of a piece with the message of a band known for saying, "a friend of the devil is a friend of mine."