The Album That Started It All

It was probably 1989, when I saw an ad for 8 CDs for a penny. It seemed too good of a deal not to bring it up to my parents. I was ten years old and music was really just hitting its stride with me. For the most part, it was MTV’s influence on an impressionable young Midwestern kid, who had a lot of time on his hands, as a single child. Weekend nights were almost always dedicated to watching Yo MTV Raps or Headbangers Ball, but slowly, my taste in music was expanding.

Somehow, I think Dad figured out that we could order a bunch of CDs and then cancel the subscription. So, off I went, perusing the fold-out ad with the stickers that you’d place over the eight boxes to finalize which albums you were going to get for free. To appease my folks, I’m pretty sure that four of those boxes were filled with CSN, James Taylor and other light folk stuff from the 60s and 70s. Then, I ran into album covers for the Grateful Dead. I remember thinking how cool the album art was. But, at this point in my life, I didn’t have anyone around me who was into the Dead. At some point, I think I asked my Dad for advice, and he suggested picking up a copy of the “Best of” album and see if I really liked it. Then, I could work on tracking down more music.

So, “Skeletons from the Closet” it was. My first Dead album. Not exactly the most Deadhead initiation into the world, but it worked. A few weeks later, our newly acquired collection of albums arrived and I tore into it like a kid in a candy store. I knew hardly anything about the Grateful Dead. Occasionally, MTV or VH1 might air the “Touch of Grey” music video, which stood out in comparison to the overly produced music videos of the era. But, this was before the Internet, so word of mouth was about the only way to get good info, and living in Des Moines, Iowa, that was often dodgy information, at best.

Initially, I gravitated toward “Truckin’,” “Friend of the Devil,” and “Casey Jones.” I think “Sugar Magnolia” and “Uncle John’s Band” were the next tracks to catch on. I find it ironic now, that my favorite Dead recordings are live versions of the band’s catalog, rather than the studio track, but I suppose whatever gets you in, gets you in.