Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads

Front Cover
Doubleday, 1994 - Music - 388 pages
0 Reviews
Steve Silberman's tribute to Jerry Garcia, 1942-1995

        Skeleton Key:  A Dictionary for Deadheads is 400 pages of lore, history, interviews, and thoughts on the Meaning of It All, from what guitarist Jerry Garcia calls "the Grateful Dead outback" - the diverse global community that is nourished by the music of the Grateful Dead and the shared experience of Dead shows.

        Skeleton Key is a labor of love and "deadication" by Deadheads David Shenk and Steve Silberman, published by Doubleday/Main Street Books in 1994.  Skeleton Key celebrates the magic, humor, and significance of the Deadhead community, while it investigates the history of the Long Strange Trip - from the days of be-bop jazz and the Beat Generation writers whose literary adventures inspired many Deadheads' own on-the-road journeys, to now, when Deadheads swap tapes and tales around the virtual campfires of Deadhead cyberspace.

        1995 marks the 30th year of the Dead's experiment in improvisational telepathy.  Skeleton Key is the first detailed road map of the culture and lifeways of Deadheads, featuring interviews with hundreds of fans and family, including Elvis Costello and Bill Walton, and thoughts on the music and community by people like Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, mythographer Joseph Campbell, and Grateful Dead Hour host David Gans.

        Skeleton Key features a foreword by John Perry Barlow, Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  The psychedelic lettering on the cover is by Alton Kelley, one of the original San Francisco poster artists, who also designed the covers for the Dead albums American Beauty and Europe '72.  The icon on the cover of Skeleton Key is a 200-year-old Tibetan thangka used for meditation, of skeletons dancing in a cloud of fire, an image of enlightened consciousness awakening even in the midst of death.

        We hope that whether you are a committed Deadhead, or just a curious Websurfer, you'll poke around this site and get a taste of the beauty, joy, humor, and mystery of Deadhead life.  Feel free to pop on a tape and make yourself comfortable as the first notes sing your blues away, and you enter the Skeleton Zone...

A Word from the Authors

Since the publication of Skeleton Key last fall, Steve and I have been overwhelmed and overjoyed by the nice reviews from fellow Deadheads and from the press. To me, the best compliments have been along the lines of, "I can't wait to show this to my Pop - now maybe he'll understand!"  I wanted to help articulate why we all love this music so much, and report to the world about the generous spirit of the community which has formed around it.  If you haven't yet, I hope you'll get a chance to check out the entire book sometime soon.  We'd love to hear what you think.  Drop us a line at

        Howdy folks!  After spending 20 years of my life dancing happily in the Phil Zone at Dead shows, I'm deeply thankful I was given the chance to offer something back to the community which has given me more joy and meaning than any other:  a deep picture of our extended family.  I hope you enjoy it, and you may learn a few things along the way, whether you're an old-time tourhead or a newbie who just got on the bus.  Be well. See you in the Zone!

                                        - Steve

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

Skeleton key: a dictionary for deadheads

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

dead-icated followers. While many picture a Deadhead as a scruffy youth in a tie-dyed T-shirt who drives a wildly painted bus and follows the Dead from concert to concert, Deadheads form a unique ... Read full review

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1994)

David Shenk a former fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, he has written for Harper's Wired, Salon, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker, and is an occasional commentator for NPR's "All Things Considered". He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Bibliographic information