While with my dad, JK, listening to the Grateful Dead music in the kitchen, he asked:
JK: “Do you know how they got the name Grateful Dead?”
JK: “They were sitting at their house at 710 Ashbury, and they were called ‘the Warlocks’ at the time. Jerry turns to the others, ‘We’ve gotta name this band. The Warlocks aren’t a good name.'”
Me: “They were called that?”
JK: “Yeah. Stupid. So they open up this dictionary there and there was an item called ‘Grateful Dead.’ And it’s basically a story that’s present in a ton of cultures. They read it and were like, ‘Hell yeah man.'”
Me: “What’s the story?”
JK: “The common story is that there is a weary traveler that encounters the corpse of someone who never received a proper burial. And they didn’t get one because they had unpaid debts when they died.”
Me: “Does the traveler burry them?”
JK: “The traveler pays their debts and gets them the burial. Then, later in life, their life gets saved by the soul of that person. So the grateful dead are the protective spirits that have been earned through charitable gesture.”
The informant has gone to many Grateful Dead shows and stays very versed in the lore of the band, still being an avid listener. The story, however, seems to cary more weight for him because of the connection to the band rather than it just being a regular tale. It’s been enhanced for him because of it.
Yet another example of music and musicians borrowing from folklore then creating a new interpretation of the lore. Examining the lyrics in Grateful Dead songs also shows many aesthetic parallels to this tale as they sing about being friends with the Devil’s friend, hauntings, and death (but all under an upbeat psychedelic rock tone). What’s interesting about this specific adaptation of the tale in borrowing the name of the subject of the story, it has made the tale more known, at least to me. For I would have probably never heard of such tale, if it weren’t for the Grateful Dead being tied to it.