How they interpret and carry forward a beautiful legacy of music that came before them.
As every Deadhead knows, a lot of Dead tunes are covers of “traditional” songs. What distinguishes many Dead covers from cover songs by other bands is the way that the Dead so compellingly took hold of the traditional and made it their own. I’m not interested in listening to “I Know You Rider” or “Promised Land” outside of the Dead. Or I should say that I am, but only because the Dead have led me there.
This aspect of the Dead really resonates with my work as a rabbi. The work of translating tradition in ways that help tradition speak directly to new concerns– that’s core to a rabbi’s work.
Each of us, rabbi, Deadhead, or “other” is the heir to some sort of tradition. For that reason, each of us must eventually ask whether we will interact with that tradition and if so, how. For some of us, the work is identifying which tradition is authentically ours. For others, it’s caring enough to engage dynamically.
The Grateful Dead, through their cover tunes, and through so much of their “original” music shine a light on what it means to embrace tradition and make it sing anew.