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A sticky issue for a faithful deadhead

Published May 29, 2005

It started like a lot of people with my problem.

At first I just experimented. It seemed harmless, and I knew I would be able to quit any time I wanted.

And, before I knew it, I was hooked on bumper stickers.

Deadheads - followers of the Grateful Dead, the world's greatest rock band - are prone to two strange disorders. One is taping (more about that in a second) and the other is plastering vehicles with bumper stickers and decals.

Deadheads tape music because, in the spirit of the 1960s, during which the band was formed, fans were always encouraged to tape music live at concerts and share copies with others. Most tapers will, if you send them a box of tapes, send you back a wealth of what is called "bootleg" music, even though nobody had to conceal its manufacture or possession.

I'm not sure how the sticker thing got started, but we Deadheads can, almost literally, spot one another a mile away on the highway. We just look for a profusion of political, social or humorous bumper stickers, usually interspersed with symbols of the band including skulls, dancing teddy bears, or copies of a rock poster of a skeleton and roses based on Edmund J. Sullivan's illustrations for early 20th century editions of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. But I prefer to see the overall presentation as an art form based on placement and arrangement of stickers and thoughts.

My Chevrolet minivan offers a perfect canvas with its flat back doors and ample bumper space.

The progression has been the same for years and several vehicles. I always start off with a nice pristine one-sticker offering, usually praising the music of folksinger Mindy Simmons, and then add one Grateful Dead sticker or magnet to balance the folk and rock sides of my personality. Then begins the flood.

The current display features a statement from Tolkien stating "Not all who wander are lost," names a few favorite places like Boyd's Campground in Key West, voices my support for John Kerry and less favorable opinion of George W. Bush, and a favorite I recently added that I will paraphrase as "It's not that I am old; your music really does stink," reserved for people who think you want to hear their lousy music on bass speakers that make your ears bleed.

Sometimes I spend months pursuing a sticker. For "Subvert the dominant paradigm," I had to go into a store in Key West where the owner and I don't like each other, strangely because he is a conservative and doesn't like people who buy the liberal stickers and shirts he sells. I know, it sounds nuts, but it is Key West.

It was near there on a recent pre-election trip that I saw a sticker I really wanted. It was on the tailgate of a pickup that had seen better days but which displayed social, political and musicological tastes and views similar to mine.

"BUSH-CHENEY," was all I could see at first.

It set me back for a minute, but then I remembered that Deadheads are an equal opportunity fan base and that there are undoubtedly some Republican Deadheads. Heck, even my Republican wife sometimes wears tie-dye, as long as she is reasonably sure she won't be recognized.

Then I saw the smaller print under the names.

"Don't change horsemen," it said, "in mid-apocalypse."

About the time I added the "Jerry Lives" sticker on the driver's side door, noting what some see as a physical resemblance between me and the band's late lead guitarist, I remembered that I drive a lot throughout the United States and wondered if perhaps the overall presentation might not be a bit much - what with most law enforcement types being pretty much on the conservative side.

So when I had to get a new license plate recently, I went ahead and sprung for a Marine Corps license plate with an extra 10 bucks.

That is partially because I am proud of my five years of service in the Corps.

And partially because my mother raised fat kids - not stupid ones.

[Last modified May 29, 2005, 01:04:12]

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