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Meriwether
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Here was a concert in which it was not a notstalgia act; where the music was still very fresh and vibrant. In fact, it was the most ambitious music that I had ever heard played in an arena to an audience of that size. I thought it was just remarkable.”

So says the King of the Deadheads.

Meriwether recounts his first Grateful Dead experience

One of my college roommates was from California, and he played me a legendary Grateful Dead album from the early 1970s. I was amazed. I thought the music was remarkable and complex and compelling and just interesting on a bunch of different levels. I got more and more interested in the music during that time, and about a year later, another friend took me to see my first show in the fall of 1985. You go to any sort of event with 20,000 people, and there’s going to be a certain percentage of drunks, fistfights. It doesn’t matter whether it’s NASCAR or Oral Roberts – but there were absolutely no problems whatsoever with this crowd. I talked to some of the off-duty cops who were security guards. I said, “Hey, is this normal?” They all said they would rather be working at a Grateful Dead concert than any other concert or any other sporting event. Why? Because the fans are well behaved, they’re polite, and if you tell them to do something, then they will do it, usually with a smile.

There was a wonderful bazaar outside where people were selling homemade tie-dye and handicrafts. The general vibe was so generous. A guy was giving away grilled cheese sandwiches after the show. I went to close to 90 Grateful Dead shows over the next 10 years. I have had food poisoning probably half a dozen times in my life, including from my campus dining hall and various seedy restaurants across the country. But I never got food poisoning once at a Grateful Dead show eating stuff straight out of a parking lot.

"The Attics of My Life"

As Nicholas Meriwether, School of Library and Information Science graduate, recalls his first Grateful Dead concert in the fall of 1985, it becomes intensely clear why he was destined for his current job. In 2010, Meriwether was selected out of 400 highly qualified applicants to become the director of the Grateful Dead archives at the University of California, Santa Cruz. An extensively well-read and published scholar on the band, Meriwether’s selection was a nobrainer. His natural enthusiasm for the Dead didn’t hurt, either.

“I’ve gone to close to 90 shows,” he admits, “and own more than 500 records, which is actually a modest collection by some fan standards.”

Meriwether, who previously served as an oral historian for the South Caroliniana Library, has taken on a challenge -- and with passion. “There are times when people say, ‘Gosh, you must have the greatest job in the world,’” he notes.“I say, ‘I do, but there are a lot of days where it’s just the most complicated and complex archive on the planet.’”

As the director of the Dead archives, Meriwether and his team are responsible for processing and digitizing everything the band created and collected over the last 40 years, from business records and press releases to music releases, artwork and fan letters. “They’re great challenges, and they’re fun, but certainly not trivial,” he admits. “I’ve got great colleagues though, and a wonderful team, which keeps it from being overwhelming.”

Perhaps another factor in keeping workrelated stress at bay is the fact that his job is like being in a hands-on museum dedicated to his favorite subject every single day. “There are things I have a reaction to on a daily basis. Anything from a beautifully illustrated letter that a fan has sent in thanking them for a good ticket or show to a very rare and almost unknown poster that is abolutely gorgeous,” he says.

But Meriwether didn’t just happen upon his dream job by luck. At SLIS, he tailored his coursework to fit what he felt was a hole to be filled in oral history, appraisal and curation. Advising current SLIS students, he says, “You need to be thinking in two terms: one, take all the courses you need to give you exposure to the skills you’ll employ in a variety of different settings. Two, the more you can shape your coursework toward answering your own academic questions, the better.”

If there were one Grateful Dead song he had to choose to listen to for the rest of his life, Meriwether’s selection is fitting. “It’s called ‘The Attics of My Life,’” he notes. “It’s a wonderful lyrical song that can be taken as comments on archives and archival practice. If you think about it, attics are - for most Americans - our own personal archives.”

 

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