When an artist tells fans they’re implementing virtual reality elements into their album campaign or live show, fans are excited, yes, but not surprised.
Virtual reality has a brief history, and an even shorter lifespan in music – the term ‘artificial reality’ was only coined by computer artist Myron Krueger in the ’70s – but in 1989 the Grateful Dead‘s figurehead Jerry Garcia was discussing it in interviews.
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1989, Jerry Garcia sat down to chat about the band’s thirteenth and final studio album Built to Last, and virtual reality.
“Have you heard of this stuff called virtual reality?” he asked past Rolling Stone editor Fred Goodman, who wrote the book The Mansion on the Hill (1997), which won a Ralph J. Gleason Award.
“There’s a place here where they have something you put on your head. It’s got like a pair of goggles on it, and the goggles are two little TV screens that give you a 3-D image. There’s something on top of the helmet that tells attitude — whether you are shifting out of center. And then you have this glove you put on your hand.
“When you put on the goggles, you are in this room. It’s a completely fictitious room. But if you turn your head around, your view of the room is 360 degrees. And you have this disembodied hand out in front of you which is the glove. And you can pick up fictitious objects that you “see” in the room.
“You can see where it’s heading: You’re going to be able to put on this thing and be in a completely interactive environment. There is not going to be any story, but there’s going to be the way you and it react. As they add sounds and improve the image, you’re going to be able to walk around in that building, fly through the air, all that stuff. And it’s going to take you to those places as convincingly as any other sensory input.
“These are the remnants of the Sixties. Nobody stopped thinking about those psychedelic experiences. Once you’ve been to some of those places, you think, ‘How can I get back there again but make it a little easier on myself?'”
The Grateful Dead are tech pioneers in the music industry. In 1968 the band broadcasted their show at the Carousel Ballroom, paving the way for other rock concert broadcasts.
The Grateful Dead went on to dabble in VR and AR (augmented reality), sadly after Garcia died of a heart attack in 1995 and the band officially disbanded.
In 2016 at the Tribeca Film Festival in downtown New York, the band premiered Grateful Dead: Truckin’, a piece of concert footage, shot in virtual reality, from their 2015 ‘Fare Thee Well’ reunion tour.
The band were tech-savvy until the very end. Their final ‘Fare Thee Well’ concerts sold out immediately but all five shows were made available to fans via a pay-per-view broadcast produced by Live Alliance. Fans paid up to US$80 to watch the concert from the comfort of their couch.
The farewell set a pay-per-view record with 400,000 subscriptions, making it the largest syndication of a live music event ever.
Read Jerry Garcia’s full 1989 interview with Rolling Stone here.