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Forbes Focuses on Grateful Dead and Their $20 Million

May 15, 1987|BILL STEIGERWALD

Rock 'n' roll may never die, but it sure isn't what it used to be. Most of its old anti-Establishmentarian edge has long disappeared. Still, it's a shock to see a photo of the Grateful Dead in Forbes, where the former countercultural outlaws are praised for their business acumen.

The Grateful Dead's financial success story is attached to Forbes' report on how compact discs have injected the otherwise flat record industry with higher profits (record companies clear almost $4 on each $13 CD, which costs about $3 to make; 53 million were sold in 1986).

The Dead look like the aging hippies they are, and critics generally have written them off as dinosaurs. They haven't released a record in seven years, but the band--22 years and 1,600 concerts after its birth--grossed more than $20 million in concert revenues in the last two years, due to hard work, rabidly loyal fans and modern business methods.

They've got a "Dead hot line" that handles as many as 6,000 calls per day. They employ a staff of 35, have a computerized mailing list of 150,000 fans and a line of merchandising that includes a $20 golf shirt. They've even had to call in the FBI to investigate the mass counterfeiting of its concert tickets.

By the way, an early photo of the Dead and quotes from guitarist Bob Weir about the dawn of the mid-'60s San Francisco rock scene appear in Rolling Stone's great spread on the Top 20 live concerts that changed rock 'n' roll. The special issue begins with Cream's final fling at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1968, ends with Prince's steamy '82-'83 tour and includes Elton John's historic and wild opening-night show at the Troubadour in 1970.

The Fighting Critics

Balding Gene Siskel and bulging Roger Ebert may seem like they really dislike everything about each other. But in her amusing twin profiling of the pioneering TV movie critics in Chicago magazine, Toni Schlesinger suspects that behind their carefully concocted squabbling media image there "could be more love than hate."

As part of her effort to prove that their public "ferociousness may now be a finely tuned act," she cleverly sprung a surprise quiz on the rich and famous and powerful duo. Ostensibly, she was testing their motor skills, drawing ability and general knowledge. Actually, she was hoping to observe how they behaved toward each other when their guards were down.

At one point, both were asked to recite their top 10 movies of all time as fast as they could into a tape recorder. Siskel ended up on his knees screaming, " 'City Lights,' 'Notorious' . . ," but Ebert did it faster merely by moving his lips, and, Schlesinger says, "Siskel hated him again."

The two equally "driven, controlling, critical child prodigies who have to be the smartest and the best" both scored pretty miserably. But, just as Schlesinger had presumed, "the quiz brought the fighting whiz kids together." They eventually put aside their intense competition and ganged up on Schlesinger, trying to discredit the test and intimidate her. "If they were ever separated," she deduces from this and other evidence of their genuine concern for each other, "how terrible it would be. They might become despondent and forlorn. Life might lose its meaning."

Hart-Broken Coverage

Gary Hart's swift fall landed him on the covers of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, in whose inside pages he found little sympathy. It also put Donna Rice's figure on display in assorted swimwear and lingerie in Time, Newsweek and People, but not U.S. News.

The score card: Newsweek, 11 flashy pages plus Meg Greenfield's firm back-page piece that said the issue was not Hart's judgment but his personal values; Time, 10 pages plus Lance Morrow's back-page essay that mulled the question of Hart's seeming self-destructiveness; U.S. News, 8 pages, including Michael Kramer's proffering of a political epitaph for the former front-runner who "wasn't a victim of character assassination but of political suicide": "Gary Hart--Fool."

Hugh Sidey of Time took a historical tack, filling a whole sidebar with examples of sexual fooling around by in-office presidents F.D.R., J.F.K. and L.B.J. Suzannah Lessard in Newsweek insisted that the real issue is "the question of womanizing." The strong reaction to Hart's activities, she says, shows that a "feminist sensibility has seeped into the public consciousness sufficiently to make philandering appear to be at best unattractive, maybe unacceptable and possibly alarming when the candidate's emotions and psychology are concerned." Presidential philandering has a new meaning it didn't have before, she says, and part of the reason for it is that there is a greater "awareness of the dignity and equality of women."

Bits and Pieces

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