The Grateful Dead’s iconic Dancing Bears have become an indelible part of the band’s visual identity. Since their first appearance on the cover image of the lackluster 1973 album A Legacy of Grateful Dead, Volume One (Bear’s Pick), they have been reproduced on bootleg merchandise such as t-shirts, placards, and even headbands, amongst other things.
Owsley “Bear” Stanley, a key figure in the development of the Grateful Dead’s signature sound and in the distribution of early LSD, was the man in question. Bear’s amplifiers and other pieces of sound equipment originally displayed the dancing bear insignia in the form of stickers.
Whether it’s due to cyclical interest in music or the band’s continued existence thanks to some young new employees, the Grateful Dead are riding high in the cultural zeitgeist once again. This implies that the Dead’s odd brand extension will continue to be seen and heard in unexpected places, and not just on your teenage daughter’s grateful dead shirt and hoodie.
Steal Your Face Insignia
To the uninformed, it’s simply the red and blue head seen on placards and the odd tattoos; to everyone else, it’s the Steal Your Face. This logo, along with the one for the Dancing Bears, is said to have been designed by Owsley Stanley, who was also involved in the creation of the Stealie there in late 1960s.
The band’s previous manager, Mickey Hart Sr., was the subject of the song “He’s Gone,” which derives its name from a lyric in that song. The lightning bolt severing the skull alludes to the prospect of reaching a heightened state of awareness and enlightenment by either pharmacological induction or more traditional means. Of course, most people naturally assume this has to do with the LSD trips that Deadheads were known to be on at the shows, and it more than likely is true.
The Bears Who Love to Dance
The cheerful bears are Grateful Dead mascots, whether dancing or high-stepping. Click here to read more on mascots. They continue to serve as upbeat representatives of the brand more than half a century after they were first illustrated by Bob Thomas.
Later on, Stanley explained on his webpage that the bears are really performing a high step march, despite the fact that most people get the impression that they are dancing. It’s more entertaining to picture the bears bopping to the beat, so most just pretend Bear didn’t mention that.
Following the album’s debut, Owsley Stanley’s blotter art—popular at Grateful Dead concerts—featured dancing bears. So, folks were tripped on Owsley’s dancing bears paper acid while seeing the Grateful Dead, having recently issued a live record with the animals on the cover. It’s not hard to understand why the sign has come to symbolize the band, their music, their energy, and even LSD.
Cartoon bears doing the tango on a blotter
Soon, fans were printing counterfeit versions of the Grateful Dead (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grateful_Dead) bears and other merchandise, including stickers and t-shirts. Others started donning the bears at Grateful Dead performances and other venues all of a sudden, and the band’s logo continued to grow in popularity while also serving as free advertisement for the band. For almost twenty years after the bear’s first introduction, this trend persisted.
It is astounding to witness the influence and impact which the Grateful Dead had on contemporary American popular culture, not just through their music but also via the art that is connected with the band’s signature tie-dye aesthetic. While it has been nearly 25 years since the band’s last performance, the culture has shown no indication of fading down.
The Stones, Pink Floyd, as well as Led Zeppelin have insignia, but none are as iconic as the Grateful Dead’s. You can also check out Nike’s new SB Dunks, which were inspired by the Grateful Dead and include a bear.
Like the band’s setlist, the Flying Eyeball’s Egyptian iconography appears and disappears from the Dead’s visual repertory with surprising regularity. The Flying Eyeball theme originated as a poster for the Dead’s 1968 performance at the Shrine Auditorium, created by comic artist Rick Griffin, and continued to appear on merchandise, record covers, including 1969’s Aoxomoxoa, and fan-created artwork of various kinds. Griffin would construct album covers like “Without a Net” and “Wake of the Flood” and make special commemorative art for the group until his passing in 1991.
Roses & Skulls
Nonetheless, Stanley “Mouse” Miller, who drew the cover art for the Grateful Dead’s self-titled 1971 live album after being inspired by a book of poetry he discovered in the San Francisco library, would probably be shocked to learn that you can purchase a Skull & Roses hand towel online from Amazon. Skull & Roses is what most fans of the band know the album by, but the cover art has become iconic in its own right.