The science of the Grateful Dead


Grateful Dead

Good to see that Deadheads are alive and well at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In the heart of one of the world’s most secret weapons labs, these guys are hard at work developing a science of the Grateful Dead, the 60s psychedelic band that played together until 1995. Today, they take the world of theoretical physics by storm with their results.

Marko Rodriguez from the Center for Non-Linear Studies at Los Alamos and a couple of pals have studied the listening behaviour of Grateful Dead fans using statistics from the online music service last.fm. They then compare the number of times songs were downloaded  to the number of times they were played in concert. (The vast majority of Grateful Dead releases were recorded live at concerts so in many cases these really are the actual songs played at concerts.)

Rodriguez and co report a strong correlation but not a perfect one. This prompts them to ask why the correlation isn’t perfect and to answer the question with a detailed analysis of changes in the band and the nature of the songs themselves (although why they expect the correlation to be perfect, they don’t say).

The team says the work gives an unprecedented insight into American concert tour culture and the bands that bring this culture to fruition. If you’re a Deadhead you might agree.

We can only hoping that Los Alamos has an equally dedicated team down the corridor working on the traumatic break up of the Swedish supergroup Abba.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0807.2466: A Grateful Dead Analysis: The Relationship Between Concert and Listening Behavior

 

3 Responses to “The science of the Grateful Dead”

  1. gs says:

    IMO the arXiv should accept every plausible submission and should exert every reasonable doubt to do so, but the Social Science Research Network seems a better place for this paper than the arXiv does.

    Terrific blog. It became daily reading the moment I saw it.

  2. Matt says:

    “Today, they take the world of theoretical physics by storm with their results.”

    … Theoretical physics? What does this have to do with theoretical physics?

  3. Tyler says:

    Matt, I’m guessing you might need to fine tune your sarcasm filter a bit?

    Not sure why this is on the arXiv either, but fun. There are few surprises in the results, other than a few great songs that fall depressingly far below the curve.

    Some issues with their methodology or data:
    1) serious distortions in the performance frequency data result from the arbitrary choice of 1972 as the cutoff year. If they’re not going back to the beginning (1965) then 1968 or, at latest, 1969 would have been a much more suitable choice. For example, the 1972 cutoff makes Hard to Handle seem much more rare than it actually was.

    2) the fact that The Eleven appears on the chart calls all of their data into question – that song was last played in 1970, I think. Certainly it had completely disappeared before 1972 (much to the chagrin of audiences).

    3) a minor but telling point is that the authors think John Barlow wrote “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” which is a Bob Dylan song.

    Anyway, an amusing diversion, thanks