by Peter Richardson
Much to my surprise, one of the key characters in my cultural history of the Grateful Dead turned out to be Ronald Reagan. Both as California governor and as president, Reagan was an ideal foil for the Dead and their project.
As Reagan campaigned for governor in the summer of 1966, the Grateful Dead were making music, partying, skinny-dipping, and ignoring politics to death at Rancho Olompali, their bucolic retreat in Marin County. But if the revelers weren’t interested in politics, the opposite wasn’t true; in fact, youth culture played a significant role in California’s elections that year. “Their signs say, ‘Make love, not war,’” Reagan said about campus activists, “but it didn’t look like they could do either.” Hippies were another favorite target. “We have some hippies in California,” he told out-of-state audiences. “For those of you who don’t know what a hippie is, he’s a fellow who dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.”
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