Dead Head or Dan Fan: Who’s the Bigger Asshole?

Danielle Gruber
9 min readAug 17, 2022

On the spectrum of Grateful Dead to Steely Dan, wherein does your rock music pretentiousness lie?

Do you believe your music has blessed you with spiritual enlightenment, bestowed upon you the responsibility of subverting capitalism and sticking it to the man? Or has your music granted you the distinction of intellectual superiority, as one cannot even begin to appreciate your music without understanding the genius of its melodic idiosyncrasies, rhythmic underpinnings, and harmonic patterns? Do you and the other members of your cult share a collective memory — maybe a psychedelic fever dream — of the band’s every live performance, every transcendental jam session, with every inspired improvisation and every moment of euphoric climax? Or do you revel in smug self-satisfaction, knowing only you can decode the sardonically-encrypted lyrics, only you can appreciate the technical perfectionism and complex arrangements?

Who are The Dead and The Dan?

For those too young to remember or not hip enough to know, the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan are rock bands that peaked in the 1970s but have deservingly developed standings as some of the greatest bands in rock history.

The Dead

The Grateful Dead was formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, at the height of the counterculture movement. While rooted in bluegrass and rhythm and blues, their music shifted towards lengthy instrumental jams heavy in modal and tonal improvisation, a fitting soundtrack for the psychedelic experience. Their epic tours made them pioneers and innovators of concert sound, with the diversity, unpredictability, and duration (three hours and more) of their performances the ideal backdrop for acidheads, hippies, and other lost souls in search of one long, strange trip.

The Grateful Dead members. Image from Michael Ochs Archives.

The Dan

Steely Dan was founded in 1971 in New York by core members Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, becoming a studio-only band in 1974 when Becker and Fagen withdrew from live performances. Influenced by rock, jazz, Latin music, R&B, and blues, Becker and Fagen composed complex structures and harmonies and employed the greatest rock and pop studio musicians to make their…

Danielle Gruber

👋 I am a freshman at Yale University majoring in electrical engineering. I’m interested in neuroscience, computer science, math, and everything in between!