Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, who died on Sept. 23, 2019, wrote in a foreword to LIFE magazine’s special issue on the band about what it was like to be in the environment that gave birth to this musical phenomenon. He began, “I’ve never seen a film nor read an article that successfully described the 60s as I personally lived them.” He then valiantly attempting to convey they feeling, talking about the Vietnam war, the peace movement, Angela Davis, protests, and kids showing up at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, so full of hope but also “completely unprepared to feed or house themselves, reduced to panhandling, easy prey for the hard-drug concerns that destroyed the scene in short order.” At the end of his piece, Hunter concludes “Knowing what we know now, even a time machine could never return us to the heart of those times since mind-set is 90 percent of what the 60s were and must ever remain; attitudes born of innocence and fantasy, yet resolutely hopeful.”

It is the mind-set Hunter described, as much as the music, that have made the Grateful Dead an enduring element of American culture. Humans haven’t invented a time machine, but the band’s songs have the power to transport people to a place and a moment that were imbued with a feeling. Even if you weren’t at Haight-Ashbury back in the day, maybe you were at the legendary Dead show at Hampton, Va., on October 9, 1989, and felt the spirit. That Hampton show is when they played for an encore “Attics of My Life”, from the American Beauty album, for the first time since 1972. Or even if you weren’t in Hampton that night in ’89, maybe you were able to enjoy it through a bootleg recording. Maybe you’re enjoying it right this second. Because the band encouraged fans to share live recordings, links to the Dead mind-set are always a computer click away.

These photos, from the special issue below, document the journey of a band that has meant so much to so many.

The Grateful Dead

Cover image by Herb Greene.

Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead, in 1965, began performing under the name The Warlocks. Photo by Paul Ryan/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Grateful Dead

Jerry Garcia and band manager Rock Scully (left), spoke to author Tom Wolfe (right) at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. Image by Ted Streshinsky/Corbis.

The Grateful Dead

Promoter Bill Graham stood in front of the marquee for the final shows at Winterland with the Grateful Dead and the Blues Brothers in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve 1978. Photo by Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images.

Grateful Dead

In their home in San Francisco in 1967, band members protested to reporters that they have been unjustly arrested for marijuana possession. (AP Photo)

Jerry Garcia and Joan Baez

Jerry Garcia, folk singer Joan Baez, and Mickey Hart shared a laugh at his home in San Rafael, Calif. Image by Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS

Grateful Dead

Suzanne Vega performed with the Grateful Dead at Madison Square Garden in New York City during a rainforest benefit in 1988. Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Grateful Dead

Two fans cried at a shrine at the entrance to Serenity Knolls, the Marin County, Calif., rehab center where Jerry Garcia died in his sleep on August 9, 1995. (Photo by Misha Erwitt/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Further Festival

Jeff Cimenti, Phil Lesh, Joe Russo, Bob Weir and John Kadlecik carried on the legacy of the Grateful Dead as they performed at 2010 Further Festival on May 30, 2010 in Angels Camp, Calif. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.

Grateful Dead

Celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead played at Soldiers Field in Chicago in 2015 to conclude their Fare Thee Well tour. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

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