Secretly in step with the dancing bears

THE BALTIMORE SUN

At first he kept it from co-workers at the stuffy, Fortune 500 corporation where he worked, for fear it would be misunderstood. But as his professional stature grew, he revealed his secret in subtle ways, beginning with the trademark dancing bear decal on his computer printer.

"I was kind of concerned about the fact that I was a Deadhead getting out," Alan Reisberg said of his nearly two-decades-long enthusiasm for the Grateful Dead, the counterculture rock band whose future was thrown into serious doubt by the death Wednesday of guitarist Jerry Garcia.

"People are generally surprised that a short-haired advertising executive is a Deadhead," said Mr. Reisberg, who left his Fortune 500 job and is now is an executive vice president of Trahan, Burden & Charles Inc., a Baltimore advertising and public relations firm.

Despite the popular perception of the group's followers as barefoot flower children and graying hippies, some Deadheads long ago traded in the tie-dyed shirts for button-down oxfords. They are successful politicians, lawyers and business executives somewhat paradoxically following a band whose songs celebrate lifestyle far out of favor in Newt Gingrich's America.

Many of them surprised co-workers yesterday when they showed up for work with teary eyes and Jerry Garcia-designed ties. Mainstream fans of one of America's least mainstream groups had long ago learned to reveal themselves discreetly, or risk a career-damaging association with the band's acid-popping, pot-smoking image.

A few were open about their devotion, risking the disapproval of clients and constituents. Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a fiscal conservative sometimes mentioned as a Republican presidential candidate, has been open about his interest in the band for years. Likewise, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat and former intelligence committee chairman, has had

the band to his Senate offices and watched shows from backstage.

Others have closeted themselves in a secret society where members identify themselves through colorful skeleton-art and an esoteric language of song lyrics instantly familiar to Deadheads. They are the brokers with dancing-bear bumper stickers on their Lexuses and executives with framed psychedelic posters on their bedroom walls.

"I never tried to keep it from anyone but you would drop it and make an obtuse reference and if it was picked up there was an immediate bond," said Jonathan Pine, a 37-year-old executive editor at Williams & Wilkins, a Baltimore-based textbook publisher that specializes in medical works.

His job is trying to convince physicians -- a high-income group hardly known for its free-wheeling ways -- to publish their research with his company. He wears no tattoos, pony tails or Terrapin Station T-shirts to business meetings. But every so often he discovers a soul mate in the least likely of places.

'An instant bond'

"I've been in some offices where there will be some small, dancing bears over in a corner. It is an instant bond, a link, an understanding," Mr. Pine said.

Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag, a partner with the high-powered Washington lobbying firm of Patton, Boggs and Blow, admits his attendance at 24 Dead shows over the years does not appear on his resume. But neither does he hide it: his Land Rover has a bear sticker on the back.

"The band spans 30 years so you're obviously going to have an eclectic following," said Mr. Moag, 40.

Grateful Dead spokesman Dennis McNally said other unlikely fans the band has attracted over the years include ABC newsman Peter Jennings, former NBA great and current sports commentator Bill Walton, and Vice President Al Gore ("I don't think we're going to have a statement on that today," said a spokesman for the vice president).

Lawyer by day

Glenn Morak, a 38-year-old criminal defense attorney and litigator with Shuman, Abramson, Morak & Wolk in Manhattan, said he's often surprised at concerts to see colleagues and adversaries dancing in the crowd.

"It's a lot larger than I think people realize. Most of us have day jobs," said Mr. Morak, an American University law school graduate whose office is decorated with a vintage Grateful Dead concert poster.

Mr. Reisberg, the Baltimore ad-man, sometimes mixes business

with the Dead: he's taken clients to shows and coordinated business trips and vacations around concerts.

"Over the years I was able to see about 75 different shows. I sort of used the shows to get around and do some traveling," Mr. Reisberg said.

He attended his first show in 1977, a "much more carefree time in my life," he admits. Keeping in touch with the band not only feeds his appetite for eclectic music but keeps him in touch with youthful memories.

He went Wednesday night to the impromptu Garcia shrine at Mount Vernon, where mourning fans had hoisted a tie-died "Steal Your Face" flag and were banging drums in a circle.

"I feel fortunate to have seen them for close to half of my life," he said.

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