This book is now out of print! We still have a few brand-new copies.

Skeleton Key Cover Shot
Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads is 400 pages of lore, history, interviews, and thoughts on the Meaning of It All, from what guitarist Jerry Garcia called "the Grateful Dead outback" - the diverse global community that is nourished by the music of the Grateful Dead and the shared experience of Dead shows.
  • Price: $14.95
  • Pages: 416
  • Publisher: Doubleday/Main Street Books paperback
more on Skeleton Key:
Skeleton Key is a labor of love and "deadication" by Deadheads David Shenk and Steve Silberman, published by Doubleday/Main Street Books in 1994. Skeleton Key celebrates the magic, humor, and significance of the Deadhead community, while it investigates the history of the Long Strange Trip - from the days of be-bop jazz and the Beat Generation writers whose literary adventures inspired many Deadheads' own on-the-road journeys, to now, when Deadheads swap tapes and tales around the virtual campfires of Deadhead cyberspace.

1995 marks the 30th year of the Dead. Skeleton Key is the first detailed road map of the culture and lifeways of Deadheads, featuring interviews with hundreds of fans and family, including Elvis Costello and Bill Walton, and thoughts on the music and community by people like Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, mythographer Joseph Campbell, and Grateful Dead Hour host David Gans. Skeleton Key features a foreword by John Perry Barlow, Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The psychedelic lettering on the cover is by Alton Kelley, one of the original San Francisco poster artists, who also designed the covers for the Dead albums American Beauty and Europe '72. The icon on the cover of Skeleton Key is a 200-year-old Tibetan thangka used for meditation, of skeletons dancing in a cloud of fire, an image of enlightened consciousness awakening even in the midst of death.

A Word from the Authors

Since the publication of Skeleton Key last fall, Steve and I have been overwhelmed and overjoyed by the nice reviews from fellow Deadheads and from the press. To me, the best compliments have been along the lines of, "I can't wait to show this to my Pop - now maybe he'll understand!" I wanted to help articulate why we all love this music so much, and report to the world about the generous spirit of the community which has formed around it. If you haven't yet, I hope you'll get a chance to check out the entire book sometime soon. We'd love to hear what you think. Drop us a line at
- Dave

Howdy folks! After spending 20 years of my life dancing happily in the Phil Zone at Dead shows, I'm deeply thankful I was given the chance to offer something back to the community which has given me more joy and meaning than any other: a deep picture of our extended family. I hope you enjoy it, and you may learn a few things along the way, whether you're an old-time tourhead or a newbie who just got on the bus. Be well. See you in the Zone!
- Steve