Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gone for good.

Poster: Jack Jaxon
It is a bit embarrassing, still to this day, to proclaim my allegiance and long time love for the Grateful Dead.

People that didn't get it then will probably never get it, it was the nature of the beast, a twelve armed fire breathing dragon when it was on, but an almost ridiculous caricature to those people looking in from the outside.

I certainly wasn't an original deadhead. The band started playing around 1965 and I don't remember listening to them until 1970 or 71, while in boarding school.

Photographer unknown
There were different phases of the grateful dead, it started out as an electric jugband, with the heavy blues influences of "Pigpen" Ron McKernan.

Later it went harder and electric, then softened up a bit. On a really good night, they were simply the best, tightest and most cerebral band in the world.

The group formed near Palo Alto and the principal writer, Robert Hunter, was an early attendee of some of the Stanford MK - Ultra LSD experiments. LSD, you will remember, was still legal at the time and used by such pillars of society as Steve Allen and Cary Grant.

Psychedelics were a major part of the essential fabric of the band and the hippie culture at the time and the Grateful Dead were formed and tempered in a magical alembic of acid chaos. They cut through the kaleidoscopic soup like modern day explorers.

The dead had a country phase, a soft harmonic phase with Workingman's Dead and American Beauty and a powerful period of 1968 and 1969 that some of us refer to as the cranial period, an immensely intense phase where they would play their grand opus's, the other one and dark star, powerful explorations into open space.

They often jammed the songs into new territory and had a great habit of sort of making it all up as they went along. Later they touched a whole bunch of other disparate musical styles and idioms, including jazz and disco.

Anyway, back to my bona fides. I am not an original deadhead but you could call me a second or third generation deadhead, climbing on the bus at the Boston Music Hall in 1973 and seeing hundreds of concerts and making literally thousands of friends along the way, many who survive as my closest confidantes to this day.

A loving and sometimes tripping community. Never touched the stuff myself, preferring to sit in a corner and read Proust when things looked like they were maybe getting a little out of hand.

I met the various members of the band, some of them many times, including Jerry, connecting through the art conduit and having a good intimate relationship with many of the crew. Backstage, front of stage, back of the board, in the high rafters. It was all good.

Deadheads of course came in all stripes, straight, gay, rich, poor, stoned, sober, liberal and conservative. It really didn't make all that much difference. You were there to groove and have a good time. Didn't matter what you drove or what was in your bank account. Just are you kind?

Jerry unfortunately passed away in 1995. Big hole in our lives. The band tried to keep things going, through various incarnations, The Other Ones, Dead, Further, Rat Dog, Phil and Friends. They even pulled out some near forgotten nuggets.

But it was, at least for me, largely unlistenable without the giant brain in the middle, Jerry, cranking it out on stage.

The surviving members of the band are getting back together soon for a 50th anniversary concert in Chicago, supported by Hornsby, Trey Annastasio of Phish and Jeff Chimenti.

Many Deadheads are floored at the audacity of them now doing what they once pronounced they would never do, which was to play another concert under the sobriquet of the Grateful Dead. Why are they doing this? Is it merely a payday and one last chance to cash out? And if it is, so what?

But would I go? No fucking way. Not if you paid me. Wouldn't walk across the street now to see them. Word today that some tickets are going for up to 15k per ticket. Ridiculous. Wealthy deadheads are taking Lear jets to Chicago and paying off insiders with cases of expensive cabernet. For what? To listen to what? Some fucking horrible trucking jam? Face it, the idiom is toast, fellas.

When you plunder an artform a million times over, the magic escapes, the air leaks out, it happens every time. The whole concept, always an anachronism, is officially tired. Over. The magic is done gone for good and whoa-oh, nothing's gonna bring it back. 

If a bunch of sybaritic jet setters want to pony up tens of thousands of dollars to delude themselves into thinking that they caught the actual Grateful Dead, well let the cash registers ring, baby. We are after all, all entitled to our illusions.

Poster : Dennis Larkins
The Grateful Dead was always dedicated to both playing really well and to exploring new space. Are they going to write a bunch of new material for these shows? Are they going to venture into new and fresh musical territory? Highly doubtful. A greatest hits fest and lets get the fuck out of town boys.

Truth be told, things were starting to get stale long ago, when the real band was playing. The air was coming out of the balloon even then. The worst aspects of the experience resembled your Uncle Mortie's Shriners convention in Vegas or Fred and Barney tying one on down at the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo. Old home week at the fraternal organization.

Now the rich kids can try to squeeze back into those tie dyes and dust off those rusty strings just one more time. Or was it rust off those dusty strings? I forget.

Trey is a fine player but not nearly as fluid as Jerry and he has a very poor to fair voice. Hope he doesn't try to sing the late guitar player's vocal parts. The whole thing just doesn't add up, at least for me.

I love the Grateful Dead, I proclaim my fealty to them, I treasure all of their contributions, brilliance and output. Life would not have been the same without them and they gave us the greatest possible playgound imaginable to hang out and play in. I just wonder why this particular reunion was necessary?


Anonymous said...

Outstanding....cases of the big red....ripped it....


Anonymous said...

Two words come to mind: "e$timated profit"

I have a few other thoughts on this tribal wank.

1. The table is set for some serious psychedelic train wrecks. Hopefully there will be abundant support systems in place. Be prepared to help fellow concert-goers in their time of need.

2. Resist the urge to sample any parking lot food from vendors using the term "Kind" on the menu, such as "Kind Stir Fry" or "Kind Veggie Burrito". There's nothing "kind" about tripping for the entire second set in a porta potty.

3. For God's sake, leave the kids at home. They did nothing to deserve this.

Blue Heron said...

Good points, e$to. Grateful Dead, meet Molly. Probably couldn't score a decent microdot these days if you tried.

But sadly I think this crowd will be much more bothered by gout, incontinence and maybe breaking a hip than any substance induced psychic (or digestive) terror.

Anonymous said...

Very well put....Let me add my 2 cents. Starting when I met Ms. Sommers around 1984 who wasn't a deadhead but I dragged her out to a few shows...ha...and she became hooked. She in turn turned me on to some great music at the same time "Kate Bush" being one of them. Thanks Leslie :) Yes, this was a promotors dream and certainly a money maker for them. Calling them the Grateful Dead is all you had to do to cram 80,000 people into Soldier Field, Creating the hype and hysteria. I agree with Mr. Sommers take.... (nice job Robert), except I have to disagree regarding Trey. Yes, Jerry will never be replaced and was perfect for the band as a musician, better songwriter and singer for sure. Jerry had his "Unique" style. However, technically and my personal enjoyment I love them both. However, I prefer Trey as a far better technical guitar player and listening to his jams are more jazzy, diverse and technically better. Jerry could never come close as a guitar player to Trey. Having gone to just a handful of Phish shows live, it is overall a far better musically FUN time for me, then the Dead were. Let's just say, very different. For me the Dead can be broken up into 4 segments, by decade. The sixties, was the blues / psychedelic "finding their way" period for songwriting. The quintessintal Dead "Were" and still are the 70's. Most particular the period from 1970-1976 when the songwriting of Hunter & Garcia and Barlow & Weir cranked out what is an amazing amount of great songs. The music and the concerts from this period were the best. My favorite year being 1973-74. As the scene started to change and cocaine crept into the band in the later 70's, and heroin for Jerry & Brent in the 80's, the music and songwriting suffered. The shows had some good moments, but I always found myself wanting to capture that magical sound. At some shows and some moments it was there. However, it was fun (we were younger) and not as cranky, but by the 80s, it was all about "The Deadhead Scene" & Shakedown Street Parking lot for many fans. For me it wasn't, and although fun, it was just getting in the door, having a good seat in that zone to tune into the sound and music. The Dead in the 90's were mediocre with Jerry and after Brent died, it really was never the same. Still a few good moments, but overall musically it was done. Still wanting more after Jerry, I'd keep going. Soon discovering that Bob & Ratdog were not for me. Thankfully Further came along, and John Kadlecik was the perfect fit. Finally Phil could play with some amazing young musicians, where the sound once again "sounded" like the old Dead and was tight. Personally, Bob Weir is done and dragged the Further project down, but just to have him give it a shot and have his vocals were helpful. Seeing them about a dozen times, I have to say that most of those shows were better than most of the Dead shows I saw. All and all, let's see if the boys with Hornsby and Trey can pull it off one last time. It will be interesting how it sounds & if I will buy one GD CD or DVD....Peace and Love Everyone - DY

Anonymous said...

Blue Heron said...

First off Danny, thanks for turning my wife on to the dead, it has made things a lot easier for us. I appreciate your thoughtful comment, which I mostly disagree with, the notion that the post dead ventures were better then the real live Grateful Dead; last time we saw Phil (at Albuquerque, with Dylan) we left in the middle of Dark Star holding our collective heads in our hands. But this kind of thing is subjective, like arguing religion and we don't have to go there. Saw Phish plenty of times, real fun, rarely sublime.

Arguing that one guy is better than the other is like arguing that the sky was yellow and the sun was blue. No win anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I saw the Grateful Dead 359 times and Jerry Garcia Band around 50 times. When Garcia died I attended the memorial at Golden Gate Park, and thought "This is the final gathering". I felt prepared to find my future, raise my family, and discover new things, in a non GD-centric manner. My cup was full. The shows were losing greatness for the past couple was time to take the baton, and run my own course. I remember thinking that wonderful sunny day in the park that The Boys should find their own way - Mickey, continue his pursuit of world music, Phil maybe write great orchestral works, Weir become sideman to other artists like Neil Young and such. I never believed the should try to continue as the Grateful Dead. I wanted them all to live enriched, fulfilliing lives on the new paths that certainly awaited them, now that this long strange trip was over.

In 2000 or 2001 I saw Dylan followed by Phil and Friends at the Ventura County fairgrounds. Dylan was at top of his game with Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton providing one of his most solid guitar backings. Then PAF came on. After about 5 minutes I felt like I was wasting my time. I looked at my friend Steve, who had a place on Zuma Beach down the coast in Malibu, and he looked at me with the same expression. Finally I said it. "Man, I would rather be at your house having a beer and listening to a Grateful Dead tape." He said he was thinking the same thing, so we split in the middle of the second song - I think Viola Lee Blues.

I now realize that I don't drink non alcohol beer, decaffe coffee, or eat artificial sweeteners. For sure, I don't listen to fake Grateful Dead.

If people enjoy it in any of it's multiple incarnations, more power to them. In fact, I try sometimes to watch Furthur or any of that GD related stuff, and after a few minutes ask myself "Why am I doing this? It's silly." I have a house full of archived GD music and video, that I will never be able to completely listen to.

As for Trey, I have so much respect for him. So talented, yet with all of his technical prowess I find that after a while he reminds me of a weight lifter. It's cool to watch for a while, but it gets boring watching someone do curls over and over again. Garcia with a couple of notes was infinitely more exciting and interesting than an entire extended solo by Trey. Just my opinion. To each his own I suppose.

So, just as it was that sunny day in Golden Gate Park in August 1995, there's no need for anymore from that cup. My memories are vivid, and my love for the Grateful Dead has not faded.

"In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty" - Bob Marley
"No one ever saw God at a Bob Weir concert." - (Me, 1984)

Leslie said...

Sorry to disappoint y'all but, I started listening to the Dead back in the mid-seventies......that includes going to a few shows before I ever moved to sunny California. But, Daniel, you were definitely the one to drag me kicking, and screaming back into the fold after so many years off the bus!!! LS

island guy said...

Now that the Chi town shows are Dead and gone, any new thougts? I saw an article, think it was NYT, that talked about monetization of the brand and how the Dead were way ahead of the curve with getting away from major labels and making the money mostly with concert tickets and ancillary revenue. Good article and relevant to the discussion about the 'reunion' shows. And yes, thanks Robert and Leslie for getting me to go to that last show I saw in LA. Didn't think much of the 'Shakedown Street parking lot' scene, but happy to have had had one last time to see them. Remember that concert where I got impatient with getting out of the parking lot and cut a hard right over the sidewalk and curb with my one ton van?