Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Grateful Dead

I am going to see The Dead tomorrow.  I say this without the whiff of an excuse, regardless of what sort of “indie cred” I might lose to part of our reactionary fan base.  I have been into the Grateful Dead forever, since a random placement at the Kent State Housing Authority placed me in a small apartment with a Deadhead and his tapes.  At any given moment an obscure Grateful Dead show, lovingly recorded and then duplicated by another fan, could be playing on the Sony Boombox, which served as the small apartment’s sound system.  I was not down with it at this time.  I was a punk rock guy.  The Dead was all just noodley noise to me, senseless hippie chaos without point or order.  This would change at the Akron Rubber Bowl in 1986.

Now I was already into Bob Dylan, who was on tour with Tom Petty.  The Heartbreakers were Dylan’s backup band, and I was psyched to see that.  There was great hope that Dylan was emerging from a particularly fallow period in the mid 80s.  This was about the time when Bob was wearing leather pants and dangly earrings and doing mountains of coke.  There are some painful artistic missteps from that time.  Trust me, you don’t have to go back and listen.  Headlining the show was the Grateful Dead, who I thought of as the noodley hippie band that did the one song I liked called “Ripple” which they never played live.  Whatever.  I would watch them since I paid for the ticket.

As soon as we arrived in the parking lot, someone walked by our car and breathed out the word “sheeeeeetsssss”.  I was so clueless I had no idea he was selling acid.  “Well, that’s certainly odd that this young long haired fella is selling bedding at a rock and roll show…  That doesn’t seem to be a great idea…”  I was a bit of a square (as opposed to the worldly swashbuckler you see before you today, he said unconvincingly).  It was extremely hot that day.  It was a wild scene in the stadium.  I remember a naked man walking down from the top deck of the Rubber Bowl as the crowd cheered.  Petty was good.  Dylan sorta sucked.  Then the entire vibe changed.  It seemed like everyone knew something I didn’t.  There was a long mellow set change. Then Jerry walked out with that sparkling grin and the band started.

There is a term amongst Deadheads that when you “get” the band, you “hear the music play”.  Well, I heard the music play.  It was like being a kid and the light bulb went off to understand basic algebra.  Bing!  Oh!  Now I get it!  They are just combining American roots music, jazz, blues, and everything else into one thing where the sum is greater than its parts.  Whoa.  I should point out that I was not under the influence of acid when I “got” the band, though that would have sped things up precipitously. 

I think the biggest problem people have/had with the Dead was the inability to get past the hippie trappings of the fan base.  In the country punk scene it is expected to genuflect to The Byrds “Sweethearts of the Rodeo” and the Flying Burrito Brothers, both of whom couldn’t have hoped to have made a record as good as the Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty” or “Workingman’s Dead”.  Yet, the Dead is waved off by many as “a jam band”.  This is a mistake.

Those two records are the entry point for anyone into “roots”.  If you have an interest in psych rock, you will need to check out “Live Dead” and “Aoxomoxoa”.  There’s plenty of great stuff there.  The point is, I think it is necessary not to let an existing prejudice of a band’s fan base to allow entry into the material.  Yes, it is really annoying that hippies always ride around in a van with a dog and someone’s name is “Sky” or “Cassidy”.  Yes there is reason to feel sorry for the poorly groomed stoned girl in the sundress and bare feet, but just because she hasn’t yet called her parents to send her a first class United Airlines ticket home back to their enormous house in the gated community outside of DC.  Those kids will be OK.  They’re all boarding school experiential summer vacation hippies.  They’ll be fine.  The scene can be a bit much.   

I am not on the jam band train.  I hate almost all of those fucking bands.  The problem there is that most of the bands spend their time trying to recreate a version of The Grateful Dead, and you just can’t do it without one piece.  You gotta have Jerry.  Jerry Garcia is the key to the magic of the Grateful Dead.  His complete understanding and joy of all of these American music forms was the engine of the Dead.  He is the voice and conscious of that band.  Yes, Phil is a beast and all the guys can play (even Bobby), but it was all about Jerry.  This is the conundrum for me as I have gone to see many of these Dead re-groupings sans Jerry and been left cold.  It turned out that I was a Jerry Garcia fan more so than a Grateful Dead fan.   

Tomorrow I am going to head on out to the local music shed and watch John Mayer try to do the Jerry part.  What the hell.  Why not?  I will undoubtedly be critical.  The one good thing is I won’t be like my roommate at that Akron Rubber Bowl show in 1986 who went on an acid trip where he was convinced that Jerry was just a replaceable guy with a fake beard, and he was the one who would have to be Jerry at the show in Buffalo the next day.  This is with him not knowing how to play guitar, which is really going to be tough in front of thousands of people.  And when the band band kicked into Truckin with the line “…truckin, up to Buffalo”, let me tell you…  His mind was blown.  Don’t even get me started about when he started screaming about how “it’s my birthday tomorrow and I don’t even understand what time is man!”.  Well, it was quite a situation…


At June 20, 2018 at 6:13:00 PM EDT , Blogger old man taylor said...

i thought i saw you at the drum circle.Now i know i did.

At June 20, 2018 at 7:57:00 PM EDT , Blogger Robert Barrett said...

The Dead at Ventura County Fairgrounds '84 still holds up as one of the best shows I've ever seen. The Dead without Jerry just doesn't interest me, please give a review.


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