As a one-time fanboy of The Grateful Dead, and one with plenty of Dead Heads among my family and friends, it was quite refreshing to read Mark Richardson’s recent brief history of the godfathers of jambands (I made that up) over at Pitchfork. I thought he did a fantastic job of detailing the strengths (beyond the insane jams of the early years) and weaknesses (beyond the terrible studio albums of the later) of every era of the band. To say the least, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve listened to anything by the Dead - it’s been very, very sporadic since Garcia died back in the mid-90s.
As much as I enjoyed the music though, I never did dive head first into the Dead culture. For me it was never about the look or the scene (weird and amazing as it was) - I just loved (cliché alert) getting lost in the music. But I was also a picky fan - I remember one time being at a urinal between sets at Giants Stadium (‘95, I think) and an older gent asked me what I thought of the first set. I was feeling pretty good I’m sure so I wasn’t freaked out by this obvious social miscue of being spoken to while peeing, and I told the guy I thought the set was a little mellow. He looked at me like I had two heads (not counting the one in my hands…..OH!), and repeated in stunned disbelief, “mellow?!?”. I’m sure the guy was nothing but sincere about his enjoyment of the show thus far, but dude, it was mellow as hell. That’s not a bad thing at all, but to my wild, 20 year old ass it always kept me from falling Head (pun intended) over heels into the whole lifestyle. I needed to rock out too.
Anyway, Richardson does a nice job detailing the various phases of the band - from the careening, psychedelic garage rock of their very early years through the harmony drenched Americana of the early 70s and into the (yikes) disco, jazz, and blues of later years. For anyone even mildly interested in the history of this band (at least those who can look at it without the rose-colored glasses), it’s a terrific read. And he highlights one of my favorite ever Dead jams - an early, somewhat rare song called “The Eleven” - one with a propulsive time signature played often during the late 60s that was retired, along with “St. Stephen”, way too soon.
MP3 :: St. Stephen >>
MP3 :: >> The Eleven
(from Two From The Vault. Buy here)