You know what I think rock music has always needed more of? Woodwinds. The lowly flute has been sorely underrepresented in rock, despite Ian Anderson’s most heroic efforts. So here’s a rare non-Jethro Tull flute song, courtesy of the Grateful Dead. It hardly qualifies as … Continue reading Sage & Spirit
This is the song I proffer to people who say they don’t like the Grateful Dead as an example of their thoughtful songwriting and concise musicianship. Not everyone enjoys folk songs with mandolins, of course, or lyrics with Biblical references, but overall it’s pretty hard … Continue reading Ripple
A four minute blues song, for those who don’t believe that the Grateful Dead could be concise. They could, and on record, they were. That deserves appreciation, even if you’re turned off or confused by the cultishness that surrounds the band. I find it rather … Continue reading New Speedway Boogie
My complaint against the Grateful Dead, case in point. On record Friend of the Devil is three minutes twenty-six seconds of bluegrass tinted outlaw blues. (In disclaimer; I can’t understate how I love American Beauty.) Then they get on stage and it’s ten minutes. No arguing, it’s an impeccable performance, beautiful even. Yet it feels as though they’re playing from under the sea or some dimension where time moves more slowly. Makes you feel what the punks were so mad about (you know, besides Margaret Thatcher); it’s the essence of soft-bellied seventies artistic self-indulgence. Taking a song that was utterly perfect at 3:26, wiping it clean of all urgency and playing it for ten minutes just to show how good you play – no wonder there was a backlash of dirty punks out to prove how badly they couldn’t play in just under three minutes. That’s my opinion; I know lots of people who worship the ground Jerry Garcia used to walk on and they eat this stuff up. They point out that it was the genius of the Dead that they never played exactly the same way twice and made every show a unique exploration of wherever their muses lead them. That’s a good point and there’s something to be said for allowing your material to evolve and mutate in the moment. If it weren’t so damn boring I’d agree.
I don’t know it I’ll ever grasp the mystique of the Grateful Dead. I certainly do like them. American Beauty – oh my god, one of the greatest albums ever. This song – I love it. What I don’t understand, and perhaps it’s not possible to understand, is where is that line that pushes a band from being merely a really great band (which I think they are) to being almost cultlike in their influence. Now for example, there are a lot of Who fans in the world. But they don’t consider it a lifestyle choice. You can’t just spot them in a crowd by the way they look. There’s lots of bands that are intensely beloved. But there’s not too many who form the nexus of a whole lifestyle. And I’m not dissing it either. Obviously Garcia and co. possessed some workingman’s glamour that caught precisely the little-house-in-the-big-woods ethos of the hippie movement. What makes it such a perfect storm of looking and living a certain way and loving the Dead? I don’t understand it, although it’s a culture I grew up with and feel a nostalgic familiarity for. It’s a rare phenomenon though, for sure. I don’t know of anything of recent making that can compare. Though today we have those misguided Juggalos, that’s not quite the same – I think they band together because they’re ostracized by normal society for their horrendous lack of taste. And, let’s see, you can usually spot a Tool fan by the way they dress, and well, they just give off a certain vibe… But no, there’s no analogy for Deadheads in modern culture. You can talk about Trekkies or cult members but it’s not the same.
I think I’ve expressed all my thoughts about the Dead already. To whit, they are better than you would imagine judging by their poorly dressed minions and the endless stream of dancing teddy bear garbage sold in headshops. Music, yes. Fat guys in tie-dye, no.
It’s official. The Grateful Dead were the worst dressed band ever. Granted they weren’t the only band who dressed poorly. Lots of bands dress poorly. The troubling thing is, when the Dead dressed like schmoes people emulated them. Which is why, even though the Dead are kaput, America is still swarming with paunchy graybeards sporting ponytails, ill-fitting t-shirts, and ugly sandals. Just look at the video – this is what men of a certain age think it’s ok to look like. At least Jerry has maintained his dignity by choosing his shapeless t-shirt in slimming basic black. As for Mr Shorty-shorts, I have nothing to say.
This is a highly enjoyable Dead song, and American Beauty is a highly enjoyable Dead album. In all, I do enjoy The Grateful Dead once in a while. They had some inspired moments. However I find their phenominality inexplicably out of proportion to how good they ever really were. I mean, they were good, but not ‘bow down and worship me’ good. The devotion of Deadheads is almost horrifying. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any Deadheads in a while. I must not me moving in the same kind of circles as I used to. Sometimes I fondly remember a burned-out space cadet I used to know. He had the delusion that the surviving Dead would listen to his godawful demo and “Man, I can just feel it, man, like…Phil and Bob and all the guys, they’re listening to my demo right now, man! And I just know, that, man, when they hear it, they’re ask me to join the band, man. Or they’ll have to kill me, man. Because it’s like that, man. I can feel it, you know?” I’m not exaggerating, he said ‘man’ after every sentence. He also thought that Keller Williams didn’t deserve his success because “Man, he didn’t do it, man. I did it, man. I’m the one who spent years following the Dead, man. He didn’t follow the Dead. I should be the one, man.” What his beef with Keller Williams was, I don’t know. Around here, Keller Williams is a real estate agent. Anyhow, that’s Deadhead thinking in action. Need I mention this dude proudly sported a long greasy ponytail? (This was not, repeat NOT somebody I dated!)
So I’ve decided the Grateful Dead aren’t as bad as all that. That is, their music is great but their fans are lame. Why is the world still full of guys who want to emulate Jerry Garcia and his frizzy beard and his muffin-top and his moobs? Not cool!
After years of resistance and fierce boycotting, I have to admit that I really do like the Grateful Dead. I’ve always enjoyed their music on its own but I’m very turned off by the culture of Deadheadism. It’s definitely a cult, but too large and mainstream to be appealing. How many bands can you be a fan of and call it a lifestyle? Not too many others, of those none tolerable. That’s certainly an achievement. I honestly don’t think the Dead are a good enough band to warrant the religious devotion they’ve recieved and you may shoot me down but that’s how it is. I like the Dead, I don’t like Deadheads. They’re stoned, smelly and badly dressed. The fetish for tie-die, endlessly displayed symbols (dancing teddy bears, etc), the personal dirtiness, the unmistakable speech patterns of the helplessly fried, and the other recognizable possibly mandatory hallmarks of the dedicated Deadhead; I find those things objectionable. I also don’t like jam bands. Although I have to hand it to the Dead – unlike the jam bands who sprung up in their wake, they always got it together in the studio and came out with some nice tight four minute pop songs. And you don’t have to remind me that there’s plenty of Dead fans who are not stinky mudwallowing spacebags. It’s just the ones who are burn-outs for whom time stopped thirty years ago, and their equally brain-spazzed offspring who seem to own the image of the Dead and make normal people feel grimy for spinning American Beauty. And it’s not even that I don’t like hippies – in fact I love hippies. I wish I had it in me to be one. I just really, really hate the stereotype of the useless stoner Deadhead, and I find it offensive and inexplicable that some people find their identity by fulfilling that particular cliche.