And here we are, the Goddamn Grateful Dead.
Without the Dead we would have no bootlegs. Without the Dead there would be no Bootleg Country. Without the Dead my musical life would be much, much different, and a lot more boring.
Talking about why I love the Grateful Dead always leaves me twisted and tongue-tied. There are all kinds of reasons why I love the Dead, but in the end I always sound like a yelping dog, howling at the moon.
The old quote goes that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Well, writing about the Grateful Dead is like doing the hokey pokey for Helen Keller. The Dead’s music is often just something you have to get. Jerry Garcia has been quoted to say:
Grateful Dead Fans are like people who like licorice. Not everyone likes licorice, but the people who like licorice REALLY like licorice.
I don’t like licorice, but I freakin’ love the Dead.
Reasons I love the Dead
The Grateful Dead wrote some sacrilegiously great songs. Jerry Garcia and his lyricist partner, Robert Hunter, are on par with Lennon/McCartney in terms of song craft. And I’d give the upper hand to Hunter for writing insightful, poetic lyrics.
Add to that a dozen or so heart palpitatingly brilliant songs by the rest of the band and you’ve got a collection of songs that rivals just about anything in rock.
Let’s go ahead and admit it, the biggest chunk of the Grateful Dead’s studio albums suck. They are either too experimental or too over-produced, but they almost always are too awful to listen to more than once. But as any Deadhead will tell you, the beauty of the Dead don’t lie in their studio work; it’s the live stuff that counts, man.
Live, the Dead were the kings of experimentation, lords of improvisation. They constantly reinvented themselves and their music. Some nights they failed. Some nights they flew into the outmost reaches of the stratosphere. Every night they laid it on the line unscripted and always interesting.
Truly, there was nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.
Listening to a crispy soundboard recording of the Dead in concert is like Nirvana (and we’re talking about the spiritual state here, not the grunge band). Lives have been changed by less.
It is as if each member is the lead performer, playing music from the heavens. Yet somehow, on some cosmic connective level they weave in and out of each other creating music that is alive and fitted together perfectly.
Stream this show at Archive.org