It has been far too long since I wrote a Random Shuffle and I hope that this is the beginning of a renaissance for its return. Thanks for returning if you've read this column before, and if you haven't, well thanks for coming now. Each week (or as I get around to it) I put my music collection on shuffle and talk about what comes out. I'm less interested in reviewing the songs as I am in rekindling some memories the songs stir, or talking about the emotional resonances the music creates.
"China Cat Sunflower>I Know Your Rider" - The Grateful Dead
From Live in Waterbury (9/23/72)
I've been back from China for a few months now and slowly (ever so slowly) I am digging through all of our boxes in storage and sorting out all of our stuff. The other day I found a little metal briefcase where I keep a big stash of Grateful Dead bootlegs. Most of these are shows that I did not put on the hard drive before we left for China and thus I haven't listened to them in over a year.
I've spent the last couple of days going through them, ripping them to my new external hard drive, and listening. Reminiscently impressed is the word. It has been a long while since I've given the Dead a good shake. While I didn't put most of the briefcased music into my China collection, I still had probably a hundred hours worth available to me while I was over seas. The thing is, I rarely listened to the Dead while over there.
For most of my adult life the Grateful Dead have been my favorite band. I love them. I collect them. I have more music of theirs than anybody else. By a long shot. Yet over the last year or two I have slowly stopped listening to them. The thing with the Dead is that much of their music (especially their live music) needs serious listening. A thirty minute "Dark Star" is not for the casual listener. You need time to really digest what they are playing, and for along time I simply haven't had the patience for it.
I used to listen to the Dead while making commutes to work. Those long musical jams are perfect for jams of the traffic variety. The winding road enabled me to both listen to the music, and yet not get bored with a 15 minute instrumental. Having my mind distracted by driving, and yet not too distracted as I knew the road well, created the perfect listening situation. This is something that simply wasn't possible in China. For one, I didn't have a car, and for two traffic in Shanghai was way too chaotic to listen to anything seriously. For a variety of other reasons I simply stopped listening to the Dead very much at all.