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Not Fade Away

4 July, 2017 (14:32) | Steal Your Face | By: Ian Burdon

Steal Your Face

I should have known. The first indication was probably my post of 1 January 2016. I wrote there:

Something odd has been happening to me lately: something unexpected, troubling almost. After 34 years of indifference I have been listening to the Grateful Dead. I say specifically 34 years because it was in September 1981 that I went to see the Dead play at Edinburgh Playhouse and came away feeling distinctly meh.

I have always liked some of their songs, notably Ripple and Truckin’ as well as covers I’ve heard of Friend of the Devil. I also like American Beauty as an album. But overall I’ve always found them too ramshackle and approximate to pay them any mind.

But for some reason I’ve had the opening of Friend of the Devil running through my head as an earworm for a couple of days. To exorcise it, I opened up Wake of the Flood on Spotify, and found myself enjoying it, especially the Weather Report suite.

I still don’t care much for their extended cosmic jams, and I much prefer Jerry Garcia’s bluegrass stuff with Peter Rowan et al, but I’m obviously mellowing in my middle years.

A couple of days after that, in a further post, I wrote:

Further to my last: after some listening on Spotify, I’ve concluded that I like the Grateful Dead’s albums that are more song based (say from Workingman’s Dead through to Blues for Allah), but don’t really get the extended jams, which don’t do much for me. Mind you, extended jams by just about anyone don’t do much for me. There may be other Dead albums I’d like, but I haven’t heard them yet.

Something has changed in the 18 months since then. Aside from listening to more of their albums, I’ve recently taken a deep dive into the Dead’s live archive and have been listening to them a lot. The proximate cause of this descent into madness was the Amazon documentary, but it’s nagged at me for a while that I ought to go further into how they made their name–as a live, improvising band.

So I did the obvious thing and searched for opinions on the best shows to listen to. This, I’ve discovered, is a rabbit warren of strongly held opinions, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Whatever, I came up with a list of 25 shows that seemed to be the ones most commonly mentioned (although someone will always crop up to contest the choices).

It will come as no surprise at all to any Deadheads reading this that heading the list was Barton Hall, Ithaca, 8 May 1977. I’ve also been listening to:

  • Buffalo, 9 May 1977
  • Boston, 2 April 1973
  • New Year 1982 (with Etta James and Tower of Power Horns)
  • Veneta, 27 Aug 1972, and
  • Winterland 9 June 1977

And… I’m a convert on the basis of just 6 of the 25 shows.  I’m not deaf to the faults, especially the approximate qualities of the live vocals, but nonetheless I’m beguiled.

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead: Edinburgh, September 1981

I need to add that, apart from the music, there are other aspects of the band that interest me. Some of this is their creative process itself, which I think I can use in writing (particularly first drafts), but also I find the band members themselves interesting as characters.

I commented in my previous post that I thought there were several films that could be made about the band that focused on people other than Jerry Garcia, and I’m reinforced in that view from the listening. To give only two examples: Phil Lesh is an articulate man and as interesting a musician as Garcia, and his autobiography is a fascinating insight into where he was coming from musically; and I am intrigued by Mickey Hart’s early and continuing interest in what we now call ‘World Music’ and as a musicologist.

So yeah, I guess I’m a newby Deadhead, and this is my coming out post.