Monday, December 14, 2015

WGT Bonus Disc: Highway Blues

50 Years Dead

When I had finished the eleven disc compilation, there were many songs and moments left over that I felt were important, but maybe not essential enough to the story to include them. I took my favorite leftovers and squeezed them onto a bonus disc, that like the entire compilation is arranged chronologically. A pretty nice mix of tunes, but in hindsight there are many more moments and songs that probably should've made the cut. Dark Star, Playing in the Band, and Lovelight are likely the biggest regrets, but where to begin with those tunes, how can one version be chosen over another? It's a fools errand. And then there are about 50 other great songs deserving of inclusion as well. Hell, Eyes of the World almost didn't make the cut. I'm considering going through these remaining classics to create additional discs, but until then enjoy this ragtag collection.

It's been a wild year to be a Deadhead, lots of highs and lows if you got swept along with the hype of the 50th anniversary. Whether it was the behavior of the band, the holier than thou hippies, uber cynical heads, shifty promoters, or disappointment with what was offered or what was delivered, no one got out of this unscathed. In the end what endures is the music the band made during their 30 years together, and with perspective and time, much of what has happened since 1995 will be nothing more than footnotes. 

There were many happy instances of synchronicity throughout the release of this collection over the past year. And it sure does feel like there is a good amount of overlap between this bonus disc and the four disc 30 Trips Around the Sun compilation (carved from the larger 80 disc set), which I feel is the best officially released compilation thus far. But I'm most pleased that both the final Fare Thee Well show, and this disc conclude with the same song. Maybe Attics is not an essential Grateful Dead song, rather an American classic.

Attics of My Life of course contains some of Hunter's finest writing. Throughout the notes to this compilation I included some of my favorite lyrics. Again, it was impossible to include them all, so I list the leftover favorites following the notes below. It's interesting to see how they all hang together, reflecting at least my preferences, if not the band's dominant themes. 

What more can be said that hasn't been said already? Likely not much, but that hasn't stopped anyone yet. Stay tuned to see what comes next. Until then, the current standings:

1. The ">" between China and Rider
2. "Oh, from the Northwest corner..."
3. "I'll get a new start..."
4. "Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye"
5. "La dee da da da,
La da da da da,
Da da da, da da, da da da da da
La da da da,
La da da, da da,
La da da da,
La da, da da..."

Bonus DISC: Highway Blues

Finishing this compilation up, I had a nagging feeling that there were a few songs that had to be included.  But space on the discs would not permit it, and the songs did not fit into the flow.  To satisfy myself, I came up with this: a bonus disc.  Every Grateful Dead release now a days has a bonus disc, so why can't mine?  I took all the remaining tracks that I felt had to be included, and tried to squeeze them onto one disc.  There was three and a half hours of music, so I did some editing.  I ended up with this.  It spans the entire career of the band.  The only cohesive element is that it is all amazing Grateful Dead music, but other than that it is a bit all over the map.  Odds and sods.  But never the less, an enjoyable collection of a few random tunes.

1.       Viola Lee Blues – 11/10/67.  Going back to the Primal Dead era, their neo-psychedelic garage rock sound.  This blues jam seems modeled after the Yardbirds style rave-ups, more influenced by speed than psychedelic consciousness.  The band sound like a pretty generic San Francisco group of the era, the Grateful Dead bounce and sound has yet to take shape.  Nevertheless, it's intense and fun as hell, the band building the peak as high as they could, until it falls apart and they slide back into the main riff.  Jerry's searing solos lead the way, with Phil's bass  bubbling the intensity up, and Pigpen's organ acting as the anchor to reality.  Amazing how far their sound would come.

2.       Muddy Water – 12/5/71.  The only time this classic tune was played.  A shame, because it's a great performance.  Kind of a simple song, and lyrically similar to Rider, so maybe that's why they dropped it.  But Garcia really sinks his teeth into it and gives it some fire.

3.       Brown Eyed Women – Jerry Ballads.  A kind fuckin' tune.  The storytelling is vague but gives just enough detail to allow you to imagine a scenario in your head.  Garcia doing what he does best: bittersweet tunes that explore the emotional palette.

4.       Feel Like a Stranger – 12/31/80.  A classic Bob Weir show opener.  Great Garcia lead with the funky effects.  A cool vocal jam that allows Bob to yell some weird and random shit.  This one opens up into some nice psychedelic space.  The band pull off a 3 man weave basketball drill; each member doing their own thing, going around one another, passing the ball back and forth.  Everyone is playing something individually distinct, but it all holds together well, kind of like a psychedelic Dixieland.

5.       Stagger Lee – Jerry Ballads.  A variation on a topic that's been written and performed by a wide variety of artists over the years, from the finger picking folk of Mississippi John Hurt to the modern blues crunch of the Black Keys.  I've always preferred Hunter and Garcia's comical take on this tale of revenge.  A song that was well suited to the big sound of the later era, the guitar riff builds up and climaxes with Jerry repeating the refrain over and over.

6.       Queen Jane Approximately – 7/12/90.  My favorite of the Dylan covers done by Weir, just ahead of Masterpiece and Desolation Row.  What the song is about, I'm not sure, but it has a feeling we can all relate to.  I've said that the best part of some Bob tunes are Jerry's backing vocals, and while that's not entirely true, this is a good example.  Bob builds it up nicely at the end and Jerry pushes it over the top.  Quite similar musically to the version that appeared on Dylan and the Dead.

7.       Broken Arrow – 6/13/90.  Nice late era Phil cover, written by Robbie Robertson for his 1987 solo album.  Phil really connects with it, and even comes up with some pleasant vocals.  Nice support from the rest of the band as well, particularly on the harmonies at the end.

8.       Built to Last – 7/17/89.  Another standout from the Dead's last days, this tune is filled with lyric after memorable lyric.  A tale of perseverance.  You might recognize this version as the one appearing on the video release Downhill from Here, recorded at Alpine Valley.

9.       Way to Go Home – So Many Roads.  A Vince tune.  Doesn't sound much like a typical Grateful Dead tune.  Bluesy, composed with different sections, it builds up, Vince turns up the heat, and then it breaks down to a funky vocal jam.  A cool tune, but it never really found its place to fit in the set list.

10.   Visions of Johanna – Fallout from the Philzone.  It would be hard to say what the best Dylan cover by Jerry was, but this is surely a contender.  Recorded for Blonde on Blonde in 1966, this song was one of the first to describe a long psychedelic night.  It would also become the prototype for many of the Jerry ballads: personal, soulful, psychedelic, hypnotic, with a bit of country twang thrown in.  Ain't it just like the night, to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet.

11.   Attics of My Life – Jerry Ballads.  A beautiful tune, with lyrics to ponder, this song is all about the immaculate harmonizing.  Dig it!

Can't talk to me without talking to you
 We're guilty of the same old thing
 Thinking a lot about less and less
 And forgetting the love we bring

When it seems like the night will last forever
 And there's nothing left to do but count the years
 When the strings of my heart start to sever

any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
birds are winging or
rain is falling from a heavy sky -
What do you want me to do,
to do for you to see you through?

Tumble down shack in Bigfoot County
Snowed so hard that the roof caved in
Delilah Jones went to meet her God
and the old man never was the same again

Goin to plant a weeping willow
On the banks green edge it will grow grow grow
Sing a lullaby beside the water
Lovers come and go - the river roll roll roll

Faring thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine.

Midnight on a carousel ride
Never could reach
It just slips away but I try
There were days
and there were days
and there were days I know
when all we ever wanted
was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
we told them where to go
walked halfway around the world
on promise of the glow
stood upon a mountain top
gave the best we had to give
how much we'll never know we'll never know

Going where the wind don't blow so strange
Maybe on some high cold mountain range
Lost one round but the price wasn't anything
Knife in a back and more of the same

Jack Straw from Wichita
Dug for him a shallow grave
And layed his body down
Half a mile from Tucson
By the morning light
One man gone and another to go
My old buddy you're moving much too slow
The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

Since the end is never told
we pay the teller off in gold
in hopes he will come back
but he cannot be bought or sold

20 degrees of solitude
20 degrees in all
All the dancing kings & wives
assembled in the hall
Lost is a long & lonely time
All along the all along
the Mountains of the Moon

I'm gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime
I know this song it ain't never gonna end
I'm gonna march you up and down the local county line
Take you to the leader of the band

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

Lady finger dipped in moonlight
Writing `what for?' across the morning sky
Sunlight splatters dawn with answers
Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye

Strangers stopping strangers
just to shake their hand
Everybody's playing
in the Heart of Gold Band

Wind inside & the wind outside
Tangled in the window blind
Tell me why you treat me so unkind
Down where the sun don't shine
Lonely and I call your name
No place left to go, ain't that a shame?

Delia went a walking down on Singapore Street
A three-piece band on the corner played "Nearer, My God, to Thee"
but Delia whistled a different tune...what tune could it be?
The song that woman sung was Look out Staggerlee
It all rolls into one
and nothing comes for free
There's nothing you can hold
for very long
And when you hear that song
come crying like the wind
Stella Blue
Stella Blue…
I live in a silver mine
and I call it Beggar's Tomb
I got me a violin
and I beg you call the tune
Anybody's choice
I can hear your voice
Wo-oah what I want to know,
how does the song go?
I got up and wandered
Wandered downtown
nowhere to go
just to hang around
I got a girl
named Bonny Lee
I know that girl's been true to me
I know she's been
I'm sure she's been
true to me

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

WGT Vol. 11: Smile, Smile, Smile

50 Years Dead

Below you'll find the notes for the FINAL official disc in this compilation. Preceding that, the epilogue I wrote to this compilation serves as a reflection. But is the end or beginning? Fear not, devout listeners, a bonus disc next month awaits. 


So there you have it.  I guess this project turned out to be a book, in more ways than one.  The music tells a story, disc by disc, chapter by chapter.  It's chronological, but non-linear.  Flashbacks and flash-forwards.  The first song is from the end, and the last song is from the peak.  In between it moves forward, but bounces back and forth to tell the story.  I'm reminded of the scene in Fear and Loathing at the Matrix in San Francisco, where the young Hunter Thompson played by Johnny Depp encounters the old Hunter Thompson played by Hunter Thompson, and both Hunter Thompson's just act natural and keep moving.  If things start to get weird when listening to this, if you see another version of yourself , just act natural.

I learned a lot about the Dead in the process of making this.  The main thing I learned is that there is much I don't know.  I'm no expert, just a passionate fan.  But this project has made me want to delve deeper, to listen to and compare all those different Dark Stars. 

Aside from the massive amount of quality material the Dead put out, I think this set reveals the personalities behind the instruments.  Jerry was always the sun at the center of the universe, but the rest of the planets and stars were in perfect harmony as well.  Jerry's charisma, wit, and relentless curiosity are undeniable.  And whether he was being interviewed by Letterman or in a stadium with 50,000 other people, he was always the coolest mother-fucker in the room.  His ability to stay cool in a sea of swirling chaos was unparalleled.

I recently watched the Sunshine Daydream video, a recording of a benefit they played in Oregon in 1972.  Naked hippies tripping their faces off surrounding the stage, but Jerry is just hanging back, feeling the groove, totally in control of the whole scene.  Most performers would freak out, turn their amps up to eleven and just play at a blistering pace from go.  Even though Jerry was likely tripping and under the influence of who knows what, he keeps the place from dissolving into mass hysteria.  That's part of the reason Bob Weir appears to be such a jackass, because he had to stand next to Jerry.  Imagine how foolish any of us would've looked standing next to Jerry, trying to play an instrument, and Bob doesn't look so bad after all.  We all would've spazzed out much worse than Bob.  So, you can't really blame Bob for pulling a ripcord and bailing on a jam early, or for having a few songs that weren't entirely transcendent.  He wasn't Jerry Garcia, that's not his fault.

What Bob and the rest of the band did do was provide both excellent support for and contrast to Garcia.  They were not simply competent musicians, but singular artists with a distinct point of view and playing style.  Taken together as a whole, they were so much more than the sum of their parts, they were otherworldly.  At times, like waves crashing into one another, but eventually joining forces to create a tsunami of cosmic destruction.  

I could go on and on with superlatives about each member, the music, the songs, the fans, the scene, the drugs, but what more can be said?  Just listen to the music.  There's a lot of space in between the songs and our minds, and I've tried to interpret it the best I could.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

To close this tale out, let's flashback to that night at the lake house I discussed in the introduction.  Earlier that same evening a few of us were hanging out by the lake, jamming to the Dead as dusk began to settle.  Fireflies were blinking in code, signaling the drug birds to come out to play.  Crickets sang their hypnotic tune, awakening our unconscious from its slumber.  Tiny ripples on the lake gently slapped the shore creating a tidal wave of white noise, as the reflection of trees on the water bounced like the bars of an equalizer in beat with the music.  Eternity took a breath, exhaled the wind, and we’re back in that familiar forgotten place.  A big Jerry ballad came on.  Those were usually my favorite moments of the shows that I saw.  Powerful stuff.  I commented "I can't believe there are some people who don't think Jerry has a good voice."  My friend Dunebuggy quickly replied "Yeah, but do you hang out with those people?"  Laughter ensued.  No answer was needed.  It was understood.

So here's to you, me, enjoying the moment, and enjoying the Dead as much as possible in those moments.

Disc ELEVEN: Smile, Smile, Smile

Now the time has come for closing thoughts, last rites, and an eulogy for the Dead.  We start out with some symbolic pieces from the last few years, revisit some heavenly jams, and flashback through the future's past to a state where time and space are irrelevant.  I suppose William Blake said it best:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Or, as Bill Hicks said:

"Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration – that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There's no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather."

1.    Liberty – So Many Roads.  A song about the Prankster spirit, seemingly written especially for the Deadheads and the unique path they choose in life far from the mainstream.  And a reminder about the true meaning of freedom in America.  Free to follow your own path, be rebellious, but hopefully being guided by love.  Full of classic lines and images about venturing out into the world, but ultimately finding your way back home.  This song seemed destined to be the follow-up hit to Touch of Grey, but that day never came.  Hunter references New Orleans in the first verse, and Garcia follows suit, giving the song a bit of that Nawlin's funk, filtered through the Grateful Dead bounce, of course.  Hunter recorded the song before the Dead played it, and his liner notes included this quote:

We must all be foolish at times
It is one of the conditions of liberty.>br> --Walt Whitman

2.       So Many Roads – 10/1/94.  Probably the biggest of the later era Jerry tunes.  This song is a walk down memory lane, with Hunter providing a bibliography of the Dead's influences with references to old folk, blues, and rock songs.  Hunter, like Dylan, was so well versed in this language, that he came to inhabit this mythical landscape.  Simple words, names, and phrases symbolic of so much more than just themselves.  The language not only of the unconscious, but a particularly American archetypal path.  And a classic, if unoriginal, Garcia song structure: the big ballad that howls at the end.  It was simple, not groundbreaking, but when Garcia was on, this song was soul-stirring.  He was certainly feeling it in this performance.  Even towards the end, when he would often stumble through the rest of the show, he found the strength to pull off magic in these ballads.  Perhaps it was their cathartic effect that allowed him to connect in such a profound way.  Notably in this version, he changes the lyrics from "So many roads to ease my soul," to "So many roads to heal my soul."  
It is a subtle but meaningful difference.  A man in pain, searching for some relief and redemption.  Towards the end, he may have been tongue twisted with words half-spoken and thoughts unclear, but when he connected, it was better than it had ever been.  He was able to emote from that deep, dark place in such a genuine way, as only someone at the end of their days can.  He had less than a year left to live.  I can struggle to describe it, or you can just listen to him sing.

3.       Lazy River Road – 9/22/93.  This tune treads the same symbolic landscape as So Many Roads, the mythical references abound.  Even at the young age I was when this song came out, it was nostalgic, transporting me back to my youth when everything was joyful, full of mystery and wonder.  Beautiful lyrics about the importance and power of relationships, Julie and I used the final verse on our wedding program:
Thread the needle
right through the eye
The thread that runs so true
All the others I let pass by
I only wanted you
Never cared much for careless love
but how your bright eyes glowed
Way down
down along
Lazy River Road
Sax man David Murray sits in on this version of the song.  For kind of a folky tune, strangely it works.

4.       He's Gone – Beautiful Jams.  An awesome tune, so many classic lines, it lumbers along to a slow build-up.  Did any band ever do a song like this?  And in a stadium setting to such a captivated audience?  So uniquely Grateful Dead, no one else could pull this off.  This is just a beautiful jam at the end of the tune, hence the inclusion on the collection from which this track is derived.  Obviously it is included here at the end of the compilation for a reason.  The end of the jam hints at several possible destinations: Bruce seems to be teasing Stella Blue, Phil's bubbling bass hints at Crazy Fingers, while Jerry is clearly feeling Going Down the Road.  Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile…

5.       And We Bid You Goodnight Jam – Jamming at the Edge.  Back on stage for the encore, with the audience chanting Not Fade Away, the band goes into the instrumental version of this tune that often ended Goin' Down the Road.  Beautiful stuff here fans. 

6.       Nobody's Fault But Mine – Jerry Ballads.  I saw B.B. King just a few years ago for the first time.  He must've been at least 85.  Towards the end of the show he played Key to the Highway.  When he sang the refrain, and when I leave this town, I won't be coming back no more, it had a certain poignancy for obvious reasons.  Jerry knew what he was singing in Nobody's Fault but Mine. Whatever his demons were, he was aware of them.  The Dead only performed this song 17 times, first in 1966.  It was played eight times in '73 and '74, and then would just pop up every few years.  This version features some excellent blues playing from Jerry, with that crisp acoustic tone he got out of Lightning Bolt.  I always felt that Jerry was stylistically similar to B.B. King when playing the blues.  Both were string benders who could make their guitars weep bittersweet tears.  Much different from screechers like Buddy Guy, rippers like Stevie Ray, whalers like Duane Allman, or crushers like Hubert Sumlin.  Jerry and B.B. squeezed a lot of emotion out of those strings, sending chills right up your spine.

7.       Jerry Garcia Interview – Tom Snyder Show.  Just a quick little snippet.  The fat man speaks.

8.       Chuck Berry & Weir on Ketamine – 2/21/92.  Just a bit of studio banter from the boys during a rehearsal.  At this point they were all in their late 40's or early 50's, so it's fun to hear them still joking around, and telling tales of altered consciousness.  Jerry, Phil, and Bob dominate the conversation, and their personalities really come out.

9.       Whiskey in the Jar – So Many Roads.  Another late era studio jam with some banter.  Jerry had likely rediscovered this tune while working up old material with David Grisman, as they recorded and played some in Jerry's last several years.  It's a special moment, the band is clearly feeling it, and they jump right in.  A moment that shows not only where they were from, but where they were going, how the past continued to inform their future.  Part of the reason why the Dead's music sounds so timeless is that it grew out of and respected American musical traditions.  The Dead weren't really a typical rock n' roll band; their music was just never really that fast.  They were an electric American band, updating the American songbook with amplified music.  Although as they discuss on this track, this is actually an Irish song.  "A folk song." "But a cool one."

10.   Jam After Let it Grow – Beautiful Jams.  Recorded in Berlin on 10/20/90, not long after Brent had died, with Vince, and featuring Bruce.  As I stated before, Let it Grow is not one of my favorite tunes, but it could lead to some interesting jams, as is the case here.  Bruce is really stretching it out, Vince adds some new age atmospherics, Jerry's ears perk up, and the music unfolds.  It feels like a heavenly jam to me, very reflective and bittersweet.  Seemed fitting to include this on the final disc.

11.   Jam out of Terrapin – So Many Roads.  The musical fractal I mentioned earlier continues to spiral through eternity.  Sometimes the Dead played music that felt like it was just out there in the cosmos waiting for them to tap into.  This is one of those times.  Terrapin is always being jammed out; you just have to tune yourself into the right frequency to hear this rare and different tune. 

12.   Transilence>
13.   The Speed of Space>
14.   Dark Matter Problem/Every Leaf is Turning – Greyfolded.  In putting this compilation together, Dark Star was the monkey on my back.  The holy grail of Grateful Dead songs, yet there is no definitive version, other than possibly the Live Dead recording which everyone already knows.  Each version varies so much, from show to show, era to era.  Each version is so long, at least in a normal state of consciousness.  I couldn't pick just one.  You could easily do eleven discs of nothing but Dark Star and still not really scratch the surface of the song.  I've already included several snippets of Dark Star jams throughout this collection.  These three tracks are from the Greyfolded CD's.  Using over 100 different versions of Dark Star from 1968 to 1993, producer John Oswald combined them into just shy of two hours of continuous music.  You might hear several different tracks of Jerry playing simultaneously with drum tracks from one show, bass tracks from another, etc.  Tracks from 1970 overlapping tracks from 1990.  At times it's totally insane, but it not only works, it's intensely psychedelic.  Dark Star, more than any other song, defined what the Grateful Dead were all about.  Jerry described his conceptualization of the Dead as being like a bluegrass band; the instruments having a conversation with one another.  He also described the members of the Dead as being "pathologically anti-authoritarian."  No one member was gonna tell anyone else how they should be playing, and everyone made a conscious determined effort to sound unique.  Everyone did their own thing, and at times they would clash up against each other creating a tension.  But eventually, they would synch up, dancing around one another, picking each other's pockets, stealing each other's lines, and finishing each other's jokes, then turn around and do it all over again.  Much like the previous Jam out of Terrapin, Dark Star is a tune that is always out there, being played.  If your mind is in the right place, you'll hear it.  And it's part of the fabric of all Grateful Dead songs, as you'll hear on this track as it drifts in and out of so many of them, like a flashback through the entire catalogue.  What more can be said about this song?  If there was a god, this would be his theme song, and his name would be Jerry Garcia. 

15.   Morning Dew – 6/18/74.  From the same show as the first two tunes on disc 5.  Morning Dew seemed to be a fitting end to this story.  A tale of nuclear war, the end of existence.  Or in this case, the end of the Dead.  Played as an encore at this show, surely a rarity.  Starting the song off from a complete stop, it takes the band a few bars to lock in and get on the same page, but it smokes from there on out.  There are better versions, most notably Cornell '77, and MSG '90, but you've probably heard those before, and I'd put this one in the top 20.  Also one of the few songs to be played throughout the entire history of the band.  Recorded for the first album, and played right up to the end.  This song covers a lot of moods, from the sublime to the ferocious.  I remember lying in bed, trying to go to sleep after dropping acid when I was 16, listening to Europe '72.  Fortunately, the amazing guitar interplay between Bob and Jerry was just too stimulating.  It seemed to go on for an eternity, leading to so many interesting places, and building up to the most shattering peak in any song I had heard before or since.  This version also delivers the goods.  After the song is over, Jerry has the last word. 
I guess it doesn't matter, anyway