50 Years Dead
(& My 40 Trips Around the Sun)
9/28/1975 is a date familiar to many Deadheads. On hiatus, the Dead played a handful of unique shows in 1975 featuring material from Blues for Allah, including the legendary One from the Vault show on 8/13/1975. Each show from '75 finds the band birthing a singular space-jazz fusion, breaking new ground while subsuming their influences. Despite the lack of shows, in many ways the hours spent poodling about in Weir's studio working out the material for Allah makes 1975 the most significant year in Dead history. So each of the four shows are special, but if there was a Dead show played on your birth date, you can possibly understand the significance 9/28/75 holds for me as we complete our 40th trip around the sun together.
Many older Deadheads likely do not share a birth date with a Dead show, if they saw the band before, say, 1978. But for us younger Heads born between 1965 - 1995, the Dead having played approximately 2,300 shows, you have about a 1 in 4 chance of being born on the date of a Grateful Dead show. Using the old Deadhead math (that I never really bought into), that one out of every three shows was either mind-blowing, average, or terrible, you have about a 1 in 12 chance of being born on the date of a legendary Dead show. Except of course if you were born in 1975, when only 4 shows took place, in which case you have a 1 in 91 chance of being born on the date of a show, or 1 in 273 chance of being born on the date of a legendary show. Well, consider me lucky I guess.
The music from this show, included on the new 30 Trips Around the Sun boxset, is tremendous, featuring a closing passage that includes the final time the band ever jammed out The Eleven, and a triumphant GDTRFB. Help>Slip opens the show, but Franklin's Tower, played later in the set, stands alone, and is most representative of what the band had achieved. 1973 and '74 found the Dead fluently speaking a country-jazz hybrid while sorting through many other styles and influences. But in 1975, they were speaking their own language. Listen to the Franklin's, and the forest you see is the space-jazz sound they had created, but the trees speak to their own individual influences. For me, the focus is always on Garica, and I can detect the slow country funk he absorbed via Bakersfield, until he takes off in the solo. Against the background of his fellow musicians' roots, the gestalt creates a mirage of something new, obscuring the past. Less inventive players like Clapton could mimic JJ Cale and turn his sound into pop-rock gems, but Garcia and the Dead went deeper. There's an archetypal motif about rewards derived from selflessly honoring the past, but I can't seem to recall what it is...
But what makes this show special for me, it being my birthday and all, is the onstage banter (check the end of Slipknot and TLEO), which includes discussion of a baby being born. So, what are the odds of being born on the date of a legendary Dead show in which there is onstage banter about a baby being born? 1 in 2,318, to be precise.
What does it all mean? Everything, nothing? Being stuck in a duality, a bit of both I guess, but mainly whatever meaning I choose to give it. Right now, it's just a cool statistic. But what happened to that baby, my cosmic soul brother or sister? Were they baptized backstage in ayahuasca with Owsley as the Godfather? I mean, I am statistically lucky to share a birth date with this show, but what are the odds of being born at a legendary Dead show. This kid wins.
Are you still out there Augustus Nugjar Killowat III? What has become of the baby? Did you follow the Golden Road to Terrapin Station? Or did your life proceed by it's own design? Anyone know who this kid is? Would love to get an update.
So happy birthday to me and 9/28/1975. Enjoy this month's installment of cosmic rhapsody. Only three more chapters to go in this compilation, we're getting down to the wire. Give it a listen then read below, or vice versa. Previous volumes are in previous blog posts. Until next month:
See here how everything
Lead up to this day
And it's just like
Any other day
That's ever been
Sun goin up
And then the
Sun it goin down
Shine through my window and
My friends they come around
Disc Nine: MOON BOOTS
This is just kind of a classic early 90's second set, although the song order is a bit jumbled. It features some of the best songs from the era, tunes that really benefited from the sounds the Dead were harnessing in the 80's. As opposed to the frantic pace of the 80's, they were able to slow things down to allow them to breathe and open up to interesting spaces. Even more so than the previous disc, this set has a cohesion that makes it feel like a show they might have played, in my fucking dreams!
2. Foolish Heart – 6/22/91. This version is from an excellent second set at Soldier Field. Unfortunately, I didn't catch this show, and would have to wait until the following summer to see the Dead for the first time. This song really summed up where the Dead were at in this period. When they were on, it was a swirling kaleidoscope of colors, rhythms, and sounds. When they were off, it was a hot mess. Some nice lines here and there, but overall some lightweight lyrics from Hunter. Can't say that Jerry felt the lyrics were particularly important in this song either, as I've never heard a version in which he sings them all correctly. This song is all about the circular melody that chases after itself. It really benefits from Hornsby on the piano as well.
3. That Would Be Something – Jerry Ballads. A melody that apparently Jerry just couldn't resist, as he would frequently find himself riffing on it coming out of Space, or the end of pretty much any jam. Kind of a strange cover choice, but I suppose its simplicity and catchiness made it an attractive song. The track length here is almost identical to the version on McCartney's solo debut. FYI!
4. Moon Boots Jam – Jamming at the Edge. From 9/8/93 in Richfield, OH. The first night of a three night run. I missed this night, but would catch the next two. It was about a week after I had started my freshman year at the University of Dayton. I met a few Deadheads and like minded individuals, and we blew out of town for the shows. No tickets, drugs, or plans on where we would stay, and things couldn't have turned out any better. An insanely memorable couple of nights, and some of the strongest and most lasting friendships I made in college. Grateful Dead magic, man. Would've liked to see this jam live, but oh well. The Dead were riffing on Standing on the Moon, but ultimately decided to go into Black Peter.
5. Standing on the Moon – Good Ole Grateful Dead. I used to love this song in high school. Jerry standing on the moon, looking down on earth at all the fucked-up shit happening below. 'If you guys could see it from up here, you'd get it.' Far out. As corny as that may seem now, I was right, it’s a great song. The verses are hippy-dippy, but the performance is as good as any the Dead ever played. After the verses, Jerry goes into the refrain, "A lovely view of heaven, but I'd rather be with you," and the song becomes about something else. Rather than the man in the moon looking down on earth, Jerry is singing that he wants to be with us. And hell yeah we want to be with him; and on that night we are. Then Jerry goes into a ferocious solo and the show climaxes with him fanning out on the chords. Jerry comes back with a few more "Rather be with you('s)," and its gravy from here on out. Whatever he's selling, you're buying. If you're lucky enough to be at the show tripping balls, your face has just melted, your fists are up in the air, and you're about to blow your lungs out. You start to weigh the pros and cons of going on tour. But then Bobby starts up Lovelight or Sugar Mag, and it's time to party. It doesn't get any better than this. I was high when I wrote this, in case you couldn't tell. One strange thing about this version, you can hear Phil say "That was Huey Lewis" toward the beginning of the song. Apparently Huey had sat in with them on harmonica for a few tunes. Kind of strange combo. Unfortunately, fans clamoring for a cover of Want a New Drug would continue to be unfulfilled.
6. Adams Family Tune Up – 10/3/87. Just Jerry having some fun, and the band joins in.
7. Terrapin Station>
8. Mock Turtle Jam – 3/15/90. Compare this version to the previous one on disc 5, and it's almost like a completely different tune. This is more of the psychedelic beast the tune morphed into as it evolved. Rather than petering out, the jam builds and builds, like a musical fractal spiraling around. Like Foolish Heart, a song that benefited from the modern technology they embraced. Really the Dead's signature tune in the last half of their career, as Dark Star became rarer, and they became more of an arena rock and even stadium band. A big tune for those big spaces. There was something special in the air in the Cap Center this night for sure, as the band is really feeling it. A fine version, but when they get to the Mock Turtle Jam, shit just blows up. Like psychedelic Dixieland, each band member soloing, just going off, yet each musical thread weaving around the others. My favorite Dead song for a long time, until it was unseated by China>Rider. If I ever wanted to get fired up, just put this tune on and get carried away. Lyrics that consciously didn't really make sense were my rallying cry for a number of years:
all are dim but one is bright:
the spiral light of Venus
rising first and shining best,
Oh, From the northwest corner
of a brand-new crescent moon
crickets and cicadas sing
a rare and different tune
9. Playin' Reprise – 9/25/90. I was never a huge fan of the song Playing in the Band, but it often lead to some excellent and out there jams. Like Dark Star, it was just too long and diverse of a tune to find a signature version to include. But the Playin' Reprises were always bursts of energy. A song so nice Bob had to play it twice, apparently.
10. Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin's Tower – Garcia Tapes. This version is with Branford Marsalis, who played a few memorable shows with the Dead in the early 90's. Other than Hornsby, who was really a semi-member of the band, Branford is one of the few guest musicians on this compilation. Inspired by Branford, Garcia steers this Slipknot into some pretty heady territory. In later years, the Slipknots may have lost a bit of precision, and Franklin's a bit of energy, but another song that morphed along with the band's sonic palette of the era. Help and Franklin's are both songs with classic verses, but I've never pondered either's meaning too deeply. They don't seem to add up to much. Hunter lyrics that don't really register anything on the conscious level, but are brought to life by his greatest actor, Jerry, who brings out the feeling in each song. Help on the Way, shock and foreboding, Slipknot, tension and exploration, Franklin's Tower, triumphant release. Amazing how drastically the mood changes from Help to Franklin's, yet it all feels so connected and seamless. The songs don't seem to have any relation, and yet they play off each other so well. Really a brilliant combination of energies, thoughts, and feelings. Even if Hunter's lyrics were not as impressive as others, he did give us this classic piece of advice for anyone who's ever found themselves in a certain state of mind:
If you get confused just listen to the music play