Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Tag: Brent (page 2 of 2)

Without Lope Day To Day, Insanity’s King

The Jerry Ballad is one of a number of sacrosanct moment of the show, along with the Dylan Slot, the Closing Raver, and the Brent Bathroom Break. (Or the second set Estimated in ’77; on two separate occasions, they set up their gear so they could play Estimated on an off-day.) Unlike the other categories, the Jerry Ballad has been there since the very beginning, along with the part of the show where the drummers get high while the rest of them irritate the audience and then the reverse.

The songs that work in the Jerry Ballad slot are perfect examples of what I call The Lope, that uniquely Dead stop-and-start stumble. Ramble On Rose, Sugaree. Slow it down a little and you’ve got Row Jimmy (or the later versions of They Love Each Other). Speed it up and it’s Brown-Eyed Women (or the early versions of They Love Each Other). It is the sound of a small barefoot boy in overalls ambling along with his donkey in the South that only exists in the first 20 minutes of rock star bio-pics. The donkey may be wearing a hat. Bum-BA-Bum-BA-Bum: the beat toodles to and fro.

Black Peter does that. So did Standing on the Moon and Ship of Fools and Wharf Rat. Sing Me Back Home never did that: it might be the worst of all Jerry Ballads. It is a perfect exemplar of the maxim Keep it snappy, boys! They’re DYING out there! Plus, SMBH was always a victim of the Dead’s most pernicious trait: the tempo drift. Songs have a certain tempo they sound right in. A 10 bpm deviation either way leads to the rushed, coked-out clatter od ’85, or the sludgy miasma of the Fall ’76 shows. They never got the tempo for Sing Me right, which might not have been such a problem but not for the fact that they were incapable of playing the song for anything less than a dozen minutes at a time.

(Bobby also had interests in a late show weeper. In fact, that’s what he called it: the Bobby Weeper. When he told Garcia about this, Garcia said nothing, just walked away and found Billy and the crotchpunching began.)

All I Said Was Come On In

I’ve often heard the question about the Philosopher’s Stone of the Dead. The show or album or song that, when played to a normal human being, will convert them to Enthusiasts instantly and irrevocably.  This is kind of a vampire fantasy, isn’t it. Infecting someone…someone with a future and hopes and dreams and $52 in his pocket who just hit the big city and needs to DANCE.

That got away from me. I apologize.

My point is: remember how the Dead (and we) would winkingly refer to the first set as the warm-up? Most people prefer the band they have paid good money to see warm up prior to the audience arriving. What I’m getting at is that the Dead did a lot of weird, almost deliberately off-putting stuff that we, as Enthusiasts might love (or at least tolerate), but people who like U2 might not. These are the things that will never, ever convert anyone into ONE OF US, ONE OF US.

  • Blues for Allah, the song, is just too much. It is the Dead at its Deadiest. This song is the sound of seven people Grateful Deading as hard as they fucking could. How Grateful Dead is it? Mickey spent a hundred grand playing the crickets. (To their credit, though: can you imagine an American band writing a 20-minute opus about fucking Allah nowadays? Megyn Kelly’s head would explode, live on camera.
  • Don’t start people off with Seastones. Don’t ever play people Seastones. In fact, it’s better to not mention Ned Lagin at all.
  • Brent’s songs. Sorry, but true.
  • Any show that contains more than one stretch of tuning that last longer than the song preceding it. And don’t tell me about “banter.” If it’s actually banter, then it will be labeled as such. Do you think you’re dealing with children here?
  • Dark Star. Yes, I know: a controversial and attention-gathering choice. I imagine you’re perturbed, but under no circumstances riot. No circumstances at all. (So, yeah, Dark Star is a bad intro because, c’mon: it’s barely a song. Dark Star was more of a magic trick: when we play these chords and sing these words, they act as an invocation to the muse and we just jam for 20 minutes and are AWESOME. Dark Star was like SHAZAM: say the word and save the world.)
  • Any Sugaree over 16 minutes. A sixteen minute Sugaree? You’re gonna throw that at an unprepared guy? That is so much Sugaree. Now, you and I  know that there is no amount of Sugaree that is too much Sugaree, but the average human is unaware of this fact. They have, in my experience, even become violently opposed to (and I am quoting), “ONE MORE SECOND OF THE DOODLY-DOODLY, AND I’LL PLOW INTO A FUCKING TREE.” Philistines.

Besides, we all know the perfect intro to the Dead is Eyes off of One from the Vault. Case closed.

In addendum: While writing this post, I was obviously listening to One from the Vault, but hadn’t gotten to Blues for Allah yet.

I just got to Blues for Allah.

Are you fucking kidding me? None of us are ever allowed to make fun of Yes again. This is goofier than a sackful of your cousins. It’s just Orientalist noise; Edward Said would have loathed this thing.

My Favorite Things

Have I been negative? Probably. Almost definitely. What about the positives? What is lovable about this band?

  • The black leather jacket Garcia used to wear.
  • Mississippi Half-Step. When it gets real quiet and they sing about the Rio Grand-ee-o.
  • The little songs they play during tuning–Funniculi, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, Stayin’ Alive.
  • Billy playing the drums all by himself.
  • Billy playing the drums with Mickey.
  • The proto-version of Brown-Eyed Women from 8/24/71 (Dick’s Picks 35). The beat is turned around and the melody sounds like a children’s playground taunt and IT’S AWESOME.
  • Bobby forgetting the words.
  • Garcia forgetting the words.
  • Phil never knowing the words in the first place and just making shit up as he went. (I’m looking at you, Tom Thumb’s Blues.)
  • The Celtic jacket Mickey wore in the Touch of Grey video.
  • Touch of Grey.
  • The AUD of Touch of Grey from the comeback show.
  • Garcia with his hair in pigtails.
  • Pig.
  • Branford.
  • Bobby’s Chuck Berry tunes.
  • Brent’s long, lustrous hair.
  • Terrapin Station.
  • Bobby’s wise-guy routines (“Turn around real slow, we gotcha covered.”)
  • April Fool’s Day 1980–opening up the show with Promised Land on each others’ instruments. (Garcia on drums!)

The Butler Dead It

“Ah, Mr. Mydland, I see you’ve completed brushing your beautiful, silky hair 100 times on each side with your silver brush. As this is your first show with the Grateful Dead, please allow me to show you around. My name is Rutherford.”

“Yes, is certainly was a shame when you lost count those four times.”

“Yes, it was rude of Mr. Weir to kep sneaking up behind you and shouting numbers.”

“Yes, it did also seem to me that Mr. Weir’s decision to only yell “one,” and “two,” before bellowing nonsense syllables that he thought sounded like numbers was entirely based  on the fact that Mr. Weir is mentally challenged. What’s odd is that I’ve heard him count off Estimated. The only possible explanation, may Sweet Sweaty Jesus protect us, is that Bob Weir is getting stupider before our very eyes.”

“Mm-hmm. I’ll bet you’re worried. I, on the other hand, have watched that man woo, seduce, mount, and hump to completion an ice machine in Salt Lake City. And now he’s actually dumber than that. But I digress: let’s show you around backstage.

“These are the dressing rooms. You do not have one, as they are earned by not dying. Mr. Godchaux, for example, never got a dressing room. He would change his trousers in the middle of the room, with Mrs. Godchaux holding a towel around him as you would for a small child at the seaside. The entire crew would laugh and laugh, pointing at the poor little man.

“This is Mr. Garcia’s dressing room. Needless to say, you are not allowed in there. Ever. Especially not if he has invited you in; all it means is that he smells narcotics on you and will not be satisfied until he looks for himself. He will check every single bit, Mr. Mydland. You have been given the talk about Mr. Garcia, correct? No eye contact–he interprets that as aggression. Also: it is his ice cream. Any and all ice cream is his. If you were to go to the shop to pick up a pint of ice cream for yourself, it would still be his ice cream. So, never ever ever–

DICKPUNCH!

“Ah, you’ve met Mr. Kreutzman. He enjoys so much to punch people in the dick. Randomly and viciously. You are aware of one of our supporters, the basketball player, Bill Walton? We have been keeping a terrible secret for years: Mr. Walton’s continuing series of injuries that have kept him off the court are, without any exception, results of being punched in the dick by Mr. Kreutzman.

The Other One

Who was the most useless member? Musically speaking, obviously. In a serious crisis, like a fire or a cruise boat disaster, you would want precisely none of them around. Garcia might keep a cool head, but that’s it. Bobby’s presence would result in a vast increase in casualties due to the time expended by having to explain over and over, in increasingly simpler language, what was happening and why it was a bad thing. Brent would lose the will to live immediately and just walk into the flames.

Which brings us to Tom Constanten. TC is no one’s favorite Dead member, but he is also not anyone’s least-favorite. No one puts on a tape of 1969 and admonishes his friends, “Dudes, listen to the Bach-flavored calliope noises way in the background. LISTEN TO TC TRILL FANCIFULLY!” TC seems to have been included in the group for three reasons: to make Lesh seem like less of a pretentious dick, his clothes, and mustache. Let us examine these things:

Phil Lesh is unbearable, we all know this. If you can read an interview with the man where your hand does not involuntarily start making the jerk-off gesture, then you’re a more tolerant man than I. If Phil were a modern-day hipster, he would work the fact that he didn’t own a television into the first 30 seconds of every conversation he ever had. Phil’s one of those New Atheists that likes to start internet arguments. TC demanded that the group buy him a harpsichord. We have a winner.

As for attire, the only thing to be said is that TC thought he was dressing to play Hippie at a Dinner Party #2 in the flashback scene of a random ThirtySomething episode. TC owns a cape. It is not his first cape. In fact, TC has a “cape guy.”

But the Fu Manchu was pretty sweet.

Hulk vs. Superman

1977 is something that must be dealt with; its little brother is ’73. Speak to me not of 1974, when Billy decided that they were gonna be a damn jazz band if he had anything to do with it. Leave ’76 in your pocket, when tempos dragged and everything was a dirge. Yes, the Beacon shows were outstanding, but they were still figuring out what to do now that they were less of a fighter jet and more of a bomber.

You’re going to bring up the Old Shit, the Primal Dead Shit. The before-they-learned-how-to-write-songs Dead. The Dead that had, like, four riffs that went with three different sets of lyrics, each more ridiculous than the last, and would just trip their balls off while holding instruments in front of audiences really loud? We all love that Dead. You can’t not love that Dead. It’s like the Baby Jesus. We love the Baby Jesus simply because he’s gonna be Jesus, but right now: he’s a baby! Yay, we love babies! And that’s what the Pigpen era was: Baby Jesus.

If the Dead hadn’t learned how to write songs, they would have ben the Quicksilver Messenger Whatever. Or Jefferson Airplane. Just endlessly jamming with some nonsense lyrics about The Man, or the Shire.

So we must leave Primal Dead, to refocus on 1977 and 1973.  1977 and 1973. They are the Batman and Robin of the Grateful Dead’s output.

Some will say it is the historic availability of the high-quality Betty Boards that bias the long-time Grateful Dead listener: these shows were taped so well that they were invariably the best sounding thing in anyone’s collection. Huge bass, crisp separation–these tapes were a joy to listen to, as opposed to the murky 4th and 5th gen Maxell’s cluttering up your basement. No matter how “warts and all” your stance, you couldn’t help appreciate the sound that rivaled some of the Dead’s official releases. (I’m looking at you, Skull & Roses.)

Perhaps ’77 is so esteemed simply because listening to it doesn’t give you a headache? This would have been a valid argument years ago, but after 32 Dick’s Picks, two dozen Road Trips and Digital Downloads, we have fearful amounts of Dead available, all at a sound quality that any one of us would have once killed for. Yes, you can quibble over the “punchiness” of this release versus that, but these are, when it comes to using the Dead to feed the hunger of your burgeoning OCD, light years beyond what we used to deem acceptable

We have not mentioned any year past 1977. There is a reason for that. (We’ll get to Brent later, you can be assured.)

My Second Sets Are Shorter Than Yours

I’m not listening to space. Definitely not drums. Never. This part of the second set irritates me on a deeply personal level. When I download a show and throw it on the iTunes, the first thing that happens is drums/space gets jettisoned. This is how space sounds to me:

“Ooh, Garcia just went ‘blorp,’ so I’m gonna go “fleep.” For ten more minutes. Man, those people going to the bathroom are missing some good shit! Squizzle glop! Nah-nah-nah WANG! Ba-DOOM fwop fwop gTUNk”

The only reason people didn’t go to the bathroom during space is because they had just gone during drums.

We indulged these men, you and I did, by letting them fuck around for a good half-hour a night. We should have elected an audience captain to tell the band, firmly but politely, that this kind of nonsense must stop. No more MIDI-fueled Ornette Coleman-offs. Play something, anything. One of Bobby’s cowboy songs. One of Brent’s tunes. Fuck, man, play Wave to the Wind. Just stop doing whatever it is you think you’re doing.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten about you two in back. Here’s every single drum solo you two–or any other drummer ever anywhere–have ever played: whacka-whacka-whacka-whack. That’s it. It’s a drum: it only makes one goddamn sound. You do not need to make that sound over and over and over and over while Garcia is doing whatever he does in the bathroom for two hours AGAIN.

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