a small exhalation before the big breath (xian) Sat 16 Jun 07 14:44
junk bonds, not to be confused with jug bands
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 16 Jun 07 16:16
>> I think "Skeleton Key" is a pretty great artifact (if not an examination) of Deadhead culture. If humans were wiped off the planet and some future civilization came across that book I think they'd be pretty fascinated. Taking this a step further, the value of the Dead and the manner that they sustained themselves and their scene for thirty years, is valuable as scholarship because the longevity of the phenomenon will allow scholars, arguably, the best single entry point for understanding and better appreciating the essence of "Dionysianism" and the importance this played in the marked social change that erupted from the '60s. This is why I believe, with the original longhairs not getting any younger, serious scholarship of the Dead and the era is so important now. Maybe Adam is right and this will be of great interest to alien civilizations (or, per Nick, to future scholars in a number of fields). Rebecca Adams was onto something significant when she tried to engage the Deadhead phenomenon as anthropological/sociological field study. Too bad she was shot down, or at least ignored, by so many contemporary scholars with their lockstep myopia. I don't have my book yet, Nick. Is there a way that you can cut and paste AGI's table of contents so some of us proto-aliens can better grasp the breadth of your collection? Thx!
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sat 16 Jun 07 16:54
I wish I had the book! Author, take note. I shall pay ye, but give me that Nick Meriwether John Hancock. Nice to see the mentions of Skeleton Key. We certainly had it in mind to map the Deadhead subculture through time, but accessed via achronologic dictionary-style terms. I love that the book has a life of its own now, as out-of-print copies circulate through smoky dorm rooms and bodhisattvic backpacks, turning up where interesting people do with those yellowed pages and lots of ash-stains on the edges, like Gideon bibles of this wacky gnostic Hindoo cult we're all in. All of our books will be washing up on interesting shores for centuries, until the paper/bits rot. Nick, a leetel question. Why do you think that, for so many people, the Sacred attached itself to this music? Rock concerts themselves were still new things when the Dead went out on the road; they were certainly one of the few groups (Beatles? Byrds too? or Velvet Underground?) that invented the concept of a rock show as a transformative spiritual experience. Why the Dead?
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Sun 17 Jun 07 08:04
Scott, the chapters in AGI: Introduction All Graceful Instruments: The Contexts of the Grateful Dead Phenomenon Nicholas Meriwether 1. Now Is the Time Past Believing: Concealment, Ritual, and Death in the Grateful Deads Approach to Improvisation David Malvinni 2. Deadly Beauty Horace Fairlamb 3. Bobby, Béla, and Borrowing in Victim or the Crime Shaugn ODonnell 4. Robert Hunter, William Faulkner, and Must Have Been the Roses Nicholas Meriwether 5. Grateful Dead Musicking Matthew Tift 6. An American Nekyia: The Grateful Dead and the Descent to the Underworld Lans Smith 7. The Grateful Dead, Native American Novels and the Restoration of Oral Community Chris Norden 8. Listen to the River: The Grateful Dead and Folk Music Revell Carr 9. Grateful Rites, Dead Initiations Mary Goodenough 10. Place, Space, and the Deadhead Communication Code Natalie Dollar 11. Nietzsches Dionysus and the Grateful Dead Stan Spector 12. Deadhead Logistics: The Business of the Dead Barry Barnes
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Sun 17 Jun 07 08:19
Ah, great posts, Scott and Steve ... Steve, great question - - really, the ur-question in Dead studies: "Why do you think that, for so many people, the Sacred attached itself to this music? Rock concerts themselves were still new things when the Dead went out on the road; they were certainly one of the few groups (Beatles? Byrds too? or Velvet Underground?) that invented the concept of a rock show as a transformative spiritual experience. Why the Dead?" Ah, why indeed ... that's the whole of it. I have no answers; I suspect I'll spend the rest of my life wondering about how they did it. I think they did, too: some of the interviews deal with that, especially in Gans's Conversation with the Dead. An off-the-cuff response (if informed by a lotta mulling) is that tapped into some truly basic cultural tropes - - the archaic human needs for celebration and commmunality, etc etc [ie, some of the dionysian conversations above] - - and forms, such as ritualized music performance, but grounded that reinterpretation of those poles of Western civilization in a specifically American context, that tapped into a number of specific cultural mores here, from their American musical roots to more broadly, the power of improvisation, which is itself a theme that coils through so many of the musical forms and genres they channeled ... all dissolved in the soup of psychedelics and painted in the day-glo hues of the sixties. I also don't think it can be emphasized enough: the heart of the Dead is the sheer, raw, unadulterated genius of the music, lyrics, and individuals involved. I've been spending more and time with artifacts of the San Francisco music scene in the sixties; my knowledge and understanding of that scene has grown immensely in the richness of the details they provide; but what's also increasingly clear, as I work my way through everything from the Oxford Circle to the E-Types and the Everpresent Fulness to the Daily Flash, is that the core bands really were first rate; and the apex of ambition, effort and achievement is the Dead. Another way of putting this is that I have no clue, just that they were indeed the perfect storm, a combination of all these factors and influences, distilled through that rarest and most precious of artistic qualities, genius - - and compounded by a commitment to work that no other band in that scene possessed, as history has shown.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sun 17 Jun 07 10:52
Nice. Thanks Nick.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sun 17 Jun 07 11:15
Loverly discussion. When you look at the Dead in 1967-72, they were one of so many bands that were part of that amplified rock music renaissance/explosion. The Deadhead cultural cohesions we've been talking about were in their formative stages at best. To a large extent, by 1980, they were the last band standing. Had CSN&Y or the Airplane or QMS or The Doors or The Band or Sly, etc. been able to sustain themselves for this length of time, would similar followings have developed? I'm not convinced. In comparing the Dead to other "successful" rock acts, there is one sociological/media factor that differentiates them from the others. Most bands gained mass appeal through traditional Record Company marketing methods--vinyl, FM/AM, record store promos, TV Amer Bandstand spots, concert tours, etc. If a song hit, success could be indirect without listeners ever seeing the band live (think of the Monkees). The Dead, comparatively, built their following more through steady concert touring (and to a lesser extent albums) than through indirect radio/TV type exposure. The group had less mass appeal and built their base more organically. This has been differentiated by scholars in communications as mass appeal vs. popular appeal. This doesn't explain the spiritual manifestation elicited by the band, but it does help differentiate the Dead phenomenon from that of other rock groups and it explains the Pied Piper effect that Phish managed to replicate. Thanks for the Table of Contents, Nick.
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Sun 17 Jun 07 12:30
Scott and Steve, you're both most welcome ... thanks for great questions (goes for all of y'all). This is much fun! (And a hell of an intro to the WELL ...) A comment directed at your most recent, Scott: "Had CSN&Y or the Airplane or QMS or The Doors or The Band or Sly, etc. been able to sustain themselves for this length of time, would similar followings have developed? I'm not convinced." Nor I. I think that the depth of the lyrics and music, in its appreciation of antecedents and the sheer skill of its execution, does set them apart from the bands you list, all of whom I still enjoy to this day. (I've been on a QMS and JA kick lately as I've discovered some new boots.) But none of those bands - - excepting Crosby's magnificent solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name (which is very much a deliberate, outspokenly spiritual effort)really came out and talked about god in the same way ... minor aside here: the thing that made me a Deadhead-in-waiting was when a California friend played me Skullfuck the first week of my sophomore year in college. "Not Fade Away > GDTRFB" was mind-blowing, but I spent hours and hours thinking about and absorbing "Wharf Rat", which is about as directly spiritual a song as I'd ever heard in rock music. I'm uncomfortable saying with finality that the Dead were MORE spiritual than their peers, but I'm sure tempted to ... that's one of those generalizations that would depend on how we defined spiritual, but I find an arc between "And We Bid You Goodnight" and "Days Between" that hits every religio-spiritual bone in my body in spades, and with chills. I think it's also interesting to measure that in reverse: how is it that Deadheads as a group had such a unique religio-spiritual vibe to them, not found in other popular music fandoms? (See Robin Sylvan's Traces of the Spirit for a fascinating explication of this view - - Sylvan does find that vibe in other fandoms, though not in a particular group's following, and not to the extent that he does with Deadheads).
streaming irreverent commentary (pauli) Sun 17 Jun 07 20:06
I think there are several things that set the experience of the Grateful Dead apart from other bands but foremost among them is the music itself. The lyrics often touch on the mysterious and unfathomable, birth, life, and death. The ways in which the music created an altered state of consciousness made it possible to experience something akin to religious ecstasy. And even as the structure of the show became more formalized in the 80s and 90s that very structure was also supportive of religious experience, a point made by Mary Goodenough in her essay, "Grateful Rites, Dead Initiation": "If one experienced both symbolic death and rebirth within the structure of a Grateful Dead performance, it follows that an apprehension of God (or whatever name/s one chooses for that higher power) through music is what lies at the core of the Grateful Dead phenomenon."
Adam Perry (adamice9) Mon 18 Jun 07 07:07
"they were indeed the perfect storm, a combination of all these factors and influences, distilled through that rarest and most precious of artistic qualities, genius - - and compounded by a commitment to work that no other band in that scene possessed, as history has shown." I dunno why, but the "commitment to work" comment immediately made me think of an interview with Phish's Page McConnell where he answered the question "what's the difference between you guys and the Grateful Dead?" with "well, we practice." As someone who never got a chance to see the Grateful Dead live, when I listen to shows or watch a "View From the Vault," I'm amazed at how ossified the song sequences and song selection became. Aside from rare exceptions, you knew how the flow of most Grateful Dead concerts would be -- I, for one, would have went to the bathroom during the token cowboy songs and "drums/space" would've been my favorite part of the show. Interviews with Bruce Hornsby (who actually forced and/or inspired the boys to change things up while he was in the band, creating new song connections, transposing outros and altogether giving the whole thing a kick in the ass) enforce my point. Our own <digaman> asked if Bruce ever suggested something like "opening the second set with 'Space'" and he responded, "well, sure. but they had a way of doing things and nothing was gonna change that." I don't know what my question is here, really...just wondering if some Deadheads argued that "the structure of a Grateful Dead performance" was the band being lazy while some argued it was an exercise in perfection that emboldened the phenomenon. Because for me, one of the reasons I really fell in love with Phish was their virtual refusal to ossify. I was lucky enough to witness Phish doing an hour of group improvisation atop a control tower on an airforce base in Maine back in 2003. And I loved that they could (and more importantly WOULD) do things like that: start the first set with a 20-minute jam, do an *entire* set of jamming with no lyrics, place virtually any song in any place in the set, etc. etc. while the Grateful Dead's sets were arguably mostly predictable (or at least unsurprising) for 20 years or so. I mean, could you imagine if during 1989, with the absolutely magical stuff the Dead were playing (i.e. Miami, Hampton, etc.) they came out and played a second set that was nothing but an hour of group improvisation? What do you think the reaction would've been?
Steve Silberman (digaman) Mon 18 Jun 07 10:46
1989 would have been the year to do it, too, with the MIDI stuff. It could have been like the John Cage Orchestra. The question is, how many people who "paid good money" to "see" the "Grateful Dead" would have been happy to see the John Cage Orchestra? I would've been. There's at least half an hour of that Miami '89 show that is more or less precisely that.
Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 18 Jun 07 11:23
Adam wrote a wonderful story which I had the pleasure of reading at one of the Popular Culture Conference meetings of the Grateful Dead Caucus a couple of years ago about the Dead turning into just such an ensemble. I have finally (as I promised Adam long ago) put the story up online -- if he gives his permission, I'll post the URL here (if he doesn't give permission, I'll just send *him* the URL!).
Who was John? He was a writer (xian) Mon 18 Jun 07 22:59
OK, Nick. I've been holding this in reserve, given its ultrageekiness from an academic point of view, but I have to ask: What is your favorite footnote in All Graceful Instruments?
David Gans (tnf) Tue 19 Jun 07 00:45
Adam wrote: > when I listen to shows or watch a "View From the Vault," I'm amazed at how > ossified the song sequences and song selection became. Aside from rare ex- > ceptions, you knew how the flow of most Grateful Dead concerts would be Phil Lesh used that very word "ossified" in an interview with me in 1981 or 1982. He was saying way back then that he'd like to see the structure of things shaken up. But it didn't seem able to happen, for whatever combina- tion of reasons. Ned Lagin, who met the band at MIT in late 1969 and toured with them in the summer and fall of '74, told me that there was pressure on the band in that Wall of Sound summer to rein things in musically. The thing I loved the most about that music, once I got a handle on it in '73-'74 (and which still works very well on tape) was the unstructured stuff - the places where the groove and the tonality were constantly in flux, all the players hyper-attentive to the conversation. You could think of it as a deep, rich discussion among wise and diverse minds, erupting in laughter here and then slipping into poignant reverie. The phrase "concerted sense of quest" comes to mind - maybe one of the scholars present can tell us where it originated. Jerry told Blair Jackson and me in 1981 that the band felt that they were leaving the audience behind a little too often in those shows; that breaks my heart, just a bit. So the managers, Ned told me, were urging the band to keep things a little more earthbound in the mid-'70s. There were other factors in the grounding of the starship, too, of course. A band that forged its polyglot dialogue while blazing on Owsley's acid was bound to tell a less-soaring tale when it was cocaine that propelled the vehicle. They got lazy, too, and the audience gets some of the blame for that. A band that is applauded wildly and paid preciously for half-assed performances has little incentive to spruce up their presentation. A lot of it had to do with the massive weight this culture placed on the shoulders of Jerry Garcia, who bore it with tremendous grace long past the time he had become weary of being Jerry Garcia but eventually became unable to carry it.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Tue 19 Jun 07 09:57
Keeping the blade sharp will wear it down eventually. I never got to a concert. There is a small upside in that I didn't have to experience the contradictions and burdens of the downhill slope. All of the Grateful Dead of my experience is wonderful. I treasure the Views from the Vault as rare visual treats, rather than regarding them as documents of decay. Another point to bear in mind is that without those final slogs across the United States GD may have remained a cultural footnote, rather than the wellspring of creative imagination and scholarly investigation documented in All Graceful Instruments and one of the best documented phenomena in rock 'n' roll culture. In the late eighties, GD were only a half step from toodle-oo.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 19 Jun 07 10:05
Very true, Robin. And my perspective as an early-'70s boarder of the bus is quite different from that of earlier- and later-vintage travelers. I know people who thought it was all over when Pigpen left the tour, and there are others who were disgusted by the advent of all that cowboy music.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Tue 19 Jun 07 10:50
That's what makes excursions like the Miami '89 Dark Star all the more precious to me -- traces of what could have been.
David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 19 Jun 07 15:28
Just finally chiming in here--I have the book and have read in it, though not read it cover to cover. Thanks for doing this book, Nick! It captures so many facets of the band. It's what I've noticed all along while putting together the annotations for the lyrics over the past gopod knows how many years...that there are fields upon fields of study. I'm especially glad to see the serious work on the music itself. When I audited a lecture by Fred Lieberman at UC Santa Cruz, he was treating the musical structure of "Bird Song" in a very serious yet fun way, and I thought--hey, this reveals stuff we might not notice unless we pay close attention. I think the upcoming symposium at Amherst in November will further this approach, and whether or not this kind of interdisciplinary depth is unique to the Grateful Dead (I don't think it is...I think you can look at ANYthing closely enough and it will reveal fractal levels of complexity, but that's a different question), it will be a lot of fun and we'll see, over the next few decades, whether it is a sustained trend. The closest thing I can think of culturally is Shakespeare studies.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 19 Jun 07 19:32
Thirty years, of course, is an amazing amount of time for a band to stay together, so the idea of the Grateful Dead coping with ossification is understandable. Looking at just the original and live albums of the Dead (not bootlegs or tapes or Best Of compilations), the creative apex of the group came during the period of 1969 to 1977 when they generated the bulk of their impressive collection. Their first three albums--The Grateful Dead ('67), Anthem of the Sun ('68) and Aoxomoxoa ('69) are uneven, formative works. Live Dead first captures the potency of the band on stage. The next eight years are when the band made its impressive lasting mark with that exceptional string of albums: Workingman's Dead ('70), American Beauty ('70), Skull & Roses ('71), Europe ('72), Wake of the Flood ('73), Mars Hotel ('74), Blues for Allah ('75) and Terrapin Station ('77). Steal Your Face ('76) was a piece of crap except for a logo that rivaled the lips & tongue on the Stone's Sticky Fingers album. In my opinion, Shakedown Street had a few good songs, but marks the beginning of the creative decline of the group. None of the albums and few of the original works written later compared with the albums and songs from these recordings of 1969 to 1977. Obviously, with such a diverse set of original work to draw from and the musical fusion of talent in the Band, the live phenomenon had a somewhat different trajectory. Yet, without the stirrings of great new work, maybe it's even more amazing that the group retained as much live spark as it did from 1978 to 1996.
Adam Perry (adamice9) Wed 20 Jun 07 01:44
Of course I'd love to share my fictional piece about what would've happened had the Grateful Dead taken a good amount of time off in 1995 and come back healthier and spacier than ever. Feel free to post the URL, Gary. And speaking of "what might have been," what I'd also like someone to write about someday is what might've happened had Brent Mydland survived to this day. Will the Amherst symposium feature papers we'll be able to read online?
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Wed 20 Jun 07 06:15
It was interesting to read the logistics analysis. One of the key features of the various incarnations of the GD business model was that the primary objective was never to make money. The primary objective was always to make music. Weir made jokes about it (comments on Bobby and the Midnites in the interview with D. Gans published in Conversations with the Dead). This was obvious to the GD audience ("customers") and was, if not unique, certainly a very unusual characteristic. It is one of the key differentiators of GD and undoubtedly a major factor in the amazing deadication of that audience. Built to last, indeed.
Gary Burnett (jera) Wed 20 Jun 07 07:32
Adam's great story is up as a Word file at: http://mailer.fsu.edu/~gburnett/MyFirstDeadShow.doc
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Wed 20 Jun 07 09:15
Great alternate history! Then, after time travel was accidentally discovered through a wiring mishap at Alembic in 2007, GD played an unadvertised acoustic set at the Cloudland Ballroom, Brisbane, in October 1972.
Adam Perry (adamice9) Wed 20 Jun 07 11:48
Ha. But what about when Garcia's pleas to never play stadium shows were ignored? Even if it's understandable that big shows are what helped keep so many wonderful people on the GD's payroll, was the primary objective at that time not to make money?
Nicholas Meriwether (nicholasm) Wed 20 Jun 07 11:59
Last Q first, then I'll work backwards ... I had an insight into that "big stadium" phenomenon when a friend-of-a-friend, who worked for a major east coast promoter, explained to me what some of the dynamics involving ticket sales were. Dunno whether I believe all of this, but his argument was that underselling an act - - ie, booking them into smaller venues than they could support - - had to be done very carefully, and could only work in some ratio (which I forget; it was something like 1.5 was the max of an undersell, something I thought about when the Stones played the Tower in Philly on a recent tour); his point was that managing crowds outside the venue for an undersell was another ratio that rapidly didn't work, ie, would eat all of the profit. His big point was that underselling caused more problems and stress than simply filling a venue, which does make some sense. So it was fine for the band to argue for smaller places, but at a certain point, their popularity prohibited that, coumpounded by the parking lot scene and "miracle" culture.
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