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inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #51 of 144: a small exhalation before the big breath (xian) Sat 16 Jun 07 14:44
    
junk bonds, not to be confused with jug bands
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #52 of 144: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #53 of 144: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #54 of 144: 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 Dead’s Approach to Improvisation  
David Malvinni 

2. Deadly Beauty  
Horace Fairlamb

3. Bobby, Béla, and Borrowing in “Victim or the Crime”  
Shaugn O’Donnell

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. Nietzsche’s Dionysus and the Grateful Dead  
Stan Spector

12. Deadhead Logistics: The Business of the Dead  
Barry Barnes
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #55 of 144: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #56 of 144: Steve Silberman (digaman) Sun 17 Jun 07 10:52
    
Nice.  Thanks Nick.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #57 of 144: 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.  
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #58 of 144: 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).
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #59 of 144: 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."
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #60 of 144: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #61 of 144: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #62 of 144: 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!).
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #63 of 144: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #64 of 144: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #65 of 144: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #66 of 144: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #67 of 144: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #68 of 144: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #69 of 144: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #70 of 144: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #71 of 144: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #72 of 144: 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
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #73 of 144: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #74 of 144: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.301 : Nicholas Meriwether, "All Graceful Instruments"
permalink #75 of 144: 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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