So many bands, so little time. How do you know the bad stuff from the good stuff? How do you know if you’ll like it, and what if you don’t? How does that reflect on me?
Why don’t I like Styx or REO Speedwagon? Note: There’s probably an easy answer for those two. Why didn’t I like the Grateful Dead?
The Dead, come on? I like other psychedelic music from the 60’s. Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, you name it I’ve at least heard it–maybe, probably. But the Dead, for the longest time I simply couldn’t learn to love.
And I think it’s because of their improvisational style that has much more in common with jazz than with rock. At least with their earlier work, which has a few lyrics thrown into prolonged jamming, and the listener has to decide if that’s what they like. For the longest time I didn’t.
An really there are two Deads. There is the jam band that appears on three of the records I have: Anthem for the Sun, Live Dead, and Blues for Allah. It’s this version that I think most of us think of when we think of the Grateful Dead. It’s the band we would have heard in a concert hall or stadium show (think Autzen Stadium in Eugene.) It’ s a show best heard stoned. No, I haven’t, not in the last 37 years. But the thought has crossed my mind. It’s the version that allows Jerry Garcia to just run wild and carry the sound. When he’s on, all is right with world. When he’s not, the band simply isn’t as strong.
And then there’s the other Dead. This band plays carefully structured songs in an Americana style, the Dead of Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty and Terrapin Station. It’s studio goodness, with some great songs. My favorite is “Box of Rain,” but it’s everybody’s favorite–for good reason. Allmusic calls it a perfect song. But I also love “Uncle John’s Band.” I’m sure the Dead performed these songs in their lively nomadic excursions to one end of the world and back, but they seem at odds with their live performances. It doesn’t make them any less good.
I have come to enjoy their music as I write this listen to
“come hear Uncle John’s Band
by the river side
We got some things to talk about
here beside the rising tide. ”
Great stuff, and I’m proud to say I’m a Deadhead, even if I’m forty or more years too late.
I currently have four Grateful Dead records
But there are a few more I’d really like to add.
But I’m glad I’ve finally come around to realize what a wonderful band the Grateful Dead were-representative of not only of a certain time but of all time.