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Not Sure Where To Begin?

The intro posts are always a good start, followed logically by
my thoughts on Music & Being, which guide my writing.
You could also try my current favorite show on the blog,
plus there's good reading under the trading community label.
Or, take a walk on a
Listening Trail.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Music & Being

Just recently, I was unexpectedly shaken by a passage of Grateful Dead music that helped to expand some of my thoughts around the satori moments laced throughout all of the Dead’s music – moments that strike a deep chord within; moments where you fuse to the music, and lose the ability to distinguish anything but the experience itself.

In so doing, these moments give way to a greater knowing – a heightened vibration of being. You glimpse that you and the music, and everything, are really one. It’s something that I find myself trying to touch upon in my reviews, but often find it eluding the grasp of my pen. I can’t say that I’ve found the full voice to express this soul-level experience going on in the Dead’s music, but I got a nice full dose of it while preparing the review of 06/08/80 (somewhere, honestly, I wasn’t expecting, or looking for it). I’ll be the first to admit that I make clumsy work of communicating this level of the musical experience. But I know that it is precisely this level of experience that inspires me to write.

Beyond my hoping to help you find some great Dead shows to add to your listening pile, I’m always trying to find ways to share this deeper level of musical/spiritual experience with potentially like-minded folks. Regardless of whether you call this spiritual, cultural, communal, or rock-n-roll goo, we can call ourselves like-minded in the joy we take in this aspect of the Dead’s music, and our pursuit of more and more of it. I’m always looking for ways to paint a somewhat more articulate picture of this experience for myself. Sharing it with others is another level of the pleasure I take as a member of the Grateful Dead trading community.

Oddly, I don’t think my simply pointing out the musical moments I find transcendent can possibly be enough to tap you into the exact same experience. I know I’ve mentioned before how these moments are almost assuredly different for everyone, and likely going on at almost every moment everywhere. But more than that, timing is everything. We sometime have to have our personal stars line up just right to key into this stuff. Hopefully, these moments I call out can get part of the job done – a potentially right passage of music; a recording that aids in the communication of the moment. Add to that your ability to get yourself in the right place to listen, and we have a chance to get tuned in.

If you are positioned in such a way as to eliminate all distraction (for me it happened during my morning commuter train ride into work of all places – again! Just like it did with 10/18/72 ), you might take a moment to tune into your internal radar while listening to the Playin’ jam from the afore mentioned 06/08/80. I only mention this particular passage now since it hit me so hard, and inspired this post. The moments are everywhere, and virtually all the shows I share in this forum make it here because they contain some measure of this element. I doubt that this one is any more transcendent than another. But while listening to this one, I reached a deeper level of understanding how these musical/spiritual moments fit into the grand scheme. For me. My consciousness felt a gentle tug. My eyes were drawn closed, and a timeless peace took hold – the familiar posture within these special moments.

While I painted a picture of this musical passage in the review proper, here, I want to point out how it is another clear demonstration of music’s ability to draw us toward the focused attention of Being. More than anything this feels like conscious awakening coming to your senses in the same way you can smell or hear an ocean from a distance. No, the music isn’t going to go so far as to enlighten you. The band certainly had no agenda in this regard. But consciousness does.

Consciousness calls through many mediums, and music can be as potent as any. The sensation is similar to other life experiences that lead to spiritual growth. Like a path before your feet that calls you to follow. It’s a beacon, an opening door. The musical bliss that overtakes you is the light behind the door. I recognize this sensation as being similar to that which I feel when struck by reading certain passages in spiritually-minded books and teachings, in contemplating different aspects of quantum physics and string theory, and while doing little more than noticing early evening sunlight’s play through grass.

Music has a communication advantage in that it removes the symbols of language. It’s more primal than language. It’s closer to the truth than words can ever be. When the satori moments hit, the walls come down. The delight that expands, expands directly from the source of the delight itself. The warm, pervasive smile that unavoidably forms is Knowing. It takes nothing more than being attentively present in the moment. Great minds and sages have been driving this point home throughout the ages, and it's what music fosters at its highest level. Being expresses the same thing time and time again via that medium we affectionately call The Good Old Grateful Dead.

As I have said, these spiritually minded moments are everywhere in the music, not simply where I happen to see them. That said, I reviewed my writings here and have introduced a new label called “musical satori”. At this point, under that label are the reviews where I have addressed satori moments directly, yet most every post sees me talking around the subject proper. Just looking at the list, I feel like mentioning that these shows are not necessarily better at stoking the magic fire than others here. They’re just ones where this theme is directly mentioned and explored (I guess that’s what a label is for after all).

Thanks for reading.


  1. great post. those magic musical moments are why we all keep listening and searching. thanks for sharing.

    and thanks for the great blog, keep up the good work.


  2. Thanks, Jason. I'm glad those moments ring true for others. I appreciate your comment.

  3. Noah,

    I know excatly what you mean. I have the same feelings listen to improvised jazz and now GD music (mainly second set). And for the latter I have to thank you.

    Now, it is a state of mind that clicks not always. The moment must be right ( and modern life has reduced these occasions). But it needs also training of ears and capacity to 'feel the music'. When I was younger I would not have digged this music as much and deep as I can do now (Hey I ma late 40's, just for the record :-) ).

    All the best,

  4. Mauro,

    Yep, Jazz works for me too. Sometimes the most simple stuff like Ahmad Jamal's "At The Pershing" LP can get me way way in.

    The Dead's music scratches the surface - very well. There's plenty more out there. I find myself getting deeply satisfied by lots of Ambient Electronica and Early Dub, just to name a few more veins that work for me.

  5. During nearly every Dead show I went to, there was a point where I would get totally lost in the music. oblivious to everything except the music itself. I actually get visual images of the music. Even more recently, at a Phil Lesh and Friends show at Red Rocks, in 2002, I "zoned out" during "The Other One." It always seems as though I'm gone for hours, though, listening to the same shows now, it was actually only for a minute or two. I see it as a spiritual experience

  6. Well said, something I've been trying to find a way to express for a long time. The next really interesting question to me is: "How does the music accomplishes this?" I have some thoughts about that. More so than any other music I’ve ever heard, a live gd performance (primarily the long jams) is very much akin to a natural/organic process or a living organism. It is an example of systems in nature that have some level of chaos, with some inherent properties of the elements themselves and/or in the rules of their interactions, which lead to the self-organization and emergence of higher-level patterns, processes, and structures in real time, which then feed into other cycles and structures, etc. All of nature is like this (including consciousness, many think). While all good live music has some of this quality, I think the dead have taken it to an extreme and made an art out of it. I'm not sure why this might have anything to do with the transcendent moments - maybe something about the excitement or astonishment at these rich, complex structures emerging seemingly out of nowhere (and our internal resonance to them) may help lead to these moments.

    Lots of folks I try to turn on to the dead can’t get past the looseness and (what they see as) sloppiness, but I think these are in fact some of the chaotic elements that enable the grander musical things to emerge.

  7. Superb post on your explanation. This has given me both a greater understanding and deeper idea of what our mind can do when intertwined with music and how we can find our selves seemingly drifting in and out of reality when bestowed upon with music. Keep up the great work!

  8. The first time I listened to "Something" i got a taste. Next was the mindblowing Hendrix Woodstock set where I felt the "presence" during Voodoo Chile. And when it finally came to the Dead it was Scarlet Begonias> Fire from 10/16/77 where I fully felt the mesmerizing convergence between music and self. The closest I got live was DSO playing Jack Straw from Providence 87 (im a youngin). Now it happens more frequently depending on the show or the year (late 60's Dead hits me hard) but Im very thankful you Noah and others recognize the beauty and power of psychedelic music. It is a magic that must be cherished because it is love we are feeling. Long live the Dead. and your blog is sick keep it up icepetal.

  9. I came across this whole Listening Guide by way of the 6/21/80 Alaska show a couple months ago, but it wasn't until today that I discovered this post. Many of the things you describe echo my thoughts precisely...How one moment in music can seem like an eternity, how witnessing/listening to a truly locked in passage of improvisational music can be a spiritual and meditative experience in the purest sense. I'm a bit too young to have seen the Dead, but this doesn't take away from my love and appreciation for those precious moments...if I close my eyes with a nice gooey aud in my ears, I am often transported to some far away land where the Dead indeed lives on - simply a testament to the timelessness of the band. Thank you for the words.

  10. I grew up on the Dead. What you say is instinctually and intuitively and experientially true. I'd love to give you a copy of my new book published in US by Transaction NJ: 'Art Music: Love, Listening, Soulfulness'. I believe you may find not some of the words, but background concepts you are looking for that differentiate what you are talking about (music and being) from a feeling that is relative and privately subjective. You can google the book to find out about it and I'll get them to send you one if you like. Wishes, Matthew Del Nevo

    1. Matthew, I'd love to read your book. Thanks for reaching out. SHoot me an email at icepetal_AT_gmail_DOT_com


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