Not Sure Where To Begin?
my thoughts on Music & Being, which guide my writing.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The iconic Deadhead adage of "we are everywhere" never seemed more true than when I first heard about Lee Johnson's Dead Symphony No. 6. The Grateful Dead's infusion into the world of classical music was something of a Deadhead community triumph, yet I really didn't know what to expect from this fusion, and I'll admit that I leaned pretty heavily on the skeptic side. Grateful Dead "with strings?" Oh dear, please no.
What is actually transpiring in Dead Symphony No. 6 puts all these fears to rest. You might compare it to the way the Dead's music eclipses the ubiquitous stereotype of "drug music for stoners." This is no mere "Dead with strings" performance.
Having listened, I now find myself hoping that the Dead Symphony caravan somehow makes its way up to Chicago so I can hear it live myself. Lee Johnson's creation isn't something that can be called a Dead tribute. It's more as if the Grateful Dead's muse has manifested itself through Johnson into a classical expression. Lee has allowed the Dead's melodies to seed a final product that is less about Grateful Dead songs being played by a symphony and much more about the intricacies and layers of Grateful Dead creativity finding a compelling voice. Sometimes we can almost sing along, while other times we are given merely taste enough to know which song sparked Johnson to compose and arrange. From there we are treated to a musical experience that reaches its own "gold ring, down inside."
I bring all this up because it is an intriguing element in the evolution of our Deadhead community, and since the music is doing something truly special, I feel compelled to make sure any Atlanta Heads who frequent these pages know about the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra concert on October 5th. It is sure to be an eye- and ear-opening evening. Get there if you can, and come back and tell us all about it.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Tuesday, December 19, 1978
Memorial Coliseum, State Fairgrounds - Jackson, MS
A classic and fantastic audience tape from late 1978, the Mississippi State Fairgrounds show on December 19th goes well beyond showcasing stellar heights attained in ‘78. This show works that special sort of time travelling magic we occasionally find where the exact year of the performance becomes indistinguishable to even the most seasoned listener. And even before the knobs and dials are turned back to 1973, this tape will be knocking your socks off.
Set 1: Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo > Franklin's Tower, New Minglewood Blues, They Love Each Other, Me & My Uncle > Big River, Loser, El Paso, Row Jimmy, Lazy Lightning > Supplication
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain, Promised Land, Stagger Lee, Truckin' > Drums > Other One > Stella Blue > Not Fade Away > Around & Around E: Casey Jones
That said, Scarlet Begonias has a somewhat shaky start with what feels like a dragging tempo and Jerry blowing lyrics. But things quickly pull together, and as Garcia plays his first solo he stokes embers into flames, and flames into shimmering heat. We come out on the other side for the song's last verse slipping directly into a sublime musical journey. The tape is sounding perfect. Everything spreads out for miles in all direction and each instrument occupies its own distinct space. The jam moves like wind over a gigantic sail. It ripples and swells, sometimes slowly, sometimes in gusts. The music pushes from several directions at once. Fragments turn and reflect light into unexpected colors and there is a subtle disjointedness to the otherwise rolling and rocking which provides brief secretive glances into a chaotic underpinning far below. Before we can truly grasp these secrets, Fire On The Mountain's theme appears, and we drift effortlessly toward a more familiar shoreline.
The solos through Fire On The Mountain soar. Jerry's tone cries with an emotional voice as Bobby indulges (over indulges?) his love of playing slide up over the 21st fret. Still, the song builds beautifully. Garcia's voice begins to roar and scream. He hits the final solo section and rides the song's theme into the sky. Everything begins to tremble and shake. Phil and the drummers crash and tumble. Jerry continues to burn as the song comes to a fine finish.
In Truckin' we find a full exploration of the secretive chaotic worlds hinted at earlier. The jam unfolds quickly into a swirl of Other One infused darkness. The downbeat slips completely from view and a sparkling canopy fills our visual field, full of slowly undulating clouds. A wonderfully extended jam ensues tinged with a delicacy that belies the typical themes of a 1978 Dead show. Slowly a creeping intensity floods the sky and we are being driven into showers of fire and glass. The chaotic underpinning of twisted roots gives way to Drums. They stand as tall as mountains before us, and the recording offers them to us as no soundboard could.
June 22, 1973. The tone of all the instruments is warm and fluid. Phil and Bobby, especially, sound as if they have been grafted in from five years prior. And the music has an ease to it that is unmistakably 1973-esque. This haunting reminiscence goes on for what feels like forever and leaves us in a space of breathless joy. When Phil hammers us into Other One proper, caves and twisting fractal caverns spin us in all directions. Electricity pours through the outer layer of our skin. It is as if there are several versions of the song being played at once with multiple bands swelling in and out of view—cross fades pull in like tides, then recede like shadows. There is little room for anything but the music here. It is as if we've been absorbed by an enormous intake of the band's breath and will not return to our known place in the cosmos until they have finished with us.
This “finishing” actually transports us to as tranquil a setting as can be conceived. Stella Blue appears out of thin air, and Jerry has us huddled close to hear his story. And as we travel out of this songs into the next, we are treated to a segue of such magical intertwining that it feels almost criminal to realize the Dead never did it quite like this again, ever.
There's little point in trying to describe in words the way Stella Blue and Not Fade Away become one during this transition. It goes beyond most indulgent expectations related to the Grateful Dead's ability to weave one song to the next. If you've never heard it, this is a slack-jawed and drool producing passage of music that may amaze you in its having been hidden from your ears all this time. But such is the world of Grateful Dead concert recordings, is it not? This is really why we're here together now. And I'm glad to be able to pull little gems like this out from time to time, even years after starting us down this path of musical guidance and recommendation.
Enjoy. And enjoy again.
12/19/78 AUD etree source info
12/19/78 AUD Download