Saturday, November 03, 2012

Live/Dead (1969)

As for the Grateful Dead, I have circled back on myself so many times I'm not even sure exactly where to pick up the thread. But I can say at least at long last I have the decency to recognize this album for the powerful, stirring, and mysterious set that it can be—notably, "Dark Star," the 23-minute opener that occupied the first side of the vinyl double-LP and periodically reenters and rules my world again, often after dark in quiet rooms alone. Candles burning, etc. More recently, "Death Don't Have No Mercy" and the eight-minute feedback sculpture (capped by the tremblingly beautiful but very brief "And We Bid You Goodnight"), which occupied the fourth side, have emerged as stellar points in their own right. "St. Stephen" and "The Eleven," side 2, at one time were my favorites, along with similar passages from Anthem of the Sun. That leaves only the 15-minute Pigpen goof made out of "Turn on Your Love Light" left for me to make peace with (which, to be honest, would not seem to be coming any time soon as it still seems to me indulgent and unnecessary, though I know Pigpen has his partisans). "Dark Star" remains my chief way in here, truly one of the great album sides along with Bitches Brew side 1 ("Pharoah's Dance") or Electric Ladyland side 3. Partly for such reasons I was tickled to find a "single version" of "Dark Star" on the expanded version of this album now available—that such a thing would exist never occurred to me. But sure enough, there are all the singing parts polished and marshaled in a row, with even some flavor of the guitar breaks scattered in lightly, tidying up at a relatively scant 2:42. Interesting to hear it conceived that way, because I so much prefer what is done with the longer version, which feels its way into the many strange places it travels. It's a jam but not what I think is more often implied by the term, a sort of communal rocking out with turns at solos. Instead it operates almost like pure intuition, mimicking and anticipating daydreamy kinds of thought patterns in endlessly eerie ways. It's even hard for me to focus on it as music once it starts to play; it is much more like a place I move through, or that moves past me, familiar but never quite known. I lose my concentration somehow, as it produces a sensation of returning to a city long abandoned, but whose streets and sites I still know well, embedded into neural pathways out of the reach of consciousness. I know where it's going, I sense the turns even as they approach, I never feel lost, and yet it is always beautiful in ways I can't anticipate. It still surprises me.


  1. If I felt the need to listen to Live/Dead, I'd listen to "Love Light" first, and then I'd probably put on Workingman's Dead or American Beauty. Or their first album.

  2. I remain in the I-like-the-Dead-more-as-an-idea- than-actual-music camp but I 'spose it's time I give them another try. Their electrified rootsy virtuosity is just the thing to bridge generations, in theory, anyway.

  3. Yeah, the Grateful Dead. What are you gonna do? FWIW my next favorite after this is probably Infrared Roses, maybe Anthem of the Sun, but in any event I don't think I'm anything close to a typical fan. Caveats!