Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Greatest Story Ever Traded

Yes, clearly it’s Titanic and Mind-Blowing and Earth-Shattering and Vast and Under-Rated and Over-Rated and Just Exactly Perfect, but the one quality that no one ever mentions is accessible. And 5/8/77 is accessible in spades.

Sure, there’s jamming, but it’s not the Neptunian jazz of ’74, nor the acid-skronk of ’69. There’s no waste; Garcia’s long, liquid lines are building to something, always, and Billy and Mickey have their feet on the gas pedals with a safecracker’s whispered touch–little bit faster here, slower there, bigger now Bigger Now BIGGER NOW and shhhhhhh…

There is command.

The greatest ever? No. not even the best show that week–5/5, with its majestic Sugaree gets my vote–but Barton Hall has something that only Veneta and Egypt also have: mystique. Fame. Perhaps we can’t even make an honest reckoning of that night anymore. Read some Don DeLillo; it’s good for you:

Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the sign started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides — pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.

A long silence followed.

“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.

We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura.  Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”

There was an extended silence.  The man in the booth sold postcards and slides. 

“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender.  We see only what the others see.  The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future.  We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception.  It literally colors our vision.  A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.” 

Another silence ensued. 

“They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said. 

He did not speak for a while.  We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film. 

“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said.  “What did it look like, how was it different from the other barns, how was it similar to other barns?”

If you heard it today for the first time, would you recognize it as THE GREATEST DEAD SHOW OF ALL TIME EVER? Would the shock of genius, the green flash of recognition hit you, run up your spine, Billypunch the dick of your soul?

If you really did meet the Buddha on the side of the road…would you know it was him?

PS  I have deliberately not linked to the show on the archive because you have it.


  1. 5/5/77 was a great show, as was 5/8, but I agree that it’s impossible to single out one show as The Greatest of All Time because there’s more to it than just the music. For each person, it’s how they experienced the show at the time.

    I went to the three Winterland shows in June at the end of the ’77 spring tour. I had just taken my last college final earlier on the 7th (which was a Tuesday) and graduation wasn’t until Sunday, so for the next three days I literally had nothing to do but go to Grateful Dead concerts, party and sleep. It was really more like one concert that lasted for three days, with extra-long breaks between some of the sets. I kept seeing the same people each night.

    These shows were the pinnacle of my life as a Deadhead, but they also marked the beginning of the end. For me, the Dead never achieved those heights again (although 1980 at the Warfield came close) and by the end of 1983 I was done. They just weren’t doing it for me anymore, which I now understand was due more to Jerry’s heroin habit than anything else.

    “One good ride from start to end, I’d like to take that ride again!” Ah, to be 22 again, with knees that could take standing on the Winterland floor for hours and lungs that could take the “atmosphere.” At least I now have the CDs to take me back.

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