Thoughts On The Dead

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

Tag: 1977 (page 1 of 9)

Nonsense Written Down While Listening To the 5/19/77 Sugaree

  • Like all great American songs, Sugaree is half-original and half-stolen from an anonymous black guy from the 30’s.
  • “Please forget you knew my name” is iambic quadrameter, and also very sad.
  • The first solo.
  • The little shiver in Garcia’s voice when he sings about meeting you at Joo-hooooo-bilee.
  • Sugaree was a tiny little biscuit of a tune when it was born, but it grew into a cake large enough to feed Atlanta. (To use a pastry-themed metaphor.)
  • Playing in the Band got longer by increments, but Sugaree suddenly expanded to nine times its original length in ’76 or so.
  • Although knowing the Dead, they might have just forgotten the ending the first time and decided the song sounded better if you played it for 20 minutes.
  • Or maybe Garcia said,
  • “Hey, guys. Let’s play Sugaree for 20 minutes.”
  • And the guys said,
  • “How?”
  • And Garcia said,
  • “I’ll solo for 18 of them.”
  • And the guys were fine with that.
  • Billy plays these little THRRRP noises on his snare during the pre-chorus.
  • The second solo.
  • Garcia was a sloppy-ass guitar player, and he clammed all the time–half-fingered notes and fumbled frettings–but he rarely played the wrong note.
  • To his credit, he always earned it.
  • Wasn’t like he would start off the solo going DEEDLEDEEDLEDEEDLE.
  • He wasn’t a lunatic.
  • Gotta build up to that.
  • A man’s gotta choogle before he can deedle.
  • The difference between a good Sugaree and an acceptable one is dynamics: there’s only two chords during most of the song, so you’ve gotta get your kicks somewhere other than harmonically.
  • There is no third solo, but there might be one day.

Next Step: Federal Holiday

Sisyphus was a pussy: he didn’t have Cornell. Roll the fucker up the hill every year; you think you’re good and May comes around again, whistling innocently. Here I am, sailor. Let’s dance.

I have no more dances in me.

And then Cornell says DANCE, FUCKER and sticks all of its hydrodicks into you.

At least this year there’s the new box set to talk about, Get Shown The Light. (There’s one  set, with the books and pictures and essays, left at Amazon.) The full set is four shows–May 5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th, 1977–from the fabled and long-lost Betty Boards. Technically, they weren’t lost: they were in the shed of a chemistry teacher who wanted too much money. By the way, now that they’re safely back in the Vault where they belong and this can’t actually happen and I can’t be implicated: I am deeply saddened by Deadheads’ refusal to heist the tapes.

But if they were stolen, then they couldn’t be remastered and sold by the Dead.


Good argument.

Thank you. I’ve listened to the whole set and Jeffrey Norman, et al., have done their usual brilliant job: one of the draws of the Betty Board for Cornell has always been the huge, but specific, bass; Phil always sounded like he was 200 feet tall and mad at a mid-sized city. Once again, though,  the production team has improved what seemed unimprovable: the sound is massive and immersive, with air all around the instruments

(You can still buy the three-CD release that just has Cornell on it.)

Cornell’s the Best EVAR show that the Grateful Dead played because some show has to be, and why not it? It was more available than other shows back when the Dead existed on cassette tapes and traveled via the mail; it sounded better than most other contemporaneous recordings, causing people (perhaps unconsciously) to listen to it more; it was a more accessible chunk of music than, say, Veneta’s half-hour Dark Star freakout.

So call it number one.

And so a cottage industry has built up around the myth of Cornell: books, documentaries, walking tours. There’s even a section in the Cornell bookstore dedicated to merch commemorating the show. You can buy all sorts of things.

  • Baby onesie with “The DEW, brah” written on it.
  • Take A Step Back: the turn-based role-playing game.
  • Decorative collector’s spoons. (Sold in sets of two only. The first set is okay, but the second is really good.)
  • Betty Board ® surfboards.
  • Scarlet begonias. (Seasonal)
  • Fire on the Mountain hot sauce.
  • For thirty bucks, someone who was at the show will tell you stories.
  • Leroy Neiman prints of Billy in his underwear.
  • Snow globe with Barton Hall and tiny little students coming out of the show.
  • Because it was snowing when they came out of the show.
  • Did you ever hear that before?

Anyway, it’s Cornell Day. Go listen, or don’t. You do you.

A Religious Holiday

Well, isn’t this nifty? Who says government doesn’t work for the people?

This is, however, the final draft of the document. The first version was quite different; one of the Haight Street Irregulars broke into City Hall and stole a copy so I could share it with you:


WHEREAS the Grateful Dead’s concert at Barton Hall at Cornell University on May 8, 1977, was perhaps the best show they played that week, depending on whom you ask, and

WHEREAS the show has become a local cottage industry, and

WHEREAS on the other hand, you pop Cornell in the tape deck of your Datsun and turn that shit up, and you have a good old time, and

WHEREAS there is no Sugaree or Half-Step, precluding the show from ever truly being the greatest show of all time, and

WHEREAS it was snowing when the students exited the building, and

WHEREAS it has been said many times by many people, the best people, that Cornell was just a tremendous show, a real top show, and probably the best of all time, which is what many, many people are saying

NOW THEREFORE, I, Dan Klein, Vice Chair of the Tompkins Legislature hereby proclaim May 8, 2017, as


WHICH means that all members of the Grateful Dead are eligible for up to 10% off at participating local businesses.

I Am Starting The Backlash

Let me be the first to declare Peak Cornell. (Who else is getting annoyed? Raise your hands in the Comment Section.)


This isn’t another dopey 5/8/77 joke. Look:

Wait: maybe this is Billy Kreutzman, Billy Kreutzmann’s evil fraternal twin.

Bob Weir – 5/8/77, Cornell

I think this was during Deal.

An Unpublished Photo Of Cornell’s Barton Hall, 5/8/77

With the last rocking notes of One More Saturday Night ringing in their ears and fedoras, the students exited the building to find it was snowing; this was most meaningful, indeed.

Fun fact: the tall guy on the right in Bill Walton.

A Newly-Surfaced Photograph From 5/8/77

The band posed for this shot in the hallway outside the dressing rooms; I don’t know where Mrs. Donna Jean is.

Balloon Boys (And Mrs. Donna Jean)

Maybe it was just the ossification of habit, but Brent was always stage left. Keith was left, right, sometimes in the middle, once he was by the merch table.


“Don’t you do it, Weir.”


“Step on a balloon.”

“You saw my leg?”

“I saw your leg, man.”

“Hey, Jer.”

“Ah, shit.”

“Y’know, it’s New Year’s Eve.”

“Every fuckin’ year.”

“That means, uh, that this is the anniversary of our friendship.”

“Great, man. Play the song.”

“I got you a little something.”

“You really shouldn’t have.”

“Here ya go, Jer.”

“You went to Jared.”

“I did, yeah.”

“Is this a tennis bracelet?”

“Better. Anklet.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”


Later that evening, Mrs. Donna Jean (already in her ceremonial gown) would be thrown into the volcano to appease Gbaja-biamila, the god of backup singing.


We haven’t discussed the new box set–and the doings behind it–in detail yet. The first release from the newly-reacquired Betty Boards, May 1977: Get Shown The Light contains four full shows that you’ve almost certainly heard (and heard, and heard, and heard) before. The 5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th of May (New Haven, Boston, Ithaca, and Buffalo, respectively) of that magical and well-rehearsed year of 1977, shined up to a gleam and bursting with extras and bonus bullshit.

This is usually the place where I post the latest video from David Lemieuxsebitmysister, but he recorded this one inside a vacuum cleaner. I don’t know how he got the lake in there, but he accomplished it and all you can hear is wind.

Luckily, I found a piece of software that transcribes YouTube videos, and I can present to you his words here:

“Uh, hey, everybody. David Lemieux here, your old buddy Dave, and I’ve got some very exciting news. If you’re watching this you probably know that we’ll be releasing–”

[NOTE: At this point, a large duck steals Dave’s hat.]

“Hey! That’s mine!”

[NOTE: Dave chases the duck in and out of frame for two minutes and three seconds.]

“Okay, as I was saying: big news, folks. You probably remember that, after quite a bit of negotiation, we got the so-called “lost Betty Boards” back into the Vault where they belong. So what we thought would be a great way to commemorate the 40th–”

[NOTE: A small child, naked but for her toque, sprints towards the lake.]


[NOTE: Dave snares the child before she enters the water.]

“You know we can’t swim!”

[NOTE: Canadians cannot swim. Sink right to the bottom. They’re like bulldogs or chimps.]

“Go back and play with your mother Regina, and your siblings Gordie, Northstar, Jean-Luc, Fleece, and the twins, Mickie and Billie.”

[NOTE: As Girl Gordie begins to walk back to the igloo where the Lemieux family live, a duck steals her toque.]

“Darn it, not again.”

[NOTE: At this point, Dave and a small, naked child with no toque chase a duck in and out of frame for several minutes.]

There’s like twenty more minutes of that, if I’m honest.

There is also, as I mentioned, a bevy of bonus bullshit: a book, and an essay, and–in 5 of the 15,000 copies that will be shipped–a Tie-Dyed Ticket. The lucky recipients get to go to the Vault, meet DL, and be ironically murdered. Last one standing gets to be the new Dead archivist.

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