Thoughts On The Dead

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

Tag: el paso

I Wish I Had A Seatbelt On A Northbound Train

The Grateful Dead weren’t a car band, not thematically. Keith’s Let Me Sing Your Blues Away uses an automotive motif, and Bobby has a line about Cassady’s Cadillac, but not much more than that in their original tunes. (I am deliberately not mentioning Money, Money.) Chuck Berry and Bruce and all the other blue-jeaned rockers covered the parking lot; the Dead tended to mine the depots and switchyards for their symbolic language.

Don’t believe me? Go check for yourself. Searching for “car” pulls up five examples, only one of which was written by the band and is actually referring to a boxcar. “Train,” on the other hand, retrieves eight original songs and a shitload of covers. The Dead’s songs generally take place in some dateless “West” where the past and present and future jerk each other off and eat each others’ lunches from the fridge; the introduction of an automobile gives a song too much temporal specificity.

The Dead also liked trains because the Dead were the trainwreckingest band that ever sold out football stadiums. They were capable of shanking any song at any moment, and in ways you’d not think possible were you not an Enthusiast and already apprised of the band’s infinite bush leaguery. Do you not believe me yet again? Listen to this El Paso from 11/2/84 at the Berkeley Community Theater. El Paso has two fucking chords and they played it every other night for their entire career, but the Dead found a way to utterly fuck the song up AND for way longer than usual: El Paso is usually three-and-a-half minutes long, but this Texas Tragedy is over six.

That El Paso is a bit of an outlier, though, in that you can’t quite put your finger on what went wrong besides everything. Not so with this Ship Of Fools from 5/5/78 at Dartmouth. 6:35 or thereabouts, Garcia jumps a beat in between “It was later than I thought” and “When I first believed you” and then refuses to listen to anyone onstage for the rest of the tune; the song never recovers.

But if we’re talking full-song calamities, then the 3/31/85 China Doll might be the winner. It’s got everything: Garcia randomly speeding up and slowing down, pooched lyrics, transition pile-ups, out-of-sync drummers, and several unplanned key changes.

Those, Enthusiasts, are all intrasong trainwrecks, but the Dead also managed to fuck up before they’d quite begun the tune.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B (go to 2:02:00):

We have barely scratched the surface, Enthusiasts. There were many other categories of catastrophe. You’ll notice that the songs posted so far have been ones that the Dead knew how to play. But, sometimes, the Grateful Dead would play songs that they did not know how to play. For example, on 6/23/88 at Alpine Valley, the Dead did not know how to play the Beatles’ Blackbird. They did not let that stop them.

Well, Blackbird’s got a bunch of chords, you might think. Louie Louie, however, famously has only three. And yet, the Dead did not know how to play the song.

In terms of minor wrecks–ones that work themselves out within a few bars, but still make you giggle–the best place to go looking is right at the intersection of Jam and Song in Playing in the Band. That spot was the Dead’s equivalent of that one wobbly step on your staircase that you trip on every time but never fix.

I’m missing quite a few, obviously. Speak up in the Comment Section, and don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe.


I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos lately.

Stop that.



(With thanks to everyone on Twitter who pointed out these gems.)

Words: Important

If you change the line in El Paso to “I felt the boner go deep in my chest,” then you have an entirely different song.

One Little Kiss…

The Dead burbles up nowadays, a weird uncle that comes round for the holidays ten days late unannounced. Not for us, the ones still here. We’re like that Japanese soldier who held his island until the ’70s. People mock that guy, use him as a shortcut for pointless insanity and the futility of war: that’s twaddle, and those who think it, easy cynics. Because what happened is: that motherfucker held that island. No fucking round-eyes gaijin number-10 motherfucker DARED to step foot on that island. He fulfilled the mission. For thirty years, that guy had a goal.

What did you do with your day? Did you hold an island by yourself?

No, the Dead burbles into view for the rest of the world. The ones who’ve maybe listened to Skeletons in the Closet a couple of times ten or twenty years ago and didn’t care much for it And no wonder: it was an odd little record and the there was no flow to the songs’ order, which used to matter an unbelievable amount, for the younger Enthusiasts out there.  There was, if I recall, a rather good edit of the Live/Dead Lovelight, which might seem blasphemous, but was helpful as a teen in hair-metal-soaked Jersey in proving that the Dead weren’t pussies.  The five most rockin’ out with your cock out minutes of that Lovelight are enough for not only the dorks in marching band, but also the guys smoking in their cars with the Metallica denims.

Breaking Bad ended last night or 8 months ago: I have been trying to avoid it. It seems like a brilliant show and all the people whose opinions i respect like it, but Cancer Dad and Crystal Meth are not how I’m spending an hour of my TV fun.  Those two things, specifically. If it was that new neausmare (that’s a nightmare so scary that you wake yourself up by puking) drug called Krokodil and, like, a cousin with rabies, then I would watch that show. Admittedly, that would be a short series. ACTUALLY: that would be the greatest reality show EVER. Which would win? The rabid dogs, cats, and vermin of our dying cities against hordes of Krokodil addicts, terrified and jonesing, throwing hunks of their rotted flesh to satisfy the animals.

The finale was name “Felina”, after the possessor of the two lovin’ arms that our dumb, doomed protagonist dies for in El Paso ,and that, combined with the soundtrack from Sunshine Daydream hitting #19 on the Billboard Listing of Things, has put the Dead (maybe, kinda, sorta?) a little bit higher in the general consciousness lately.  Which is a good thing, and a thing we need more of.

Speaking of the Marty Robbins classic, how the hell do you forget the words to El Paso, Bobby? (No fair bringing up that Nokia Theater incident. Quite honestly, I think the shorts{?} he was wearing were far more tragic than the lyrical flub(s).)  8/13//79 in Denver, a town full of degenerates and reprobates. Please invite me to Denver.

Is the Shakedown opener wonderful? Yes, it is. Does Garcia start Candyman in the neatest little sneak attack way? Yup. Does every mammoth, pristine, super-addictive FLAC file need to start with four minutes of Tuning? Apparently so, according to the information at hand.

Anyway: hold your island.


Creamery Of The Crop

By 1972, Bobby had learned how to play. Not just play, but lead the band in his big-boy pants. Bobby was carving out a little space for himself and turning into Sergeant Major Clap-Yo-Hands and it was a good thing. Listen to 3:20 in Greatest Story: 8/27/72 is a Bobby show. Arguably the perfect versions of all of his Cowboy tunes, especially the soft landing he gives Dark Star with a counter-intuitive saunter into El Paso, and a great Promised Land, when he’s allowed to get to it.

The announcer is so stupid that he grew up to be Bill O’Reilly. Don’t tell people they were about to be sprayed with shit, man. His stupidity does lead to one of Bobby’s brighter moments. For some reason known only to his gods, Doofus decides to announce the location of the lost children tent over a loudspeaker. Because that’s information that everyone needs to know. Nothing bad could possibly come from broadcasting the location of our most vulnerable. Cleverly, Bobby cuts him off. Bobby was always sensitive to the welfare of children: his adolesence was rife with incidents resembling the Tragedy of Koko from the 1980 musical film Fame. Bobby now paid good money to ugly strangers to recreate the squalid de-pantsenings because, if pressed, Bobby would admit to enjoying every second of it. With Bobby, it was better to focus on actions; intentions were–at best–murky to all involved.

By the end of the show, you want to hurt the announcer. Physically. Methodically. Strategically. You can keep a man alive for such a long time while you introduce him to new worlds of PAIN (Scary music: oooh-AH-ahh!)  His groovy dude patter sounds like a passage from the upcoming Ken Burns 32-hour documentary Summer of Love/Edgar Winter of Discontent: The 60’s; it will be read by Russell Brand doing a bumptiously fucked North California…accent.

(An aside, a flash-forward to the real, or at least realistic: America picks the worst Brits. We’re offered Eddie Izzard, we pick Piers Morgan. Piers Morgan is the Devil. No joke, no exaggeration. Foe the sake of the country, someone should plant heroin on him. And in his house. And car. Spider-Man had a bad guy named the Sandman who could turn himself into sand (Don’t think about it.) Like that, that much heroin. Just make him go home.)

1972 was a rock-solid year: it wasn’t flashy. If you said the word “swag” in front of ’72, it would hold you down and–using only his rough and manly stubble–flay the skin from your haunches AND your flanks. Forget about the loins, the loins are long gone, for these men were so very hairy in 1972. There was no grooming, no manscaping (well, sure, there was…just not in that part of San Francisco; couple miles away, freshly shorn was cute-and-kissable) back then, and their northern European bristles permeated everything and the music grew Teddy Roosevelt mustaches all over itself  and the mustaches were made of balls and the BALLS WERE THEMSELVES HAIRIER THAN YOU’VE EVER THOUGHT BALLS COULD BE.

PS  In keeping with my new pet theory about listening to the shows around the great shows, I present you with 8/24/72. Berkeley Community Theater. Setlist-wise, it’s comparable to the Veneta show, but with a great Morning Dew and far longer stretches of everybody being in tune.

PPS  8/24 blows the Veneta show away.

Work the Jab, Weir

Gentlemen, I realize the songs all want to be twenty minutes long. But you don’t have to let them. Do you fuckers know you once played El Paso for over 8 minutes?  And those minutes were in a row, mind you. It wasn’t like they hid El Paso in a sandwich of other stuff and kinda broke up the El Paso: it was 8 straight minutes of Bobby pretending to be a cowboy. Again. As always.

The only person I can think of that pretends to be a cowboy as much as Bobby is George W. Bush. The whole band went through a cowboy phase, but Bobby just Philip K. Dick’ed his cowboy persona and by this point, if you woke Bobby up in the middle of the night by screaming, “Stampede on the brazoes!” he would grab his hat and jump on his lovely steed and ride off into the purple skies of justice. Bobby stopped pretending he was a cowboy at some point and, in his mind, became a Rider of the Prairies.

What I am trying to get to is that Bobby Weir was a raving goddam lunatic. This is the only possible explanation for some of his choices.

There is only one documented instance of someone treating Bobby in the manner you would treat anyone who behaved in this manner, but–and here’s the important part–was not a rock star. In Sam Cutler’s entirely fallacious and therefore delightful book about road managing the band in the 70’s, Bobby liked to sneak up on people sleeping on planes and fuck with them. This was, obviously, back in the days when wild-eyed lunatics were allowed to wander around planes giggling to themselves. So Cutler pops him in the nose. Like you would if you were dead-asleep because this plane ride was the only 90 minutes in the day you weren’t dealing with the promoter, the union, the crew (we’ll get to them), or the 7 sweaty gibbering drugsuckers whose every whim needs to be catered to, because if they’re not happy, then how do you expect them to play Sugaree for 22 minutes?

So this is pre-cell phone or obviously, wi-fi, on planes. There are no phones. There is no problem that can be settled now; we are en route and incommunicado until Des Moines. You have just gone through the maddening ritual of getting these hairy morons through an airport and now all you want to do is catch a quick nap before you have to check them into the hotel. Which, if anything can be learned from every single other time you have attempted to check these baboons into a hotel, will go poorly at best.

And now Bobby wants to lurk up from behind you and grab your face.

P.S.  And you know he wouldn’t pull that shit on Jerry.

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