“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthu–”
Don’t you “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu” me, Mister! You transreverberate back to the Flesh of the Sane immediately.”
One of the running themes of these bloggings is this: the Dead weren’t as special as we think. They did precisely the same trend-following as every other big rock and roll combo of the time, it’s just that they were incompetent at it. They discovered reggae at the same time every other with-it white dude in LA did, but their reggae song was in 7/4. Plus, Phil wasn’t exactly Family Man Barrett.
(Hand on my heart, I only meant to post one picture of Phil looking completely unpresentable. The two-fer was just a happy accident.)
(Okay, last parenthetical, but it has to be said: our boy’s looking rough in that second one there. Like he’s a stranger in a bar who keeps moving through the room getting closer and closer to you, but you never notice him actually moving , and then all of a sudden HE’S ON THE STOOL NEXT TO YOU and he asks you if you want to hear a secret? Because, mister, I’ve got a secret and…I’d like ta tell it to ya.
What the hell, man?
It’s not that I disagree or not: it’s just unseemly. First of all, close your parenthesis.
Second, I’d really prefer you didn’t even imply that the ground-breaking bassist from our favorite improvisational combo was some sort of lumberjack rapist.
I would never imply that Phil raped lumberjacks. That’s–
–Wait, that is not what–
—on YOU, FUCKIN’ WEIRDO THAT YOU ARE.
–I said. I meant that he was a lumberjack who raped.
… Oh: A lumberjack-rapist?!
Well, it’s kinda on you for being so fast and loose with the typography, Mr. “Close your parenthetical.”
SHUT THE FUCK UP, BOTH OF YOU.
COMING SOON: The much-promised, never-delivered return of Elvis! Also, check out this rightfully well-regarded show from 9/20/87 and pay special attention to the Desolation Row, Garcia’s solos in particular. They’re a matched pair: the first, sadness; the second, release. He only takes one verse each and makes every bar both a logical continuation of the bars before it AND a complete surprise. Plus, Bobby just kills it.
The Timi’i people have only five words for colors, which seems odd until you realize that they live in a triple canopied rainforest and the colors are Green, Really Green, Thing That’s About To Kill Me, Sun’s In My Eyes, and Night.
In Phil’s secret language of dreams, his word for “roadie” is the same as his word meaning “one about to be chastised.”
I sometimes need to hear five or six versions of the same song in a row. Part of that last sentence was a lie: I sometimes need to hear Mississippi Half-Step five or six versions in a row.
Bobby was never more than two or three feet away from the note he intended to sing. Sometimes, this was an exciting musical choice–listen to Sugar Magnolia. Sometimes. Garcia’s voice was too fragile and sweet for the rockers, but it was in tune far more often than Bobby’s. Phil’s voice had a weird barbershop quartet thing to it, plus Phil’s larynx had not been informed of the fact that Phil had perfect pitch. At shows in the ’80’s, Enthusiasts hoisted signs reading Let Phil Sing. Note that these signs did not say Let Phil Continue to Sing: it was clearly seen as a one-time thing.
Pig wasn’t so much good at singing notes as he was at singing songs.
I’ll give the Dead this: they wouldn’t have put up with that My Little Pony shit at all.
The Dead did not subvert gender roles: they rejected your post-modernity and replaced it with a system that encouraged calling your wife “your old lady,” out loud and in public and getting away with it, which if you think about it, is a pretty good trick the guys played on their old ladies.
Could it be a coincidence that Roe v. Wade occurred in 1973? Is it chance that the landmark reproductive rights decision took place the VERY SAME YEAR that the Dead was just, y’know, killin’ it?
Breaking news, my fellow Enthusiasts: the Hiatus was a lie! Well, not that it occurred: the Dead played only four shows in 18 months. That’s fact. What’s not fact is the reason why. We were all told it was because the Wall of Sound and the Wall of Drugs were driving them into bankruptcy and insanity. True, but not the only reason. In fact, not even the MAIN reason.
In the Summer of ’74, the Dead played a gig that appears in no database. They appeared as ringers in a local Anal Creek, WV, talent show to raise money for Li’l Possum, whom the city doctors had proclaimed was, “just as fucked up as you can be and still be alive. You want me to kill it? Let me kill it: I’d be doing everyone involved a favor.”
Well, they won, and raised that money. To thank them, the townspeople gave them a hospital, short on staff but long on love: St. Stephen’s Medical Center.*
Billy became Chief of Staff and immediately improved the hospital’s standing, financially and medically. From the top brain surgeon to the lowest psychiatrist, everyone respected Billy’s simple management style. He had one rule: “Y’sure you wanna do that?” And only one punishment. You knew where you stood with Billy. And sometimes, you knew where you lay in the fetal position, tenderly cupping your battered banana while puking.
Phil immediately went Phantom of the Opera: like, during the very first walk-through. Not only was Phil skinny, but he could dislocate his hips to the point where he could shimmy through an 18-inch pipe and he ran away from the group right when they got in the door and SHHOOOOOOP right into a duct and no one saw him for a month or so.
Garcia became the pharmacist and then four minutes later he threw up on himself and passed out, so the road crew instinctively put him on a plane to Milwaukee.
Vince would wander the halls convincing people to let go and follow the light, but he wasn’t all that good at judging how sick people were, so he would end up with a lot of 12-year-olds getting their tonsils out and 55-year-olds getting their knees replaced. Vince would clutch them tight (otherwise, they would squirm away) to his chest, and whisper, “Stop fighting. Be with your ancestors. THEY CALL TO YOU. Succumb. Succumb!” People lodged formal complaints; it was the kind of thing you filled out paperwork about.
Keith “would fuckin’ thank people to stop mistaking me for a corpse, please. I’ve had CPR administered on me four times today. Stop it: this is just the way I look.”
Bobby was the crusading internist/trauma doc/diagnostician (which is not a thing) of the hospital. He could heal anyone…but himself: Dr. Bobby, M.D. He battles with the suits, makes love to Nurse Donna Jean and tries to find a lead in the case of the disappearing livers.
Brent was a male nurse. He was gentle and kind and shaved all the ding-dongs.
*Yes, we’re all quite aware none of this makes sense and this bit makes no sense in particular. You’re very clever to have noticed.
I’ll only say this: at 4:14, you will see Phil do something utterly inexplicable. Do not attempt to explicate it. Then, at 7:20, something occurs that will blow your ass off.
We need to talk about Bobby because I’ve been talking about Bobby and I need to know why, godammit. Admittedly, I go through phases: a quick glance through the archives will reveal the Mickey phase, the Keith era, and–real early on–a whole lot of Vince jokes in a row. But I always go back to Bobert W. Weir, like the swallows returning to Capistrano. (Also, if you wanted to go back to Bobby’s hotel room, you had to swallow his Capistrano. DICK JOKES!) Picasso had his Blue Period; I had a month where I made a lot of Phil jokes.
You can relate to Bobby more than the other guys, though: he was the Everyman, the Protagonist, the White Guy Abroad that Hollywood likes to make movies about. Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai? That guy.
You couldn’t relate to the others: Phil was intimidatingly smart and currently yelling at a roadie. It’s like that saying, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere?” Well, no matter the time, somewhere, Phil is yelling at a member of some road crew, somewhere. That’s why he opened up the restaurant, to scream at busboys in halting Spanish, “TIENE OIDO ABSOLUTO! DAME TUS HEPATICAS!” Billy was scary: there was always so much blood and none of it ever seemed to be his. Garcia and Pig were…well, Garcia and Pig: one might admire or imitate or spurn, but relate?
But as everyman as Bobby seemed, he was anything but: an orphan, a rich kid, really pretty, in good shape. Wait! Bob Weir…Bruce Wayne. Huh.
Bobby was a guy who’d found a home, that family we all yearn for. Adopted, shipped off to boarding school. And, legendarily, a ranch for the greater part of a summer, hence Bobby is a cowboy, but that’s been well-established. (I make fun of Bobby for this, but what man doesn’t pursue their white whale into the sunset? People need the myths they choose; they filter them back out and it turns into Mexicali Blues, which you like more than you’re willing to admit, and kind of rules when those nutty drummers decide to turn it into a disco tune on 5/25/77
He made the Dead better, and they made him better. Bobby outside the realm of those other five or six guys was a mess with visions of Hollywood in his head, and had he been able to come up with some hit singles and gotten the right backing, Bobby could have been just as big as, say, Bob Seeger. But, like a flawed diamond, Bobby’s beauty only truly shone in one oddly-shaped, custom-made setting: the Dead.
Beyond the superficial, speculative, and shit I’ve just made up entirely, there stands the inarguable fact that Bobby was a master musician of the highest caliber, dueling it out with Phil and Garcia every night and walking away proud. He adapted this oddly-voiced, syncopated approach to rhythm guitar, finding a path that isn’t self-evident under Garcia, over Phil, and side-by-side with the keyboards, but he wasn’t flashy: like Billy, he was often at his greatest only upon second, careful listening.
But what about his songs? Lost Sailor sucks, dude! More like ‘Velveeta’. Heh heh.
Yes, what about his songs, made-up straw man? You mean like Sugar Magnolias, Looks Like Rain, Greatest Story, PLAYIN’ IN THE GODDAM BAND, One More Saturday Night, and a little thing called The Other One? Not so italicized now, are you? Like those other fuzzy burnouts were contributing anything towards the end in terms of new material? You want to hear Eternity again? No song has ever been more properly named.
Now, of course, there was this kind of bullshit:
He learned, eventually, but at first, Bobby was convinced that, gee willikers, it just wasn’t a slide solo without going ALL THE WAY up the neck to make those horrible, metallic screeches.
So, we raise our whatever’s-at-hands to Bobby. We love you, you goofy bastard. And you know what it is they say about our love…
Phil plays too many
Notes. Billy plays just enough.
Garcia just plays.