No one in the Dead ever got hospitalized for exhaustion. Ditto dehydration. There were drug overdoses, liver failure (plural), car crashes and the consequences of telling Mickey, “No, you can’t have that money,” but never something so bush league as “exhaustion.” Hell, if anything, some of them were getting far too much sleep, but that’s not the point: these mandrills were Old School.
But the way we listen to them now is not. No tapes in my house, nor CDs and certainly no vinyl.(I have only purchased one LP in my life. It was by UB40, but why don’t we leave me and my actions out of the conversation, okay Blame-y) I don’t even have a stero anymore, not for years. My entire collection is stored as 1’s and 0’s in a computer I bought refurbished off of a website that “looked trustworthy.” There is no backup: this will end in tears.
The machine tells me that it has 66.34 GB of Dead tunes. Every Dick’s Pick. Each volume of Road Trips and Digital Downloads. All three of the monster 10-disc box sets. (I paid for ’em, of course. Of course. In the sense that sitting through the ’95 Giant Stadium shows was kind of like payment.) Hundreds more shows from February of 1968 to October of 1994. Each year is represented, even ’84. American Beauty is also on there, but I haven’t listened to it in 15 years, because Til The Morning Comes is poison. If you play it backwards, you get a strong urge to listen to Slayer.
Besides Beauty and Workingman’s, there are no studio releases in there.
(By the way, if you listen to one of Bobby’s cowboy songs backwards, you gradually lose the urge to throttle him while yelling, “Stop singing about 14-year-old stereotypes!)
I have not listened to every show in there; there’s probably no way I ever will. Even if I do, I probably won’t realize it. It’s not like my computer, one day in the future, will finish playing an encore of U.S. Blues and announce, “Dude! You just listened to every Dead show you own! What have you learned?”
“Everything there is to know about 8-sided whispering hallelujah hatracks.”
“And that is?”
“They have 8 sides.”
Tapes used to mean something when they showed up. They would appear according only to their own schedules, drifting across the country via the vagaries of the post office and scatterbrained tapers. All black with a thin white strip of label headlines across the top, or with the white-and-red sticks on the side. Sometimes, from a particularly savvy trader, you might get the clear plastic 100 minute tapes. Each one was special: you remember the first time you heard it.
My friend and I broke in 4/29/71 on a run into Manhattan. To meet a guy about a thing. You’ve all been there. My friend knew the guy with the thing and I didn’t, so I waited in the car outside. You know how guys with things can be. For some unfathomable teenage reason, I had shaved my armpits the night before. It was summer and hot and as I listened to the legendary show, I learned the hard way why we were given armpit hair. Driving home, we realized that we had spent every single cent we had on the guy’s thing, so we had to navigate through quite a bit of New Jersey as to avoid any tolls. I can’t listen to that show without feeling young and delightfully stupid and like I was getting a rash. But I also had the entire afternoon to skulk around Northern Jersey listening to the Greatest Goddamn Band That Ever Lived without one single care in the world.