I had originally intended to post this during the week of August 1st and August 9th, but I wanted to give a shout to Isaac Hayes last week. Get out your copy of Hot Buttered Soul, throw it on the hi-fi, and get with somebody.
Jerry Garcia waltzed into this world on August 1st, 1942, and waltzed back out on August 9th, 1995. We’re already 13 years out from Jerry’s death, the demise of the Dead, and that really, really horrible summer tour.
I was already “off the bus” when Jerry died. My Dead train derailed after a miserable cold December night at the Oakland Coliseum. There was such an air of joylessness that night. I was third-wheeling it with a friend and her new boyfriend. I overheard people talking about speed and guns in the men’s room. The music was anemic at best. That entropy had started to show, but worst of all, it just wasn’t fun anymore.
So the new issue of Relix features a cover story about Jerry and how once again, Jerry Garcia is considered “hip” and “cool” among the folks at the “cool kid’s table” in the pop culture cafeteria. The article sites the presence of some humorous Dead graffiti in a subway station – (“…tagging the Grateul Dead’s Steal Your Face skull over a smiling Asian woman in surgical scrubs…”) as well a drunk college kid stumbling along singing “Box of Rain” in the hipster streets at dawn, as proof of the Dead’s new status as hipster iconica. A few musicians (Devendra Banhart, Bonnie Prince Bill aka Will Oldham, and others) weigh in on the matter and come up with a collective “I guess they’re pretty cool.”
The ultra-slick entertainment magazine The Fader did a double-sided cover story on Jerry last summer to much greater effect.
But the real message of the story isn’t Relix’s own need for validation from the Indie community, it’s about how the Dead continues to influence a whole new generation of musicians who are of a much different stripe than the likes of Phish or Widespread Panic. But is it really the Dead who are inspiring Akron/Family or Animal Collective or any other band that might let their music get lost on a lysergic space jam? Or is it just that preternatural sonic stew of bluegrass, blues, modern jazz, folk, and rock and roll that initially fueled the Warlocks? Besides, Relix telling readers that Jerry is cool because the guys in Animal Collective say he is is one thing; the fact that Relix started as a Grateful Dead fanzine back in 1974 is quite another.
Thirteen years after Jerry left us, as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs Lee Johnson’s “Dead Symphony No. 6” on what would have been Jer’s 66th birthday, kids can rock out with the serpentine guitar riff from “China Cat Sunflower” on Rock Band, Converse unveils its Grateful Dead Chuck Taylors in four designs, and Mary-Louise Parker breaks into a chorus of “Fire on the Mountain” during the Weeds season 3 finale. Clearly their influence and relevance is fully intact, whether or not they receive approval from some kind of “indie elite.”
I think the final episode of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s wonderful Freaks and Geeks makes the best case for the appeal of not just the Grateful Dead, but the whole Dead experience. The protagonist, Lindsay Weir (hmmmm…), after receiving a copy of American Beauty from her guidance counselor, heads off to follow the Dead while her family believes that she is really on her way to an “academic summit.”
The best part of my last Dead show was the encore. Instead of the typical “US Blues” or their new rocker “Liberty,” they played their cover of Dylan’s bittersweet “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The last verse said it all…
Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the Dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.
To cap off this Test, here is Ann Marie Calhoun and her brother Joe Simpson perfoming “Ripple.” Ann Marie is an extremely talented musician and has performed with everyone from Steve Vai to Dave Matthews to the Disco Biscuits. Check it out, and I’ll meet you back here next week.