Building a Library: The Grateful Dead Page 4

The fabulous polyrhythms and time changes of "King Solomon's Marbles" (Blues for Allah) are probably the best studio examples of the thick textures, tone clusters, and one of the first endings of a "space" segment that doesn't fade or segue into another tune. There will always be something very disturbing about that dead stop, for it stands in direct contradiction to the norm: the continuity, the fluidity, the timelessness that is so compelling. However, the craving for surprise and musical chicanery has also been a mainstay of the band; take that ending and get on with it.

A Grateful Dead library should consist of commercial live and studio recordings and DAT tapes. Many Deadheads, in fact, would like nothing better than a subscription series of board masters. Even as the Dead continue to issue recordings in their "From the Vault" series, the unprocessed, unexpurgated, warts-and-all versions are what Deadheads clamor for.

The raw has a power all its own; taking it into the studio changes the nature of the beast. However, Hundred Year Hall (Grateful Dead Productions GDCD 4020), the third and most recent in the series of "Vault" releases produced by John Cutler and Phil Lesh, captures the essence of the Grateful Dead's music. Here are the turn-on-a-dime tempo changes, the thick clusters of shifting tonality, the unusual harmonic structures that allow multipart conversations between the musicians. As Joseph Campbell has written, the work of the artist is "to perform the first and second functions of a mythology by recognizing through the veil of nature, as viewed by the science of their times, the radiance, terrible yet gentle, of the dark, unspeakable light beyond, and through their words and images to reveal the sense of the vast silence that is the ground of us and of all beings." (footnote 10). Creating dance music is not a bad way to experience and revel in the inimitability of life.

The ostinato rhythmic line introducing "I Know You Rider" on Hundred Year Hall is the simplest way to detect the signature of the Grateful Dead: Bob Weir's punctuating rhythm guitar. Garcia may have been the articulate voice, his guitar lacing the music's textures with sweetly dancing Maypole ribbons, but the framework comes from Weir. The importance of his innovative chord structures and the assemblage of textures are unique to the Grateful Dead. Still in the "dames is poison" period of "we can share the women, we can share the wine," Weir's voice, comfortable in its Marty Robbins balladeer mode, has yet to tackle the gospel/blues shout of later years. Weir calling out the count for "Playing in the Band" is a rare moment where internal band banter is made public. This is another reason why board tapes are popular: the sparkling repartee of male camaraderie escapes live into the hall with all of its merciless, take-no-prisoners teasing. Although I've often thought of this tune as merely rollicking rock'n'roll, this rendition musically and lyrically resonates with Zen sentiments:

I take no action,

and people transform themselves.

I love tranquility,

and people naturally do what is right.

From "Playing in the Band":

Some folks trust in reason

others trust in might

I don't trust in nothing

but I know it comes out right.



Footnote 10: The Way of the Animal Powers: Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Vol.1, Harper & Row, 1983.
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