Building a Library: The Grateful Dead Page 6

So begins "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)," the first cut on The Grateful Dead. It resonated with those looking to leave the mind-numbing, soul-deadening confines of a Leave it to Beaver universe that never quite matched the color and timbre of mid-'60s life. There had to be something more, something real, something true out there, and here was a clarion call: the initial message that life is fun.

Anthem of the Sun (1968) was as adventurous as any piece of "classical electronic music" at the time: feedback, flanging, phasing, reverb, echo, kazoo, vibraslap, celesta, claves, harpisichord, prepared piano, and prepared tape illustrate Phil Lesh's and keyboardist Tom Constanten's familiarity with contemporary music. And then we get Mickey Hart, rudimental drummer, percussionist, and my fellow energy demon. Mickey would often state, "a drummer is to a band what a barnacle is to a ship"---a musical version of "can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em." Hart is driven by curiosity, captured by his own passions, and always in pursuit of realizing the music in his head. With Hart's appearance the experimental polyrhythms start (the sevens against elevens we hear later on); this is where the deep, stentorian grooves begin...This is also where timing can get shot to hell.

By the time of Workingman's Dead (1970), Vietnam dominated the landscape of American politics, the cusp of the Korean War boomers were entering college, the leading-edge boomers were winding their way through grad school or were mired in deltas far from home, the labor movement still possessed vast political clout, elected presidents, and legislators...and the Grateful Dead explored the root of America's soul and work-ethic mythology: What is it that keeps us on the wheel? What ladder are you climbing? What wall have you leaned it against?

Well, the first days are the hardest days,

don't you worry anymore,

'cause when life looks like easy street

there is danger at your door...

What I want to know is, are you kind?

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, "God dammit baby, you gotta be kind." That's the thread that united all Deadheads, just as Garcia's pedal-steel guitar winds it way through the album. (I can remember him cursing all the knee levers and pedals, saying how damn hard an instrument it was to play.)

Please don't dominate the rap, Jack,

if you got nothing new to say...

I spent a little time on the mountain,

spent a little time on the hill;

I saw things getting out of hand,

and I guess they always will....

Keep on coming don't you stand and wait

with the sun so dark and the hour so late

one way or another

one way or another

one way or another

this darkness got to give (footnote 13).

Footnote 12: Transcript of radio Interview, courtesy David Gans.

Footnote 13: "New Speedway Boogie," by Hunter-Garcia, from Workingman's Dead.