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I might have to make my commute a little longer than usual tomorrow to accommodate some special music … which, typically, I will take the longest and most roundabout possible way to tell you about.

I liked the Grateful Dead when I was a teenager, and amassed many of their officially released albums.

I never got my hands on much in the way of live Dead, though. I guess I wasn’t friends with the right people, or wasn’t trying very hard, or something like that.

For whatever reason, the legendary culture of tape-trading never reached me in high school, and the Dead’s deep legacy of live performances remained only a distant rumor.

(This was before the Internet. Nowadays you can build a collection of dozens or even hundreds of shows in a single day, if you really want to put your mind to it. I didn’t have that option.)

Then I went to Boston University, across the river from Harvard, whose radio station is known for putting on themed “orgies” of a specific artist’s music during final exam periods.

In January of my freshman year, they played five solid days of nothing but the Grateful Dead, including a bunch of complete shows. (I think they broke in at one point for a basketball game.)

I grudgingly observed my class schedule … but when I wasn’t in class, I was in my room, eagerly making tape. At long last I had some actual live unreleased Grateful Dead to listen to.

And the first full Dead show I ever obtained on my own initiative was November 19, 1972, the second in a two-night run of shows at the University of Houston’s Hofheinz Pavilion.

I’ve since decided that fall 1972 was my favorite period for Dead shows. They were still playing small to mid-sized halls, doing long shows, touching on an almost embarrassing variety of styles — everything from free jazz to country to Chuck Berry — without sounding derivative. Plus, Keith Godchaux had come into his own on piano, lending a marvelously old-timey sound to whatever avenue the group went down.

The Nov. 19 show had a lot to do with shaping that opinion, I think. I’m not sure it’s the absolute best show from that period of time, but it’s a good energetic example of what they were playing then.

Once Dead shows began landing on the Internet, I made sure to seek out and download that show, along with entirely too many others.

And tomorrow, I’ll mark the show’s 40th anniversary by playing it in my car as I go to and from work. Maybe I’ll listen to it tomorrow night, as well, when I’m doing whatever it is I do on computers at night that takes up all my time.

It will be nice to catch up with an old friend, even in passing.


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