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.
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.