You’ve probably seen it by now — one of those creative media stunts that make the Internet a wondrous place.
An artist named Michael David Murphy stitched together the Grateful Dead’s unhurried between-song tunings from 1977 concerts into a single 90-minute collage.
A friend of mine, knowing my predilection for the Dead, tweeted me the link today. He didn’t seem overly surprised when I told him I’d already listened to more than 40 minutes of it … as I had, without breaking a sweat.
The truth is, 90 minutes of Jerry Garcia smoking cigarettes and discussing the next tune is positively relaxing, compared to some of the music the Dead fed its audiences.
Like the Phil and Ned segments — one of my favorite side alleys in the band’s long history.
Around 1970, the Dead made the acquaintance of Ned Lagin, a keyboardist-slash-electronics-buff who’d studied at both MIT and the Berklee College of Music. Lagin sat in at a number of Dead shows, and became particularly close over time to bassist Phil Lesh.
During Dead concerts in the summer and fall of 1974, the duo would frequently take the stage between sets and subject the crowd to experimental electronic noise — Lagin on a variety of synthesizers, Lesh on heavily processed electric bass.
(The Phil and Ned segments were the ancestors of Seastones, an electronic album released in spring 1975 featuring Lagin, Lesh, Garcia and other contributors. Some Dead setlists from ’74 refer to the electronic space segments as “Seastones,” but I’ve always preferred the more convivial-sounding “Phil and Ned.”)
The results of Phil and Ned’s confabs were weirder and more challenging than the Dead’s well-known nightly “space” segments. Indeed, I’d venture that the Phil and Ned segments were weirder and more challenging than just about any other noise any well-established rock band has ever made.
Imagine the noise emitted by a 200-foot-tall cross between a foghorn and a pipe organ as it bends and lurches and threatens to break its metal scaffolding … and, well, you’ve imagined a single 10-second snapshot of Lagin and Lesh at work.
Back when you could still download soundboard recordings of the Dead from archive.org, I pillaged the site for every Phil and Ned segment I could find. I couldn’t always stand to listen to it. But, like Albert Ayler and Metal Machine Music, it seemed like something I needed to have on hand.
To this day, I still have my homemade four-CD box set of Phil and Ned.
You think I’m joking?
If someone ever really wants to string together 90 minutes of the Dead getting up people’s noses, this is where they ought to start. The massed gadgets of Phil and Ned are just waiting to be sliced, diced and processed into all manner of even wilder creative projects.
Until then, here are a few tastes of the glory: