I recently posted a comment (shown below) on a friend’s Facebook wall in response to a conversation happening there addressing the “validity” of the Grateful Dead as musicians and their music. It’s not a new topic for me, I’m afraid. This time, the conversation began in response to a particularly small-minded and troll-like article by Joe Queenan in The Wall Street Journal titled, “Please, Grateful Dead, Don’t Keep Truckin’ On.” It’s a pretty nasty and inflammatory piece that does its part to transplant journalism to the latrine. Queenan’s desire to invalidate and devalue the Grateful Dead, their music AND their fans simply because he doesn’t personally understand it is, in my opinion, grossly irresponsible and, I would have thought, far beneath The Wall Street Journal’s integrity requirements. Clearly I was mistaken.
In addition to my comment below, I’ve included a Youtube link to what many would consider one of the greatest Morning Dews the Grateful Dead ever played. It’s something that I think shows the band at its most delicate and its most ferocious both at the same time. It speaks to the “energy” the band tapped into as well as the musicianship required to explore realms such as this one. It is also, I believe, quite accessible, at least compared to some of the more “cosmic” spaces the Grateful Dead can journey (and, boy, can they!). It’s my usual go-to when people ask me to play them something to give them an idea of what it is the Dead do that I love. They have so many sounds, create so many spaces and experiences that there is no one thing that encapsulates what they do. But this always feels like a great place to jump in.
My suggestion? Put on a pair of headphones, kick back, close your eyes, turn it up real loud, and take it in. Give it your full, uninterrupted attention.
Oh, and here’s what I wrote on that Facebook post:
“I know people who have hated the Dead and then, years later, for whatever reason, it suddenly “clicked!” Sometimes that happens. Other times not. And music critics are just people, too. I worked with Robert Hilburn for a short time (a stellar music critic, in my opinion) and he didn’t get the Dead at all. “All that jamming…” His fave band was U2. In fact, his favorite concert moment of all time (at a U2 concert just post-9/11) was my least favorite concert moment of all time (it was what made me decide I never needed to see U2 again). Amazing how art effects different people in wildly different ways. I’m working on a jazz documentary now and it’s amazing how many people, when I mention this, respond with “Oh, I HATE jazz!” which is oftentimes followed by “It’s not even music!” Ok. I get that it’s a particular way of engaging with music that not everyone is drawn to or takes the time to understand, discover, what have you. But to so readily and easily dismiss the music as not having relevance, not exhibiting talent, barely even qualifying as music… There’s a reason the Grateful Dead are what they are and have the loyal following they do. And if anyone says “it’s not about the music,” then they are one of the ones who DON’T get it. I can say in all honesty, as someone who loves music –all kinds of music from Judy Garland to Led Zeppelin, from classical to show-tunes to free jazz, and as someone who plays music and listens to music daily (actually sitting down and listening as opposed to just having it play in the background), there is still nothing that quite moves me as deeply as the Grateful Dead. It reminds me, in the deepest recesses of my soul, what human beings are capable of and how incredible and immensely powerful a thing artistic expression is. Is this hyperbole? Am I brainwashed? Or could it be that there’s something truly special going on here that, regardless of whether or not you connect with it, is at the very least worthy of acknowledging instead of discrediting? At this point, it’s like denying climate change. It requires an ulterior motive.”