Comes A Time. Not THAT Comes A Time. So Beautiful It Aches.

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill, only love can fill”

Been walkin’ all mornin’, went walkin’ all night
I can’t see much difference between the dark and light
And I feel the wind and I taste the rain
Never in my mind to cause so much pain

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
Only love can fill, only love can fill”

From day to day just letting it ride
You get so far away from how it feels inside
You can’t let go ’cause you’re afraid to fall
But the day may come when you can’t feel at all

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says, “Don’t you see?
Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
Don’t give it up, you got an empty cup
That only love can fill, only love can fill, only love can fill”

–Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead, “Comes A Time”

Out Of Office: My Muse Is Otherwise Occupied Edition

outIt’s been a longstanding tradition of mine, here at Fish & Bicycles, to announce when I will be unable to post for a while.

This series of Out of Office posts has spanned the last five years, they usually marked occasions when I was traveling, but sometimes I just knew I’d be too busy to blog during the winter holidays or other life events.

THIS, is not one of those occasions.

Though I actually am leaving tomorrow for Kaua’i, and will not be home until March 1st, the real catalyst for this post is the fact that my muse, who has been by my side as a writer for many years, with just one disappearing act from June 2013 to November 2014, has been completely and utterly occupied by a different creative pursuit of mine…

…music!

My muse isn’t very good at multitasking, and as my latest music project started to get serious, right around the beginning of this year, very little inspiration for writing has come my way.

The only place I’ve consistently found my muse lately has been here:

studio

I’m super fortunate to be playing with a group of musicians of the highest caliber, in a studio like this, making the most complex music I’ve ever attempted to play.

One of the founding principles of this band was that we are all treating it as an opportunity to learn and grow as musicians; no small task when you consider that, except for our 20-something keyboard player, we’re all over the age of 50, hence lots of new tricks for old dogs.

But, considering that there is growing scientific evidence that making music can help stave off dementia, this is probably the very best thing that I can be doing for myself right now.

A friend of mine who shares with me a love for the music of the Grateful Dead, just tonight sent me a link to a YouTube clip featuring Jerry Garcia telling a story about a time when he had to play a concert after he had accidentally been dosed with LSD. Jerry explains that he got very paranoid before he had to go on stage, thinking there were mafia gangsters in the crowd who might want to kill him, especially if he went out there and couldn’t play because he was tripping on acid.

And so, in order to get through the situation, Jerry said to himself, “I’ll play for my life.” It worked, and it became a kind of mantra for other times in his life when he felt, musically, in a tight spot.

I relate to that, in numerous ways. Making music feels to me as if I AM playing for my life, not thinking that someone will kill me if I don’t play well, but because making music gives me life, sustains me, makes life worth living, makes life MUCH more fun.

SO … I’m not really sure when my muse will steer me back to writing, but Fish & Bicycles means much too much to me to give it up.

Most likely, after I have focused on music for a while, once the band has fully gelled, once we’ve been through the learning curve for the 30-40 songs we’re working on, maybe then some of my brain capacity will be freed up, and my muse will sense this available creative resource, and the inspiration to put words together in hopefully compelling ways will return.

Until then, thanks so much to any and all of my readers out there. If you’re subscribed, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, etc., you’ll see me again when you see me.

Cheers!

Video Fridays: Dead & Company

mayer-weirI haven’t written about one of my favorite bands of all time, the Grateful Dead, in a while, having published my last post on the topic back in July, but today it’s definitely time.

When I heard in August that three of the “core four” remaining members of the Dead — Bob Weir, Billy Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart — were going to do some shows under the name of ‘Dead & Company’, with the ‘company’ consisting of Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Chimenti, from Weir’s band Ratdog, on keyboards, and John Mayer on lead guitar, I was not surprised, but I was skeptical.

Not surprised, because earlier in the year, in February, Bob Weir was a guest on CBS’a The Late Late Show, guest-hosted by John Mayer, and they performed two very nicely done Dead tunes (see below), and during the interview segment Mayer professed his love of the Grateful Dead.

Skeptical for two reasons:

1. While I very much enjoyed Mayer’s work on the two songs I saw him play, and though I don’t believe that any guitar player stepping into Jerry Garcia’s vacant shoes needs to imitate Jerry’s tone and technique, Mayer did not at all emulate Jerry, which is fine when it’s Weir sitting in with Mayer’s band, but it won’t work for most Deadheads when Mayer sits in with the Dead.

2. In the Rolling Stone article announcing the Dead & Company shows, John Mayer said this (my emphasis added in bold):

“They take their time, sometimes too much. This free expressive sort of spirit – I listen and I want to find a mix of that openness. I kind of want to go to that show, if it still existed. But I wish that there were tunes that I was more familiar with. I wish that I could be the singer. I wish I could have harmonies. And I wish that I could make it seven minutes instead of 13 minutes. Now I’ll get the opportunity to kind of try that.”

I read that and thought, “Um, John, you wouldn’t actually dream of messing with one of the quintessentials of the Grateful Dead, would you? Really?! I mean, you do know that taking 13 minutes to play a 7-minute song was pretty much the whole point of the Grateful Dead, right?”

Well, what a difference a few months make!

According to Relix, Mayer has spent the time since then working 4-5 hours a day, learning the songs and rehearsing with the band in what he refers to as ‘Grateful Dead University’. In several articles I’ve read about his preparations, he sounded incredibly sincere and respectful, deeply invested in honoring the Dead’s and Jerry Garcia’s immense legacies.

And, last night was the first Dead & Company show, and right out of the gate they opened with a wonderful 15-minute version of Playing In The Band, one of the tunes that the Dead was most noted for stretching out on, sometimes as long as a half-hour, and Mayer not only nailed Jerry’s tone and technique, without sounding like a simple copycat, but he relaxed into the extended jam and fit in beautifully with the band.

For this week’s Video Fridays installment, then, let’s look at his transformation, first with Mayer being Mayer and decidedly not Jerry on The Late Late Show back in February, followed by Mayer channeling Jerry last night in Albany, New York.

Well done, John, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Fare Thee Well, Grateful Dead

GratefulDead-fare-thee-wellSo, last night, at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Grateful Dead played what was billed as their last ever concert, which is to say that the “core four”, the four surviving members of the original band — Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart — claim they will never again all play together after the run of five shows they just did.

I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the show via Pay-Per-View at a friend’s house, it was a very emotional experience, and today I find myself still reeling with feelings.

I’ve written numerous times, here at Fish & Bicycles about my longstanding love of the Grateful Dead and my unapologetic identification as a Deadhead. I’ve gone VERY deep with the Dead’s music over many years, and I’m so grateful for all of the fun, inspiration, and meaning it has given me and will continue to give.

One of the things that was so special about the Grateful Dead, and which partly explains why I’m so emotional about their grand finale, is that the band members were never rock stars. Instead, they felt almost like friends. After all, they cut their teeth at the Acid Tests, where they thought of themselves as participants in a communal experience, rather than hired musicians up on a bandstand, there to simply entertain the party guests.

Eventually, of course, they graduated to larger and larger venues, and were, by necessity, up on a huge stage at a distance from much of the crowd, but they weren’t egomaniacal showmen, prancing and strutting around the stage for attention, as if it was all about them. They simply made music and cared deeply that their shows should be meaningful, exploratory, and uniting experiences.

Another thing that contributed to the Grateful Dead’s appeal, especially to aspiring musicians like myself, is that, due to the improvisational approach they took to their music, pushing the envelope every night, exploring new ideas in front of a live audience, not every idea worked, a flub here and flub there, just often enough to remind you that they were human, so that you notice you still love them, warts and all, and they always pulled themselves out of the occasional train wreck, eventually.

Again, for an aspiring musician this is a powerful, powerful thing, it’s the thing that encouraged millions of people like me to pick up a guitar, learn some Dead tunes, and to stick with it, in many cases long enough to get good enough to play with other musicians, where the real fun starts.

Finally, the last element of Dead appeal derives from their hippie roots. I’ve mentioned my fondness for hippie culture before, and I still long to be surrounded by people who truly believe that love; peaceful, supportive, inclusive community; and freedom of expression are the most important things.

Last night, then, was decidedly NOT just another concert. It was a fond farewell, the end of a long, strange trip, it was friends saying goodbye to friends in all directions, it was the band saying goodbye to each other, it was Bob Weir choking up and struggling to get through the lyrics of his song Throwing Stones, and then Phil Lesh doing the same thing on his tune Unbroken Chain, at the realization that this will be the last time they will ever sing those songs with their bandmates of 50 years, it was the conspicuous and painful absence of Jerry Garcia who had been the heart and soul of the Dead, and it was the reverent, loving tribute that Trey Anastasio paid to Jerry, filling his shoes as best as he could, emulating some of Jerry’s classic tones, riffs, and licks, while bringing his own touches and voice, just as Jerry would have wanted him to do.

The show ended with one of the band’s more obscure songs, Attics Of My Life, a haunting hymn from their classic 1970 album American Beauty, a song about the power of music, and about how music is even more powerful when partnered with love and shared.

In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me

I have spent my life
Seeking all that’s still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
And closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play
You played to me

Here, then, is that performance, which, even with crappy sound quality, moves me deeply once again. And, just to make up for the crappy sound quality, I’ve included the original studio recording, so that those not familiar with the song can hear more clearly the sublime beauty and lovely harmonies.

Fare you well, Grateful Dead, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell…

Video Fridays: The Magic of 1977 Grateful Dead

jerryDisclaimer: I recognize that this installment of Video Fridays may only appeal to music geeks like me, or maybe even to just Grateful Dead music geeks like me, but inspiration hit me and this is what I have to share today. That said, if there’s even a sliver of a chance that I can turn someone on to this music that I love so much, then my work here will not be in vain.

There’s an old Jewish saying that I love a lot.

Two Jews, three opinions.

Well, I’m convinced, after many years of debating the relative greatness of the different eras of the Grateful Dead‘s 30-year career, that it would be accurate to paraphrase the Jewish saying by substituting “Deadhead” for “Jew”.

Consider my recent communications with my longtime friend Keith, who has been featured in two prior posts of mine: Post 1, Post 2.

A few days ago, Keith emailed, imploring me to go to Archive.org, a gold mine for Deadheads, and to listen to what some believe is the greatest show the Grateful Dead ever performed, out of their 2,317 total concerts, a show from a year, 1977, believed by many more Deadheads still, to be their best.

This was the legendary May 8, 1977 concert at Cornell University’s Barton Hall in Ithaca, NY.

Having been intimately familiar with this show for many, many years, dating back to when I owned a bootleg of it on cassette tape, now sadly lost, I was more than happy to listen to it again, and doing so led me and Keith to exchange a total of 38 emails and 100+ text messages over the next two days.

During the course of the discussion, I started out agreeing that 1977 was a great year and that the Barton Hall show was great, but I disagreed with Deadheads calling it “the best”, as I was of the opinion that this distinction was not important, and I mentioned that lately I’d been listening to and loving shows from 1974 more than any shows from other periods.

But then, I inevitably became lured into a 1977 immersion, listening to shows at Archive.org and watching shows on YouTube, and while I still don’t think it’s important to label 1977 “the best”, it absolutely was a VERY special year.

There are several factors that made it so, but one of the most striking things, clearly evident in Jerry Garcia’s smile in the lead photo I’ve included here, and as can be seen throughout the video below: as Jerry himself said, “We’re having fun again.”

The band had gone on a touring hiatus after their Fall 1974 tour, they only played four one-off shows in 1975, but when they resumed touring in 1976 and on into 1977, they had a bunch of new songs from their 1975 album Blues For Allah, and a bunch more from the album Terrapin Station, which they recorded in the winter of 1976 and would release in July of 1977. All of the studio time to make those two albums during the hiatus had two interesting side effects.

First, it demanded discipline, as studio time is expensive and records are for posterity, leading to consistent cohesion and tightness in their music.

Second, after a grueling 1974 tour, with their legendarily massive “Wall of Sound” sound system, a system that demanded they play on large stages, where they tended to spread out from each other like this:

GD-74

…they set out on their 1976 tour with a a greatly reduced amount of sound equipment, and having enjoyed the confining spaces of a recording studio, they set up their gear very close together, and for most of their time onstage for the next few years they’d be huddled together, like this:

Grateful Dead live

…paying really close attention to each other and playing off each other, often, as mentioned, smiling from the pure joy of it.

Time moves on, and due to a combination of the occasional internal strife that all bands struggle with, as well as having reached a level of maturity, musically, that no longer required them to play in such close proximity to each other, they gradually spread out on stage again, and from around 1980 onward, with the exception of the acoustic sets they did in the ’80s, they mostly looked like this:

GD-90

So, yeah, 1977 was special, magical even, if you believe that music is magic, as I most decidedly do, and thanks to the Music Vault YouTube channel, another gold mine for Deadheads, we’re lucky to have access to a number of videos from 1976 and 1977, including the following treasure from the Spring ’77 tour, a full hour and 45 minutes from their April 26th show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.

Again, just watch Jerry to see how much fun he’s having! That fun comes through the music in a most glorious way.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!