Episode 15. Dylan & The Dead. June 8, 2017. The Apartment (sans monster flies and bees).
Where are Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead at time of his unholy union? While Kelly ate Little Big Burger (and refuses to endorse Camden’s ketchup, though I guess we just did!), we talk where Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead were in 1987, July, the year of Daniel’s birth, to have this all come together (1:40). Robert Hunter, of the Grateful Dead, helped with lyrics on what became, recorded over a few years, 1988’s dreadful Down in the Groove. As Clinton Heylin notes, these were lyrics “even the Dead had passed on.” In May of 1987, after years of legal wrangling we’ll explore at some other date, Dylan settled with his former manager, Albert Grossman (well, he died before this concluded…) for around $3 million dollars but retained the rights to all his works, including the Witmark catalog (see The Bootleg Series, Volume 9). Following this, Dylan agreed to playing six shows with the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia wanted this and didn’t care how much it cost. Good for Dylan, who insisted on a 70-30 split. From Heylin:
To place this in context, Dylan was committing himself to six stadium shows, to average audiences of seventy-five thousand, at a time when he would have struggled to sell out medium-sized arenas on his own. He would be backed by a band who, by 1987, could sell out multiple nights in stadiums at will, and who would be expected to play their own two-hour set in addition to their role as Bob’s backing band. What was smart business, though, smacked of someone artistically bankrupt. It may have been just half a dozen shows, but Dylan was tying himself to a band who had all the ambition of one of the great Coltrane quartets but the technical ability of the Buzzcocks. The person who, under Grossman, had never been known to make a foolish move was now more interested in shekels than a strategy for rebuilding a career that came from nowhere and looked to be heading straight back there.
Ian Bell agrees: The Grateful Dead playing… “On a good day, that was pedestrian, sometimes achieving the heights of tiresome. On a bad day, what with the drugs, the Dead were inept, relentlessly so. ”
In this period the artist had at least one vice in common with his new colleagues. They had always been relaxed in their attitude towards what was good enough for the public, apparently believing that if they were entranced by their ramshackle efforts the customers would feel the same way. A faith that, some of the time at least, things would somehow ‘come together’ on stage was part of the price audiences were expected to pay. By 1987, Dylan had acquired the same view. ”
For what it’s worth, the set lists were exploratory: “Stuck Inside of Mobile,’ ‘Queen Jane Approximately,’ ‘Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,’ ‘The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,’ ‘Pledging My Time,’ ‘Watching the River Flow,’ ‘The Wicked Messenger,’ ‘If Not for You,’ and even a couple of songs Dylan only ever demoed for Witmark, ‘Walkin’ Down the Line’ and ‘John Brown.”
Bob Weir said Dylan was, “difficult to work with, inasmuch as he wouldn’t want to rehearse a song more than two times, three at the most. And so we rehearsed maybe a hundred songs two or three times … This is sorta a standard critique of the way he works.”
As Heylin notes, “Still, Dylan could happily bank another coupla million and chalk it up to experience. After all, only the few thousand Dylan fans prepared to brave a sea of tie dye…”
In keeping with Dylan, he apparently pulled the Dead’s suggested versions of ‘Wicked Messenger,’ in NJ, ‘Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’ in Eugene, OR and ‘Chimes of Freedom’ in Anaheim, CA for vapid, over-represented “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “All Along the Watchtower.” This would be a shift, again to Heylin:
If the Dead’s Deadhead devotees thought ‘their’ band invented ever-changing sets and interchangeable arrangements, the real lessons Dylan took from the shows included how not to tour, what audiences to avoid, and who not to play with. To get to ‘the spirit of the songs,’ Dylan needed to return to a band who knew how to listen and learn.” The Never-Ending Tour would embark soon after.
What do we know about the Grateful Dead? (7:00) Cherry Garcia is an ice cream flavor. Kelly has heard the song “Touch of Gray.” Directly to blame for Phish/all jam bands. Skull lightning logo and frightening bears (which are reminiscent of the Snuggles bear, which is too long a story to get into here…). Hippies love them. Jerry Garcia had epic hair and beard. Jim Brewer had Jerry Garcia in a pouch in Half Baked.
What did Kelly learn about the Grateful Dead? (8:12) Part of Jerry Garcia was thrown into the Ganges after death. His first wife was not allowed to attend the event, or funeral. And Jimmy Buffett had a plane shot at by Jamaican police — and made a song (not album) called “Jamaica Mistacia”
Daniel? (10:05) We’re at the 50th anniversary of their first record and there’s a new 4-hour long documentary streaming on Amazon Prime called Long, Strange Trip to check out. I got acquainted with the band via a Pitchfork curated list (see here, and some of my favorite cuts in our “Dylan & the Dead” playlist). I look at the following songs (11:00). [Quote Pitchfork for the evolution of the band.] My preconceptions were quietly smashed — while not my thing, I do see the shades of variance. (Sometimes I can’t, which reinforces that this is all just to get high to.) Overall: if a song was 10 mins it needed to 7, 30 mins it needed to be 23. Take 30% and cut it off.
Dylan and the Dead (17:12) Kelly mistakenly hit “repeat” thinking it would be a song but instead was the album, over and over and over and over. LOST (18:25). Kelly let us know she didn’t listen to any of the originals – which is probably for the best. We went song-by-bloody-song, in overheard quotes.
- “Slow Train” (20:00)
- “Is that a real train whistle?”
- “It set the tempo for what it could have been but never paid it off.”
- “Sounds familiar.”
- “I Want You” (21:20)
- “1/10. Won’t listen again.”
- “How is this fun?”
- “If you don’t want to sing this song, why should I want to listen to it.”
- “Gotta Serve Somebody” (23:44)
- “Whoops, almost solo’d without permission!”
- a “rough and tumble” 70s song.
- “Queen Jane Approximately” (26:35)
- “Slow, boring, formulaic.”
- “Isn’t the appeal of the Dead for them to not be a generic backing band?”
- “reminds me of a small town gay bar… the scene in Boys Don’t Cry where she’s singing “Bluest Eyes in Texas,” but not really, because that’s a better song.”
- “Joey” (30:30)
- “quite the impression of a cat in heat”
- “Lynard Skynard”
- “I don’t know who is more bored – me or Bob Dylan?”
- “too loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong”
- “All Along” and “Knockin’ (39:00)
- “Sounds like Santana, which isn’t bad”
- “Dylan makes me sleepy but the guitar echo sounds fun.”
- “How many times do these two songs have to be on a live album?”
Kelly recommendations: (44:45) not a lot of music except Dylan & The Dead; A Perfect Circle’s 13th Step and Red Rocks.
Daniel recommendations: (49:20) Live/Dead; books – 1861 and The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson and the Americans / also Buffalo Springfield, Public Enemy and Skee-Lo.
The end (50:40) “The Grateful Dead’s alright,” – Kelly. Pre-recommendation: Smashing Pumpkins. Added “George Jackson.” 1 out of 528 – so NO CHANGE. Kelly picked 504. It’s’ 306. Could have been “Farewell, Angelina.” But instead is “Hard Times in New York Town.” (It was actually recorded in 1961)