Record #369: Grateful Dead – Blues for Allah (1975)

I recently just turned thirty, which among every the other milestone marks the point at which I have lived more of my life as a guitar player than not. And like every other guitar playing teenager, I had a huge classic rock phase in high school. I methodically drudged through the old rock and roll masters, playing my way through the Canon. To this day, I remember how to play every note of “Stairway to Heaven,” and with a little noodling I could probably remember “Purple Haze.” I’ve studied Harrison and Clapton and Blue Oyster Cult. I even had my own jam band (for one show).
All this to say, until today, I have never knowingly listened to the Grateful Dead. I mean, of course I know their reputation. I know about Jerry and the Bears and Deadheads, but this is the first time I have ever cued up any of their cuts and hit play. In fact the only time I know I’ve heard them is that late episode of Freaks and Geeks where Lindsey borrows a copy from a new girl and dances in her room. I can’t speak to the reason behind my avoidance–in recent years it’s probably my distaste for the schlocky jam bands that picked up their mantles, but I never had that aversion when I was studying the great guitar players of yore.

And Jerry Garcia is certainly in that company. In spite of the occasionally lackluster composition (read: jam band), Jerry’s fretwork is as nimble as the legends claim, deftly climbing its way through key changes without pausing for a second. The songwriting is much more substantial than most of their disciples also, taking the time to establish a framework to build their noodling on rather than just some sort of…noodle tower? You know, like trying to build a tower out of wet noodles? It’d just fall apart? I lost my metaphor.

It is strange listening to the Grateful Dead forty years after their heyday though. I would very likely hear them differently if it weren’t for Phish and Dave Matthews and their ilk who followed in their footsteps–and also the ilk that follow these bands around on tour. In 2017, the Grateful Dead occupies more a cultural position than a musical one, and divorcing them from that is impossible. But it’s a little sad. Forty years ago, this was probably absolutely groundbreaking. Now, that ground is built up with overpriced high-rise condos that smell like weed.

Edit: I’m not keeping this.

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