* Dowland: Complete Lute Works Vol.3 (O’Dette) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.H. Schmelzer: Unarum Fidium (Holloway/Assenbaum/Mortensen) (ECM CD)
* Andrew Hill: Lift Every Voice (Blue Note CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Sunlight (SME CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Future Shock (Columbia/Legacy HDCD)
* Billy Cobham: Shabazz: Recorded Live In Europe (Atlantic LP)
* Dorothy Ashby: Afro-Harping (Cadet/Verve CD)
* Pat Martino: Joyous Lake (Warner Bros. LP)
* Pat Martino: Starbright (Warner Bros. LP)
* Charles Gayle/William Parker/Rashied Ali: Touchin’ On Trane (FMP CD)
* Susie Ibarra: Flower After Flower (Tzadik CD)
* Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else (Shortwave 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Boston Garden, 1994-10-01 (SBD (3CDR)
* Van Morrison: Common One (Warner Bros. CD)
* Van Morrison: Live At The Grand Opera House, Belfast (Mercury CD)
* Van Morrison: A Sense of Wonder (Mercury CD)
* Love: Love (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Gary Higgins: Seconds. (Drag City LP)
* Alexander “Skip” Spence: Oar (Columbia/Sundazed CD)
* Caravan: In The Land of Grey And Pink (Deram/Universal 2CD+DVD)
* Placebo: 1973 (EMI/Music On Vinyl LP) †
* Placebo: Placebo (EMI/Music On Vinyl LP) †
* Chrome: Half Machine Lip Moves (Siren/Caroline LP)
* Chrome: Half Machine From The Sun (King of Spades 2LP)
* David Muse: Tonal Alchemy (Deva LP)
* Michael Hedges: Breakfast In The Field (Windham Hill LP)
* Wally Badarou: Echoes (Island LP)
* Earth: Primitive & Deadly (Southern Lord 2LP)
* Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group: Los Suenos de un Higado (Rodriguez Lopez LP)
* Kylesa: Ultraviolet (Season of Mist 2-45RPM LP)
* Montibus Communitas: The Pilgrim To The Absolute (Beyond Beyond Beyond LP)
* Padang Food Tigers/Lake Mary: Crabbing King Sappling/White River (Scissor Tail 7”)
* Windhand: Soma (Relapse 2LP)
* Ecstatic Vision: Sonic Praise (Relapse LP)
It was twenty years ago today that Jerry Garcia died, at the age of 53, in a rehab facility in Marin County, California. And with his passing, the Grateful Dead died. I was utterly devastated and now it's hard to believe so much time has passed--in another year, I'll be the age as Jerry was on that day twenty years ago. It just doesn't seem possible.
Over the years, I continued to buy all the official product: 33 volumes of Dick's Picks, the complete Road Trips series, all the box sets, DVDs, and a subscription to (the unimaginatively titled) Dave's Picks, now at 15 volumes and counting. I didn't bitch about the artificially limited editions, the "bonus discs" or the steadily escalating prices. And I eagerly devoured every volume of Pure Jerry and Garcia Live along with the solo DVDs and box sets. I was a fan and I was happy.
It also happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead and the surviving members have decided to celebrate--by cashing in big time.
First there were the handful of "Fare Thee Well" shows last month, with Trey Anastasio taking the lead guitar role. Aside from my general dislike for Phish, the ungodly expensive ticket prices and ginormous venues struck me a nothing but a cynical money-grab from the get-go. Having watched some clips on YouTube, I can confirm that it was as musically disastrous as I feared it would be. To be honest, Trey acquitted himself quite well. He had obviously been practicing, knew the material, and comported himself with an understated dignity that I wasn't expecting from him. So, bravo, Trey. His bandmates, however, were apparently content to forego any serious rehearsals and just bash out the old songs in as perfunctory way as possible. Somnambulant tempos, disjointed rhythms, train wreck transitions, and truly atrocious vocals made a mockery of the Dead's rich catalog of songs. Watching these clips made me profoundly sad and I couldn't even make it all the way through any of them.
The second thing that pisses me off is the seven-hundred-dollar asking price for Thirty Years Around The Sun, the upcoming 80-disc box set containing one complete show from every year of the Grateful Dead's touring history. Don't get me wrong: I want it. I want it bad. And it's not that can't afford it, necessarily. It's just that it is massively--ridiculously--overpriced. I happily paid around five hundred bucks for the 72-disc Complete Europe '72, which included luxurious packaging, a hardbound book, and a facsimile of the tour program. How can an additional eight CDs (and a seven-inch single) add another two hundred freaking dollars to the price? Does it include a bit of Jerry's DNA? An unwashed black T-shirt? Otherwise, no, not for me.
And Garcia's estate continues to release the most unnecessary things, the latest being all thirteen nights from Jerry's run on Broadway in 1987. This was, of course, an historic occasion, featuring his specially assembled "almost acoustic" group along with his usual electric band and is well represented on seven CDs released in the Pure Jerry series back in 2004. Given the restricted repertoire and less-than-spectacular sounding soundboard recordings, the last thing I need is more from this run. Again, it just smacks of laziness and contempt for the fans. What are we? Flesh and blood cash machines?
So, after a lifetime of being the Dead's best customer, I am calling it quits. I will not be going to Madison Square Garden to see the ersatz Dead shows with John Mayer (and, notably, minus Phil Lesh). I will not be buying Thirty Years Around the Sun. I will not be buying the Jerry on Broadway series. One more volume of Dave's Picks is due later this year and, unless it is truly revelatory, I will not be renewing my subscription for 2016. It makes me sad to find myself in the place after a lifetime of being a devoted Deadhead.
As the years pass, I have often wondered what this stuff sounds like to someone who never heard them live, in person. Ask anyone who was there: Grateful Dead shows were shamanic rituals, a happening in the now. What was captured on tape is just a mere approximation of the experience, a signpost to possibilities not yet achieved. The Dead could be transcendent or horrible, moment to moment, within the same song, because it wasn't really music as we normally think of it. It was about a real experience, not entertainment, correct notes and professionalism. Now that Garcia is gone, what is left, really? Memories--and a bunch of recordings which don't even come close to getting at what it was really like to be there. Well, I have enough of them to last the rest of my life and more of them won't bring those days back. So, "Fare Thee Well," indeed.