September 20, 2015

Playlist Week of 2015-09-19

* Geminiani: Concerti Grossi (after Corelli Op.5) (AAM/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Sun Ra Quartet: The Mystery of Being (Horo/Klimt 3LP)
* Charles Mingus: Passions of A Man: Complete Atlantic Recordings (d.1-3) (Atlantic/Rhino 6CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Footprints Live! (Verve CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Alegria (Verve CD)
* Billy Cobham: Crosswinds (Atlantic LP)
* Larry Coryell: Coryell (Vanguard LP)
* John McLaughlin: Music Spoken Here (Warner Bros. LP)
* Pat Metheny Group: Offramp (ECM LP)
* David Torn: Best Laid Plans (ECM CD)
* David Torn: Clouds About Mercury (ECM CD)
* Masabumi Kikuchi: Susto (Columbia LP)
* Marcin Wasilewski: Trio (ECM CD)
* Mike Greene: Pale, Pale Moon (GRC LP)
* Mike Greene: Midnight Mirage (Mercury LP)
* Elephant9 with Reine Fiske: Silver Mountain (Rune Grammophon 2LP/CD)
* Flying Lotus: Until The Quiet Comes (Warp 2LP)
* Flying Lotus: You’re Dead! (Warp 2LP)
* Deuter: Silence Is The Answer (Kuckuck 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Boston Garden, Boston, MA 1991-09-24 (SBD 2CDR)
* The Incredible String Band: The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (Elektra LP)
* The Incredible String Band: Wee Tam (Elektra LP)
* The Incredible String Band: The Big Huge (Elektra LP)
* The Incredible String Band: Hard Rope & Silken Twine (Reprise LP)
* Roy Harper: HQ (Harvest LP)
* Goblin: Profundo Rosso (Cinevox LP)
* Goblin: Roller (Cinevox LP)
* Ricked Wicky: Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Ricked Wicky: A Number I Can Trust/Small Town Underground (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Ricked Wicky: Poor Substitute/What’s For Dinner Uncle Aunty? (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Anathema: We’re Here Because We’re Here (KScope CD/DVD)
* Enslaved: Ruun (Candlelight CD)
* Earth: Hibernaculum (Southern Lord LP)
* Sunn O))): Oracle (Southern Lord LP)
* Sunn O))) & Ulver: Terrestrials (Southern Lord LP)
* Expo 70: Where Does Your Mind Go? (Immune LP)
* Windhand: Grief’s Infernal Flower (Relapse 2LP)
* Ryley Walker: Primrose Green (Dead Oceans LP)



As part of the Grateful Dead’s 50th Anniversary Sale-abration, there a number of books hitting the shelves, a couple of which are definitely worth an old Deadhead’s attention.

First is Billy Kreutzmann’s memoir, Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, And Drugs (St. Martin’s), and, as the title would indicate, it’s packed with juicy stories told with remarkable candor. Written with Benjy Eisen, the text has a chatty, “as-told-to” quality making for breezy reading—but his revelations of the bleaker moments backstage are also deeply saddening. It becomes abundantly clear that, by the 1980s, the band members really couldn’t stand each other:

We started off as a band of brothers—by music and by experience if not by blood. But toward the end of it, a lot of the time we didn’t want to see each other, much less have to interact on any real level…The “group mind” was no longer something we even thought about. I didn’t want to be in any of their heads any more than they wanted to be in mine (p.321).

Of course, everyone loved Jerry—even as his addictions (and otherwise chaotic personal life) were killing him right before their very eyes. And, to their credit, the band attempted several interventions over the years (if only to keep the gravy train going), but Garcia was unmoved. “There was nothing I could do” becomes a constant, pathetic refrain throughout the last half of Kreutzmann’s otherwise hugely entertaining tome.

That Garcia was the glue that reluctantly held the band together is further documented in David Browne’s So Many Roads: The Life And Times of The Grateful Dead (Da Capo). Drawing on fresh interviews and extensive research in the Grateful Dead Archive at the University of California Santa Cruz, Browne presents a respectful but clear-eyed account of the Dead’s ups and downs over the course of their career. The happy hippy days of psychedelics and pot quickly give way to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin as this band of misfits evolve into the most unlikely rock stars. Even in his darkest days, Garcia was able to pull off a brilliant performance from time to time—enough to keep the fans the coming and the machine rolling along.

Until, that is, he would collapse: from a near-fatal diabetic coma in 1986; a cancelled tour in 1992. And, every time, Garcia miraculously recovered. Then, on August 9, 1995, he finally expired, a month to the day from the final Grateful Dead concert at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Browne details the dysfunction and denial within the Dead scene, including fruitless studio sessions and a painful confrontation between Garcia and (temporary) keyboardist Bruce Hornsby between sets at the Boston Garden in 1991. “You’re just phoning it in,” he said to Garcia, “You’re not there. You’re not really delivering.”

With that Garcia’s friendly fa├žade faded, and he muttered the phrase that would haunt Hornsby for decades afterward: “You don’t understand twenty-five years of burnout, man” (p.390)

Hornsby’s little talk did seem to have some effect. I was at that show in Boston, and it was a re-energized Jerry who walked onstage for the second set—and the rest of that run of shows. From my perspective in the audience, blissfully unaware of the backstage drama, the band seemed to be on a roll. Sure, Garcia looked older than his years, but he still sang and played with soul and spirit. And when Garcia was engaged, the rest of the band could still catch fire. I managed to see more than a few good-to-great concerts during those final years, but the machine ultimately ground Jerry Garcia to dust. I should not have been surprised when he died, but I was.

And with Garcia’s death, whatever was left of the Grateful Dead was in ashes. The final chapters of both Deal and So Many Roads attempt to put a positive spin on subsequent reunions and tours, but the proof lies in the music itself, which I think everyone involved would admit is a pale imitation in the absence of Garcia’s living presence. I don’t really blame them for trying to carry on—what else are musicians supposed to do? But I will emphatically not be seeing the latest iteration of “Dead & Co.” when they come to Nashville next month.

Both of these books are worth reading for Deadheads and the merely curious alike—but it’s not a pretty picture. Bottom line? Heroin is bad news, kids.

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