Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Big Show

I'm preparing for the Santa Clara show tonight with the so-called "core four" of the Grateful Dead. Should be a blast. I've been following the run-up, of course, including a New Yorker podcast that made many good points, but it also reminded me that many smart people don't really understand the Dead or their achievement. Like many rock critics of yore, some of these commentators can't see what's in plain sight, in part because of what my dissertation director used to call "a hardening of the categories." Let me explain.

Most critics listen to the Dead's albums or live tapes, pass judgment on what they hear, and think their work is done. That's fine, especially if they're aware that the Dead improvised fearlessly for decades, and that the live performances (which were their calling card) could be uneven. But that approach also misses something important, for the Dead also had a larger project that distinguished them from their peers and helps account for their durable success.

How to describe that project? It's a long story, but the headline version is that their concerts expanded the social space for the experience of total rapture; their tours furnished fans with the opportunity for adventure; and those fans could experience that ecstasy and adventure in a large, vibrant, and cohesive community. As I've been trying to say since No Simple Highway came out, many people want some ecstasy, adventure, and community in their lives.

Yes, the Dead have a great songbook, but so do many other musicians. The question is, did the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, or any other contemporary artist you can think of foster so much community for so long? Now, two decades after the band dissolved, that community will have a few more chances to commune. And that experience is really what this excitement is all about.



At 2:15 PM , Anonymous Freddy said...

The Dead is my favourite band!!! So cool!

At 6:03 PM , Blogger JerryO said...

Hi, Peter, Jerry O'Rourke here-was in your recent OLLI lecture. My friend came through with tickets for the 6/27 show. What a surprise, all that ancient material, played so freshly! Loved it. I've posted stuff on my facebook page:
still checking out the 28th show, and revisiting 6/27. They're good enough to do more of this, eh?


At 6:29 AM , Blogger Peter Richardson said...

So glad you made it and enjoyed it ... that was the show I saw, too. Now reading about the Chicago shows. I'm impressed, not only by the shows, but also by the attention they received.

At 8:06 AM , Blogger Sean said...

The community is alive and well. There are kids who had grown up hearing stories from their parents (like me). Most of the furthur and DSO shows I've been to were great ; but the santa clara shows were so much different. Now a whole new generation has gotten a taste of the newest edition of the dead. - as kreutzmann said


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