2022.11.01 Paul Rauch, special to Hardly Raining
The Grateful Dead have always defied convention, when it comes to the more commonly accepted protocols of American entertainment. Their refusal to be pop stars despite immense popularity is part of the allure, just a group of six guys playing music without any sort of show business glitz. The music has always drawn from the crossroads of American musical forms, traversing the space between the blues, mountain music, jazz and good old rock and roll. Their unrelenting dedication to improvisation, even when playing a more linear, vocal tune, is unequaled in the annals of rock and popular music history. They played before more people live in concert than any other act, despite having only one radio hit over their prolific thirty year run. And somehow their counterculture draw has spread to fans not yet born in 1995, when Jerry Garcia died.
For me personally, 1972 was the year I discovered the band, attending a pair of shows as a high school sophomore in New York City. Later in that same year, an interest in jazz became a life-long passion. My literary interests expanded into Kerouac and the beat poets and to Walt Whitman. It seemed I was in the throes of trying to figure out what it meant to be an American, to understand its culture that came to life through many divergent art forms.
The annual “Grateful Dead Meetup at the Movies” took place on November 1, 2022 in theaters across the country. Each year, a concert film is released for Dead audiences, pulled from the archives of this much recorded live music phenomena, this year traveling back in time fifty years to the band’s now famous Europe ‘72 tour. On April 17, 1972, the sixth concert of the tour took place at the prestigious Tivoli Theater in Copenhagen, Denmark, curiously broadcasted live on Danish television. For Deadheads in 2022, it preserved a perfect video and audio documentation of the show, capturing the band in what many believe to be its peak configuration.
I attended the meetup at Pacific Place in Seattle, joined by an audience of Dead fans, both young and veteran alike. For the older fans who had experienced the band live in concert such as I (I’ve witnessed close to 100 shows), it was perhaps a nostalgic journey. For those not yet of age to have had that experience, it was a revelation, a chance to feel the vibe of that era, to immerse themselves in music that still sounds modern, but free from the stronghold of modern day over-production. Emotionally, I somehow stood ground between the two, with interest in learning how the music sounds to me fifty years after the fact, following a half century that included an all-out immersion into jazz music, and the mastery of its finest contributors.
Editor’s note: View a gallery of still photos from the 1972 show here.
My fascination in attending also was influenced by the wonderment of what draws people to this band like no other, over such a long stretch of time. The Tivoli show represented an innocence in the history of the band, the end of the era when Dead shows were held in theaters, before the immensity of the Deadhead culture struck large, turning The Grateful Dead into a live music behemoth, filling stadiums and beyond.
Music is supposed to be holy, a spiritual experience. In modern western culture, it is largely created in a commercial vein to make money, which in sacred terms makes it awful. From a very young age, I have understood intrinsically, the eternal vibrational connection between music and the spiritual aspects of life. It hasn’t arrived in my consciousness by some sort of educational delivery—it, as I mentioned, is intrinsic, something that has always lived inside of me. It is my belief that the spiritual connection between living beings and the universe through music is something that lives within all of us, if only we would listen and surrender to it. It is not something special that I possess. It simply is.
This phenomena in context of the modern world we live in today may designate me as being weird—but let’s face it, if you are a jazz devotee, in fact a modern jazz journalist as I am and you love the Grateful Dead, you ARE weird. This to me is cause for great celebration.
American jazz music has been following me around for the entirety of my life. It is like a mysterious dark figure that has crept along the perimeter of my daily existence from a very young age, teaching me about the possibilities that music brings to the surface, about spiritual connections in life that present themselves outside of any sort of religious structure I had, or continue to have in my life. It has given me an understanding and great admiration for Black American music in general, to the extent that it has become the dominant natural force in my life. As I have mentioned, I am a jazz journalist, a dyed in the wool member of the Jazz Journalists Association, a contributor at several well established jazz publications. I have made major life changes in the process to be near jazz, it being essential to my life force as is food and water.
I played the alto saxophone beginning in the fourth grade, and followed that path through jazz band my freshman year in high school. At that point, athletics occupied my time to the extent where dropping the alto was no big deal. I began to play bass a bit in the interim, eventually turning to string bands as a mandolin player. Along the way, two friendships set me on course in the direction of jazz. Baritone saxophone titan Gary Smulyan was my bandmate at Jonas E Salk Junior High School on Long Island, NY in the years 1968-69. He was then an alto phenom, seated directly to my right. I had a reputation of being a sound player, yet Smul’s presence held up a mirror to my ego, bringing on the realization that I was not. By the end of the school year Smulyan began to play some strange music that turned out to be Bebop and led to me asking the question, “Who the fuck is Charlie Parker?”
My friend Steve Cimino is a prominent jazz guitarist and educator in New York City these days. A friend from early childhood, we played Little League together, not to mention whatever sport was in season in raucous schoolyard sessions throughout the year. His father was a well regarded guitar instructor, and as I recall, was a huge fan of Jim Hall, Joe Pass and the like. In our junior high days, Cimino played in a rock band, rehearsing in the basement of my oldest and dearest friend in life, Marc Melnick. Melnick played drums and lived across the street from my family. Cimino would show up with his baby blue Hagstrom and Sound amplifier, and jam on rock classics that varied from tunes by Jefferson Airplane to Alice Cooper. As time went by, he eventually began to appear with a classic D’Angelico guitar his father owned, and began to display jazz chords and riffs, a whole new harmonic world. It was a life changing deep dive for him without a shred of doubt, yet it planted the seed in my musical soul that would thrive to this present day and all days to come.
My entrance into General Douglas MacArthur High School in the fall of 1971 coincided with a time of great social revolution in America, particularly with students my age forward into the great universities of America. There were protests against the war in Vietnam that brought home many members of my community in pine boxes. Young America took to the streets to fight the injustices of the day, and more importantly, learned not to take all that society and our parents presented to us at face value. When broken down to bare essentials, it was a vital re-examination of American values and the lifestyle and sense of “prosperity” that it alleged. This lifestyle was brought about by a generation that had lived through prohibition, a great financial depression and a World War that threatened the world with race-based fascism and justified the military efforts of the United States and its European allies. With American soldiers returning home en masse, a new suburban America was born on the potato fields of Long Island, bringing with it a materialistic lifestyle that gave each hard working American a home, a new car and all of the amenities of a capitalist system that taxed the wealthy for the benefit of all. For many of the children of WW2 veterans like myself, it wasn’t enough.
Modern American life in the suburbs of New York City in the 1960’s and 70’s was lacking something that motivated a great spiritual period of exploration and discovery for many. While our parents worked hard and had nothing but honorable intentions, it simply was not a life that touched the archetypal center of many young people. Our rebellion took the form of different clothes and longer hair, spawned a new chapter in the urban dictionary, all surface phenomena easily noticed by our bewildered parents. What they didn’t, or couldn’t notice was that their new, comfortable, materialistic lives didn’t require enough of us, wasn’t fulfilling and certainly wasn’t fun. The spiritual center had been wholly removed from our humanity and replaced by Abrahamic institutions, television and a weird, new America that seldom delved beneath or above the surface. For me personally, it spawned a time of great exploration, of searching for the intangible that would somehow make my life whole. As a young person, I had a tribal need to belong, and the youth revolution of the day was like a hurricane, clearing out the cobwebs of my former hum-drum existence. I discovered marijuana, and began to experiment with psychedelics. I understood the latter not to be a party drug, but a pathway opening doors to a new and clearer consciousness.
In the summer of 1971, that being the summer before my arrival at the aforementioned MacArthur High School, I began careful explorations into the world of LSD. The flood of product produced by Augustus Stanley Owsley was still paramount, taking the form of doses bearing the names of “White Lightning,” “Window Pane,” and “Orange Sunshine.” It was a quarter tab of the latter that introduced me to the psychedelic world while attending a concert by The Byrds at Hofstra University. While I saw a world of color, of aura and vibrational resonance, the overwhelming feeling of connection between myself and virtually everything living was immensely satisfying. It was not satisfying in a euphoric sense, or anything completely palatable. It was like an unspoken truth, much like following the Tao. I allowed it to lead me to universal connectivity I never could have imagined. The music and the effects of LSD merged as one, and I allowed myself to take that journey unimpeded. I was barely fifteen years old. Ironically, the manufacturer of that fine product, Mr. Owsley, was also known as “The Bear,” the sound engineer and benevolent supporter of The Grateful Dead.
My first live Grateful Dead concert took place at the Academy of Music on 14th St. in Manhattan, just before they departed on their now legendary Europe 1972 tour that would spawn their historic three album set, Europe ‘72 (Warner Bros., 1973). It was March of 1972. I attended two nights of the five night run, the second being a fundraiser for the New York chapter of the Hell’s Angels. The first show was opened by the band’s alter ego, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, the second by rock and roll legend Bo Diddley, with The Dead as his band for the hour-long set. Diddley was a favorite of the Angels. All of the concert staff that evening, from ticket takers to ushers, were members of the motorcycle club. I remember being frightened, yet intrigued by the ultimate paradox taking place. It made no sense that the band would be associated with anything like an outlaw gang, and indeed, they weren’t. What they were associated with was the concept of a big tent, and embracing all who dwelled there. They had a comfort level with this paradox, as did the Angels.
I took a dose of White Lightning, and found music that touched my soul as none had come close to before. The psychedelic experience coupled with the Dead’s approach to improvised music was a union of mind and spirit. Jerry Garcia appeared as a messenger of sorts, with a sonic presence I had yet to experience. In many ways, it was a signpost to what I would experience with jazz music down the road on an almost nightly level, unaided by psychotropic substances. It was the first step of a long and unending journey of which I am still engaged.
When the summer of 1972 arrived, I was all in as a Grateful Dead fan, and had begun to delve into the large collection of jazz albums at the New York Public Library. It was about this time that Gary Smulyan introduced me to The Ed Beach Show on WRVR-FM in New York, at the time, the hippest jazz station in America. Beach’s two hour show explored the entire history of jazz. He presented the music accompanied by a narrative that enlightened fans to the cultural and historic relevance of each artist, and tied it all together in a way that was understandable and inspiring. The show taught me that all of the music I was interested in, no matter who played it, was Black American music. I learned about Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus. I learned that Louis Armstrong wasn’t just the cat on The Ed Sullivan Show singing “Hello Dolly”—he was THE cat.
The social youth revolution brought me a gift that summer, in the form of The Newport Jazz Festival moving to New York City, with concerts in Central Park, Yankee Stadium, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Young, long haired fans had stormed the fences in Newport the year before, making the residents of Newport, RI uncomfortable. The future of the festival there was uncertain, but promoter George Wein saw to it that the tradition which began in 1954 continued in what was known as the capital of jazz—New York City. The music spread to city squares and street corners as well, filling my ears with the sounds of the many different forms of the genre, and the music’s relationship with us as Americans.
My first concert of the festival was a duo performance with guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ron Carter at the Carnegie Recital Hall. The monstrous virtuosity and vibrant imaginations of the duo was a revelation, and set my personal bar high going forward of what true mastery of an art form looked and sounded like. I recall turning to my friend Steve Cimino and remarking, “Man, those rock guys don’t really know what they’re doing.” This may have been an overreaction given the moment, but there was a lot of truth there as well. The divide between Hall and most rock guitarists was a deep, wide abyss.
A few nights later, I returned to the main hall at Carnegie, to witness a triple bill featuring Gato Barbieri, Alice Coltrane and The Keith Jarrett Quartet. The Jarrett quartet featured saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. The shifting almost rubato treatment of time, innovative melodic soloing and intuitive interaction of the quartet seemed to merge the entirety of my lifetime of musical experience into one, forty five minute set. It was a flare illuminating the sky over a previously dark wilderness of sound. As transcendent as that set was, it was Coltrane’s performance of “Africa” that literally changed how I looked at improvised music. Its pulsing, droning rhythm and sonic, liberated soloing by Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders shook up the entirety of my conscious being. The extended piece had the same sonic wavelength as Grateful Dead jams such as “Dark Star,” and “The Other One,” yet so much more dense with ideas and mastery of form. The set was led by Coltrane, her vibe so strong in silence, her playing on the Wurlitzer organ ever so gently nudging the intensity all around her in variant directions. It was pure and shrouded in beauty and astral resonance. I left Carnegie with the same feeling in my gut that only a Grateful Dead performance had given me to date, the difference being my evening at Carnegie, unlike both nights at the Academy of Music, did not include psychedelics.
I had previously become acquainted with Coltrane’s late husband, the great John Coltrane who had passed in 1967 from cancer. A friend, remarking about my connection with Grateful Dead music, had suggested that Jerry Garcia was to rock, what Coltrane was to jazz, both messengers of the spirit. He thought I would appreciate John Coltrane’s records and should do some “research.” This friend was not a Dead fan, and thought their jams were “too long,” and were based on too simple a harmonic structure. I found this interesting, being that “Africa” is essentially a modal piece in E, employing long ostinato stretches similar to many forms of traditional African music. The use of a “stacked” time signature coupling both 4/4 and 6/8 in the foundational Grateful Dead piece, “The Other One,” is similar. While the instrumentation is different and one could argue the musicianship is not quite as advanced, the resounding spiritual and sonic benefits are the same.
One afternoon at the Levittown Public Library, I searched the record racks for John Coltrane albums. Knowing nothing at this point about the saxophonist’s recorded history, I selected OM (Impulse, 1968) a free jazz album recorded in Seattle in October of 1965, Coltrane’s lone visit to the Pacific Northwest. It featured the now legendary quartet plus two players. The music was very difficult for me to listen to (it still is), but was amazing nonetheless. I knew it had to have come from a very different place, so I delved back further in time and settled on Blue Train (Blue Note, 1958), Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960), and A Love Supreme (Impulse, 1965). Listening to those three albums led me to Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner and others that in essence, transformed my listening habits to being dominated by jazz albums. My introduction to the Ed Beach Show catapulted my interest beyond anything I could have imagined.
This is not to say that I gave up on rock ‘n roll altogether. That time period coincided with the creative peak of the genre, the period when rock music truly became a modern art form that could be mentioned in the same breath as jazz, or its cultural counterpart, the Blues. From The Beatles to Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan and the Band to the prog rock movement more based on classical principles, rock music between 1966 and 1976 was a vast and influential musical force. Jazz musicians, blown away by the power of electric instruments and the realization that far less talented players were filling arenas and making serious bank, shifted into fusion forms. Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and many others made creative headway into this new personification of American jazz. Their reasons were both creative and practical. Promoter Bill Graham regularly featured jazz and blues artists on the same bill as rock acts at his Fillmore West and Fillmore East venues. My time at the Fillmore East included performances by Albert King opening for Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis opening for Neil Young and Crazyhorse.
Miles, in fact, opened for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West, and was impressed that the band knew and loved his music. Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) had just been released two weeks earlier, while Live Dead (Warner Bros., 1969) was the Grateful Dead’s latest release. Miles saw the band as a “jazz band playing rock and roll,” while the Dead, who had yet to hear Miles’ latest, were blown away by his set and wondered how they could possibly play after. Bassist Phil Lesh exclaimed, “We should just go home and try to digest this unbelievable shit.”
On my sixteenth birthday, I traveled with friends to Hartford, CT for a Grateful Dead show at Dillon Stadium, a minor league football stadium that amounted to a large field with bleachers on either side. From the downbeat, the show was at the top of the band’s capabilities. They were joined at the end by members of the Allman Brothers Band. Drummer Jai Johanny Johanson, bassist Berry Oakley and guitarist Dickie Betts joined, surprising the 15,000 or so fans and jammed long into the July afternoon. It was the show upon returning from Europe that made The Grateful Dead realize that theater tours were now a thing of the past, and the Deadhead phenomena was upon them in large numbers. I was once again traveling under psychedelic conditions, something that would occur time and time again as I continued to attend Dead shows not only for the musical content, but for the tribal and cultural tie-ins that felt so compelling at that time in history. It was a grand thing to meet and hang with people that viewed life through a similar lens.
The Dead began touring arenas in 1973, culminating in the massive gathering of 600,000 at Watkins Glen, NY at the end of July of that year. I was among the throng, camped out very close to the stage to see The Grateful Dead, The Band and The Allman Brothers Band with a jam to follow. The following weekend saw the band take the stage at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, sharing the bill with The Band. The stadium was hallowed ground for me, being a Negro League baseball park, and the first stadium that saw Jackie Robinson take the field for the first time as a minor league player for the Montreal Royals, the AAA affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Throughout all the dates I attended in 1972 and 1973, the band was identical to the lineup that graced the Europe ‘72 tour, including the date at the Tivoli in Copenhagen. There was, of course, one major difference. Founding Dead member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan died in March of 1973, and stopped performing in the summer of 1972, shortly after the European tour.
As the years have rolled by, my personal musical interests have rested primarily in jazz and its immediate offshoots. As a writer, I have written hundreds of pieces from record reviews to interviews to feature articles about jazz music. Classical music, mostly in the form of the Seattle Symphony, entered my life, travels welcomed flamenco, Latin, Brazilian and a myriad of world forms into the fold. Yet jazz, America’s only true original art form, created by Black Americans and Black struggle in America, has become and has remained my main focus as a writer and listener, and the singular art form that rests somewhat comfortably in my soul. Very few of the rock, soul, and r&b artists that I listened to in my younger years have remained in my life, but The Grateful Dead, somehow, has tugged at my heartstrings and allowed me to remain tied to this music. After all, it continues to fill my soul with joy and spiritual contentment in a very eclectic way.
My jazz friends and acquaintances tend to be either dismissive of the Dead, or just young enough to not have experienced the social revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s personally. Many were born after, or were very young children when Jerry Garcia passed in 1995. However, the exact same claim can be made about so many fans of the band in the 2020’s. They are brought into the circle either by mentors, or by the thousands of concert recordings that are readily available online. To young Dead fans, I am a bit of a personality, having seen and heard Garcia with the band over dozens of performances. To my jazz friends however, I am an old Deadhead whose attraction to the band was as much about self-exploration as it was about music. So it goes.
As I watch young fans in their teens, twenties and thirties enter and exit the theater at Pacific Place in Seattle, I am reminded that I am not alone in this quest, that the magic has not been lost. Unlike bands like The Beatles, the legend lives through the litany of live performance, from the one band in rock and roll history that was based on the principles of improvisation. In the end, my passion for the band comes down to the principle that draws me to jazz—the undeniable quest for freedom and liberated expression without regard to the normal and expected tenets of American entertainment. The disregard for commercial success returns the music to its true purpose, its sometimes forgotten holy pursuit. It is sacred and anywhere the music is performed is a sacred place, a temple of inclusivity, inspiration, cosmic connection and freedom. Sure, as a jazz fan I may seem weird, I can own that with absolutely no problem. But I can take a deep breath and say unequivocally, “I am a Deadhead” with only joy and no regret. Confession and absolution is good for the soul.
Editor’s note: Meetup at the Movies shows worldwide again today, November 5, 2022. Tickets are available at https://www.meetupatthemovies.com/.
Full Grateful Dead show at Tivolis Koncertsal, Denmark on April 17, 1972.