Jul 31, 2012

December 1971: The Dead So Far


FELT FORUM, NYC - It's funny how musical values change. Once upon a time, there was something called the "star trip." Rock & roll musicians would dress in their flashiest wardrobes, play their most attention-grabbing licks and, in general, act as though they were gods that came down from Olympus to honor the peasant listeners with their presence. And the listeners swallowed the hype, serving to further deify the star trippers.
Also, once upon a time, there was a group called the Grateful Dead, who was different than everybody else. Granted, they were a part of the San Francisco sound, but there was something that set them aside from the Jefferson Airplane and the others. They didn't come riding up in shiny silver armour, in fact they wore pretty funky clothes, just like you and me! They weren't a fantasy, they were real people making real music just for the sake of seeing how far they could ride the notes, and how much fun they could have doing it. They were accessible: you knew you could talk to them about real things if you met them in the streets, just like any other people. This reality, this anti-superstar attitude, is eventually what made the Dead so popular amongst admirers of reality.
But then these admirers grew from a group into a clique, and from a clique into a cult. All of a sudden the Dead were superstars, with all the fantasy trimmings. This was something they had rebelled against, but by rebelling, they became so popular that it caught up to them.
This whole dissertation has nothing to do with the delivery of their music, but with its reception by the audience. The Dead are playing as far out as ever, doing oldies ("Cold Rain & Snow", "Beat It On Down The Line"), their hits ("Casey Jones," "Truckin'") and special interpretations of tunes such as Marty Robbins' "El Paso." But the audience reaction is predictable - brainless acceptance of everything with loud cheers and continual screaming for the songs they already know (from having heard them at least ninety times previously). The energy level is higher than ever, but communication lines between performer and listener are down.
In short, will success spoil the Grateful Dead? For a group as dedicated and progressive as they are, the answer is no. But it certainly has ruined their audience, which is eventually bound to affect the group in one way or another.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage, a progressive country-pop group, haven't been on the Dead trip from the very beginning, but they're certainly along for the ride at the moment. They are riding the wave of excitement generated by the Dead and in doing so, are learning how to generate their own brand of enthusiasm.

(by M.P., from the NY Cash Box, December 25 1971)

1 comment:

  1. A fascinating piece. (When the writer describes the once-upon-a-time "star trip," he hadn't yet seen the trips of '70s superstars like the Stones or Zeppelin in just the next couple years!)

    This writer, at the December Felt Forum run, had almost the same reaction to the audience as the previous reviewer of the 12/1/71 Boston show. "Brainless acceptance of everything with loud cheers and continual screaming" is almost a quote from the last article!
    With the Dead's massive increase in popularity in 1971, I sense a turning point here in how shows were felt & experienced.
    It may also mark the start of a long slide in how the Dead's audiences in particular were seen, whether by outsiders or old-timers.

    The writer mentions that "communication lines between performer and listener are down" - this reminds me of a comment from Phil Lesh that in the early days, the communication line during a show between band & audience went both ways, but as time went on, it gradually went only one way.

    The writer also makes a chilling prophecy that success "has ruined their audience, which is eventually bound to affect the group in one way or another."