Feb 4, 2022

Looking Back at the Dead: England 1974


Whatever happened to the Cosmic Dream? Part 45 (13th Hexagram)

Take a nice guy like David Crosby.
Y'all must know David – he of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the group who sang something along the lines of "Run, run/C'mon go look 'n' see/Everybody's sayin' the music's for free" when their albums were always the most expensive on the market.
The group who sang self-righteous anthems about getting it together and saving the world when, most of the time, their bloated egos wouldn't even allow them to stand on the same stage together.
Yeah, well, apart from blowing vast sums of cash on yachts and tasty little mansions in Laurel Canyon, making it cool in 1970 to have a receding hairline and look like Buffalo Bill with gout, and – oh yeah – penning the occasional minor-chord ditty about the ocean or about some chick with flaxen hair constantly tippy-toeing around fields of wheat frequented by peacocks and other such exotic species of animal life, ole Dave was something of what we used to call a "counter culture spokesman".
Like, this pancho would talk about anything.
He used to ramble on for hours about how he just couldn't believe that the release of "Sergeant Pepper" hadn't stopped the Vietnamese war – wouldn't be surprised if he still does.
And then there were his raps about "the magic bands". The Jefferson Airplane was a magic band – obviously, so were Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But the real magic band for this buckeroo was The Grateful Dead. Tell it like it is, Dave...
"Magic is doin' it so well that you get it up beyond mechanic levels. Magic is making people feel good and stuff. Magic is, if you're high on psychedelics, having a great big love beast crawl out of your amplifiers and eat the audience. I don't know what it is, man. Like, they're magic. Something happens when the Dead get it on that don't happen when Percy Faith gets it on."
Hmmm, this "magic" stuff is interesting, but let's hear from a more reflective, eloquent source as to the precise nature of these miraculous fandangoes. Michael Lydon of Rolling Stone, if you please:
"Some balances last longer than others, moments of realisation that seem to sum up many moments, and then a solid 'yes, that is the way it is' flows out, and the crowd begins to move. Each time it is Jerry (Garcia) who leads them out, his guitar singing and dancing joy. And his joy finds new levels and the work of exploration begins again.
"Jerry often talks of music as coming from a place and creating a place, a place where strife is gone, where the struggle to understand ends, and knowledge is as evident as light. However hard it is to get there, once there, you want to cry tears of ease and never leave.
"It is not a new place: those who seek it hard enough can find it, like the poet Lucretius who found it about 2500 years ago:
"...All terrors of the mind
Vanish, are gone; the barriers of the world
Dissolve before me, and I see things happen
All through the void in empty space
...I feel a more than mortal pleasure in all this."
"And Jerry, melodies glowing from him in endless arabesques, leads it away again, the crowd and himself ecstatic rats to some Pied Piper.

Holy Sapphire bullets of pure love, Batman, this celestial holocaust of musical thunder sounds like a fairly weighty brew, no?
The answer is yes, of course. It was, it did, and everyone who was there "came" or at least pretended to "come" anyway. That's perhaps why an honest look back on The Grateful Dead is such a tough task to undertake:
On the one hand there's The Grateful Dead as a pseudo-cosmic phenomenon, and then there's The Grateful Dead as "a rock music band". Also there are all the ecstatic retchings expounded on the band's supposedly numerous virtues, as well as the merciless vitriolic cynicism.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, I suppose, lies the true worth of The Grateful Dead.
It's strange though, when you look back to the very first murmurings that appeared to emanate from the West Coast concerning this bunch of mangy dead-beats who played psychedelic rhythm 'n' blues and looked like a cross between The Pretty Things and a pack of redundant Hells Angels.
The first promo photo is still a classic: the whole band are straddled out on the Haight-Ashbury strip looking like some punk combo gone drastically to seed, in rancid snot-stained denims. Bob Weir appears kinda psychotic, his eye-balls bent like Syd Barrett or Billy the Kid, Pigpen is malevolently obese, and Garcia contents himself by looking like some hoodlum squirrel.
At this point of course, there was a great deal of interest in the whole West Coast San Francisco Sound schtick. The Jefferson Airplane were the darlings of the movement. The Grateful Dead were the black sheep. It's not surprising really when one considers the first album, released in the summer of '67 and titled simply "The Grateful Dead".
Actually, examined in retrospect, it isn't nearly as bad as it once sounded – a kind of tinny second-rate jug-band-turned-punk-rocker-sound with Garcia's trebley "stinging" guitar just about making up for an organ sound so dire that even Question Mark and the Mysterions would have rejected it as unuseable.
Tracks like 'The Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion', 'Beat It On Down The Line', and 'Cold Rain And Snow' sprint along like some not-unappealing bastardisation of the Tex-Mex sound a la The Sir Douglas Quintet's 'She's About a Mover' and hootenanny rock, at a hair-raising pace (Garcia later confessed that the band had been taking a type of speed especially prescribed for slimmers throughout the session). There was also the token 12-minute improvisation jam around 'Viola Lee Blues'.
It was duly observed, however, that "The Grateful Dead" was no "Surrealistic Pillow" or "Da Capo", and also it didn't help much that it had been released on Warner Bros., a record company affiliated at that point almost totally with M.O.R. artistes like Petula Clark and Rod McKuen.
To compound the dubious nature of their Haight Ashbury notoriety, live musical escapades outside their home environment weren't greeted with quite the same ecstatic response as those which seemingly always graced the Dead's public appearance before the natives of San Francisco.
Their performance at the '67 Monterey Festival was reportedly none too inspiring, causing Peter Townshend for one, after giving unsolicited rave reviews to the likes of The Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, to dismiss the Dead as "a load of old rope".
Still, the Dead legend was definitely well under construction, starting from the band's heavily ethnic connection with the Kesey-Cassady Acid Test antics, right through to their then-flourishing reputation as the premier hip self-supporting rock commune on the West Coast.
B.B.C. camera teams were sent down to 710 Ashbury to film the band, festooned in beads, toking up and talking the usual stoned bilge about love and awareness we'd all duped ourselves into joyously taking for the acorn gospel back in those days.

But, hey, aren't we jumping the gun a little bit here?
In the middle of the year 1968, the Dead released a second album called "Anthem Of The Sun" and this is when a lot of people started to take notice. Maybe it was the fact that the Dead had, in the words of manager Rock Scully, "gone to Mexico for a while to get their heads together", or that a second drummer, a rather evil-looking character named Mickey Hart, had been added to make the rhythm section sound according to Garcia like the "thunder of galloping horses".
Recorded in four studios and utilising tapes from no less than eighteen live performances, "Anthem Of The Sun" was a grandiose project unfortunately landed with an atrocious "mix" that left it hamstrung as more of an intriguing experiment than an innovative success.
Side one consisted of a suite dedicated to Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac's old buddy, featuring thoroughly pretentious, psychedelisied "you're-either-on-the-bus-or-you're-not-on-the-bus" lyrics, while the band swooped hither and thither, earnestly spinning out quasi-jazz-tinged motifs and frantic jamming, interspersed with the occasional nod to electronic music by throwing in a touch of Varese here and there.
Side two had the Dead vamping it up on a kazoo burlesque called 'Alligator', before lighting into more hectic territory with an intense shambling jam featuring some mighty Garcia guitar. The whole sheebang was kissed off with a section of utterly redundant feed-back.
Way back then, if you wanted to believe desperately enough or maybe had the right inner chemical balance, Anthem Of The Sun was the album to save the world. Now it amounts, at least to the ears of this once-believer, to the sum of its individual parts and no more – like the Airplane's similarly experimental "After Bathing at Baxter's", a muddled, but quaintly grandiose, acid curio.

The third album "Aoxamaxoa" was equally a questionable success.
Again landed with a lousy mix (a re-mixed version of the album has recently been released), it was the first Dead effort to spotlight the obtuse mysticism that more or less comprised the content of Robert Hunter's lyrics. Hunter, an old buddy of Garcia's from the jug-band days, was an absolute master of the art of penning finely-sculpted verse which appeared to bear mighty import to the cosmic workings of the universe, without really making any sense. Like his words for 'St. Stephen', the best track on the album and a supposed allegory of sorts, utilising beautifully-wrought imagery, but signifying nothing: "Can you answer/Yes, I can sir/What will be the answer to the answer then?" I see.
Likewise, the title "Aoxamaxoa" itself was a mystic palindrome which meant absolutely nothing, but was just the sort of thing of which anyone could waffle over the cosmic consequences for a couple of paragraphs.
Or even the consequences of the band's names could be ruminated on. Michael Lydon again:
"The image still resonates for the Dead; they are or desire to become, the grateful dead. Grateful Dead may mean whatever you like it to mean, life-in-death, ego-death, reincarnation, the joy of the mystic vision... It doesn't matter how you read it, for the Dead, as people, musicians, and a group, are in that place where the meaning of a name or event can be as infinite as the imagination, and yet mean precisely what they are and no more."
Now what exactly does all that aforequoted quasi-mystical hokum add up to, man? Does it even matter? reply obligatory hordes of wide-eyed Dead freaks.
It certainly didn't back when the more discerning rock idealist, bereft of The Beatle Dream, his hopes for Woodstock Nation dashed by the ensuing Altamont round-up, looked to the Dead as the band who had all the answers. Lydon's huge piece on the Dead (August 23, 1969) painted an irresistible picture of the band as cocaine-cowboy-cosmic voyageurs – Mark Twain meets the I-Ching, complete with ying-yang fuel-tanks to keep the show on course in the search for the music of the spheres.
Fanaticism concerning the Grateful Dead's utter righteousness was so unquestioned by both the British and American underground that they sometimes escaped any of the blame meted out to those responsible for the Altamont calamity. Sure, blame it on the Stones, even though it was the Stones and the Dead who were prime movers behind dragging in the Oakland Angels in the first place.

Anyway, a month or so after Altamont, Warner Bros, released "Live Dead", a double-album showcasing the band in their best environment, pumping out that cosmic stew to the salivating masses of the Winterland Ballroom and beyond.
The fabled 'Dark Star' was present in all its 25-minute glory – lazy, crystalline psychedelia – "Shall we go, you and I while we can?/Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds" – with "Tubular Bells", the best acid muzak ever.
A rather sloppy 'St. Stephen' subsequently stumbles into 'The Eleven' – more obscure Hunter mysticism which suddenly surges clumsily into "the cosmic jam section", Messrs. Kreutzman and Hart dallying in all manner of exotic time signatures, while Garcia and Lesh noodle around until – Eureka! The magical connection is fused: The Big "G" turning fretboard cart-wheels over some of Lesh's most intriguing bass figures.
The set, naturally, ends with ritualistic spasms of boring old feed-back.
This, we were duly informed, was "the essence of The Grateful Dead" on four sides of greasy black vinyl. "The Dead are exploring areas of music that most groups don't even know exist... If you want to know what rock music may well sound like in ten years time, listen to Live Dead."
Also sprach New York rock critic Lenny Kaye.
Again, looked at in retrospect, "Live Dead" has its moments – but listening to the whole thing over again today, so much has been lost. The dynamics are always a little too sluggish, the sound just too murky.
After "Live Dead", the band hit on what is generally considered to be their most fruitful period to date.
1970 saw the release of two fine studio albums – "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty". It seemed at the time that the Dead and The Band were in competition as to who was the quintessential American band.
The Band injected a stoic, craftsman-like quality into everything they recorded, while the Dead were trying for the Mark Twain whimsical outlaw free-spirit gambit.
"Workingman's Dead" is still a very good album – 'Uncle John's Band' is the Dead out-crooning CSNY at their own brand of cosmic soufflĂ©, admirably embellished by Hunter's delightfully corny lyrics: "I got me a silver mine/And I call it Beggar's Tomb/I got me a violin and I bade you call the tune/Anybody's choice/I can hear your voice/Whoa-Hoa/All I want to know is/How does the song go?" Get your instant spiritual epiphanies here, folks.
There were other good songs – I always wanted to hear Rod Stewart sing 'High Time' – and of course there was 'Casey Jones' which scooped those decadent Rolling Stones by possessing the first direct reference to cocaine.
"American Beauty" was better, featuring the great 'Box Of Rain' – "A Box of Rain will ease the pain/And love will see you through/Believe it if you need to/Or leave it if you dare."
Beautiful nonsense, plus the Creedence-styled shug-a-lug 'Sugar Magnolia', more doleful Garcia chansons, and the self-congatulatory autobiographical 'Truckin''.
These two, by the way, are the only Dead albums actually worth owning.

After 1970, the Dead's output started to deteriorate with distressing rapidity.
A live double-album was released in 1971 and left many marginally dissatisfied. There were too many non-original work-outs – a boring 'Me And Bobby McGee', a dire version of Merle Haggard's 'Mama Tried' etc. The "cosmic jam" on side two was more than half taken up with a tedious drum-solo, while the album finished with a very weary rendition of 'Not Fade Away' (Quicksilver were the only West Coast ensemble to really get to grips with the Bo Diddley beat).
However, that was nothing compared to "Europe '72" which must be the great cosmic daze of all time, and was the first Dead album to truly incur the wrath of rock critics en masse.
Suddenly The Grateful Dead were no longer the great white hope – their five-hour sets were yawned off and their albums dismissed as bonafide turkeys.
Meanwhile the band split with Warner Bros. (who in turn released "A History Of The Grateful Dead Vol. 1" which was unique only in that it contained the worst versions of 'Smokestack Lightnin'' and 'Wake Up Little Suzie' ever recorded) and formed their own record company, an admirable self-contained project which has obviously borne fruit because the consequent album release "Wake Of The Flood" has sold mightily in the States.
"Wake Of The Flood" is a depressing work for a number of reasons.
First, the band seem to have fallen into the trap, unwittingly erected by George Harrison, of singing about a spanking new positivism while sounding utterly miserable. Thus lines like "Wake up this morning/To discover/You are the eyes of the world" are rendered in such a way that one is inevitably led to the conclusion that the recording took place at an embalming ceremony, a track like 'Here Comes Sunshine' sounds like some K-Tel mutation of The Beatles 'Baby You're A Rich Man' played at 16 rpm, and Garcia's vocals are so weak it sounds like he died before the album was recorded and the rest of the band had to get in touch with him via an ouija board in order to get his voice on the track.
Even comparative young-blood Bobby "Ace" Weir, whose appealing Johnny Appleseed earnestness is the only sympathetic characteristic the band possess at present (Weir's solo "Ace" is the best product to come from the Dead stable since "American Beauty"), sounds miserable on his 'Weather Report Suite'.
When they were functioning actively, the Dead always had a loose, tired feel. Now they sound positively funereal and it's all too easy to pour scorn on all the nonsense they've been involved in and condemn them totally, thus comfortably severing ourselves from any embarrassment in one specious gesture.
However, the fact remains that the Dead provided us with a great rock fantasy at a time when it was needed. Looking over the various curiosities – garnered from the Dead's high-ecstacy-count period – the Rolling Stone raves, the freewheeling mysterioso, the albums themselves (even though they've lost their basic magic in the passing of time) – still hold glimpses of a crazy, irresistible charm even if none of those albums has the power of a "Crown Of Creation" or of Moby Grape's first powerhouse effort.
The Dead never could rock out too well, but... sheesh, those stories!
Hey, Uncle Jerry, tell us about that time you and Owsley and Cassady...

(by Nick Kent, from the New Musical Express, April 27, 1974)

* * *


They've been slagged, slated, abused, and misused – most often in these very pages.
But Hell hath no Fury like a Dead fan scorned, and so MICK FARREN comes, not to bury the Dead but to praise them. And so the NME hippie appeasement page presents....

Way back in 1970 I lived with a certain David Goodman. Every morning, round about noon, I'd be lying in bed and "St. Stephen" by the Grateful Dead would come pumping through the wall and I'd know the day had started. I'd stagger out into the living room, and he'd be sitting, with a blue polka dot dressing gown wrapped round his not inconsiderable bulk, rolling the breakfast joint. By the time we'd turned over the album and run through "Turn On Your Love Light", we were both mellowed out sufficiently to face the wicked world outside.
Those morning interludes kind of summed up the Grateful Dead for me. They were solid, stoned, freewheeling and a little untogether.
In some ways it also spotlights their current problem. At the height of their popularity, when Garcia's name was being bandied about as the world's greatest guitar player, they were very close to us all. They were the very antithesis of rock and roll glamour. They weren't conspicuous consumers of anything except drugs. They got busted the same as everybody else, and they screwed up the same as everybody else.
They were a bunch of regular stoned freaks; the only thing that separated them from the rest of the herd was their ability to weave long meandering boogies that sounded good if you were straight, and even better if you were stoned. Occasionally they even came out with small gems of vocal philosophy that were among the most accurate that ever came out of rock and roll. Among all the thousands of words that came out of the Altamont fiasco, the Dead's 'New Speedway Boogie' was one of the most constructive pieces of observation.
Even back in 1970 the clouds had been forming on the horizon for quite a long time. It seemed that as things became progressively more confused, the Grateful Dead went their way, and a good many of us went ours. We all reacted to the tightening grip of urban desperation in different ways. The Dead retreated, with their wives, old ladies, children and retainers, into the hills of San Raphael, in California's rock and roll suburb of Marin County.
Those of us who were less lucky, and still had to live with the city's pressure, forsook their blue jean cowboy boot funk and clutched at the dangerously esoteric thrills of Bowie, Cooper and the whole procession of terminal mutants.
Not, of course, that the Dead always enjoyed such protected isolation. In many ways, they were one of the most genuine of the West Coast's street bands. In the early 'sixties they were at the hub of the San Francisco break-out. It wasn't just the human be-in and flower power summer of 1967. They were very much a part of the creative explosion of a few years before. Culturally they bridged the gap between the hipsters, beats and Bay area poets of the 'fifties and the hippies. They were the link between Lenny Bruce, Neal Cassidy and Gary Snyder, and the Woodstock gang of the next generation.
Those early years, sporadically documented in 'The Dead Book' by Hank Harrison*, must have been some of the most exciting times of the last couple of decades. The mind wrenching revelation of lysergic acid had just hit the California intellectual community with the force of a limited nuclear strike. Ken Kesey was propagating it and Owsley Stanley III was manufacturing it. The Acid Test was on the road and the Grateful Dead were the spearhead sonic shock troops.
Coupled with the San Francisco Mime Troupe (then managed by a certain Bill Graham), the Diggers, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and even the notorious Hell's Angels, they instigated the concept of rock and roll street parties, Golden Gate Park concerts, and the whole gamut of the rolling psychedelic circus.
This small tight community didn't last very long. The great trek to San Francisco began in 1966 and grew to flood proportions by the summer of 1967. Alienated kids from all over the US flocked to the Bay area looking for a paisley Utopia. The majority found mainly poverty and methedrine. As the dream faded, a lot of the bands who had so blithely propagated the floral myth retreated behind a barrier of obscurantism and dedicated themselves to making a buck. The Dead remained in their chaotic home on Ashbury Street, put out their energy, and dealt with the situation as best they could.
But of course, not all their efforts were purely altruistic. They toured; they signed a deal with Warner Brothers; played San Francisco rock halls, the Avalon and the original Fillmore; and recorded their first, rather flawed, album. The Dead survived in a totally haphazard manner. At any given time, their operation supported up to fifty people. Their original managers, Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin, operated in an environment of mammoth fantasy and astronomical debts.
In 1968 they even turned their attention towards Europe. They dispatched an advance party to check out the viability of a UK tour. Where most bands would have just sent a manager, the Dead sent out a collection of a dozen or more assorted freaks: Scully, Rifkin, artists, astrologers, cooks, concubines, and the ever-present Hell's Angels. They were initially offered hospitality and a base at the Apple offices. Unfortunately George Harrison freaked at their California ways and ordered them out. The Dead's advance guard were distributed round households all over London. Needless to say, the tour didn't materialise.

Back home, however, things were beginning to happen. The Dead, in their early recordings, suffered from the curse of all independently minded bands. They had to learn recording techniques as they went, and their first three albums, despite a good deal of progress, all exhibit their trial and error mistakes. Their first live album, the double "Live Dead", exhibited them as they really were and, for the first time, they achieved the kind of international sales that compared with the magnitude of their legend. At last they transcended the label of the great hippy band, and began to be recognised as musicians. It was the start of the Garcia cult.
It was also the start of a massive reorganisation. They had a new manager, John McIntyre, who was determined to put the Dead on a secure financial footing and clear up the mess that had been created by erratic hippie business efficiency.
Not that McIntyre is a crewcut Allen Klein. He is a determined, long-haired Nordic blond, who could easily play Moorcock's Elric, if Hollywood ever decided to film the Stormbringer saga. He took over management of the Dead in 1969 and by 1971 they were out of debt. It was the era of "Uncle John's Band". Not only did McIntyre solve their fiscal problems, but his arrival also seemed to cure the Dead's notorious lousy-one-day-inspired-the-next attitude to playing.
It was an intense period of creativity and hard work. It produced their finest studio album, "Workingman's Dead", possibly one of the greatest musical studies of working class America since the days of Woody Guthrie and Jimmy Rodgers.
They also made a fleeting British trial run to the Hollywood festival, and a year later a full-scale tour of Europe that took the Continent and the UK by storm. They were the darlings of the underground establishment, American Beauty and the second live album were the hippies' fave rave, and everyone seemed to be trying to sell them coke. At the cold, damp Bickershaw festival they played for six solid hours, and Garcia was elevated to the pedestal that had so recently been vacated by Eric Clapton.
After the tour, Garcia produced his rather patchy solo album that fluctuated between flashes of brilliance and long hauls of cosmic tedium, and Bobby Weir came out with the more even and workmanlike "Ace". Then they made the major miscalculation of a triple live album of the European tour. The public was surfeited, and got bored. Lurex and mascara raised its ugly head, and the Grateful Dead were suddenly last year's thing.
Up in the hills of San Raphael nobody seemed too worried. For the first time in their lives the Dead were materially secure. Garcia played with everyone from Commander Cody to David Crosby, and the rest of the band relaxed in the bosoms of their families and worked on "In the Wake of the Flood". The album was badly received, and the Dead seemed solidly out of favour. They had obviously changed direction and their erstwhile supporters neither understood the change nor welcomed it.
Rumours abounded. One of the favourites was that they had joined up with the guru. Garcia's subsequent drug bust, with a glove compartment stash of a quantity and variety that equalled anything from their vintage years as lords of multiple drug abuse, seemed to put the lie to that.
It seems a little insensitive to pry too deeply into the effect of Pigpen finally drinking himself to death on the work of the band. In a family as tight as the Dead it couldn't have failed to be painful and far-reaching. There seemed to be a virtual halt to their work. Little came out of San Raphael apart from a series of vintage live tapes. For almost a year they seemed to hang in a kind of creative limbo.

Now with almost no warning we have a Dead album, "Mars Hotel", a Garcia album, and one on the way from Robert Hunter. Something is obviously stirring in the hills of old Marin. The question is what? There's no mistaking that it isn't the old raunchy, risk-taking Grateful Dead we were once so hot for.
The Dead have never been leaders. Their songs were observations rather than battle hymns. Even at their funkiest they still managed to retain a trace of contemplative reserve.
On Mars Hotel the reserve has fanned out into a kind of front porch relaxation. It's a record of a bunch of good old boys playing in the shade. Each one has written some tunes and they play them. It's that simple, only this is 1974 and these are electric rock and roll musicians who have been in each other's hands for ten years.
And then you have Garcia who takes it a stage further. He sits on his porch and plays his favourite tunes, everyone from the Stones to Ed Thigpen. Nothing is urgent any more. They're off the train. There's British weirdoes and New York faggots playing pharmaceutical Russian roulette. The Dead don't have to try any more.
The problem they are solving is how to relax into maturity and still keep your rock and roll. It's a similar problem to the one Dylan tackles on "Planet Waves". The mind wrenching adventures are, for the most part, behind both Dylan and the Dead. He's found his way out of Mobile, and they know their back's that strong. It's not the struggle of youth, it's the adaptation to maturity after running through a world that believed only the young were beautiful.
It's like Lennon said, "I don't want to be jumping round on a stage singing 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' when I'm thirty." Neither, it would seem, do Dylan or the Dead. Maybe now and again, just to get away from the old lady and the kids, but certainly not all the time. Lennon experiments with being an L.A. nightclub rowdy drunk. Dylan and the Dead sit on the metaphorical front porch and play rock and roll that don't make them sweat too much.
From the perspective of warp factor seven teenage jive bombing, these experiments may not be of the ultimate priority, but some of us are coming up to it, and if we stay lucky a few of us might get there. When that happens both "Mars Hotel" and "Planet Waves" could be comfortingly relevant.

* The Dead Book – Hank Harrison – published Links (import) £2.50

(by Mick Farren, from the New Musical Express, August 3, 1974)
Thanks to Dave Davis.

1 comment:

  1. Two contrasting articles from the New Musical Express in 1974 (prior to the Dead's visit), summarizing the Dead's career. Nick Kent has a very dyspeptic view; Mick Farren is gently positive. (Farren's article seems to be a reply to Kent's, a "hippie appeasement page" perhaps prompted by upset reader feedback.) But they share some points in common, both feeling that the golden sixties have long since receded and the Dead are "last year's thing," still awkwardly hanging around & getting old.

    It's worth mentioning that as recently as 1972, Kent had actually been a big Dead fan, praising them in various articles, calling Live Dead "near to the feel of free jazz." For instance, his review of the Bickershaw Festival show:
    "When Garcia and chums took the stage, the whole thing became a real festival. Everything was together and the Dead played for five hours, maybe more. Fireworks exploded, freaks danced and the band went through every change conceivable. A beautiful 'Dark Star' and a sizzling Pigpen workout on 'Good Lovin'' might be considered standouts but really it was all music flowing like a river."
    Various Nick Kent quotes on the Dead here:

    But, two years later, all that's embarrassing and old-hat, and he seems to be writing with extra spite, "pouring scorn" on his own earlier idealism. Who believed all that cosmic nonsense anyway? Live Dead's just a murky antique now, acid muzak! Although he still praises their 1970 albums, their records since then have gotten increasingly worse, their live shows are a snooze, and their new work just "depressing." Clearly a band that's outlived its time and can't even offer the old nostalgic charm anymore (and weren't even good back then).

    Mick Farren has a more balanced view of the Dead's progress, acknowledging that they're not the same anymore and times have changed. But even though Wake of the Flood was "badly received" and the Dead have gone "out of favour," he likes Mars Hotel as a work of relaxed maturity. (Rock for adults, if you will.) The Dead have changed direction, but (perhaps a little dig at Kent) "their erstwhile supporters neither understood the change nor welcomed it."

    Kent focuses more on the music, the sixties idealism and the old "acid curio" albums. Farren looks more at the Dead's place in society and how they've dealt with the changing culture.
    For all their differences, it's interesting to see the opinions they share. Both consider the Europe '72 album a big mistake, a "major miscalculation" that turned the bored public & critics against the Dead. (Weir's Ace, on the other hand, is all right.) Sometimes it's just a difference in perspective: for Kent their recent work is "funereal" & miserable, for Farren it's "front porch relaxation." The lack of urgency on the newer albums sounds "tedious & weary" to Kent, but to Farren it's the mellowness of growing up.
    Kent: "The Dead always had a loose, tired feel...they never could rock out too well."
    Farren: "Even at their funkiest they still managed to retain a trace of contemplative reserve."