Thursday, October 24, 2019

Blues for Allah

The first time I saw the Grateful Dead I was young, high on mushrooms that had hideously been blended into a milkshake, and high as well on windowpane acid. It was enormously exciting from the time we lined up at Oz records to buy the just released tickets (waiting with Barry Manilow fans whose tickets were simultaneously releasing, an appealing and unusual pairing), all through the car ride in a blue station wagon, the daring magic kool-aid test drugs, and all the way to the start of this first independent (on our part, we were 16 or 17), fabled, long-awaited concert.

Which I hated.

Totally hated.

Uncomfortable, lonely, abandoned by friends who fit naturally and blissfully into the scene, all my Grateful Dead Concerts were the same- alienating, making me feel wrong and left out, lost. I don't like dancing in public. I couldn't relax enough to hear the music which always tended to be of mixed quality anyway, and seemingly made for dancing. It took me awhile to realize I had picked the wrong team. I was just me.

And so I have always loved the joke, defying an old refrain about the Grateful Dead, in which I said "They weren't much live, but they sure had some great albums."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

No, seriously.

I'm not saying those noodly bootlegs don't have their moments, but I mean listen to this:

Franklin's Tower

Everything about this is too delicate, gorgeous, to survive the wild. It is not a party or a dance. It is all delicacies, woven of twigs and flowers, grass and stones. A quiet place in the woods, a deer looking up, silence. A riffle of wind in the tree leaves weaving into the sound of a creek bubbling down a gentle hill.  This sweet voice full of gentleness and care. The perfect interlacing and syncopation of instruments, impenetrable and unmissable, words that mean nothing, quietly spoken and full of sense, and a guitar of impossible complexity spilling out without effort. It's too good. It's so lovely. A spell that will break under the first movement, like that deer dashing off into the trees never to be seen again. Everything will ruin this. 

The greatest album ever made is so little and sweet and strange. There really isn't anything like it.

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