Anybody’s choice, I can hear your voice. Whoa-oh what I want to know, how does the song go?
By The Deadhead Cyclist
One of the most unique aspects of the Grateful Dead experience is the existence and easy availability of thousands upon thousands of recordings of concerts, studio sessions and other archival material. The band’s willingness – whether intentional or accidental – to allow their fans to freely record and share what virtually any other band would protect as copyrighted music, was either the luckiest or the most brilliant marketing strategy in the history of modern music. What the Dead may have lost in revenue from the sale of live concert material was easily eclipsed by the increase in ticket sales resulting from turning their devotees into promotional agents, replete with product samples that were self-produced and widely disseminated.
The evidence points to the Dead’s sanctioning of “Bootleggers” as having had more to do with logistics and the band’s relationship to its fans than marketing acumen.
“We had the choice of either taking their machines away from them…or let them tape,” drummer Mickey Hart said in an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock Radio. “We can’t be cops. We’re the Grateful Dead, you know? We can’t stop them from doing anything, as long as they’re not hurting anybody.”
And so, it became “anybody’s choice” to purchase a ticket in the taping section, schlep expensive, high-tech equipment to the show, make your own recording and share it, far and wide. For this reason, there are more than 14,000 recordings of Grateful Dead concerts to stream online.
If the mass dissemination of the Dead’s music and subsequent increase in their fan base was unintentional, it wasn’t the only unintended consequence of this watershed moment in the band’s history. Rarely over the course of my 200-plus Grateful Dead concerts did I notice how frequently the boys forgot the lyrics. This was largely because it was often difficult to hear the lyrics clearly in large, noisy, often open-aired venues. But as The Deadhead Cyclist, riding countless miles and pouring over so many of these recordings, I am often struck by the many lapses in the words of songs that Bob and, particularly, Jerry, sang hundreds, even thousands of times. So, another unintended consequence of having access to so many live recordings is that “I can hear your voice,” and have discovered that there were far more errors in the lyrics in any given show than a Little League shortstop might make.
During the band’s earlier years, these errors were pretty minor, as is the case with T.W.I.G.D.H., November 11, 1973 from the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. In this exceptional show, the only gaffes were the use of “seasons” instead of “reason” in the superlative performance of Dark Star, and “sometimes we ride” instead of “sometimes we live” in an equally brilliant Eyes of the World. These kinds of mistakes can happen to any musician on stage performing night after night under the relentless spotlight.
But some of the breaches are much more significant, and quite frequent, particularly in the ’80s and ’90s. Sometimes entire verses are sung out of order or omitted entirely. I recall one show that opened with Bertha, and after the musical introduction Jerry began with the words, “I had a run-in,” rather than, “I had a hard run.” I remember thinking to myself, “Really? How many times has Jerry sung that song and still can’t remember the words?” Which, of course, begs the question: Was Jerry that high that he so often had to ask, “how does the song go?”
An anti role model is someone who represents traits that are the opposite of what you want to emulate. Being confronted with and an observer of that individual and his or her negative behavior can be a transformational tool in shaping yourself into the person you truly want to be.
For me – and I think this is true for many Deadheads – Jerry Garcia is one of my greatest role models. His passionate, creative, fun-loving, anti-establishment, gentle, jovial persona was loveable and infectious. He created a body of music that was innovative, inspirational and enduring, and he personified an unassuming style of leadership that was truly exemplary. These are the characteristics he will long be remembered for, and deservedly so. However, there’s a 2-XL black T-shirt in the middle of the room that cannot and ought not be ignored.
Alongside the qualities listed above – and so many more – Jerry has also served as an anti role model for me, and this aspect of my relationship with him has had an equally powerful influence on my life. An anti role model is someone who represents traits that are the opposite of those you want to emulate. Being an observer of that individual’s negative behavior can be a transformational tool in shaping yourself into the person you truly want to be. We all have anti role models in our lives, and we should be grateful for them.
For example, in my athletic endeavors – most notably baseball – I’ve struggled with a tendency to be overly competitive. This characteristic has occasionally been an impediment to my relationships with my teammates and, ultimately, to my enjoyment of the sport. I once had a teammate, Dan, who served as an anti role model for me in the way he conducted himself on the baseball diamond. While his behavior was far more egregious than my own, I recall saying to myself, “Is that what I look like when I become excessively competitive? Damn, I don’t want to be that guy.” I wish I could say that I was able to immediately and permanently flip the switch to the “off” position after having Dan on my team, but I will say that his negative model has been helpful to me in reshaping my overly competitive nature.
With respect to the aging process, I can’t think of a more stunning anti role model than Jerry Garcia. Let’s be frank: Jerry didn’t age well. You can hear it in his voice, post-’86 and often painfully in the ’90s, and you could literally witness him growing prematurely old, show-by-show, year-by-year. This was especially revealing when a “photoshopped” image made the rounds in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 “Fare Thee Well” shows that included a ghost-like image of Jerry on stage with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. At the time, Phil was 75 years old and Bob was 67. And yet, Jerry – who was only 53 at the time of his early death – fit right in, chronologically speaking, despite the 25 years of water that had passed along the banks of the Black Muddy River.
We all know why Jerry became an old man before his time and left us in his 50s, so I will refrain from listing the reasons. Suffice it to say that self-care was not his forte. But his example serves as a wake-up call for the rest of us, as it appears to have for the “Core Four” (the surviving members of the band) who continue to thrive and perform well into their 70s and 80s. We all have anti role models in our lives, but often fail to recognize them as the rich sources of life lessons they can be. For anyone who plans to live well into their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, redouble your efforts to eat well, get regular exercise, lose those extra pounds, refrain from smoking cigarettes and engaging in other health-compromising addictions. Listen to your body when it tells you it’s time to take a break.
When we’re young “life looks like Easy Street,” but as we age “there is danger at your door.” It seems our hero lived in denial of that principle, but it may be that the most meaningful part of his legacy lies in the darker side of the example he set for us. And that’s how the song goes.
Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: Novermber 11, 1973 (Listen Now)
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