Eyes of the World (with Comment by Steve)

Chatting at a Claremont Institute event ten years ago, Steve Hayward blessed my love of the Grateful Dead. Steve is an expert consumer not only of prog rock, but also of jam bands. He even sent me his own compilation of favorite numbers by the jam band String Theory stringing it out.

Essential Dead member Jerry Garcia died in rehab in 1995. The surviving members of the group have reunited for what are to be their final (“Fare Thee Well”) concerts this weekend in Chicago. (Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio is sitting in for Garcia. Bruce Hornsby is joining in on piano.) The shows are advertised as a fiftieth anniversary celebration, but Tracy Swartz puts it this way in the Chicago Tribune: “It’s the end of the road for the Grateful Dead.”

I loved the Dead even before I began to understand them. Anyone who knows anything about the history of American popular music would hear Garcia’s love of folk and bluegrass espcecially, but also of country and blues, in their best albums and in their live performances. Garcia was an American original and a genuine folk/bluegrass nut. His friendship with mandolin maestro David Grisman preceded the formation of the Grateful Dead. Garcia even called on Grisman to contribute a few of the grace notes to the Dead’s American Beauty album.

I only saw the Dead perform once, at Dillon Stadium in Hartford on July 31, 1974. It has lived vividly in my memory ever since. I believe it was the tour in which the Dead featured their pioneering Wall of Sound setup. The Dead and the sound were great.

I listen to the Dead frequently on the Sirius/XM Grateful Dead channel. The Dead excelled in their live performances and they seem to have preserved every show they ever played on tape. The channel is built around their live performances.

A few weeks ago I was goin’ down the road feelin’ good, to vary a Dead phrase, listening to the Dead on Sirius/XM. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself listening to the 1974 show I had attended in Hartford. It sounded even better than I remembered it (though I hadn’t recalled vocalist Donna Godchaux being unable to hit a note; she is simply terrible).

Looking around online at home, I was even more surprised to find the concert posted here. Given the holiday weekend, I thought some readers might want check it out just for fun. Among other things, if you have a taste for the Dead, you won’t want to miss their sinuous 18-minute take on “Eyes of the World.” I thought wow! then and I think wow! now.

STEVE adds: As events would have it, I actually scored tickets to the Fare Thee Well show at Santa Clara last Sunday, but wasn’t able to make it so I donated my tickets to a charity auction. Seeing that Bruce Hornsby was going to play keyboards on these revival shows sent me back: I saw several shows in 1991 when Hornsby filled in after the Dead’s third keyboard player, Brent Mydland, died of an overdose. (The Dead went through more keyboard players than Spinal Tap did drummers.) The Hornsby-backed shows were better than the last few years of Mydland, I thought. And as one commenter below notes, they could have simply awful nights.

A few years after Jerry Garcia died, I happened to sit next to Hornsby on a coast-to-coast airplane flight, and talked to him at length about the music scene and much else. (If Power Line existed then and did podcasts, I’d have signed him up.) I asked why the post-Jerry members didn’t stay together in some form, and Hornsby said: “Bob [Weir] and Phil [Lesh] don’t get along very well. But it might happen some day.”

I think this ride took place in 2000 if memory serves, because Hornsby had a “Bill Bradley for President” pin on his shirt. So we talked about that, too. Bradley is a liberal, but at least he isn’t Al Gore. Good of Hornsby to see that much.