I never understood the Grateful Dead “message”. Never felt the “vibe” or anything in common with the legions of Dead Heads who roamed the country following the band from concert to concert. Probably had something to do with never being a “hippie” for starters. Once I began reading articles and reviews in the rock and roll press, it was clear that the Grateful Dead message wasn’t for everybody. Either you got “it” (whatever “it” was) or you moved to a different beat. Recently I was viewing some old photographs taken by a former co-worker who fancied himself an amateur photographer. The shots he shared were from early ’70s concerts by The Who and The Grateful Dead. He was telling me they were at opposite ends of the performance spectrum. Everything The Who did was intended to literally blow you away. It was all about sheer power, but he also noted that the Grateful Dead had the most massive sound system he had seen and they used it for a totally different effect. The Dead’s system brought out every note and nuance of the sound clearly without permanently damaging the listener’s eardrums. The photographer also noted a difference in audience reaction. At intermission or after the concert The Who audience was shell shocked into some sort of daze where the Dead listeners were in a state of bliss.
This week (once again) is beg-a-thon time for PBS TV stations which is typically when they like to broadcast concert films including for the hundreth, millionth time “The Grateful Dead Movie”. What I’ve noticed over the years while channel surfing is you can drop into that movie at any point then back out again and it always the same. the music just seems to flow without beginning, middle or end. And that is what I primarily don’t understand (or accept) about the Grateful Dead. I listen to more than my fair share of what could be considered background music and can name a multitude of artists/groups who put out music that is intended to create or invoke some mood which, no matter how it seems to wander and drift, sooner or later makes you go “hmmm, now THAT was interesting”. Something I never get from hearing the Dead.
So in protest to all this I’m choosing to play as background music during my work day the first seven CDs by a group that even though they sold millions upon millions of albums were pretty much reviled by critics as hippie wannabes who dabbled in pseudo-psychedelic mysticism. The Moody Blues. Yes, some of it IS bland and pointless but there are moments of beauty and something that sounds like rock and roll.