Numerous times over my lifetime, people have tried to get me to appreciate the band, with little success. The interminable solos, the dope-smoking-moron lyrics, the ridiculous ambient jams -- I'd rather shove chopsticks up my pee hole than listen to them. And don't even get me started on the drug-addled, fire-stick juggling, arrhythmic-dancing fans who are trying to either recapture a long-lost moment of their youth or catch a glimpse of something extinguished long before their birth.
Recently, however, I decided to confront my distaste head-on, inspired by the fact that the Dead is releasing a 10-CD box set of the entire four-day run of shows at Fillmore West in 1969 (which were cherry-picked for the original, celebrated Live/Dead album). I would attempt to listen to all 10 discs in a row, surrounded by a bunch of former and current Deadheads and all their usual clothing, accessories, and paraphernalia. The combination of aural overload, historical perspective, and kind bud might finally lead to divine understanding. Or significant brain damage. Either way, it'd make a good story.
So last week I held the Grateful Deadathon at my San Francisco apartment. Here are my notes:
1 p.m.: The Dead -- or rather my friend who bought the box set -- is late. I feel foolish in my wool Dalai Lama hat and sandals.
1:40: The discs arrive. Eric sets about making the ceremonial grilled cheese sandwiches and popping open the traditional oatmeal stout. The first nine minutes and 45 seconds of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" meander out of the speakers. Life is good.
2:15: My girlfriend informs me that Bob Weir has a massive wiener. Not that she knows from firsthand experience.
2:30: My teeth are sore from grinding them during the 20-minute "That's It for the Other One" suite. Up until this point, I hadn't realized how much of a boogie-rock band the Dead was. The music is grittier and rougher than the group's later jams, but it still sounds like a bad imitation of the Allman Brothers. I feel the need for weed.
4: The ganja makes the rest of the first show tolerable. We decide to head out to the parking lot, er, sidewalk and do some hacking. Jake nearly gets clipped by a bus; Tim steps on a small dog. Many passers-by stare at our tie-dyed shirts and bad footwear.
4:20, brah: We discuss where the 4:20 ritual comes from, and then perform the ritual itself. Kathleen starts mis-singing Nerf Herder's "Van Halen," inserting the line "Sammy Hagar, we want your daughter." "Schoolgirl" plays again, only this time the band has stretched it out to 11 minutes. I'm starting to wonder if the Dead just didn't know very many songs.
5:30: The music actually fares better now; maybe the pot has finally kicked in. "Dark Star" sounds like pulled taffy: long and sinuous and rubbery.
6:30: We've finished Disc 4. I can't remember anything about it.
6:55: When "Feedback" comes on, I understand why the dudes in Comets on Fire like the Dead. The track starts out painfully loud, full of screeching noise, then drops down to pretty, whalelike mating sounds, just like K.K. Null or something.
7:45: Midway through 23 more minutes of "Dark Star," my desire to put on a different CD shoots through the roof. It must be time for the 'shrooms.
8:20: What song is this? "'Dark Star.'" Still?! "Nah, just kidding." I have entered a special kind of hell.
9: My brain is starting to rebel by emitting painful throbs through the temple. The blues weren't meant to be manhandled for hours on end, and no one should name a song "New Potato Caboose." We decide to skip the 18 minutes of "Lovelight" and find some Cherry Garcia, making it back just in time for the sloppiest version of "Hey Jude" ever.
10: I feel like I've been on a life raft for 16 days and I'm starting to see the same landmarks. Hey, there's "The Eleven" again. Oh, fuck, there's "The Eleven" again.
10:48: We start playing the board game Outburst. One of the categories is "Euphemisms for 'dead.'" I suggest "Pushing up Jerrys."
11:15: During "Jam," everyone starts dancing. It is not a pretty sight, but I don't care. My shirt feels nice, the lights are warm and inviting, the music is all wavy groovy. Beauty, I decide, is in the eye of whoever's holdin'.
Midnight: As "We Bid You Goodnight" dribbles to an end, I marvel at the number of potato chips, cookies, and cheese wrappers strewn across the tables and counters. What a long, strange trip it's been. As soon as everyone leaves, I swear I'm going to put on something soothing, like Black Flag.
Postscript: The next morning, I wake up with "St. Stephen" in my head and Tim's hacky sack beside me. Oh shit, the conversion has begun.