Thursday, December 19, 2013

12/19/73 (thanks, Dick!)

It's maybe surprising, given my general GD-OCDness (is that in the DSM-5? it should be), that I'm not always great with remembering show anniversaries.  Today, though, it struck me right away that it was the 40th anniversary of 12/19/73 -- not the very best show of the year, but it's up there -- and therefore also the anniversary of the Dick's Picks series… which, as it turns out, is now 20 years old.  So here's to Dick Latvala, the patron saint of Deadhead tape collectors.

"you've gotta hear this!"

Lots and lots has been said about Dick and how he transformed the GD taping community, particularly after the flood of tapes that emerged after his death, so I won't go on about it.  His personal life seems to have been difficult and at times quite sad, yet also filled with many more hours of unbridled joy and happiness than I'd say most people ever bother to experience.  His own joy and enthusiasm still comes beaming through his own words and in the remembrances of those who knew him.  Today, it seems strange that he had to go to the mat with the GD organization over the idea of archival releases of "warts and all" 2-track tapes, but we should all be thankful that he did.

some links:
Dick's own show notes make for fun reading.  Here's his notebook for 1978:

lightintoashes' repository of all things Latvala functions more like an oral history of his life.  Great stuff!

Here's an early interview with Dick about 12/19/73 and, of course, other shows as well, from Dupree's Diamond News in 1994.  The pics of Dick mugging next to the Veneta and Feb 70 Fillmore reels are priceless.
"I really was finding a whole bunch of great shows in '73 that I sort of knew about, but hadn't really listened to for 10-15 years.  There were at least five I had in mind.  And the only reason 12/19 was the choice was because of Here Comes Sunshine.  When I first heard it, it was such a kick.  Jesus, what a monster!  So I thought, I have to go with this show.  I wanted something that people generally don't know about.  A lot of people do know, but they don't have good tapes of it, so this would be a treat, and people who know would relish it."

The Dick's Picks Vol. 1 release of 12/19/73 itself was truncated, edited (Phil nixed the bass solo), and rearranged to fit on two cd's.  While heads would be in an uproar about that now, at the time it was a godsend to me as a 15-year-old deadhead.  I wasn't in it deep enough to have a sense of what whole tours were like, so to me "fall 73" didn't mean much beyond 12/2/73 and 11/11/73.  But given the relative lack of ceremony that accompanied the initial Dick's Picks releases, right down to the simple faux-tape box packaging (which I still love), this show felt like a gift from the heart of a fellow traveler, a well-worn copy of a tape pressed into your hand and accompanied by a knowing look.

As I hear it now, though, 12/19/73 takes on a different meaning in context.  Now I hear it more like the final parting salvo from the mothership that came ever so close to Earth for a few precious weeks, particularly for a short spell in December.  We -- or at least I -- now know that the Dead had essentially completed their Wall of Sound by these December shows (before its "debut" in 1974), so next time you listen to any of them (why not today?), keep in mind that the sound was pouring out of a stack that looked like this:

the stage two weeks earlier on 12/6/73
That same stack arguably probably did as much harm as it did good for the band, so in a sense, December 1973 (and the following Feb 74 Winterland shows) really were like a farewell to a whole era -- in Dick's mind, the greatest -- of the Grateful Dead.

The music performed on 12/19 has been discussed at length in many other places, and hopefully you know it well yourself.  Nowadays I always go for the full show, but when I think of it, my mind still arranges it like Dick did for the release (and I'm still always caught off guard by that bass solo when I hear it).  Some have griped that Dick picked the wrong night, but I still think 12/19 blows 12/18 out of the water.  The 18th is a great show, but I can't get over the fact that it fizzles out right at the very heart of it (the second half of Dark Star, which fails to launch because of a blown speaker).  The 19th picks up the pieces and ends the year the way it needed to be ended: absolutely top-flight improvisation, topped with an extra-heavy blast of deep cosmic sound.  Possibly the most mind-blowing moment ever in the recorded history of creation, as Dick might have put it.

Thanks again, Dick!

PS.  Can't resist letting the boys have the last word.  This wasn't preserved on the sbd, but it's all there on the aud or the matrix:
Phil: Before we get started, I guess we gotta let you know that there's a really strict rule against smoking in this auditorium and, uh, you heard the fellow telling you all about it in his best CBS School of Broadcasting voice, and what I wanted to tell you was no matter what it is you're smoking, you're liable to get tapped on the shoulder by somebody that you don't want to see. So if you're gonna smoke anything, I don't care what it is, make sure you know everybody within ten feet of you at all times.

Bob: Last night there were people that were busted that were in the middle of great masses of people so they can see--

Phil: Right in the center of the mass of people, that's where it was... So nowhere is safe, comprende?

Bob: If you're gonna do something that they don't want you to do, you better make sure that they don't see you, and that's not easy to do.

Phil: In fact, it's impossible.

Jerry: So remember your hippie training, folks!  Be cool! Thank you.

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