Monday, January 22, 2018

1/22/78 at 40


I first heard this jam when I was 15 years old.  It was broadcast on the Grateful Dead Hour which, to the extent of my adolescent ability, I think I tried to tape whenever I could (but I don't think I was very good about actually following through with this).  I have a very distinct memory of this one, however: the memory of lying in bed at night, lights out ("you've got school in the morning!"), boombox tapedeck running, headphones on, and having my mind BLOWN WIDE OPEN by this Other One>Close Encounters>St. Stephen>NFA>Around.  I can now see that it was sometime the week of May 2, 1994.  At that point in my nascent deadheaddom (deadheadness?), I was well versed in Live/Dead and Europe '72 and probably One From the Vault and had a shoebox-sized collection with some respectable tapes: but this, my goodness, this was a whole other thing.  I was already on the bus, but this was like finding a few back rows where the cool kids sat.  The excitement of the moment hasn't faded and the rush of feelings are still there on the special occasions when I revisit this show and this jam in particular (gotta start with the Terrapin, though).  Now I'm able to enunciate why: the deliriously intense segue out of Drums, the unusually extended Other One jam, the drippy Garcia solo space that climaxes with the famous Close Encounters quote, the spot-on perfectly timed segue into St. Stephen, that wild 'n wooly early '78 guitar tone, the spotless tape quality -- you know, you've heard it -- but I wasn't hearing any of that when I was 15.  What I was hearing is best summed up by this bit from Nick Paumgarten's 2012 New Yorker article on the band (one of the best single pieces of writing I've read about them), writing about the culture of tape collecting:
"Each [tape] had a character and odor of its own, a terroir. Some combination of the era, the lineup, the set list, the sound system, the recording apparatus, its positioning in the hall, the recorder’s sonic bias, the chain of custody, and, yes, the actual performance would render up a sonic aura that could be unique. Jerry Garcia claimed to be a synesthete—he said that he perceived sound as color. Somehow, I and others came to perceive various recordings, if not as colors, as having distinct odors or auras."
That’s the extra something this show will always have for me.  I can smell it.  I remember exactly what I imagined, laying there in dark, that the stage must have looked like: small stage, band soaked in sweat, air thick with smoke, amps piled high with beer bottles, roaches, cigarette stubs, crowd pressed right up to the band's knees.  I'm sure that is not at all what the stage actually looked like (in hindsight, I'm sure I had no idea that McArthur Court was a college gynanisum), but it's what it sounded like to me.  I had never heard anything so immediately, viscerally transporting.  Or maybe, probably, I had.  I must have.  I remember a lot of musical moments in many songs that made me jump and holler as a younger kid, but none of them stand out as vividly over 20 years later -- I remember that some serious flying leaps used to happen during the Eleven>Lovelight transition on Live/Dead, but I don't have any memory of feeling like I was standing there actually watching it.  Almost exactly six years later, I heard another show from this period for the first time, one that came to nearly equal this one in my personal canon, 2/5/78 (thanks Dick!)  But it didn't have that same terroir

May 1994 means that I already actually seen the band in person, once (3/27/94, at Nassau Coliseum).  This departs from all kinds of standard narratives about the band, but I don't remember being moved nearly as much by the show.  It was good, I treasure the memory of it, and I had fun -- I mean it was 1994, but I didn't (and still don't) think it was a bad show, given the circumstances (the Dew, man, the Dew!).  I'm sure I felt lot more strongly about it at the time.  But I was also 15, too dorky to catch more than a contact buzz, I stayed in my seat for most of the show, and I was pretty sleepy by the end of it (and, lest you think I was high out of my mind during that 1/22/78 epiphany: I assure you I was not).  While it seems lame in some regard to have more affinity for hearing a tape than for seeing an actual live performance, that's the way it's sorted itself in my memory. 

Anyways, I know what I'm doing tonight.  I recommend you do the same.

PS. Also, can you think of many post-77 shows where the major heavy-duty jamming all happens after the drum solo?  There are a few, but I can't think of very many.

PPS. The next week’s GDH episode was the Dancin'>Franklin’s from 10/27/79.  That and 1/22/78 made for a 100 min cassette that was pretty potent, to say the least.

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