Monday, December 3, 2007

No. 262: Workingman's Dead

Band: Grateful Dead
Album: Workingman's Dead
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Another high watermark of the Dead's catalog, "Workingman's Dead" is another record with two classic dead tracks.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Blah blah, I don't like the Dead, blah blah.
Best song: "Casey Jones" isn't bad.
Worst song: "New Speedway Boogie" fulfills my theory that any song with the word "boogie" in it will inevitably stink.
Is it awesome?: This is not my thing.

Because I'm not a Dead fan, I'm going to turn this over to Robert Christgau:

Of course they don't sing as pretty as CSNY--prettiness would trivialize these songs. The sparse harmonies and hard-won melodies go with lyrics that make all the American connections claimed by San Francisco's counterculture; there's a naturally stoned bemusement in their good times, hard times, high times, and lost times that joins the fatalism of the physical frontier with the wonder of the psychedelic one. And the changeable rhythms hold out the promise of Uncle John's Band, who might just save us if we'll only call the tune. Inspirational Verse: "Think this through with me." A

So, there's that.


I used up all my good Dead joke material last week, I don't have a ton to say. The Dead have mostly fallen off the map, for some reason.

I have a theory: The Internet has given all subcultures their own due. The equalizing effort has had a really good effect on independent music, as it helps open the market more. The proverbial cream rises to the top, I guess.

So, on one hand, this makes hipster/indie rock/whatever Web sites that much more important and the music mags of the past (Rolling Stone, Spin, etc.) less important.

This comes out in various little forms. I play the guitar (very poorly) and when I was in junior high and early high school, I devoured guitar magazines (Guitar World, for example), largely because they would include tablatures (guitar sheet music) for the various popular songs of the day. However, once the Internet became standard everywhere, tabs shows up online for just about any song. All you need is a search engine.

Similarly, the mainstream music press has become decreasingly important, so boomer nostalgia bands like the Dead stopped being as important to people of my generation. In short, we stopped listening to our parents and started listening to Internet.

Now... Young 'ens have been detaching themselves from their parents' music for decades; This isn't new. The difference is that someone in 1977 had to actually go to a book store to buy a copy of Maximumrockandroll or Creem to learn about new bands, a record store to hear a new band's record or a club to see them perform live. Plus, this is all predicated on the idea that you live in a city where a book store stocks 'zines, your record store stocked something other than the Carpenters and there's a club within 50 miles of your house.

In 2007? I can read about a new band on Pitchfork or Stereogum, buy the band's music through iTunes or Insound and watch them perform (or do a video) on YouTube (yes, I know live music doesn't translate to YouTube, but you get my drift). None of this requires even leaving my living room, forget having to live somewhere cosmopolitan.

This new world order hurts the big boys and there have been few bigger boys over their thirty years than the Grateful Dead. Everyone knew of the Dead and listening to the band was an easy avenue to identifying oneself as an outsider. It's a community that drew a lot of people who identified themselves as "other" for whatever reason.

I'll admit (with some embarrassment) that I owned a Grateful Dead t-shirt when I was in junior high. It was before the high-speed Internet and before I discovered punk rock. The bands I was listening to (The Who, The Beatles, Zep, etc.) were boomer gods and played a ton on classic rock radio. The Dead were... unknown, in a lot of ways. Their dancing bear and skull things were synonymous with "outsider" and I found that attractive.

Now, I quickly latched onto Flipper, Black Flag, Big Black and The Meat Puppets and eschewed the Dead. I enjoy noodling and crazy soloing as much as anyone (I listen to metal, after all), but endless jams don't do it for me. And I found information on these bands through record stores and the Internet. The monolith that is the Dead stopped being attractive to me.

And that's what I'm saying: Monolithic bands stopped being as important, I guess. Anyone can find what they're looking for and the Dead's reach, especially after Jerry Garcia's death, is minimal.

Because, really, if people enjoy the Grateful Dead, they're likely to enjoy FolkFest and all the things that influenced the Dead. You can enjoy real folk, blues and jazz bands, thanks to a simple Google search. It ain't hard.

Edit: (12/05/07)
Kelly Dwyer, music fan and noted Steely Dan aficionado, offers this song as a counterpoint to my "boogie" theory:

Kelly says:

Seriously, check out Michael's tank top. Didn't we all have a girlfriend with that tank top in 1995? Remember asking her if she'd listened to the tape of "Whip-Smart" that we made her? No? How about the Geraldine Fibbers tape we made her?


Justin said...

I kinda like "Boogie with Stu" by Zeppelin.

Oh! And "The Martian Boogie" by Browsnville Station is stupid but fun.

There's also the-not-very-good-but-loved-by-my-dad "Born to Boogie" by Bocephus.

And uh, "Boogie Oogie Oogie," "Boogie Nights," and a lot of other disco crap.

What I want to know is has there ever been a good song with the word "Booger" in the title.

kellydwyer said...

"Born to Boogie," T Rex.

"Natural Born Boogie," Humble Pie.

R.J. said...

Justin and KD: You are right. I am wrong. There, indeed, are good songs with the word "boogie" in them. I stand corrected.

kellydwyer said...

Actually, I agreed with you the first time around.

It's like that paper I wrote at the beginning of freshman year, that mentioned no good rock and roll song ever having a saxophone solo in it (there was probably an Eddie Money mention in there); and then, a month later, Steely Dan becomes my favorite band.

kellydwyer said...

Jackson 5's (maybe they were the Jacksons then, not sure) "Blame It On the Boogie" is also great. One of the first songs I ever downloaded off of Napster, about a hundred feet from yours and Lo's loft.