Let’s begin our journey through Europe ’72 with the historical background as presented in the Grateful Dead Archive Online (GDAO) courtesy of the University of California, Santa Cruz:
The Europe ’72 tour represented the most ambitious undertaking in the Dead’s career to date. While they had played Europe before—two dates in England in 1970 and one in France in 1971—the 22 shows they performed over the course of April and May 1972 represented their most extensive foreign tour.
Europe ’72 was important for other reasons, too. It represented an experiment in applying their philosophy of shaping their business practices in accordance with their artistic philosophy, and that meant traveling with their extended family, bringing along wives, girlfriends, children and friends as well as a full crew complement. This ensured that they had the inspiration, comfort, and expertise necessary to successfully create, and record, their legendary improvisational alchemy.
In order to pay for the trip, the Dead arranged to tape every show with a 16-track mobile recording truck. The resulting album, a three-LP release entitled Europe ’72, captured some of their finest playing and demonstrated the degree to which they could move seamlessly between their fire-breathing Live/Dead-era exploratory guise and their more roots-oriented American Beauty/Workingman’s Dead persona.
In my wanderings through the GDAO, I learned that out of all the countries graced by their presence, the Dead had the greatest impact in France. I found this delightful little tidbit in the Fan Correspondence section of the Europe ’72 pages:
Perhaps the highlight of the correspondence generated by the tour was the ecstatic telegram they received after their second show at Paris’s Olympia Halle: “You are the best thing to hit France since Joan of Fucking Arc!”
That struck me as quite a cultural leap, considering what I knew about my mother’s experience. She had left her country of origin only five years before that concert because she felt that Gaullist France was stuck in the past, congenitally uptight and way behind the Brits and Americans in terms of embracing the liberating countercultural influences of the 60s.
I showed her the quote and said, “Looks like you left too soon.”
She laughed and replied, “If I hadn’t left when I did, I would not have met your father and you would not exist.”
Those twenty-two concerts took place in seven countries over forty-nine days. Post-production involved cherry-picking the best performances and adding overdubs to correct the usual boo-boos musicians make in live performances.
The one thing you can’t correct on a live recording is the energy level of the musicians. You can add more crowd noise to make it seem like the band is wowing the audience, but that only works on fanatics who refuse to believe that their favorite band could possibly have an off-night. Maybe AI will be able to mimic musical energy someday, but I’d rather not live long enough for that to happen.
As luck would have it, the cherry-picking process gave us one track from the first concert and an astonishing nine tracks from their closing performances at The Strand Lyceum in London on May 23, 24, and 26—six from closing night. Though all the performances on the album are characterized by positive vibes (likely a criterion in the cherry-picking process), it sounds like the Dead became more energetic and more creative as the tour wound to a close. They sound as fresh on the last track included (“Morning Dew”) as they did on the first (“Cumberland Blues”). And no, they didn’t amp up the crowd noise; they chose to wipe nearly all the crowd noise from the final product.
Europe ’72 is a mix of new songs and previously recorded songs. I’ve included links to my lyrical interpretations of the songs that originally appeared on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty to avoid repeating myself. Their “legendary improvisational alchemy” is most apparent in the previously recorded tunes, resulting in tracks of greater length than the studio versions; the two instrumentals near the end of the album are almost entirely improvisational.
During my research I ran into a few discussion groups of confirmed Dead-haters whose most frequently voiced complaint had to do with what they perceived to be “pointless jams” that add nothing to a song except length.
Alas, there is a large contingent of so-called music lovers who value predictability over playfulness. When they go to a concert, they want to hear exact reproductions of what they heard on the record and not a single note more. They can’t get their teeny-weeny little heads around the concept that a song is not like a painting in a museum, permanently fixed in place.
In contrast, modern jazz artists and the more curious rock musicians love to explore the infinite possibilities in a song, supplying old music with fresh interpretations. The Dead weren’t interested in reproducing music; they wanted to play music in the truest sense of the word, and true play involves exploration, spontaneity and messing with traditions.
Some people may not be able to handle that sort of playfulness, but I’ll bet that’s why the French felt that the Grateful Dead were the best thing to hit France since Joan of Fucking Arc.
“Cumberland Blues” (Garcia-Lesh-Robert Hunter): Interpretation.
I liked the original version on Workingman’s Dead in large part due to Robert Hunter’s lyrics and the dual lead vocal with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. I made a conscious choice not to write about what I didn’t like because I had to admit that what I didn’t like was appropriate in the context of the song and consistent with the general feel of the album.
I didn’t like the banjo. I never like the banjo. I’m allergic to the banjo. I can handle it in the context of comedy or satire, but that’s about it.
Imagine my delight in learning that the Dead must have forgotten to pack the banjo! Huzzah! I’ll take electric guitars and a piano over a banjo every time!
It should come as no surprise that the live version is longer than the studio take. In this case, the extra two-and-a-half minutes are spent on an extended introduction where the guitarists warm up their fingers and three instrumental passages of varying lengths placed between the verses where Jerry Garcia takes the lead on his recently purchased ’59 Strat. The second solo is an absolute knockout, where Jerry delivers a flurry of hot blues rock licks at blazing speed. He’s backed by exceptionally energetic bass runs from Phil Lesh while Bob Weir abandons straight rhythm guitar for well-timed counterpoint riffs. With all three guitarists essentially engaged in providing melodies and counterpoints, the burden of maintaining the rhythm falls almost entirely on Bill Kreutzmann, who alternates between straight beat, double time and urgent fills that encourage the guitarists to keep on pluckin’. Whew!
After the singers return to harmonize on the next verse, Keith Godchaux’s piano becomes more prominent in the mix. Though he’s primarily focused on the rhythmic aspect of the instrument in this song, his tone and touch are quite beautiful, adding a nice bit of brightness to the arrangement while giving the perfectly executed fade and finish more pizazz.
“He’s Gone” (Garcia-Hunter): According to the page in the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, the subject of the song is Mickey Hart’s father, who served as the band’s manager for a while before he suddenly disappeared, taking a big chunk of the Dead’s earnings with him. The meaning of the song has morphed over time, “played often quite tenderly when someone close to the band dies.”
I hope they remember to change the lyrics when honoring the dear departed, as I sure wouldn’t want to be eulogized as a “rat in a drain ditch” who would “steal your face right off of your head.”
While Hunter’s lyrics are full of vitriol, the music is relaxed and the vocals are pretty much free of anger and bitterness—more “live and learn” than “we’re gonna get that motherfucker someday.” The song clocks in at nearly seven minutes, but the combination of gorgeous vocal harmonies, sweet guitar licks and a compelling storyline is so engaging that you hardly notice.
“One More Saturday Night” (Weir): I suppose you could classify this piece as a breakup song, or more accurately, a “behind-the-scenes breakup song.” Bob Weir and Robert Hunter frequently quarreled over lyrics, but Weir’s proposed changes to this set of lyrics proved to be the breaking point for Hunter. According to AGDL, “In the end, he declined any association with the song and it was credited to Weir alone.” The break was permanent; Weir found a new partner in John Perry Barlow while Hunter continued to work with Garcia and Lesh.
Weir’s lyrics lack the sophistication of Hunter’s more poetic offerings, but for fuck’s sake, this is a party song and the only lines that matter to the party-goers are “Uhuh, Hey! Saturday Night!/Yeh, uhuh one more Saturday night/Hey Saturday night!” Par-TAY!
Check that. I forgot about the stoners in the crowd who likely went apeshit over “The temperature keeps risin’, everybody gittin’ high.”
The music is a delightful mix of rhythms (funk-to-rock) and styles (the guitars are late 60s and Keith’s piano is somewhere between Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard). The classic drive-it-home fade features the Grateful Dead at their rocking best, with guitars flying, drums and bass thumping and Weir loading his vocals with extra helpings of grit and passion.
The song’s first release occurred mid-tour, appearing on Weir’s solo album Ace. The decision to release a solo album had nothing to do with the Weir-Hunter spat; throughout the 70s and beyond, many a member of the Dead produced “solo” albums, often with their bandmates providing backup.
“Jack Straw” (Weir-Hunter): The AGDL page on this song is loaded with user speculation as to the meaning of “Jack Straw,” mostly focusing on the name (Jack Straw) or the noun (jackstraw). None of those explanations grabbed me, especially because hardly anyone mentioned that Jack had a traveling companion named Shannon. I scrolled down to the bottom of the page and found a link to Robert Hunter’s original manuscript which in turn led me to the first part in a series on Sing Out! titled “Murder Ballad Monday” written by Patrick Blackman and preserved for prosperity in the Internet Archive. Blackman found it curious that the song was originally a Bob Weir solo vocal but sometime during the Europe ’72 tour, it became a duet featuring Weir and Garcia.
Patrick Blackman is now my all-time favorite song detective:
It’s often noted that “Jack Straw” is a song in two voices, like the ancient murder ballad “Edward“. This is critical, though not because of the comparison. Jerry Garcia gave voice to Shannon and Bob Weir channeled Jack. The narrative passages and some other key lines were usually harmonized by the two, and with others in the band depending on the lineup. But the key conversation in the ballad was shared by Jerry and Bobby. It seems like it was crafted that way; it feels natural and keeps the song in graceful balance . . .
It doesn’t matter why, really. It seems clear to me that the change to performance in two voices, whenever it happened and for whatever reason, was a breakthrough that allowed both Garcia and Weir to ‘inhabit’ the characters in the song . . . One singer couldn’t truly ‘be’ both Jack and Shannon, for himself or for the audience, and still have the song fire on all cylinders. Whether the Grateful Dead considered the change carefully or decided on it in a blaze of inspiration, there is no doubt that singing the song in two voices allowed it to come into its own.
This is crucial because if you don’t pick up on the dialogue between the characters, you will understandably assume that Jack Straw is the bad guy. It turns out that Shannon is the psychopath and Jack spared the American justice system from having to spend a ton of money on a trial when he “cut his buddy down/and dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down.”
The song begins with the two traveling partners roaming through the States and singing in harmony about how “We can share the women, we can share the wine.” The subsequent line indicates some tension between the two because each feels the other guy is getting more pussy or more wine (“We can share what we got of yours ’cause we done shared all of mine”). They both accuse each other of slowing up the pace (“Keep on rollin’ my old buddy, you’re movin’ much too slow”), another indication that this isn’t a marriage made in heaven and the expiration date is fast approaching.
In the first verse, Jack realizes that he’s made a terrible choice in companions, for the only life Shannon recognizes as worth saving is his own:
Shannon (Garcia): “I just jumped the watchman, right outside the fence/Took his rings, four bucks in change, ain’t that Heaven sent?”
Jack (Weir): “Hurts my ears to listen, Shannon, burns my eyes to see/Cut down a man in cold blood, Shannon, might as well been me.”
Jack then launches into a soliloquy, observing that “We used to play for silver, now we play for life,” and concluding “There ain’t a winner in this game, he don’t go home with all . . . not with all.” He realizes he’s in a kill-or-be-killed situation.
Jack doesn’t immediately off his pal, indicating the hesitation of a man who knows that killing is wrong. Their travels continue in relative peace until Shannon tells Jack that he’s ready to kill again:
Shannon (Garcia): “Gotta go to Tulsa, first train we can ride/Gotta settle one old score, one small point of pride.”
Jack (Weir): “There ain’t a place a man can hide, Shannon, will keep him from the sun/Ain’t a bed can give us rest now, you keep us on the run.”
The closing narrative is sung in harmony, where we learn that Jack finally whacked his buddy “Half a mile from Tucson.”
The poetry concludes with an ironic echo of the final line of the introductory narrative: “One man gone and another to go, my old buddy, you’re moving much too slow.” Setting aside the likely pangs of conscience, I don’t think Jack has to worry about getting caught and doing time. Assuming that the events took place in the early 20th century, half a mile from Tucson would have been prime buzzard country and I’m sure that the scavengers would have had a grand old time disposing of Shannon’s remains.
For most of the song, the arrangement is appropriately restrained; the volume rises only during the soliloquy and the closing verse. Garcia is always a standout, but Phil’s bass runs in the quiet parts are first-rate and Keith’s piano is always a welcome touch. The guy who deserves most of the credit for this superb piece of work is the late Robert Hunter, whose poetry often explored the dark side of the American soul.
“You Win Again” (Hank Williams): If you’re going to do a cover song, you can hardly go wrong with Hank Williams, but Jerry’s vocal doesn’t come close to competing with Hank’s heartfelt mournfulness on the original. Oh, well.
“China Cat Sunflower” (Garcia-Hunter)/”I Know You Rider” (Traditional blues): Oddly enough, the people responsible for the track listing entered these two songs as separate tracks. There is no gap between the two songs and the Dead nearly always melded the two into a single performance. The combined piece allegedly mirrors the Dead’s transition from psychedelia to American roots music.
The commentary on the AGDL relating to “China Cat Sunflower” is extensive and sometimes insightful, but Robert Hunter’s comment cuts to the chase: “Nobody ever asked me the meaning of this song. People seem to know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s good that a few things in this world are clear to all of us.” Having listened to my parents speak in great detail about the goings-on in the Haight, I would describe “China Cat Sunflower” as a word painting of the San Francisco scene in the late 60s with imagery ranging from East-West fusion to cartoon characters to the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Hunter paints a picture of intense color, offbeat characters and counterculture curiosities, writing in a style influenced by Dame Edith Stillwell’s “Polka.” As for “I Know You Rider,” it’s an old blues song that has undergone several metamorphoses through the years.
“China Cat Sunflower” went through a metamorphosis as well. The original 1969 version on Aoxomoxoa is seriously psychedelic with layers of vocal harmony patches and Pigpen’s ever-present organ, which occasionally mimics a calliope. None of the psychedelic touches appear on the Europe ’72 version, making it impossible to truly appreciate the leap from psychedelia to roots. On the plus side, the stripped-down, guitar-dominated live version allows for greater tonal continuity in the combined piece, especially given the Dead’s choice to play “I Know You Rider” in country blues style as opposed to giving it the Chicago treatment.
The pairing works for the most part, especially in the contrast between the sweeter guitar tones on “China Cat Sunflower” and the occasionally rougher tones on “I Know You Rider.” My only complaint is that the vocals aren’t loud enough in the mix—one of very few misses in a very impressive recording.
“Brown-Eyed Women” (Garcia-Hunter): This is a song about the eternal strength of familial bonds, a perspective you may resist if your familial paradigm is the Cleavers.
I haven’t watched every episode of Leave It to Beaver, but I’m pretty sure that Ward Cleaver would have never “drank to the dregs of the whisky jar” or “paid his way selling red-eye gin” during Prohibition—and there is no way in hell that Ward would have spent his spare time servicing women other than his wife. June might have been willing to give birth to eight kids, but I seriously doubt she would have indulged in adultery to supply half of the brood. And it’s highly unlikely that either Wally or the Beav could have “turned bad” or “cut hick’ry to fire the still” in support of their father’s bootlegging.
The narrator of the story is the youngest son, who did indeed turn bad, allegedly because he “didn’t get the lickings that the other ones had.” I think it’s much more likely that consuming his old man’s hooch (with the old man’s permission) ignited his aggressive tendencies (“Drink down a bottle and you’re ready to kill”).
Logic might lead you to conclude that the story ends with the kid offing both parents for neglecting him and turning him into a mean drunk. Shit like that happens in a lot of dysfunctional families, right?
Nope. The death of his mother strengthens the kid’s bond with his father. He feels empathy for the old man’s loss and sadness as he observes his decline:
Tumble down shack in Bigfoot County
Snowed so hard that the roof caved in
Delilah Jones went to meet her God
and the old man never was the same again
Brown eyed women and red grenadine
the bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean
Sound of the thunder with the rain pouring down
and it looks like the old man’s getting on
Robert Hunter’s tale challenges our notion of family in multiple ways, particularly our fantasies regarding the “perfect family.” I can imagine Ward Cleaver reading this story in his easy chair and thinking, “Hmm her name is Delilah, last name Jones, has eight kids—must be one of those black families of ne’er do-wells. No doubt in my mind the kid’s going to end up in prison.” And there’s no doubt in my mind that Ward Cleaver never gave a second thought to the challenges poor families face in keeping the family together.
The general feel of the song combines tenderness and regret, in large part due to Jerry Garcia’s sensitive and compassionate vocal.
“Hurts Me Too” (Elmore James-Marshall Sehorn): Pigpen’s sole contribution up to this point in the proceedings was limited to way-in-the-background organ on “You Win Again.” Here he whips off the invisibility cloak to provide the lead vocal and harmonica on the Elmore James classic and acquits himself pretty well. He was smart enough not to attempt mimicking Elmore’s no-holds-barred vocal approach, supplying similar grit only on the first line of the third verse, when he expresses his undying love for the chick who left him for another guy. Pigpen’s rendition is damned sad, a more-than-valid interpretation given the circumstances. His harmonica solo is equally restrained, a mix of held notes and blues bends that reinforce the sense of despair.
The other band members provide more-than-adequate support, but I find Bob Weir’s rhythm-counterpoint guitar quite fascinating. Rather than boring us to death with straight blues chords, Weir offers up a mix of arpeggios, two-note-chords and finger-slide variations that add some spark to the arrangement.
“Ramble On Rose” (Garcia Hunter): This may seem ass-backward but I need to share the first verse with you right now or you’ll never make sense of what follows. Here goes:
Just like Jack the Ripper
Just like Mojo Hand
Just like Billy Sunday
In a shotgun ragtime band
Just like New York City,
Just like Jericho
Pace the halls and climb the walls
Get out when they blow
You can forget about a definitive interpretation on this one, as the poetry is more about the meter than the meaning. From the AGDL:
The song lyric is structured in trochaic rhythm, with paired verses consisting of two lines of triameter, one of quadrameter, and another of triameter, for a total of 13 strong feet (!) per verse. The verses’ rhyming pattern is A, B, C, [C], B; with the bracketed [C] being an optional internal rhyme: halls, walls; chains/change; and plush/flush. There are seven verses, with the first six in pairs. The final verse stands alone, carrying into the final chorus.
Ah yes! All the stuff that tempted you to cut your high school English class! Here’s the AGDL take on interpretation:
Perhaps the main point made by this song is that a lyric doesn’t need a firm interpretation in order to be evocative. Depending on the listener, this song could be about American music itself, or about a card game, or about a man saying so long to an immature lover . . . There is no black and white answer to this song, just as there is no black and white answer to the questions of life itself. Hunter’s hyperbolic use of the “just like” simile is a way of granting us the freedom to find our metaphors where we may, depending on the situation.
Or perhaps Hunter felt like engaging in metrical wordplay and didn’t even think of granting the reader freedom to do anything. I have to admit I’m completely useless here because I can’t get the Nat King Cole song out of my head. Feel free to share your own interpretation in the comments section.
I will say that the music is quite pleasant and the band negotiates the syncopations with due precision. It’s obvious from Jerry’s enthusiastic vocal that he gets it, so focusing on his voice might help you with metaphor creation.
“Sugar Magnolia” (Weir-Hunter): Interpretation.
This performance is so exciting that when it ends I start praying to Mr. Peabody to please, please, please turn on the Wayback Machine and send me back to the Olympia Theatre in Paris on May 4, 1972, so I can experience the magical moment live and in person.
I wonder . . . maybe I was there. A New Age aficionado once told me that it usually takes somewhere between five and ten years to process a past life before reincarnation. Since I was born about nine years after the concert, the timing is right, and let’s face it—doesn’t “You are the best thing to hit France since Joan of Fucking Arc!” sound exactly like me?
Let me consult with a psychic and get back to you on that.
Bob Weir’s classic rhythm riff kicks things off and the band immediately connects with the groove. The most noticeable variation from the studio version is Godchaux’s piano, adding textural contrast to the rougher guitars and a touch of harmonic joy. Weir’s vocal is spot-on, and even in the early stages you can hear his voice dripping with anticipation. The two-part and three-part harmonies combine with Jerry’s guitar licks to supply the necessary variation but Bob’s voice captures most of my attention—this song is his baby, and he fucking knows it.
Though it’s scarcely noticeable, a slow build in energy and intensity begins at around the two-minute mark, reaches another peak when the boys harmonize on “She’s got everything delightful/She’s got everything I need,” then moves up another notch with the brief key change to B on the lines “Sometimes when the night is dying.” Things get really intense when Keith drops out of rhythmic support to issue a musical alarm bell consisting of an intense flurry of single notes, Bob lets out a healthy “WAH-YEAH!” and the band shifts into high gear, riding a noticeably quicker tempo. Jerry’s ripping it, Keith and Bill are pounding away and goddamn I want them to keep it up until the cows come home . . . but alas, they come to a full stop to allow the crowd to let off some steam. Shee-it.
Wait! It’s a deke! They’re back with the “Sunshine Daydream” close! Yeah, baby! In the very brief interval, Bob picked up a new vocal partner in Donna Godchaux, whose soulful voice perfectly complements Weir’s subtly melodic vocalizations, raising the excitement level to a fever pitch. When the song crosses the finish line, we hear a tiny bit of dampened crowd noise, but I’m sure that even the hopelessly anal French of that era had jumped out of their seats and were dancing in the aisles.
The Dead would employ that bit of trickery on “Sugar Magnolia” for years to come and I’ll bet it worked every time.
“Mr. Charlie” (McKernan-Hunter):
Based on highly circumstantial evidence, one of the contributors to the AGDL argued that Mr. Charlie is Charles Manson. Pure baloney.
Mr. Charlie is a historical term used by African Americans to describe a white man in power: slave owner, boss man, Governor, whatever. In this song, Mr. Charlie is an invisible presence, likely a drug distributor who hired a black man to do the dirty work of flooding black neighborhoods with heroin and cocaine. If that sounds like a Mafia operation, you’re probably right—according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “The Mafia has also worked closely with domestic traffickers such as outlaw motorcycle gangs, black organized crime groups, and local drug dealers.”
The “shotgun” mentioned in the song is a hypodermic needle, so the hired help is a full-service asshole who exploits his own kind to make a buck: “I won’t even take your life, won’t even take a limb/Just unload my shotgun, take a little skin.” He’s either kidding himself about not taking a life or doesn’t give a shit if addiction has an adverse impact on the user’s lifespan.
Over a jaunty funk-tinged beat, Pigpen plays his role to perfection with just the right amount of cockiness in his voice, sort of a vocalized version of strutting one’s stuff. The band is tight and the spot harmonies are right on the money.
“Tennessee Jed” (Garcia-Hunter): In the lyrical collection Box of Rain, Hunter commented, “‘Tennessee Jed’ originated in Barcelona, Spain. Topped up on vino tinto, I composed it aloud to the sound of a jaw harp twanged between echoing building faces by someone strolling half a block ahead of me in the late summer twilight.”
Hunter’s colorful explanation aside, guzzling all that red wine resulted in an uninteresting tale about a man named Jed who for some reason has a hankering to get back to Tennessee—and Jerry Garcia’s music only makes things worse. The song takes forever to unfold, in large part due to Garcia’s decision to insert a complementary instrumental passage between each of the first two verse lines then slow things down even further with an odd third line set to the ill-fitting chord pattern of C/Cdim7/Dm7/C /C7. By the time they get to the extended instrumental passage I’ve lost all interest and feel somewhat resentful about wasting seven minutes and eleven seconds on this song when I could have used the time to do my nails.
“Truckin'” (Garcia-Lesh-Weir-Hunter): Interpretation. /”Epilog” (Garcia-Keith Godchaux-Bill Kreutzmann-Lesh-McKernan-Weir):
“Truckin'” merges seamlessly into “Epilog,” and since the term “epilogue” is defined as “a comment on or a conclusion to what has happened,” it makes sense to approach side #5 as a three-part suite.
But before I begin, I feel obliged to issue a stern warning:
EXTENDED INSTRUMENTAL PASSAGES AHEAD. ANYONE WHO DARES TO CLASSIFY THESE PASSAGES AS A POINTLESS JAM WILL HAVE TO ANSWER TO ME!
Part One: “Truckin'”: This is the rendition of the song proper, similar to the American Beauty take but without acoustic guitar or organ. The most notable difference is the change in texture Jerry coaxes out of his new Strat, resulting in brighter and more sinuous lead fills. The harmonies are perfectly executed, with all three singers handling the subtle changes in phrasing with aplomb. Best of all, the Dead avoid the temptation common in live performances to over-energize the music with greater volume or increased speed, choosing instead to follow the dynamics of the original by lowering or increasing the volume as demanded by the song. This part of the suite ends when Bob and Jerry stop repeating variations of the fade phrase, “Get back truckin’ on” at about the 5:30 mark.
Part Two: Extended Musical Statement on “Truckin'”: After taking a few seconds to firm up the groove, Bob Weir asserts himself with a phrase that combines a clever upward arpeggio with sharp, punctuating chords. Jerry gives Bob some space before responding with complementary replies and for the next seven-plus minutes the two guitarists trade licks in various settings, sometimes signaling the band to simmer down and occasionally cueing the band to ramp it up. What’s fascinating is the synergy between the two guitarists—at times they respond to each other’s cues so quickly that you’re convinced they’re sharing the same brain. At no point in the extended statement does either guitarist try to take over the proceedings or lose touch with the developing theme. The other players give the guitarists plenty of space to explore their ideas, unobtrusively adding color or rhythmic variation only as needed. The dynamics alternate between rock drive and sweet stillness as determined by the paths taken by Garcia and Weir. If you’re a parent and you want to teach your wannabe rockstar about the vital importance of collaboration in music, this is the place to start.
Part Three: “Epilog”: Toward the end of the extended statement, Phil Lesh steps in with a high-fretboard bass riff that rises and declines, signaling the change to “Epilog.” Jerry and Bob had been exchanging twisty arpeggios in the previous segment and continue in that mode for a few seconds to ensure continuity before Weir establishes a new rhythmic pattern marked by light syncopation. The piece then moves through several time signature changes and idea fragments, ending on a sustained feedback-generated note on Jerry’s guitar. Much more on the experimental side than the first two parts of the suite, “Epilog” reveals that the suite is a journey from roots rock to progressive.
“Prelude” (Garcia-Keith Godchaux-Bill Kreutzmann-Lesh-McKernan-Weir): “Prelude” continues the exploration of the experimental, though this journey is more Cubist than Fauvist. The piece alternates between assonance and dissonance in the form of conflicting chords, diminished chords, multiple modalities, spooky guitar sounds and dramatically jarring builds. Godchaux’s piano clearly influences the direction of the piece, with the guitarists frequently building off his dissonant runs. The title “Prelude” indicates that the music can only be appreciated after listening to the main piece, which in this case is a song about nuclear armageddon.
“Morning Dew” (Bonnie Dobson-Tim Rose): Bonnie Dobson’s 1962 composition contains no mention of missiles, blast radius, mushroom clouds or fallout. This tells us that the fear of nuclear war was so prevalent at the time that listeners could grasp Bonnie’s message without references to the ugly details.
The Dead modified some of her lyrics, mostly involving the usual gender changes when a man sings a song written by a woman. The second change had much more impact because it involved adding a new closing verse which served to intensify the song’s message.
The scene is post-holocaust with the survivors attempting to escape the fallout by hunkering down in shelters or houses haphazardly wrapped in duct tape. A two-part conversation takes place between a mother and child (in Bonnie’s version) or a man and his companion (Dead version). Bonnie’s use of the morning dew metaphor was well-chosen, setting up the contrast between the inherent beauty of one of nature’s delights with the ugliness that often lurks in the human soul. Jerry’s vocal reflects the infinite sadness of the unthinkable, sometimes lowering his voice to a level barely above a whisper as if to say “There are no words . . . ” With Jerry primarily focused on the vocal, Bob Weir steps up with a series of echoing rhythmic counterpoints enhanced by some well-timed organ shots from Pigpen and Godchaux’s tender piano.
The first two verses only hint at the catastrophe, but by the third verse it becomes apparent that the unimaginable moment has arrived:
Walk me out in the morning dew my honey,
Walk me out in the morning dew today.
I can’t walk you out in the morning dew my honey,
I can’t walk you out in the morning dew today.
I thought I heard a baby cry this morning,
I thought I heard a baby cry this today.
You didn’t hear no baby cry this morning,
You didn’t hear no baby cry today.
Where have all the people gone my honey,
Where have all the people gone today.
There’s no need for you to be worrying about all those people,
You’ll never see those people anyway.
After a verse where voice #1 thinks they heard “a young man moan this morning,” the narrative breaks to allow Jerry to express his emotions through his guitar. His suitably mournful solo lands somewhere between the darkness of blues and the sweetness of morning dew.
While Bonnie leaves her characters in limbo, the Dead’s version offers a possible conclusion to the tragedy, one that addresses the core existential questions. What’s the point of living when everyone else is gone? What’s the point of living another day if we’re going to die in a few weeks anyway?
Walk me out in the morning dew my honey,
Walk me out in the morning dew today.
I’ll walk you out in the morning dew my honey,
I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway,
I guess it doesn’t matter anyway,
I guess it doesn’t matter anyway
After a more tortured instrumental passage that conveys the conflict between the survival instinct and cold reality, Jerry concludes:
Guess it doesn’t matter anyway
Let’s hope that the state of human affairs never arrives at a point where we are forced to make such a terrible choice.
I’ll close with a curious comment I found in the GDAO regarding press coverage of the Europe 72′ tour:
In general, the European press corps treated the band kindly and seriously, and band members responded with a seriousness often absent in their American press encounters, answering questions with few traces of their Pranksteresque irony.
Despite the band’s impressive legacy, I don’t think Americans have ever fully appreciated the Grateful Dead. The Dead and their followers are often dismissed as aging hippies or quaint relics from the Summer of Love. Many associate the term “Deadhead” with “stoner.” As mentioned above, there are quite a few Merkins out there who refuse to believe that the Dead qualify as competent musicians. Kurt Cobain hated the Dead, but Kurt Cobain hated anything associated with hippiedom and probably never bothered to listen to them.
Americans seem to be born with a need to hate someone, whether it’s communists, hippies, people of color, immigrants or the rival football team, so I guess the Dead got caught up in that bullshit. Hate is usually based on ignorance and is often passed down from parents. My dad hated the Dodgers so I hated the Dodgers. Pure silliness.
I can understand why people might not care for the Dead’s music, as we all have different tastes, but when people claim that the members of the Dead are shitty musicians, it’s clear that they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Europe ’72 offers plenty of evidence that the Dead were serious musicians blessed with exceptional talent.
And best of all, they knew how to fucking play.