The Shot Heard Round the World

The Shot Heard Round the World

This Grateful Dead show at the Beat Club in Bremen, West Germany, April 21, 1972, was the show that turned me onto the Grateful Dead around 35 years ago. Got on the bus as the hippies say. It’s not even one of their best shows, although certainly one of the most unique on video, and Donna was squawking away, but it didn’t matter. 1972 is one of their top years. And a show with Pigpen and Keith is special. Out of the many keyboardists the Dead have had, Keith Godchaux was my favorite with Bruce Hornsby second. This was one of Pigpen’s last shows.

Where and how I grew up in South Carolina, good music wasn’t exactly easy to come by. I was born a poor black child, you see. Good music anywhere was tough, but especially in a little town of 500 in S.C. To get true alternative music back then, before alternative was mainstream and was actually an alternative to pop instead of being pop, you ordered records from magazines out of New York. My mother, fortunately, saved a big box of 45s from the beach house from the 50s and early 60s, and a stack of LPs that dated back to the late 1800’s I think. Seriously. Inch-thick discs of classical that played at obscure turntable speeds. But what was played mostly on the old Victrola was a lot of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Enrico Caruso, and other opera and country and western selections mostly. My father’s musical reach was the hook from Ray Stevens’ “The Streak,” and that was about it. We had a radio of course but with poor reception of crummy stations, who bothered? If you wanted to buy a record or cassette tape, you had the Record Bar at the mall, which sold mostly the same crap that was on the radio, or the seedy cinder-block building on the other part of town that sold classic rock and some good stuff, but was known more for their vast porn selection than their music. So I only went in there when my dad took me.

I had listened to Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor and the usual South Carolina fare that all my friends listened to, but I also listened to a lot of those old 45s of my mother’s. Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis were two artists whose hits I listened to a lot. All sorts of obscure hits from those decades were in that stack, and a lot of them were fun for a kid to listen to, like “Splish Splash,” etc…but I got a good feeling for the dawn of rock and roll and pre-rock. The Beatles totally saved humanity from some seriously terrible music. Paul Anka? Tiny Tim? Seriously?

And then one day, in the early 1980’s, I saw the cut of “One More Saturday Night” from this show (@30:20 in the video below). I saw it once, my jaw hit the ground, and that was it. Which made sense since VCRs were still a new technology and what you watched was whatever was on one of the 3 stations. But few things have hit me as resolutely as that did. Like Jehovah’s favorite choir. Seeing these guys play such energetic, raw rock and roll and the colorful wild hippie set and such intense and competent musicianship, and I was sold. (You have to think, this was the 1980’s and synth and bubblegum crap music was everywhere. Seeing guys actually playing instruments like that live and sounding so unique, real, musically complex(they have 7 people on stage) and completely awesome was amazing!) The modulation gets the blood pumping, too. Musically it was familiar. A big influence on Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing is obviously Chuck Berry which you can hear in One More Saturday Night and of course his cover of Johnny B. Goode and Promised Land among other songs that leak out the influence from that era like Not Fade Away. Plus Keith’s piano playing, with his runs and trills and ragtime feel was reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis. And no racks of stupid synthesizers everywhere like Devo-or far, far worse in the 80’s- but just Keith over on the side banging away at a piano with a bottle of Coke next to him. I still love watching and listening to it, even though musically it’s not their finest version. It’s pretty good though because of the energy. That’s easy to say though when you have a trillion shows under your belt. It’s still great and I still love it like the first time I saw/heard it in fact, if not more because I know the Dead pretty well now.

And before I get a bunch of emails telling me the Grateful Dead are terrible, I realize this is my opinion and they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Their time signatures are non-standard, which a lot of people don’t like, and the nontraditional arrangements are too much for some people as well. Jerry’s style involves coming in just a little late on vocals and guitar every now and then I’ve noticed, which he does on on purpose usually, which also may put some people off very subtly. Or maybe it’s just Donna, or whatever, but save your time and breath; I know it. I’ve heard it before a time or two. Thankfully, we don’t all have to appreciate each others’ music. I mean Slim Whitman was great and all…

I’ve also heard so many of their shows so many times now, I find I can pick out more and more unique information just by listening to them, like a sommelier can tell you about a bottle of wine by taking a sip. and this new sound system I have is revealing some amazing details I’ve never heard, like heaving breaths and picks hitting the strings and new percussion and subtle runs and phrases I’d never picked up on. In some cases entire instruments that you couldn’t hear in the background. It’s like hearing a lot of these shows for the first time again, which is pretty great. Especially with the frequent releases of all their best shows professionally remastered, like Cornell 5/8/77 etc… in really good audio quality.

The Dead’s sound evolved of course from a jug band quickly to rock and roll, and within that the songs and styles were dynamic. Psychedelia to country and western to old spirituals to jazz numbers to everything in between. Even a polka thrown in here and there. It’s partially why they’re the longest enduring band ever. This period in the 70’s was my favorite(minus the horrible disco-Dead with Go to Heaven-style “Street” songs. My least favorite Dead songs are Dancing in the Streets and Shakedown Street. And Looks like Rain.), with the early 80’s and late 60’s right behind. Those were different eras in several ways. The repertoire pivoting each time for one. Different instruments. Different hairstyles even. Lots of stuff. The worst being when they added the MIDI and went digital in the early 90’s. That’s also when the Dead became seriously mainstream and took on a life of its own. Weird to say when they packed a million people into their shows. But the partying and parking lot scene were out of control. It became about nothing but partying and the music was highly secondary. That’s when I stopped going to shows. It goes from novel at first, to distracting, then annoying after a while. I blame MTV, as I do with a lot of the decline of the general quality of the music scene in the US. How hot you were became more important than how good you were musically. That’s a big conversation for another time.

I recently remembered that I used to make the A/V guys at my high school play and replay the “One More Saturday Night” clip for me on Saturdays when I was stuck on campus, because only a few qualified geeks students could hit Play/Stop/Rewind on the highly-technical VCR on the cart in the A/V center. Which was basically the library attic if I also remember right. What made me think of that was how things have changed since those days. I’m watching it now, at my total leisure, on a giant high-def screen on an audiophile-grade sound system. I can’t wait to see what media consumption is like in 30+ more years. I’m sure the guys in the band couldn’t begin to imagine their humble shows would one day be broadcast like they are. Bobby, with the ponytail, turns 70 this year. And he’s the youngest by quite a few years, since he ran off with the band when he was 16. In the decades following this performance, both keyboardists and the guitarist would be dead, the bassist will have a liver transplant and they’ll add another drummer. And make a ton of great music playing a few thousand shows in between, all available at our fingertips.


Spanish lady comes to me, she lays on me this rose…

The Story of The Hurricane

The Story of The Hurricane

Bob Dylan fan or not, you have to be impressed with anyone that can perform this entire song. It’s long.

Interestingly, it was written by a team of people (Written by Falana Brown, Tarik L Collins, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Mercedes Martinez, Tracey M Moore, Denard Smith, Scott Storch, Scott Spencer Storch) and not Bob Dylan. In any case, it’s a cool song and story and worth saving here for easy access.

I don’t expect this video to be posted very long. It gets taken down all the time for copyright reasons. But in the meantime… It’s my favorite version because of the accompanists. Bob Dylan is around three feet tall, which you can kind of pick up here as well.

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees a bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out my God, they killed them all
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see
And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously
I didn’t do it, he says, and he throws up his hands
I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you understand
I saw them leavin’, he says, and he stops
One of us had better call up the cops
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’
In the hot New Jersey night

Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Paterson that’s just the way things go
If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
‘Less you want to draw the heat

Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around
He said, I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said, wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men

Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in
They took him to the hospital and they brought him upstairs
The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye
Says, wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!
Here’s the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Four months later, the ghettos are in flame
Rubin’s in South America, fightin’ for his name
While Arthur Dexter Bradley’s still in the robbery game
And the cops are puttin’ the screws to him, lookin’ for somebody to blame
Remember that murder that happened in a bar
Remember you said you saw the getaway car
You think you’d like to play ball with the law
Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night
Don’t forget that you are white

Arthur Dexter Bradley said I’m really not sure
The cops said a poor boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we’re talkin’ to your friend Bello
You don’t wanta have to go back to jail, be a nice fellow
You’ll be doin’ society a favor
That sonofabitch is brave and gettin’ braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain’t no Gentleman Jim

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
And ride a horse along a trail
But then they took him to the jailhouse
Where they try to turn a man into a mouse

All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed

Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder one, guess who testified
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That’s the story of the Hurricane
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world