THE GOLDEN ROAD: A REPORT ON SAN FRANCISCO [EXCERPT]
(Part of an article on the SF music scene, written in June 1967 in NYC. "Rock Scully, a Dead manager, just walked by; the Grateful Dead are at the Cafe Au Go Go, two blocks from here.")
The Grateful Dead's first try is pure energy flow. West Coast kineticism has developed into a fine art; the first side of this album rolls with a motion so natural that one suspects the musicians have never listened to the Who or the Kinks or even the Four Tops - they have developed their own kinetic techniques without reference to the masters in the field. With one exception: this album has so much in common with The Rolling Stones, Now! as to be almost a sequel.
Of course, I'm not complaining. Now! will always stand as one of the great rock albums, and by giving us the New World, sun-rising-over-the-Pacific-Ocean version of that album, the Dead have unquestionably added to the quantity of joy around. And the Dead's LP is much more firsthand: where the Stones glorified the mythical American South rock joint in "Down the Road Apiece," the Dead give you the feeling that that kind of wonderful abandon is a part of their daily scene ("Golden Road"). The Stones assume the persona of Chuck Berry driving down the New Jersey Turnpike (which they've probably never been on!) to convey their personal energies in "You Can't Catch Me"; the Dead do a song with almost identical impact ("Good Morning Little Schoolgirl") but they don't need to think of themselves as Sonny Boy Williamson - the song goes out direct to every teenybopper in the audience, and by the time they start into the fourth minute or so, every member of the band really feels every word that Pigpen says. Musically, the Stones' performance is as good (in fact, better) than the Dead's; but where the Stones confront a mythical highway cop, the Dead confront the actual members of their audience. Hence the Grateful Dead LP, though not quite as good as Now!, is at times even more effective.
(The Stones do, of course, confront their audience in "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," but it's not emotional confrontation, it's great showmanship, posturing - similar to the Dead's terrific posturing when they "do" the whole Kingston Trio era and its approach, in "Cold Rain and Snow." I'm comparing the Dead to the Stones not to show a preference to either, but to point out the fascinating similarities in the impact of their music and in the music itself - play "Schoolgirl" after listening to "You Can't Catch Me" to appreciate the extent to which the Dead resemble the Stones in their concept of what music is and how a rock band should perform.)
The first side of the Dead album is one song, unrolling its varied but equivalent delights at top speed. "Beat It On Down the Line" ("That's where I'm going to make my happy home") moves into the certainty of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" with the ease and impact of Jean-Luc Godard. Garcia smiles, Pigpen squints, and you're on your way. And you can't turn back. "See that girl?... Well, she's coming down the stair... and I don't worry, I'm sitting on top of the world." (Appropriate J. Garcia guitar run here.) Breathless.
The flip is something else: introspective, more like a journey than a joyride. "Morning Dew" conjures loneliness, pain, uncertainty, courage; pleads, asks, questions, denies; and finally, "I guess it doesn't matter anyway." Apocalyptic. Or just resigned. "I thought I heard..."? And whatever it was, you'll find it in the song. Beautiful, with a kind of intense detachment. San Francisco isn't known for its vocalists, but this song could change all that.
"New, New Minglewood Blues" serves as a sort of bridge in the context of the album, which is not at all the nature of the song in live performance...and no doubt this is one of the many things about this LP that disappoints fans of the live Dead. The more you've grown to love Grateful Dead live performances over the years, the more difficult it must be to accept an album which is - though very beautiful - something completely different. Only "Viola Lee Blues" has any of the fantastic "this is happening now!" quality of a good Dead performance; only "Viola Lee Blues" takes you away as far as the longtime Dead fan has grown accustomed to being taken. It's an escape song - a prisoner for life dreams his way to the dim edges of space and time - and if you don't think you're a prisoner, surrender to "Viola Lee" and see what happens.
(by Paul Williams, Crawdaddy July/Aug 1967)
The full article is rather long, discusses the San Francisco community, and also covers Jefferson Airplane's first two albums, and the first albums from Country Joe and Moby Grape; it includes some pictures of live GD. It was reprinted in the Crawdaddy Book, 2002.
Here are some news clips from the "What Goes On" section of Crawdaddy. (Since the publication date was a couple months behind the "news" it reported, the actual date follows the clips.)
Issue 8, March 1967: The GRATEFUL DEAD, one of the Bay Area's two most popular live rock acts, have signed a very strong contract with Warner Brothers Records; they will be choosing their own producer and will have complete artistic control of how they are recorded. [December 1966]
Issue 9, May 1967: PHIL SPECTOR described the total assault of seeing/hearing the GRATEFUL DEAD at SF's Winterland as "unbelievable," and suggested that all visitors to America be driven directly from the airport to the nearest total environment rock ballroom. Jerry Garcia feels the same way about "River Deep Mountain High."
Issue 10, July/Aug 1967: There's still no real rock scene in New York, but things are happening very fast. (Rock Scully: "When I was here a month ago, New York was three years behind the Haight. Now it's two years behind.") The Grateful Dead came to town, and played so many free concerts that the SF tradition of music in the parks seems firmly established here.
The Group Image has been a particularly important influence on the scene. (The Image are an amorphous bunch who produce music, posters, confusion, and other useful items. As yet, their music is nothing very good, but their performance is very enjoyable - the audience makes as much noise as the Image, and it's all very tribal and very real.)
Monday nights at the Cheetah are now devoted to the community, following a marvelous Grateful Dead-Group Image concert there early in June. For the first time, the Cheetah had good people onstage and good people in the audience, and it made all the difference in the world. [June 12, 1967]
Issue 11, October 1967: One of the greatest problems facing rock music is finding suitable environments outside San Francisco for presenting good rock to large audiences. A frontal attack was made on this problem in early August when Bill Graham presented Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead at Toronto's enormous, posh O'Keefe Centre. The Dead and the Airplane performed onstage surrounded by several hundred members of the audience, dancing and smiling, with sound equipment imported from San Francisco and light shows by Head Lights (S.F.) and Sensefex (New York). The press was enthusiastic, and the audience more so - more than 20,000 saw the show at O'Keefe during the week of performances, and another 50,000 attended free concerts given by the two groups in Toronto and Montreal. The message was crystal clear: it can happen here. [July 31-August 5, 1967]
Issue 17, August 1968: The GRATEFUL DEAD were in town and did all the right things: played a fine gig outdoors at Columbia University after being snuck onto the closed campus by somebody, and climaxed an afternoon in Central Park that also included Butterfield and the Airplane (excellent set), to an audience of about 10,000 very happy, very together people. [May 3-5, 1968]