Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal

November 30, 2005 (link)

11:06 PM

The second concert I ever attended was the Grateful Dead, live at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA. Right on their home turf, and in the company of my sister's boyfriend (now ex-husband), D., by way of his motorcycle. I've always enjoyed telling people about it -- about how the concert started an hour late; about the guy who came on the PA, ten minutes or so before the band took the stage, and made nonsense noises for a solid minute or more; about the pot smoke floating around (no contact high for me); about the fact that, from what I remembered, the music started out kind of meh, eventually got pretty good -- but ultimately didn't prevent us (and by "us" I mainly mean "me") from opting, about 70-80 minutes in, to abandon ship and go get Taco Bell.

(In my defense, I thought I was being considerate -- D. had to get up early for work the next day. Besides, before my trip out to the West Coast, I'd never made a run for the border, and I was pretty enamored of those soft tacos.)

Most of all, I enjoyed telling people about how young I was: a Grateful Dead show! My second concert, ever! Jumping in at the deep end of the pool, right? I was only, what...

(Er, wait a minute...how old was I, again?)

And there was the rub -- I couldn't figure out how old I'd been, because I couldn't remember which concert I'd gone to, or even what year. The Dead played the Shoreline Amphitheatre a lot, and though I knew I'd gone sometime when I was in middle school, I couldn't place it any more precisely than that. I didn't recognize a single one of the songs at the time, so checking setlists was out. Ergo, unless someone had a tape with the crazy babble guy on it, I figured it'd remain a mystery.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through an envelope full of various bits and pieces that I'd saved over the years -- autographs, ticket stubs, a note from Amy George with a drawing of her brain: you get the idea. Some of it I'd thought was lost (like my Don Cherry autograph), some I'd forgotten I even had (like the ticket stub from that ill-starred Ladysmith Black Mambazo show). Lo and behold, buried among all the other stuff in there was my Grateful Dead ticket stub, spelling it out: "June 19, 1989". So I was all of 12 years old! (Thus entitling me, no doubt, to stand around a head shop somewhere -- or to set up a table in some college commons, selling bootleg CDRs to trustafarian undergrads -- and say, "Dude, I've been seeing Jerry since I was twelve...")

I'd heard that archive.org had a huge collection of Grateful Dead live recordings, so my next step was to wander on over there and see if my show was in there. Sure enough, it was, and supposedly a soundboard in excellent quality too. I cued up the MP3 stream, and took a trip down memory lane...

...a trip whose main consequence was to make me say, "Hmmm, I guess that Taco Bell break wasn't such a bad idea after all!" Not that the show was lousy, it just wasn't particularly good. The tunes weren't my speed, the playing was spotty, the keyboards sounded cheesy, the vocals were ragged at best. "It's the Grateful Dead, what did you expect?" says the reader, and I can only respond in one of two ways -- either (a), "Well, I thought I remembered that it got pretty good after a while...", or (b), "But -- but -- but Live/Dead! I mean, c'mon!"

Now, this would normally be the part where I'd say that -- since I auditioned the show as low-bitrate MP3s played through my PowerBook's tinny speakers -- I ought to give the show a second listen, to re-evaluate it, and to try to be more charitable (or at least that'd be the subtext). And normally I would: in fact, I was planning on downloading the SHNs so that I could burn copies for my colleagues in Waldo, maybe Mark the Mailman too, and say, "Hey, guys, I was at this show! I know, it's not so hot, but I was there!"

But then I discovered the Grateful Dead had decided to pull most of their concert recordings from archive.org. Only tapes recorded from the audience would be available henceforth, and furthermore, those recordings could only be streamed: downloading the shows, let alone as lossless SHNs, was no longer permitted or possible.

And that was going to be the end of this post -- together with some grumblings and a scathing remark or two (would've been a real zinger! snap, crackle, and pop!) -- but it seems that, as of just a few hours ago, a kind of compromise has been reached. I don't get my soundboard SHNs, alas, but then again I appreciate the argument raised here:

Steve Bernstein, the publisher of Relix magazine, which began in the 1970's as an outlet for Deadhead tape trading, said the split reflected the band's current position. Although the surviving members still sometimes play together as the Dead, he said, their most reliable income comes from new releases of old concert recordings. So their avid file-sharing fans are now also their competitors.

Which is fair enough. But on the other hand, as someone wrote on one of the archive.org threads:

GDP may see this move as sound business, but they are violating an old business tenet: don't give anyone anything that you aren't prepared to give everyone forever. When you take away something that you have been giving for a long time, you are going to piss people off.

And you know, that's true too!

(If you're wondering who my first concert ever was: a folk trio called Shays' Rebellion, when I was about 10 years old. My dad and I went to see them together -- probably someplace in Massachusetts, or maybe Manchester or Nashua -- and I still have the LP, somewhere, which has probably helped my memories of the show to stay more vivid than they otherwise would have been. "Oh dear me / The mill is running fast"...)

Current music: Gateway Trio - "Back-woods Song" (live at the Village Gate, Jan. 19, 1976)

(Comments for November 30, 2005)


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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling


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