SOUL SEARCHING WITH TONY, DUB AND THE DEAD
I work with two Deadheads. Or rather, one Deadhead and one guy who loves the music but also knows the value of a good bath. But you get the point. I've never liked the Dead. Not that I've listened to them much, or more than I have to, really. I've heard Anthem Of The Sun and the first album and Workingman's Dead and Reckoning and In The Dark and a few others, and snippets of plenty of bootlegs, and none of it has ever made much of an impression, except when the singing gets too out of tune and I frantically start looking for the nearest exit, or at least the nearest wall to smash my head into.
If my co-workers want to put on the Dead every time I leave the room and give me one of those "OK, party's over" looks when I come back, that's their business. But the other day, before I had a chance to go to the happy place in my head so I could avoid listening to Jerry and the boys, I was confronted by the more recent convert to Dead-dom. A man who, until about eight months ago, was on my side of the fence in the Dead-vs.-No-Dead debate, but has since switched sides enthusiastically.
"You know, Tony," said this fellow, whose name I shall not mention (but it rhymes with "Pal Shmunziato"), "I don't think it's that you don't like the Dead so much as you don't WANT to like the Dead. You've probably had people play you the wrong stuff -- the off-key singing and the meandering solos -- so many times that it doesn't matter to you that they write great songs, they're brilliant musicians, and Jerry's voice really is beautiful and soulful. You just don't care, do you?"
I laughed off the accusation. Narrow-minded? Moi? Just because I don't like those endless versions of "Dark Star" and Bob Weir's painful caterwauling? That doesn't make me narrow-minded. Does it?
That night, I went to see a friend's fiancee's dub band at the Knitting Factory. I went out of kindness to my friend, not out of any interest in the music. I haven't heard a whole lot of dub, but what I knew came off to me as sluggish and formless -- reggae after one spliff too many. But once I realized I couldn't escape going to the show, I decided to try and enjoy it. And for about five minutes, I did. Throbbing beats, swirling and echoey instrumentation, decent soloing... a hypnotic experience. And then I found myself thinking, "I wonder when the song starts?" Unfortunately, the "song," or at least my version of what a song is supposed to be, never did start. Instead, I got one ten-minute groove after another, with lots of echo and looping and other sonic manipulation. No hooks, no catchy choruses, no killer riffs. Kinda like... a jam band? I mentioned this to my friend and she shot me a look so cold I needed a sweater. "They're NOT... A... JAM... BAND. It's totally different. You know," she said, "you should really try to be more open-minded about music."
Twice in one day I'd been accused of having insufficiently broad musical horizons. Me! The guy who listens to Les Baxter and then the Posies and then Ray Barretto and then Al Green and then... more Les Baxter, probably, but you get the idea. So I don't like the Grateful Dead. Or jam bands in general, really. Or, for that matter, just about all '70s L.A. rock, with the exception of Fleetwood Mac. Or prog rock. Or country rock. Or jazz fusion. Or....
Yikes! Maybe my accusers were right! Maybe I've gotten it wrong all these years! I staggered home from the show and went to bed resolving to try to make peace with all the bands I've so haughtily disdained over the years. I would attempt to try to understand the appeal of genres that had thus far left me cold. Bring on those ELP CDs! And top it off with another Weather Report disc, would you? And while you're at it, howzabout a heaping helping of The Allman Brothers Live At Fillmore East?
I woke up with my equilibrium regained, and the desire to listen to music I don't like was gone, as quickly as it had appeared. But I had learned something very important. I realized that music is an intensely subjective and extremely personal thing. It ain't math. If you like A and B, you're not necessarily going to like C. At the same time, I realized that just because I don't like something doesn't mean it sucks. Just about all music, with the possible exception of 2 Live Crew, has something to recommend it. In the end, if I go wild for Pink Martini but Pink Floyd leaves me cold, it doesn't mean that one sucks and the other rules. It just means that... well, I like what I like. As the immortal bard, William Shakespeare, said, "The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves." And as the other immortal bard, George Clinton, once said, "I got a thing, you got a thing, everybody's got a thing."
The important thing, however, is to give everything a chance. You never know what might happen. If you think you hate Journey just because Steve Perry is a big-nosed, feather-haired douchebag, put on "Don't Stop Believin'" or "Any Way You Want It" and you may realize, as I did many years ago, that they've got some great songs, douchey singer or no. But as for my personal relationship with Jerry Garcia... well, let's just say that, for now at least, if you need to know whether Cornell '77 or Winterland '78 is the better Dead show to buy, ask Sal or Rob.