Uninhibited Creativity

Jerry Garcia formed the Grateful Dead into a business model, he had game and because of his flexibility he was able to turn the chaos of Rock and Roll into profit.  A lot of people looked up to him as being a hero and some people even considered him to be a god.  When he was 15, he played in Bobby Freeman’s ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ back in 1958.  The next year, a 16-year-old Garcia met a 12-year-old Kreutzmann when he purchased a used banjo from Kreutzmann’s father at Dana Morgan’s music store in Palo Alto.  In 1959, Garcia was briefly in a band called the Chords, ‘featuring the Golden Saxes’, a group that played ‘40s big-band tunes like Misty and they mostly played for high-school audiences.  In 1960, Garcia stole his mother’s car and as punishment he was forced to join the United States Army, but he was not a good fit for the military, as he went AWOL on occasion and he was discharged before the year was out.  In the spring of 1961, Jerry met Bob Hunter at Commedia Theater in Palo Alto, and they played two gigs together as Bob & Jerry, earning ten dollars for the shows.  In 1961, Ron Pigpen McKernan left school at the age of 16 and he started hanging out at a Palo Alto club called the Chateau, where he met a young guitarist and banjoist named Jerry Garcia.  Near the end of 1962, Pigpen got a part-time job at Swain’s Music Store in Palo Alto, and it was there more than anywhere else that the Grateful Dead seed began to grow.  Troy Weidenheimer ran Swain’s Music Store, and Pigpen knew Garcia, Garcia knew Kreutzmann, and so a short-lived band called the Zodiacs was formed.  Troy sang and was the guitarist, Ron Pigpen McKernan played harmonica, Kreutzmann was the drummer and Jerry played bass.

In the summer of 1961, Phil Lesh met Tom Constantine while they were both at the University of California, Berkley and they became roommates.  In the spring of 1962, Jerry met Phil Lesh at a party in Menlo Park’s bohemian Perry Lane neighborhood.  On New year’s Eve in 1963, the 16-year-old Bob Weir walked into Dana Morgan’s music store seeking the source of the banjo music that was wafting out from the closed shop and this is when he met Jerry Garcia.  Weir was a part-time guitar teacher like Garcia and they went into the instrument room and jammed for hours.  Bill Kreutzmann taught drums in the same music store where Garcia gave guitar lessons.  In 1964, Jerry, Pigpen and Bob Weir joined together to create a band known as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions.  In 1965, Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions went electric and evolved into the Warlocks and the 18 year old Bill Kreutzmann was added as the drummer and Phil Lesh ended up replacing Dana Morgan on bass guitar.  The Warlocks were the house band for Ken Kesey’s acid parties.

The Grateful Dead originally started with just one drummer Bill Kreutzmann.  In 1965, Mickey Hart met Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann at a nightclub called the Matrix, and was asked to sit in with the band, and in 1967, Hart joined the band as its second drummer and the duo became known as the ‘Rhythm Devils’.  In 1968, the Grateful Dead shared a two-day bill with Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane in Orange County and although the event was reported as being ‘peaceful’ and ‘mellow’ by fans who attended the festival, the Costa Mesa city officials vowed that they’d never have another massive concert again, fearing that riots and violence that could have taken place, because of the massive hippie-cult that followed them.

In November of 1968, Tom Constantine joined the band on piano and he played all the keyboards on their album ‘Live Dead’.  Hunter began contributing lyrics to the Dead at the invitation of his friend Jerry Garcia, as of the group’s third album, Aoxomoxoa, in 1969.  A couple of years after meeting Garcia, Hunter volunteered to be a test subject in government experiments with LSD and later wrote songs while under the drug’s influence.  One of these songs that he first wrote for the Grateful Dead was, ‘China Cat Sunflower/The Eleven’.  Ned Lagin was a trained jazz musician who was going to college at MIT and he was impressed after seeing the Grateful Dead at the Boston Tea Party in 1969, so in early 1970, he wrote a letter to Jerry Garcia.  In May of 1970, the Dead went to MIT looking for him as a replacement for Tom Constantine and they spent an afternoon hanging out in Lagin’s dorm room.  Lagin started playing with the Grateful Dead on their sixth album ‘American Beauty’.

The Grateful Dead put out four albums in their first three years together those being, ‘The Grateful Dead’ (1967), ‘Anthem of the Sun’ (1968), ‘Aoxomoxoa’ (1969) and a double album ‘Live/Dead’ (1969).  Up until Mickey Hart joined the band, the Grateful Dead had been playing songs fairly straight in the musical sense and this was when they seemed to expand more in a musical sense.  Billy and Mickey were pretty different as far as their roles in the band are concerned, as Billy would drive the beat and Mickey provided the ‘color’.  Billy was a pretty standard jazzy rock drummer, while Mickey was more of the tribal off-beat stuff with the gongs and African drums and cowbells and such.  Mickey Hart was somewhat obsessive about finding the perfect sound from his percussion kit and he had gizmos a plenty.  Billy gave Phil a steady rhythm to riff off of, while Mickey added a lot of the texture to the music.

In honor of September 11th, I am going to cover a song from the ‘Live/Dead’ album called ‘The Eleven’.  ‘Live/Dead’ was released in November of 1969 and it featured Garcia on lead guitar and vocals, Weir on rhythm guitar and vocals, Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, Mickey Hart on drums, Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan on organ, congas, and vocals and Tom Constanten on keyboard.  This album was recorded over a series of concerts in early 1969 and it featured a lot of cosmic jamming and the Dead were known for being able to stretch their songs out.  Side Two of this album opens with a six-minute rendition of ‘St. Steven’, and then it flows imperceptibly into another six-minutes of jamming on a song titled “The Eleven,” that increases in intensity.  The opening notes of ‘The Eleven’ have been compared with ‘Ode to Joy Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony’, as Mozart got right down to business with his opening theme establishing the key which served as a logical bridge to the exposition, and this song begins before any musical subject has formed an identity, and when that lead guitar emerges, it collapses repeatedly back into the void.  This opening has been described like materializing into jubilation out of a womblike void, and then it collapses back twice more into that void.

‘The Eleven’ came to fruition during a time when the group was making a conscious effort to embrace experimentation and to explore the outer limits of improvisation which they would continue over the course of their career, but for many listeners, 1968 and 1969 still remain the peak years of their uninhibited creativity.  The Dead would explode in ‘The Eleven’, which had an unusual time signature and also a shifting and complex arrangement, and this song features some of the Dead’s most sizzling interplay, with Lesh and the double drummers propelling the action while Garcia provided circular improvisations dancing above the onslaught.  The lyrics were written by Robert Hunter and bassist Phil Lesh wrote the music.  Phil Lesh’s bass work, often serves as the lead instrument in this song, and it is highly innovative and at times nothing short of extraordinary.  This song featured some of Garcia’s most spectacular guitar runs and it was usually a highlight of any concert where it was performed.  Recently Mickey Hart’s brain was imaged to let researchers study which brain regions control what functions, and how tissues and tasks get impacted by different activities, like when they try to multitask.

The Eleven is called that simply because it is in the time signature of 11/8.  There are eleven beats to the bar with the eighth note as the beat.  It is subdivided as three groups of three (triplets) and one group of two.  It can be counted like this, 123 123 123 12, with each of the numbers representing an eighth note.  The last two eighths are usually emphasized, often with two drum whacks or sometimes by Phil.  Drummer Mickey Hart was responsible for the band exploring these unusual musical time signatures, and the odd timings were just too out there even from the Dead, containing complicated meters that were awkward, which made these songs interesting, but very difficult to play, thus they required constant practice.  Over time these songs became a chore, as they were extremely difficult to perform and as a result they faded from the repertoire after 1970.

The drummers probably had the most fun playing this song, as it was designed as a rhythm transition more than an actual song.  The tension of the revolving drum patterns playing off the Eleven time signature sounds chaotic and thrilling.  ‘The Eleven’ epitomizes that sense of the swirl of music (named after dancing people who look like they are swirling on the dance floor) better than any other single piece that the Dead do.  The composition carries the listener to madly dance along with the music throughout its various combinations of meter.  It becomes an almost mystical state of being, hearing the joyous, all ascending scales, bursts of melody, shouted lyrics, and tricky meters designed to sound as if everything is on the verge of falling apart.  Garcia and Lesh are like two dogs barking and nipping at each other while running full-speed across a field, never breaking stride, taking turns being in front.

The lyrics are based on nature scenes including winds, breezes, the sun, water and plants.  They really don’t make a lot of sense unless you are tripping your ass off on acid and at the end of this song there is a countdown from seven to three.

High green chilly winds and windy vines
In loops around the twisted shafts of lavender,
They’re crawling to the sun.
Underfoot the ground is patched
With arms of ivy wrapped around the manzanita,
Stark and shiny in the breeze.
Wonder who will water all the children of the garden
When they sigh about the barren lack of rain and
Droop so hungry neath the sky.
William Tell has stretched his bow till it won’t stretch
No furthermore and/or it may require a change that hasn’t come before.
No more time to tell how, this is the season of what,
Now is the time of returning with our thought
Jewels polished and gleaming.
Now is the time past believing the child has relinquished the rein,
Now is the test of the boomerang tossed in the night of redeeming.
Seven faced marble eyed transitory dream doll,
Six proud walkers on the jingle bell rainbow,
Five men writing with fingers of gold,
Four men tracking down the great white sperm whale,
Three girls waiting in a foreign dominion
Riding in the whale belly, fade away in moonlight,
Sink beneath the waters to the coral sands below.

Written for Daily Addictions prompt – Jubilation, for FOWC with Fandango – Game, for September Writing Prompts – He had gizmos a plenty, for Sheryl’s A New Daily Post Word Prompt – Multitask, for Ragtag Community – Orange, for Scotts Daily Prompt – Good and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Hero.

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