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Why the Music of the Grateful Dead is Needed Now More than Ever

Brendan Casey

The last couple of months have been turbulent to say the least. To make a very long story short: The COVID-19 outbreak has changed everyday life as people are being placed under Stay-at-Home orders, restaurants and bars have closed down, politics in the United States have grown to dominate every aspect of the media, the economy is tanking, and now they’re saying killer hornets are on the way?! If you’re tired of it like me, here’s some advice: Give the Grateful Dead a listen.

As guitarist Jerry Garcia once said,

“We're like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”

If there was any time to try out licorice, it’d be now.

The lore of the Grateful Dead originates in the mid-1960s San Francisco Bay Area music scene, with deep roots in the Haight-Ashbury Hippie scene, the notorious Acid Tests, and the Summer of Love. As times changed however, so did the vibe of the music by the band.

For starters, the music of the Dead covers multiple styles of music. With influences of rock, folk, country, gospel, disco, blues, avant-garde, and jazz, the Dead fuse together a unique blend of sound that isn’t like any other band. So, if you’re interested in any of these genres, odds are that within their extensive discography, there’s going to be a song that you’ll love. The fun part is listening and finding it!

Speaking of extensive discography, the Grateful Dead released 13 studio albums in their 30-year career spanning from 1965-1995, including 10 live albums and over 70 retrospective albums, all which can be streamed and listened to online! As you’re sitting at home, there’s hundreds of hours of music to be listened to and enjoyed.

Along with the music, there’s also multiple documentaries and films that can be watched from multiple streaming services. Long Strange Trip (in which Martin Scorsese is an executive producer of) documents the history of the band in just 6 episodes with interviews from its members and concert footage. There’s even an episode dead-icated (get it?) to the band’s notorious fan-base, known as Deadheads. Now, back to the music.

In a time filled with so much negativity and anxiety, the music is soul soothing. Lyricism by the late poet, Robert Hunter, is so filled with imagery and beauty, you will feel yourself transported to another world. The shining lead guitar work of Jerry Garcia can make you feel so many good emotions no other guitarist can replicate as he delivers songs of deep messages so fitting for a time like now. Throughout the multiple eras of the band, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir never fades as his playing compliments Garcia’s like peanut butter and jelly. He’s also got a knack for getting you on your feet dancing to a real rocker of a song. What’s better in a time like now than a reason to dance? I can guarantee you it’ll make you feel good.

If you need a place to start, or are intimidated by the lengthy discography, here are some album recommendations:

Europe ‘72: a live studio-overdubbed album with a handpicked track-list from one of the bands most notorious tours. It’s the perfect combination of blues, country, folk, and rock and roll fused together. Song Recommendations: Jack Straw, China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider (these 2 commonly segue into each other), One More Saturday Night, Morning Dew.

American Beauty: arguably the Grateful Dead’s most iconic studio album, this should be a must-listen for anyone. The songs carry deep meaning, the lyrics will make you think, and the instrumentation is stellar. Song Recommendations: The whole album. No skips.

Wake of The Flood: another studio classic by the band, this one captures an Americana-essence fused with some jazzy playing by the band. Some tunes will make you dance, others will pull at your heartstrings. Song Recommendations: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Stella Blue, Here Comes Sunshine, Eyes of the World.

Cornell 5/8/77: a live retrospective-album released in 2017, this album documents what many argue to be the greatest Grateful Dead show of all time. The show was played during the bands famous May ‘77 run, where every show is peak performance. It’s high-paced, disco-esque, it’s crystal clear, and no one in the band misses a note/beat. Song Recommendations: They Love Each Other, Dancing in The Street, Scarlet Begonias>Fire on The Mountain (these two also commonly go together), Estimated Prophet.

Forget all the hate, confusion, fear, and sadness. Forget what you’re missing and live in the now. Lose yourself in something full of positivity. With so much of our futures in the air right now, it can be very beneficial to sit down, put some headphones on, stop thinking, and just listen. The Grateful Dead will remind you,

“We will get by, we will survive” and “If you get confused, listen to the music play!”
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