"If you tell the Truth, you don't have to remember anything"
-Mark Twain
"You realize, of course, that everything I say is horseshit." -Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


35 years ago, the most famous and widely circulated bootleg was created. But how and why did Cornell '77 become this incredible iconic show over all other shows? It was a great time in Grateful Dead history. The band was pumping out some of their most compelling intricate music with the addition of songs like Estimated Prophet and Terrapin Station, but only one of those songs were played on this Sunday night in Ithaca, New York. Estimated was played at every show in May of 77, so of course it was featured here.
Maxell XLII were the preferred method of tape trade, back when there was such a thing as tape trade trees. Copy tapes took as long as the tape that you where coping and they where expensive because you always needed to buy more tapes. After copying a show from a copy of a show, which was already a copy of a show, the sound quality would deteriorate so the concert would have a hiss. So you always wanted to be 2nd or 3rd generation in the tape tree. Cornell '77 was always a show that someone you knew had a 2nd generation tape, so an uncle, big brother, or older sister's cool boyfriend could make you a tape.
"I was born in the desert, raised in the lion's den", while most Deadhead's were, they generally won't choose Minglewood as their choice opener. 46 times out of 427 times Minglewood was the opener, and the majority of those coming from 77-83, the only other being in 66. There is something in the band, as if they were the ones supplying the electricity of the the evening instead of Con Ed. "And you'll never find another honest man." Garcia's voice is potent and whisperish durning the verse and strong and bold for each chorus. The fluttering guitar and upbeat piano take us away and into El Paso. Their fingers, their hands are alive and breathing the notes, and the singers seem to be not the storyteller but the characters themselves. Mary who ran around, Jack Straw, Delilah Jones, and Jimmy Row these are tall tales, these are being acted out on stage. They are being presented in these short and concise songs. Get in, Get on, Get off.
Then the band does what the band does best. They throw a curveball at you. You think you came to a rock show, well this is the age of disco and check out this funk. "Dancin." Well I'm not sure if I can't to the thick grooves the band lays out on the floor. And in classic Bobby fashion, he messes up the lyrics. Usually that means that he forgets, "She's my summer lover, in spring, fall, and winter" but this time he comes in early. No bother. The band plays right through it until the song opens up into a crescendo of bopping grooves. The crowd oohs and ahhs and pushes the band to the limit, so the band pushes back until the chorus is reprised. As the band takes a break.
It's no wonder that when the band returns to the stage they have to march out instructions to the crowd to, "Play everyone's favorite game, Take A STEP BACK." The band needs space, the crowd needs space, because no one can find the dance floor. Then they pop the bounciest combination ever as the crowd closes back in. The Scarlet/Fire stands out even on a 12 gen analog tape. It cannot be kept down. It will bounce you off the ceiling as it replaces your knees with springs. Donna Jean shines on this Scarlet. She isn't too over bearing or too dimmed. This sets the audience for the melting pot that becomes Fire on the Mountain. The groove is hammered out. Who knew two chords could do so much damage. The mystic raises as we are told, "My time is coming, any day now, don't worry about me no".
Stephen raises the band out of the well to Sainthood. That is the magic that this band possessed every night they played, some nights they showed you a little, on this night they opened up the vault. It is the magic that once you see it you never want to be without it. During Not Fade Away, Bobby and Keith find their way back to the the quickening St. Stephen chord progression but Phil and Jerry are not willing to give up on the resurrection of Buddy Holly. They carry out the dance until Phil and Jerry concede to return to St. Stephen.
"What would be the answer to the answer man?" A weary traveller who has been on his feet for miles, days, weeks, and years, finds a clearing in the woods where there is a small home. Approaching the house there is a sign, "The homeowner bears his soul for all to see, but only through song." Jerry is that homeowner and just past the sign the grass is wet with the Morning Dew. The traveller is elevated enough to have his feet be dry. Until dropped by the the chanting, "I guess it doesn't matter, anyway!" The band drops their hands as if the breaker just blew, until Garcia whispers the notes out from the dark. His fingers light a spark as the band gathers kindling as the fire grows slowly. Then wood is thrown on wood as the band layers notes on top of notes until the fire between has swallowed up all the oxygen in the room. Then the house is lit, as Jerry fans the flames of his guitar intensifying the crescendo until you don't think the flames could get any higher. Then boom, the gas tank goes off, and then another until the smoldering of the fire gets swallowed up by the power chords of Jerry's guitar. Until the sky opens up and the flames get sucked up as smoke in a release, "I guess it doesn't matter, anyway."
Since it was a Sunday night, the band wants all the students to sleep through tomorrows classes so they play, "One More Saturday Night".
Cornell '77 isn't just another bootleg, it is a gateway drug like Marajuana. Once you get it, you buy into the Dead and then "hit the harder stuff".

1 comment:

  1. I wish i had a time machine. What a magical night it was. My second stop would be 1980 at radio city front row center for those beautiful shows. The acoustic sets were epic! Nice descriptive writing James, it gave me a taste of the emotions of the band as they created their sound masterpeice.