Tuesday, January 14, 2014

European Road Trip: Truckin'

Grateful Dead: Truckin'
[more free media from this same concert @ the Internet Archive]

Give or take a year, most aficionados (even Deadheads) would probably agree that 1972 marks the high point of the Grateful Dead’s career. Always renowned for their live shows, they toured (western) Europe in 1972, and came out with an album – actually a double/triple album (depending on the medium) - appropriately named  Europe ’72.  

By ’72, the Dead had refined their sound/show. That said, while it was billed as a “live” album, the originally marketed version of Europe ’72 was heavily over-dubbed before it was released. Personally, I don’t think that the dubbing detracts from its value: quality music doesn’t always have to be “pure”- as in “live only” – just so long as it isn’t billed mistakenly. In this case, for a “live” recording, the quality is darn good: they took some quality equipment on tour with them and the studio dub after the tour seems to have enhanced the result. 

Although the band remained quite active, releasing new albums into the 90s, most living members staying and playing together until Garcia’s death in '95, the death of “Pigpen” in 1973 may have been the start of the end. He was an eratic member of the band: kicked out, brought back, and while he was in the band, an integral part: many live shows concluded with what was his "signature" piece: Turn On Your Lovelight

Their music from the period exudes a sense of unity and harmony (both in terms of aural and aura/karma) that goes beyond the vocal harmonies: they sound comfortable and happy. More often than not, they even manage a loose jam that is fairly coherent/cohesive (a major feat, perhaps, considering the reputed extraneous influences).  

Truckin' may have been one of the band's lasting memes: the image on the cover of the band epitomizes the idea: a "cat" moving on- on foot. Originally released on their "American Beauty" album in 1970, the song has been accorded the status of "national treasure" by the Library of Congress.

For more details about the dead, check out one of the best Dead-related online links I have ever seen: http://deadessays.blogspot.com/

European Road Trip: King of Spain

The Tallest Man on Earth: King of Spain

One of the casualties of having children in college, and a mortgage, and a house renovation, and……is that my wife and I haven’t traveled as much as we would like. Now that I have one kid out of college and another heading toward the finish line, maybe that will change. Of course, much of that hinges on the success of my start up law firm, so who knows. One of the most important lessons that I have learned in my half-century plus is that plans are meant to be changed.

So, the European road trip theme is kind of bittersweet, because while there are more than enough possible songs out there that fit the theme, when I try to make it personal, I realize how I would like to have had more such road trips. And I recognize that I am luckier than most, because I have been able to see many of the great sights of Europe, but travel is so wonderful that it is hard ever to be satisfied.

I have previously written about my family’s trip to London back in 2000, when we saw Richard Thompson perform, and I have written twice about our trip to Amsterdam in 2007, when we saw The Decemberists. Now, I’m looking forward to the first week in February, when my wife and I are heading to Barcelona to visit our daughter, who is studying there this year. I’ve even written about a song about someone else’s Spanish vacation (but now I am actually going to get one).

I was last in Spain in 1976, when I was in high school. We got a flyer in class for a meeting for a trip to Spain, and I mentioned it to my mother, not expecting much. The next thing I knew, we were at a meeting, checks were written and shortly thereafter I was on a plane. It was a great trip. Our small contingent was connected with a much larger group of students from different parts of the country. I’m pretty sure the statues of limitations have lapsed on the truly negligent behavior of our chaperones, who looked the other way at rampant underage drinking and fraternization between teenagers with raging hormones. But beyond that, we saw a great deal of the major attractions of the country, from the south to Madrid. Franco had died only the previous year (and remained dead, as we were often reminded by Chevy Chase), and the country was slowly emerging from his oppressive rule. I’ll never forget seeing the Guardia Civil, who were considered instruments of Franco’s tyranny, walking the streets with automatic weapons and their silly three cornered hats. Coming from suburban New York, it was a shock to see this kind of open display of guns, a feeling I didn’t get again until September 11 in New York City.

We never went to Barcelona, which in those days was not the tourist attraction that it became, before the recognition of Catalonian autonomy and the 1992 Summer Olympics. But now, Barcelona is considered one of the must-see cities in Europe, for the sights, the culture and the lively nightlife. I’m looking forward to not only seeing my daughter, but also this great city. In preparation, I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish, using an online site that occasionally has thrown me some odd sentences to translate (“I am in the witness protection program,” for example), and am also trying to pick up some Catalan from another site (which is much harder since I am coming at it without any background).

So, in honor of our impending European road trip, please enjoy “King of Spain,” by The Tallest Man on Earth, who is actually Swede Kristian Matsson and is only about 5’7”. As I previously mentioned in one of my Decemberists pieces, the Dutch are actually the tallest people on Earth. And to add one more connection, my wife and I caught part of a set by The Tallest Man on Earth on an American roadtrip in 2012 to the Newport Folk Festival, but I don’t recall if we heard this song, because it was pouring rain.