Jan 152013
 

The other night my wife and I were watching TV when an ad came on for that new David Chase movie, Not Fade Away. As I was getting agita at the thought of soon hearing a patented, mouthbreathing Captain Obvious Fresh Air interview with another one of Terry Gross‘ darlings, something along the lines of her Fall 2012 interview with Stephen Colbert, which for some reason focused on his favorite musical artists, mostly obscure soft-rock pioneers like James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, my wife distracted me with an unexpected question:

What’s this, a movie about the Dead?

I would never have made that connection, but I only saw the Dead once in college. She saw the Dead and assorted offshoot bands a total of 10 times before I knew her. That would have qualified her as a Deadhead, which helps to explain why I thought she was hot the first time I saw her. I always had a soft spot for Deadheads. Well, that’s not quite the right term, is it? However, by the time we met and started getting to know each other her Dead bootleg tapes were buried in a box of personal items, stuff I wouldn’t know existed for a few years.

For the next few days I couldn’t get the notion of the Dead’s cover of “Not Fade Away” out of my head. It gnawed at me, the way the thought of hearing Chase wax poetic over whatever obvious albums he grew up loving gnawed at me. I felt compelled to re-examine the Dead’s dreadful cover of one of the finest cover songs the Rolling Stones ever committed to vinyl. I got no further than the YouTube clip posted here: the Grateful Dead captured mid-jam. Note that the clip of this interminable cover is entitled Grateful Dead – Not Fade Away 12-31-78 – Pt. 2. The “Pt. 2” says it all: ROCK CRIME!

I’m not picking on the Dead, necessarily, because big, bad old me has come around on that band more than I ever would have imagined. While my family and I were driving through Big Sur last summer I had the urge to crank up the half dozen Dead songs I keep on my iPod for such kinder, gentler times. They sounded great in that highly cliched yet appropriate setting, although our boys sounded like little versions of thinner, bad young me.

“UGH!” our oldest son exclaimed, “Dad, what is this?”

“Yeah,” his Flavor Fav kid brother chimed in, “this is terrible!”

Really, the half dozen Dead songs I had on my iPod sounded good. I’ll stand up for them. I even tried to pull out a comparison to the Velvet Underground‘s Loaded, an album our boys know and dig. No dice!

I’ll stand behind the half dozen Dead songs I like and even another half dozen—hell, I’ll even warmly pat some of the unintentionally funny ones on the back, songs like “Shakedown Street” and “I Need a Miracle”—but I will NOT tolerate their cover of “Not Fade Away.” Couldn’t they have found another 2-chord song to jam over? I don’t think any cover by any band is less in tune with the spirit of the original song than that one. Oh, you guys know so much. You’ll come up with a cover that does less justice to the original, but I bet it doesn’t require a “Pt. 2” when posted to YouTube.

I hear a pre-echo of BigSteve, who will point out that the lyrics of the song uphold the band’s admirable ethos. I hear another pre-echo of Geo referring me to a bootleg from the Europe 1972 tour. And I accept the high fives in advance from those of you who share my appreciation for the sex appeal of Deadheads.

Has anyone seen that new movie? Is it as ponderous and loaded with white man’s remorse as it looks, like a 2-hour version of that recent AARP ad we examined? Most importantly, how’s Chase’s use of spirit glue and wigs?

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  31 Responses to “Rock Crimes: The Grateful Dead’s Cover of “Not Fade Away””

  1. BigSteve

    You’re dreaming if you think I’m going to try to talk you and the rest of the crowd here into liking something by the Dead that you’ve convinced yourselves you are superior to. I will, however, point out that you got through your whole put-down routine without even mentioning Buddy Holly. And btw claiming that you sort of like a handful of Dead songs is approximately as meaningful as the protestation that “some of my best friends are black.”

  2. Suburban kid

    I was a teenage Dead Head. Wait…isn’t this about confessing to rock crimes?

    I saw the Dead exactly 10 times in a three year period. My inner garagepunk self waiting to bust out responded to that Bo Diddley beat, and to that two-chord riffing, no matter how stoned and ponderous it seems in retrospect. I knew this was one of their long two-part jams that I could enjoy — along with the space jams about half the time — because it had a rock and roll anchor.

    It seems a bit dreary all right when I listen to it now, but it also sparks memories of a care-free, pre-snark time.

  3. Suburban kid

    Oh yeah Mr. Mod, glad to see you got your kids to come around on the Dead. The video of you jamming with them was the best version of the three!

  4. It’s not great but it’s far from the Dead’s most egregious cover. How did you single out Not Fade Away when you could have picked their truly abysmal version of Around and Around or Turn On Your Love Light or and number of others? Seriously.

    And for the record, I saw the Dead about 25-30 times but I never considered myself a Deadhead.

  5. bostonhistorian

    Somewhere in rock heaven Buddy Holly is hiding in the bushes outside of Jerry Garcia’s house with a broken off bottle hand in his hand, just waiting….

  6. 2000 Man

    I made it about a minute, decided nothing was gonna happen and went for a bathroom break. Since I was at home, it was still playing and there was still nothing going on. That reminded me that the one time I saw the Grateful Dead, I felt there were ample opportunities to go take a crap without missing anything.

  7. BigSteve

    Also to be fair you should really be passing judgement on the canonical version of the song. It first appeared on their 1971 self-titled album, the one that’s referred to as Skull & Roses. After 1975 or so the Dead became a bloated mess. I have no interest in those later years. They make me sad. Using those clips against the song is stacking the deck. This version was recorded when they were a four-piece, and it’s much leaner. There’s a brief jam at then end, but then by the four-minute mark it goes into Going Down the Road, so it’s a pretty short version of the song.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MYZXJ5Q0oY

    Also I should say that The Stones version is nothing to write home about. Pumping the song full of adrenaline does it no favors, though it’s probably the least bad of their early covers. The beauty of the Buddy Holly song is that it’s not aggressive. It’s got that kind of innocence that songs of that era had, which makes the “you’re gonna give your love to me” seem gentler, like it’s inevitable. The Stones version makes it sound like a stalker telling the girl she has no choice in the matter.

    • For fairness I will be sure to check out the original version. Thank you.

    • I’m listening now. I’ve heard this before. The Dead’s use of muted, lightly reverberated chord inversions is a foundation in their sound. It’s relied on here, bringing things down just so before some admittedly cool guitar runs can follow. But otherwise, what’s the point? Why didn’t they just record another version of “Sugar Magnolia?” Why didn’t they simply choose a single 2- or 3-chord sequence and spend their entire career jamming on it? Why pull Buddy Holly into it? Even in this improved, scaled-down form the cover shows little regard for the song. It’s like they’re saying, “Hey, we like old-time rock ‘n roll too! Now, can get get back to jamming like we always do?”

      I’m sorry, I have too much love for the Stones’ cover I first heard as a kid and Buddy Holly’s original to not get bugged by the bad bearded harmonies; the muted, lightly reverberated chord inversions; the cool-the-first-time-through guitar solos; the mutation into another song (just because they could); and all the other jazz that says “We’re more concerned with doing our thing than the song we’re making a half-assed effort to play.” Seriously, their approach is valid and better served on their own material or the folk material I’m too dumb to know is not their own material.

      • BigSteve

        See, you’re projecting attitudes into the minds of the musicians that we really have no reason to believe that they had. Like most rocks groups of that era, they started by playing covers and only learned to write songs later. This was just one of the songs that stayed in their set. And if I’m not mistaken the Stones also were more concerned with “doing [their] own thing” than with trying to reproduce the original. It’s just that you, and most people here, prefer amped up British takes on classic American music to amped down California versions.

        • Honestly, BigSteve, I appreciate the dialog and I appreciate your outlier tastes regarding this band and our demographic. You know I’m having some fun with this, but as is usually the case with my attempts to express and discuss opinions on music I’m more concerned with projecting my attitudes outward to you (plural). If they happen to project onto the artist, there may or may not be any merit to that occurrence. They can take it. Lord knows many of us have taken them.

          So you’re not impressed by the Stones’ version. So I’m not impressed by the Dead’s version. It’s stuff like that that I’m happy to learn – and better yet, to get a sense of WHY. My projections are an attempt to explain the why, not to prove that I’m “right” about anything. I purposely left Buddy Holly out of the original discussion because I feel so strongly about the Stones’ version. To me it’s the best take on the song, it’s “my” version. Although I’m a bit shocked that anyone doesn’t share my love for their version, it’s good to learn this.

          Anyhow, by stating my opinions on the Dead’s take on this song the way I have, I didn’t intend to disrespect you, just to see if we could engage in what’s really behind our love or lack thereof for any given version. I assume you already know this and that I have now sunk beneath the level I’d hoped to maintain.

          • PS – If there is some objective “goodness” that I’m missing beyond the couple of cool guitar runs, please feel free to enlighten me. The relative focus of the 1971 version is surely an improvement over the version I witnessed live in concert in Chicago in 1981 or ’82.

          • BigSteve

            Oh I’m not taking it personally. I just think this is one of those cases where your rhythmic sensibility is partly determined by your geographic origin. In general you seem to me to value energy and precision over openness and looseness. The Californian vibe just repels you, and the somewhat shambolic approach to rhythm that the Dead have will never appeal to you. As I think you know, I don’t think the early Stones are very good, except when they play original songs, and I don’t think they got really great until they relaxed what I would describe as their northern/industrial approach and learned how to incorporate more of a southern and western vibe. And maybe one of the things that gives Buddy Holly his reach is that as a Texan he’s both southern and western. That’s why the Dead’s more laid-back take on the song seems to me truer to its spirit, though the idea that the lyrics embody their ethos in some way, which you wrote in your original post, would probably not have occurred to me. The Stones version is certainly tight, but I prefer more breathing room.

          • bostonhistorian

            Buddy Holly’s original is all about earnestness and (false?) bravado. The Dead’s version conveys none of that, with Holly’s lyrics simply becoming words. Hell, the Dead could be singing about ordering pizza for all the emotion they show: I’m a gonna tell you how it’s gonna be/a large thin crust with pepperoni….

          • I’m on team BigSteve regarding the earlier version. While they don’t do much for the song, they do something with the song in their own context. I think the point IS the cool guitar runs and the way that Garcia gradually transforms melodic elements of Not Fade Away into Goin’ Down the Road. The transition from about 3:30 to 4:30 is really elegant. For all the complaints about Garcia’s noodling, it’s worth a listen to this to see that he developed guitar leads over a long form. Each solo in this is like a neat little paragraph (With Lesh’s ongoing interjections), and each paragraph advances the story. I’m sorry he misused a song to which you’re particularly attached. While I don’t think this performance adds much to the song, the song does serve as a convenient basis for a decent piece of music.

          • Good stuff pro, con, and in between! I definitely have “city ears.” It can be a burden.

            Historian, your new lyrics cracked me up.

            Geo, I know what you mean about the framework of the song serving as a vehicle for some nice musical bits. The moments when the Dead hit on such things can be interesting. I don’t know how you guys go so long between the good parts, though. Mad props!

          • bostonhistorian

            Hey, I was going to rewrite the whole song (“I’ll eat pizza night and day/and hope I never write “Touch of Grey”) but got distracted by the Big Star box set which arrived earlier in the day…

          • alexmagic

            I think the Dead would have all been to afraid to order a pizza, worried that the guy on the other end would know, maaaan.

            They’d probably spend as long as one of their jams all trying to figure out which one of them still had it together enough to get on the phone and fool the pizza guy.

  8. misterioso

    It would be hard for me to choose a Dead performance that so effectively sums up everything I dislike about them. Which is not to say that there are not countless others that would do just as well, but I cannot bring myself to think about them. After decades of Deep Thought, I’ve come to this: I will stand behind two, count ’em, two Dead recordings: the version of “Scarlet Begonias” on Mars Hotel and the version of “I Know You Rider” on Europe ’72. I think those are really beautiful, actually. That’s where it has to end.

    Maybe this isn’t the time and place, but I’ll bet good money that David Chase’s Not Fade Away is lame and I have to ask if I am the only one here who was underwhelmed by the Sopranos.

    • I, too, was underwhelmed by The Sopranos. The couple of times I watched it I only identified with the therapist’s husband, the one who was fed up with the stereotypical behavior of the mobsters and how full of it Gandolfini’s character was. it was like he was put into the show to speak to my agita over the show itself.

  9. I’ve been to about a dozen Dead or Dead-related shows and I think Big Steve got the most direct answer, it’s a cover that stayed in their set. All bands, especially rhythm-based bands like the Dead, have to try out the Bo Diddley beat. And would you rather them sing the bragging, 1st person lyrics of Bo Diddley?

    Telling a groove band they can’t cover “Not Fade Away” is like telling any young band they can’t cover “Johnny B Goode”. While I prefer the Buddy and Stones version (I’m a Philadelphian, if it matters), the Dead get the reaction they’re reaching for at the crescendo out of the verses into the guitar solos.

  10. I kind of feel bad for asking, but, why all the love for the song, “Not Fade Away”? It’s certainly not one of the songs that comes to my mind when thinking about the greatness of Buddy Holly. And the main ingredient of the song, the beat, was sort of lifted from BD, wasn’t it?

  11. Lots of interesting comments from folks who appear to have attended few if any Dead shows. The Dead’s version of “Not Fade Away” is tribal; it very intentionally takes Holly’s bubble gum pop sounding original and turns it into a transcendent dance vehicle, much as it did with “Dancing in the Street”. They were acutely aware that those were peppy, two-minute little pop masterpieces, in which they opened up whole new worlds through improvisation that, by its nature, was different every single time. The Stones’ cover? Great for those who love the Stones masterful rock — played exactly the same way every time out. The Dead’s vibe isn’t for everyone, but it clearly WAS for a massive audience that understood it on a much more emotional and intuitive level.

 
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