Apr 102020

There is no heart of “Dark Star.”

Or is there? For people who get that song, is there a segment in the full version that might be seen as the song’s core, its hook? If you were tasked with chopping this down to a bite-size “single version,” where would you start and end?


  27 Responses to “Heart of Dark Star”

  1. 2000 Man

    Man, I’d like to help you but I hate the Dead. Spotify usually gets things right, or at least I understand where it’s coming from when it suggests music for me when I’m letting it pick. It never plays Led Zeppelin or Abba or Bread and rarely tries to slip an Eagles song in. But no matter how often I skip Dead songs, or Jerry solo songs or whatever other offshoots they have, I’ll be driving along, happily enjoying new sounds and then I’ll be like, “What is this crap? Why would Spotify think I’d like this?” Inevitably, it’s Dead or Dead related. I think maybe Waze is in on it and they do that to me when I blow off the directions Waze is giving me. I think Waze and Spotify think it’s funny.

  2. Early contender for Post of the Day, 2000 Man! Is it possible that the drug-infested ’70s Stones records you play on Spotify – coupled with those extended Yes songs of your youth – trigger their algorithm?

  3. Happiness Stan

    My time at the Hall previously left me feeling no longer alone in wondering what it is that’s supposed to be enjoyable about the Dead, and more at home with just accepting I’m never going to get their music. I heard something of theirs on the radio the other day, they don’t get played here that often and once again felt the shrug in my shoulders as whatever it was came and went. I don’t even dislike them particularly, unlike, say, Van Morrison or Joni Mitchell, the great icons whose music sends me scuttling towards the off button or the old folks music on radio two.

    t’s like listening to the colour beige. They simply don’t impact on me in any way.

    A couple of years back I decided I was being too closed minded and settled in my ways, so thought I’d give some things I didn’t like our had written off despite never hearing a go. I started with Dark Star and listened to three different versions of it on consecutive days. I didn’t mind it while it was on, but the moment it finished I had no memory of anything about it. I can’t think of any other band or artist whose music I’ve ever come away from hearing without feeling something towards it, even Muzak elicits some sort of sensation that lingers, if only momentarily.

    As an aside, I’ve only just realised my phone displays the text of posts quite big, but hadn’t seen the tiny page two links, so have probably been replying to half posts and not making much sense.

    Sorry you’ve had a recent loss, we lost my dad after a long illness at the end of 2018, being expected made it feel like it should have been easier to accept, looking back I’m not sure it really was.

  4. general slocum

    I have come around to enjoying some of their stuff the last few years, but unlike, say, Yes, when the Dead have a song 10 minutes or longer the excess minutes aren’t made up of additional content per se, but rather it feels like the needles got stuck on one or two measures of connective tissue of some kind. And looking at the close ups of Garcia soloing, and trying to remember where I’d seen the expression, I was suddenly reminded of standing around a keg with a bunch of dudes at 1 in the morning at a party with no women (or none that remained.) And that face is the face the guy next to you makes watching you pour a beer, and hoping the keg isn’t kicked. Almost asleep, or in an inert state. Not the state I like to play in, nor usually want to watch.

    Oh. And I had never noticed before that Garcia had the “turn up the guitar” tic. It’s a pet peeve of mine when guitarists reach to the volume knob when there is the slightest pause in what they’re playing. And they’re not “adjusting” their volume, which implies a thought process. It’s more reflexive. As though there might be some speck of volume left in the knob, when clearly the knob has been maxed since the first chorus of the first song in the set. I can’t stop watching it, and anticipating it…

  5. And I thought Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands was hard to get through! Sheesh!!!!!

    Know that I’m so looking forward to Geo’s defense of that thing.

    Great posts! Slocum, my older brother, who I idolized, was and still is one hell of a guitar player. His favorites were Steve Howe, Rory Gallagher, and Billy Gibbons. His beef with Garcia was that he was a noodler and nothing more , certainly not capable of anything very memorable, and more importantly, he never used his pinky.

    Just some quick thoughts before I chow down some Ramen with the gang upstairs.

  6. Happiness Stan

    EPG, I’d happily wade into a bunfight in defence of Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, but wouldn’t want to deprive Geo of that pleasure

  7. BigSteve

    I was going to say that the hook is part where he sings

    Shall we go, you and I while we can
    Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?

    And then I realized that the rest of the lyric is even more cliched psychedelia — it’s one of Hunter’s very first lyrics. Any song with lyrics like that is effectively a Mr Mod Free Zone.

  8. BigSteve

    I just discovered I have the single version of Dark Star as a bonus track on the Live/Dead reissue. It’s really not a bad distillation of the song’s virtues, though it suffers from the studio ineptitude of their first few albums. As the lyrics indicate, the song is intended as a representation of an LSD trip. I think one’s openness to the song may be dependent on whether you think that’s a worthwhile excuse for a song.

    The single version clocks in at 2:42. If an acid trip only lasted that long, I might be willing to give it a go again. The fact that it doesn’t helps explain why the song is usually muuuuuuuch longer.

  9. diskojoe

    That version of “Dark Star” appears on the box set of 60s San Francisco songs called Love Is The Song We Sing that Rhino released in 2007. The great thing about it is that it has plenty of great garage/pop acts from the Bay Area as well as the usual Haight Asbury suspects. The packaging is also excellent.

    As for the Greatful Dead, although I had a bit of interest in those hippie bands when I first got into music like the Jefferson Airplane or Country Joe and the Fish, I never developed an interest in them. I hear all this hype about how great they are, but listening to them on the radio or seeing them on SNL, I never felt the sense of transcending that I’m supposed to feel. Maybe it’s the drugs?

  10. Hey Happiness, no kidding around here. I’d love to hear your defense of “Say Eyed Lady” At the time, Dylan said it was the best thing he ever wrote. When push comes to shove, what he was more proud of, at the time, was the fact that it was the longest pop song ever recorded. In interviews circa Blonde on Blonde’s release, he brought that up quite a bit. More often than not, when I’m in the basement, chopping cardboard or filling orders, I opt to listen to Blonde on Blonde because it delivers after hundreds of spins. That said, the “Sad Eyed Lady” is usually repeatedly dethroned about 4 minutes or so after her arrival and placed gently back into her gatefold.

    Simply put, and I’ve rambled on and on about all this at great length, if you choose to fill a side with a whole track, make sure every second of that track delivers. Hence, Fairport’s Dylan penned “I’ll Keep it With Mine.” I’ve listened to it a gazillion times, and it never fails to drain the living beejaysus out of me. And I’ll take that one step further, Fairport’s Dylan penned “I’ll Keep it With Mine” is the “Sad Eyed Lady” that Dylan couldn’t quite pull off.

    One more thing, that Peel book sounds great! I ordered it just a few days ago based on your thumbs up. Length is no problem, the more the merrier if the story is good (and there’s a neat tie in with the “Sad Eyed Lady” no less!) I’ve read Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles Tune In tome twice, and because that wasn’t enough for me, I had my local public library special order the two volume unabridged volume, which I also read twice. I know, nuts, but I’d read a Britanica like multi-volume account of memories by Stu Sutcliffe’s deceased second cousin if it was available.

    Just between you and me, I think the world of the moderator, but his new appreciation of the Dead is most probably a lot of hogwash. Like all of us, he’s getting older, and he wants to keep and broaden his circle of friends. I’m not knocking any of that. The truth of the matter is that it’s the right thing to do. I try to do that as well, but I’m not as slick. I can only rely on sincerity and the truth, which I always believe will win out in the end. Unfortunately, I’m consistently wrong in that regard.

  11. Next time we get together in person, EPG, we’re going to sit through my Dead Dozen and you will see the sincerity etched into my face, a deep and pure as the etchings nature is doing to that same big face. Once convinced of my newfound, if limited, appreciation, I’ll point out the exact point where Phil Lesh should have devised an exit strategy for your favorite Dead tune.

    Hell, my beard just grew a quarter of an inch as I typed that out.

  12. I don’t think so. We’re double dating tonight, Zoom style, and you’re gonna get it real good from me tonight. You know as well you’ve got a beating coming.

  13. We’re going to have to take our throw down to another Zoom chat. This won’t be stuff suitable for our dates to witness.

  14. Whatever. I find it interesting that Geo is MIA. Honestly, is there a single kind thing that can be said of that 2:40 dixie cup of skunk piss? 2000 man’s line about Nashville Skyline can certainly be used here as well: “the best thing about it is it doesn’t last very long.” And here’s another interesting and certainly frightening thought, the Dead think tank actually believed they had excavated the finest 2:40 in the original three and a half hour track, and the slice had enough of something to make the charts,

    Again, if I were Geo, I’d be MIA as well. I see no reason why the Main Stage not be utilized to summon the man here and now!

  15. You’re obviously not listening to me. Scap your incredibly insincere new interest in classical music and the Dead and focus your energy on something necessary. Put on your hearing aid! Again, utilize the power of the Hall to summon Geo to the Main Stage!

  16. EPG,

    Sorry, I was otherwise engaged and not looking at RTH. I’ll send you my phone number in case you have any other emergencies. Or you can drive over and mow the lawn for me.

    I’m not sure that Dark Star is the place to go looking for a song. It is basically a two chord vamp, with some semi defined guitar/bass figures that was primarily designed as a launching point for the band to loosely improvise at length. In the liner notes of “Fillmore West 1969″* a collection of recordings from the run that provided the bulk of Live Dead, Garcia is quoted, “We were after a after a certain sequence, a serious long composition, musically, and then a recording of it.” They created two roughly defined long suites of music, one which makes up the bulk of Live Dead and another that included much of the material from Anthem of the Sun.

    We’ve all read descriptions of the “Kind of Blue” sessions where Miles came in with minimal written music, a basic written head and some sketches of motifs and managed to pull the best selling jazz album ever out of his sidemen. Put aside the relative merits, and try to understand that the method was the same, to create an open ended vehicle that could be filled in spontaneously.

    Does it work? Well compared to the Dead’s earlier extended instrumental excursions, usually around some blues based tune like Viola Lee Blues, it made a world of difference. In the earlier days they would trade phrases back and forth over a repetitive pattern, and try to create excitement by getting faster and faster. Dark Star and their best long instrumental pieces create a nice tension and release flow that I do like. I’m sure that EPG would consider Mike Bloomfield to be way better than Garcia, but I would take the Live Dead version of Dark Star over East West specifically because of that flow.

    The single version of Dark Star is an amusing anomaly. Big Steve mentions that “it’s not a bad distillation of the song’s virtues.” Well, not exactly, it’s more like one of those sketches of the basic musical material discussed above, recorded and pushed together. It’s got the vamp, the little riff that flips back and forth between the guitar and bass until they extend it in unison, the switch in the bass to the fifth of the chord in the second couplet of the verse, and the parts where the band clumsily topples to a stop. This is all played way too fast and slathered with cheap AM psychedelia, like that loud acoustic guitar that drops in for about half a bar and, best of all, the unrelated banjo lick on an accelerating tape loop that closes it out. (This was unfortunately hacked off on this Youtube post.) Sure, I like it for the mess it is and its reference material, but it sure doesn’t explain the allure of the piece.

    Does it rock? NO! If your measuring stick for all music is “animalism,” it’s probably not for you.

  17. * This has a version of each song played on that run, using alternates for those that made the cut onto Live Dead. I bought it used,cheap through an Amazon seller. When it came, it had a little slip of paper about as big as a mailing label with Bob Weir’s autograph.

  18. BigSteve

    I pretty much agree with geo. When I said the single was “not a bad distillation of the song’s virtues,” what I meant was as a *song.* In other words it has all of the chordal and melodic elements of the song. Obviously those building blocks are mainly there to be developed into long-form improvisations, and there’s really no hint of that in the single.

    When I listened to it today I too was struck by that acoustic guitar chord that appears as an overdub for no reason. I guess it’s an example of giving musicians some tools that they haven’t learned to use yet. It’s amazing that within two years they proved that they were able to make really good studio recordings without those kinds of tricks. Even the Dead learned how to use restraint and discipline, at least in the studio.

  19. Not only that, they could make totally casual sounding recordings like Cumberland Blues which morphs from an electric rock band to a bluegrass band so subtly that I don’t think I noticed it for years, maybe decades. That is really good studio wizardry.

  20. Happiness Stan

    EPG, you’ve got me thinking, and your argument sets me wondering about my defence, I’ll listen to it again when it’s not the middle of the night and I’m not feeling like I should be asleep. I’ve always enjoyed it, been uplifted by it, so look forward to the challenge, just not at this moment. What you describe certainly sums up my feelings towards Murder Most Foul, but to simply say it’s great because it isn’t twenty minutes of growled pained doggerel doesn’t feel like a case to me any more than it would to you and anyone making it deserves to be drummed out of the Hall and made to listen to Highway 61 Revisited – the only album he’s ever made which doesn’t misfire somewhere – for corrective purposes.

    Fairport’s I’ll Keep it with Mine is stunning, as it’s most of their output from that period.

    I can’t take credit for recommending the Peel books, my phone doesn’t seem to let me see more than the last few threads either so I don’t seem to be able to be able to go back and check where credit’s due. Mr Mod, is this a phone glitch or are you culling threads?

  21. When you’re on the Main Stage, the home page, at the bottom left of the threads that appear you’ll see a link for “Older Entries.” The text is small on our phones, but that’s how you go back to the next 7 or so threads. Then that same link appears to take you back further.

    Right now, sammymaudlin tuned up the functionality of the site so that it would be operable and more easily operable on our phones. Should this comeback become more than a balm for the pandemic, we’ll fully update the site for modern-day functionality, bringing back features like the subthreads and most recent comments sections. And making the font for the links to earlier pages more print! Thanks.

  22. Happiness Stan

    Got it, thanks. That’s certainly small text!

  23. Hi Happiness!

    Always good to check in with you. Glad to hear you got your computer issues all worked out. It was my plan today to spend a nice chunk of time going back and forth with you about the Sad Eyed Lady’s merits, but last night’s Zoom double date (myself, Lady Gergely, the Moderator, and his wife) changed all that. We had a short but disturbing conversation about women, in which the Moderator suggested he would much rather have a “Sugar Magnolia” type of woman rather than that of “Just What I Needed.” variety. He obviously favored the track itself over that of the Cars. His argument was that what the Dead served up lyric wise would be much more pleasing than that posed by the Cars. Lyrically, both songs are fairly moronic, but here’s the thing. “Magnolia” is the quintessential bimbo, with frighteningly low standards, more that willing to wait around for her multiuntalented husband’s return from whatever worthless task he’s decided to pursue. Her only two assets are that she’s semi-presentable looks wise, and she’s able to take responsibility for his embarrassing behavior. Lady Gergely posed that a better title for the song would be “Sugar Magnolia (the Enabler)”. What’s offered up in “Just What I Needed” is the antithesis: someone who’s smart (she’s characterized as deep) and slick enough to not care one whit about what her one night stand thinks of her; she gets what she wants (she bleeds him right before the song ends) and gets it without running her mouth about his obvious flaws..

    And there’s no need to waste any words on the overall sonic quality of the tracks. The Dead serves up their consistent
    “put it together with the stuff that fell off the back of the truck” smorgasboard of sloppy playing (Weir has finally figured out how to play barre chords, but the ‘cowboy chords” played, for the most part, on the first three frets, with unique finger positions, continue to be an unmasterable task not unlike mastering a rubic’s cube) and the newly learned concept of harmony, thanks to the efforts of David Crosby, has clearly not sunk in. The whole thing is dead upon arrival. The Cars? Rolling off their production line is one of those early 70s to die for Camaros that every gear head in the world dreams of owning.

    Like I said, the lunacy bar was raised to a new high last night .I’d like to blame all that on the pandemic, but I’m starting to think otherwise.

    And one more thing. I absolutely and positively never want to hear anyone make any kind of comparison between what Miles Davis was trying to do in the late 50s and how its similar to the Dead’s approach. I don’t want merits put aside. Imagine a chance meeting between the Coltrane gang behind Kind of Blue and Dark Star era Dead. Miles Davis, Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb, in whatever combinations, are interrupted by producer Ted Macero: “Hey guys. the Dead are here to compare notes, if that’s cool with everyone.” Garcia explains that his group is trying to much the same thing, improvising and using space, staying on the same chord measure after measure, experimenting with….Miles can’t take it anymore and says, “We’re doing that because we’re bored. We’ve mastered every approach, and we have to keep raising the bar or this thing we love is going to die. You use that approach because you suck.”

    You know what’s really eating away at me, Happiness? Me and Lady Gergley were supposed to go to Oxford this summer to spend a week or so with her relatives. That’s not going to happen. What I was really looking forward to was drinking room temperature bitters and having conversations with strangers in wood pannelled old fart bars. All that’s stuck in my head from watching Last Tango in Halifax and thinking about my last trip there decades ago. Brits appear to have an overall greater belief in the importance of decency.

    Hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy,

  24. Happiness Stan

    EPG, likewise! The weather has been fantastic today so Mrs H, our teenager who wasn’t only just starting school last time I passed this way, and I went for our state sanctioned up to an hour long walk in the woods, then didn’t the rest of the day in the garden. We expect so little good weather at this time of year we’d be crazy to have not made the most of it.

    We’re all very well, thanks, hope you and yours are likewise. We’re only about an hour from Oxford so when you come over if you’d like to meet up we should arrange something.

    The Cars were only really known for a couple of singles over here, I’m going to have to listen to those to get the references. We’re expecting a thunderstorm tomorrow, so as long as nobody’s making demands of insisting on being home educated or something I’ll try and get it together. We may be locked down with everything closed but I seem to be busier than ever.

    As a holding defence, I’d say Sad Eyed Lady is not the best song on Blonde on Blonde, that would be either Absolutely Sweet Marie, Visions of Johanna, or Stuck Inside of Mobile.

    I’d rank it next after those three, most of the album follows some way behind, with Rainy Day Women and Just like a Woman fighting it out near the bottom for the Dylan song from the sixties I’d be happiest never to hear again.

    The words flow as well as any of the greatest of his songs, the musicians get into their groove and for me it doesn’t outstay its welcome no matter what mood I’m in. I once made a compilation tape of very long songs for the car, if I were doing another it would definitely be added. One man’s groove is another man’s medium, I guess.

    I’ve always struggled with jazz, I’ve tried getting into Miles but so far it’s always felt over my head. Like Joni Mitchell, but unlike the Dead and Van Morrison, I’ve always had a sense that if I persevere enough one day I’ll see what I was missing.

    When I was a teenager I couldn’t see what was so great about Van Gogh’s paintings, but would always go and look at them when I was in the National Gallery. One day when I was in my mid twenties I was there and the light send different and they suddenly seemed to jump out and busy into life and I finally saw what people had been going on about.

    I love the idea of Miles and the Dead the way you paint it, what is it about the Dead that makes people who find them an inspirational vacuum wonder if we’re missing something in a way that one wouldn’t with a band like Kiss?

    Past my bedtime now, so I’ll bid you and everyone good night, stay safe

  25. Great points all around, Happiness. Just some quick thoughts before I join the gang upstairs for dinner.

    Writing and recording music screwed up my ability to simply let a song tug at my heart strings. When you’re in the thick of all that, you’re constantly ripping songs apart to examine their construction, the players’ chops, the recording quality….You lose sight of the more important stuff, i.e forgetting all that and letting a good one hit you like a ton of bricks, which is why I’m with you 100 percent on your defense of the Sad Eyed Lady. It’s all about heart and soul.

    AnywayI got all that back when I started dating Lady Gergely. It was so good to go through that “How about if I make you a compilation tape?” thing. I had that feeling again a few months ago when I head Loretta Lynn’s first single “Honky Tonk Girl.”

    I pretty much gave up on pop music around 1983, and that’s when I started getting into jazz, especially Charlie Parker. It was a great intro because the Parker records my brother in law turned me on to were all 2-3 minutes long, melodic, rhythmic, and very memorable. That opened the door to longer and more abstract works.

    That’s all for now. Food’s gettin’ cold! Have a good night’s sleep, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow!

  26. Loving all these good vibrations, but before I hit the hay, I’ll stand by my belief that given the choice of two good-looking women who I’m pretty sure aren’t THE ONE, I’m going to have a better time with less strings attached if I take “Sugar Magnolia” out on the town. “Just What I Needed” is going to want to see a Ben Affleck movie and then drop a subtly racist remark on the walk home. Beware, Gergs.

  27. That’s all fine and dandy except that there’s nothing in the song whatsoever to suggest that this may indeed be the case. For years, you’ve ranted and raved about “Just What I Needed’s” deficiencies, and now as then, none of your criticism is based on anything approaching an objective look at the song. When possible, please provide a treatise not open to interpretation, with arguments clearly presented and defended with actual evidence from the subject at hand.

    Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ HAS come again!!!!!

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