Mayer on Garcia and the Dead

Discussion in 'The Sound Hound Lounge' started by chrisr777, Dec 15, 2019.

  1. chrisr777

    chrisr777 Member

    Jan 30, 2007
    Lost in Hollywood
    The forward to Secret Space Of Dreams by Jay Blakesberg

    The Past, in Present Tense

    I’m a good enough guitar player to know a great guitarist when I hear one, but I had to become an even better one to begin to understand the depth and complexity of Jerry Garcia’s playing. I’ve always said that musicians play like they are, and in the case of Garcia, his performances serve as a detailed map of a man, his intentions, his desires, and his impressions of the world around him. And going by that map, Garcia was a lovely, mighty soul. I never met him, and will never understand the loss of those who did, but the vast archive of his music amounts to the makings of a starry night sky that turns listeners into explorers.
    Several years ago I set out not just to learn Garcia’s approach to the guitar and the songs he played, but to learn what about it has allowed millions of people who don’t play the guitar to key into it for hours on end. Soloing has been known since its inception as a kind of self-indulgent expression. Why, then, could so many listeners, myself included, listen to him do it endlessly without fatigue?

    To best understand what makes Garcia’s guitar playing so unique, it helps to start with what it sidesteps: though it drew from blues and R&B, his guitar approach left a few traditional elements out of the equation, he didn’t play from that wellworn feral, sexual place that traditional blues music traded in, nor did he really touch the sinister aspects that were born into the idiom. Garcia didn’t sing about wanting to rock a young woman all night long, and any of his deals with the devil existed metaphorically as mere setbacks. (What’s 20 bucks, anyway?) These changes affect the fundamental color palette of the storytelling. I’m not sure the sun ever rises in Chicago blues music, but in the musical storytelling of Garcia and the Grateful Dead, it shines so bright it hurts.

    On a more technical note, he played most often in a major blues scale, which added to this mix of innocence, and even joy. Minor blues notes lend themselves to the exquisiteness of pain, while major blues scales kind of explore the relief from it. Garcia played to relieve people of pain. That melodic innocence must have something to do with bringing so many people to their “happy place.” He wasn’t pulling notes
    from an anguished place within, he was catching them with a butterfly net as they went flitting by overhead. On a tactile level, he held the guitar with grace. It wasn’t a weapon, it was a vehicle. He took it easy. He may have played fast, but he was thinking slow. And that makes us listen with a smile.

    I put Jerry Garcia on the same level as Miles Davis and Bill Evans because of the intention in his performing; once you’ve learned all the notes, and the chords, and the bends and the runs, you come to the final frontier of playing which is the why of it all, and that’s where the power was and still is in his playing. He played from a real place, a place that faced out to the world, not for his own reception or gratification. He played for the joy of interacting with the band and with the music he loved. If you listen close enough to a musician, you can tell what they’re looking to get out of each and every note they make. Garcia, to me, was looking to bring music to life out of the tacit, sacred duty to use his gift.

    Even after learning these things, they offer very little help in sounding anything like the man. That’s because he didn’t play anything stock or repetitive. There are no “signature Jerry Garcia solo riffs” as exist with so many revered guitarists. To “sound like Jerry,” you have to make people feel like he did, and well—good luck with that.

    The real magic—the kind that will make the Grateful Dead music live forever—that’s in the way we carry it on in our hearts and minds. I don’t listen to Garcia and the band play—I watch it. I believe we all do, and that what we see is a blend of the music, the year in which it was played, the season and location of the show so as to understand the state of mind the band was in that night, that week, that presidency. We see it differently from one another the way we do our own dreams, but we all agree that our dreams contain these songs, and this band, those places and names.

    And that’s how the Grateful Dead managed to freeze time. We discuss our favorite years in present tense; we say we just heard the best version of something last night as if that was the moment it first took place. Your favorite year of their music "wasn’t", it "is." And in that way, inside that beautiful dreamscape the band created, the Grateful Dead is still up there, still playing. And Jerry is right there in front of them, and time is held in place by those who refuse to let it fade, and even as we sleep, as long as one of us is listening, the band is still playing. We lose the ones we love, we pine for those who have left, and we lament the changes of modern times. But the makers of this music dug a tunnel, and it runs beneath time and space, and we, the ones who love it like family, crawl through to visit 1974, and 1969, and 1987 and 1990. If we were alive at the time the show took place, we see ourselves as the people we were in the lives we had, and if we weren’t born yet, we get to wistfully dream what it must have been like. We only get a few minutes on earth, and Jerry Garcia gave all his minutes so that we could forever visit his life and times through his playing, and let it unravel into a new kind of now.
  2. FenderBigot

    FenderBigot Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Tampa Bay
    Good post! Thx for sharing.

    I have seen Mayer with Dead & Co three times and I plan to see them again. I saw the GD three times before Jerry left us. I come from a big family of heads and I never fully came aboard as I was paying attention to REM and U2, they were age appropriate at the time.

    Today I have a HUGE appreciation for Mayer and his role in D&Co. On TGP he is a polarizing topic, but make no mistake... he is killing it right now! Thank you John Mayer for your interpretation. I can’t wait to see ya’ll again soon.
    rreiser, MickeyJi, rauchman and 11 others like this.
  3. Ab347

    Ab347 Member

    Jun 4, 2014
    New Jersey
    That was insightful...just great
    tonedover, chrisr777 and Lucidology like this.
  4. chrisr777

    chrisr777 Member

    Jan 30, 2007
    Lost in Hollywood
    I see them at least once every time they're in town. I'll be seeing them twice at the Forum in two weeks.
    derekd, Lucidology and FenderBigot like this.
  5. tastylicks

    tastylicks Member

    Mar 1, 2006
    Very good writing that will enthrall and captivate our deadhead and Jerry loving brethren. I'm not one, though I respect Jerry and enjoy some Dead music. I appreciate the joy that Mayer expresses and intuits throughout this piece of writing. I will take small issue however with the Miles/Evans comparison: Jerry might have been as intentional as they were, but his execution was not comparable to those masters, and that is significant.
    Not wanting to end negative though. Having a talent like Mayer gush about a talent like Garcia is a net positive for humanity, whether you agree with him or not.
    chrisjw5, rauchman, Me Again and 13 others like this.
  6. Lucidology

    Lucidology Member

    Aug 14, 2006
    Monterey, CA
    Go Johnny go ... That was extremely cool
    Wagster, derekd, buddyrama and 2 others like this.
  7. WorkinSteamin

    WorkinSteamin Member

    Nov 13, 2009
    Great essay. Mayer really has, IMO, earned his place here.

    He makes a point that I have thought about a lot. It’s that, viewed one way, a Dead show is a three hour guitar solo. How is it possible that Jerry was able to solo so inventively that, to Dead fans at least, it rarely got boring and kept many of them coming back night after night. To say nothing about the vastness, depth and quality of his songwriting. Bob’s too. Incredible...
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2019
    chrisjw5, Me Again, chrisr777 and 5 others like this.
  8. Drak

    Drak Member

    Jan 24, 2007
    Was he frolicking around waving a butterfly net...
    Or was he grubbing out a dirty tunnel with a spade shovel?
    Which is it then? :bonk
  9. The_Bell

    The_Bell Member

    Oct 21, 2019
    Humble words from a mature man. And appropriately so, there will only ever be one Jerry.

    I believe John would have been a treasure too if he had come up in the 60s or 70s, I think he is a genius and even in spite of his gigantic fame, may be underrappreciated in comparison to his talent.
    chrisjw5, Me Again, chrisr777 and 8 others like this.
  10. tonedover

    tonedover Silver Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2009
    Some nice prose there.
    Seen dead and co 6x now, big fan
    chrisr777 and FenderBigot like this.
  11. karmadave

    karmadave Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Bay Area
    I was just listening to 5-9-1977 on a flight, today, and really can’t disagree with Mayer’s essay. The band was really cooking and Jerry’s solos were sublime :)
    chrisr777 and FenderBigot like this.
  12. A_Aron

    A_Aron Member

    Dec 1, 2010
    Thanks for posting that. Echoes my feelings, though I could never put it into words the way John did
    chrisr777 and Lucidology like this.
  13. Zuper

    Zuper Supporting Member

    Aug 5, 2006
    Lake Tahoe, CA
    Nice. Thanks.
    chrisr777 likes this.
  14. Kurt L

    Kurt L Member

    Aug 29, 2007
    Outer Austin, TX
    The more time passes, the more I dig John Mayer.

    I’m a huge Deadhead. I like that he’s respectful of the music, but also willing to take it to a place that feels right to him. And the guy really is playing his ass off in D&C.

    Hope to catch more shows soon... Mrs. L went to a D&C show; it would be cool to also take her to one of Mayer’s solo gigs.

    P.S. His guitar related material on social media is really good.
  15. Kenny Blue

    Kenny Blue Silver Supporting Member

    Jan 31, 2012
    Chicago Northern Burbs
    Very well said... I have to say that I am quite impressed.

    Thank you for posting.
    rauchman, chrisr777 and derekd like this.
  16. derekd

    derekd Member

    Sep 10, 2007
    In a van down by the river
    That was really well done, thanks for posting it, Chris.

    While I'm not a huge Dead or Garcia fan, I am a big fan of players paying respect to the guys who came before them. It doesn't get much better than this.

    With Mayer in the fold, we now have another generation or two getting exposed to the Dead music who might otherwise not have been. That's a win all around.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2019
  17. sleshnyc

    sleshnyc Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2008
    for the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would harsh on John Mayer. The man just gets it, on so many levels.
  18. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2002
    Northern VA
    Beautiful! Thank you, John, and Chris.

    One small quibble from a guitarist (me!) who never for a moment ceases to acknowledge his debts to Jerry:

    >> Even after learning these things, they offer very little help in sounding anything like the man. That’s because he didn’t play anything stock or repetitive. There are no “signature Jerry Garcia solo riffs” as exist with so many revered guitarists. To “sound like Jerry,” you have to make people feel like he did, and well—good luck with that.​

    This is an ironic statement coming from Mayer, who I would argue, based on the growing body of Dead and Co. shows I've attended (my next will be Dec. 28 at the LA Forum), does make many of us feel at least somewhat like Jerry did.

    To the consternation of some folks who fashion themselves ultimate Deadheads, I've long given up trying to sound just like Jerry (think about it: Did Jerry, himself, ever strive to sound just like someone else?! Can it ever truly be sounding just like Jerry to obsess with aping him precisely?!). No, I focus now instead on striving to play with Jerry-style feeling.

    And so, based on experience, I believe we can, in our own special way, make people feel as Jerry did. Not exactly or with his amplitude, but drawing from the same fountain that was not made by the hands of men.
  19. stanshall

    stanshall Member

    Nov 21, 2009
    in the back of a dream car twenty foot long
    "... [H]e didn’t play anything stock or repetitive. There are no “signature Jerry Garcia solo riffs” as exist with so many revered guitarists. To “sound like Jerry,” you have to make people feel like he did ...."

    I love Jerry's playing but he definitely had signature ways of untying his knots, going chromatic and dissonant, doing Jerry space ... during Space you would get his "out" style, that was the signature playing of Jerry, that was a personal sound, and not using major blues scales generally, that was a key part of it for me, keeping the avant-garde music school classical aspect alive ...

    then there are the long spirals, the note flurries, gradual lengthening of phrases, and his way of seeming to be trying to always give a new twist to the solos, trying to play it a little differently each time and going for some unusual introductions and directions to solos, his rippling style when stretching out on a good night,
    Vintage_, rauchman, Crowder and 7 others like this.
  20. Sigmund Floyd

    Sigmund Floyd Supporting Member

    Feb 28, 2011
    Well said. at their best time- I think there is a magic to it and Mayer describes it well. He deserves props for D&C project and his respectful and humble approach- he knows that's the only way in, there is no filling Jerry's place.
    brb9911, chrisr777 and Lucidology like this.

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