Music Monday: Grateful Dead, ‘So Many Roads’
On July 9, 1995, the Grateful Dead played Soldier Field, Chicago. It wasn’t a great show. On the last night of a troubled tour, the band was tired and not on the finest of form. Then again, the Dead’s live form was always unpredictable. They could be jawdroppingly brilliant, they could be almost unbearably ropey, and they could be both on the same night.
And so it was that night. The Soldier Field show has some low points, and to be honest, not that many high ones. This clip, though, is outstanding.
You see, that was the last show the Grateful Dead played. One month later, Jerry Garcia, the band’s de-facto leader (not that he accepted that role willingly) passed away of a heart attack, shortly after checking into a drug rehab facility. He was 53 years old. Drug use, diabetes and an apparent reluctance to take sufficient care of himself all played a part.
In this clip, Jerry Garcia takes lead vocals. His voice had a reedy fragility that lent it a particularly appealing character, but he wasn’t a strong singer. However, on this song – ‘So Many Roads’ – he turns in an astonishingly soulful performance which in its heartbursting humanity makes his vocal limitations irrelevant. When he’s not singing, he’s playing guitar with the same tentative tenderness and quiet authority of his singing.
This is more or less Jerry Garcia’s last ever lead vocal. He attempts a couple of others later in the set, but Phil Lesh has to step in and take over on ‘Box Of Rain’, for example. As you watch the clip, you see a man worn down by life on the road, fatigued by the burden of leading the crazy caravan of the Dead and their fans. Listen to the words, as well as to the way Jerry sings them. Does he know his end is coming? Does he want it to?
This may not work for you at all. You might see and hear nothing but a bunch of superannuated hippies, twenty years past their prime. You might just not get it. But I hope you do get it, and I hope it leads you to explore the world of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia.
Me? I’ve watched it too many times to count, and I’ve always cried. Tell me what you think, in the comments below.Top