Saturday, January 11, 2014

Alternate History

     Hey everybody!  Sorry I haven't posted in a while, been busy with family, etc. for the holidays.  Happy New Year!  For this post I'll be writing about something I think most Dead Heads have found themselves pondering, although probably in many different ways: an alternate history of the Dead.  There are many ways that this could go, and to make it more confusing I'll be taking about these alternate histories as if they were (and they could be) parallel universes.  In one universe, for example, Jerry is still alive today, just like in another Pig Pen Stuck with the band until 1980, when his solo blues career became more important to him.  But I'll get into these as we go along, so let's get into it.

     The first universe I wish to visit is one in which the Dead's repertoire and lineups remained the same, but the order in which songs were introduced was slightly changed.  Obviously it would take a whole lot of work to tie up all the anecdotes of songs being written or discovered to make them historically coherent in this universe, and I really don't care to undertake it.  Use your imagination!  There are any number of factors relating to the Dead and the Muse, or the spirit of inspiration, and it's no great feat to imagine them having taken place along a different timeline.  Also, in this universe songs don't necessarily have to fall out of rotation , so something from primal-Dead days could last until the 90's. The song that comes to me first, for no particular reason, is the 1968 debut of Fire On the Mountain.  I think that a primal-Dead version of this song would be real interesting, although obviously lacking the filter that Jerry used on it in our universe, at least until that universe got to 1977.  I think the best place for it would have been between Alligator and Caution, a nice little Jerry interlude in the Pig Pen madness.
     I think there could actually be some good trading between eras in this alternate universe, because I think the late 70's could trade Fire for the Eleven.  The return of Mickey to the lineup in this universe could have caused a revival in the bands' interest in polyrhythms, resulting in a version of the Eleven that could come out of songs such as Eyes of the World or Estimated Prophet to much success.  Just think of that triumphant, assured level jamming that those two songs could reach in those days and the same kind of feeling that the Eleven had in its day; isn't there a lot of compatibility?  I'm now realizing that Furthur is a good kind of test vehicle for these compatibility tests, because they take songs from any era and put them together.  I even saw them go into the Eleven from Eyes at Bethel Woods a couple summers ago!
     Dark Star.  It's always a good time for Dark Star!  But I think that in this new universe it either could have been born of practice sessions with Keith and introduced in late '71, or (and this is controversial even to me) it could have come about as a surprise burst of psychedelia sometime in the 80's.  Maybe in 1980 when Brent was really coming into his own they would have introduced it to show Heads from the 70's that the jazzy-space of that era was not lost, or maybe after Jerry's coma as a signal of the Dead's return to the road.  In fact, it could have been the Touch of Grey in this universe, with that song coming around the same time as Bertha, Sugaree, etc.  That would have meant that the huge success of the Dead in the late 80's wouldn't have attracted as many people as in our world, and maybe the Dead wouldn't have been quite as trapped in the touring machine.
     These could go on forever, and I welcome any of you to think of others, but I'll draw the line at this last one (and then maybe a short list of others I thought of), the '75 introduction of the Other One.  I think this song fits in nicely with all the Blues For Allah material, and could have been put in as a segue from or into Slipknot!, King Solomon's Marbles, or even Blues For Allah itself.  Maybe it would be fair to trade it with Slipknot! and put that one back in the 60's, but I don't know if that's necessary.  Others I thought of: Hell in a Bucket, '71; Terrapin Station, '74 or '90 (with Bruce); Eyes of the World, '69; Cumberland Blues, '65.

     So let's move away from that universe and go into another one where death visited the Dead in different ways...or rather didn't really visit them that much at all.  I've always wondered what would have happened if Pig Pen hadn't died, but rather rejoined the Dead on the road in '73.  Sets where Eyes of the World goes into Lovelight??  Good Lovin' remained bluesy an psychedelic into the late 70's?  Would there even have been a hiatus?  And who can even imagine what would have happened when Pig stepped up to the mike with the Wall of Sound behind him?!?  People miles away would be wondering who exactly they were expected to dance with or ask to go home with.
     But enough questions, let's try to imagine this universe.  I think that the hiatus would have happened anyway, and things leading up to the hiatus would have remained largely the same as they were in '72, with the obvious changes of song repertoire and rearrangement of sets with the addition of Pig songs.  Pig may even have joined Jerry, Bobby, and Mickey in releasing a solo album, a studio effort that I imagine being like the first Garcia album, in that it would just be Pig in the studio playing all the instruments with Billy and Jerry sitting in where they were needed.  He probably also would have come up with more originals, and songs like Two Souls in Communion would have stayed in the rotation;  that would even have been a good second set ballad, giving Jerry a break from settling everyone down.  He also would have been able to contribute to some songs his expert harp playing, something that I think only ever added to the power of the Dead's music.  Here's a potential setlist from alt. '74:

Set 1: Playin' in the Band, Mr. Charlie, Me & Bobby McGee > Sugaree, Jack Straw, Beat It On Down the Line, They Love Each Other, El Paso, Ship of Fools, It Hurts Me Too, Mexicali Blues, Bertha > Good Lovin', Promised Land

Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Greatest Story Ever Told, It Must Have Been the Roses, Me & My Uncle > Caution > Truckin' > Caution > Dark Star > Two Souls in Communion, Ramble On Rose, Not Fade Away > Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away

Encore: Turn On Your Lovelight > We Bid You Goodnight

     Now doesn't that look good to you?  Anyway, after the hiatus I think Pig would have been drifting away from the Dead's general direction.  He probably wouldn't have had anything on Blue for Allah, but maybe would have had some new material for Terrapin Station or Shakedown Street.  I think in the late 70's he would have something more along the lines of the JGB, or would even have played a large part in Jerry's solo career, but would be less present in the Dead's music, until eventually he left for his solo career with occasional sit-ins with the Dead as the years went on.  In this universe I think the band's drug habits may have been less severe, and I think Pig especially would have been a symbol of rehabilitation and a more healthy path after his alcohol-related health issues.  So maybe Keith and Donna would have continued to grow musically, as opposed to sinking into drugs and fighting as they did in our world.  But I think they would eventually have left the band in this universe as well, probably following Pig's path of solo music and occasional sit-ins wit the Dead, so here enters Brent.
     Brent would have entered in 1980 in this world as I envision it, perhaps after a break from touring after the summer of '79 when the Godchauxs and Pig amicably left.  The band at this point I think would sound cleaner than it did in our world, due to the band's cleaner habits derived of Pig, but perhaps that still would have deteriorated for Garcia in this world.  But I think that after Garcia's coma then the band would have rallied together to stay fit, and Brent would have lasted straight up until '95, with occasional performances including the Godchauxs, Pig, and Bruce.  I actually think Pig and Brent would have gotten along pretty well (don't ask me why, it's just a feeling I get) and perhaps Pig could have steered Brent's contributions more towards the blues and away from whatever the hell Far From Me or Easy to Love You were.

     Here, however, I have a problem.  Obviously I'd love any universe where Jerry lives even today, but I have no idea how that universe would look.  The band was pretty tired of touring by that time according to any of the memoirs of the Dead's experiences, but I'd like to believe that the band would have stayed together.  Perhaps all that would require was another hiatus, like the real one in '74 (and 2014 for Furthur) and the one in '79 that happened in this alternate universe.  I think hiatuses (hiati?) keep bands healthy and help mark transitional periods in their music.  So perhaps there would have been a '96 album that shared the creative spirit of Blues for Allah that also did justice to the Dead's new songs from that time.  Imagining beyond that, however, is even more of a pipe dream tan the rest of this post, because it's really just leading up to me seeing the Grateful Dead with Jerry at the helm.  In all likelihood, there probably would have been a division of the band eventually anyway, and then pretty much what we've seen int he Dead world since Jerry's passing, with the addition of Jerry.  Variations of the Dead, the Other Ones, Furthur, etc. would all have happened, but involved different members at different times.  Hell, maybe Jerry and Phil would have come up with something along the lines of Hot Tuna, or Pig and Bobby would have made a blues band with Rob Wasserman.

So this post kind of got away from me, but hey, I've been on break!  Please share any of your own wild speculations, or (politely) tell me that I'm fucking crazy for any of my own speculations.  And of course, requests and suggestions are always welcome.


  1. Well jeez, I understand some things you're saying but other things just do not compute. For instance, Dark Star didn't "appear" ... it's always playing somewhere. It can't be tied to a time. Also, the "primal Dead" wouldn't have been the primal Dead without TOO suite IMO, so I have a very hard time imagining it not showing up until the 70s.

    Also I think Pig would have called shenanigans on some of the stuff the Dead did ... Mars Hotel, Blues For Allah, Terrapin would all have been much different with him telling them to cut the bullshit and play some music. Not to say that I don't like those records, but they would have ended up less hippy-dippy.

    Have you seen the movie Grateful Dawg? I can envision Garcia forming a very succesful bluegrass-folk band with Grisman in the 90s, perhaps continuing to this day.

    1. Primal Dead- They still would have had Alligator > Caution, Viola Lee, New Potato, etc., but your TOO point is well taken. Although now that I think about it, there are few things I'd like more than to hear a '74 version of New Potato!

      Shenanigans- I think you're absolutely right, so maybe those albums would have been augmented by some blues numbers, and the string section from Terrapin would have been nixed. Although Blues for Allah would have been a more appropriate name with some blues on it.

      Dawg- Yes and yes! They (the GD as a whole) could have had a whole box set of alternative albums that perhaps centered on some underlying theme(s), like a larger concept album. Phil could have conducted an orchestra, Mickey would have his world-music percussion extravaganza, Bobby could do some acoustic thing with Wasserman, and Billy could have some solid rock to pull it all together.

  2. I like this idea. I'll go in a slightly different (and by definition negative) direction. In my alternate universe these are the things the Grateful Dead would NOT have done, in no particular order: 1.) Touch of Grey, 2.) MIDI, 3.) Looks Like Rain, 4.) Shorts on stage, 5.) Donna's "singing" on PITB, 6.) Man Smart, Woman Smarter AND Iko-Iko (except maybe on ONE very rare occasion in 1977, 7.) Brent originals, 8.) Any blues after Pigpen left, 9.) Wall of Sound vocal mics, 10.) Dick's Picks 25. There -- now they're almost just exactly perfect!

    I love your idea of an early Fire on the Mountain. Have you heard Mickey's Rolling Thunder album with the proto-Fire track? That's as close as we'll get, I guess.

    1. I totally agree with your 1-4, but I think instead we should just have rare moments when Donna was really moved to yell, but most of the time just let the band do their thing. I think either Man Smart or Iko-Iko would have been ok to hold in the repertoire, but having both is pretty redundant for sure. Brent's originals just kill me, except for Just a Little Light, which is in a completely different style from his sappy songs. I'm also not too familiar with DP 25, but I'll take your word for it!

      The proto-Fire track is kinda funny to listen to now after we know what it turns into, but it' still pretty damn cool!