I don’t know about you folks, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Grateful Dead there is to listen to. As I’ve mentioned before, the Internet Archive is such a blessing to Dead Heads in the 21st Century that it’s practically a burden. If (almost) all the shows are available, then what excuse do I have to not listen to them all? How can I admit to someone that I haven’t heard a particularly famous show, just because I haven’t gotten around to downloading that one yet?
My usual strategy is to look at the “This Day in History” link on the archive every day, and email good-looking shows to myself to download all at once later. It worked pretty well for a while because I never really downloaded anything from after ‘79 unless it had an unbelievable setlist. It got to a point, however, where I couldn’t remember which shows I had or hadn’t downloaded, and I started to look for more hidden gems in the 80’s. Instead of keeping a bunch of my favorite shows and cycling through a few new ones occasionally, I now fill my Mp3 player with new shows each time in the interest of listening to as many as I can, and then squeezing just a few favorites in. Then, reading Dave’s Picks liner notes, I came across one of Dick Latvala’s famous notecards outlining tapes he had, and I realized that if I’m going for an accurate record and want to actually reap the rewards for listening to all these new shows, I needed to think more like an archivist, so I created my own Dead Log!
It started with a notebook, just making notes of the dates of the shows, and marking them with stars for good shows, frowny faces for bad shows, and leaving average shows unmarked. I would also make notes of which songs or sequences in the show really stood out. For some shows (1969-03-02, 1980-10-14, 1976-07-18, to name a few), all I would write is “ALL!” because...I mean, I only have so much room in a notebook, and if every song is fantastic, why write them out individually?
Initially I just made notes about poor audio quality, but I’ve since decided on a three-tiered 1-10 scale, depending on whether it was a soundboard, a matrix, or an audience recording. So a Soundboard 6 is probably better than an Audience 8, but not as good as a Matrix 8. I then realized that this only makes sense if I know which version from the archive I downloaded! So now when I’m formatting the files, I save the URL for the specific recording. Maybe if I go back I can do that for the older ones I archived, but we’ll see. As I said, there’s already too much!
That’s one issue with this project; what about all the shows I’ve had for years and years that won’t get archived? Luckily, most of those I still know by heart, which makes entering them even easier. But sometimes I’ll throw one or two into the mix so I can mark them down for the record as I go. I started marking the date I listened to them as well, so my older shows are showing up as newer ones on the log, but I’m sure future generations will understand.
Because I’ve been increasing the annotations in the log, my little notebook started getting pretty crowded. While I still keep it up to date, I’ve moved the main log over to a spreadsheet on the Cloud, which offers unlimited room. I now have space for any additional notes, like if part of the show was officially released, or if there was a guest onstage. I also have room to put full names of songs, instead of abbreviations written hastily on a moving train, which is nice. This gives me a chance to change the “ALL!”s into individual songs, so I could search for all the great “The Other One”s, but I haven’t gotten very far in that endeavor yet.
So what’s the final product look like? I have a column for the date of the show, and a column for the date I listened to it. Next I indicate the quality and type of the recording. Like in my notebook, I put a frowny face for concerts that I never want to hear again, and I leave medium shows unlabeled, but still mark down which songs stand out. For great shows, I switched to a Stealie (~);} just because, you know, why not? The next row is where I mark the stand-out songs, and then I have a row for notes about guests, recording anomalies, and trivia that may be relevant.
Originally I thought you’d all just have to imagine this, but it turns out Google makes things pretty easy to share. If you go here you can actually view the Log as it goes! Google says it will be “view only,” but in case I screwed that up, please don’t screw with it! Or if you do, at least do it in a funny way. As always, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @21stCenturyDead, and let me know what you want to read about next time!