Ascending the throne

Give me a revelation
I made a noise a while back about this being the summer where I get to the root of the matter of the jam band thing, and while my columns have hemmed and hawed, this is where it gets hot. First off, whatever bands are doing these days that are thrilling fans to the core, the Grateful Dead have done it before. Guest players on stage, allowing taping, playing other people’s songs, caring about fans in terms of tour schedule and lot scenes, improvisation, extended jams, blends of every type of music under the sun—well, the Dead did it first. In fact, the jam band scene and all bands in it should pay more careful heed to the lessons of the Dead scene and consider doing more than just dressing up as elves if they wish to have even one-fifth as long a career.

You can’t separate the foreground from the background. The Dead played at a time when Jim Crow laws were reversed, when the nation stood up against the government and demanded to stop the war, when women burned their bras and people made love in the street. Can you remove the Dead and ask if these same things would have happened? Nope. Ask anyone who was there, and they say that the music was a major part of the whole gestalt. But what gestalt are today’s jam bands a part of?

I believe it’s the age-old quest we are immersed in, the desire to ascertain where we come from, where we are now and where we are going. I believe that the Dead did what no other jam band has been able to do: focus the journey inward to the place where many of the mystics say the answers lounge. I don’t think it’s any of the fans’ fault; now more than ever, people are ready to immerse into the trance dance and let the genetic material fall where it may, but the bands have not been up to the challenge.

This is not to say that I do not enjoy many, many of the jam bands that I have seen this summer. I do, but the crowning moment has not yet arrived, the coronation has not yet occurred, the jubilee is still on the horizon.