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octangle
Junior Boarder
Posts:64

True Musical Democracy

#102076 2 years, 7 months ago
This post is not about the merits of JK or whether or not he is “the one.” It is about this idea I have about Real Musical Democracy as an essential ingredient in improvisatory music, and as the subject is Furthur, well, the role of John in the band is central to the whole question.

So to get my view on “the JK question” out there to begin with: I really like Kadlecik. I DO think he is the right man for the job. I like his playing, his singing, his vibe, his apparent modesty. I don’t think he is one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and, of course, the greatest guitarists of all time are not going to join something as old and established as a Dead band. They are going to make their own historic music. All of us, and Bobby and Phil, lost our one and only greatest guitarists of all time back in 1995. It has taken a long time to figure out how to then go Furthur, and I am glad to say that the way to go Furthur is indeed Furthur. I have heard (and participated in) many conversations that go “Isn’t it weird that they have a guitarist that played the Garcia parts in a so-called tribute band?” and “Shouldn’t it be someone with their own style, blah blah blah?” Look—I’m sympathetic to this view. If this bugs you, I know what you mean. On the other hand, Bobby and Phil and The Dead have played with various people less schooled in the ways of Grateful Dead music and that certainly didn’t work for me either. The point of Grateful Dead music isn’t being a great musician or doing a great solo when it’s your turn. It is the vibe. It is reading the room, and the feedback loop, and going through tunnels and time warps and black holes and coming out the other end, transformed. It is in being the atom’s nucleus one second and a whirling electron spinning around it the next. It is… well, you get the idea. How could anyone play this kind of stuff without, first of all, a real lifetime love of it, like Jerry (and John) and secondly, years of dedication to it? We think “tribute bands” and “cover bands” are weird only because Rock and Roll is so young. No one thinks it odd that classical musicians play Bach and Mozart. No one thinks they are “creepy” or “exploitive.” Just because there is no longer a Beatles or Pink Floyd, does that mean that no one should ever hear that music played live again? I think all of this will be very clear one hundred years from now, when I would bet there will still be artists performing Dark Side or Abbey Road for new audiences. Or Grateful Dead music. John Kadlecik is a deadhead. He loves this music like we do. He has studied it seriously and with intent. He feels honored to bring it to us. What more could we ask for?

All that being said, and though I feel in my heart of hearts that this band is by far the best thing we in the Dead musical universe have had since 1995 and I am truly happy for it, it still rarely makes it all the way there like The Boys of Old used to do. Some of this is the lack of Garcia, sure, but that is not what I’m talking about. I’ve already been through that. Nothing we can do about it. What I am talking about is the lack of True Musical Democracy. In other words, a great jam band is a band of equals. This is not a knock on Phil and Bobby. This is their deal, and how could it not be? They are the ones who’ve been on the bus for the last 47 years. They are the ones who’ve made it happen and have carried the torch. But that, of course, is the whole conundrum.

There may well be no way out of this particular conundrum. The Dead were musical equals because they grew up together. They learned to play together. Grateful Dead music was the result of their cooperation and their arguments, of their lives together. They were a True Musical Democracy like all great bands. Sure, Jerry might have been more equal than the others, as the saying goes, but that would never stop Bob from suddenly going into some other song than Jerry was signaling, while Bill was going somewhere else altogether. That seat of the pants, who’s in charge here, willy-nilly energy is what made The Grateful Dead so thrilling and special. Will it all resolve itself, miraculously, perfectly, into a golden The Wheel? Or will it be yet another train wreck? You never knew, and we didn’t care; either way, we were just elated to participate.

What I’m saying is that, however great Furthur is now, (and I truly think they are doing great) if they are to progress to the next level, they will have to develop True Musical Democracy. John will have to be as free on that stage as Joe as Jeff as Bob as Phil. This may never happen. This may be absolutely impossible as a matter of fact. How could such a thing be, considering the history? But I’ll tell you, I’ve seen JK off in some space, with Jeff right there with him and Bobby raises his arm like a conductor and everyone falls in line with well-rehearsed precision and it’s kind of a let down. It sure wouldn’t be like that on a Grateful Dead stage. If Jerry was kind of liking some weird twirly riff he had going and Brent was right there on his ass, and Bobby signaled that it was time for verse two, well, who knows what might have happened? My question is, can Furthur ever achieve that kind of unity? (disunity?) Because if they can’t, well, then it’ll never be as great as it could be.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that this isn’t Phil and Bobby’s thing, or that they shouldn’t be the leaders of this band. I’m not blaming them or saying anything negative about Furthur or the way they play. I’m saying that, through no fault of anyone’s, through the simple history that exists, they remain the employers in this gig and everyone else, the employees. That is the reality. But a jam band can never reach its full potential with such a dynamic.

I will also say that this situation has improved markedly through the last two years. At first, we could all hear what a short leash John was on, and how he strived to be cooperative and careful. (You want me to hang back? Sure, no prob. Oh, you want me to rip? Glad to, how’s this?) Obviously that is no longer the case, and it is interesting and heartening to hear how he sounds less like Garcia and more like himself all the time, even as he steps up and smokes it more and more.

That does not change the fact that this band sounds like it has rehearsed every song and transition to death, that they probably play just about as well in a studio as they do with us cheering them on and that they know just where they are going in each jam between each song (because they do.) That is great. I am glad to be there with my friends to sing along and dance and remember. But to make it something more, to make it it’s own thing, to have it take its own place in the exalted history, what will be required will be a total letting go of the past and the roles played and the missing man whose melodies flow through us all. What will be needed will be True Musical Democracy.

Please comment. I’d love to hear your responses.
Last Edit: 2 years, 7 months ago by octangle.
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ZenoMarx
Gold Boarder
Posts:1016
PLEASE be quiet when the band is playing. PLEASE.

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102083 2 years, 7 months ago
Logically, I get what you're saying. As I was reading you, all the Miles Davis bands came to mind. He was the marquee. He was the dictator. I've never wondered if the bands could have been even better if that was different. It's an interesting question, but I'm not certain it needs answering. I think most bands have leaders, improvisational units or otherwise. Not only do some players not do well in leadership roles, but some don't want that responsibility. They feed off the mentoring and the apprentice dynamic. Humans are like that. It occurs right down into the bedroom. Some people are naturally dominant, and some are naturally submissive. Theoretically, they might like the idea of equality, but when it gets down to practice, it doesn't work for them. I question whether equality necessarily brings about "the next level". It could create negative chaos and throw everyone out of their game. For some partnerships, it couldn't be any other way, but that is probably more of an exception than a rule. Animals tend to function at their utmost, or maybe rather at their healthiest, in hierarchies. Doesn't make any role any less important necessarily, either. The queen would be screwed without the workers, and the workers would have little purpose without the queen. You could apply this to alphas and betas in dog packs. etc etc etc.
You aren't interesting or clever when you write or speak in the lyrics of others. Rather, what are YOUR words?
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octangle
Junior Boarder
Posts:64

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102094 2 years, 7 months ago
ZenoMarx, I hear you and in some ways I agree. I certainly don't mean to dispute Bobby and Phil's leadership roles and don't mean that absolute equality (or chaos) will lead to the next level. I mean that The Grateful Dead was a band. Not a leader and his band. If we wanted that we would go to the JGB or Bobby and the Midnites. Those were great too, but they never had the excitement that The Dead did and I think that it was for that reason. They were a band and everyone was equally free up there, even if Jerry was in many ways the leader. It was still very different from the way he was the marquee, as you put it, in JGB.

Your Miles Davis example is instructive. It reminds me of Frank Zappa, another artist I loved and saw a few times. There was space in that music for improvisation as well, but there was never that feeling of "what is going to come next?" that comes with a band that doesn't have a dictator. That is what I'm trying to get across. Furthur music sounds like it has been rehearsed to death sometimes, like there is very little room for it to go wherever. Like the "marquees" planned it out and set it in motion. It sounds great, and I'm happy for it, but it seems it could be more by being freer. Or perhaps by the younger guys feeling freer. Because wherever is where I want to go.

It's all probably just a function of time together anyway...
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23atwell
Platinum Boarder
Posts:4775
I love what I love and I want it that way

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102117 2 years, 7 months ago
Man that was just a great piece to read. Thank you. I couldn't agree more about everything you say. Some times I feel like they do know where there going most of the time. With Jerry they didn't. Jerry wouldn't put up with bobbys stuff that he does. Not saying the JK shouldn't. I love that JK sounds a little like Jerry, makes the music that much more special. I think that's what most people want. I want to hear Jerrys tone. I love this licks Jerry gave us. I think Bobbys tone of his guitar should go back to what it used to sound like. The whole band us really good and exciting. I'm sting believer that JK should be singing Jerrys songs to. I do love Bobby singing but like you said music democracy, I think if they went with more of the gd did they would go furthur.
And turn JK up to. You sound like writer or something. Great post.
And I'm going to sit right here until I die
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ZenoMarx
Gold Boarder
Posts:1016
PLEASE be quiet when the band is playing. PLEASE.

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102131 2 years, 7 months ago
octangle wrote:
It's all probably just a function of time together anyway...
Key. I know the hippie-dippy romance in many want to believe in spontaneous combustion and that it just magically appeared, but the GD worked their asses off to get to that place of ensemble improvisation. They had to develop their own voices. They had to teach each other those voices. And then they had to develop their own mass language. From afar, between points A and B, it certainly appears magical, but upon greater inspection, it was arduous, dedicated work that allowed them to do what they did and do. Honing the very difficult skill of listening (get used to me saying that, because far too much praise goes into the playing and almost no credence goes to the fact that they were master listeners of each other and beyond). Having musical conversations that existed on a three dimensional level and allowing for a fourth (or more) to be created out of the metaphysics. An uncanny number of hours practicing together, as well as almost playing nightly and allowing the pubic to take part in their practicing. By hours, it was a job. They could play anywhere from 4-8 hours a day. I wonder if any band in the history of rock practiced as much as they did (outside the shows). It has zilch to do with magic that they all very much wanted greatness in their stage conversation. Think of the Garcia interview in Playing in the Band from The GD Movie when he talks about throwing Phil down a small set of stairs because the music wasn't good enough. These guys were perfectionists and willing to put the time into the process to achieve a satisfactory result. That has nothing to do with magic. That's good ol' fashioned HARD WORK. The magic comes much later and appears easy and enchanted because of all the hours and hours of practice.

Maybe Phil and Bob don't have the time or will to put that kind of time into it again. They have families, obligations, and much more responsibility than they did in 1967. Maybe the other players, one or more, cannot dedicate that kind of time to research and development. Maybe Phil and Bob put that time in with each other, and because they can still speak at that high level of conversation, they find satisfying results from simple osmosis and diffusion with the other players. I believe it to be more of what I said before and them all not being natural leaders in this particular dynamic, but it could be so many other things that are very human and affecting of the interplay.
You aren't interesting or clever when you write or speak in the lyrics of others. Rather, what are YOUR words?
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killwhyT
Senior Boarder
Posts:479

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102145 2 years, 7 months ago
Have you ever walked out of a show and heard one head say 'that was an interesting version of the Wheel, very cool' and someone two seconds later says 'the Wheel was the low point of the night, it sucked". Sometimes I think people read far too much of their own process into the music. I personally never 'heard' JK get his leash yanked at the 14 Furthur shows I've seen live, but hey maybe we should all shut up and listen to the music play.
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BillyDeLion
Junior Boarder
Posts:294

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102146 2 years, 7 months ago
Great post, octangle.

I saw all the post 1995 GD bands, and Furthur is my favorite. What I like about Furthur is the chemistry of the band which is hard for me to describe. I guess they sound like they have a common goal as they play.

I also liked Phil & Friends, but what I liked about P&F was hearing different musician's takes on the music, for example one tour had Robben Ford and the guitar & keyboardist from Little Feat whose names escape me at the moment, another tour had Jeff Pevar, one show had Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, one show I saw had Trey from Phish, etc. They all brought something different to the table, and that's what made it more interesting for me.

What I didn't like about The Other Ones tour is that sometimes it felt like there was no direction, everybody was riffing off in different directions. Steve Kimock is a great player but I didn't like him with TOO. Some of the stuff they did was good at the time, but...

The last "Dead" tour with the core 4 and Warren Haynes was good, but...

Ratdog never did it for me.

I guess there's a fine line between no leader in the band, and a band having a leader. As much as Garcia would claim he wasn't a leader, he was, in a musical sense.

I do agree with the points you make.
These are the good old days!!
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JAugustW
Junior Boarder
Posts:81

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102151 2 years, 7 months ago
Octangle: What a great, insightful piece of writing!
As some say in parts of the far east, ten thousand thank yous!
That was brilliant work!
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23atwell
Platinum Boarder
Posts:4775
I love what I love and I want it that way

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102156 2 years, 7 months ago
killwhyT wrote:
Have you ever walked out of a show and heard one head say 'that was an interesting version of the Wheel, very cool' and someone two seconds later says 'the Wheel was the low point of the night, it sucked". Sometimes I think people read far too much of their own process into the music. I personally never 'heard' JK get his leash yanked at the 14 Furthur shows I've seen live, but hey maybe we should all shut up and listen to the music play.


Maybe we should all just shut up.

Gd is like going to a football game. Like talking about your team and how there playing. It would be impossible for me to shut up and not talking about what was good or bad.The bad is still good don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with expressing yourself.
And I'm going to sit right here until I die
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scar1et_f1re
Platinum Boarder
Posts:4900
R U Kind?

Re: True Musical Democracy

#102157 2 years, 7 months ago
Yes, great thread. I agree with most of what you say. But I remind you Furthur is still in its infancy, with only a few years of playing together. I'm sure they are still learning to really feel like one multi-headed beast.

When Vince took over on keyboards they started scripting all the shows. That still continues today. I personally love that they script the shows, you never know what you will hear, it can be a "warlocks" like show, an american beauty show or 3 violee blues. But it probably cuts down on the spontaneity, which to some extent I think is positive. I remember so many gd shows used to be so similar, because they were unscripted they used to follow patterns that were good, comfortable and they worked. But you knew you would hear minglewood blues once every three nights and dayjob at least once a tour. I love it all, I could go to the same live show every night and have a blast. But in general it did not seem as fresh to me as it does now.

To me, Bobby and Phil are like the great veterans on a sports team. They have a lot of talent, but the great ones teach what they have learned in all their years to the younger players. For the good of the entire team, and over time, for the good of the fans. So if Bobby is calling some shots, I believe it's because he's been there, done that, and there is probably a good reason. I don't think he does it as a FU to anyone. There's a lot of behind the scene stuff we don't consider, including if the band isn't wrapped up by X O'clock there are overtime charges for security, etc.

And over time, I'm sure the "new guys" will get more of a voice. How long did it take Brent to come out of his shell? Many many years.

Also, the original members of the group were living a much more communal lifestyle, living together, getting high and jamming probably most every night. This is not the case now, so of course things will move slower.

I want to make the guiness book of worlds records for the oldest dude dancing at a furthur show. I'm sure I'll have competition here, the music makes a lot of us "younger". I know the reigns will need to be turned over at some point. But we've overcome before and we will survive.

As of right now, the future of these magical tribal meetings appears to me to include John, Jeff and Joe to some extent.

But I hear the magic when I go to shows. Not as strong every night, but that's nothing new. So that multi-headed beast is definitely alive.
FFF! Family is Forever!!!

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
Last Edit: 2 years, 7 months ago by scar1et_f1re. Reason: typo
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