I just wrote a Substack thinking about the 2024 election (I know, I know.) My main takeaway is that Democrats are repeating the mistakes of 2016. They are running an old, unpopular candidate who has a low ceiling for expanding his support and won't turn out base voters. All it will take is a few thousand votes shifting in key states and a robust third party candidate.
Sunday, April 30, 2023
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
So much of the news that crosses my scanner these days involves state and local governments implementing the most demented right-wing policies. States across America are eliminating restrictions on concealed weapons, banning gender-affirming care, limiting what's taught at universities, and banning abortion without exceptions.
Sunday, April 16, 2023
The other day on Facebook I reposted a hilarious The Hard Times article, "We Ranked Every Grateful Dead Album and They All Came In Last." Some of my Deadhead friends still thought it was funny, so trying to be friendly I asked for tips on albums that could change my mind about the Dead.
I've never been a fan. Back in the 90s I tried and failed to appreciate the whole wave of jam bands at the time, from Phish to Blues Traveler. The Dave Matthews Band was inflicted on me at every party and on every college debate team road trip. It was music that was supposed to be so wild and free and creative and it just felt, well, lame. There was more life in one Stooges track than in all of Dave Matthews' albums put together. Sure the band were great musicians, but to what end?
That was also my opinion about this scene's godfathers, The Grateful Dead. I knew the name and iconography before I ever knew the music. The name and the skeletons made me think their music would be hard-hitting and dangerous. My first encounter came with their late 80s radio hit "Touch of Gray." It's a nice little synth-driven ditty and I liked it at the time, but this was not the music I imagined.
Soon after I started listening to classic rock radio, and I learned that back in the 60s and 70s their music was still lukewarm, like weak coffee that's been sitting out on the counter. Yeah "Truckin'" and "Casey Jones" were catchy, but they did not electrify me like Hendrix and the Stones. At some point I got the early comp Skeletons From the Closet on tape, and my feelings were similar. Not bad, but not very interesting.
If they had been some forgotten group from the past it wouldn't have bothered me. I could have heard "Uncle John's Band" and thought, "This obscure hippy band had some mellow tunes, I guess." But at that point, the Dead were still one of the biggest concert draws. It just didn't make sense to me. Were people really giving up their lives and traveling the country to hear "Sugar Magnolia"? Really? People were actually marking their bodies with Dead dancing bear tattoos? Really? That seemed absolutely insane to me. I also have a really low tolerance for hanging around people who are stoned, so I was doubly perplexed.
However, I am also aware that it's good to revisit and question one's deeply held opinions. I use to dislike The New Yorker, now I am a proud subscriber. For years I didn't care for Rush and prog rock in general, then once I started listening to lots of jazz my ears became friendlier to more complex rock music. So I asked my Deadhead friends on Facebook after I posted that Hard Times article to give me some recommendations.
What came back, not surprising, were a bunch of live albums from the 70s. I'd always heard they were more of a live than a studio band, but I never bothered to investigate because their studio stuff left me so cold. Listening to these live albums the last few days I've been enjoying their groove, musicianship, and also the band's deep knowledge and appreciation of American roots music, something I also share. A groovy cover of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried"? Sign me up.
So have I been converted? Do I love the Dead now? Well, no, but I have gained greater appreciation. I still get hung up on how this roots-oriented material is accompanied by such weak, tepid vocals. When you sing country and the blues you gotta belt that stuff! But maybe I will overcome that. After all, I learned to ignore Geddy Lee's voice and Neil Peart's lyrics and love Rush. All I can say about my relationship with the Dead is what a long strange trip it's been.