The Fan

by Justin Taylor

Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.

It’s all too easy for a fan to become overwhelmed by the volume of Grateful Dead music that is and continues to be made available by Grateful Dead Productions and so I have invented a system that I use to impose self-discipline on my consumption of Grateful Dead music and maybe this system can be useful for you, too. What I do is I peg my buying (of concerts, box sets, or other live compilations) to certain key dates throughout the year: my birthday, Jerry Garcia’s birthday, the anniversary of Jerry’s death, for Christmas, and also any time I’m looking at a show on and see that the date of the show and today’s date are the same. That’s the wild card that makes the system fun, and it was in this way that I first came to own 5/2/70 (Dick’s Picks #8, Binghamton, NY ), 12/16/92 (Dick’s Picks #27, Oakland, CA), 6/18/76 (Grateful Dead Download Series Vol. 4, Passaic, NJ) and Dick’s Picks #30: highlights from 3/25, 27, 28/72 at the New York Academy of Music, which I actually bought on a 3/26 so it technically broke the rules but I figure, Hey, the Grateful Dead were all about breaking the rules!
Right after the Academy shows the Dead went on their first tour of Europe, and played the shows that would be culled for such releases as Europe ’72, Hundred Year Hall, Steppin’ Out with the Grateful Dead: England ’72, and Rockin’ the Rhein with the Grateful Dead. People say that Europe ’72 was the best Grateful Dead tour ever but I think that they are overlooking Fall 1973—an American tour—which is woefully under-mythologized if, admittedly, pretty well-documented. Fall ’73 began in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on 10/19 (aka Dick’s Picks #19) and ended two months later on 12/19 in Tampa, Florida (Dick’s Picks #1). Other Fall ’73 releases include Dick’s Picks #14 (11/30 and 12/2, Boston, MA), Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 3 (11/21 at the Denver Coliseum with filler from 11/20 at the same venue), Grateful Dead Download Series Vol. 8 (12/10 in Charlotte, NC) and Winterland 1973: The Complete Recordings, a nine- disc box set of the full concerts from 11/9, 10 and 11/73 at Bill Graham’s Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. (This box set should not be confused with Winterland June 1977: The Complete Recordings, which has similar artwork and is also nine discs).
Though I must admit that I have not yet purchased—indeed have never heard so much as a note from—10/19/73 it feels as if this show, being the opening night of Fall ’73, is fundamentally already part of my life. It is as if the very word “Oklahoma” whispers to me “fifteen and a half minute ‘Dark Star’ segues into ten and a half minute ‘Mind Left Body Jam.’ ” I’m familiar with the set list, obviously, so even though my system has yet to yield it up to me it is really just a matter of “All good things in all good time,” as Jerry says—on one of his solo records, but still.
My two favorite things about Winterland 1973 are (1) the mind-blowing musical palindrome of “Playin’>UJB>AM Dew>UJB>Playin’” that opens set two on 11/10, and (2) the fact that it put Fall ’73 over the top in terms of extensiveness of documentation relative to Europe ’72. Or it did until this year, because now they’re releasing a sixty-one-disc box set which will present the Europe ’72 tour in its entirety. Every note of all twenty- two shows. It’s really not fair, because how can you ever top everything? Though of course maybe the band or the company that now manages their catalog doesn’t see it as a competition. There are, by one estimate I saw on a tee shirt, 2317 Grateful Dead shows comprising 417,600 hours of music performed over the course of thirty years. Maybe one day they will release it all. The whole archive out there and each show like a brick in the great Grateful Dead pyramid (speaking of which: the Grateful Dead actually played at the pyramids in Egypt in 1978). I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, but it definitely should and seems like it probably will. In the meantime I can tell you this: if they ever do make a Fall 1973: The Complete Recordings it will have twenty-seven shows and fill seventy discs with a half hour left over on the seventy-first disc for filler. The thing about the filler is you don’t want to treat it like an afterthought. You want to make the most of the space available and pick the best songs you can. I have some ideas about this too, of course, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.