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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Digression on Data


Let’s pause for a minute and reflect on how fortunate we are to have such high quantity and quality of materials to exploit. Posters, handbills, advertisements, previews, blurbs, mentions, reviews, ledgers, contracts, calendars and other sources overwhelm us. (By the way, where are the personal diaries/journals, a la Faren Miller's amazing chronicles of QMS? If anyone reading this kept any notes relating to GD and Garcia, please send me an email at jgmfblog@gmail.com!)
 
Personal memories remain alive and frequently (if imperfectly) captable by those who might seek to document them. They’re often pretty good memories. I’d suggest that levels of intelligence and education among those who remember these things, these “subjects” whose memories we seek to record, explore and understand are generally a way north of the population mean. This is a smart and often articulate bunch. The consciousness that one was engaged in something special or unusual seems to have quite often produced reasonably conscious memory as well – a good thing.

A final point on personal memory, a very meta point that I’ll nevertheless indulge. In comments on my listening notes for May 6, 1983, Corry discussed his ca. late April 1983 data generating process in his role as Keeper of The List, which is very helpful. I produced a nicely anchored memory, one that’s bound up in other important or noteworthy or otherwise salient events, in a kind of syndrome or complex. In the case of the venue for 5/6/83, I find myself persuaded by the participant recollection (i.e., that it was at the Keystone in Berkeley, not at The Stone in The City).

Finally (not really finally, but finally for my purposes here), are events for which there is neither paper nor memory, the shows that happened and that we know about only because of tape recordings. How many were not taped and hence remain unknown? I do not know and I prefer not to think too long on it. Instead, I want to use the lifetimes-worth of taped material we do have as best I can. My listening notes are an attempt to recode the raw data from tapes into other useable (for my purposes) forms. These data, like all of them, have their limits. In a view that Corry has been articulating (e.g., about GD Matrix Tapes from late 1966) and that I suspect is correct, it’s possible that the taped record systematically biases against the quotidian and in favor of the unusual and/or excellent. Recognizing this only reinforces why we need to practice convergent operationalism, i.e., triangulation across sources. We all already do this, but I want to recognize it explicitly as a valuable part of the enterprise.

16 comments:

  1. I have a rather different viewpoint. Coming from the perspective of late-60s Dead (rather than later Garcia) I am struck by how underwhelming the evidence is, and how many shows left little trace.
    Of course most concerts, by their nature, are public events that throw out lots of proofs of their existence; and there are groups of people that collect & collate these proofs of 60s/70s shows in particular.
    As we've gone over lately, though, Garcia had a habit of playing jams in clubs where we're lucky even to get a brief unnamed "jam night" newspaper notice, let alone any other kind of evidence. And the Dead as a whole sometimes had the habit of playing free & undocumented shows, even while on tour. (As noted lately, things get more solid once we enter the 70s, Garcia gets a bigger profile, and the Dead adhere more to a set schedule.)

    As far as the internet, we know how often light is shed by the brief recollections of some old-timer on a forum...recalling something we knew nothing about before. But reliability is an ever-present issue here, as well as the scattered & uncollected nature of such memories, which often remain buried unremarked in some forum...
    I often wonder how much better our picture of the late 60s would be if the internet had been around 20 years earlier!

    As far as tapes, of course the late-60s Dead benefited to some extent by the presence of Owsley, a determined band archivist & taper long before anyone else thought it was worthwhile. (While I lament the long stretches where he was not with the band & not taping, such stretches are of course commonplace for most other bands, and our tape record for the Dead remains better than for just about anyone else.)
    You are right that the tape record has some biases. On the Vault side, the tapes that were leaked into circulation tend to be the superior shows - it's been commented that poor shows tended not to be copied, and there are many still in the Vault from 68/69 that we know nothing about. On the audience-tape side, of course circulation prefers the decent & higher-quality AUDs...many a lousy audience tape must have been made that nobody wanted to trade or copy, hence they disappeared.
    Some early tapes are still unknown date & venue, since they came out back in the early days when nobody had a way of looking up that kind of info, imprecision was more common, and the original tapers or traders have long since vanished. Fortunately, there aren't that many tapes left in this undated limbo...and almost always, we can at least get the correct month or venue.

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  2. Oddly, the comment I left here has disappeared...

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  3. Not sure why, but it went into spam folder.

    Of course, you are right, LIA. My point is simply that my little task of doing research into Jerry Garcia's Middle Finger has generated more data than I could process in several lifetimes. There are of course many shows that have left no trace. And then there are the ones that are known only by tape (e.g., the 9/6/69 Airplane set that I am still trying to finish writing up!).

    One of the neat things about this little group of scholars is that we are all open to all kinds of evidence, but we also have some complementary strengths. Where Yellow Shark is the king of all things paper, I have always been more of a tape guy. Etc.

    I sure do wish some more obsessives would jump into the conversation. I can hardly keep up reading Corry, but I am always a glutton for more.

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  4. Ah, LIA the notorious spammer! Now it makes sense.

    One other small point I might make is that a lot of the evidence you mention (reviews, articles) is quite inaccessible to all but the most determined researcher. There is no Press Reports compilation on the Dead; and the GD Annotated Bibliography often overlooks small underground publications, thus probably missing many contemporary reviews; not that many of their entries aren't hard to find in any case. Recent discoveries may also take a while to become widely known. So at the current level of research, we're often still just laying the groundwork for future research, as it were.

    While I'm also impressed by Corry's steady flow of posts, I also wish more obsessives would show up. The trouble is, most of them are not obsessive enough! Sometimes promising Dead blogs start up & then die after a few posts, as the author loses interest; I've seen several really knowledgeable people appear online but then apparently burn out & disappear after a while. The internet attrition rate is high, it seems!

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  5. While I understand what LIA says, in comparison to not only most bands, but the performing arts in general, the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia are extremely well documented. I do a lot of research into popular culture genres such as Broadway in the first half of the 20th century or Hollywood of the same period, and you would hardly believe how little substantial information there is on either. There may have been literally 14 different newspapers to cover a Broadway show opening, so that night is fairly well documented, but songs, sketches, performers were tinkered with after a show officially opened and the the only documentation is articles written by press agents, who had little regard for veracity in their claims.

    I did a book a few years back for Harry Abrams on Irving Berlin (http://tinyurl.com/6pcchjh). Berlin writes the first real American musical in 1914, that is one in which the entire score is written by one composer. Photos? None of the extant images actually show the production in performance or in the actual costumes they wore on stage. I had to rely on contemporaneous newspaper illustrations in which artist actually drew what they saw in the show, rather than photographs (and even that number is small)

    I did another exhibition and book on Hollywood posters by Al Hirschfeld (http://tinyurl.com/7ab2xth). Almost none of the hand drawn poster work for the first three quarters of the 20th century was signed. And even when signed, artists often took pen names that can be near impossible to track back to an actual person. While not true for Hirschfeld, it was true for many other artists.

    Think of musicians like Buddy Bolden. An extremely influential figure for which there are no recordings and few photographs. Eyewitness accounts are often apocryphal. Jump to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Of course there are recorded concerts, but hardly any, compared to the ones they actually played. Like the Dead and its members, the setlists are a starting point, so the real heart of the mater is missing. We have but a few recordings of Charlie Parker live and a few transcriptions.

    Compared to these and so many more, we have a wealth of information on Garcia's career including field recordings, official releases, contemporaneous accounts, photos, in some case videos, and even review.s Garcia made two stabs at documenting what he thought the Dead experience was. They hire a historian who documents the band in process. And with the advent of the internet, we have a means to share and research even more.

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  6. ...That's not to say that we can or will learn everything about every show. it is fairly common to think in linear progressions of events, when it is quite obvious that not only was the scene almost by definition non-linear, but whims, synchronicity, luck, and events in and outside of the control of Garcia or partners played a significant role.

    I have also had the good fortune over the years to interview artists' regarding their life's work and at times I have quotes from the artist at 25 on the genesis of a painting or another work of art. At 50, I have quotes from the artist on the same work and they frequently see the reasons differently, and at 75 another way. I believe they are all valid and true to some extent, even if they can be at times contradictory. It is human nature for us to continually revise "truths" to match our current outlook. And of course we have all been to shows we have loved, only to have a friend feel the exact opposite.

    So in terms of data, I feel even with the rich record we have there are bound to be holes, and lots of them, but what I enjoy so much about these blogs in the journey in untangling the extant record, adding to it and leaving it open to additions. AS LIA quotes in his recent Rosemary post, even in his songs, Garcia was interested in leaving just enough of the meaning out as to make it interesting and open ended for everyone else. And while there are even linear reasons for that, I think I agree with Dylan when he said "Mystery is a traditional fact" or something close to that effect.

    So keep digging. As a long time student of the band, your light into dark corners has made me re-listen and re-evaluate those things that I "know." It is not so much that my opinion changes, but my appreciation deepens.

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  7. True, the GD are very well-documented even compared to most bands of the time. (And if you're interested in obscure musical artists of the earlier 20th century, often you can't hear them at all except for perhaps some 78s, let alone get a mass of eyewitness testimony & multiple books about them...)

    So in the larger perspective, the Dead's story is quite well-known & even over-familiar. In the micro-perspective, though, these blogs are dedicated to filling in the dark corners - little areas most Dead fans may not be concerned with, but are catnip for the hardcore.
    Where the Dead were on the night of November 24, 1968, for instance, is trivial minutia. In the context of these blogs, though, it's a little shaft of light into an ongoing musical relationship between two bands, as well as the Dead's touring patterns of the time. Though not adding that much to our sum of knowledge, it fills out another detail in an interesting 'offstage' story.
    Plus there's the pleasure of discovering any little tidbit that was formerly unknown. That can't be discounted - with the Dead, unlike other really big bands, every little detail & note hasn't been hashed out in a thousand internet pages already.
    The Dead have not gotten that much close scrutiny yet. I've been amazed by how often, when considering some tiny Dead topic, I noticed something that no one had written about before, just because I paid attention. In-depth Dead research is really just getting underway, which means there's a whole lot of little details out there still to be found, like gold dust waiting for the miners of '49.

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  8. "a lot of the evidence you mention (reviews, articles) is quite inaccessible to all but the most determined researcher"

    Indeed! And, to follow from your later comment, discovering and cataloging these things is one of the fine little pleasures I get from all of this.

    DLeopold, thank you for joining the conversation! As my post suggests, I do consider myself lucky to be interested in something with just the right (for me) profile of enough material to sink teeth into, but enough holes to provide the thrill of discovery. Out much farther toward either extreme of the continuum, and there'd be too much or too little to work with. (It's no accident that I find myself here. I like problems with this particular profile, in general, as I am sure most intellectuals do.) As someone who is particularly into tapes and is also a big fan of, say, QMS, for which there is relatively little high quality tape (though still mountains of stuff compared to the artists that DLeopold has worked on!), I do find the Garcia world relatively data-rich, by contrast.

    LIA, I agree about Dead scholarship being surprisingly thin on the ground. There is a group of self-identified GD scholars who gather annually at the meetings of the Southwest Texas Popular Culture Association. Their meetings are around this time of year. This is the group around the sociologist at UNC Charlotte (whose name I am forgetting) and a bunch of other people. But, for whatever reason, the scholarship being done just doesn't resonate with me. It's probably because of my own inclinations and biases. I find much of it too "post-modern" (as that's understood in my home, social science, discipline), way too meta and not empirical enough. Again, and to be clear, that's not a criticism so much as a matter of taste.

    But leaving my own blog aside, what LIA and Corry do is right in the sweet spot for me. Very much empirically grounded, but not "barefoot" empiricism, i.e., not purely inductive or not just reporting facts. Lots of good conceptual and analytical work that guides, responds to, and develops along with the data.

    On the number of us doing this, the problem is, as I think LIA would agree, that it's a really weird profile that leads us to this. There are lots of people who are obsessed about the GD/Garcia (e.g., "completist" tape collectors) who just don't like or have time to do more than collect. Once one starts blogging, one starts realizing pretty quickly that it's a shitload of work and time. One obviously has to enjoy writing. And one needs to have (or be willing/able to make) time for it. And one needs to be persuaded that the work is meaningful or worthwhile in some way. When you run everything through those various needles' eyes you get, well, a scholarly community of a half dozen or so.

    And, in some ways, I am grateful not to be more read, in the sense that I always felt like bloggers with big audiences (e.g., political bloggers) must, at some point, feel pressured to write for their audience. And since this whole thing is quite explicitly and consciously *not* supposed to feel like work for me, that would kind of denature it, ruin it. Better to be able to just move in the weird ebbs and flows that I work in, purely selfishly.

    Last point about our scholarly ecology. I am pleased to see the venuologists working at http://gdvenue.blogspot.com/ and http://jerrygarciasbrokendownpalaces.blogspot.com/. I'd sure love to see more musicological analysis of stuff, and what I would think of as ethnomusicological stuff, where GD/Garcia are brought into extensive conversation with, e.g., the broader American musical tradition. But in the meantime I am glad at least to have what readership and community I have. Thanks to all of you!

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  9. I agree that much of what passes for modern "scholarship" on the Dead (as in those Popular Culture meetings) is way too academically oriented for my taste - very theoretical & obscure, without much historical grounding. Some of their printed essays are almost unreadable...though some good stuff slips through.
    But everyone has their own approach, and there's certainly room for a wide range of perspectives. Many bloggers are particularly interested in dates & venues - I'm more interested in what's on the tapes - some blogger yet-to-be may be more focused on the Dead's social scene, or a musicological approach (like the defunct gratefuldeadworld blog), and so on...

    There are definitely a lot of needle's eyes to pass through before a blog like this comes into being, though! Being a collector, a writer, a researcher, and a fanatic rolled into one seems to be the requirement...
    Actually I have grave doubts about whether the work is meaningful or worthwhile; and though it's a gratifying (but time-consuming) hobby, it all must be done in spite of my feeling that writing about the Dead is quite pointless & unnecessary, and some other writer could do it better. There's not one post where I didn't feel like just dropping it & saving myself the trouble. So I understand why other people might give up early on!

    You mention the audience, though. As it happens, we're not writing about some obscure little niche band - there are a lot of Dead fans out there who LOVE reading about their favorite band, and are rather starved for material. So, in a happy marriage, blogs like this do find a large (if silent) readership.

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  10. LIA has touched on another issue that rarely if ever gets mentioned in music blogs, much less Grateful Dead ones, and that is the subject of methodology. I suppose it would be more accurate to say "lack of methodology." A lot of people approach the Dead by articulating how they feel about certain pieces of music--a given "Dark Star," for example. Sometimes, they even write quite eloquently about it. However, that's not really a serious approach, just a sharing of perceptions. That's one reason that some blogs grind to a halt--people might do a good job of explaining their perceptions and feelings, but that's not a long term project.

    As to LIA's comment that much of the other scholarship isn't historically grounded, I couldn't agree more. However, ironically, I don't think they are very rigorous about theory either. In that sense, it all comes back to methodology. LIA's interested in what's on the tapes, but his approach is grounded in actual comparisons, not his feelings (which is not to say his opinions aren't always welcome, just that it's not the basis of his work).

    I don't like explaining what my approach is--to paraphrase a 19th century diplomat, it's like sausage, and you don't need to know how it's made in order to enjoy it. Nonetheless I have a pretty clear idea of how I'm getting where I'm trying to go, so it makes it easier to keep constructing little pieces as part of the larger edifice. In fact, the reason I started the Hooterollin blog was for things that didn't fit into Lost Live Dead, and now that has taken on a methodological life of its own, if somewhat inadvertently.

    Anyone who says they are working without "theory" or "ideology" or an "approach" is just in the grip of an older theory, ideology or approach, they just don't recognize or admit it (Terry Eagleton, for any of you looking for a citation). If you can't place your own research and analysis into a methodological framework, it just grinds to a halt.

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  11. The terra incognita that you guys explore is right up my alley. I am very interested in whether there was a late night jam with the Airplane in Detriot in 1969. That really is catnip for me.

    In those days of yore before the internet, we used to collect every setlist for the year and put them together in a year-at-a glance on the back of a photo or collage of photos from that year and would sell them for a $1 at shows (under the name Printknot Printers...there's one in the recent GD Scrapbook...which if you have not purchased, you have not missed much). Documenting what went on, including onstage comments, was first a challenge then a game to to study while on tour. I still live in the East, so most of my GD and even Garcia experiences were weeks long excursions, rather than various weekends at venues in the Bay Area. I think this only makes me more interested in the band's moveable feast aspect. From the band to the fans, we were all away from home. I thought the post on the JGB, Comfort, NRPS show captured some of that very well.

    To look for patterns, deviations, the repetition of set lists, tour itineraries, still entertains me. I pick up a Deadbase Jr. and can get lost quickly in looking at the evolutions of tours. Looking at what I know and what I have heard gives me some idea of what went on. And these blogs fill in even more details. I wish I had more time to contribute. There is, I think, a good post to write on the evolution of Playin, of how it came to be, how it expanded and how it eventually ended up in the second set. But the listening time alone to do it right, simply takes more time than I have at the moment.

    I have found the Garcia band histories really illuminating. but I enjoyed the Rosemary post just as much. to be honest, it is rare I don't find something of interest in every post I have read in this quartet. I rarely write in the comments, not because I have not read what you wrote, but feel I have little to add, other than "good job" "didn't know" "go figure." But how ever you want to describe what you are looking for, it scratches my itch.

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  12. DLeopold brings up an interesting point, which is that these blogs are the latest manifestation of a long line of Dead annotators & setlist-collectors. We follow in a tradition that stems at least from the mid-70s, of trying to document & study all the details of this odd but addictive band. Needless to say, there would be much less to write if not for all the Dead obsessives & researchers who came earlier.

    There will be a good post written on the evolution of Playin - by me. I don't think it will be ready for a couple more months, though. (As you say, it takes time to do it right!)

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  13. Regarding Grande Ballroom, there was an article that features Russ Gibb (80 years old) of the Grande Ballroom in the Detroit News 2/1/2012.

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  14. Anon, any chance it mentions the Airplane/GD jam? :)

    LIA, I have thought a lot about the List Making Tradition in our world, and you're right both that we'd be lost without it and that we are extending that venerable tradition. In fact, when I posted Corry's comments about the Janet Soto list, it was as a first salvo in what I intend, at some point, to be a reasonably complete history.

    Corry: I am with you. It's not so much the "academic" nature of things that I find limiting, it's the lack of clarity about standards of evidence (e.g., what evidence would falsify a claim?), the confidence of inference, theoretical priors (and posteriors), and so forth. But I recognize that this is a matter of my own taste (and training/indoctrination) and that there's plenty of room for every possible approach.

    I have a tag called "methodology" that I try to use whenever I say something relevant along those lines, though, unlike Corry, I don't deploy a well-identified (less still elaborated) method, except in the most generic sense that I value the use of evidence in adjudicating truth-claims.

    Say, how about that Garcia, huh? He sure could play some nice git-tar. :)

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  15. What a great conversation in these comments - "venueologist" - heh, never thought of myself that way but it fits.

    It's funny, I find that my venue posts are somewhat dry and full of facts for the most part. I think it's likely due to my science background. Just the facts, ma'am. One reason I wish I was more eloquent is that trying to describe what I feel when researching these old buildings is difficult. For some weird reason that I can't figure out I find the transition of uses of a building fascinating. There's something about the unbroken connection to the past that resonates with me. Perhaps it's because for the past 15 years I've worked in a building that used to be the state mental health asylum! Ghosts...

    Certainly part of the fun is the archaeological aspect of it - as JGMF said, "enough holes to provide the thrill of discovery." To whit: my discovery this morning of a "new" GD poster for the 10/23/66 Walnut Creek show (I left a comment about this on last year's post about this show).

    Part of it is adding to the scholarship of this band. Just throwing my little cap into the ring trying to suss out little sparkly nuggets here and there.

    And part of it is, as I'm sure it is for you guys, is what you come across that's tangential to your main focus. When I was looking into the FDGH history I found many wonderful conversations of people reminiscing about the wonderful times they had at Playland, across the street. It's great stuff! And the news searches always bring up wonderful articles that often give a glimpse into the days of yore. Thank you google, especially for the Village Voice archives!

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  16. Then there's the hidden treasures residing in Santa Cruz archive. Occasionally they'll throw out a picture of a poster, Jerry's file cabinet or yet another example of fan art. But where's the juicy stuff? The truly obscure posters/handbills, the crumpled pieces of paper from shows we never knew about, the informative artifacts. I'm guessing the guy they hired to curate the archive is pretty busy archiving but I hope he's busy identifying and categorizing the holdings and eventually making them available for research. Well, I guess that's what archivists to so I'll just have to be patient and wait. But I'm looking forward to it!

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!Thank you for joining the conversation!