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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Keith. And, Modernity.

Introduction: A Document

In my post "Keith Speaks", I threw out some raw materials on Fall 1971, Keith, FM broadcasts, as illuminated by a great little piece in the Chicago music mag The Now Sound. But I didn't really add any value. Well a new piece has just come across my brain, and I wanted to revisit that set of crossings, and say some other stuff.

This is the new piece:

Circular 3, 31 (October 4, 1971): The Dead Deliver.

Warner Brothers declared October 1971 Grateful Dead Month. As I'll elaborate below, using the imaged issue of Circular, the "weekly news device" of Warner/Reprise Records, this was no trivial undertaking, no mere encomium, no bone thrown to an artist way out in the long-right tail of professional acts' profitability distribution, 6 sigma or wherever it was, but also on that was always a little squirrely, and was maybe especially restless since money was coming in, chafing against its various corporate obligations and trying to figure itself out. This is the Real Deal Holyfiel'. The document represents a massive promotional investment, massive corporate effort from Burbank to the boonies, a chunk of money, something that gets mobilized, through these channels anyway, the planned ones, only twelve times a year. Warner Brothers went all in.

The company went in because, retensed, "The Dead Delivered". Grateful Dead, a.k.a. "Skull and Roses" a.k.a. "Skullfuck" came out September 1971 (Warner Brothers 2WS-1935) culled from shows recorded earlier in the year, super-hot live Grateful Dead with material from across the Dead's many American musical styles, from big jams to Garcia-Hunter and Weir-Barlow originals, churchy and folky stuff, rockabillies and straight out rockers, country numbers, a little jazz and blues flavor, the whole kit and caboodle. Americana Stew. Some great stuff to get high to, and some great stuff to groove to over anywhere young people listen to the radio, i.e., everywhere but in school in fall 1971.

FM radio formed a centerpiece of the promotional campaign. LIA: "Warner Brothers paid for the broadcast of one show per city in the fall ’71 tour to promote the Dead’s new live album." It seems to have worked," he goes on, "as the album went gold." I think there's more to it than that – a later part of this post will try to deconstruct the many splendored that is the Warner Bros.' marketing campaign, but I don't deny that FM was maybe the most important part.

For now, I want to think about Keith Richard Godchaux (July 19, 1948 – July 23, 1980).

No Pressure, Keith

What amazes me is how much pressure the FM broadcasts and the whole promotional blitz must have put on 23 year old Keith Godchaux. Can you imagine being a catastrophically shy lounge player, meeting Garcia on September 16th at the Keystone Korner, commencing rehearsals with the Dead no later than eleven days later, and hitting the road for an album promotional tour with live radio broadcasts in every city?!? It's no wonder Keith avers on 1022/71 that he's "had a hard time keeping a sense of continuity" (van Matre 1972, 14). No shit. Did anyone get the number of that bus?

Who knows how others' pressure feels? I can barely figure out my own. We all routinely do things that would prove impossible to others, for reasons of expertise, inclination and circumstance, and the attempting of which would be difficult for others. Insofar as it touches our stress triggers, stress ensues. Playing live on the radio would destroy me. Yet Keith Godchaux played heroically on the Fall 1971 Grateful Dead tour. He came out of the gate like a bat out of hell, played his ass off. He is mixed really high (too high, to the point of distortion, on many tapes), so he's totally audible, and I suspect that was true on the rooms, on the radio, etc. The jams from this tour are legendary: with 10/19 (Keith's first show!, 10/21, 10/29 and 10/31 alone making October 1971 among the best the Dead ever played.

It's a credit to the whole band, of course. They had tons of new material together, which Robert Hunter intended as the last piece of a trilogy, Rambling Rose to follow 1970 masterpieces Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. (Silberman 2001; h/t LIA), but which ended up mostly on Europe '72 (mostly, I gather, to get loose of Warner Brothers!). The songs are great and the arrangements are together (one can only think that they practiced a lot between the existing known sessions at the Santa Venetia Armory in San Rafael in late September and the start of the tour three weeks later). Musical professionalism is the order of the day, no sloppy/sick Pigpen at this moment, no sluggish dual drumming; Bill's attacking metronome, Phil's rich melodiousness, Weir's light speed progression – not just the songwriting, but the leadership, and of course the guitar playing, which by 1974 would become an indispensable strong thread in the bandweave—It's a great unit and they are getting shit done.

Anyway, all of this by way of saying "Welcome to the band, Keith. No pressure." I have always argued that there's only so much plasticity to the human soul, and that if you take it too far you might find yourself discovering all kinds of unpleasantness, reservoirs of stress and anxiety and exhaustion and fatalism which, tapped, can't be untapped; they can never go back to being unundiscovered, which is where they're best left. I don't have enough insight into Keith to see whether the baptism by fire left any scars. But it sure could have. Got pain? Seek comfort, immediately, and more fire is probably not a good call. Maybe being a musical idiot savant, as Garcia not kindly characterized him a few months before his untimely (and, I believe, fiery) death at 32 (Rowland 1980; see also "Bloody Hell"), maybe that helped; lacking emotional depth, maybe he just put his head down and played the fuck out of the piano –this he surely did!— maybe he didn't let it bother him. But I don't think so. No sense of continuity, indeed.

Welcome to Modernity

Roger Waters had it as "Welcome To The Machine", resonant with LIAs "brotherhood versus the machine" analysis of the Grateful Dead. It's all the same thing – modernity. In properly locating Helios, and somewhat counterintuitively, Galileo helped found an anthropocentric world, the one in which neither God nor Nature outstrips Man – and quite the contrary. The world is our artifactual oyster, and Reason can see us through. We own this place. Among many other things, space and time are standardized and routinized. As Boorstin writes in The Discovers, our calendars display a frothy, distinctly human blending of Moon and Sun. Pure hubris! Comparability and predictability result, and when you hear all that in the present context, you should hear "commodification", the ideal type of which is the perfectly invariant widget, available at just the right price.

Let's use the Circular to examine how this plays out, in practice. I should have mentioned this when I looked at the Pollstar 1991 year-end spectacular, analyzing it as "The Year of The Dead", but sometimes single documents contain whole worlds. These particular ones embody the record industry, put it on display, show its living patterns and practices. But they do so within the industry's natural habitat, not a zoo or even a National Park – straight out wilderness, where the viewing is best. So let's unpack what we see of this ubiquitous creature.

The titular article, "The Dead Deliver," offers an "official history", which is high modernity's codification of myth. I won't go over the details, but invite you all experts to comments on the details. There's a new record, natch, and let us hip you to its positive attributes. But also notice Weir's ascent to the front rank, "Handsome Bob," a strong lead singer. At least some girls and probably more than a few boys probably bought a record to ogle him, dreaming of holdin' Bobby's body close to theirs. Did I mention the commodification of sex? And, a record.

The second page finds mention of Garcia, planned for release within next month or two (eventually released in January 1972, Warner Brothers BS 2582) and IBM sales sheets (can I please see those?). But it's the box in the northeast corner that really interests me: how to make a Month. "To set all 50 of the United States ablaze with enthusiasm for the Dead's seven WB albums, the merch/ad/promo people in Burbank have been working overtime for the last month, in consort with the Dead's management, to come up with a campaign known loosely as 'Fill Your Days With the Dead'". We got yer t-shirts with in-store display apparatus; blow-ups of the band and slicks of the album covers; patches, currently "being stitched by gnomes at an undisclosed location" (I wonder where? Probably still domestic?); all kinds of routinized talking points, such that "Dear Customer be aware that there is now a Dead album for every day of the week"; and, of course, radio, with airplay, a single, and planned ad buys. (Note they don't mention the FM broadcasts – these must have been planned later.)

Space makes an appearance (the 50 states), but it's time that's really being packaged here. "What a Month is", indeed! Gods' names mask the reality that it's Man's World – we make our own time around here, son. The Month, capital 'M', with enough records for every day of the week.

The third and final page of the Dead feature contains no fewer than four chronological errors – that's really odd for an official history. Two regard release dates of Live/Dead and Workingman's Dead, and two involve personnel (Hart and TC's departures). Very strange. Notice Pigpen plans a solo album – it was right around this time that he was advertised with a solo gig.

The intervening three pages have your usual stuff, reports on artists, descriptions of new releases, singles, etc. It's all interesting. But I'll just get to the back cover:

What strikes me here is the sheer genius of listing these by space, rather than by time or by artist. Circular would go out to record stores all over the country, and local is where it's at. Want to sell a few more Fanny records? Tell the locals that she(?)'ll be playing the nearby college or theater. You don't need to know Fanny's whole itinerary, or what's happening elsewhere on any given Friday. What you need to know is "who's coming to Nebraska this week"? And The Market, Warner Brothers (including the winsome accountant M. Gitlin) and the intrepid Circular staff are happy to move put those data right in front of your nose, where you can find them. We got this. It'll cost you, but we've got this.


Anyway, no big deal. A lot of big words to just parse out some stuff in a document. But it's a neat document, and a deeply characteristic one. So, who has a line on more copies of the Circular? I didn't find any at GDAO, but I'd be shocked if the Santa Cruz archive didn't have some, somewhere. Anyone else? These would be fun to go through en masse.


  1. More questions than answers certainly, but I definitely agree that Keith came out swingin' right from the gate. The timeline from KG's entry into the band to heading out on a major national tour is quite stunning, when laid out like this. Though the circulating rehearsal tapes don't offer any evidence, they must spent quite a bit of time introducing Keith to the Dead's mode of jamming. Now *those* are some tapes I'd love to hear...

    Another fascinating tangent! Thanks as always for doin' what you do.

  2. I transcribed excerpts from this Circular and other Warners promotional material here:

    Warners went all out in promoting this album, and were rewarded with sales (it was certified gold a month after release, and the Dead's older albums also saw increased sales).
    The Dead themselves seem to have had a hands-off approach in this, refusing to make in-person radio promotional appearances (as usual). For that matter, I can't think of any print interviews with the band in late '71 either (though you might count Garcia's extensive RS interview, printed in Jan '72). They felt, rightly, that the music on the broadcast shows could do the talking for them.

    As for Keith? If I were to guess, I would say stress was probably not that significant a factor for him at that point. The Keith & Donna interview in the May '72 Book of the Dead gives some insight into their frame of mind. Recall that he was in the Dead mainly due to the support of his new wife, so he was hardly going it alone -
    Donna: "I had a dream that it was supposed to happen. It was the direction our lives had to go in. The only direction."
    And Keith agreed: "It was a cosmic thing... I knew it had to happen because I had a vision."
    (In one sense she was shyer than he was, since they couldn't persuade her to sing with the band til early '72. Keith sighed, "She really needs to be singing.")

    Keith's perspective: "I never get flashed too heavily by my environment because I spend a lot of time spaced. I'm a Cancer and have every hangup a Cancer could possibly have. Everything bad about being a Cancer I have - raging! But a couple of years ago I learned some tricks about where to put my head. My old lady's a Leo. Guess that's a pretty weird mixture, but it's definitely high as shit...
    "I think what I've contributed to the band as a whole is an added amount of energy, which they needed for my taste... I have a super amount of energy. I'm just a wired-up person and I relate to music super-energetically. It's like a 5-volt battery turning into a 6-volt battery. It was very far out, because the part of their music which I played fit in perfectly, like a part of a puzzle...
    "When I met them, I knew these were people I could trust with my head. They would never do anything which would affect me negatively... They are righteous people."

    Well, Keith was weird. Who knows, there was probably some stage fright - going from cocktail-jazz trios in little Concord bars to a big rock band in Midwest auditoriums in one step is quite a jump - but I don't think performance anxiety really ate at him. Speculatively, I imagine October '71 as one of the happiest months of his life. The demons that wrecked him the longer he stayed with the Dead came from elsewhere.


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