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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2009/04/26
by Jesse Jarnow

The Ydbbbbkk of Bob Weir

BRAIN TUBA: The Ydbbbbkk of Bob Weir
One of the early summertime rituals here, Dean, is intended for every person to consciously reckon with his past. Fgfgfgfgfgfgfgfgfgerina, for example, comes from a long line of tecostarials. They’re the ones in charge of the rainwater. There are different kinds of rain here, appropriate for different uses. Some goes to crops and such. Other types are intended for drinking, and then on different occasions. But, in the rainy season especially, the varieties multiply. One is good for stretching cloth. Another is especially useful for moistening ghuty-germ, the main ingredient in the yhurf-cake consumed during the blazcooster orgies I mentioned last dispatch.
Fgfgfgfgfgfgfgfgfgerina, though, is liberated, especially by local standards, so she has chosen her own path. (Plus a lot of tecostarial duties have been relagated to a series of rain-sorting dykes, which employ small wooden pullies to determine the weight of the water and funnel it to the appropriate bins.) Even so, she is still plenty traditional. The result being, first, that for the series of storms predicted for this week, she will be in the midst of it, gauging the differences as the precipiation develops with the ways taught to her by her grandmother involving intense taste bud control. Second, she has laid an ultimatum that I observe my personal equivalent, or she won’t share with me the jardynne-water reduction that will be the result of her three days on-watch and is said to be somewhere across between ayahusca and an aphrodesiac. So, I observe, Dean. I observe.
Part of the ritual involves being aware of the conscious continuum with the past, so of course merely listening to some old Dead bootleg wouldn’t quite serve the purpose. Coincidentally, my friend passed along a recording of the remains of the Grateful Dead performing at Nassau Coliseum just the day before. Most of it, he instructed, probably wasn’t worth hearing if one was expecting any type of exploration, but the "Dark Star"—a full 50 minutes with prelude and drums/space behind—was "legit" and worth checking out. And so this became my spring reckoning. Fgfgfgfgfgfgfgfgfgerina would understand, I was sure, particularly if I could communicate the idea that "Dark Star" is actually one long, continuous piece of music that the band has merely started and stopped a few hundred times over the years (I think that was my friend Steve’s theory). That should almost translate, I felt.
Bob Weir finds the doorway first, signalling with a bunch of ringing chords. On the show, "Dark Star" dissolves out "Alabama Getaway," which Warren Haynes sings in that goofy, still-lame fake-blues thing, which was maybe determined to be acceptable for this song because its lyric references the south? (Never did understand these aesthethic decisions.) Everybody else follows Weir through, Phil Lesh first. The drummers drop out and the song opens up. When they come back in, quietly, the drums aren’t loud enough in this mix (from the official soundboard, sounds like). Haynes’ leads give it a certain directionless push. They’re almost ambient in the sense—"noodly," a civilian might say, but Haynes is filling the space that needs to be filled. The music is very still, floating through the outer rim of OSU professor Graeme Boone’s "Dark Star" mandalas.
Immediately after the first verse, they go legit.
One of the drummers insistently taps a cymbal and the music picks up around it, Weir and Haynes diving back and forth with small wah-wah phrases. Like Haynes, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti specializes in no-toes-stepped-on coloration. He picks up finally, adding confident accents while the drummers accelerate into thunder and Haynes does some chromatic noodling that pushes tonality for a second before he’s back inside a blues scale. The band, Dean, just went into "Turn On Your Lovelight," and I swore something blue. Just as quickly, though, they go someplace else, Lesh dropping the bottom out of the changes with a descending bassline, and suddenly they’re in solid, major key territory. A really interesting, messy place, lots of sections. The drummers pull back on the reins and a short blues meltdown ensues before the guitarists bail.
Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann go full ambient almost immediately. Synth-heavy, fersure, but really beautiful stereo-panned melodic jams, like a break in the action on some mindblowing early ’90s electronic album that sounds less mindblowing now, but still very pretty. Were one to even identify the music as being by, say, a progressive (as opposed to prog) early ’80s German library music company, who would doubt? When Weir, Lesh, and Haynes return, the music collapes back a linear space, guitars chirping. Somebody triggers a vocal sample, sending it ricocheting through the mix with infinite echo, somewhere still in the same solar system as "Dark Star."
It’s scare-the-hippies music, as somebody once said. But it interests me, Dean, if hippies actually get scared by this shit, or just bored with it, sit down, wander off to the bathroom or skip to the next track? Or maybe they dig it. I hope they dig it. Because the "Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door" which comes next? Fuck that. It’s maybe the only song I never needed to hear Garcia sing, let alone Weir, or anybody else. Maybe it’s just a punchline.
When Fgfgfgfgfgfgfgfgfgerina returns, I show her my notes. I explain who the Dead are, and why this version of "Dark Star" is maybe significant, at least in terms of coming to grips with the way memory decays from the past, and the continuum of time can bend an idea until it is only recognizable on the surface, its innards some moving arrangement of shadow-clockwork, its meanings received and accepted before the arguments have even been made. Finally, she agrees to listen.
She calls the Dead a word that I am unfamiliar with. "Ydbbbbkk," I think. She refuses to translate.

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