Going Down So Many Roads Feeling a Little Bit Better Jam

Thanks to things like the Internet Archive and YouTube, the music of the Grateful Dead is widely and freely available online. While the band made about a dozen studio albums together during a roughly twenty-year period of active recording, they obviously are best-known for their live performances over thirty years of touring with the core ensemble and, including various partial lineups, over fifty total years.

A quick search suggests that, the second-most-viewed Grateful Dead YouTube video of a single live song (2.5 million views) is July 9, 1995’s “So Many Roads.” The popularity of this video is readily understandable. The night is recognized as the band’s final concert, and Jerry Garcia would be dead exactly a month later. The song itself appears in the middle of the second set and features a vocal performance from a weak, haggard Garcia that nevertheless translates as pleading, desperate, retrospective, resigned, and soulful over an undeniably emotional twelve minutes. It’s just extremely real. The hindsight of knowing makes it dangerously easy to project external narratives on a captured and preserved moment of the past, but one hardly can avoid the feeling that Garcia is in this moment conscious of his impending departure (cf. Warren Zevon, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” The Wind (2003) (live in studio)), particularly given the dark, desolate, windswept (probably just a stage fan on a hot Chicago night but still) nature of the visual shot of the video.

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“So Many Roads” was a 90s Dead product, debuting on February 22, 1992 in Oakland and appearing regularly in setlists thereafter. Garcia considered the song (auto)biographical:

It’s [lyricist Robert] Hunter writing me from my point of view, you know what I mean? We’ve been working together for so long that he knows what I know. The song is full of references to things that have to do with me . . . .

Hunter is the only guy that could do that. He can write my point of view better than I can think it, you know what I mean? So that’s the kind of relationship we have. And he frequently writes tunes from my point of view that are autobiographical. They’re actually biographical I guess. He’s the one writing them, but even so they express my point of view – and more than that they express the emotional content of my soul in a certain way that only a long-term and intimate relationship with a guy as brilliant as Hunter coughs up . . . . I can sing that song, feel totally comfortable with it.

Although the band performed “So Many Roads” fifty-four times between February 1992 and July 1995, until this week, the only version I could recall hearing was the one from that final night. I don’t think that fact is terribly surprising; as a general matter, mid-90s Dead tapes aren’t exactly in high demand.

On Tuesday, though, I heard a new-to-me version of “So Many Roads,” this one from the Boston Garden on October 1, 1994, and the relative differences are striking. It’s brighter, stronger (even if Garcia’s physical frailties remain noticeable), upbeat, energized, and about half as long as the final version. It also is this week’s Jam:

As the foregoing indicates, I am not an expert in this narrow channel; however, if you only ever hear one performance of this song, it needs to be the July 9, 1995 offering. If you hear two, though, then October 1, 1994 makes for a good and uplifting pairing.

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Shadow of The Wind Jam

As music writer Steven Hyden’s timely and expansive new remembrance notes, today is the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Warren Zevon. I recommend you read Hyden’s article while listening to these selections from Zevon’s deep catalogue. The first two picks are mine, while the third is the song Hyden identifies as the artist’s best.

I enjoyed the sandwich I had for lunch today, and I hope you have the opportunity to do the same.

Ring tones: Two raconteurs battle to tell the tale of Boom Boom Mancini

Boxing is and remains at the nexus of raw athleticism and raw celebrity, and its literary and musical ties are no less strong today for the decrease in volume of evidence of those ties that reasonably tracks the decrease in the sport’s popularity. I don’t feel any special need to perpetuate the sport except that I would hate to see it go, which is why I try to keep an eye on it here. (Click the “boxing” tag at the bottom of this post for past coverage.)

I was looking forward to reading this interview with Boom Boom Mancini’s latest biographer, and although I did learn some interesting details about the fighter’s life, the interview wasn’t anything special. It did recall an earlier Mancini biographer, though, who gives a crisp, thundering delivery:

(I also think more boxing matches should take place outside.)

Friday Delta Jam

Today’s Friday Jam comes to you from the road, where I’m beginning my reverse reinactment of the second third of the great blues migration. I will be in Chicago tonight for the Red Wings and Blackhawks, and I’ll be in Memphis tomorrow afternoon for the Liberty Bowl, where Vanderbilt will face Cincinnati. Given the recent spate of hockey head injuries, the most recent victim of which is Nashville’s Shea Weber, featuring Warren Zevon and Mitch Albom’s “Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)” in this spot didn’t seem quite right. The other selection never was in question, however, and I was happy to find this particular clip because it was the first time I’d ever heard the tune:

I hope that happens to me exactly, minus the rain and the catfish. I’ve caught catfish. I’ve eaten catfish. Various preparations. I’ve tried. I can’t do it anymore. And the pouring rain. It always seems to rain for the Liberty Bowl, but this year is shaping up just fine.

The Classical preview and Bill “Spaceman” Lee

I’ve previously mentioned The Classical, the forthcoming sports writing blog currently in preview mode. Their plan is to get up and running in a month or so, and I hope to offer my thoughts on the new site shortly thereafter.

In the meantime, they’ve been posting a few articles and other bits to give readers a sense of what’s to come. Here’s Paul Flannery on Bill Lee:

Keep reading…