Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > How To Lounge> Art & Culture > A long playlist for the Dead end of the year

A long playlist for the Dead end of the year

This winter solstice, the Grateful Dead released a compilation of live recordings, nearly 16 hours, from throughout their career

The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead

The hibernal or winter solstice is the year’s shortest day and longest night and it happens when one of the poles of the Earth is inclined farthest away from the Sun. In the northern hemisphere, it usually falls on December 20 or 21 and that day is traditionally considered the first day of winter. The winter solstice, like the summer solstice (when one of the Earth’s poles tilts closest to the Sun), is celebrated in many cultures with festivals such as Christmas, Dongzhi in China, Yalda in Iran, or Lohri in India which, in fact, it is believed by many to mark the passing of the winter solstice.

For the Grateful Dead, a band whose existence in its original form ended in 1995 but whose legacy, incredibly, continues to endure, this year’s winter solstice has been an occasion for the release of a playlist, a compilation of live recordings from throughout the band's career, featuring nearly 16 hours of their so-called “best and longest versions of essential Dead tracks”.

Also read: Teju Cole's ‘Tremor’ is a novel of digressions and the ethics of art

Titled ‘Winter Solstice’, the playlist has 61 songs, all culled from various shows that the band played during their storied career.

Depending on how a show is defined (for instance, whether it was an official one or not), the Grateful Dead played between 2,314 and 3,155 concerts during their 30-year career. The Winter Solstice playlist, released on December 20 this year, draws from that vast repertoire of shows, most of which were recorded by the band on tapes that were stored in vaults as well as by members of the audience.

The Grateful Dead played psychedelic rock, and were among the genre’s pioneers that emerged from the 1960s counterculture movement in San Francisco. They were known for their improvisational and experimental music, as well as their devout fanbase of followers known as Deadheads. The band’s philosophy was to create a communal and spontaneous musical experience, where each concert was unique and unpredictable where they rarely ever played a song the same way or for the same duration. They also allowed and encouraged their fans to tape their live shows and trade the recordings among themselves, as long as they did not sell them for profit. This created a vast archive of live performances and a strong network of tape enthusiasts that still exists, and tapings, albeit reincarnated in digital formats, which still circulate.

The band in its original form ended with the death of its lead guitarist, main co-composer and one of its two prominent vocalists, Jerry Garcia, in 1995. After his early death at 53, the band did regroup but not under its original moniker. There were a number of projects or bands that the surviving alums of the original Grateful Dead formed of which Dead & Co. was one of the more noteworthy ones. Formed by the Grateful Dead’s second guitarist and singer, Bob Weir, and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann in 2015, along with John Mayer (lead guitar), Oteil Burbridge (bass), and Jeff Chimenti (keyboards), the band toured and played predominantly Grateful Dead songs with their live shows drawing in thousands of Deadheads, both veterans and newbies.

Yet, for purists, it is the music of the original Grateful Dead that stands apart from everything else that has followed in the wake of Garcia’s death. Garcia’s guitar style was unique and legendary and, although he shied away from the limelight and never proclaimed to be the leader of the band, in reality he was exactly that. In the 30 years that he and the band toured and played, their live shows were a display of how they much they could experiment with their music; how far the improvisation and jamming by each musician could push the boundaries of the music they played and how they could challenge and blur the lines between conventionally defined genres.

The Winter Solstice playlist is a compilation that showcases that spirit of improvisation and the deep commitment that the band had to forge bonds between themselves and their audience, comprised famously of thousands of fans who followed the band on their peripatetic and prolific touring across the world, but mainly across America, for three decades. These fans became a community that transcended the music and evolved their own unique lifestyle that had both bright and dark sides—the latter often caused by the excesses of drug abuse.

The Winter playlist includes songs that even those with a fleeting acquaintance to the band’s music are familiar with—such as Dark Star, Eyes of the World, Playing in the Band, and Estimated Prophet. The version of Dark Star, a signature song by the band, composed in 1968 by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, which straddles psychedelic rock, acid rock, experimental rock, avant-garde, space rock, and jazz-rock, which is included in the playlist is 35 minutes and 40 seconds long and is from a 1973 concert at the Winterland Ballroom, a San Francisco venue that no longer exists. The version of Eyes of the World, also written by Garcia and Hunter, and whose lyrics are believed to be inspired by the mystic and spiritual teachings of the Armenian-born philosopher George Gurdjieff, is 23 minutes and 40 seconds long; and the version of Playing in the Band, an oft-performed song of the band, is 46 minutes long.

Yet, the compilation also has many rare gems and jams. Such as the nearly 43-minute Saint of Circumstance, with Bob Weir on vocals, from a concert at the Nassau Coliseum in 1981. Or a differently performed 26-minute plus version of the fan favourite Truckin’, a song that first appeared on their 1970 album American Beauty. It is a bluesy, country-rock song that reflects the band's experiences on the road and their encounters with the law, drugs, and other challenges. The song's refrain, "What a long, strange trip it's been", has become a popular cultural expression.

That sentence is also an apt description of the beloved band’s career and, often, the lives of many of their longtime fans (this writer included!).


Five songs to bookend your week

Next Story