A. Mackem in Washington says...

Stop this senseless discrimination!!

by David Brazier


It has been a slow month in the state of Washington...

A couple of weeks ago, this correspondent was privileged to attend one of the best gigs I have ever seen. I was accompanied by a friend of mine who had no true prior knowledge of the type of music he would be listening to that evening, but was if anything slightly prejudiced against the family of music this event was going to be part of. We saw just over three hours of music, tight musicianship, with an enthusiastic crowd, in a great venue, displaying excellent acoustics. Wonderful performances of both Maggies Farm and Queen Jane Approximately. And the name of this band? Ratdog. Bob Weir’s Ratdog.

Hang on, I here some of you cry. That name sounds familiar. Didn’t he play with Dylan a time or two in the dim and distant past? But some of you have probably already made the even bigger leap, and remembered that Bob Weir was an erstwhile member of the band who cause more opprobrium in the Dylan world than a casual reference to compulsory euthanasia would in an old peoples home. Yes, that’s right The Grateful Dead. And if you are asleep in the back, I will shout it out, THE GRATEFUL DEAD!!

But really gentle readers, what is there to be afraid of?

One of my so called hobbies or pastime’s is to compile CDs around specific themes and pass them onto the people who I am related to through alcohol. Like most of you, I am sure, I enjoy searching out new music, hearing new ideas and finding they become a springboard for other things. Some time ago the Gaoler sent me on a search to track down a particular song. A song that both of us could recall, but not who it was by, nor what exactly the title was of said song. Researching music is always enjoyable to me, and after a few hours I finally hit paydirt and was able to download the song using one of those highly immoral (or splendid examples of the freethinking that drives the medium) pieces of peer to peer software that proliferates upon the internet.

The song in question was “Rex Bob Lowenstein” by Mark Germino (Radartown - Mark Germino & The Sluggers 1990). A pleasant little ditty that recalls to some minds the song W.O.L.D by Harry Chapin, in that it deals with a radio DJ. The song in question then ended up on a compilation CD that had little in the way of theme to it, more a rounding up of odd little items. The idea to then start doing similar things with songs found in a similar way, and put them together thematically came later.

Some time later I was compiling a CD that took as its theme Radio. And of course, the aforementioned Rex Bob Lowenstein was an ideal track to include on this compilation. During my research I found that Mark Germino had recorded the track more than once. The second time was in a more acoustic vein (Rank & File 1995 Winter Harvest) , and was equally as good, so it was this version I included on the CD.

But what I also found when I was researching, was that someone had done a cover version of the song, Carol Elliot (The People I Meet Taxim 1999). So it become essential to hear this version as well.

Patience dear reader, there is a point to all of this...

Carol’s version is pleasant enough, nice backing to the song, but lacks any real punch. But then came the big whammy... the lyric change...

Dylan fans will be all to aware that at times poetic (and sometimes not so poetic) licence is taken with lyrics at times. I recall George Hamilton IV recanting “may you have Jesus as your foundation, when the winds around you shift” in his version of Forever Young.

So, back to Carol Elliot...

In the original song by Mark Germino he sings “He’ll play Stanley Jordan, The Dead and Little Feat”. Carol changes this to “He’ll play Stanley Jordan, U2 and Little Feat”.

Why? It does not scan any better, it does not change the song perceptively, so why change one little lyric. It can only be for one reason, pure discrimination!!

This anti-Dead stance takes on even more sinister proportions when examining one of the latest episodes of the sci-fi series “Andromeda”. Here, captain Hunt delivers a throw-away line about the “UnGrateful Dead”

I am used to this sort of things from the likes of Mr Clinton Heylin, but when it starts invading popular TV shows I cry enough is enough!! 

I am genuinely at a loss to understand why there is so much antipathy towards the Grateful Dead, I truly am. I know that the series of shows that they played with Bob back in 1987 were hardly the best, and the Dylan and the Dead album would not be in anyone’s top ten, but would you judge Bob on the back of some dodgy shows from 1991 Or from a cursory listen to Down in The Groove?

I would really like to hear some reasoned arguments, though I do know in the end it does call come down to taste and to opinions. 

I once vouchsafed to a friend of mine the fact that The Grateful Dead had played live to more people in history than any other band had. He replied “no David, they have played live to the SAME people more times than anyone else…” In-between lies the truth one supposes.

So, be careful out there... and don’t take any wooden Indians...