Nate LaPointe is the rhythm guitarist/vocalist for Los Angeles’s legendary G.D. tribute band Cubensis.
Deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than you’ve ever gone before
Today we ask the question, “Why do we love the Grateful Dead?” It’s a good question. Why DO we love them? Is it the music? The culture? The drugs? An emotional connection to a more innocent time before the pressures of adulthood became overwhelming; before social media consumed our every free moment; before politics divided us so deeply we may never recover? Each of us has our own answers, and likely even more questions. But today we attempt to extract some universal truths about those who love the Grateful Dead, and I’ll share with you some of my experiences, having been a part of the music and culture as a child, adolescent, and adult.
I’ve been front row, backstage, in the nosebleeds, in the taper’s section, and I’ve performed live on stage with members of the band. Having collected hundreds upon hundreds of hours of cassette tapes, analyzing songs, notes, chords, mistakes, and oddities. I’ve played nearly 2,000 shows with a Grateful Dead tribute act, a term that falls short of describing a band that plays Grateful Dead music. And I write as someone who has defended the Grateful Dead when they were not cool.
Clearly the most important and obvious reason is the songs. The original songs. From the deep well of Hunter’s extraordinary American folklore story-telling ability as in Candyman or Dire Wolf, to the gut wrenching and emotionally powerful melodies in Jerry’s ballads like Stella Blue or Standing on the Moon, to the rhythmic complexity in Uncle John’s Band or Unbroken Chain that never sound forced and are always organic, to the quirky nature of Weir’s compositions like Black Throated Wind or Picasso Moon that give us insight into just how honest and creative he really is, to the psychedelic ramblings of China Cat Sunflower and Doin’ That Rag that give us a glimpse into another time’s forgotten space, to the pop/rock sensibility in songs such as Shakedown Street and Sugar Magnolia that can get even the most cynical or shy out of their seats and moving.
With few songs ever reaching the pop music charts, it could be described as miraculous that their music has had a such a profound impact on so many people. But from an artistic point of view, there’s no question as to why these songs are now presenting themselves as American folk standards, as threads intricately woven into the fabric of this country. Who hasn’t been brought to tears when listening to Ripple after the loss of a loved one? OR screamed at the top of their lungs, “the wind in the willows play tea for two!” at that pinnacle moment of Scarlet Begonias, generating goose bumps on every inch of skin so powerfully that you swear you can feel each and every one of them?
MUSIC – Ripple last verse>la da da: on Dead Reckoning
MUSIC – Scarlet solo>last verse>outro: From Cal Expo 8/6/89 https://archive.org/details/gd1989-08-06.131472.cmc44.mattes.flac16/gd1989-08-06.set2t02.cmc44.flac
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