Tonal and Expressive Ambiguity
in "Dark Star"
GRAEME M. BOONE
We're saying: "Let's have faith in this form that has no form. Let's have faith in this structure that has no structure."
-- Jerry Garcia, in David Gans, Conversations with the Dead
In the vinyl Valhalla of rock, the Grateful Dead have earned a special place. Born in 1965 amid the flourishing countercultural movement of San Francisco, the Dead pioneered in the development of musical performances as druglike "experiences," featuring long, unpredictable improvisations and an eclectic mix of influences. As the hippie movement faded, the Dead provided the impetus to a vast culture of followers, known as Deadheads, whose musical and social ideals stem directly from those of the hippies, with elements of pacifism, openmindedness, hedonism, and the use of psychedelic drugs. The Deadhead movement has flourished down to the present day, showing no signs of abatement up to the disbanding of the group in November 1995 after the death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. In that year the Dead still ranked fourth in the country in earnings from touring, thanks to the sellout crowds at their many performances; in 1991, they ranked first. 1
With such popular affirmation, who, then, would speak ill of the Dead? To many who do not like them, their music sounds directionless, complacent, and otherwise boring or sloppy; for others even more numerous, distaste for their psychedelic tribal image precludes any serious musical appreciation. The comments of the benchmark Rolling Stone Album Guide, tinged with skepticism, offer what seems to be a common mainstream assessment of the group.
As much a phenomenon as a band, the Grateful Dead have over the last quarter century gathered together the far-flung members of their massive cult for live shows that