Sometimes the cards ain’t worth a dime If you don’t lay them down.
Sometimes the light’s all shining on me; other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.
(Truckin’ : Grateful Dead)
San Fran jam band the Grateful Dead are the Marmite of the pass the album cover set. Formed just after (some would say before) the dawn of time (actually 1965) they go on and on and on and on. On the face of it, their music (or at least their sound) would sensibly be placed at the other end of the spectrum to that of the Velvet Underground (as different as acid is from smack) but there are a couple of connexions.
One of those connexions would be the free-flowing avant-garde and improvised style; the other, of course, is none other than those east-coast Fairies we’ve been hearing so much about. Shortly after uncovering one group of Warlocks in New York and turning them into the hard edge of Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll, a second flock of fairies were sent to investigate when fairy senses started to tingle with altogether softer vibrations coming from the bay area of San Francisco.
The city was not totally unfamiliar to Fairy eyes (having previously visited in 1849 and 1906) but what they found there was a welcome change from the mayhem of the New York World’s Fair (Peace through Understanding my fairy ass – smack bang in the middle of George Wallace lauding segregation and the assassination of Malcolm X, neither peace or understanding was visible in the US – even via the new satellite technology!)
However, notwithstanding the civil unrest which was still extant (and more to come) and although still three years away from the Summer of Love (this was 1964), there was definitely love in the air. San Fran’s north beach was awash with beatnicks, although the fairies preferred to stay in the (then) relatively underpopulated and cheap district of Haight-Ashbury. (This suited the fairies as their finances had been neglected of late – what they made in 1848 they lost in 1906) .
The fairies followed the progress of the Warlocks, throughout ’64 and early ’65, enjoying the fusion of country, blues, jazz, and bluegrass. After a gig in Magoo’s Pizza in suburban Menlo Park, California (May 5, 1965) a banjo-obsessed fairy came to Jerry Garcia at night and whispered in his ear all about Venus in Furs and an Austrian gentleman by the name of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. When he woke up in the morning (as blues musicians are apt to do), Mr. Garcia decided he’d be better off dead, and thus the Warlocks metamorphosed into the Grateful Dead.