Jerry Garcia once said that the Grateful Dead were like liquorice: “If you like us at all, you like us a lot.”
It is certainly true that Deadheads were and remain amongst the most ardent and loyal of rock fans. But I wonder if this is really because the Dead attract people like me who, if we like at all, like a lot?
As it happens, I like liquorice a lot. And I certainly like the Dead a lot. I’ve been listening to them a great deal recently because this year saw the release of the limited edition Suitcase, a 73-CD collection of all 22 shows performed in Europe during April and May 1972. I already have most of these shows as both soundboard and audience recordings, but there was never any doubt that I was going to be on-line on Day 1 to order one of the 7,200 personalised copies.
Why? Not because the package includes the first shows that most of us European Deadheads had ever attended. As I say, I already have excellent recordings of those gigs, as well as the official three LP issue and the subsequent CD releases. And not because that European tour saw the Dead at its brilliant best – if I had to make a choice, I would actually choose 1977. (Today, anyway.)
It’s because it’s there. I suppose it is possible to like the Dead and possess only a few recordings, but I don’t know anybody who does. We all have thousands of hours. And we all now have our own Suitcase. We are all compulsive completists.
This is about us rather than the Dead. And the same compulsion is evident in many other fields. Watching a documentary about the discovery of a Jane Austen portrait over Christmas, I was impressed by the refusal of a leading Janeite to accept it as authentic in the face of some pretty convincing evidence: it was clear that the real reason for her rejection was that she hadn’t discovered it; she couldn’t own it either physically or intellectually.
I understand this and empathize, even though she only has Jane Austen to worry about, whereas I have Dylan, the Sox, Paul Auster, Jean-Paul Sartre, Norman Mailer, Simon Raven and a number of others in addition to the Dead. I used to have Anthony Powell as well, but realised that I would never be able to acquire the final first edition volume and so decided to have none.
I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far with all my obsessions, but I am – and here, finally, is the connection with the time of year – resolved to divest myself of much of this stuff and absolutely not to acquire any more.
Well, not much anyway. I’m not going to get compulsive about it. A very happy 2012 to you all.
Today’s listening: the Dead, Lyceum Theatre, 26th May 1972: the 22nd of 22 shows, the 73rd of 73 CDs.