The Language of the Grateful Dead


The language spoken by the Grateful Dead went far beyond the heartfelt bellows of Ron Pigpen McKernan. There was more to it then the ingenious and far-reaching words of a truly gifted lyricist. There was an honesty in the way that Garcia could enrapture the audience by embodying any character of any lyric—becoming that highwayman that steals from the rich in “Whiskey in the Jar”. There was a trust between performer and spectator when Weir was clearly more than “Playing in the Band.” We struggle to articulate the deep and satisfying notes of Phil’s bass. There was something far beyond the looks and nods that they gave one another on stage or in the studio to queue a jam or to bring them all back into the melody.

They spoke to each other and to us all in half notes and eighth notes. They had dialogues with tone, had heart-to-hearts with harmony and communed with melodies. There was something otherworldly about the union that existed among them. There was something unspoken, inexpressible about the way they emoted day in and day out.

Whether the audience was the immediate community of the early days on Haight-Ashbury when all were fellow freaks and friends, vibing off the same scene and sharing in the same grooves; or whether it was the vast stadium audiences of the 1980’s that comprised of original heads and novices alike, the music meant something and it always will. To try to articulate just what that something was or continues to be is an act in futility. There are moments in our minds, snapshots of our collective pasts that capture, with unyielding truth and intimacy, just what each scene was really like. There are individual notes that still dance together in perfect polyphony and release endorphins into our bloodstreams like no other drug could possibly mirror.

There is, upon these pages, another portal into the whimsical moments that the Grateful Dead created nightly for all those willing to take a chance and allow themselves to soak in the music. The collected work of one Herb Greene dances upon these pages comprised in ones and zeroes in such a manifest as never before scene. The emotions, the moments, the good times and the hardships of a storied guild of brothers that put the music and those willing to respond to it before all other things. Herb Greene was there when the fellowship was spread across Palo Alto. He was there at the peak when they were at their best and most illustrious. He was there at the beginning when there were their subtlest and unostentatious. He captured the glory that sang from their lips and their instruments. And now, with a click and a turn of the page, you might share in the moments that struggle to burn bright in your mind’s eye. Allow the textures and simplicity of Herb’s eye, unfiltered and raw, before the wild days of commercialized exploitation attempted to take their commercial grips on a simple and youthful idea that free love and the music that accompanied it, was all we really needed. Those moments, those ideals, those images may now be but flickering embers among fading memories. Allow Herb Greene’s candid, frank embodiments of a band, an idea, a power unchallenged fan those embers into raging fires once more.

Matt Nannis