I have to be careful here. Threading the needle of history, both personal and worldly, is never harder than when you're dredging up a band as tired with cliche and sulphurous with associations as ... well, I can't even say it. Let's do like the Jews and not say it: The Gr-teful D-ad.
I realize that connotes reverence--in Judeo-Christianity, the use of words (i.e. The Word) implies ownership, as when Adam named the animals. Hence breathing the word of G-d is blasphemous. And I'd be lying if that wasn't, in some sense, appropriate here. Let me not say too much, except to recall a night when i was 19 and a tab of blue unicorn combined with the playing of "Attics of My Life" to induce a halo of silken red ribbons to languidly ripple out over the infinite matrix of the mind until they intertwined and knotted at a perfect star-point on the horizon and suddenly bloomed into a majestic, awe-inspiring realization of myself as a primitive being experiencing sentience for the very first time, as if I were the first man to open his eyes on planet earth.
Already I've said too much. Much too much.
But now, years later, with a cranky and calloused adult critical mind evolved from the foul weather of life, I think I can still say with some confidence that there's salvagable listening pleasure in certain GD music. I recently reloaded Workingman's Dead into my playlist and realized it's only through cultural bias that we don't christen this album with the patina of hip alt-country acceptability afforded Gram Parsons. OK, I'm still moved by "Uncle John's Band" and that's my cross to bear. But the music of the mighty Ron "Pigpen" McKernan holds up despite cloudy personal bias. Even with malice toward all things tie-dyed, you can get into "Easy Wind."
Maybe it's because dirt-bomb blues is a no-brainer. It's the spirit of the crustacean, the crusty, worn-out pisser laying down his own dirty law. If you added French surrealism, you'd have Captain Beefheart. The double drum attack here is also splendid, reigning in Jerry from grotesque over-grooviness. Near instrumental over-indulgence is saved by Pigpen's piss-and-vinegar spout: Gotta find a woman be good to me, won't hide my liquor try to serve me tea.
In general, I think the "Guns, Germs and Beer" vibe he cultivated (above) managed to hedge against certain GD weaknesses (Bob Weir), adding some much-needed back hair and ball sweat to the whole Baroque affair. Perhaps it's the preference for booze over LSD that gives P-pen his longevity. I don't know. That said, I still miss those ribbons, stowed up in the attic...