• September 18, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-dark-star
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Dark Star"

    By David Dodd

    Here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time—and since all the posts will stay up, you can feel free to weigh in any time on any of the songs! With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems. (I’ll consider requests for particular songs—just private message me!)

    “Dark Star”

    It was very embarrassing, and I was extremely chagrined, and I forever apologize to whoever it was standing next to me on the floor at Winterland that New Year’s Eve 1978, but when the band launched into my first-ever live “Dark Star,” I was so excited that I threw my hands in the air, fists clenched, and bashed the guy standing beside me in the jaw.

    The sign that had been hanging from the balcony since I started going to see the Dead, with its ever changing number: “___ days since last SF Dark Star” was taken down amid general mayhem and craziness. It had been 1,535 days. I had pretty much figured that I would never ever get to hear “Dark Star” performed live. Probably a lot of us felt the same way. Of course, the rumors had been flying that night—“They’re gonna play ‘Dark Star’!”—but I just plain didn’t believe it. So when the third set opened with the song, it was pure magic. That four-note motif resonates more deeply, to a Deadhead, than the opening four-note motif of Beethoven’s Fifth, promising brand-new, magical musical adventures ahead.

    Hit pause, here, for a sec.

    OK, I’m back. Just went and watched the “Dark Star” segment from the Closing of Winterland DVD, and yep, it was an adventurous moment in an evening full of adventure. Clear as a bell, and almost in self-parody, an audience member is captured on the DVD yelling, just before the band starts playing: “DARK STAR!!” Funny. Where the parody of shouted requests usually, these days, takes the form of someone yelling for “Freebird,” my mind always goes straight to “Dark Star!”

    Robert Hunter, in his introduction to Box of Rain, discussed writing the lyrics. He had been invited to join the band as their lyricist, after having sent several songs by mail (“Alligator” and “China Cat Sunflower” among them) and journeyed from New Mexico to San Francisco:

    The trip took six weeks with a surreal layover in Denver. By the time I hit Nevada I had a dime in my pocket which I put in a slot machine and parlayed into enough to make a phone call and tell the guys I was on my way. I arrived in San Francisco with a case of walking pneumonia and the clothes on my back. The next day I was writing Dark Star, feeling pretty much as the lyric suggests.

    Hunter joined the band at a rehearsal in Rio Nido (in Sonoma County), and wrote the initial lyrics to the song while the band was playing. Thus, “Dark Star” is often referred to as the first song he wrote with the band.

    Here’s another snippet of an interview with Hunter talking about the origins of the song:

    "I was in my cabin. They were rehearsing in the hall, and you could hear from there. I heard the music and just started writing Dark Star lying on my bed. I wrote the first half of it and I went in and handed what I'd written to Jerry. He said, 'Oh, this will fit in just fine,' and he started singing it... [When] I heard the Grateful Dead playing, those were the words it seemed to be saying.... That did it for the time being. Then, a couple of days or weeks later," Garcia said he wanted another verse, so Hunter wrote the next verse sitting in Golden Gate Park.

    "I was very impressed with T.S. Eliot around the time I was writing Dark Star," Hunter said, and one line was clearly influenced by a line in 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' - "Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky." "Beyond that, that's just my kind of imagery.... I don't have any idea what the 'transitive nightfall of diamonds' means. It sounded good at the time. It brings up something that you can see."

    To add just one more little bit to the origin story, Hunter describes elsewhere how he was sitting in Golden Gate Park working on the lyric when someone came by, asking what he was writing. Hunter responded that it was a lyric called “Dark Star,” adding, “This will be important, remember this.”

    These blog posts are nothing more than my small attempts to get a conversational ball rolling among the readers—all of you who might stumble over this particular post. “Dark Star” merits an entire book, and in fact, there has been enough ink spilled about the song to put a book together without too much effort.

    Musically, the song’s evolution and variations has been meticulously tracked by Dr. Graeme Boone, published in an essay on the development of the improvisational structure in the song between its initial composition and 1972, identifying sequences that appeared and to which were added other sequences over the course of time. An amazing chart elucidates this evolution, with particular sections (each of which is instantly familiar to any Deadhead) identified and labeled. Some say this kind of extreme theoretical analysis applied to a song whose hallmark is improvisation is a contradiction. For me, it’s just another example of someone allowing his enthusiasm to create and expand meaning. Plus, it’s fun! I heard Boone speak in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the “Unbroken Chain” symposium in November 2007, and I still have his handout from the talk, entitled “Dark Star Revisited,” which contains charts of the sequences as well as two mandalas capturing the form of the song. Amazing.

    Photo Credit: David Gans

    The Dead recorded “Dark Star” as a single during the Anthem of the Sun sessions, and released in April 1968, backed with “Born Cross-Eyed.” The single version, later released on the compilation album What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been, was short, and included the only instance of Hunter’s voice on an official Dead release, reciting a closing “word salad” over Garcia’s banjo as the single winds down.

    Along with many other Deadheads, my own first experience of the song was the version on Live/Dead, released in November 1969.

    Early live versions of the song, as they worked on the song’s structure and performance, no doubt predate the first recorded live performance, on December 13, 1967 at the Shrine Exhibition Hall in Los Angeles. DeadBase X records 217 performances, with the final one taking place on March 30, 1994, at the Omni in Atlanta. After the 1974 hiatus, performances of “Dark Star” were a rare occurrence. I was fortunate to catch one other performance of the song, at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, in July 1984, performed as an encore.

    And as for the lyrics.

    It’s hard for me to separate the words from the voice of Garcia singing them. They are a perfect marriage of that particular voice and words by that particular lyricist. The way the opening word bursts from Garcia, eerie or prophetic, just never fails to get me. And the way he sings (yes, still sings...present tense) the line: “Reason tatters...” captures that shredding of logic for me.

    The whole world may be falling apart in some cosmic cataclysm (and given what we know about the universe, this does seem to be the case), but nevertheless, we can go, together, “you and I,” through a nightfall of diamonds. “While we can”—as in, live in the now, seize the day.

    The lyric, as with other early Hunter lyrics, clearly marks out the psychedelic territory of the band as a whole, lest there be any doubt whatsoever.

    I’ve heard many, many interpretations of the words. I leave that to others, generally. Here’s what Garcia said to Charles Reich in Garcia:

    “So I have a long continuum of ‘Dark Stars’ which range in character from each other to real different extremes. ‘Dark Star’ has meant, while I’m playing it, almost as many things as I can sit here and imagine...”

    Well said, and thank you, Jerry.

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By David Dodd

Here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time—and since all the posts will stay up, you can feel free to weigh in any time on any of the songs! With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems. (I’ll consider requests for particular songs—just private message me!)

“Dark Star”

It was very embarrassing, and I was extremely chagrined, and I forever apologize to whoever it was standing next to me on the floor at Winterland that New Year’s Eve 1978, but when the band launched into my first-ever live “Dark Star,” I was so excited that I threw my hands in the air, fists clenched, and bashed the guy standing beside me in the jaw.

The sign that had been hanging from the balcony since I started going to see the Dead, with its ever changing number: “___ days since last SF Dark Star” was taken down amid general mayhem and craziness. It had been 1,535 days. I had pretty much figured that I would never ever get to hear “Dark Star” performed live. Probably a lot of us felt the same way. Of course, the rumors had been flying that night—“They’re gonna play ‘Dark Star’!”—but I just plain didn’t believe it. So when the third set opened with the song, it was pure magic. That four-note motif resonates more deeply, to a Deadhead, than the opening four-note motif of Beethoven’s Fifth, promising brand-new, magical musical adventures ahead.

Hit pause, here, for a sec.

OK, I’m back. Just went and watched the “Dark Star” segment from the Closing of Winterland DVD, and yep, it was an adventurous moment in an evening full of adventure. Clear as a bell, and almost in self-parody, an audience member is captured on the DVD yelling, just before the band starts playing: “DARK STAR!!” Funny. Where the parody of shouted requests usually, these days, takes the form of someone yelling for “Freebird,” my mind always goes straight to “Dark Star!”

Robert Hunter, in his introduction to Box of Rain, discussed writing the lyrics. He had been invited to join the band as their lyricist, after having sent several songs by mail (“Alligator” and “China Cat Sunflower” among them) and journeyed from New Mexico to San Francisco:

The trip took six weeks with a surreal layover in Denver. By the time I hit Nevada I had a dime in my pocket which I put in a slot machine and parlayed into enough to make a phone call and tell the guys I was on my way. I arrived in San Francisco with a case of walking pneumonia and the clothes on my back. The next day I was writing Dark Star, feeling pretty much as the lyric suggests.

Hunter joined the band at a rehearsal in Rio Nido (in Sonoma County), and wrote the initial lyrics to the song while the band was playing. Thus, “Dark Star” is often referred to as the first song he wrote with the band.

Here’s another snippet of an interview with Hunter talking about the origins of the song:

"I was in my cabin. They were rehearsing in the hall, and you could hear from there. I heard the music and just started writing Dark Star lying on my bed. I wrote the first half of it and I went in and handed what I'd written to Jerry. He said, 'Oh, this will fit in just fine,' and he started singing it... [When] I heard the Grateful Dead playing, those were the words it seemed to be saying.... That did it for the time being. Then, a couple of days or weeks later," Garcia said he wanted another verse, so Hunter wrote the next verse sitting in Golden Gate Park.

"I was very impressed with T.S. Eliot around the time I was writing Dark Star," Hunter said, and one line was clearly influenced by a line in 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' - "Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky." "Beyond that, that's just my kind of imagery.... I don't have any idea what the 'transitive nightfall of diamonds' means. It sounded good at the time. It brings up something that you can see."

To add just one more little bit to the origin story, Hunter describes elsewhere how he was sitting in Golden Gate Park working on the lyric when someone came by, asking what he was writing. Hunter responded that it was a lyric called “Dark Star,” adding, “This will be important, remember this.”

These blog posts are nothing more than my small attempts to get a conversational ball rolling among the readers—all of you who might stumble over this particular post. “Dark Star” merits an entire book, and in fact, there has been enough ink spilled about the song to put a book together without too much effort.

Musically, the song’s evolution and variations has been meticulously tracked by Dr. Graeme Boone, published in an essay on the development of the improvisational structure in the song between its initial composition and 1972, identifying sequences that appeared and to which were added other sequences over the course of time. An amazing chart elucidates this evolution, with particular sections (each of which is instantly familiar to any Deadhead) identified and labeled. Some say this kind of extreme theoretical analysis applied to a song whose hallmark is improvisation is a contradiction. For me, it’s just another example of someone allowing his enthusiasm to create and expand meaning. Plus, it’s fun! I heard Boone speak in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the “Unbroken Chain” symposium in November 2007, and I still have his handout from the talk, entitled “Dark Star Revisited,” which contains charts of the sequences as well as two mandalas capturing the form of the song. Amazing.

Photo Credit: David Gans

The Dead recorded “Dark Star” as a single during the Anthem of the Sun sessions, and released in April 1968, backed with “Born Cross-Eyed.” The single version, later released on the compilation album What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been, was short, and included the only instance of Hunter’s voice on an official Dead release, reciting a closing “word salad” over Garcia’s banjo as the single winds down.

Along with many other Deadheads, my own first experience of the song was the version on Live/Dead, released in November 1969.

Early live versions of the song, as they worked on the song’s structure and performance, no doubt predate the first recorded live performance, on December 13, 1967 at the Shrine Exhibition Hall in Los Angeles. DeadBase X records 217 performances, with the final one taking place on March 30, 1994, at the Omni in Atlanta. After the 1974 hiatus, performances of “Dark Star” were a rare occurrence. I was fortunate to catch one other performance of the song, at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, in July 1984, performed as an encore.

And as for the lyrics.

It’s hard for me to separate the words from the voice of Garcia singing them. They are a perfect marriage of that particular voice and words by that particular lyricist. The way the opening word bursts from Garcia, eerie or prophetic, just never fails to get me. And the way he sings (yes, still sings...present tense) the line: “Reason tatters...” captures that shredding of logic for me.

The whole world may be falling apart in some cosmic cataclysm (and given what we know about the universe, this does seem to be the case), but nevertheless, we can go, together, “you and I,” through a nightfall of diamonds. “While we can”—as in, live in the now, seize the day.

The lyric, as with other early Hunter lyrics, clearly marks out the psychedelic territory of the band as a whole, lest there be any doubt whatsoever.

I’ve heard many, many interpretations of the words. I leave that to others, generally. Here’s what Garcia said to Charles Reich in Garcia:

“So I have a long continuum of ‘Dark Stars’ which range in character from each other to real different extremes. ‘Dark Star’ has meant, while I’m playing it, almost as many things as I can sit here and imagine...”

Well said, and thank you, Jerry.

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It was very embarrassing, and I was extremely chagrined, and I forever apologize to whoever it was standing next to me on the floor at Winterland that New Year’s Eve 1978, but when the band launched into my first-ever live “Dark Star,” I was so excited that I threw my hands in the air, fists clenched, and bashed the guy standing beside me in the jaw.

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Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Dark Star"
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It was very embarrassing, and I was extremely chagrined, and I forever apologize to whoever it was standing next to me on the floor at Winterland that New Year’s Eve 1978, but when the band launched into my first-ever live “Dark Star,” I was so excited that I threw my hands in the air, fists clenched, and bashed the guy standing beside me in the jaw.

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never heard of it...
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Got Lucky and saw Dark Star three times in 90 only. Loved the Playin'> Dark Star>Drums>Space>Dark Star>Playin' Reprise @ Wembley - rattling around our brains on the plane ride back to the states. How many nights growing up did I listen to Dark Star from Live Dead all fired up in bed with the headphones on. In formless reflections of matter
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Dark Star was my guess for the next song and posted it about 30 minutes before you posted...Do do dodo, do do dodo...crash.
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in recalling that there is a Branford Dark Star out there? I seem to recall that I used to listen to it all the time. Branford was such a pleasure because he could TOTALLY deal with what the band did, which took it to a whole different level from a lot of Guest Artists.
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Mary - This is probably not a good bunch to judge what is crazy. Heh. But you are not crazy about this. One of the best shows the Dead did in any era - and surely someday it will get the deluxe release treatment. And thank you, by the way, because I had not listened to this for a while, though I have it on CDR at home, so I'm listening now: http://archive.org/details/gd90-03-29.sbd.miller.26341.sbeok.shnf
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David Gans was kind enough to allow use of his photo of Dr. Graeme Boone explicating the evolution of the musical structure of "Dark Star"--you can view the photo, and many other excellent shots by Mr. Gans, at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgans/2266657391/.
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" That four-note motif resonates more deeply, to a Deadhead, than the opening four-note motif of Beethoven’s Fifth, promising brand-new, magical musical adventures ahead." I had pretty much reconciled myself to the fact that I was never going to see this song performed live. Looking back on it now, the moment we heard those 4 notes was, for me, the most epic "shared" moment I ever experienced at a show. Beyond words. Pure bliss. Sure, the actual jams were, shall we say, futuristically dissonant. But the feeling when those first 4 notes were played, topped by Jerry stepping to the mike("they're actually going to REALLY play it!")- I've got tears(of joy) wellin' up from down deep inside just thinking about it. I still don't know how they managed to get the Coliseum to land in the right parking lot! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WKmE-vGZtY
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09-21-7210-18-72 10-28-72
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There's at least 3 Branford Dark Stars.... the previously mentioned 3/29/90 as well as 12/31/90 and 9/10/91. As for my own Dark Star track record, I only got to see 21 GD shows between '88 - '95. Three of those shows had a Dark Star: 12/12/90, 12/14/90, and 3/30/94. As of tonight my favorite Dark Star is 8/27/72 which I just heard for the first time in many years on the new box set that arrived today. In fact, I think I'm ready to hear it again right NOW. Peace, M
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So tonight I got home and my boxed set of Sunshine Daydream was waiting on the front step and went to watch it in High Definition at my friends house and I counted seven or eight places they went to while playing Dark Star...but one of them might have only been the place in between the one before and the one after...one was fun; one had too much traffic; one had an extra heavy gravitational pull...and all of a sudden we were in El Paso and Bobby seemed as surprised as me...and I don't think they ever finished singing Dark Star
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Friday the 13th, full moon, Greek Theater, Berkeley. This was my first Dark Star! GREAT show with Dark Star as the encore. 167 shows since the last Dark Star. Extra long break between second set and encore waiting for darkness so we could see new pictures of Mars on video screens during Dark Star. Enough said!
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This is an interesting time for Dark Star considering Ive heard the Veneta Dark Star about 5 times now since I got in the mail yesterday. Its just incredible having such a great Dark Star caught on film. Ive had the bootleg video for a while but having the video and music synched makes a huge difference...not surprisingly. I forgot about the recorded single version for a long time until I heard as a hidden track on reissued live/dead CD. I couldnt even speak for about 30 minutes, wondering how I could forget... David, I think that July 84 Dark Star was the only time played as an encore and the last played for about 5 years, until the Warlocks Hampton show, good one to see!
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jogging in the woods with headphones meditational song, bar none.
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i think I'll dig out the "Grayfolded" and listen again today while I drive to work.
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-Did I hear that Hunter wrote Dark Star before the discovery of black holes? -Not sure who said this, maybe it was Garcia, and I'm paraphasing here: "You don't start Dark Star so much as you enter it, and likewise you don't end it, you merely leave. There's always a Dark Star going on all the time somewhere..." I think Garcia also described it as "it's open, a mandala." -Check out Gray Folded, the compilation with samples of many Dark Stars over the years merged into one... there's even a timeline showing where each snippet comes from. -Depending on the mood at the time of performance, DS could be a litmus strip of sorts- spacey & laidback, fast & furious, or anywhere in between. One of the latest Dave's Picks (I forget which one)featured a Dark Star so quick and frenetic I almost fell out of my chair. Certainly not the DS I was accustomed to. -And then there's the mondegreen of 'dog star' in Lost Sailor...
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My favorite Dark Star is the one from Fillmore East, 9/19/70. The day after Hendrix died. And Led Zeppelin was uptown at MSG doing their thing, the Dead downtown at Fillmore East doing theirs! The house crew's tape is pristine, captures an intense "Dark Star" in all its glory. There's a spacey part to it near the beginning, which just got to be heard. Then the tune takes an up tempo turn. There was also a Dark Star on 9/17/70 during the same run, but I've yet to listen to it! Perhaps later or this weekend I'll give it a listen though it's a rough audience source.
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The closest I came to a Dark Star was at Soldier Field 1991 with many teases by Bruce throughout the second set. I was at first ecstatic-- "Yes, Dark Star"-- and then annoyed over the next 30 minutes or so as Bruce kept trying, but it was obvious Jerry wasn't going there that night. Alas, Dark Star was not meant to be heard by me while Jerry was alive. I saw Furthur do it at Allstate Arena two years ago, but it just wasn't the same. Dark Star is a song I have to be in the right mood to give it a good listen. I can't say I am always in the mood for a 35-minute spacey jam and I almost always have to turn it off depending upon the company I am keeping at the time. I can't wait to hear the Veneta version tonight (got in the mail last night but no time) and like the Europe 72 versions a lot, but for me the late 1968 (From the Vault II in particular) and 1969 versions are the bomb. Those beautiful 12-18 minutes of bliss without dragging down into a space where the band seems to be trying to figure out where to go next. It seems from late 1968-70 they know where they are going without knowing where they are going-- effortless improvisation.
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Bach 2 Bach--that quote about entering and leaving Dark Star is from Tom Constanten. Always loved that!And yay for Grayfolded! Love that piece of creative work.
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What never ceases to amaze me are the "Tighten Up" and/or "Feelin' Groovy" interludes in the '69->'70 versions. Out of all that weird psychedelia such soulful playing. See esp. 9/19/70 and 11/2/69 - the latter of which is some of the sweetest playing I've ever heard.
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At least that's what I call Grayfolded. Put it on your stereo and watch the animals in your house try to figure out what's going on; why is the house making these noises?! I think any debate over what period is best for Dark Stars is destined to be futile - unless it's the basic posit that from 1968-1974 is your best bet, but that's like saying that the best time to see the Dead was from 1965-1995. Even my own opinion changes all the time, so any larger consensus is hard to come by. There's definitely something special about 68/69 and 72 for me, but I really can't complain about any others.
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I lucked out. I have seen comparably few Dead shows - about 15, with the original line up. I got to see not just a Dark Star, but I also got to see a 'Bid you Goodnight'... along with everything in between. I know few if any dead heads who managed to catch both. As the author mentioned, it can be 10 years between shows. as a song, I have to say, it's not that great. I appreciate it for its rarity, but it is also 30 minutes of time I could be hearing better songs.
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Hearing about the experience of Dark Star for different people is great, but I’d like to comment on the presentation and meaning of it. I hope this doesn't offend people, but there are several aspects of making music that I feel Furthur does better than the Dead did. And one of these is shown in their presentation of Dark Star as a song that they’re all singing and all contributing to. That makes the song even more inspiring for me. Yes, I loved Garcia’s vocals ... I could go on about this but won’t ... and I particularly loved his singing of Dark Star. And all the graceful instruments sang it too, starting with those first four notes; it’s always been democratic. But to hear it as a swelling, crashing, vocal arrangement is great and reinforces the fact that Dark Star is always playing somewhere, anybody can tune into it and we all should. But to be a pedant, what does it mean? This is a song about as cosmic an event as is possible, at least subjectively. Something happened to halt reason, the singer says, and now we have to get out the searchlight, or brave our way forward ourselves, to find what’s beyond reason. There’s a mirror in the clouds! But suddenly it’s gone, as is the image of the hand in the glass, perhaps the singer’s own hand ... not to mention the receding hint of a lady in velvet. Now it’s definitely time to go through the transitive nightfall, maybe to where she went. BTW, *I* haven't received my copy of Veneta yet ... jealous of you guys ... but I hope it'll be on the doorstep when I get home today!
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A rare (only?) post-Drums Dark Star that has some heavy jamming, almost scary nightmare Dead. I was in the 400s in the Garden and near about hit the ceiling when it started. Crazy jam into the Playin Reprise, then more craziness back into DS for the second verse. And then they came sooooo close to busting out a St Stephen. Go ahead and listen, you can just about hear it start when Bobby veers into the Throwin' Stones. I was thrilled they released it as a Road Trip release (unfortunately only the second set though). Other Dark Star experiences: 4/1/91 Greensboro - bookending Drums/Space, very hot shows! 6/17/91 Giants Stadium - teased it all show, including in the first set where they basically jammed it for a bit before the Masterpiece, but never played it 9/10/91 MSG - with Branford, another Drums/Space bookend and 8/1/2013 - Island 16 theater on LI, enthralled watching 8/27/72 30 minute Dark Star on the big screen. Can't wait to get it in the mail! Not a big fan of the new vocal arrangement Further and Phil does, but always a chill when the intro hits. Like many have said, think I'll have to dig out the Grayfolded version(s). And I will definitely check out some of the versions that people have mentioned. I will point out one other which is the beautifully tight version from 4/28/71. But I don't think you can go wrong with any of them....
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what can you say about the best of the best. This is the grateful dead at their finest, complete improv, right there in front of your eyes the dead tell the story, going from the preamble to the first verse, going out into space, past all your favorite watering holes and bring you back to earth, sometimes peacefully, sometimes quite suddenly. Each one a snapshot in time of what was going on inside each and every member of the band at that particular moment in time. Like a very clean trip, you get off, you go up, you see and hear it all and return that same day. I have many favorites, almost all from the Europe 72 tour are excellent, there are many from 73 and even 74 that are also excellent. During my touring days, I only got to see the dark star light live in Miami in 89, very spooky and trippy dark star that seemed to go on forever, last show of the tour and they really went out there, some fine space music that night. I think that dark star became space in the 80's and 90's, that was the only other time the band created the music right there, in the moment, going with a sound, or a grove or a melody and expanding it into the best sound that they could produce that day. I love the Dark stars of the past, but some of those spaces from the late 80's and 90's were dam fine pieces of music, check out Infrared Roses for some fine space music from the 90's, also I concur, Gray Folded, both Discs, are exceptional listening, listen to the first cd, before the creator had been to a dead show, then listen to the second disc, (Mirror Ashes), you will see that he "got it".
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That's where I got on ... it was through "Live/Dead" in November 1978. I already knew about the Grateful Dead, having purchased Jerry Garcia - "Reflections" in early 1976 and almost purchasing a bootleg in the Spring of 1975 but even though I proclaimed myself to be a Garcia fan from 1976, it took about two and half years before I got "on the bus". In May 1978 I started to purchase San Francisco music records. By then I have had a desire since about 1976 to one day leave Sweden and move west to the place of my dreams. It had very little to do with the music at first but would eventually mean a lot more musically speaking. So in May '78 I got Jefferson Airplane's "Bless Its Pointed Little Head" and on June 19th I recieved an ordered LP titled "Happy Trails" by Quicksilver Messenger Service and in July another three Quicksilver albums ("Shady Grove", "Just For Love" and "Quicksilver", the latter from 1971). I had a tiny little encyclopedia where I would read about Quicksilver and the Dead. The Quicksilver article was based on where they were in late 1969. Due to the actual encyclopedia QMS were a quartet featuring Cipollina, Hopkins, Freiberg and Gilmore and I as I used to do back then was to imagine in my mind how the music sounded like before I actually went and purchased an LP. So I would lay on my bed and imagine QMS playing based on what I read about them and then I went to a record shop but they didn't have any QMS albums. I got to look what was available to order and out of the few titles they could get for me I went for "Happy Trails". It sounded cool ... happy trails ... Of course it didn't sounded like I had imagined QMS to sound in my mind but as I listened with a hungry mind, I was caught by the music and became a big fan from then on. After two months of heavy listening to Quicksilver I dug into my mind again, this time trying to imagine the Grateful Dead. The article on them was also based of them in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Since I now had been "baptized" by "Happy Trails" I had certain ideas on how the Dead could sound but this time it took a little longer before I went back to the record shop to purchase my first Grateful Dead-record. In early November I was too curious to wait any longer and went and got "Live/Dead". I could have purchased some other Dead record but wanted a live album and thought "Live/Dead" looked really cool, with the back cover "draped" in the American flag. Went home and put it on ... and BOOM ... I was hit by some really exiting music ... namely Dark Star in all its glory. It resembled some of the sound I had imagined but I hadn't counted with the lead bass from Mr. Lesh. I was blown away by his playing and of course also by Jerry, whose record "Reflections" I had listened to about 50 times over the two and half years I had had it. Here on Dark Star I was taken away to another universe by him and the rest of band. Before purchasing "Bless Its Pointed Little Head" in May that year I would very often turn down the bass on my stereo. I didn't really appreciated bass guitar as an instrument but begun to with Jack Casady on the Jefferson Airplane record, and even more so with David Freiberg on "Happy Trails" but it wasn't until I heard Phil's playing on "Live/Dead" that I really started to appreciate the bass guitar. And I was a BIG fan of Led Zeppelin since 1973-74! Over the years I must have listened to Dark Star of "Live/Dead" at least 200-250 times or perhaps more. In March 1979 I went to a music store and purchsed a bass guitar, without knowing how to play but I really wanted to be "Phil Lesh" or at least play like him. Unfortunately I never had the discipline to learn the bass, or any other instrument for that matter, really well, so eventually I traded the bass guitar for an electric guitar about a year later. I would "sell" the guitar to a friend about another year later and have to this day been listening instead of creating my own music, except in my mind - sometimes based on the Grateful Dead music. Micke Östlund, Växjö, Sweden
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not Gilmore ... it's late at night in Sweden ... or I would never write the wrong name ...
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Dear Loco (it is Loco, isn't it?), I can only imagine you said "as a song, I have to say, it's not that great" in order to elicit rabid responses from folks who would obviously (and for good reason) beg to differ. I mean, why would you post on dead.net on a blog for and about the song "Dark Star" and say "it's not that great" unless you were just kidding (or had never heard the song)? I am taking off my deadhead hat now to say that "Dark Star" is one of the most amazing, complex, metaphysical, philosophical, mind-blowing pieces of music ever written both musically and lyrically. Even when listening to the 3 minute (or so) studio version in the context of the WALSTIB greatest hits album one's brain automatically and instinctively perks up and begins to query itself in the manner of the alien on Star Trek attempting to calculate the value of PI. Yet, instead of collapsing upon itself like the alien did and as the Dark Star does the brain discovers an archetypal truism with such depth and breadth of "is" that the meaning of Zen is splashed across the screen of your psyche like waves of violet crashing and laughing . The song is a phenom. An anomaly. Sublime. A beautiful freak of nature. A trainwreck. A rebirth. A space adventure. A Romance. A Western. A Drama. A Comedy. A Thriller. All that and more. (ok, maybe not a Western : D )Other than that, I have no strong feelings on the matter. Peace and Love, Swing Low Sweet Lono
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Well, I spent 45 minutes telling some cosmic stories and then with one key stroke, POOF! It was gone. Maybe some stories are better left untold. Mr. Dobbs said, "It was very embarrassing, and I was extremely chagrined, and I forever apologize to whoever it was standing next to me on the floor at Winterland that New Year’s Eve 1978, but when the band launched into my first-ever live “Dark Star,” I was so excited that I threw my hands in the air, fists clenched, and bashed the guy standing beside me in the jaw." I can relate to that. The short version is that I didn't want to see the band without Jerry. But I went with my 21 year old niece / God Daughter to the All Good Fest this summer 2013. I was feeling like a stranger. Talked to Jerry in my head because I missed him. He "told" me to enjoy the music because these guys were good. I went with it. Had a smoke and then blew it all out over the guy in front of us when I heard the first notes of DARK STAR! I was like, no way! I saw 57 shows and never saw Dark Star except for a tease at Richfield. Jerry gave me permission to jump back in and I did. WOW! I tried to explain this to my niece who wanted to know what it was like to see the Grateful Dead. I told her that they hardly EVER played that song, and she should just soak it up for what it was worth. Dancing commenced and then they played St. Stephen! I married up the then and the now, and I think, that my niece got to see a piece of what I was talking about. After being reluctant to put my toe in the water, I have to say that seeing that Dark Star was All Good. I connected with the song and my old friends Bobby and Phil, with Jerry upstairs and a new guy that was Stellar, it was awesome. I'll be back! P.S. I told my niece about a friend of mine that went on tour for 3 years just to see a Dark Star. There was one show that he missed because he had the flu. His friends called to say that they played Dark Star that night. He ran to the toilet and threw up. I didn't see him come out of his apartment for two weeks. Poor Ray. But I got to see it at All Good, and I know that Jerry was there in spirit. I was grateful.
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I've recently noticed some interesting (I think) parallels between the music of the Dead and quantum mechanics. In Classical physics, you can know the entire system, and you can predict with certainty what a particular object will do in particular conditions. In quantum physics you cannot know all the properties of a single particle at once, and you cannot know what any particular particle will do, only the probability that it will do it. A typical arrangement of music is a certain set of notes that fall at certain beats of particular bars. With the Dead, you cannot necessarily say with certainty that a particular note will fall on a particular beat of a particular bar even if you know all the available information about the song. If you wanted to accurately describe Dark Star, (or any improvised piece of music) in it's truest form, you would not want to write any particular note on a particular beat of a particular bar, but something more like a /probability/ that you will find a particular note on a particular beat of a particular bar, but you cannot know with certainty what the next note will be until the note is played and the system is measured. So a quantum mechanical construct might be a more philosophically accurate way to represent the Grateful Dead rather than traditional musical scores.
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... growing up in South Florida, our knowledge of the music scene was dominated by AM rock radio. There was a little FM station in Lake Worth that played deeper cuts from albums, but it was still dominated by, what was then, Pop Music. Then came the Miami Pop Festival December 1968. Me and some of my friends got tickets for all three days, set up a motel room near the Gulfstream Racetrack where the festival was held, and began a week long voyage to the edge of... well that was a long time ago. I have this vague memory of being fairly well dosed, and being told to go see some band from San Francisco play on the other stage, and that they were really weird! We were able to get reasonably close to the stage as this biker looking dude was singing about "Turning on your love light." And then they started to play "Dark Star." I was peaking, the music flowed into me, time stopped, and I was instantly hooked. I had never heard anything like that before, so simple, so cryptic, so freeing. Dark Star melted into Saint Stephen which melted into The Eleven which melted into The Other One and "The Bus Came By And I Got On, That's Where It All Began!" A few months later came the Big Rock Pow Wow at the Seminole Indian Reservation and when I saw the Grateful Dead was going to play, I just had to go. And again I got totally spaced and they played Dark Star the first night. Pirate's World in 1970 saw another Dark Star and again in 1974 at the Miami Jai Alai with the Wall of Sound behind them. Miami 1989 was the last time I saw them preform Dark Star and by then the whole world had changed. I had stopped ingesting crazy stuff a few years before and realized I loved the music even more with a clear head. The Grateful Dead have provided me with the soundtrack for my life and even though there are other bands, acts, music I like and listen to, I always come back to the Dead. Dark Star is one of the vehicles I use for meditation and I love listening to the Greyfolded Plunderphonic version from time to time. A thousand years from now, musicologists will discuss, analyze, write doctorate thesis, and generally elevate the music of The Grateful Dead to "Classical" status, and the greatest treat will be when a group of dedicated musicians recreate with authentic instruments a live performance of "Dark Star."
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nm, I like your application of quantum thinking to Dark Star. While reason gave rise to classical physics, this way of thinking needs to be set aside, at least for a time, to consider the uncertainties, or probabilities, of particulars. For me, Dark Star is the shining exemplar of all GD music for this very reason. We begin with a structure, which is then abandoned in favor of exploration of the infinite probabilities of a given moment. So, in a way, we can look at Dark Star as a unified theory, in that it synthesizes the classical with the quantum.
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Sublime... sub·lime səˈblīm/ adjective 1.of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe. synonyms: exalted, elevated, noble, lofty, awe-inspiring, majestic, magnificent, glorious, superb, wonderful, marvelous, splendid; informalfantastic, fabulous, terrific, heavenly, divine, out of this world "sublime music" verb 1. CHEMISTRY (of a solid substance) change directly into vapor when heated, typically forming a solid deposit again on cooling. "these crystals could be sublimed under a vacuum" 2.archaic elevate to a high degree of moral or spiritual purity or excellence.
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Dark Star during the Boston Garden run in '91. Wish Jerry had the legs to go the distance in those days to go into and out of space with this vehicle.
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nm's quantum reference is spot on. Very nice discussion. We were the first American generation of European descent to explore and embrace the psychedelic reaches, possibilities and probabilities of inner quantum space and the Grateful Dead had an uncanny knack for coming up with the appropriate sound tracks. Dark Star crashes in instantaneous, absolute chaos, but the true path through chaos is always paved with music, where we find ourselves left with the question dangling just before whatever: "Shall we go, you and I, while we can…?" Or perhaps while the gettin’s good, because in case you haven’t noticed, the whole thing is about to crash into a friggin' black hole (a relatively new concept in 1968) and with the event horizon swirling all around like an audience of whirling dervishes, the rings of Saturn or a vinyl LP, "while we can" becomes the final, fleeting, totally laughable operative concern, but not for long, because the music never stopped as you realize you're comfortably past already gone... The implosive crash impels you to the threshold of Huxley's doorway, beyond tattered reason and perception through which you arrive from no place special, with no particular place to go and no particular inclination to stop to ask directions, but simply to Be Here Now. It’s a Kierkegaardian swan dive leap of faith acid drop through the Wasteland, Wonderland, nuclear winter, Oz, Armageddon and on past the end of Time itself where, to interpret the album cover, Lady Justice, draped in velvet, her blindfold removed with the Holy Hand Grenade primed and ready, waits to fill the final coffin with Death itself, its nevermore distant glass hand dissolving in a revolving, down-the-drain goodbye, leaving you and I to step beyond its boney reach at maximum warp, starfields falling around us like a "transitive nightfall of diamonds", as we cross to the other side...of the threshold...where we encounter the next verse. The first verse and question are an ending event, but circumstances have flipped 180 degrees when the question's asked a second time, as poor Alice's looking glass irrevocably shatters before us "in formless reflections of matter." Every direction is now forward and we’re looking exclusively at what comes next, without even a reflection remaining of what has passed, thereby nullifying all possibility of either succumbing to the temptation as did Lot's wife, Edith, or falling down that same old rabbit hole again. Dylan also warned us to not look back, and on all quantum levels the Grateful Dead make certain of it with Dark Star. Music, I believe, has a unique way of transcending all quantum realities. Finally, I envision Dark Star as looping through a figure eight or infinity symbol until even that is broken and, like Voyager I, we’re removed of all preconceived or determined influence and are free to wander in a place and space where you know beyond caring that you’ll always feel safe: at a Grateful Dead concert, even with a Dark Star crashing - to paraphrase Paul Kantner - through your melting acid-fevered mind witnessing the End of Death, it's cold light poured into ashes...with exceptional style and grace, I might add. Pretty heady stuff for a little song built around two basic chords just one step apart, with only two verses, and asking but one question.
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I witnessed Dark Star twice. 10-9-89 in Hampton & April Fool's Day 91 in Greensboro. I've heard many versions, and think the Two From The Vault version is smoking. Up until this week, the Hampton version was my favorite. It's really hard to compete with seeing the energy in Hampton Coliseum that night when those first notes were played. You could see the electricity in the air. But after listening to a proper sounding version of Veneta several times, I'm really digging it. I hate trying to pick favorite Dead things though. Sometimes my favorite thing depends on what mood I'm in, or sometimes even what era of the band I want to listen to?
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favorite dark star--jerry's birthday 1973 roosevelt stadium!!!
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For some reason, editions of Deadbase dating back to the 1980s listed a Grateful Dead show at The Shrine in Los Angeles on December 13, 1967. Since "Dark Star" was the only song listed for that date, I assume the listing came from a date on a tape fragment of an old cassette. Over the years, this detail has gotten cemented in Dead lore, and Dennis McNally and many others often identify December 13, 1967 at the Shrine as the first live performance of "Dark Star." However, the truth is that no evidence has ever surfaced of a Grateful Dead show at The Shrine on December 13, 1967. In fact, all of the evidence points to the show never having taken place at all. --no advertisement, ticket stub, review, eyewitness account or any other clue has ever been cited, to my knowledge --December 13, 1967 was a Wednesday, and in the 67-68 period I am aware of no weekday shows (other than holidays) at The Shrine --according to McNally and other evidence, the Grateful Dead were recording on the East Coast and playing a few shows on weekends. We would have to think that they flew to LA to play the Shrine, and flew back East --the Grateful Dead were infamous, but not famous, and they hadn't sold a lot of records. The Dead had just played two shows (Nov 10 and 11) at the Shrine Expo (not the Auditorium), but they were co-headlining with the very popular Buffalo Springfield. Its hardly credible that the Dead headlined The Shrine on their own, a month later on a weeknight No one would be happier than me to be proven wrong about all this. I'd love it if someone could find an ad in an old underground paper for some strange benefit, which might explain why the Dead flew back for a single show, and debuted "Dark Star." Unfortunately, for now nothing points that direction. It seems considerably more likely that the Dead debuted "Dark Star" on the East Coast. However, since we have no tapes until January of 1968, and any eyewitnesses or reviewers in 1967 would not have recognized "Dark Star," we may never know for sure.
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Corry seems to provide a pretty convincing case that there was no show at the Shrine on that date. (Nobody has access or the Shrine's billings don't exist?) So, it begs the question, what was the first venue and the date? I was listening to the former Wolfgang's Vault site about 18 months ago where you could play anything for free and was listening to a very early Dark Star labeled from the summer of 1967. I just went back to the site and it has all changed now - their first Dark Star is 8/21/68 at the Filmore West (not to mention that after a free three day trial you have to become a member to hear anything). So, the next Dark Star mentioned in Dead Base ('95 edition) is 1/20/68 at Municipal Auditorium in Eureka, Ca.. I would also have to concur that the first Dark Star broke out on the East Coast, probably at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston. That is pure conjecture based on nothing. There are five small venue shows in NYC in between. Interesting historic discussion though. The most fabled Grateful Dead song has a muddy debut date... Does anybody else have a clue?
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My first DS. We knew they had played it on New Years and were hoping it was more than just a one time thing. The place erupted. And paired w/ St. Stephen no less. Not sure if it was a good version or not but that didn't really matter.
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My one and only live Dark Star came in the spring of 1973 at the University Of Illinois Assembly Hall in Champagne. The Hall looks like a giant spaceship and it seemed to inspire Garcia. Garcia evoked sounds from his guitar that were other-worldly. I have never heard anything like it before or since. It sounded exactly like the transitive nightfall of diamonds, whatever that is. Of course, I was tripping at the time. I thought that the whole building was going to take off and head "where no man had gone before."
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From Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, a blog post about "Sunshine Daydream," including this paragraph: As the sun sets, the band really settles in and stretches out, deep into the space of a lengthy and quite remarkable “Dark Star,” truly sublime. It’s so cool to watch them playing this stuff, not just hearing it but watching them onstage, and the filmmakers stay with the music as the band moves into some deep space, and let the playing unfold without trying anything goofy or tricky. There are no histrionics from the players either, or even any stage patter, really, just the music. You can feel them get more comfortable — and more out there — as the bright sun fades to red dusk and then enveloping darkness. http://thetalkhouse.com/features/view/lee-ranaldo-the-grateful-deads-lo…
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the Dark Stars - and I love it whenever there is any discussion on the Dark Star. Lots of interesting posts here about what the song "says" - and what the song and the music combined "say". Great stuff - I loved all the posts. But you must also check out Blair's piece and the comments at http://www.dead.net/features/blair-jackson/blair-s-golden-road-blog-dar…. Shall we go? You and I, while we can? Say Yes.
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The first four note analogy to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is perfect. The version of Dark Star used for Live-Dead reflects the expansive exploration of the time. 1969 Apollo goes to the moon or outer space and at the same time the simultaneous exploration of inner space by the Earth bound. I feel the January through March 1969 versions of Dark Star convey the inner and outer cutting edge explorations both beyond the atmosphere and the quest for higher awareness. I bought Live-Dead just before Christmas 1969 the same time and place I bought my first Grateful Dead tickets. (some head shop record store on 8th street, West Village, NYC for the Fillmore East)Was very fortunate to see the Dead perform Dark Star numerous times from 1970 through1974. Then another round new years eve 89-90 and new years eve 90-91. The standout Dark Stars I saw live were 9/19/70, 2/18/71 and 8/27/72. There is no way a thinking feeling human being could not help but become transformed, illuminated (even if for a short time) and yet also permanently changed by those live experiences. The best Dark Star? The question is answered with many more questions. Onward through the fog. The metaphysical explorer pops through the sky dome atmosphere of inner and outer simultaneously. "Once in awhile you get shown the LIGHT in the strangest of places if you look at it right". R.Hunter "Shall we go, you and I while we can (while we can....) Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds." Robert Hunter
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I'm definitely not trying to endorse this as one of the best versions. Just listened to the bonus disc of the There And Back Again album for the first time in about a year. I do enjoy that Dark Star. Especially, the beginning jam.
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...not cliché. But, most people are searching for a better version. It's possible that it doesn't exist?
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I love those Dark Stars where they noodle for so long that you actually forget there are lyrics to the song, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up right before Jerry starts singing them...
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Dark Star started for me what I always liked to call " MY ICE TRIP". At a Dead show in 1970, tripping my brains out, I started to realize that a particular pattern had developed at least for me. Dark Star, nightfall, diamonds, cold rain, snow, glass, mirror shatters-- in my trippyness? I had stumbled upon a common thread. All of those words along with others by The Dead share something. It is hard to put into words but lok at the words, feel the words. There is a common link between all of them. Many a night tripping at a Dead Show I would go into " MY ICE TRIP" and get transported somewhere else entirely while still being there and it usually started or culminated with Dark Star!!! It still takes my breath away.
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Unfortunately I was never lucky enough to see "Dark Star" played live by Jerry and the boys. I did get to see it performed by Ratdog. A particular moving acoustic rendition, just Bobby and Keller Williams, played as Keller's encore when he opened for Ratdog at Red Rocks in 2007. Keller wraps up and you think that he's done, out steps Bobby with his acoustic. Of course the crowd goes wild. I don't remember who played which parts but the first notes were struck as if they were the delicate placement of the proverbial "cherry on top". I only remember one other song played that night, a heart wrenching "Standing On The Moon". Aside from the exceptional LIVE/DEAD version, my all time favorite is what John Oswald did with it for the Grayfolded album. I've heard Phil convinced him to take on the epic production. Over 100 performances spanning decades intertwined, combined, and folded to produce a most beautiful two hour version, well... almost two hours. The time is irrelevant, it always ends too soon when I plug it in.
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    CousinJed
    4 years 1 month ago
    First Dark Star
    It's amazing to me that I can't recall how many times I've seen Dark Star - only more than once probably not more than 3. But still, having waited and wished for so long you'd think that would be etched in my memory. But they were all of course wonderful. I think the first Dark Star was the Marsalis show at Nassau. I was at work - I dont even remember if we had tix for the show or even planning to go but that's how it was then after a hundred or so shows. Loved them all and the spontaneity was part of the excitement and fun. Anyway, I was at work listening to a live interview with Garcia on WNEW and he said something like "yeah, we're going to do a little something special tonight" or something to that effect. I immediately thought "Dark Star"! Always wishing and hoping and waiting. Anyway if I wasn't going before I was definitely going then! Wrapped up at work, called the crew, made the rounds and picked everyone up and off we were to Long Island! And of course they played Dark Star and it was a great show! Funny thing is, in hindsight, I think the "something special" that Garcia was alluding to was the fact that Branford Marsalis was playing with them that night and not that they were going to play Dark Star. But it certainly worked out in the end. Miss you Jer...
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    bickity banksie
    4 years 11 months ago
    a dark star mashup with allen ginsberg's "howl"
    Hey, everybody. I've been working on this mashup for a while and wanted to share. It's the 2.24.74 version of DS with Ginsberg's "Howl." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92MimbeMpcg
  • torysresort
    4 years 11 months ago
    Best of the Rest
    Unfortunately I was never lucky enough to see "Dark Star" played live by Jerry and the boys. I did get to see it performed by Ratdog. A particular moving acoustic rendition, just Bobby and Keller Williams, played as Keller's encore when he opened for Ratdog at Red Rocks in 2007. Keller wraps up and you think that he's done, out steps Bobby with his acoustic. Of course the crowd goes wild. I don't remember who played which parts but the first notes were struck as if they were the delicate placement of the proverbial "cherry on top". I only remember one other song played that night, a heart wrenching "Standing On The Moon". Aside from the exceptional LIVE/DEAD version, my all time favorite is what John Oswald did with it for the Grayfolded album. I've heard Phil convinced him to take on the epic production. Over 100 performances spanning decades intertwined, combined, and folded to produce a most beautiful two hour version, well... almost two hours. The time is irrelevant, it always ends too soon when I plug it in.
  • Default Avatar
    clementinejam
    5 years ago
    Dark Star
    Dark Star started for me what I always liked to call " MY ICE TRIP". At a Dead show in 1970, tripping my brains out, I started to realize that a particular pattern had developed at least for me. Dark Star, nightfall, diamonds, cold rain, snow, glass, mirror shatters-- in my trippyness? I had stumbled upon a common thread. All of those words along with others by The Dead share something. It is hard to put into words but lok at the words, feel the words. There is a common link between all of them. Many a night tripping at a Dead Show I would go into " MY ICE TRIP" and get transported somewhere else entirely while still being there and it usually started or culminated with Dark Star!!! It still takes my breath away.
  • Default Avatar
    Bach 2 Bach
    5 years 1 month ago
    Shall we go
    I love those Dark Stars where they noodle for so long that you actually forget there are lyrics to the song, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up right before Jerry starts singing them...