By David Dodd
It makes sense to me to tip my hat big-time to Blair Jackson—not just as the next blogger to take up the place he established here on Dead.net, but for all of his amazing writing about the band, and about music in general. The Grateful Dead fan magazine he started with his wife Regan McMahon, “Golden Road,” was a much-anticipated treasure each issue, from the spectacular cover art to the incisive, fun-to-read show reviews, to the short articles about the cover songs. So let’s take a look at that song this week—the song that gave the magazine its name: "Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)."
Recently (Saturday, December 29, to be exact) I was at the Furthur show at Bill Graham Civic, when the band played “Golden Road” in the number two spot in the first set. I had never heard the song played live before (though it has been in the repertoire of several post-Grateful Dead aggregations starting in 2003) and certainly never by the Grateful Dead, since they only played it three times, each in 1967, when I was ten years old. I was unprepared for the very loud audience participation in the “hey!” response to the chorus’s opening words—the place shouted “HEY!” and seemed to wake everyone up.
The songwriting credits are simply to “The Grateful Dead,” so the band considered it a group composition. Its rollicking chords open the band’s first album, and it sets the tone for an ongoing party—the party that would be the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. Vince Welnick was an advocate for this song within the band, and played it with his own side aggregations, including The Affordables. The Bobs, a wonderful a capella group, recorded the song in the 90’s.
But it is, really, a rarity. A rarity in performance that nevertheless is an exemplary piece of every Deadhead’s experience of the band, I would venture to say. Did anyone else (besides me) try to remember what songs were played following a show by mentally going through the tracks on all of the albums, one at a time? That’s what I did. Maybe I was weird—maybe it’s a “librarian thing..” But it meant that, following every concert, the first thing to pop into my head would be “Golden Road.” “See that girl, barefootin’ along…”
I am reminded of the proto-Deadheads, the “Grateful Dead Fan Club” that was called together early on in the Dead’s career with Alton Kelley’s amazing poster.
I am probably not the only Deadhead who would think of the song every time I saw “The Wizard of Oz” — after all, the yellow brick road is a golden road, right?
Roads. So many roads….a huge theme in the Dead’s songs. And, a huge theme in the lives of the Deadheads, many of whom lived on the road, following the band. Definitely something to identify with—a golden road, to unlimited devotion. There’s almost no better phrase to describe the journey of a Deadhead.
And, while the phrase “unlimited devotion” automatically invokes a cautionary reaction in my own intellect, I do think that my path has led to devotion. Not just to this music, but in many aspects of my life—to my family, to my friends, to my community. In a way, the use of the word “devotion” in the title of the song is somewhat akin to the use of the word “miracle” in our song of discussion last week—“I Need a Miracle.” “Devotion” is a highly-charged word, just as “miracle” is, but putting such words into the context of rock and roll makes them approachable somehow, and familiar.
Do you have a golden road story? Was there a time when your life exemplified the song’s ethos of being a neon light diamond who could live on the street? Is “devotion” part of your life? Let’s hear some more stories from each other!