Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)"
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!
And so it happened...with them playing "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" as the 2nd song in the 2nd set of the 2nd to the Last Grateful Dead Show Ever on July 4, 2015...and it seemed like EVERYBODY in the crowd sung every word!
What a very cool couple of comments, you guys. Thanks for that. I love the idea that you may have been the first person to buy the first album! And I'm so glad you got a nice hit off the article, Dr.Shakedown. That means maybe I'm on the right track, at least for some readers...
As the weeks start to pile up, I hope that people will come back and add their stories to previous weeks' songs, on an ongoing basis. It's a great place to talk about the songs.
Stay tuned for the next installment!
It reminds me of the day when my college pals and I walked several miles to the nearest record store (Discount Records in San Jose!) to get Sgt. Pepper on the day of its release. And spent the rest of the day holed up in somebody's dorm room playing it.
Thank you for the article! The thing about the Grateful Dead and our community is that I have these amazing thoughts and images and memories swirling in my head about the shows I've seen, the songs I've heard, and the people I've met along the way....yet, I find "IT" the hardest thing in my life to explain to someone in words....and so when I read an article where the language matches what the Dead is in my head, its very nice. Extracting the Devotion from the song as it pertains to life now (occasional Furthur show ex:3 at nye) or back in the day where you would hit the ROAD for a city or 3 and: "So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.
Try on your wings and find our where it's at." I love hearing the Golden Road, Viola Lee, Cryptical and others from that era, that give me a glimpse of the early years. Trust me, if I could time capsule back to Magoos Pizza I would, but I can only turn up an early bootleg on the stereo and dance with my daughter whos 17 months old, and hopefully someday be able to describe what THIS is...and that is what I have become. Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on December 29th was thumpin on that second song of the 1st set as the HEYS came callin with your hands in the air................a beautiful sight on a beautiful night.
was hearing this song played by John Peel (RIP) on his show, "The Midnight Garden" in Radio London, the pirate radio ship. Followed by Black Angel's Death Song, both songs registered in this then 15 year old's lobes, starting a lifetime love of each band. Through mates in Cambridge, where I want to "high" school, I had heard stuff by the Airplane, from friends there whose parents' had American lodgers. West Coast Rock, as it was then called in the UK, was raising its wondrous head!
The first Dead album, including of course, Golden Road, was released worldwide (I believe) on St. Pat's Day, 1967. I was at home in Cheshire, and caught an early train into Manchester and had a (Mono) copy in my sweaty hands by about 10am GMT.
Was I the first person in the world to buy the album? :-)
Nearly 50 years on and I'm still walking down that road...
bought the first album when it first came out on mono no less-cranked it up on an old "voice of Music" tube console record player-one big speaker in the front under a cloth woven cover-I later hauled that unit to my dorm room when I went to college-the record and the player saw many years of service and entertained the hordes in the quad while blasting away perched on the windowsill with the windows wide open. Heady music for heady days!
Great comments, everyone. One thing that strikes me about the thinking so far in your comments and personal experiences of the song is the idea of how songs change over time. For Jerry, the song didn't appeal to him any longer because of the time it had been meant to evoke, which was no longer. For us, we experienced the song at various points in our lives, as we do every song, and the way the song affects us morphs and adapts over that timespan, first meaning or communicating one set of feelings or thoughts, and then, later, turning into something different depending on the circumstances of our lives, and of the lives of the musicians who play it.
So we follow the yellow brick road, and along the way, we get onto some buses, or get off some buses and then hop back on...
I've often had that experience of having a song suddenly hit me right between the eyes in a new way, and I don't know if it's particular to the Dead (probably not) or simply because this is the body of songs I know best, alongside the Beatles, I would say. No--Beatles songs don't do that to me in the same way. Hmmmm.
When I was in the 7th grade, I bought my first Dead album. Skeletons from the Closet, I know its a best of and whatever but I loved the music immediately. But even at 12 years old, the lines from Golden Road seemed very significant to what I was getting into and to what the band were all about.
Well, everybody's dancing in a ring around the sun
Nobody's finished, we ain't even begun
So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat
Try on your wings and find out where it's at.
Such a simple, beautiful, and perfect statement. Oh Lord, I wish I could have seen them at least one time...but I've still got my wings on.
But I remember back in the early '80s, there was some superstition about how if they ever played "Golden Road" again, it would be a sign that this was the end and they were going to stop playing....
One thing that of course is not going to be the same for post-Jerry heads was the sense of urgency to see all the shows you could while you could, as, especially post-coma, there was a huge sense of being on borrowed time. And that generated a lot of cosmic theories.