Greatest Stories Ever Told - "The Music Never Stopped"
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!)
Several times over the course of their career, the Dead would comment, through their songs’ lyrics, on the idea of being a band—and in particular, on the idea of being none other than the Grateful Dead. This is one of them, and many of its phrases seem...just exactly perfect.
The Bob Weir / John Barlow composition always got the crowd clapping (we were already dancing!) when they hit the “come on children, clap your hands” refrain. There’s something that I always loved at shows — that certain point in certain songs where certain things would happen in the crowd. The “Woo!!” at that point in “Shakedown Street,” or the roar at particularly important, evocative, or timely lines. Or the sheer, audience-wide sense of anticipation during the build-up to “Inspiration, move me brightly” in “Terrapin Station,” or the mutually-acknowledged space following the line in “St. Stephen”: “One man gathers what another man spills,” born of repeated listenings to Live Dead. But I digress—unless digression is the point, in which case I’m not really digressing. (Right?)
“The Music Never Stopped” premiered at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on August 13, 1975, in the performance captured in One From the Vault. During my college days, this show circulated, on vinyl (!), as Make-Believe Ballroom, so that is always how I have thought of it. Blues for Allah was released on September 1, so the performance at GAMH was pretty much simultaneous. After its introduction, the song remained steadily in the repertoire thereafter, with the final version performed on June 28, 1995, at The Palace, in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Since this blog is about stories, my “Music Never Stopped” story is a simple but abiding memory I have of receiving the lyrics, handwritten, as a gift from a Secret Santa friend at my college co-op dorm, who turned out to be my good friend Chakka. That’s when I first saw the verses as a stand-alone poem, and it was a lovely thing to behold.
What Barlow did was risky. He painted a self-portrait for the band to play and sing, one which encompassed the entire experience of being on the road, playing in town after town like a traveling circus, along with the experience of the Deadheads, who would gather and behave much as he described: “People joining hand in hand, while the music plays the band,” and “Old men sing about their dreams. Women laugh, and children scream…” throughout all of which the band just keeps chugging along. And when they pack up and go, their previous presence seems doubtful, unlikely—how could such an amazing thing have occurred in the midst of our mundane lives?
That kind of sums up my feeling about the Grateful Dead, generally. What an unlikely confluence of musicians in the right time and space. In a time and space, which, in fact, seemed to be hostile to the whole notion of such a cultural institution. And how lucky I was to have experienced it—to be experiencing it still, even though the band’s all packed and gone. ’Cause the music never stopped.
Barlow’s invocation could have been corny or hackneyed or pompous, but instead he lent it a light, whimsical touch, giving the song a strong sense of a rural American setting with corn in the field, and fish in the river. There are roosters, and mosquitoes, and farm families making do in the intense summer’s heat. And here comes a road show, complete with fireworks, calliopes, and clowns. It’s the clash, or, better, the melding of the two—the mundane and the extraordinary—that lends the song an appeal that goes directly to the experience of both band and Deadhead. And what I found was, that once I had tapped into the music, it truly was always there, ready to be released at any moment.
And here, I think, it gets really cool. I must not be the only person who has had repeated and wonderful dreams of being at Grateful Dead concerts; in fact, entire concerts, with fabulous seats, where the music itself was the substance of the dream. What kind of Grateful Dead dreams have you had? I’m not asking you to sing about them like the old men in the song, but maybe you have some particularly vivid memory of a Dead-related dream, where the music was part of your subconscious.
I remember an interview with someone (Phil, I think…), in which he said something about the music always being there, always going on, so that when they played, they were accessing the music that never stopped. Not a very scholarly reference, but the idea is what’s important—that the band felt that way about the music, as though it had a life of its own, and was actually, in some way, playing the band.
Side notes I find interesting:
• Blair Jackson’s early biography of the band, from 1983, bore the title Grateful Dead: The Music Never Stopped.
• Robert Hunter’s lyric entitled “Hollywood Cantata” (included in his collection of lyrics, A Box of Rain) was originally written for the same set of changes by Weir, but was abandoned in favor of Barlow’s lyric. You can hear it in the outtakes included in the Beyond Description box set. Hmmm. “Beyond Description.”
• “Band beyond description” has been altered on bumper stickers and t-shirts to read “band beyond prescription.”
• Musically, I like it that this song has two distinct spots for jams.
• I enjoy the reference to calliopes. That makes three in Grateful Dead songs. Calliope: a strange musical instrument, often found on carousels (connection to at least one other song, right?), and the muse of lyric poetry.
OK—over to y’all: Dead dreams? Special moments in songs? Stories about waking up to find the band all packed and gone? Does the music ever stop? Anything else that strikes your fancy?
Great story. I've been enjoying that stellar AUD of 09-28. Sweet glimpses.
.......if my memory serves me well----I remember my older brother said "hey--there'saDead show on the radio tonite!"----Iwas at community college & had work to do---rushed thru it--he callded his buddies --a & this being 75 & still livin at the parents abode--upstairs-- doin herb--towel under the door----&the show came on---this beforethealbum/cvd--& it was on Wnew??---Pete Fornital???-----besides being able to hear something that was new & unreleased to the public--while gettin primed up with older bro & his buddies--& listening to this new music on the radio ---we needed some refeshments---& me being the youngster--I had to go downstairs---well-- the secondset started---& being well enhanced at this time---Ihad one of the BEST ORANGES OF MY LFE....never let the music stopped!!!!-----or oranges......hahahahahaha....ALOHA!
i had a dream that i was a stand-in drummer for the grateful dead. we were rehearsing who knows what songs, but jerry was an insufferable perfectionist who would not let the band finish the song. he'd stop and make us start over after yelling about how bad we were doing.
05/07/77 Boston go find it and turn it up!
Listen carefully at the end of this out-take and you'll hear Weir say, "I don't like them words," or something to that effect. I don't like 'em either! It's a rare reminder of Hunter coming up with a non-starter. I wonder if that happened often. I don't know of many examples.
1. The explosiveness of a nicely lyriced song, e.g., 7/7/78
2. the cheesy version on Blues for Allah, which is the first one I ever heard, and therefore made me not so crazy about the song (saxophone, finger snaps, etc.)
HOWEVER, i did quote from the song back in college when I did a paper about the GD experience: "they're a BAND BEYOND DESCRIPTION...people joinin' hand in hand, while the music plays the band, Lord, they're setting us on fire!"
keep on dancin' through till daylight
greet the morning air with song
no one's noticed but the band's all packed and gone
were they ever here at all?
I had a Dead Dream a couple years ago where I was an actual Grateful Dead show ... was on the first row ... and the band stopped right in the middle of a song and Bob or Jerry (my memory fuzzy - can't remember which one) reached down and handed me a joint to hit ... then the music went on, never missing a beat ..
Crazy thing is - I never got to see the band when Jerry was alive. I've seen lots of post-Jerry shows. I have seen lots of the GD Video - so maybe that's where it came from ...
Speaking of dreams, I heard something interesting earlier this week - Jewish people think it's a bad omen if you wake up and don't remember your dream ..
Brings mind to aboriginal dream thing ... where the aboriginals think the dream world is the real world, and this world we live in is not .... Crazy to think about ...
The Music Never Stopped is one of those songs that just gets me in the mood every time ... You know, I don't think I've heard a bad version of it ...
'A band beyond description, like Jehova's favorite choir. ' gives me chills thinking about that verse ...
Oh yeah...Make-Believe Ballroom was among my first tapes, as I recall. I love Donna's contribution, although I'm normally not a big fan of hers (don't get me wrong...I like a lot of her stuff). 80s versions were always good though...the first set opener Worcester Fall tour '83 comes to mind...and many others. I'm glad Bear and others wrote about the film. I thought it was great. I studied music perception & cognition and thought about going into music therapy myself (as did my mother). The subject of music and the brain is a fascinating one.
I just posted this on my facebook page this morning, before I read this: "Just got offered an Awake magazine from the Jehovah's...I should have said...Sure! I'll take one if you take some of my old Grateful Dead tapes (some of those old cassettes are gathering a little dust, lol)." Not the Jehovah's witnesses favorite choir, perhaps?
Pretty good flick.Went to privare showing here in Chicago before it was released commercially.
Lots of my WR friends were there too.
Dr. Oliver Sacks case study. The music plays the band. Music heals the family. A bit oversweet and overacted at times but worth a view.
"The Music Never Stopped," based on the case study "The Last Hippie" by Dr. Oliver Sacks, M.D. ("Awakenings"), chronicles the journey of a father and son adjusting to cerebral trauma and a lifetime of missed opportunities. Through the music that
embodied the generation gap of the 1960s, the film weaves the heartwarming progress of Henry and Gabriel's relationship.
In 1967, after his father Henry Sawyer (J.K. Simmons) forbids him to see a Grateful Dead concert, prodigal son Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Taylor Pucci) runs away from home. Nearly twenty years later, Henry, a straight-laced engineer and lover of big band music, is shocked to learn that his estranged son requires major surgery to remove a previously neglected brain tumor.
After the operation, the extent of Gabriel's condition is made clear: the tumor damaged the part of his brain that facilitates the creation of new memories. For Gabriel, past, present, and future become indistinguishable, and he lives fixed in the era of Vietnam, acid trips, and psychedelic music. Determined not to let their son slip away from them again, Henry and wife Helen (Cara Seymour) vow to connect with Gabriel, who is barely able to communicate effectively. Unhappy with Gabriel's lack of progress, Henry does his own research on brain injuries, which leads him to Dr. Dianne Daly (Julia Ormond). She is a music therapist who has used her methods to make significant progress with victims of brain tumors.
As Diane works with Gabriel, she realizes that he is most responsive to the music of the Rock and Roll era - The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and particularly the Grateful Dead. Even though he is unaware that the era of his music has long passed, the effect is remarkable, and he begins to be able to have conversations and express himself. Although Henry loathes rock and roll, he is determined to forge new memories and salvage his relationship with his son. While his own health fails, Henry begins his own pilgrimage through the bands of the sixties. As he learns the songs that animate his son's soul, he indeed begins to form an unusual but emotionally vibrant bond with the child he thought he had lost.
Back at UCSC in 1989 my friend Jim and I hatched a business plan, a pretty common one - sell t-shirts in the parking lot lots of dead shows. I know, how original. We did a great great jimi hendrix one, his big face in multi colors on a black beefy t. Very popular and sold out quick. Some japanese deadhead bought ten for 90 bucks. The other was our original design of dragon chasing its own tail surrounded by a circle of words "the music plays the band plays..." in an endless feedback loop.. it seemed to capture that mid-second set feeling just perfectly... i still have the silk screen, i should pull a few new ones for old times sake.