Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Weather Report Suite"
By David Dodd
Okay, so first off, before we get to this week’s song, I just want to say that today is my birthday. (You can send presents in the form of commenting on this post—that’s all I want for my birthday from y’all.) Being born on Valentine’s Day has been a mixed blessing over the years. It was embarrassing when I was in elementary school, but it came in handy a couple of times later in life, as in when I got down on bended knee and proposed to my sweetheart 19 years ago: she cemented a very romantic episode by saying yes, and gave me the best birthday present ever.
In Grateful Dead land, I remember being very happy to note, early on in my fanaticism, that the Bear’s Choice album was partially recorded at a show on February 14, 1970. It is a special occurrence in our lives when we get to see a show on our birthday, and I was lucky enough to have that happen, twice! 1986 and 1988 at Kaiser. Anyone else have the chance to see a show on your birthday?
Then there is the whole Valentine’s Day thing, which makes me think about romance and the Dead. I’ve had my share of romantic episodes at Dead or Dead-related concerts over the years, including one particular version of “Morning Dew” …well, maybe I shouldn’t go into detail. More comment fodder, perhaps.
This week, by request, we’re looking at “Weather Report Suite,” (Prelude, Part 1, and Part 2). For a short time, the three pieces that comprise the Suite were played as such, but that was relatively short-lived by Grateful Dead standards.
The Prelude debuted in November 1972, originally as a separate piece from its eventual companions. The Dead played it, according to DeadBase, four more times in the spring of 1973 before it was first matched up with Weather Report Suite Parts 1 & 2, in September of that year. It was played regularly through October of 1974, and then dropped from the repertoire. The instrumental “Prelude,” composed by Weir, sets the stage for the two pieces to follow. I think it’s one of the most beautiful little pieces of music I know—I have never once skipped through it over years of listening. I just let it wash over me and know that its simplicity and beauty are preparing me for the melancholy of Part 1, and the sometimes epic grandeur of Part 2.
Part 1 is a song co-written with Eric Andersen, a well-known singer-songwriter who wrote the classic “Thirsty Boots.” He was on the Festival Express Tour (of “Might As Well” fame) across Canada along with the Dead, and I’m guessing that’s where Weir and he met and concocted this piece. Happy to be corrected on that by anyone who knows better. Andersen and Weir share the lyric credit, and the music is credited to Weir. Once it appeared in the rotation, in September 1973, it stayed in the repertoire only as long as the Prelude did, dropping entirely in October 1974.
The song addresses the seasons, and their changing mirrors the the singer’s state of mind as he reflects on the coming of love, and maybe its going, too: a circle of seasons, and the blooming and fading of roses. I particularly like the line “And seasons will end in tumbled rhyme and little change, the wind and rain.” There’s something very hopeful buried in the song’s melancholy. Is that melancholy just a projection of mine? I think there’s something about Weir’s singing that gets at that emotion. Loss, and the hope that there might be new love.
Weather Report Suite, Part 2 (“Let It Grow”) is a very different beast. It remained steadily in the rotation for the next 21 years after its debut, and the band played it 276 times. Its season of rarity was 1979, when it was played only three times, but otherwise, it was not far from the rotation. It could be stretched into a lengthy jamming tune (clocking at over 15 minutes several times), building to a thundering crescendo. And the “Weather Report” aspect of the song is what was really the most fun many times.
I think many Deadheads have stories, shared experiences of times when it seemed like the music was making the weather, or vice-versa, as rain clouds piled up during outdoor shows, and occasionally cut loose. Would they play “Cold Rain and Snow” or “Looks Like Rain” or “Let it Grow”? Whatever, we would madly caper about in the downpour, reveling in the unity of the music and the environment. (The reverse was also true, when a hot and dusty day would give rise to a “Me and My Uncle” or a “Jack Straw.”)
The song’s lyrics are almost over the top in their profundity: John Barlow, the theology student, outdoing himself in his invocation of several major doctrinal issues, such as the name of the divine—“What shall we say, shall we call it by a name?” The name, he points out, is on the earth, and in the thunder, that shouts its existence: “I am.” This is a direct biblical reference, of course, when Moses, wandering in the desert, asked the burning bush its name, and was answered “I am.” (Exodus 3:13-14).
The way I hear the song, Barlow invokes the earthly elements of water, earth, air, and fire and compares the lives of us who live on the planet to the significance of the totality. We won’t ever know what “the work of the day” will eventually signify, but we are a part of the big “I am,” too.
Over the years, there’s been a lot of ink spilled, some of it wonderfully, on the question of the Grateful Dead and spirituality. There are Christian Deadheads, Buddhist Deadheads, Atheist Deadheads, and Deadheads of every other spiritual and religious stripe. (I myself am a Unitarian Universalist Deadhead.) We each have stories about how the band and the music have affected or been affected by our spiritual seeking and our choices. This might be a good place to share some of those stories, too.
Your turn. Birthdays, love, spirituality, weather. Good topics for your comments.
I think what's really remarkable about "Weather Report Suite" is the way that the lyrics of Part 1 (Anderson and Weir) and Part II (Barlow) mesh so well. Part I begins with a first-person (singular) speaker ("Winter rain, now tell me why"), but shifts to first-person plural for the last stanza ("We'll see summer come again"), while Part II begins with a more remote third-person perspective ("Morning comes, she follows the path to the river shore"), but then shifts to first-person plural in the penultimate stanza ("What shall we say, shall we call it by a name?"). But this variety of perspectives is neatly unified by certain images that are invoked by each point of view, in particular, the circle motif ("Circle songs and sands of time" and the cycle of seasons in "Darkness fall and seasons change" and "We'll see summer come again") that is established in Part I and elaborated upon in Part I ("Round and round, the cut of the plow in the furrowed field" and "As he dances the circular track of the plow"). And there's also more elemental concerns that unify the two parts: rain, and its role in the seasons of living and dying, is one example. But all this aside, I'm curious about which came first; Part I or Part II? It seems like it was written in the order that we've come to know; Barlow's first line, "Morning comes, she follows the path to the river shore", seems to be an awakening following the dreamier consciousness of the speaker in Part I, but maybe it was the other way around. Anybody know?
It's a very psychedelic night during the last run before the hiatus, October '74 at Winterland. The first set ends with "Weather Report Suite." During Let it Grow, the thunder shouts "I AM." An intense jam builds up to a final chorus. Again the thunder shouts "I AM." From the balcony, I experience the entire crowd below, individually and collectively, psychically shouting "I AM" with the thunder, each person in the audience affirming his or her individual existence, while also affirming the collective existence of the group mind, which is also shouting "I AM."
During the break, Ned Lagin and Phil Lesh take the stage for the "Seastones" segment. As the segment progresses, Jerry takes the stage, and Bobby, and Keith and Bill, and Seastones turns into Dark Star which turns into the most emotionally charged Morning Dew I've ever seen.
And the second set was still to come! An amazing night in an amazing run.
hope u have a great one again ...shareing with merl is special WRS i dont think i missed a bay area WRS haveing grown up as they call it in the Bay Area... birthday shows are something very special to me my birthday is 5/5/55 so so so many great shows from the month of may Kezar 73 reno 74 ok not may but june 77 all the greeks from may and frost shows how lucky can a guy be !!!^#%$&^%(*&(*) well let me tell ya !! very lucky very very lucky in GD land the help slip on 5/5/90 carson great shows cal expo wow 5/5/91 h>s>f ........2nd set Eyes opener happy fin birthday buddy %$%$%#@#%$&^%$*&^(*&
NEVER HAD SUCH A GOOD TIME
thanks for the ramble and
Well, this is a very interesting topic. The Dead have shown through the years to exhibit a bit of everything..Egyptian, Hebrew, Hindu, maybe some Babylonian, and even some Arabic philosphies..Hunter, Barlow, etc throw sprinkles of light, and leave no absolutes, almost the way Terrapin tells its story. But overall, they seem to take bible references and turn them into sublime extraterrestrial high falutin tales..which is utterly amazing!!!! They truly use shadow/light in pretty much everything, which is a whole "nother story. But like they always said, they try to create a new mythology every night they play. How lucky are we to be present with a band that has stretched these boundaries and broken through to other realms? There will never be another band like this playing wise, lyric wise, and conscious wise. Long live the Dead!!!
Someone around here turned me on to an acoustic version of WRS. It's a studio acoustic demo from 8/4/73, and is included on the expanded Wake of the Flood cd.
I remember that one. Terrific summer storm showed up just at the right time- on cue.
Think I was there with Jerry W., and Dale the Painter and some others including my middle kid.
Soaked but dancing in the puddles.
I recalled that someone has a long piece on the musicology of Prelude and Part 1 of WRS from 2010.
Don't know if he ever completed the Part 2 section.
thoughts are really broken, but i'll give it my best. june '93 soldier field; the last time i saw the band. sting was almost done with his spectacular set when the black skies opened up and absolutely poured. intense lightning, thunder and rain! the lightning in your pic above looks like it was from that storm. most folks cleared the infield due to the lightning, except me and about 8 other rain drenched loonies who finally got under a large, blue smoke filled tarp - thicker than london fog. :))))) . when the storm finally exited, everybody who stayed out was soaked to the bone and the guys came out and gave a performance worthy of mother nature's ominous intro. and their intrepid fans who embraced it.
i do remember from the first set, looking around from the infield and seeing large,white puffy clouds moving across the top of soldier field as the sky started to clear and tens of thousands of psychedelic writhing bodies decorating my field of enhanced vision with the music of the dead playing.....live. ooohhhhhh. the weather that night added beautifully to the whole experience. i know that to many heads, '93 wasn't a banner year for the band, but that night, i sure couldn't tell it and i don't remember hearing any complaints.
to this day, I feel extremely fortunate and blessed to have been able to experience the greatest traveling social / musical experiment / experience ever to grace this big blue ball. and i miss it.
** i can't believe that it will have been 20 years ago this june...... yikes!
Thanks to all for contributing your memories of birthday shows, and thoughts about the songs. I'm especially interested in all the good background about the Prelude! I didn't include the Prelude in the annotated lyrics book, because it lacks words, but now I think I will have to include it if I ever get to do a second edition.
Thank you, sherbear, for the great idea about choosing my age this year. I do like my age, so I guess I'll stick with 56, but once in a while I do still feel like I'm somewhere between 18 and 28.
I never saw the GD on Valentine's Day, but I've always been intrigued by the poster for 2-14-68 at the Carousel Ballroom, with its audacious reference to Light by LSD.
I only caught the GD once on my birthday: 9-12-85 at the Kaiser. This was the third night of a three show run in which they used a liquid light show, and what do you know; there's video of that show available on youtube:
My sweet 16th, Providence Civic Center 4/26/84 was the only one I ever attended,but can't forget that the Dead played some hot shows over the years on 4/26(1969,1971,and 1972 spring to mind).