Craig Finn of the Hold Steady always has a lot of interesting things to say and good stories to tell, so after the jump are 373 words of his on the subject of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead that didn't make it to print in our current issue.
There are a fair amount of illicit transactions that happen around Dead shows. That became part of it, going to shows with friends. I saw them in Minneapolis and a couple other places. Then I went to college [at Boston College] in 1989 and the Dead were a huge part of that. Spring break my sophomore year I went up and saw them at Nassau Coliseum, which actually inspired the song “Nassau Coliseum” by my first band, Lifter Puller. It was rumored on the news in Long Island that it was the biggest drug bust in Grateful Dead history. It was really a chaotic scene in the parking lot. Cops came in on horses and people were getting hit and people were crying. It was really kind of awful.
It was not unusual ten or 15 years ago to always see the dancing bears on people’s cars. It was something you wouldn’t even think twice about. Jerry Garcia, he was the pinnacle of it, he was the face of it. He looked like they sounded in some ways. When he takes that meandering solo, he had a really distinct style on the guitar. His voice is not amazing, obviously, but it’s very expressive. I’ve loved the Dead for their lyrics, and I know he had a lyricist, but the combination of the wide-open jamming and that loose groove with some really profound lyrics make it really exciting.
My favorite period of the Dead is roughly ’77, which is when they had Donna Godchaux on vocals and she sounds unhinged half the time. She makes me smile because she seems like she’s fucking out of control. I’ve been trying to listen to a lot of bootlegs from that era.
I can have a hard time listening to music with too many lyrics in the van when I’m on tour. I don’t want to pay too much attention to the music. The Dead is very nice because you can kind of sail away on it. I like it when they are in a full-tilt boogie. I love it when they crank it up and do something like “US Blues” that’s really electrified. I mean, that’s pretty much where I’m at with Garcia and the Dead.