Sometimes life is almost too good to be true. This means that we spend too much time trying to recreate feelings that are not usual.
Today I was listening to the Grateful Dead, as I do every day. I have an iPod that is now full of their music – everything else has now been purged, save for a few odds and ends for occasional variety. But I don’t need variety. I have about 500 hours of Grateful Dead. That’ll do.
Today I went for a mystery listen, choosing a concert from 1971 that I had downloaded but which I didn’t know much about. Turned out to be a special night, the 18th February 1971, where several important songs were debuted and the standard of playing was super high.
You can hear the show here: http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-02-18.sbd.orf.107.sbeok.shnf
After a brief Dark Star (the Dead’s best known and best loved improvisational vehicle) the band dropped into a lovely version of Wharf Rat, a rolling uplifting ballad featuring a man called August West whose past hasn’t been all that:
Half of my life
I spent doin’ time for
some other fucker’s crime
Other half found me stumbling around
drunk on burgundy wine
So I got through this and BANG, instead of finishing off Dark Star straight away, we get this amazing jam, out of nowhere. I googled the show when I got to the office. Sure enough: “Beautiful Jam”, it’s called. Simple. That night the Dead took off and didn’t come down again until they’d made something unspeakably good.
Meanwhile at Sabina Park, Jamaica, the West Indies were playing cricket against India. The West Indies won the toss and elected to field first, a decision that might have come off had it not been for one man: Dilip Sardesai.
Both sides passed through depressing crises and their recoveries produced enthralling cricket, but the finish was subdued. Water had seeped through the covers at one end following rain which wiped out all the first day’s play. Sobers was thus prompted to field on winning the toss. India, who went into the match without Gavaskar and Viswanath, both injured, began on a note of collapse. They slumped to 75 for five, their endemic weakness against pace bowling being again in evidence. Wickets had fallen, mostly at the drier and faster end of the pitch. Then Sardesai and Solkar, playing in his first Test match abroad, provided the first stage of the recovery, putting on 137 runs. Their partnership lasted into the third day. Sardesai, on the fringe of his century when Sobers removed Solkar for 61, began to take chances to get as many runs as possible, but when his ninth-wicket partner, Prasanna, showed signs of making a fight, Sardesai again dug himself in and the pair added 122. Sardesai did not yield till after tea and scored 212, his second Test double-century. He batted just over eight hours and hit one 6 and seventeen 4s. He gave two chances, shortly after completing his century. They were offered during the period when he was trying to push things along for fear of running out of partners.
Sardesai scored 112 in the next test, which India won by seven wickets. He was run out for 45 in the third test, then scored 150 in the fourth. He scored 75 more in the fifth test, and India held on to win the series 1-0.
Dilip Sardesai – he can see greatness in the distance: 212, 122, 150… man he was good. Does he think of these times with pride and wonder why he can’t make it happen again? Or does he accept it for what it was, and give thanks that it happened at all? His eyes are quite fascinating though, eh?
Sardesai would never hit these heights again. He scored exactly 2001 test runs, but that 1971 series contained over a third of them. He averaged 39.24, which was good back then, but every time he went out to bat he’d have thought of that run in the West Indies when every ball seemed to be his friend, when every shot came off, and when, frankly, the game seemed easy. His reputation was made – no serious Indian fan would not know about 1971 – but he couldn’t keep up his intergalactic stretch of amazingness.
The Grateful Dead went on to have many more big nights. 1972 is seen to be a very good year for them. 1977 their best. After that, not so much, and the tours became about paying bills and getting out there, and while there were moments in 1987 and 1989 and sometimes after that when they hit the extraordinary heights again, these were rarities, the unspeakable magic of earlier days being somehow out of reach. Their music was often very fine, especially when the band (and especially Garcia) had their habits under control, but this was 8/10 stuff, not 11/10 (or 15/10, in the case of parts of the explosion that was 1977).
Jerry Garcia, 1971, on the long journey towards the peak of his powers. ]Half of my life… I spent doing time, for some other fucker’s crime]. Garcia had greatness in him, but having delivered musical gold on and off from 67 to 77, spent the rest of his time in all kinds of personal, private wars. It would never be the same again. The photo here says everything… and nothing.