Monday, March 9, 2009

Cassidy - Grateful Dead Song Review

Oh I just got a little chill thinking about seeing Cassidy at Oakland Coliseum during the Chinese New Year run in 1994. It was raining outside and Cassidy was sandwiched betwen Loser and Don't Ease Me In. What a lucky man I was and still am to be able to remember this.

Cassidy is probably my favorite Bob Weir song. It is definitely a Bobby song and it was originally released on the studio album Ace, Bobby's solo album that had several other songs that would become Grateful Dead classics (Greatest Story Ever Told, Black Throated Wind, Mexicali Blues, Playin' in the Band, and Looks Like Rain).

I'm a little hard on Bob but I'm going to have to give credit for Cassidy and the Ace album as a whole - wow. Very prolific and great output of good music. If I remember what I read in the Grateful Dead books correctly - the sessions for Ace turned into almost like a Grateful Dead recording session because the band members were all participating.

But back to Cassidy. This song is magic. A first set song with an open jam section (a rare feature) and with great lyrics by John Barlow. There are extremely catchy and memorable lines to open:

I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream
I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream

and my other favorite part at the end:

Fare thee well now, let your life proceed by its own design
Nothing to tell now, let the words be your I am done with mine.

I don't know how to describe why Cassidy's lyrics are so magic to me. Well, they just have a timeless quality and the way the jam opens up slightly dissonant after they sing the "Fare thee well now..." line adds to this mysterious quality. Oh did I mention that the song has references to Neal Cassady:

Lost now are the country miles in his cadillac,
I can tell by the way you smile, he's coming back

This is evocative of a wonderful and magical time in the history of California and reminds me of the Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey, the Acid Tests, and of course the beatnik era. I love reading books like On the Road, the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, and others about this proud period in the history of California. There is a really great article on the Literary Kicks website where Barlow discusses Neal Cassady and also mentions the origins of the lyrics to Cassidy (many thanks to Sundar for bringing this to my attention).

So again I want to emphasize that Cassidy was one of the few first set songs with a wide open exploratory jam. Another one that comes to mind is Bird Song and these two songs always remind me of each other for some reason. Basically, you were hoping to get one or the other in the first set (both never seemed to be played in the same night) and either almost singlehandedly indicated a good set and probably a great show.

Bird Song also has that open jam section and the jam section in both Cassidy and Bird Song incorporate dissonant sounds - which transport the listener elsewhere. For some reason I want to point out that like in Bird Song, when the jam in Cassidy winds down, it is often not a precise transition back into the chorus: flight of the sea birds... there was always a looseness to this return to the song that some might describe as "sloppy." I actually really like the fact that it wasn't precise. This loose transition shows that The Grateful Dead were about pushing the envelope and exploring the jam portion of songs like this - not so much interested in earning style points for being tight.

For me, the quintissential version of Cassidy is on Without a Net. So I guess that means that I associate the song with Brent doubling the lead vocal. How cool is it that Brent could just sing along with Bobby through the entire tune even though he wasn't around when the song was initially created and played? How many other bands do you know of welcome a new keyboardist into the fold and then share lead vocals with him on their most favorite songs? That's just one of many reasons why the Grateful Dead rules, and tonight I'm gonna give it up for Bob Weir for making this song happen.

Cassidy Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.9

Disclaimer
: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

2 comments:

Sundar said...

If I were to make a top 10 list of Dead songs (which would be a near-impossible task), Cassidy would definitely be in there. What great lyrics and jam!! It puts a smile whenever the songs surfaces on my Windows Media shuffle list.

Here's some info that you might like to read:

http://www.litkicks.com/Topics/BarlowOnNeal.html

MH said...

That article rules and I really appreciate you showing it to me and it inspires and also explains a lot about the dual inspiration for Cassidy's lyrics. I put a link to it in the Cassidy song review.

I know what you're saying about the top 10... An overwhelming task, to say the least. I am going to wait until I review all of the Grateful Dead songs and decide on a top 10. Why not give it a try? It won't be perfect and will always evolve but hey if the Dead had to choose a new setlist at every show the least I can do is try and distill my 10 favorites!!