Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Desolation Row - Grateful Dead Song Review

I'm a huge Dylan fan so I wonder why this song isn't more of a favorite of mine.

In an interview I read in the Relix Compilation Book Jerry Garcia was asked what songs he wants to remove from the Grateful Dead repertoire.  Surprisingly instead of dodging the question outright, he responds "some of the Dylan" tunes (something along those lines*).  The interview was from later in the band's career - I believe in the 1990's.

I imagine Jerry was referring to Desolation Row and/or Queen Jane Approximately - first set "Bobby songs."  When I paint My Masterpiece seemed to be a little more of a favorite of the band (and much shorter with a harmonic modulation to keep it interesting).  Phil's Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues was rarer and pretty great too.  There are more examples of Dylan tunes (Watchtower, Baby Blue, Memphis Blues, etc.) but in my opinion Jerry was talking about Desolation and Queen Jane.

Why would Jerry be wanting to remove these songs from the Dead setlist?  For the same reason I think Desolation Row is a little lackluster - they are simple, long, and a bit boring.  Desolation Row is basically a very long acoustic beatnik poem that the band adopted to the live setting.  There's just too much firepower on stage to waste it on 11 minutes of Desolation Row.   The song also had no real jam section, just soloists taking "a verse here," and "a verse there."

So while there are some iconic lines like:  ....playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.
And: Cinderella she seems so easy, it takes one to know one she smiles, and puts her hands in her back pockets, Bette Davis Style...

Overall, the song is a little lackluster.  It would've been great to see Desolation Row (I never did) but it is hard to make it through it on tapes.

Desolation Row Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 6.8

*the Relix book is great and reviewed here, but it does not have a table of contents so it is hard to find specific articles.

Disclaimer: This is part of my blog that reviews all things Grateful Dead for fun. 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).


pablopicazoo said...

I could never make this blog... because i just love the Dead too much! I don't know if I'd be capable of giving a lower score than 8 for any song... well, maybe a 7 for some of Brent, Donna, and Vince's efforts... sorry guys (and lady).

My blind faith notwithstanding, I always loved Desolation Row! I always saw the Dead's version as a parable of the whole Dead experience: the carnie-like atmosphere of weirdos with hopes, desperation, dreams, and nonsensical whimsy, along with the bitter, cynical, "superhuman crew" - the rest of society that thumbs their nose at the weirdos for "knowing more than they do."

And don't tell me that you haven't seen times where shakdown street didnt look more like desolation row.

And if there's a better (non-hunter/barlow penned) lyric describing Deadheads than "everybody is making love, or else expecting rain," I don't know it!!

In any case... I'm glad to see this blog back up and running!!!! Your Dead-thusiam is contagious.

GDmike said...

Very cool comment Pablo... I love Dylan and I love Desolation Row... I also love that the Dead did this song and love all the lyrics... I guess I am going off of my experience listening to tapes and since it's up against some really stiff competition (the rest of the GD songs), it pales in comparison to me... but I do really love the song! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.