Monday, May 14, 2012

Cosmic Charlie - Grateful Dead Song Review

Cosmic Charlie from Aoxomoxoa is a song that has been granted legendary status by the Dead community.  It seems to almost have a St. Stephen level of mysticism attributed to it.  I remember seeing a picture of some Deadhead holding a sign that counted the number of shows since the last Cosmic Charlie (this was a well known tradition of some sign maker to count the shows until St. Stephen returned).

The song is beautiful and original. It is a slow shuffle, that is mellow and really captures a stoned vibe. When I picture Cosmic Charlie, I imagine an R Crumb character for some reason.   The song seems really built around the meandering vocal melody, which is very unique, and  the harmonies are none too ambitious, like they would be on American Beauty. There are unique long phrases throughout which make the song a departure from standard 4/4 type rock song.  This is pretty standard on Aoxomoxoa as is some of the really "psychedelic"imagery in Hunter's lyrics:

Calico Kahlia come tell me the news
Calamity's waiting for a way to get to her
Rosy red and electric blue
I bought you a paddle for your paper canoe

I feel that this song is a relic of that time and place (The Haight in 1967 - the Summer of Love). I think it probably really appeals to people (especially Deadheads) who remember this time period  (or if they don't remember, they at least lived through it...)

Cosmic Charlie was played about 30 times between 1968 and 1971
and then resurrected 6 times in 1976.  There was a  show I've heard in the 1990s where Jerry played the opening figure to it coming out of Space, but then changed his mind and played something much more predictable - maybe it was Wharf Rat.  That Cosmic Charlie employs some really "unique" phrasing and a "one of a kind" song structure probably made it not a candidate to be unleashed on the rest of the band as a surprise, and also probably contributed to the very few live plays this storied song ultimately got.

I really don't love this song like I love other Aoxomoxoa songs like St. Stephen, China Cat Sunflower, Mountains of the Moon, and even Rosemary.  I (sadly) didn't get to experience the Sumer of Love or I think I'd appreciate it more (and also R. Crumb's artwork).

Cosmic Charlie Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 7.8
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).

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