Sunday, July 22, 2012

Eyes of the World - Grateful Dead Song Review

This not only might be a signature Garcia/Hunter song, it might be the signature Grateful Dead song.

When you hear Eyes start, it's unmistakeable. That jazzy EMaj7 chord cruises along so nicely and the crowd will respond with wild cheers.  The little rhythmic punches throughout are just perfectly placed to make Deadheads dance.

Eyes usually tops out at longer than 10:00, and features non stop soloing by Jerry when he is not singing the verse or the chorus.  My last time seeing the Grateful Dead in Las Vegas 1995, it occurred to me that after all those years Jerry was still pushing and exploring during this song.  No two Eyes are exactly alike, and he didn't seem to have any "go to" soloing phrases that he would end up on, like he did in many other songs.  It was pure exploration and improvisation.

Lyrics by (Who Else?) Robert Hunter

The lyrics by Robert Hunter are very deep while also being vague.  I've never sat down and thought too much about the meaning behind them but they still mean a lot to me. I will also say that as I get older, the words mean different things.  Being the "eyes of the world" means to me that I am not a discrete individual but rather part of this entire greater organism that is all connected together with unseen bonds of energy.

A couple of my favorite lines are:

"the seeds that were silent all burst into bloom, and decay"

this quick encapsulation of the cycle of life reminds me of psychedelic experiences which add perspective to our place in the grand scheme of things.  Also, in later years I love the way Jerry would sing "decay-ay-ay-ay."

sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own

this line just reminds me of the sense of originality and spirit that Deadheads have.  If you've ever felt like you don't fit in anywhere in "normal society," but you've been welcomed into the Grateful Dead culture, then you'll probably like this line too.

As always, some great information can be found at the Annotated Grateful Dead lyrics site for this song, and a lot of connections are made between Eyes of the World and Buddhist philosophy.

Without a Net - The Peak of Eyes of the World?

Eyes of the World peaked (in my opinion) around the time Without a Net was recorded.  In fact, that's the quintessential version in my opinion.  Branford Marsalis brings just the perfect amount of color to that version.  I am sure there are better versions out there, but for me they would probably be from around this time.   Earlier versions (especially in the 1970's) rocked too hard and were played too fast. In the last few years (Vince era), the song was just a little too weak and meandered listlessly. Around 1989 and 1990 they really had the best of the energy and tightness combined with Jerry delivering great solos with the jazzy flavor he developed later in his life.

This song is probably very special and significant to every Deadhead. After Jerry died in 1995, I didn't listen to the Grateful Dead at all for about 10 years. In 2005, Eyes of the World came on my iPod when I was on a 40 hour train ride from Mumbai to Trivandrum in India. Staring out the window at the Indian countryside, I could finally appreciate the music and listen to it without the sense of loss that made the music too painful for so many years.  I was reborn a Deadhead that day and have been listening pretty constantly ever since.

No matter what show you were at (or are listening too), the second you hear the beginning strains of Eyes, the show becomes a much more memorable one. I've never met a Deadhead who didn't like Eyes of the World.

Eyes of the World Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 10.0

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.


Sundar said...

Yes, this song, as you say, is very special to me and Deadheads. This one, along with Fololish Heart sort of sollidified my suspicion that these guys are something special. Eyes in Eugene 1990 is very close to me.
So...Mumbai to Trivandrum, huh? I am glad you got the inspiration you talked about. As a matter of fact, I was in Kochi that December visiting my younger brother. What a small world we live in. I love it.

Kord said...

Are there any Deadheads in Las Vegas ? Where oh Where are you????

GDmike said...

Yes Sundar... what is it about Eyes? You can see how I feel about Foolish Heart (top 5 easily) in that song review.... that trip to India was so amazing, it was literally the first time I could listen to the Dead after a 10 year moratorium after the pain of Jerry's passing.