The Grateful Dead are the most overrated band of the psychedelic genre, bar none.
What did one deadhead say to another deadhead after the acid wore off at a concert?
"Hey, this music sucks!"
Back when I was a housepainter on Martha's Vineyard, I used to work with a rabid Deadhead. My contempt and derision for the band he idolized had been forming for many years by then, and our daily "conversations" on the matter were loud and animated, to say the least. One day, whilst caulking a baseboard, I cackled something about Jerry Garcia being a "bearded fool who was still living with his parents when Roky Erickson was living in a Texas peyote field being targeted by the FBI for revealing too much about reality to The People."
As I spat out my venom, my caulking gun fell from the windowsill where I'd left it, vertically down onto the middle fingernail of my right hand, a direct hit. It was extremely painful. At the time I was convinced Garcia's ghost had pushed it off, in some last-gasp poltergeistic bid at shutting me up. I've detested him even more since that incident, and my case against his band of phonies has gone from strength to strength. Only while writing this article did I discover that Garcia lost part of his middle right finger as a child. I see this as incontrovertible proof of his trying to send me a message.
Imagine you were an 18 year old hippie and someone said, "Hey, we're gonna give you a ton of free acid and play rambling self-indulgent live music for like fourteen hours straight. You in?" what would you say? Exactly! This is the secret behind the so-called popularity of San Francisco's Grateful Dead.
It is my opinion that the Grateful Dead are one of the most criminally overrated bands of all time. Yes, I'm aware that a large gaggle of devoted scruffy weirdos follows them around the country, and that this gaggle of scruffy weirdos has a mantra that goes, "You don't know the Dead until you hear them live. What you hear on studio albums or the radio isn't the real Dead, blah, blah", but I have one response to this: What about LIVE ALBUMS??? Have we not all listened to numerous LIVE recordings of this atrocious group in the homes of various tedious bastards, many of whom weren't even born when the band first started bribing hippies with free LSD?
Of course, Deadheads, as they call themselves (oh, the irony) will insist that the whole 4-Dimensional Grateful Dead concert acid experience has to be experienced to be fully understood. The fact is you could sit in a laundromat tripping for five hours and it could be the most amazing time of your life. There's a pattern emerging here which I think anyone with half a brain can discern. It's called hallucinogenic drug use
Yeah. You're gonna do it again.
Perhaps the most inexplicable component of the Grateful Dead farce is the fact that other, much more talented bands have formed as "tribute" bands to the Dead. Why don't these bands realize they're significantly better at music than the Grateful Dead? It's a mystery even Robert Stack, trenchcoat and all, couldn't solve.
Robert Stack, yesterday.
Who is Better, Phish or the Grateful Dead?
This is an oft-asked question (answered incorrectly by imbeciles, I imagine). The fact is, there are NUMEROUS psychedelic bands, real actual psychedelic bands whose merits rest on their ability to capture the profundity of consciousness-expansion and its attendant hallucinogenic effects. These bands have DONE ACID and brought the story home to their kin. It's the true purpose of our existence on this puh-lanet, kids.
Imagine the first time a caveman saw fire being used by an alien tribe; he creeps up when the strangers crash in their cave for the night and grabs a flaming branch. He takes it back to his own clan, enjoying the marvel on their faces. He becomes a hero, a god, even. This is how psychedelic rock is supposed to be. Unfortunately, the Grateful Dead presented us with more of a damp squib than an exciting innovation. A slimy lichen rather than a magic mushroom. Here's a list of bands who do Psychedelia much better than the Grateful Dead.
Phish are so immeasurably better than the band who allegedly influenced them it's absurd. This New England outfit changed what it meant to be "undefined" as a sound, with extended mystic jams and goofy humor blended with techno-funk, folk-blues and orchestral vertigo. A stoner friend once described them as "too good", due to his belief he'd eventually die of a heart attack if he kept getting high and listening to their supreme riffs. Jerry Garcia and Co. could have been rendered immortal and practiced their garbage self-indulgence for an eternity and still
not managed even a pale shadow of what Anastasio and his lads produced to order throughout Phish's creative years. This one is a straight 10-zip grand slam for the Vermont chaps.
Hippies. Scrounging bloody hippies with their head in the clouds.
Tame Impala (View Tickets)
If Phish are immeasurably better than the Dead then Tame Impala are the psychedelic boot-heel to the Dead's dogsh*t. Tame Impala have been described as "Pink Floyd with both Syd Barrett and John Lennon as members", which pretty much says it all. A dazzling command of their sound that resonates through organic tunnels of alien foliage - the kind of foliage that would have had Phil Lesh crapping his pants and crying for his mother - has Impala down as one of the unsung greats of today's psych scene. The singer's vocal resemblance to Lennon is uncanny, and the guy who created the Beatles Never Broke Up
website really missed a chance when he didn't use TA as evidence of the Fab Four's continuing success in a parallel universe. While not as versatile as Phish, comparing Tame Impala to the Dead is like comparing spam to Jamón Ibérico de bellota.
Garage psych masters Plasticland are veterans of the art of getting shitty on powerful brain drugs and reporting back from the front lines with ragged aplomb. Imagine a world made of fluorescent metal and plexiglass and echo chambers and flowery fields and gargantuan trees in which were built hamlets full of fiddling gnomes, under a tremendous blue and yellow sky...Plasticland's punk guitar drives ahead of the vocals like a battering ram made of illuminous jellyfish tendrils while singer Glenn Rehse explodes with lyrics about mushroom hills and magic rocking horses. Rehse and fellow Plasticland founder John Frankovic probably wouldn't want to be compared to the Dead, as they're a very different kind of band, but that's only because the Dead claim to be innovators while actually being overrated faux hillbillies.
The 13th Floor Elevators
Now we're talkin'. The Elevators are truly peers of the Dead, as they too were a 60's band that appealed to the new hippie scene. Guided by the genius of frontman Roky Erickson, the Elevators weren't from trendy San Francisco, they were from Austin, Texas. Back in the early 60's Austin wasn't the progressive place it is today and the Elevators' public endorsements of LSD, marijuana and mescaline virtually made them Public Enemy Number One in the Texas capital. But the music, the music was beautiful. Songwriters Erickson, Tommy Hall and Stacy Sutherland crafted superlative sounds via the use of reverb, echoes and Hall's famous electric jug, never losing sight of their rock-blues influences. Erickson's descent into and ascent out of insanity were testaments to his plumbing spiritual depths and heights as a marauding modern-day saint. His like will not be seen again. The Dead worked hard at promoting themselves as part of the hippie revolution while the Elevators literally invented
it. Garcia wasn't fit to lace Roky Erickson's drinks.
The Flaming Lips (View Tickets)
Though drugs are the first thing one thinks of whenever one hears the name "Flaming Lips" or indeed "Wayne Coyne", the turbo-talented Lips main man is surprisingly normal and down to earth in interviews, revealing that he worked on the fryer at a local Long John Silvers for 13 years (1977 - 1990) before hitting the big time - and says he could easily go back to doing it. Imagine pampered pussy Jerry Garcia having to actually work
for a living? Nah, me neither. Responsible for the masterpiece, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
among many others, Coyne is a psychedelic superhero to geeks, stoners, athletes and circus performers alike. This universal appeal comes not from dishing out free acid to scrounging hippies but from a raw and rare gift. Timothy Leary once said that people born after 1949 are significantly different from those born before 1949, and Coyne exmplifies this new type. Jerry Garcia was born in 1942 and was every inch the "old man". How crap is that???
The good Cap'n, born Don Glen Vliet, is a psychedelic giant. He drove his Magic Band to fearsome creative heights with the groundbreaking Trout Mask Replica
, a shuddering mass of disjointed yet musically coherent tunes. Beefheart has led a singular life. His family moved from LA when he was a youth to a patch of near-desert that was to become Edwards Airforce Base. A precocious boy, crazed by art and devoted to sculpture, Beefheart eventually settled on music as his vehicle. His granular processing of Delta and Chicago Blues with a heavy dash of Weird sealed the fate of this grand master. His stormy relationship with Frank Zappa bordered on the utterly insane, as they competed and shared band members depending on what week it was. All in all, Beefheart brings a sumptuous hallucinatory feast to the table. One that the Grateful Dead would have choked on. Too rich for their watery blood fo sho.
Arthur Lee's Love were one of the most-respected bands in the blossoming psych scene in Los Angeles in the mid-60s. Lee's massive voice and superb arrangements guaranteed their splendid Forever Changes
album a place among the greats. Lee blended multiple ranges into his every utterance, one minute pure roaring garage rock, the next more folksy, and then crooning strongly before subsiding into a Hollies-like Clarke-Nash melodic. The Doors' Jim Morrison cited Love as among his very favorite bands, having seen them perform numerous times. The band lived in a notorious party house known as "the Castle" in Laurel Canyon, scene of many crazed adventures involving the likes of Frank Zappa, Charles Manson and the Mamas and the Papas. Arthur Lee's voice was loaded with color and originality, especially when he belted out hits like "Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale". For pure brain sunshine, the marauding butterfly that was Love made the Dead look like a dead maggot.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Nothing needs saying about this man. The fluid guitar, the hysterical passion in the more vivid riffs, the LSD under his headband soaking into his forehead, the flaming guitars and most of all the songs. Hendrix and his lads took the blues and infused them with alien blood. Lots of it. "All Along the Watchtower" is the sound of a drug trip gone much too far, not unlike the peak of the Stones' "Gimme Shelter". Hendrix epitomized the spirit of the 60s, traveling far and wide spreading the gospel of Let's Get Smashed. In a guitar-off between Hendrix and the entire Grateful Dead, I predict he'd still be playing eighteen hours later, when Garcia and his snotbags were tucked up in bed, thinking up new ways of conning people to come and see them play their overrated folk.
Heavyweights of the psychedelic revolution, the Doors represented all that was dark, evil and forbidden. Singer Jim Morrison's superhuman edge exploded from his voicebox every chance it got, in the form of classics like "Break on Through", "The End" and "Roadhouse Blues". Morrison spent his youth hitchhiking across America, unlike little Jerry, who seems to have decided never to have gone beyond the city he knew so well. The Lizard King pushed through barriers, he gave the finger to hippie convention and most of all he lived to get f*cked up. Claiming to have dropped 10,000 micrograms of acid on one occasion, his riotious studio behavior and righteous onstage mayhem sent a message to every wild child in the USA: "Get your kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames." Meanwhile, in his parents basement, little Jerry Garcia dreamed of being rebellious by singing about cocaine...very sad.
Sky Saxon, frontman of the Seeds, took garage rock to a place it'd never been before. By the time most bands were learning about consciousness-expansion in 1967, the Seeds had done it all, and released a blues album, A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues
. Even this was geared towards a garage sound, with classics like "The Gardner", a harmonica-wailing tribute to the good life, far from the steel towers of LA, but not too far. Oh, no, the Seeds were never too far from LA. The garage sound finally had its heroes, and their performances on TV of numbers such as "Pushin' Too Hard" and the funky, fuzzed up "Evil Hoodoo", a massive number from 1966 that encompassed the spirit of Garage Rock with a giant splash of polluted river water containing runoff from Sandoz Industries
. Sky Saxon had more girlfriends on any one night from 1965 to 1970 than the entire Grateful Dead had cumulatively throughout their entire lives.
- Velvet Underground - Lou Reed and Co. tripped us out, NYC-style.
- Pink Floyd - Syd Barrett's nursery rhyme imagination created a genre.
- The Soft Machine - Mad, bad pioneers of the underground sound at London's UFO club.
- Doctor Octagon - Psychedelic rapper not afraid to go in his own direction.
- The Soft Boys - Frontman Robyn Hitchock's complex madness set to sterling music.
- The Electric Prunes - "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night"? Need I say more?
- The Moody Blues - Their In Search of the Lost Chord album still makes my eyeballs tingle.
- Frank Zappa - One of the greatest psychedelic artists who wasn't even into drugs!