Icons and Epochs
Old associations die hard, so it is understandable that in many quarters Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead are still lazily referred to as icons of the ’60s.What such a label ignores is that Dylan and the Dead have not only continued to make contributions – with wild swings in significance and success, to be sure – in the three-and-a-half decades since the close of the ’60s. But that they have also progressed substantially, in their art and their personae, from their early impressions. Dylan, of course, has been the master of extreme transformation, going from ’60s signpost to reclusive disappointment to today’s troubadour in the 10th year of his aptly titled Never-Ending Tour. Less dramatically, the Dead have progressed from counterculture freaks to one of the most successful music acts of all time and elder statesmen of the sprawling jam-band scene.Along their lengthy, odd travels of some four decades, Dylan and the Dead have compiled what might be the two most massive catalogs – of music, books, films and tie-dyed T-shirts. Since his late ’80s reawakening – for which Dylan gives a good amount of credit to his 1987 tour with the Dead – Dylan has made a string of consistently acclaimed new albums, and opened the vault to a stock of vintage live performances and unreleased studio material, adding depth to an output that was already hefty. The ongoing “Bootleg” series has unearthed such gems as the three-volume box set of studio outtakes, a blistering 1966 concert with Dylan backed by The Band, and most recently, a 1964 solo performance that captured the warm, funny, youthful Dylan. In addition to the recordings, Dylan has been on a quest to become the king of the road warriors, putting even the Dead to shame. Dylan tours spring, summer and fall, hitting spots from Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) to Newcastle (England) to Grand Junction (Colorado) – and even the base of Buttermilk Mountain, for a fine Jazz Aspen Labor Day 2002 Festival performance. He has even shown a sense of thematic inspiration in scheduling his tours: this past summer, he and Willie Nelson played exclusively in minor-league baseball stadiums; his current tour consists entirely of gigs on college campuses.Dylan exposes himself even further with this month’s “Chronicles,” the first of a planned three-volume set of memoirs. In the book, Dylan turns the spotlight squarely on a topic he once avoided like the flu – himself – addressing his influences, his battle against the public Dylan image, and the process of writing and recording songs.While Dylan out-tours the current band known simply as The Dead, the Gratefuls leave Dylan – and every other musical act – in the dust in terms of recorded product. Dick’s Picks, the Dead’s series of single concerts in multi-disc sets, is up to number 32. Those packages, released at a rate of about four a year, are joined by a similarly bounteous flood of Jerry Garcia Band collections – including this year’s six-disc box set, “All Good Things” – and “Weir Here,” a two-CD retrospective of Bob Weir material. Vintage Dead has appeared on-screen of late, as well: the Dead were featured in “Festival Express,” a documentary of a legendary 1971 tour-by-train, and an expanded version of 1975’s “The Grateful Dead” movie has been made available on DVD, and even got a theatrical release in the Dead’s home base of San Rafael, Calif.And now comes “Beyond Description,” the Dead’s second 12-disc box set in three years. Where 2001’s “The Golden Road” compiled the Dead’s official albums from 1965-73, supplemented by studio outtakes and live music from that era. Like the earlier set, “Beyond Description” is generous and lavish, featuring reproductions of the original album art; two long booklets of photos, notes and commentary; and plenty of bonus material.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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