A Band Beyond Description

“The bus came by and I got on, that’s when it all began…” – Garcia, Weir, Kreutzmann

Wake of the Flood:
When I was sixteen years old I was walking down the hallway to my bedroom and I heard what sounded like an old blues singer belting out a song and picking on a guitar. I remember walking up to my brother Mark’s open bedroom door and saying, “what is this garbage?” Half joking and half genuinely interested. He responded, “it’s the Dead man.” in a tone as if I should have known. At the time I was headlong into the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and Van Morrison, among others. I later found out the singer was Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, the song “Katie Mae” from “Bear’s Choice.”

The Golden Road:
I don’t remember when, where or how it happened, but I would quickly become a Dead Head. My first Grateful Dead shows were fresh out of high school in the Summer of my eighteenth birthday. I caught the last two shows of the 1990 Summer Tour in Chicago. It just so happened to be the last two shows of who would become my favorite Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland. There is nothing I could have done to prepare myself for this extraordinary, enlightening and revolutionary time in my life. The experience of the music, sense of belonging, camaraderie and feeling of euphoria would transform me forever. I was home.

“Inch your way through dead dreams to another land…” – Hunter

The Music Never Stopped:
The Grateful Dead personifies imagination. It is so much more than the music. I found the more I listened, the greater the benefit to my creativity, happiness and understanding. A world for which I had always yearned became possible. Beyond the music, it was the experience of family and community. I had always been into music and musically inclined since childhood. Soon after I picked up the guitar in my teens, it wasn’t long before I became mystified by the exploratory, improvisational and traditional styles of the Dead. It was then I first realized the band doesn’t play the music, the music plays the band.

 

GD III

Grateful Dead Summer Tour 1990

 

Death Don’t Have No Mercy:
After Jerry Garcia died in August of 1995, I suddenly felt dissociated from the Grateful Dead. Though I had been drifting from going to shows due to his declining health, the impact of his passing was undeniable. I will always remember the first time I heard the music as much as I will recall the day of his passing. At the time I didn’t know if I would ever see them play again. The years sped by as I invested my listening into many other diverse genres of music. I explored Bluegrass to Traditional Irish, Latin and Afro Cuban to Jazz, Delta Blues to early Country. No matter how many styles I encountered, I always found my way back to The Dead.

“Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own.” – Hunter

Cryptical Envelopment:
While I was going to Dead shows in the early 1990’s, something amazing happened in my life. Their music empowered me to join a couple of bands that covered their songs. During this time, I began writing my own songs. There is something unique about the energy and experience of the Grateful Dead’s music that encourages creativity unlike any other musical group I have heard. In the advent of my own musical expression, I began to hear their music in an entirely different way. Beyond the notes, chord structures, vocal harmonies, jams and rhythms, there was a massive energetic presence, like the soul of a sun.

Sunshine Daydream:
The Grateful Dead’s music is experimentally, multi-dimensional opening gateways on an intuitive and emotional level very difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t heard the music. The personal experience is interpretive like an abstract painting continually, organically and seamlessly morphing from one note into another enchanting the listener audibly so absolutely, the sound is almost visual. There are distinctive streams of consciousness conveyed by the energetic vibrations of the music transforming the very dynamic of the environment. Imagination blooms like a red rose in the bosom of Spring.

“Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from their axis…” – Hunter

Dark Star:
There has always been an enigmatic movement of mystery woven into every Grateful Dead concert. A controlled chaos of anarchic notes and rhythms playing off each other in an obscure symphony of pioneering discovery akin to a space exploration. Thought, sense, emotion and spirit-invoking free-form jams guide the listener through “dead” dreams to another land. The mirror of contemporary reality shatters in formless reflections of matter. Where outside observers may see an elaborately concocted escape from everyday life, the “Deadicated” experience a personal and communal expansion of awareness, belonging and being.

Saint of Circumstance:
It had been several years since I had seen any current assembly of surviving Grateful Dead members perform together. With options a plenty, I found myself passing on them as they arose. Until I heard rhythm guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir and bass guitarist Phil Lesh were doing six limited, theater engagements in New York, Boston and Chicago. I was ecstatic at the prospect, until I found out both shows in Chicago were sold out. Accepting defeat, I resigned myself to the cold rain and snow. My friend Miko suggested submitting our names through a community connection. If notified via email, we would have the opportunity to purchase tickets. We were both selected!

“In the secret space of dreams, where I dreaming lay amazed.” – Hunter

Attics of My Life:
The days between purchasing the tickets and the shows flew by. Soon Miko and I were truckin’ down to Chicago for a couple of dates with destiny. Every mile we travelled intensified the excitement of once again being in the energy of musical fellowship. Eventually, like many other Deadheads, we began tossing out possible songs Bob and Phil may dust off and perform. Upon arrival, the marquee of the Chicago Theater illuminated N. State Street with “Bob and Phil Duo. SOLD OUT.” A growing collection of the faithful braved the chilly winds that blew through the city corridors. Several crashing the scene with fingers in the air looking for a miracle.

 

Chicago Theater Ceiling

Ceiling of the Chicago Theater

 

Playing in the Band:
Crossing the threshold of a venue at a Grateful Dead show is uniquely special. The excitement of simply being there is unparalleled. The 97-year-old theater offered the perfect atmosphere for history to be made. An antiquated red curtain hung at the front of the stage holding back the eager crowd’s anticipation. The sound of a distant bass and random notes from an acoustic guitar signaled the curtain to rise revealing Bob, Phil and Wally Ingram on percussion. “Box of Rain” met our adulation. It was the first song I had seen the Grateful Dead perform in Chicago at my first show almost 28 years ago.

“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”    – Hunter

Birdsong:
The first night held many hallowed treasures. Intimate acoustic renditions of “Cosmic Charlie,” “Looks Like Rain,” “Estimated Prophet,” and “Operator,” among others with the trio of Bob, Phil and Wally. The second set yielded classics such as stripped-down versions of “Playing in the Band,” “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain,” “Dark Star>St. Stephen,” Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and “Sugar Magnolia” with Bob, Phil, Wally, Jeff Chimenti, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. “U.S. Blues” closed the night as the 3,600-strong spilled onto N. State St. reveling in the afterglow of a momentous evening.

Crazy Fingers:
The red curtain rose on the second night to the familiar rhythms of “Cumberland Blues.” Bob, Phil and Wally served up acoustic selections of “Tennessee Jed,” “Alabama Getaway,” “Loose Lucy,” “Lazy River Road,” “Cassidy” and other rarities. The full group guided the second set with a beautiful rendering of “Crazy Fingers.” They played classics such as “New Speedway Boogie,” “Mountains of the Moon,” “Cryptical Envelopment>Let It Grow>The Other One” then back into the last verse of “Cryptical.” A stunning and emotional “Days Between” ended the seamless second set as the train pulled away from the last station on the tour.

“Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell.” – Hunter

That’s It for The Other One:
We emerged from the Chicago Theater onto N. State Street, found our way to the car and were heading home from two unforgettable nights with Bob, Phil and friends. The Grateful Dead Channel on Sirius Radio carried us into the early morning as we drove through the night with the melodies and memories still ringing in our ears and hearts. Seeing the music in a historical theater with a modest audience was truly special. I was flooded with emotional reminiscence of my 32-year experience with the Dead. Reflections of adoration and gratitude sustained my bliss till the morning came.

Brokedown Palace:
What I may remember most fondly about the Grateful Dead is the community and goodwill shared with family, friends and others who experienced the inspiration and passion of excellent music and extraordinary company. Any musical group can bring people together. Few can keep them together for decades singing sweet songs to rock our souls. It has been almost 23 years since Jerry Garcia passed from this world. The music he made and influence he had upon millions of people continues to grow with each new generation. We will always hear your voice come through the music and we will always hold it dear as it were our own.

“If I knew the way, I would take you home.”

 

 

Bob and Phil Chicago II

Bob Weir and Phil Lesh Chicago Theater 3/11/18

 

 

 

The Cosmic Resonance of Music

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine introduced me, through conversations and articles, to diverse frequencies of tuning in music other than the standard 440 hz frequency.  At the time, she brought up that it was a glaring difference when it came to hearing it and experiencing it on an energetic level, as well as the natural healing and conscious-raising properties of the sound and music itself.

Having sent me a few articles about it, I had read that at some point between the first World War and second World War, there were a lot of military marches that were being written to set the tenor of the times. It was during this time that the standard tuning of instruments was decreased to 440 hz. Having read a bit about this transposition of frequency, it inspired me to go out and purchase a chromatic tuner that I could tune to different hz frequencies.

The one recommended the most, for the range that I write, sing and play instruments in was 444 hz. For those adept to pitch modulation, it is less than a half a step sharper than 440 hz, or 15 sens in technical terms. It didn’t take me long to adjust to the frequency alteration, as most people that play music can naturally transpose their voice and instrumentation almost instantaneously.

Though it may not seem much of a difference in frequency modulation to inspire me to write a note about it, it is! When they altered the standard tuning to 440 hz, it “deadened” the sound to give it a more “earnest” “urgency” and almost “dire” and “anxious” tonality.  In other words, the frequency of 440 hz is kind of an “edge of your seat” provoking, stimuli-laden, expression of discomfort and unease, i.e. the sound of wartime.

Of course, most people who listen to music may never experience or be conscious of the effects that the frequency to which the music is adjusted may have upon them, as perhaps most musicians or artists may not as well.  Yet, having written, arranged, recorded and performed music in this frequency for a few years, I can attest to the fact that it does indeed make a massive difference in its energetic expression. 444 hz is a very organic, alive, bright, brilliant, or sharper (literally) sound that provides a natural energy and frequency of life, growth, progression, consciousness, awareness and my personal favorite, truth.

Perhaps 444 hz may not just be recognized as the “frequency of love,” as categorized by “forward-being” artists, musicians and sound technicians.  Perhaps it is also a frequency that grants direct access to our natural abilities and tendencies toward our consciousness, awareness, relativity, connectedness, intuition, insight, communication, evolution, and transcendence, which ultimately may be the best word to describe the difference between 440 hz and 444 hz.  Incidentally, I was inspired by this friend to write, arrange and record my new, soon to be released CD “Lakshmi” in 444 hz frequency, and most certainly, when listening and “feeling” the playbacks in and outside of the studio, there is no doubt that the sound expression is powerful, transcendent and conscious provoking.

http://www.zengardner.com/musical-tuning-and-cosmic-resonance/

Music in the Key of Soul

The Conquest of Noise

It does not take an aficionado to observe the declining quality of contemporary music.  When we dare to explore the radio dial, we often find a barrage of noise attacking our ears and senses.  We may search for the message and our connection with it, though rarely are we able to enjoy or resonate with the songs or the frequency in which they are recorded and broadcast.  Where once we were empowered, inspired and happy in our listening, now we often experience the side effects of corpora-tized sound.

A hostile takeover has been executed with boardroom secrecy and precision.  It has nearly sacrificed the essence of music.  Initially it was the manipulation of the frequency in which music was tuned, performed and recorded.  Next it was the elementary, commercial, propaganda-laden lyrics influencing our listening, perceptions and lifestyles.  Then it was the incessant promotion of untalented people singing meaningless songs to distract us from the real issues in society and ourselves.  Now it is the control of the industry by the unoriginal few at the cost of the passion and creativity of the many.

An Uphill Battle

It has become exceedingly difficult for musical artists, i.e. singer/songwriters and composers, to find their audience and niche let alone succeed in the contemporary marketplace.  The industry has become an exclusive club of untalented and elitist entrepreneurs seeking instant stardom and financial windfall from engineered music that is here today, gone yesterday.  This has produced a system that has mirrored the pyramid schemes found most often in the corporate finance and business sectors.  Creativity and empowerment in music has been greatly replaced by popularity and profit.

The music industry is rigged.  To some degree it always has been, much like many other forms of artistic expression.  Creativity in music has become less about the art and more about what the artist is willing to sacrifice.  Hit singles and endorsement deals are the standards of success.  It is more about pushing corporate agendas then artistry.  The customary recipe for music is repetitive, trance-like lyrics that program explicit and subliminal messages to alter the thought patterns of the listener.  It applies mechanistic beats and multi-layered sounds more so resembling racket rather than music.

The common tuning frequency in music has been 440-hertz since the World War Era.  It was altered from 432-hertz to promote the energy of war and conflict.  The difference is less than a half step in diminished chromatic tuning.  The energy of 440-hertz is dark, chaotic, puts the listener on edge and can incite reactions of aggression, confusion and cognitive dissonance.  Most listeners of music, as well as the musicians that play it, do not possess a heightened awareness or understanding of frequencies.  The denser vibrations of music impose a forceful persuasion upon even the peripheral audience.

Revolution Reveals the Truth

Most artists and musicians have accepted the conditions of the industry, much like most human beings have adopted the rules and regulations of their society’s everyday reality.  Most are desperate, overwhelmed and willing to alter themselves and compromise their artistic integrity just to survive doing what they love.  Very few have been able to manifest their musical vision into its most pure and true expression.  Those that have, find it exceptionally challenging to gain the necessary attention, support and longevity to sustain their craft into a lucrative career.

The most vital and symbolic element in the dynamic of an artist’s successful creativity is their willingness to stand for, be confident with and share their expression.  It is a given in the contemporary climate of the arts that there are far more things against than are with them.  It isn’t merely their passion, desire or even the need to create and perform that can carry an artist to their melodious paradise.  It exists in their way of being and the energetic quality of their expression.  This is when the excitement, creative power and relatedness happens that allows musical artists to transcend the industry’s authority.

The Power of Expression

It may seem difficult to follow one’s vision in the process of writing, recording and performing music, yet it is as vital as our heart is to our body.  Each one of us received the blessing of life in this world.  Each one of us was given a voice and an avenue of expression.  The majority of us rarely discover ours, let alone convey it.  Our creativity isn’t just an ability or gift.  It isn’t even for the love or the freedom we experience while we are playing music.  It is our eternal life force made manifest.  It is our destiny articulated in sound.  It is who we truly are when we allow ourselves to be.

As artists, the measure of our creativity is in the declaration of our truth, purity and illumination.  In this age of contemporary music, it is very easy to be influenced by the external forces around us.  We may even catch ourselves unconsciously imitating the current popular melodies or beats we may encounter. Only our own true expression kindles our creativity, life force and energy.  It transforms our environment as well as our selves in our pursuit to expand our artistic being.

Who Feels It Knows It

All music is born from silence.  Everything that is creatively possible as music is first silence before it is transposed into sound.  The greatest music ever composed has had an evocative presence of silence to enhance its melodies, harmonies and rhythms.  The silence between the notes and beats have always expressed the enchantment and mystery of a song. Silence is the most overlooked yet powerful element in music.  It is in the silence where the soul of music is found.

Creativity is an eternal, multi-dimensional presence.  It plays the artist as an instrument in a communal exchange to become sound in physical reality.  However, the artist must be present and open to this force for it to flow through them and be expressed to its fullest potential.  This requires a great deal of de-programming and releasing what one has learned and believed to achieve an enhanced ability to feel and intuit.  This is the cornerstone of the transcendent relationship between the artist’s soul and the source.

Music is not something that we write and perform.  It is quite the contrary.  It is a stream of consciousness that moves through us when we have reached an enlightened expression of being.  All artists stand at the mouth of this current, yet we are not its source.  It is a sacred, ethereal bond we establish with our willingness and dedication to let go of who we think we are and become who we were meant to be.  It is not in the notes or even the instruments we play.  It is in the resonation of our soul’s harmony in concert with the melodic source of creation where music thrives in its purest and truest expression.

Music is the song of our soul.