Saying goodbye is hard.
But the beauty of music is in its timelessness. So when we say goodbye to the Grateful Dead this weekend as they play the final three shows of their "Fare Thee Well" 50th reunion tour (sans Jerry Garcia, of course), it's important to remember one thing: they may be done playing live shows, but they're not going anywhere.
I guess it's easier for folks of my generation - young people, generally - to say goodbye. I never knew the Dead in their moment, so I've always relied on their recordings and videos for my fill. So nothing really changes now; just as I didn't have any new music or shows to draw from before they began their reunion tour, I won't have any going forward. And that's OK, because they have an absolutely ridiculous, endlessly satisfying amount of music out there for our listening pleasure.
But as the Grateful Dead conclude their tour with three shows this weekend at Chicago's Soldier Field, let's remember - today, tomorrow, and always - how fucking awesome this band is.
Slowing it down, first
I usually point to "Ripple" as my favorite Dead song. It's not necessarily representative of what I love them for - those wild, acid-induced twenty-minute jams - but its simplicity and softness is undeniable and unforgettable.
Harmonizing and gaining speed
"Europe 72" is one of the best collections of the Dead you can own. It's nearly two hours of music, chronicling a 1972 tour through Europe. It's the Dead at their peak, and the full set includes nearly all of the best tracks and jams that the group claim. Here's "I Know You Rider."
One of the most special parts of the Dead is that you don't actually need to have a favorite song or album or cover or anything. They're incredibly reliable - you can realistically press play at any point in a collection of 259 songs sitting in your iTunes library and have full faith that something way beyond good is going to come on. Not that I would know anything about a 259 song, 30.5-hour collection of the Dead in an iTunes library. I just know a guy. Who does. I swear I'm not lying.
Ok, my mom really liked the Dead growing up and she gave me all of their music ok? Let's talk about something else.
Nearly there, via the cover
I'd be remiss in failing to mention the amazing ear for other group's music that the Dead have (I can use the present tense for only three more days, and dammit, I'm going to take advantage). Some of their most very awesome jams are thanks to the way they play around with covers. "Good Lovin'" isn't a Grateful Dead song, but it appeared in a huge amount of their concerts and is usually associated with them, because it's so damn good. This one also key on the list because it's got Bob Weir singing.
Weir may play second-fiddle (ha) to Garcia in fame, but his influence absolutely cannot be overlooked. He founded the band alongside Garcia when he was a teenager, totally falling victim at a very young age to the insane drug and music world that the Dead perpetrated. He's also the subject of a recent documentary, called "The Other One" that goes deep into the founding of the band and Weir's place next to the indelible Jerry Garcia.
For sacrificing your brain cells in order to create some of the world's most cherished music, we thank you, Bob Weir.
Now we here
Find yourself a spare half hour and press play. That's just about the best advice I'm capable of giving.
It will solve all your problems. And if you think you don't have any problems, it will remind you that you do in the first thirty seconds, then spend the next 25 minutes convincing you that it's all going to be fine.
There is no bad time to turn on the Dead. That said, there may be no better time to turn them on than this weekend. They've made the shows available for streaming on YouTube for around $30. Check it out here. It's worth your time and money. I guarantee it.
This is a special band, but you don't need telling.
Cliché phrases like "gone, but not forgotten" will never apply to the Grateful Dead, because how could you even consider forgetting?