Writer’s word: this article initially appeared in 2012 on a now-defunct website referred to as Lifeless Journalist. It has been salvaged, edited and up to date for Aquarium Drunkard. – j jackson toth
I was 16 when Jerry Garcia died, and I didn’t give a fuck. In truth, being the heartless hesher brat that I was, I taunted my Deadhead cousins about their loss with crude jokes – principally apparent puns on the identify Grateful Lifeless. I was into Suicidal Tendencies, Exodus, and Kreator. Though I didn’t have any of the destructive connotations of the tie-dyed, hackysack-kicking, patchouli-stinking zeros that make up a great portion of the fashionable Grateful Lifeless fanbase (I’m a product of the NYC public faculty system – we had guidos and gangstas, not hippies), I nonetheless intuited that all the enterprise reeked of lameness. It was not for me. Up till this level, I additionally hadn’t but forgiven the Lifeless for having superior, evil wanting album covers and wimpy music.
Once I fell for the Lifeless, I fell exhausting. I used to be tricked – twice – into liking the band. Eric McCarthy was my boss at the report store where I worked during school, and he would casually throw on killer Lifeless jams within the store. Once I’d ask him what it was we have been listening to, he’d lie. Long story brief, I shortly turned a very huge fan.
Having by no means been to a Lifeless present, I began accumulating tapes in an try and get as shut as I might to an expertise I missed out on. Not CDRs or MP3s, because those really didn’t exist yet, at the least not in any capability to which I had entry. There are Lifeless bootlegs on vinyl, but they’re scarce (even now), and infrequently sound excellent resulting from renegade pressings and low cost materials. You had to get the tapes. And getting them was troublesome because nobody who had any needed to trade with you for those who didn’t have something to trade in return. Such was my introduction to the tough, competitive world of tape hoarders.
Ultimately I discovered some benevolent souls who would send me tapes in change for “b&p” – tape-trading shorthand for “blanks and postage.” I additionally began dubbing off the few tapes my boss had hanging across the report retailer to make use of as capital. Quickly, I’d amassed a small assortment.
It’s perhaps onerous to appreciate in 2019, however earlier than 1984, when the Lifeless officially sanctioned a ‘taper’s section’ (more on this later), making an attempt to document a Grateful Lifeless live performance was like making an attempt to smuggle heroin onto an airplane, and about as involved. Early bootleggers had extremely strategic, meticulously plotted and virtually unbelievably difficult technique of smuggling in recording decks to seize the Lifeless stay experience. Tapers would assemble crews of individuals to each carry in a unique item – one ticketholder would transport the mics, one the batteries, one the cables, and one the recorder. I’ve heard stories of guerilla recordists dropping rope by means of rest room home windows and pulling gear up from parking tons. Some resourceful Deadheads would stash gear beneath the plywood flooring of venues days earlier than the present after which actually dig it up later. Places just like the Greek Theater in Berkeley have been recognized for remaining open all week long prior to a live performance, so artful tapers would find the janitor’s closet and depart their costly microphones in empty cleaning material bottles. Microphones have been hidden in cartoonishly giant sub sandwiches. The obsession, endurance, and ingenuity of those early tapers was nothing in need of exceptional.
Some tapers were not content material with primary, off-the-shelf shopper electronics. The Nakamichi 550 was a most popular recorder for the intense taper in that it provided a extremely fascinating third mic mix choice that enabled recordists to get a better-than-stereo aural picture, and lots of basic exhibits have been recorded with this machine. However the machine was giant enough to require a backpack, and so false-bottom backpacks and even pretend leg casts and wheelchairs all turned commonly employed tips of the commerce. The more well-connected tapers would discover an “gear mule,” often a member of employees or crew who had a laminate and did not need to submit to a bag verify and will thus smuggle recorders inside by way of the back entrance. Many tapers arrived to venues days early, casing the joint for the perfect spot to report.
Taping was a stealth operation from the time you entered the constructing till the time you left. Merely getting previous safety didn’t imply you have been residence free. Tapers had to stay discreet even inside the venue, no less than till the band took the stage. When the lights went down, stands went up, mics have been hoisted, and recording lights flickered. During intermission, the whole lot would go down as fast because it went up. This should have been virtually as entertaining to behold from a distance as what was happening onstage.
The more passionate recordists would additionally customise and modify tape decks, sending them to audio technicians for post-production tweaks. Eradicating the erase head was an previous trick that decreased tape hiss. I’ve heard of people screwing down the report button to make tape-flipping as seamless as potential. Positive, it in all probability only takes three-millionths of a second to push the report button, but this is the Lifeless, individuals, and something can happen in that fraction of a second! Even throughout “Drums!” Or, err, “Victim Or The Crime!”
In 1974, the Lifeless went on a prolonged hiatus, throughout which era tape buying and selling lovers had time to catch up. That is the period by which the buying and selling of Lifeless tapes really caught on, shifting beyond the strange interest of a handful of crazies right into a full-blown, bonafide phenomenon. A magazine referred to as Lifeless Relics (now Relix) began publishing, and brazenly endorsed tape-trading, most notably of their Personals part, by way of which many Deadheads found one another and traded brazenly. When the band finally returned to touring on June third, 1976, tapers seemed to multiply by a hundred. From this point on, virtually every single Grateful Lifeless performance was documented.
However by the late seventies, even taper-tolerant Lifeless soundman Dan Healy had had enough. The development was getting out of control and tapers have been beginning to affect his means to combine the band, so he started chopping the cables of intrepid tapers who have been making an attempt to patch into his board. His frustration led to the arrival of the Taper’s Part, an formally sanctioned, specifically situated area behind the mixing board through which concertgoers holding a special ‘taper’s ticket’ have been allowed to document the present. However everyone knew that the ‘candy spot’ was as close to Healy as potential – in entrance of the soundboard, not behind it. So FOB (‘entrance of board’) taping turned the brand new in style felony exercise among these devoted Deadheads who still believed that the dangers have been value it.
Tape collections turned a supply of social power, with their very own local hierarchies. I’ve heard tales of individuals purposely sabotaging elements of a grasp tape by doing issues like randomly hitting the pause button to create minor momentary drop-outs, recording dubs at decrease ranges, including further generations of tape hiss, or omitting an encore, just in order that they themselves would have the only good copy in circulation. This meant that there are to this present day maybe hundreds of tapes being circulated with intentional tape flubs, some with purposefully mislabeled monitor lists. This made for more questions than solutions, and this continued until the 1987 uncovering of the legendary “Betty Boards,” a collection of a whole lot of hours of soundboard tapes made by Lifeless recordist Betty Cantor-Jackson, the small print of that are too long to go into here but alone might (and will!) warrant a book-length piece.
Soundboards are nice. The Betty Boards and the collection of Dick’s Picks CDs (handpicked Lifeless exhibits from the vault of the late and legendary archivist Dick Latvala) and Dave’s Picks (the present subscription collection curated by David Lemieux) are crucial listening. But for me, it’s all concerning the audience tapes. (A matrix offers the most effective of both worlds, in fact, but that’s an essay for an additional time).
Sonically talking, the tapes are the true analog representations of the exhibits as the audience experienced them, with none post-production or weird digital compression. The audience tapes also function crowd reactions, which, when you’re in the best mind-set, put you, as they are saying, right there. If you hear the gang acknowledge that the band is about to go into “St Stephen” for the primary time in five years, the thrill is palpable. Equally, from a soundboard recording, a Lifeless newbie would haven’t any context as to why the return of “Darkish Star” on 10/09/89 was such an incredible event. Should you don’t hear the response of the gang, it’s simply one other monitor on the CD. On tape, it’s as if 14,000 individuals concurrently came upon they only gained the lottery.
Digital recordings may also sound sterile, even when dealing with a band as exciting as The Lifeless. Tapes feel, to me, much nearer to the supply. I even love the phrase ‘tape,’ as in “Man, if I lay this tape on ya, you’ll be able to’t share it with anybody, as a result of it came from the man who cuts Bobby’s hair, and it will probably’t get out…”
Each time you hear these tapes might be the last – they’re previous. Tapes get fucked up. They melt, get demagnetized, start flanging out. The ephemeral nature of those tapes, then, makes every pay attention helpful. This music just isn’t replaceable, nor is it permanent, so each observe is a present.
Tape recorders are also imperfect machines, and don’t all work at the similar velocity. As an example, my copy of the second set of Rochester 9/27/76 was either taped a bit sluggish or has been performed so much that it gets tired and slows down. It seems like a Grateful Lifeless DJ Screw remix. When the gang yells out for songs, it seems like a gallery of monsters crying out for blood. I don’t have to inform you what this seems like once you’re baked. This tape is particular to me because, though this can be a extensively circulated show in many codecs, no one else in the word has this version of this show, and it’s one in every of my favorites. You must hear the “Wharf Rat” on here. It isn’t like yours.
A variety of my tapes additionally function handmade paintings. For example, I’ve a small collection of different Maxell XLII inlay playing cards depicting Jerry Garcia caricatures drawn by numerous Deadheads, varying wildly in quality. The various novice attempts on the Steal Your Face skull emblem on these cassettes, too, are plentiful and uproarious. Authentic outsider art! Some merchants used colorful boilerplate cover artwork and merely crammed within the dates and tracklists, others have been content to only write the knowledge on the offered j-card, but more than half of my tapes have hand-drawn, elaborately designed covers – I even have one which was painted in watercolor! These are relics from a time when the tape was essential. Now they are all however valueless, whilst cultural artifact. But I really like to carry these tapes and I like wondering about who owned them. I really like pretending they are still tantamount to contraband, and I treat them with respect.
Better of all, there actually is not any ‘finishing’ a set of Lifeless tapes. Even when you someway collected each show the Lifeless ever played (good luck), you’d still only have specific recordings of those exhibits. Somebody taping in the balcony may have a much totally different tape than someone within the second row. The good news is that reside Lifeless cassettes are not stockpiled by grasping gatekeepers, and are nowhere close to as rare as they have been thirty years ago. You possibly can virtually get them at no cost. I’ve found that the majority collectors not have any use for these tapes and a few even—gasp!—throw them away after digitizing them. For media mail postage costs, I lately added 25 tapes to my collection of cassettes (beforehand numbering about 250). I logged on to some message boards and asked if anyone was getting rid of their tapes. Responders have been confused (“why the hell do you want these?”) but accommodating. Packing containers began displaying up faster than I might pay attention.
Even in case you can’t discover someone to commerce with, you possibly can hit eBay. While paying for reside Grateful Lifeless music is a notorious no-no in collector circles, you’ll be able to decide up whole ‘tons’ of Lifeless tapes on eBay for lower than a buck a tape. (Search ideas: it’s a must to seek for ‘clean’ Lifeless tapes – which is the one approach resourceful eBay sellers can legally promote bootlegs. They’ll stipulate that the auction is for ‘used’ blank tapes, and those tapes simply so occur to have Lifeless exhibits on them. Intelligent loophole for a buncha boomer acid casualties!)
In a post-Spotify, post-filesharing world where even CDs are abruptly passé and old style, I out of the blue discover myself doing things I haven’t executed in years, like cleansing tape heads with 91% isopropyl alcohol, taking care to maintain cassettes away from audio system (there are magnets in there, you already know!), excessive velocity dubbing ‘spare’ copies, and making sure every tape is rewound so the spools stay tight. The trouble is more than value it. In any case, I’ve CDs from the nineties which have oxidized beyond hope. All of my Kreator tapes still play.
Further: Aquarium Drunkard’s Lifeless Notes Archive: Volumes I – XV
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