March 24, 2017

The Other One (Guest Post)

THE BUS CAME BY AND WE GOT ON:
THOUGHTS ON THE EVOLUTION OF "THE OTHER ONE"

by Jim Tuedio, 1999

In its prime, the thunderous, howling roar of The Other One's crescendo often came over us like a giant wave of anticipation. Building to a climax, the elements of this song would blow in with a full head of steam. The initial clues of its arrival might be locked in the space of an ever-tightening drum solo, or they might emerge in the hidden motif of a galloping jam out of Truckin'. On occasion, the song would come rumbling out of the soft melody of a delicious, meandering Spanish Jam, or rise from the epicenter of a pyrotechnic space encounter. Some of my favorite points of entry were those that seemed to soar above time like eternity in heat breaking free in the wake of a spiraling He's Gone jam. The opening chords often announced the pace, intensity, and rhythm of the song. Always the same gripping melody and effervescent lyrics, evaporating without a trace,
eclipsed by a photon jam or spatial maneuver suspended in a vacuum of concentration. Galloping along at the leading edge of the spiral, traveling deep into space, a cast of thousands would lose themselves in a new sense of place, one well-suited to exploring new frontiers of the soul. A classic Other One could mean only one thing: here we are, alive and dancing at the edge of the abyss.

I. Opening Up A Space for Transformation

That's It For The Other One stood for many years as a signature song of the Grateful Dead experience. Each new iteration reflected stages in the band's musical development. In its prime, this song could strike like lightning, and it often gave the band a powerful vehicle for discharging the effluent surplus of its Dionysian spirit. More importantly, The Other One served as a proving ground for the band's dynamic approach to musical exploration. The growth of the improvisational components of this song often foreshadowed developments in the jam structure of songs chomping at the bit to "break out" (like Born Cross-Eyed, Truckin', Playin' in the Band, Eyes of the World, Let it Grow). But by 1973, this role was shifting to other songs (most notably Playin' in the Band, Eyes of the World, and of course, Space itself). From this point on (and especially in the post-hiatus period), The Other One began to settle into a more predictable format, exhibiting an ebb and flow of intensity and concentration that more or less matched the creative and dynamic energies of the band.
The original suite of tunes (Cryptical Envelopment=>Quodlibet for Tenderfeet=>Cryptical Reprise) arrived on the scene in the Fall of 1967, with a standout version from the Shrine Auditorium shows of November 10th and 11th quickly establishing this as a song in tune with the temporal structure of the times. The earliest known live version on tape seems to be from the Marijuana Defense benefit at Winterland on October 22, 1967.
These early versions open with a classically ambiguous, heartfelt announcement reflected in the voice of an epic storyteller:
"The other day they waited
their breath was cold and bated
solemnly they stated
he had to die
he had to die...
And all the children learning
from books that they were burning
every leaf was turning
to watch him die
well, you know he had to die...
The summer sun looked down on him
his mother could but frown on him
and all the others sound on him
but it doesn't seem to matter...
And when the day had ended
the rainbow colors blended
his mind remained unbended
he had to die
well, you know he had to die"
===>and then off they would go into a brief (but soon to be expanded) version of Quodlibet for Tender Feet. Galloping along at a full gait along the leading edge of the curve, this structured portion of the song was initially an instant, well-measured jam with a fairly tight space for instrumental improvisation, usually guided by the loose cannon on lead guitar who seemed hell bent on forging pathways for his fellow riders. Background pulses from Pigpen's organ held the song in time while Phil's bass oscillated across the wavelengths opened up by Jerry's soaring guitar work. The drums gave the song a rhythmic balance teetering on the edge of instability, and operated like herd dogs to keep the musical movement within recognizable boundaries. After a few minutes, a sudden new twist would be added to the lyrical tale (an early cumbersome version of this tale would be refined and clipped to a more concise and essential form by February 14, 1968, as reflected on Anthem of the Sun: see the Taping Compendium, Volume I, p. 144 for a snapshot of these early lyrics) – in the midst of the Quodlibet jam, up would swell a lyrical wave reflecting a first-person account of a classically "mind-unbending" experience,
"Spanish lady come to me
she lays on me this rose
it rainbow spirals round and round
trembles and explodes
left a smoking crater of my mind
I like to blown away
the heat came round
and busted me for smilin'
on a cloudy day."
"comin', comin', comin' around
comin' around...."
"Escaping through the lily fields
when I came across an empty space
it trembled and exploded
left a bus stop in its place
the bus came by and I got on
that's when it all began
Cowboy Neal at the wheel
of the bus to never ever land"
"comin', comin', comin' around, comin' around
comin' around, comin' around...."
The seamless return of the epic story teller hems in the dramatic energy of this first person narrative account and leaves us to ponder the meaning and consequence of this mind altering experience:
"and when the day was ending
with rainbow colors bendin'
his mind remained unbending
he had to die, he had to die...."
In the early 1968 versions, a short exit jam would quickly transform into a rhythmic version of New Potato Caboose, and off they would go. By early 1969, this exit jam (called Cryptical Reprise) had grown considerably in power and intensity, often evoking the feel of a magnificent stormy sunset cast as a poignant coda to this tale of growth and death. From early 1969 through the late Spring of 1970, Cryptical Reprise often deserved the acknowledgement of its very own exclamation point. Classic versions abound from this period, beginning with the Fillmore West shows in late February/early March (especially 2/28 and 3/01) and picking up a constant head of steam straight through the May 1970 shows, as evidenced (in spades!) by the 2-13-70 and 5-15-70a Fillmore East shows and the stunning 5-02-70 show in Binghamton.
Indeed, the entire Quodlibet=>Cryptical Reprise sequence was acquiring dramatic new proportions during this period. Stellar versions from late '69 and early '70 were clearly feeding on the anger and tension reflected in the increasing hostility of the surrounding political atmosphere. The space motifs within the Quodlibet jam were now driven by a complex interplay of instruments working without the structure of a conscious guiding hand. They would emanate primarily from Phil Lesh and Captain Trips, the two players most adept at entangling their bandmates and riveted audiences in one epic space excursion after another (notable versions occurring on 6-21-69, 12-30-69, 1-03-70b, and 6-24-70a).
While the growth of this interplay can be felt in a few versions from the latter half of 1970 (listen to 9-18-70), major transformations were to emerge in 1971 as The Other One started to eclipse Dark Star as the space vehicle of choice (as reflected in the well jammed versions from 4-28-71, 7-02-71, 8-06-71, 8-15-71, 10-29-71, and the full-blown extravaganza from 11-12-71). Here the band began to stretch out the jams, moving with seamless translation between jam and spatial motifs. With Keith Godchaux on board, the song burst into full bloom during 1972 (I would recommend the versions from 4-11-72, 5-10-72, 5-26-72, 9-09-72, and 12-10-72 (my first of many encounters), and especially the crackling, often explosive jams from 4-26-72, 9-17-72, 9-28-72, and 12-31-72). In most respects, the creative expansion of this song reached its pinnacle during the summer of 1973 (exemplified in the versions from 5-13-73, 5-20-73, 5-26-73, 6-22-73, and 6-29-73). By the fall of 1973, the song was beginning to wander. Perhaps the jamming potential had lost its political edge with the changing political tide.
There would be a few worthy capstone performances from 1974 (most notably 5-12-74, 8-06-74, 10-17-74, and 10-20-74), but the space vehicle was shifting to explorations of the still uncharted territories of Playin' in the Band, and the jamming energy was locked into expanded versions of Truckin', Eyes of the World, and Let it Grow. These were songs that would develop into major vehicles for intensifying the Grateful Dead sound, especially when the band returned from its hiatus. But the jamming intensity of these songs could not replace the exploratory dynamics of The Other One as a vehicle for space exploration.
Ironically, this is reflected in the transformation of The Other One itself. After the hiatus, The Other One became a more concentrated, compact jam-based song. Though still introduced by the now familiar string of explosive bass chords from Lesh, The Other One was now played through without the depth and attunement to complex exploration that had been so important to the maturing of its structure in the early 1970's. To the trained ear, this signaled major changes in the band as a whole, and as the new sounds emerged, The Other One was clearly assimilated into the resulting jam motifs, destined to become just another song among songs. There would be a few stellar versions along the way (most notably 7-17-76, 5-21-77, 11-01-77, 11-04-77, 11-05-77, 2-05-78, 8-13-79, 10-27-79, 12-05-79, 6-27-83, 8-19-89, 10-20-89, and 5-06-90), but these were primarily a reflection of the shifting emphasis from exploration to performance. The momentum of the show was now driving the band, and the bus was caught in the vortex. The explosive potential of the Quodlibet jam was especially prominent during the Fall tours of 1977 and 1979, with some carefully developed approaches capped off by a solid crescendo that could only peak the crowd meter (11-05-77, 8-13-79, and 12-05-79 stand out in this regard). By the early 1980's the energy of the band was shifting to Fire on the Mountain, Shakedown, and the rock and roll codas to the post-drums run of tunes.

II. The Mind Altering Experience Becomes Our Own

The 1969-73 musical development of The Other One (much like the 1969-70 versions of Dark Star) was remarkable for the affect it had on the way people think and experience. On one level, the spacejams from this period were drawing us out of the box into a space of attunement rich in complexity and ambiguity. The intensive concentration required to follow a maturing version of The Other One into Grateful Dead space was literally "occupying" us. In the process, it played a remarkable role in transforming our capacity to reflect on who we were becoming, what we were experiencing in our lives, and what to make of our surrounding world. The crucial element of this experience was being caught in the present without the mediating interlude of language. When the band was on, we were on. Being "on" meant living in a mindspace subtended by the musical interplay. It meant being caught in animated suspension at the intersection of a steady run of highly punctuated, often exploratory bass notes and a wild, sometimes eerie cataclysm of high-end guitar notes, often played out against an ethereal jazz background of percussion, keyboards and Weir's exploratory, often discordant, guitar riffs. From the spring of 1969 through the summer of 1973, The Other One was a stellar vehicle for transporting us to this magical space.

2 comments:

  1. This is the 9th in a series of fourteen Guest Posts I’m adding this month.

    These essays were written in 1999 for a now-dead webpage meant to accompany the Deadheads’ Taping Addendum. The Addendum concludes, “For those readers interested in reading more from our team of crack contributors, check out our lyrical and musical essays on the Grateful Dead’s most illuminating songs.” A variety of Compendium writers contributed essays on various songs, but their webpage was only up for a short time before it was taken down some 13 years ago.
    The essays haven’t been reprinted elsewhere (as far as I know), so they’re little-known today. I thought they should be revived in a more accessible presentation for readers who might be interested in them.
    I’m not including here the essays on song-lyric interpretations, or (with one exception) songs written after 1974, since those are of much less interest to me. The full contents are still linked on the Web Archive for those who want to read more in those areas.
    Obviously some performance histories are a little incomplete or out of date, since fewer shows were available then, but I haven’t updated or revised them [except for a few minor corrections]. The date of writing should be kept in mind.
    I don’t always agree with the authors – these are their opinions, in their style! – but including these essays here doesn’t preclude me writing my own posts about some of these songs in the future.
    More guest contributions on early songs, shows, or Dead history are always welcome, of course.

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  2. I love getting lost in your work on this site, thanks so much for all that you do!
    These Guest Posts have really helped me discover or rediscover so many unbelievable performances !
    peace from Hamilton Ontario

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