The following series is a book called Listening For The Secret, and it will be featured here in installments.

The equipment is brought in and assembled amidst what is no doubt lively discussion, as roadies, audio technicians and band members attempt to meet some form of accord. The scents linger from musicians who have been there before. The place is a studio, where musicians will try to commit to permanent record the fruits of their creativity and their romance with the muse. No doubt there is a plan, or a broad sketch of one, perhaps managed by some guy whose unfortunate job it is to organize these musicians and steward them through the act of making a record. It is a cooperative effort, likely often too full of conflict and tension. It is the clash of too many visions, too many heads, too many directions, and too many ideas. There must be added pressure, as well. The label needs a product that will sell, and they need it now. Studio time is expensive. How many days does it take for you music people to play your instruments and sing your songs, they inquire? Three? Four?

And when the band shows up at the same time, finally, and they go into the room and start playing, perhaps some of the stress is relieved. Perhaps someone breathes a bit easier, because a direction is beginning to become apparent. The basic foundation is getting laid.

Whether this is an accurate picture of what goes on in a recording studio, I can really only imagine. And I can certainly only imagine what it was like for the Grateful Dead, really. I do know that as a writer, who has neither the luxury nor the bane of having to work with a group of people, the process is difficult enough. The doubt and the second-guessing of myself, the working and re-working of ideas, the erosion of confidence, the isolation of the whole thing, the too frequent frustration and the near constant mental acrobatics that goes with me while I am writing is an incredibly difficult thing to endure. I can only imagine what a group of musicians experience as they attempt to commit to some permanent record their music.

The Grateful Dead released 23 albums in the span of their 30-plus year career. These albums are given much less attention by fans because the band was essentially a touring band, a live act. While so much has been written about the band, attention has generally not been given to the studio efforts. There are so many facets to the Grateful Dead phenomenon, and have been covered in many writings from mainstream to scholarly. This band has its own legend, its own mythology.

My goal is to tell the story, from the plotline of the studio albums. I want to offer a seminal work on the Grateful Dead. As I dug into the effort, I was inspired in more troubling times to keep going because of all of the aspects of the Grateful Dead that have always kept the fire inside me glowing—this inimitable music, the psychedelic art that is inextricably linked to the music and the phenomenon, the mythology, the quest for meaning, and the simple joy about life that is transmitted through these songs.

Few musical groups ever earn a place in history as an enduring phenomenon. As almost fifty years of living history will attest, the Grateful Dead is one of those rare treasures. Their music has transported multiple generations and their legacy will undoubtedly touch many more to come. Arguably, no musical entity in history has ever essentially been so tied to cultural phenomenon, and the devotion of Deadheads knows no comparison. In viewing such an occurrence it is a valuable point of inquiry to examine the legend, to discover the mythology, and attempt to unveil the mystery and meaning. The story of the Grateful Dead is in some respects the story of life itself, where in sublime moments the curtain is peeled away and the secrets are gracefully offered to those that will receive it in kind. Listening for the Secret is an effort to tell that story through the lens of the Dead’s twenty-three studio albums. To do so will require a style of writing that is part historical document, part lyrical analysis, part essay, part narrative, but foremost it is a story told from the deepest recesses of the human heart.

I think what is so potent to me is the spirit or essence, or vibe, that floats around—and in brief moments that show up from time to time during the course of a day—and you just feel it and you say to yourself, “Oh yeah, I remember now.” It’s like you get pulled back home, and you just breath easy because you are reminded that this is where it’s at. It’s purpose and it’s meaningful and there is no equivocation.

Whether I attribute that to the Grateful Dead or whether the Grateful Dead is just a part of that, I can’t really say. It would never occur to me that it wasn’t the Grateful Dead.

If I sound vague it’s because I just can’t quite articulate the full impact of “IT.” But inside me, in my heart or whatever you want to call it, I yearn to tell people, maybe so I can find a friend or a kindred spirit; or maybe I need to express these ideas and emotions. But it is not easy.

I wanted to write a book about my own personal Grateful Dead trip many years ago, because the experiences and the feelings were so big. I just didn’t know how, or perhaps I didn’t know who would care. And that would be the most heartbreaking, because I think I was initiated into something special. So for whatever it’s worth, if you are so willing and prepared, the invitation is always open to join the party.

Click here to read the next installment of ‘Listening for the Secret.’

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