Sunday, April 8, 2012

4/8/72 Wembley: Cumberland, Coal, & the Union

When: Saturday, April 8, 1972
Where: Wembley Empire Pool, London, England
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, can't find the AUD for a stream, but I found a link to Playin'. This show is widely distributed, but it's definitely one of the top shows of the tour, for sale here)
  1. Bertha, Me & My Uncle, Mr. Charlie, Deal, Black-Throated Wind, Next Time You See Me, Cumberland Blues^, Yellow Dog Story, Brown-Eyed Women, Beat It On Down The Line, Tennessee Jed, Playing In The Band, Good Lovin', Looks Like Rain, Casey Jones
  2. Truckin', Big Railroad Blues, Hurts Me Too, Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution (Do Not Stop On The Tracks)  E: One More Satuday Night
As always, personal highlights are in bold.
^ Appears on Europe '72
The Dead at Wembley, 4/8/72. Whudduya think: Hurts Me Too, Good Lovin', or Caution?  David Botterell.
Certainly not the most outstanding show of the tour overall, but this one certainly delivers where it counts: deep in the second set. (The first set has its moments, but my personal highlights - "Playin" and "Good Lovin'" aside - have as much to do with my own song preferences as they do with the performances.) The epic "Dark Star">"Sugar Mags">"Caution" is a Deadhead's delight.

For those of you not familiar with "Dark Star," it's the Dead's quintessential jam platform structured between two sparse, ethereal verses that invite exploration. (Deadheads: I'll do a more in-depth analysis in a later post.) This version* clocks in just over 32 minutes in length, but it wastes no time getting to the goods, with instrumental interplay across the board that changes gears seamlessly - from up-tempo melodies to rhythmic interludes to dark, spacey sections - all in the first six minutes! From there, the band drops into deep space with plenty of feedback and arhythmic exploration before emerging into another up-tempo, melodic jam about 15 minutes into the track. Towards the end, they attain true TRIUMPH with a nascent "Mind Left Body Jam" that hints at "St. Stephen." For a while, it sounds like a musical debate on what to play next, eventually (and beautifully) the melody gives way to "Sugar Magnolia."

Some may think that signals the end of the set, but Phil has other ideas. Billy and Jerry quickly join in, calling Pigpen out with that unforgettable, thumping rhythm to do a raucus version of "Caution," the first in nearly a year-and-a-half (11/6/70 late show, Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY). It has the primal, psychedelic energy of early versions, with a certain maturity and measure that comes to typify Pigpen's contribution to this tour. The performance leaves me emotionally and psychically exhausted. Who wants to rock a "Saturday Night" encore?

Garcia B&W.jpg
Jerry Garcia seems to be enjoying himself. Ok, this one's
from 4/7/72, but still a cool shot. David Botterell.
Worth mentioning:
  • "Bertha" is hot! Now that's what an opener is supposed to sound like.
  • After "BIODTL," Phil thanks the people in the balcony with the sparklers for "bringing some light into our lives." God Bless Phil Lesh!
  • The "Playin'" is a treat, better than the previous night.
  • "Good Lovin'" is fast and furious - Pigpen is ready to rock! The breakdown is scorching, nimble, and (somehow) patient. Pig certainly conveys his excitement by "her evil, lovin' ways." You know, because "I'd do it for you." 
  • Jerry on pedal steel guitar for the "Looks Like Rain?" Sublime. There are certainly better version, especially from '77, but that instrument captures the sorrowful, weeping tone of that song like none other. It makes me wish Jerry had stayed with it, at least for that song.
  • Oh, and Bobby's Yellow Dog Story!!!! Miraculously, this is the first version I've ever heard (does this mean I wasted my youth?). While not all that funny, it does take up just enough time to change a string! For those who (like me) have only heard tell of it, check out this version from Honolulu 1970.

Song of the Day: "Cumberland Blues"

This song is Robert Hunter's tribute to the coal miners of Appalachia, struggling to make ends meet as the Boss grinds every hour and every ounce of life out of them for that solid black gold (see annotated lyrics). Like their namesake in England, it seems like nearly every Cumberland County in America (IL, KY, NC, PA, MD, TN, VA, even in British Columbia... but not NJ & ME) is in a coal-producing area. Clearly, this song is American and borrows from many of Hunter's prominent Americana themes - working men (and the women they love), hard times, and impending death.

While other Hunter songs deal with the plight of the working man ("Easy Wind"** and "Black Peter" come directly to mind), this one is unique in that it deals explicitly with organized labor and the issues workers organize to address. The narrator is thankful for his five-dollar daily wage, but if he "Made any more I might move away." Instead he's struggling to find enough shifts to get there ("'Can I go buddy / can I go down / Take your shift at the mine?'") as he neglects the woman he loves, to the point he considers leaving her so he can continue to work:
You keep me up just one more night
I can't sleep here no more
Little Ben clock says quarter to eight
You kept me up till four
And of course, he understand that all his work is nothing without his union: "Lotta poor man got to walk the line / Just to pay his union dues." While not as dark as "Black Peter," one of the recurring phrases in "Cumberland Blues" is "going down" - literally into the mine but also figuratively into the grave of the working class.

"Cumberland Blues" also lends its name to a well-crafted musical production written by Michael Norman Mann, who spins a story of rural working American characters from Garcia/Hunter songs including "Dire Wolf," "Black Peter," "Friend of the Devil," "Bertha," "Candyman," and others. My parents were patient enough to bring me to see it in 1998 (I think) in San Jose, and while it was wildly enjoyable to me, I would guess it was not quite as captivating for non-Deadheads. If you're curious, you can check out the play's website, a review (in addition to those found on the site), or if you're really curious, purchase a copy of the script.

*     *     *     *     *

History Lesson: Industrial Unionism in the Age of Steel

As the plight of the narrator in "Cumberland Blues" exemplifies, the working (wo)man alone has no real voice in his or her work life without the collective power of a union. It's important (and almost cliché***) to recognize that the labor movement has made once-wild notions such as the eight-hour day, the weekend, the minimum wage, and workplace safety laws and regulations the norm today. Still, the lack of legal protection for people at work can be shocking to those who assume our basic Constitutional rights in society transfer into the workplace.

Steel became the lifeblood of American industry after the Civil War as sky-scrapers, factories, and railroads became the lingua franca of progress and prosperity. Steels raw ingredients – iron, coke, and coal – all must be dug from the ground, and the work was (and remains) tireless, dangerous, and none too enriching for those doing the work. Against long odds, the mine workers formed the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and by 1920 their president was John L. Lewis.

Using the strategy of industrial unionism, Lewis and the UMWA organize across the steel industry (mines, railroads, and mills) and across social barriers of race, creed, and language. The UMWA - along with its allies in the garment industry - formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935, which became so powerful that the member unions were expelled from the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1938.**** In the process, Lewis had become one of the most powerful figures in America, directly influencing US Steel's production goals, distribution chains, and as a result, market prices and of course wages. He was America's first macro-economist with his hands on the levers of the steel industry, the most important manufactured product at the time.***** Additionally, Lewis backed Franklin Roosevelt's initial run for the presidency and was instrumental in crafting New Deal policies and legislation like the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, among others, providing a moderate level of legal protections for the average worker in America. 

However, as union density and power have diminished since the Grateful Dead were touring across Europe in 1972 (and even decades before), the laws and regulation that protect the basic economic and physical health of working people have eroded in the name of free enterprise and increasingly unrestrained corporate power. The Sago Mine Disaster and others (these from West Virginia alone) remind us that coal mining remains one of the ten most dangerous jobs an American can hold

As energy companies have eroded the legal protections of workers and their unions, so have they been able to roll back oversight and regulation on the public safety front. Energy-producing communities are facing increased environmental degradations as industry moves towards more intrusive extraction techniques like mountain top removal and fracking. The environmental and labor movements (as well as other populist movements) have had their differences, and I believe that bridging the divide around common issues like these will be critical in reigning in the power of corporate interests in the name of the public interest.

A few non-labor places to look for information on these issues:
  • Keep updated on mine safety, coal power, industry regulation, and mountaintop removal topics on the Charleston Gazette's blog Coal Tattoo.
  • The Rainforest Action Network's energy campaigns do great work at the intersection of energy policy, the environment, and the Wall Street interests protecting the status quo.
  • For grassroots education and organizing around these issues (as well as some badass artwork!), check out the Beehive Design Collective.
Happy Easter, and a Belated Happy Passover,
- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

The intricate jamming "Dark Star" and full-power/24-hour "Caution" make me crave a high-octane yet delicate Belgian brew. Nothing as hallowed as a Trappist (save that for sometime in May, maybe?), but something that stands up to the moment, you know? It's available most everywhere, so check out the St. Bernardus Abt 12. But be careful, this one's a banger, clocking in at 10% ABV and often coming in a 750 ml bottle. The style is Belgian dark strong ale - also known as an abbey quadrupel. I recommend you find a friend or two, dance your asses of to the "Good Lovin'" from 4/8/72, and plop yourselves down with a bowl of neapolitan ice cream (with a cherry on top) to enjoy this beer with the "Dark Star."


* As John Dwork (a dude who certainly knows what he's talking about) puts in the first volume of the Deadhead's Taping Compendium, "For a short while, from April through November '72, the Dead gained access to a musical space - or, more accurately, transcended to a level of musical consciousness - that was deeper, more complex, more evolved, more articulate, more powerful than any other that 'spoke through them' before or afterward.... The 'Dark Star' from 4/8/72 represents one very clear pinnacle in this short, brilliant epoch." He goes on (and on) to describe it as an "exploration of beauty and nirvana," the yang to the "terror" of the Veneta 8/27/72 version's yin. (p 371-2) I couldn't have said it better myself, Johnny, and BTW thanks for hosting us all at Horning's in '99 - Dewdrop was an inspiration!
** I wish the Dead played this one in Europe, if only to explore how 40 years of hindsight could change the cultural interpretation of the line, "'Cause I'm a stone jack baller and my heart is true / And I give everything that I got to you, yes I will."
*** Before we dismiss them, we must understand that all clichés began as groundbreaking - even revolutionary - ideas that dared to question and transcend convention. These ideas are admiringly emulated to the point that they become convention. Next time you feel like rolling your eyes to a cliché, try to imagine a world where that very idea is revolutionary.
**** The CIO's willingness to organize across lines of race, religion, and class (laborers vs. craftsmen) was distasteful to the old guard of the AFL, the affiliates of which were almost exclusively craft unions.
***** If you're interested in reading more about John Lewis's influence on the labor movement and the steel industry (as well as the struggle for union democracy over the past 40 years), I recommend Thomas Geoghegan's Which Side Are You On?.

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