800 and counting
Dear friends and loved ones, I have new information that I guarantee is going to have you beside yourself with indifference. This week my collection of downloaded Dead shows has reached the dizzying total of 800.
How do I know this and what does it all mean? Or to put it another way: ‘so what?’
Well, I know this because I am a sad bastard. And I am a sad bastard because I have an assiduously maintained Excel spreadsheet that lists all the shows I have in my collection. With the latest addition, the number has now reached 800.
However, as you would expect from somebody who has managed to turn even the mundane task of loading the dishwasher into an art form, this spreadsheet isn’t just a bog-standard list of dates.
Oh no: it also sets out the concert venue, the type of recording (whether soundboard, audience tape or official release) and the personal score – marks out of five – that I have assigned to those I have listened to, together with short observations where appropriate (sample comments: ‘great AUD’, ‘Jerry on’, ‘Ho-hum’). Concerts that I have listened to are in a black font, while the treasure trove of as-yet undiscovered delights is in red.
I’m surprised, but not a little excited, to see that about 40 per cent of the list is still in red.
This doesn’t mean that I have ‘only’ listened to about 500 concerts since I fell into this way of thinking back in 1990. That would clearly be a horrifying dereliction of duty. I already had a fair few under my belt before I started keeping score and I know for a fact that I have already listened to some on the red list at some point. Being pre-spreadsheet, though, of course they don’t count. So I’ll just have to play them again sometime – just for the record, you understand.
And what about the broader implications of this latest milestone?
Assume, for the sake of argument, that each download runs for just over two hours. That’s shorter than your average Dead show, but some in my collection are only ‘partials’, because that’s all there is. Anyway, if I started right now and played it non-stop, it would take ten solid weeks to listen to it all. It would take a whole month 24/7 just to catch up on all the red ones.
And I am also a sad bastard because I have actually sat down and worked this out.
The second point is that, while 800 might sound a lot to you, really it doesn’t do much more than scratch the surface. According to official sources – the back of one of my t-shirts – the Dead played a total of 2,317 concerts over their thirty-year existence, so I’m only just over one third of the way to what is referred to in the community as ‘completism’.
But although I’m by no means finished adding to my collection just yet, I won’t be going all the way to 2,317, for a variety of reasons:
Number one, it’s impossible – recordings just don’t exist for some of those concerts from the early years.
Secondly, where tapes do exist they sometimes sound – well, about as good as you would expect from something recorded more than 40 years ago, on open reels, surreptitiously (hiding down a well in some cases, by the sound of it) and probably by somebody in a chemically altered mental state.
Thirdly, to be honest, sometimes the Dead were rubbish – most likely due to their own chemically altered mental states – and it’s just too painful to listen to.
But the main reason I won’t make it to 2,317 is me. Thing is, I’m a bit picky.
I just can’t listen to a Dead show in a casual way. This is not muzak and I just will not treat it as such. Having the Grateful Dead on ‘in the background’ is just plain wrong.
I can just about put up with listening to Set 1 and saving Set 2 for the following day, but for the proper concert experience it’s far better to hear the whole thing at one sitting. This obviously requires a sizeable investment of free time.
I also have to listen through earphones, because the volume I want (at least 11 on the Spinal Tap scale), if played through conventional speakers, would cause structural damage over a wide area of the Limousin region, as well as a complete breakdown of amicable relationships with the neighbours. I am, after all, the only deadhead in the hameau.
It’s also best for all concerned if I pursue this interest in private. I’m no headbanger, and I don’t play air guitar, but I have to admit that I’m occasionally moved to a bit of foot-tapping. In certain quarters this can cause offence, as well as undue wear and tear on the rug.
All in all, then, the best I can do is just keep plugging away at my own pace, reconciled to the fact that this long strange trip will never end.
Which suits me down to the ground.
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