Day 95: He’s Gone, 5/6/81

Grateful Dead Dick's Picks 13 album cover artwork

First off, let me say that this is a great version of He’s Gone. There’s little doubt about that in my mind. What really jumps out at me here is the dedication to Bobby Sands.

The Dead were famous for NOT espousing or supporting a specific political preference, at least while Jerry was alive, and that’s why this is so surprising to me. I don’t know if the this dedication was intended to recognize the failure of democracy (Sands was elected to Parliament while in the Maze prison), the fact that the British government refused to recognize Sands as a political prisoner, hence the blanket protest, or if this was a commentary on the human rights aspect of the issue. Regardless, as someone well-versed in Irish history it shocking that Weir would give a shout out to a member of the IRA during that organization’s most active period. At the end of the day there’s a lot to decode here and more questions than answers. Whatever the intention was, it certainly wasn’t as pro-Republican (in the Irish sense) as some other music of the period, such as Christy Moore’s Spirit of Freedom album, which included renditions of two songs written by Sands, “Back Home In Derry”, and “McIlhatton”.

I missed the anniversary of Day 91 by a mere day, but this one I hit right on the nose, 33rd anniversary. How’s that for a make up?

Other versions of He’s Gone I should consider for this project? Let me know in the comments.

As the song starts Weir dedicates the song to Bobby Sands, an interesting statement given the Dead’s proclivity to remain publicly apolitical. The song lopes along with the distinguishing feature being Brent’s plinky keyboard sound. It doesn’t distract me or detract from the rest of the song for me.

In general I think the vocals sound really good here, and Brent and Jerry blend nicely. Some nice harmonics after the 2nd chorus before the solo – I always love well placed, and well-used harmonics. Jerry’s solo dances around the main melody, but quickly takes flights of fancy once the primary idea is stated. The fellas are a tad out of sync singing once they get to the bridge, but you can tell there a little something extra in this version.

Weir continues to impress me as this project progresses. He plays so many interesting figures and this He’s Gone is no exception. He tactfully walks the line between the role of a rhythm guitar and the needs of a band like the Dead.

As we get to the vocal outro Bobby and Jerry trade off ad libs, the former vocally and the latter via the six string. Someone’s busted out a slide, adding some very tasteful tones that almost sound like volume swells. Brent punctuates the vocal jam with some key fills, as well. Brent, Jerry, and Bob all seem to be doing their own thing yet not stepping on each others toes. It’s quite a feat. As He’s Gone segues into a Spanish Jam he manages to get off a few extra licks just dripping with the blues.

Complete Setlist 5/6/81

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  1. Back to the main program, vintage 1981, middle of the second set. Bobby Weir says dryly, “This one’s for Bobby Sands,” (look it up) as the song eeks to life. Not all of the sentiments in this song’s lyrics are positive, but a big cheer erupts at the “Steal your face line” anyway. Garcia makes a funny transposition of words as the cat on a tin roof is on a ten mile ride before he is juxtaposed with dogs in a pile, and all we can do is smile (and cheer again). The instrumental bridge is sweet and leads to a semi-engaged guitar solo and that big, singing bridge part. This nearly lifts the doldrums inherent to this show and I have some hope that the reason Dick picked it will finally be revealed. It gets plenty gospelly here and also features a neat slide guitar thing that must be Garcia making a special statement. Nice. The goodness continues for a long time next and shifts by way of Jerry’s jump into fast fretting to something Dick decided to call “Caution/Spanish Jam”.

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