Murder at the Dead Show – Encore

Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead – by Irving Penn, 1967 Janis Joplin – James Gurley – Ron McKernan – Jerry Garcia (This week’s first set.)    (This week’s second set.) When I look at portraits from the Nineteenth Century, I’m always struck by the seeming juxtaposition of … → read more

Murder at the Dead Show – Second Set

Concert Poster, Oakland Coliseum – Peter Barsotti, 12/31/91 I recently wrote about “Jack Straw” as the Grateful Dead’s only true murder ballad.  That effort spurred me to begin this week with a broader look at the act of murder in the Dead’s repertoire.  We listened to rejuvenated murder and bad man ballads, … → read more

Murder at the Dead Show – First Set

“Listening for the secret, searching for the sound…” I am one of those people who early in life, somewhere around age four, started grappling with the existential ‘problem’ of death.  I don’t know why. Maybe it was because my grandmother took me several times to her husband’s new grave (he … → read more

I started making plans to kill my own kind…

As I mentioned in my first post, “Ballad of Hollis Brown” was presented and received as a sad story about something that happened to a man, not about what that man did to six other people. The song brings us into the man’s head as things are happening to him, … → read more

The limits of empathy

The Times They Are a’Changin’ included numerous songs that addressed current events and real crimes. “Only a Pawn in their Game” deals with the assassination of civil rights worker Medgar Evers by Byron De La Beckwith; “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” deals with the murder of a young black … → read more

Nobody Sings Dylan like Dylan

At the end of this week, I’ll return to the key issues that Dylan addresses in “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” As part of that, I’ll look at one of if not the worst versions of the song ever sung — by Dylan himself of course — and how that … → read more

The Ballad of Hollis Brown

“Ex-Farm Family, now on WPA.” Photo credit: Dorothea Lange. Farm Security Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library Archives. In regard to “Fair Ellender” – the subject of this blog’s first post – I suggested that the Brown Girl’s murderous act might be motivated not by jealousy but by a sense … → read more

Cut down a man in cold blood…

“None recover, they are just replaced.”  – Robert Hunter, 1995 Note: This is Part 3 of a three part series.  See also Part 1 and Part 2. Introduction At the free concert at Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969, an eighteen year old man pulled a gun in a scuffle with a member of … → read more

There ain’t a winner in this game…

The last 10 minutes of the 1939 version of Of Mice and Men Note: this is Part 2 of a three part series.  See also Part 1 and Part 3. Introduction Bob Weir’s revelation that John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was a partial inspiration for “Jack Straw” allows us to … → read more