The Opera dates back to 17th century Italy. It is most often a dramatic work set to music for singers and instrumentalists. Plural word form is OPUS, which can be defined as any artistic work especially on a grand scale.
Though I am a firm believer in a genetic basis for being queer I do think this probably involves several genetic components and dynamic interplay with ones environment from conception until death. Believing as I do in several gay genes I can safely say I did not get the “gay opera gene”. I have never seen one and have no plans to. I have been over the years invited to the occasional performance but have always found an excuse not to go.
For this exercise though if I see opera as the plural entity opus and again define it as any artistic work on a grand scale the music I have loved for over 40 years qualifies and that would be the music of the Grateful Dead.
My baptism into the cult of the Grateful Dead that was and persists quite vibrantly to this day began in the late 1960’s in Champaign/ Urbana. I was living communally at the time with several other hippies who were major Dead heads. At the time I preferred the Rolling Stones, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. I was also a big fan beginning in 1969 of the Allman Brothers and for many years felt they were better musicians than the Dead.
I actually did not see the Dead live until December of 1973 here in Denver at the old Denver Coliseum up along I-70. It was a memorable night and though quite familiar with their recorded music I must say seeing them live was astounding. They were at the time traveling with huge banks of speakers affectionately called the “Wall of Sound”.
A Grateful Dead concert was always a multi media—multi-sensorial event. There is a line from one Dead tune that says: “The Circus is in Town” and it was often quite the circus. The Dead preferred to do multiple nights in a row at the same venue and in a 3 or 4 nightstand would never repeat a song.
Though I have seen them in many venues including their last two shows at Chicago Stadium in 1995 a few short weeks before Jerry’s death on August 9th my favorite shows were at Red Rocks in the late 70’s and early 80’s with many friends and concert aides. Though the majority of shows I have seen over the years have been in completely unaltered states. “If you get confused listen to the music play”. They quit doing the Rocks after the scene got way to big for the venue in the early 80’s.
As a gay man I always felt at ease and very comfortable at a Dead show. The vibe was always total unconditional positive regard. The last ten years or so of shows often had many men in attendance in long skirts all the better to twirl in.
Though Jerry’s death was a major blow in the summer of 1995 it was soon surpassed and eclipsed for me personally by the death of my loving companion David Woodyard in September of that year. 1995 was a watershed year for me in many ways.
Since Jerry’ s death and certainly even way before many jam bands , all patterned after the Dead , have come into their own: Phish, Widespread Panic, String Cheese to name but a few. All building on the improvisational jam that was the hallmark of the Grateful Dead. A second set of two hours was often an unbroken performance with one tune jamming inot the next often ending with the final chorus from the song started two hours earlier.
The past 16 years have seen several incarnations of the Dead with various members participating at various times. Many of these efforts were OK but the spirit of all was gone. Phil Lesh the original base player for the band has probably been most faithful to the Grateful Dead catalogue while expanding on that material and always adding new stuff. A concert as it did with the Dead consists of two sets now each about an hour and a half usually with a break in between that often lasts an hour. All the better to facilitate audience socializing and networking amongst audience members ranging in age from toddlers now to folks well into their 80’s.
Phil’s current effort along with Bob Weir, rhythm guitarist, is a group called Further. Named after the infamous Ken Kessey and merry pranksters bus of the same name from the 1960’s.
I have seen Further live twice now and will unfortunately miss a three-night stand in September at Red Rocks. I may though catch them in LA at the Greek Theatre or in Monterey in the fall. There is though a live stream tomorrow night of a complete Further show from the new state of the art studio Bobby has built in Marin County.
So to this day my OPUS remains a good long show with the re-invention of many old favorite tunes and of course dancing and twirling to near exhaustion