Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Scarlet sans Fire, and Fire free of Scarlet

As I wrote yesterday, on March 18, 1977 (36 years ago to the day),’Scarlet Begonias’ and ‘Fire on the Mountain‘ were played together for the first time ever. After their initial coupling they were played together a total of 254 times, and the song combo wormed its way into every good Head’s subconscious.

What interests me now, however, is the relatively rare occasions after the initial coupling on which Scarlet was played alone, or Fire was played alone.

Prior to their coupling, Scarlet was of course played by itself a lot (48 times to be exact), but I’m on focusing on the odd post-coupling singularities. Here’s a list of all the solo Scarlets post-3/18/77 (26 in all):

Date of Show
The Situation
A couple days after the initial coupling, Scarlet appears by itself again for a brief moment, tucked away at the end of the first set
At the Palladium in NYC, the boys decide to throw NYC a curveball, and go from Scarlet into ‘Going Down the Road Feeling Bad’
After faking a Fire transition, Jerry decides to go into an alternate “Mutron” special: ‘Dancing in the Streets’
It’s been 6 years since the last time Scarlet hasn’t lead into Fire, but tonight Jerry decides to go into ‘Touch of Grey’
Again into Touch
This is becoming a habit – again into Touch
After faithfully going back into Fire for the rest of 84 (well actually, there were a couple Scarlet->Touch->Fire sandwiches in late 84, but at least they end up back at Fire’s house, if you know what I mean), in this early 85 show, they decide to go from Scarlet into ‘Hell in a Bucket’
Whoa, Scarlet into Eyes
Scarlet -> Touch
Scarlet -> Touch
Scarlet -> Touch
Bob Dylan’s presence threw them off, and they went from Bucket into Scarlet
At MSG, now Touch into Scarlet
Scarlet -> Bucket
Scarlet into Samson and Delilah
At treat for Philly fans at the Spectrum: Sugar Mag -> Scarlet -> Estimated
Scarlet -> I will Take You Home (Ironic, because Fire would like you to come home)
Bucket>Scarlet->Looks Like Rain
Sugar Mag -> Scarlet -> Women Are Smarter
Bucket -> Scarlet -> Women Are Smarter
In one of the true gems of a late 80’s show: Scarlet->Truckin’
Scarlet -> Sugar Mag
Scarlet -> Estimated
Estimated->Scarlet->Crazy Fingers
Sugar Mag -> Scarlet -> Women Are Smarter

The less independent of the two, Fire only came out on it’s own a total of 12 times:

Date of Show
The Situation
9/16/78 Egypt messes with the Boys’ heads, and for the first time they play Fire with no Scarlet. Officially it’s Ollin Arrageed -> Fire
11/24/78 Back in the States, but with a guest musician from Egypt, the boys do Shakedown -> Drums -> Ollin Arrageed -> Fire
10/31/80 Trick or Treat! Al Franken freaks everyone out, the boys do Franklins->Drums-> Fire, which appears on Dead Set
7/13/85 A rare weekend evening alone: One More Saturday Night -> Fire
6/22/86 At the Greek, treating the faithful: the second set opens with Fire and goes into Samson and Delilah
7/4/86 Happy Bday America! Cold Rain & Snow -> Fire -> Samson and Delilah
9/8/87 Bucket -> Fire
9/24/87 Bucket -> Fire -> Drums
5/27/89 Bucket -> Fire
9/20/91 Whoa! Help->Slip->Fire
5/27/93 Please spare me: Picasso Moon -> Fire -> Wave to the Wind
7/3/94 The last time Scarlet and Fire were separated: Eyes -> Fire

And for those of you who just can’t bear to think of this magical couple being separated, here’s one very deadicated website's list of top ten Scarlet->Fires: http://gratefuldeadprojects.com/Scarlet_Begonias_Fire.html

Monday, March 18, 2013

36 Years Ago Today: The First Ever ‘Scarlet->Fire’

On March 18, 1977, the Grateful Dead played two particular songs together for the first time in concert, creating a magical pairing that would go on to fuel thousands of baked road trips, launch the dreams of innumerable jam bands, and become forever known as ‘Scarlet->Fire’.

‘Scarlet Begonias’, the older sibling of the two, had a long life before it’s coupling with ‘Fire on the Mountain’. It was recorded in the studio in March 1974 and officially released a couple months later on the ‘From the Mars Hotel’ album (for the conspiracy-minded out there: the official cut happens to be exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds long). It was first performed live in early 1974 and went on to be played 48 times on it’s own before being joined to ‘Fire’.

‘Fire on the Mountain’, on the other hand, never knew life without its kinsman. Its live debut was during the March 18, 1977 show as part of the first ‘Scarlet-Fire’ combination. It was one of the few Dead songs composed by drummer Mickey Hart, and wasn’t released until a year after it’s debut, on the semi-controversial ‘Shakedown Street’ album (which in a Dylan-goes-electric-type moment, caused long-time Deadheads to accuse the band of what was back then the worst crime imaginable: “going disco”).

After March 18, 1977, the two songs were almost always (but not without exception) played side-by-side. They appeared together in a total of 254 Dead shows. At its best, the song combo became an occasion for some of Jerry’s finest uninterrupted soloing, floating atop some of the Rhythm Devil’s most playful drumming, accompanied by Donna’s best wailing.

 The transition from one song to another in itself became an object of worship among Deadheads. The Fox’s Den, for example, was a club at St. Paul’s school in New Hampshire that was devoted to a particular version of Scarlet->Fire from 1980, and had as one of it’s Four Commandments, “Thou shalt not press pause, stop, fast-forward, or rewind during the transition.” Garcia himself was aware of the magic of these transitional moments. He told an interviewer in 1988 that often “the transition itself would be a piece of music.” Although even he had to admit that after hundreds of times played together, even transitions as titanic as Scarlet-Fire lost some of their juice. “It’s not that the transitional music doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just that we’ve worn the pathways.”

 Hear its debut on March 18, 1977 here:

(Why celebrate its 36th anniversary? Honestly, when I sat down to write this post I had done the math wrong and thought it was its 35th anniversary. Then my wife pointed out my mistake. I guess that's what you get for a lifetime of listening to the Dead baked out of your skull...)