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Posted: 2007 07-31


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Garcia plays the Middle Ages, as the Dead lighten up Playboy After Dark, 1969

This rock peak is so high you'll be flying through the mountains of the moon. 

It's insanely great for about a hundred reasons . . . take your pick. How about that there’s no other known footage of the Dead playing this beautiful lullaby -- that sounds like it was written by Chaucer, Lewis Carroll and Mozart on a mushroom afternoon.

This is only the song's second public performance; and they only ever played it 14 times (over 3,000 shows). Maybe because it was . . . written for harpsichord!

The Dead’s Sgt. Pepper, if you will, their calling-card, their “top This” to the rest of the music world, was a suite of songs: Dark Star --> St. Stephen --> The Eleven --> Turn On Your Lovelight –– that appeared on their landmark Live/Dead album (1969). This song was actually the prelude to that master suite, and can be heard making the proper introduction here, (from a month after this Playboy show, February 22nd, ’69, at the Dream Bowl, in Napa Valley).

This is like uncovering footage of Lennon performing For The Benefit of Mr. Kite to 25 people in January ‘67. A mere eight days (a week) after this Playboy taping, they were at Chet Helm’s intimate Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco laying down the performances that became their landmark album. (They also used some songs from their Fillmore West shows a month later.) (see also: St. Stephen)

This year-or-two period was the Dead’s richest harvest of songwriting, and was the blooming spring(board) of their career. They had muddled around as a jug band, shredded it as a straight-out rock band, experimented as a dosed acid band, and wailed as a blues band, but by ’68 they’d merged it all together into the unique music that was The Grateful Dead. This clip is a rose from that brilliant blossoming.

This song is so old. And I’m not talkin’ the 60s -- I mean the Middle Ages. This mythical lullaby could be “Tom Banjo’s Tale” from the 14th century's Canterbury Tales. It’s played on the 15th century’s harpsichord, in a style reminiscent of 17th century minuets. (see: Bach’s Minuet in G Major.) Garcia was interested in everything, had an elephant’s memory, and as a lifelong musicologist felt it was his duty to find hidden gems in music’s history and bring them to life for others to hear.

The phrase, “The Marsh King’s daughter,” is directly from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and is about a 9th century British King. The line, “Hi-ho the Carrion Crow, Folderolderriddle,” dates to at least 1796, in a Mother Goose nursery rhyme. Garcia’s playful, fairy tale, childlike side is clearly on display here –– and is something he never lost, recording a beautiful album of traditional children’s songs just before his unplanned exit in '95. His leprechaun’s twinkle is especially visible here, since he’s not wearing glasses for possibly the only time ever on film.

Mountains Of The Moon is still one of my favorites I've ever written,” Garcia said, years later. “I thought it came off like a little gem. I don’t know what made me think I could write a song like that, but something at the time made me think I could do it.”

Diamond sparkles to watch for:

To open: Jerry’s wonderfully shy and silly bowing as he gets to the stage.

To close: the delicate, ethereal, post-lyric harpsichord ending.

And in general, the hypnotic trance of the beautiful harpsichord line throughout.

Accompanists Bob Weir and Phil Lesh are in among the guests like it’s a group of friends sitting around playing music at a party. And that’s drummer Bill Kreutzmann on stage beside the harpsichord.

Question: How many electric guitar heroes wrote Medieval lullabies for finger-picking acoustic guitar and harpsichord?

Answer: Ya gotta wonder what in the hell Hefner’s thinking! “This is acid rock?! Geez, I thought it would be so much louder.”



The Grateful Dead (left to right): Jerry Garcia (vocal and guitar); Tom Constantan {the guy who looks like John Lennon circa Magical Mystery Tour} (harpsichord); Bob Weir (12-string rhythm guitar) {seated in audience}; Phil Lesh (bass) {seated in audience}.


Barnaby Marshall's picture

I want to know where Jerry got that poncho, and where he left his glasses.

Brian Moore's picture

that is some serious hugh. the high life. and yes nice poncho

Brian Hassett's picture

Let's face it, your writing really takes flight when tackling this "Mountains Off The Spoon"
I really enjoyed reading this and forgot for a moment that I was reading a computer screen and that it was written by a guy I actually KNOW!
that's right, you made time stand still....
Then Stacey came home from work and i played her the clip
we wept quietly together.
and when i told her that this was originally aired the same month we walked on the moon for the FIRST time she went slack-jawed on me.
so i guess your mission is complete.
total annihilation.
now what am i going to do with a slack-jawed girlfriend?
thanks a lot.

special note: your research into all the old references in the lyrics was fucking great. i learned something.

WC Hodgson

YouTube Uploader: AudioFidelity

The Grateful Dead performs "Mountains Of The Moon" at the Playboy Mansion in January 1969, in this segment from the Playboy After Dark DVD Collection. The clip begins with a conversation between Jerry Garcia and Hugh Hefner.

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