The Decemberists just released Long Live The King, an EP of b-sides from their excellent The King Is Dead album. One of the tracks is a cover of the Dead’s “Row Jimmy.” As a lifelong GD fan, I was fascinated by this choice.
Here’s Colin Meloy’s explanation of how it came about:
I spent most of my young-adult life with a healthy, if somewhat misdirected, dislike for the Grateful Dead. What was this based on? I don’t know. Bob Weir songs. Songs that eschewed structure in favor of indiscriminate noodling. The ocean of hippies making their way towards Autzen Stadium while I hid in my University of Oregon dorm room, smugly blasting my “difficult” music. One thing, however, stuck in my craw: bands I loved seemed to, here and there, namecheck the Dead like it was a dirty secret. Case in point: Ira Kaplan sings “I’m listening to Wake of the Flood / I’m listening to Wake of the Flood / And I’m high!” in, in my opinion, the only truly decent drug song ever written, “Drug Test,” from YLT’s 1988 “President Yo La Tengo.”
Then what happened: I met and married a self-professed deadhead. I joined a band with people who knew the Dead’s output inside and out. I moved back to Oregon.
So things change, you come around. I still don’t really like Bobby’s songs. And I kind of lose interest after ‘74. But those first few records have a lot of amazing, amazing stuff that I often disparaged without really even listening to. One of those records is “Wake of the Flood,” (thanks, Ira) and “Row Jimmy” is undeniably one of Messrs. Hunter and Garcia’s finest moments. So we recorded it and it we had a good time doing it and I screwed up the words, but I figure that’s okay. I’m still new at being a Dead fan.