In honor of Jerry Garcia’s birthday (8/1/42), Poolside released their cover of “Shakedown Street.” The song’s meaning has been notoriously vague, stumping Deadheads. Some speculate the famed, 1978 tune is about Club Front, the Grateful Dead’s, San Rafael recording studio and all the drama that ensued there. Others attribute the lyrics, as perhaps, focusing on the decay of inner-cities. Of course, as any fan knows, the title came to refer to the parking lot scene before and after shows. Poolside’s accompanying music video spotlights the setting well, sparking fond memories. (I loved a good “Shakedown Street.” In LA we passed around homemade brownies. The very best, veggie burritos were had after a night of twirling. Through the colorful corridors, I met loves who momentarily, only for that show, fluttered into my sphere.) Poolside’s remake and video embodies the spirit and excitement awakened in every Dead tune. I hope it ignites a new breed of hardcore fans.
Spending time with Poolside’s “Shakedown Street” version allowed me to have fun playing with a fresh, current day interpretation. My modern spin refutes the deterioration theory. The chorus sums it up. “Nothin’ shakin’ on Shakedown Street. Used to be the heart of town. Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart. You just gotta poke around.” Meandering around neighborhoods, (small, large, rich, poor, vibrant, waning), glimpses of that ‘heart,’ so eloquently written by Robert Hunter, is pounding. Streets are erupting, similarly to during the civil rights moment. Military forces are beating people down but they continue to stand up. Even when it’s seemingly quiet, there are encouraging placards in windows and on front walkways acknowledging the movement as well as simultaneously thanking community heroes from healthcare professionals, grocery clerks to postage workers. Painted rocks dispersed randomly, trigger optimism to wanderers who may feel a bit lost and alone. Behind closed doors and at a safe distance neighbors are actively helping neighbors. “You just gotta poke around.”
Poolside has created a really solid, instrumentally powerful rendition of the funky, disco influenced song that hasn’t always been given its due, especially since it has come to signify a large aspect of Dead culture. Poolside updates the disco tones with a swanky club vibe which makes sense since the band got their start creating upbeat, indie dance tracks. I like how at three minutes and three seconds the song takes a different path than its predecessors. In Poolside’s rendering, the last lines before the final chorus are not included. (In the Dead’s original, Jerry reverberates, “I recall your darkness when it crackled like a thundercloud. Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart. Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart. Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, when I can hear it beat out loud.” The darkness is the anger, fear and even drive to help, nestled inside each of us that must be let out. The passerby reminds us our activism is being seen and heard.) Alternatively, in Poolside’s take, a Drums/Space-like aspect is introduced. (Some people don’t get it but for me Drums/Space is magical. I’m instantly transported to the 1995, Seattle show where I smoked a joint which I’m pretty sure was laced with shrooms due to the euphoric, psychedelic high.) Poolside dives into ambient experimentation giving way to a range of pleasing percussions and unique elements. The “Well, well, well,” is clearly accentuated and repeated almost all the way to the close. Their contemporary adaptation is creative while still maintaining the correct tenor.
Jerry wasn’t just one of the most iconic, prolific, visionary musicians of our time. He was also a social activist. I believe, on what would have been his 78th birthday, he would be proud of what’s happening in the streets. No, he wouldn’t be okay with the authoritarian forces or other disgraceful activities galvanized to silence the masses. Rather, he would be propelled by the action of citizens to make a difference and unite communities both clandestinely as well as openly. He stated, “If we had any nerve at all, if we had any real balls as a society, or whatever you need, whatever quality you need, real character, we would make an effort to really address the wrongs in this society, righteously." Thanks to Poolside, “Shakedown Street” is resurfaced allowing us to live Jerry’s potent words. Happy Birthday Jerry!