For those keeping count, today’s piece is (gulp) the 666th posted since Zero to 180 began December 12, 2012. What better way to face down this (meaningless) milestone by paying tribute to a classic television series – and also a musical ensemble – that bravely broke the bounds of conformist thought, intrepid travelers who dared to confront “the fifth dimension.” No, the band in question is not The 5th Dimension (although, good guess) but in actual fact The Grateful Dead, who (not everyone seems to be aware) recorded the theme music to the revitalized TV series in 1985:
Opening & Closing Theme – “Twilight Zone” The Grateful Dead 1985
As Blair Jackson would note in Garcia: An American Life — “The band and [Merl] Saunders worked out a new main theme, which was a short dissonant burst of ‘space‘ ending in a variation of the original Twilight Zone theme by Marius Constant.”
Merl Saunders (courtesy DISCOGS)
Dennis McNally would document some of the historical particulars of the Twilight Zone experience in 2002’s A Long Strange Trip:
“Few shows could possibly have been more appealing to the Dead and Garcia, who remarked, ‘Man, I live in the Twilight Zone.’ They leaped at the chance to record their own version of the signature three-note motif that identified the show. They didn’t stop there. [Producer Rick] DeGuere and his music director, Merl Saunders, came to a board meeting to discuss the band’s doing all of the music for the show, the ‘stings’ and ‘bumpers’ that set the atmospheric soundscape. Garcia left the meeting early, announcing that he voted yes. Lesh was ‘adamantly opposed,’ recalled DeGuere, and the decision was made to proceed without him.
They set to work, and while their music was appropriate and effective, the deal’s business aspects were badly handled, dooming the project to continuous friction among all parties involved. [Grateful Dead legal counsel] Hal Kant had delegated the negotiation of the arrangement with CBS to an associate, who didn’t know the Dead very well and produced a fairly standard contract. The head of the music department at CBS [Robert Drasnin, presumably] didn’t like the deal, since he now had no control, which put Merl in the middle of both an unhappy CBS and the Dead. Very quickly, Mickey Hart took the lead for the Dead in the studio, and proved to have a gift for sound design. Just as they began, he went into the hospital for back surgery, and ordered that all the necessary equipment be set up in his room. At first [road manager] Ram Rod vetoed this seeming insanity, but Mickey pleaded, ‘When I wake up, I want to go to work.’ The Demerol he’d gotten for his surgery proved to be aesthetically stimulating, and he produced music for the first four episodes from bed.”
The loss of Phil Lesh, the band member most closely linked to the musical avant-garde, is a notable one.
Composer, Robert Drasnin, as Variety noted in its obituary posted on May 15, 2105, would have a central role to play:
“While head of CBS’ music department in the 1980s, he worked with the Grateful Dead on music for the revived Twilight Zone series, along with scoring several episodes himself.”
Robert Hunter would later recall in his online journal entry for February 4, 2005:
“I’m still grateful that a steady salary for the two seasons The Zone ran
helped make the house payments and put food on the table for our family
of five back when the GD was staggering financially and I was set
running around the country doing low paying solo gigs to support us.
‘Touch of Grey’ was soon to solve that problem.”
Is it merely a coincidence that, just last month, a 1985 Twilight Zone contract between CBS Entertainment and The Grateful Dead — signed by all members of the band — would sell on Ebay for $29,470.70?It is curious the extent to which The Twilight Zone ‘reboot’ is under-remembered, given the caliber of talent that went into not only the music but the writing and acting, as well — as pointed out in arts blog Delusions of Grandeur:
“Writers such as Harlan Ellison, George R. R. Martin, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Jeremy Bertrand Finch, and Paul Chitlik wrote screenplays for the show. It was directed by many different talents including Wes Craven and William Friedkin. Many different mainstream stars made their appearance in the series including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Season Hubley, Morgan Freeman, Martin Landau, Jonathan Frakes, and Fred Savage. The theme music was composed by Jerry Garcia and performed by The Grateful Dead.”
How funny to see the inclusion of a Grateful Dead track – “The New Twilight Zone” – on TV theme compilation Television’s Greatest Hits, Volume 6 from 1996.
Hooterollin Around music blog (an “appendix to Lost Live Dead“) writes a fascinating piece that draws many musical connections between Jerry Garcia and stalwart session guitarist, Howard Roberts, a musician who is best remembered for having played the original haunting Twilight Zone guitar riff.
Zero to 180 cannot close this piece without reminding everyone of that uncanny musical ‘Twilight Zone’ moment: last July’s discovery of Germany’s The Dead-Heads, who released their debut single in 1966 — just one year after the The Grateful Dead’s official formation!
Given the band’s famous disregard towards commerce, I thought it would be great ironic fun to pull together all of The Grateful Dead’s 7-inch picture sleeves from around the world. Interesting to see domestic marketing efforts lag behind Warner Brothers’ international arm overseas, as the Dead would not see comparable investments on single releases, curiously enough, until the band’s tenure with Clive Davis’s Arista label, especially after the unexpected success with “Touch of Grey”: