In a first attempt to introduce some stability to their currencies in relation to the US dollar, the six member states of the European Economic Community (West Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) agreed, at a meeting in Basel 40 years ago today, to create a currency exchange rate system. It became known as the ‘snake in the tunnel’: the ‘snake’ being the various intra-European exchange rates and the ‘tunnel’ being the limitations created by the dollar’s exchange rate with them.
The way that the Grateful Dead played Good Lovin’ on this tour could also be described in a similar fashion, with Pigpen’s vocal improvisations around the lyrics being the ‘snake’ and the band’s improvisations around him being the ‘tunnel’. In their up-tempo performance of it at the Rheinhalle in Düsseldorf that night, however, the tunnel moved out of its usual limitations of time and key signatures (from around 7:00), forcing the snake to squirm all over the place as it tried to stay in its relative position.
Enough with the metaphor: this is one of those completely unscripted departures from the norm, where no-one in the band really knows where they’re going, other than that way. At the 13-minute mark, a single drumbeat from Billy signals it’s time for Garcia’s musical suggestion to be picked up: they get back in sync with Pig and the band gradually returns to the song. It may not be wholly successful as a piece of music but I, as a listener, find the process fascinating and rather exciting.
To return to metaphor, I’m more interested in the tunnel than the snake. I confess I pay little attention to Pig’s words – please feel free to take offence at them – but the way he interacted with the music was unique and it’s a great pity that he went so young. Oh, and I’m pretty sure he’d have found a better use for the phrase ‘snake in the tunnel’: one that had little to do with currencies…