When indie and DIY rock first began to bloom in the early ’80s, few bands were more maligned in the genre’s inner circles than the Grateful Dead. The legendary San Francisco band’s meandering solos, quasi-spiritual lyrics, and Baby Boomer fanbase were anathema to indie adherents, who prized the principles of economy, accessibility, and emotional directness made sacred by their punk rock forebears.
Yet, in the past 15 years, the legacy of the Grateful Dead has been dramatically revised in the indie rock world, and few people can take more credit for that recent rehabilitation than Alex Bleeker.
A North Bay resident most notable for his contributions as a bassist for melodious slack-rockers Real Estate, Bleeker is an outspoken admirer of the Grateful Dead. With his exhortative support, Real Estate contributed to the triple-album Day of the Dead, a collection of Grateful Dead covers from indie rock groups that finally acknowledged the jam band’s outsized influence.
While Real Estate originally drew comparisons to fellow New Jersey-bred jangle rockers The Feelies and chillwave bands like Washed Out, in retrospect they may have always been secret Deadheads. The band’s languid pacing and honey-dewed choruses recall the best of the Dead’s Jerry Garcia-Robert Hunter pop creations. For Bleeker’s solo efforts (with his backing band The Freaks), those Dead-inspired elements have been teased out even more.
That direction is embodied once again in “D Plus,” the lead single from Bleeker’s upcoming solo album (no Freaks here), Heaven on the Faultline. Set to be released in March, the album marks Bleeker’s first solo music in five years.
“D Plus” starts off with a series of jangly guitars, setting the foundation for a warm and reassuring experience. Combining vague tinges of psychedelia with the bucolic folk rock made famous by Grateful Dead efforts like Workingman’s Dead, “D Plus” is content to amble at its own pace, evoking the laid back vibe that fits firmly in Bleeker’s comfort zone. If this song were a piece of furniture, it would definitely be the comfy reclining chair with the butt prints forever embedded.
While he’s never been the primary singer for Real Estate, Bleeker has a soft, bilious voice, and his hushed delivery is the perfect vehicle to create the smooth, calming edifice that is the driving force behind the song.
In a press release, Bleeker said he wrote the song in 2017 during the ascendancy of the Trump presidency, essentially as a reminder that we are all in this together. It’s a fitting time for it to surface, in the batshit crazy final week of the 2020 campaign — a deeply polarizing effort that has been marked by the 220,000 deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent dysfunction, and indifference exhibited by a cruel administration.
“What a long, strange trip it’s been,” is the Dead’s most-cited (and simultaneously groaned at) quote, but even a superfan like Bleeker could never have realized just how prescient those words would be in 2020.
Until Nov. 3, it’s best to bask in the somnambulant glow of “D Plus” and try to imagine that this terrible trek is almost over.