I'm a Deadhead again.
It all started in Austin last month when my friend Alex dropped the needle on Anthem of the Sun. Alex is probably the last person on earth whom I'd a thunk had a grateful dead album of any kind. But there we were, jamming along to the sounds of the very first jam band.
Then my long lost friend and childhood neighbor Sean and I reconnected on FB and that got me thinking of his several cassette boxes worth of dead bootlegs he had in his messy bedroom in the 80s. It was our very own Golden Age of Unlimited Devotion, man. He was also the first friend I knew with a tie dye (or 10) that he would actually wear to school. His tie dyes were faded and that impressed me, because I knew he wore the shit out of them. He wasn't no imitation fan, man. He was a real live deadhead, the very first of many Northeast 4th wave deadheads I would meet in the mid 80s. But Sean was the real deal. Couldn't sing a note, but his dancing and all around positive demeanor made up for it. Too bad it didn't rub off on me more often..but he was my real introduction to the Grateful Dead. He taught me about the different eras, the special combos of live songs and lingo like "Estimated/Eyes" and China Cat/Rider...man. Drumz..with a Z, not an "s" and Space. Infrared Roses was a cd of Drumz and Space mash ups before anybody knew what a mash up was.. Steal Your Face was not only a sticker..it was an album. He told me all about the dead Dead keyboardists, man. I took it all in, catalogued it and bought the t-shirts, people. I knew the difference between an east coast and west coast Dead show, I knew where the "Phil Zone" was, and I wasn't telling. This was pre-grunge OK? I wasn't beaten down, chewed up and spit out yet.I wasn't connecting musical dots with my angst yet..I wanted to be like Sean in those years '86-'90. When there was nothing left to do but smile, smile smile...
There have been other dancing bear bullet points leading to my renewed interest in Capt.Trips and co.
I spoke via FB to my friend Andrea recently. I was sharing an apt. with her in Aug. of 1995 when Jerry Died. That's kind of a weird day I've never forgotten. Jerry's death was just as hard to deal with as Kurt's or Layne's or Ronnie's. I must have played China Doll on a loop that day.
I picked up "Dark Star" recently..maybe two months ago..the roundtable format book on Jerry Garcia, but I had put it down while reading the Elliott Smith bio..and there it was on my nightstand underneath the Bukowski and the Swamp Thing graphic novel. Time to switch up the sequence of that pile. Right now I'm up to around '79 in the book. Dark days for the Dark Star.
I have a friend who just went to see the Dark Star Orchestra in LA. She told me it was a great night except for the fact that she was "too old" to handle the Drumz/Space portion. I would probably never be able to stand for that long again in my life without the best Owsley blotter money could buy. I wonder if the new jam band kids still start their own "tours" these days with the Dead or even Phish for that matter. My brother tells me it's some guy called Bassnectar. Sounds juicy.
I had a dream of the parking lot scene from one of the two Rich Stadium Dead shows(Buffalo) I attended in either '87 or '90. I still remember the guy weaving in and out of the rows of converted school buses, hibachis and hacky sack circles repeating "Trips, doses, transparencies, yin/yang" or the redheaded dreadheaded deadhead girl saying "need a miracle, actually need two." I can still smell the kind bud, and the grilled cheese entwined with the dank road funk of 10 thousand dirty Birkenstock feet and sticky pits. You never forget your first outdoor dead show parking lot. You never forget any of them.
For some odd reason, or maybe completely obvious..Lately..my go- to songs when the weather turns bright enough to roll down a window on the winding road home from work and set free some of my own mucky funk have been Cassidy from Reckoning (1980 Radio City Music Hall Acoustic Set)...Birdsong from..anything...Eyes of the World from Wake of the Flood and Tennessee Jed from Europe '72. This natural choice catches me by surprise because for years it was metal, punk, classic rock....anything with a dial that went to 11 and disarmed my thoughts. I think Bird Song or Weather Report Suite or Looks Like Rain or Here Comes Sunshine or Box of Rain rank right up there with some of the most beautiful, inspirational music I've ever heard. And I know every word. It must mean something....but why did I put them away for so long? Could the reason be a s simple as music being cyclical? Or distinctly tied to specific events or eras or ...attics of my life? I still refuse to believe that its linked to the cliche of getting older and probably have to pinpoint it to all of these connections my brain has been making.
The Dead were always a different kind of escape for me, and besides my beloved Beatles, probably the "happiest" ( melodic,possibly lyrical) music I ever gravitated towards. It was the perfect combination of warm, squeaky Jerry guitar tone, rumbling dual drums, Bobby's commanding voice and Phil's space bass that kept me listening, singing and sometimes moving. The spectacle of watching others do that fluid- like shake your bones out dead dance was enough entertainment for me.Not to mention the characters and the stories from the songs they rode in on provided by Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow. Those years from 89-91 were really crucial, an influential time in my development as a writer? and performer....positivity really did stick during those years before the black chasms of 93-95 and '97-'01 came along and I needed the volume turned way the fuck up to drown out or amplify my misguided pain. There was no pain involved in my deadhead years..only pleasure.
People who read Circle of Fits would be surprised to know that I've seen the Grateful Dead live more than any other band I can remember...10 times. Not a patchouli drenched superfan by any means, but weirdly more than hugely influential bands in my canon like QOTSA(6) or Soundgarden(7)....or the Stones(5)..wow.
Thanks to Sean, Jen, Lara, Laura, Andrea and my brother Kevin for enlightening me on this journey. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to Dick's Picks Vol. 36. If you get confused, just listen to the music play ....
Please share any and all grateful dead memories with me.......Seano