Entry 79: Deadhead– The song for this entry is an imagined account of a fan following the career of The Grateful Dead from the San Francisco event of March 3rd 1968, I remember getting off the bus on Haight Street that Spring day, pushing my way through the crowds to see what all the excitement was about (I didn’t know- did anyone? -that the Dead were parking a flatbed truck across Haight Street to play a free gig!)
…to the last appearance of Jerry Garcia, singer and lead guitarist, at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1995.
People ask me what my favourite show was, and I always say the next one. But this is actually one of my favourites. The mood before, during, and after the show seemed to be one of unity and healing…The masterpiece for me was “So Many Roads” I remember leaving the show on a high that lasted for days. It would have been nice to see where we could have taken that. In the end, though, how do you rate a miracle.
These are real fans’ recollections which I have appropriated for the persona in the song.
Here’s David Paumgarten, writing in The New Yorker of November 26, 2012: The Dead inspired many lamentable bumper stickers, but one good one captured how it felt, and feels, to be under their sway: “Who are the Grateful Dead, and why do they keep following me?”
Why do they keep following me around? I’ve never been to San Francisco, don’t much rate the hippie lifestyle and generally value brevity above prolixity. But slip on a pair of good earphones and stream one of the great concerts, such as the one at Fox Theatre in Atlanta, on November 30, 1980, and there might be a glimmer of an answer to the question: who are The Grateful Dead?
For me, a guitarist and mandolin player, the answer was Gerry Garcia. As a writer, though, I knew about the non-playing member of the band, Robert Hunter, whose collaborations with Garcia have produced some of the most memorable songs: I’ll mention a trio of greats: Scarlet Begonias, which is usually linked in concert to Fire on the Mountain and which fans usually refer to as Scarlet Fire. Begonias has the memorable lines It seldom turns out the way it does in the song, but my favourites are the final lines, Strangers stopping strangers/ Just to shake their hand, Everybody is playing/ In the Heart of Gold Band/The Heart of Gold Band.
1987’s, A Touch of Grey, gains more relevance for me year after year. The verses are non-sequential litanies of largely negative images such as, Cows giving kerosene/Kid can’t read at seventeen/ The words he knows are all obscene, but the images of the verses are redeemed by the chorus, I will get by/I will survive, which morphs into We will get by/We will survive.
The last of the trio is Terrapin Station, which I will not attempt to explicate other than to say it’s a sixteen-minute long, sprawling, rococo, musical- and here I’ll use a technical term- mess! The lyrics are derivative, obscure and somewhat pretentious, and yet…yet, I do not skip past it on a playlist and I will often seek it out as I search for sleep on many a night. Go figure.
But I can’t end without mentioning, by name, some members of the group who have been there for years, Bob Weir- singer, guitarist, writer and vocalist; Phil Lesh, bass player extraordinaire, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, drummers of excellence, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Keith and Donna Godchaux, keyboards/vocalist, Brent Myland, Tom Constanten and Vince Welnick, keyboards. I must mention the other writer associated with the band, John Perry Barlow, who wrote memorable songs with Bob Weir such as Estimated Prophet and Throwing Stones.
Barlow wrote 25 Principles of Adult Behaviour in 1977, just before his 30th birthday, and I’ll give some of them here, in place of my usual verse, to end this entry:
1 Be patient. No matter what. 2 Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him. 3 Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you. 5 Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change. 6 Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself. 7 Tolerate ambiguity. 8 Laugh at yourself frequently. 9 Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right. 10 Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong. 12 Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously. 13 Never lie to anyone for any reason. 14 Learn the needs of those around you and respect them. 15 Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that. 16 Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun. 17 Praise at least as often as you disparage. 18 Admit your errors freely and soon. 19 Become less suspicious of joy. 20 Understand humility. 21 Remember that love forgives everything. 22 Foster dignity. 23 Live memorably. 24 Love yourself.
And finally, my personal touchstone, number 25– Endure.