Perhaps it was the thought of losing yet more work and finances in general. Perhaps it was my friend’s cynicism seeping in. Perhaps I was lazy. Or perhaps it was that I just didn’t feel quite as fired up.
Whatever it was, I did not attend the final Grateful Dead concerts up in Santa Clara (let alone fly to Chicago for the final, final shows like some people I know!). Although I was strongly invited, I declined.
While I certainly attended those bastions of communal harmony and creativity after the advent of children, that act of motherhood did change part of the ritual. I did not partake of any of the well substances popular in the day. (Although at the late hour of the evening in which I write this, I am pulling a totally stoner move — chowing a bowl of giant brown rice with whatever was on the counter added to it).
I find it amusing, really, that some people are shocked at my abstention while others are outwardly disappointed in me. I seek to remind people, the Dead experience was not about judgment.
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Perhaps that is one thing that made those shows so (I’ve always come up short for the absolute adjective). All I know is Dead shows provided a rejuvenation of the spirit, fostered a sense of love and community and were just damned fun — the music, the “sensations,” watching the masses ooze around and together. Like they say, “If I had to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand it anyway.”
My dear friend’s cynicism about a regrouping without Jerry Garcia was certainly echoed by many — the Dead died when Jerry did.
I mean, really, this group, that man, these gatherings were the soul of more than one generation.
I remember the day Garcia died and we had an impromptu memorial at K-OTTER. It was insane, the turnout, the response, the grieving! Through his ills and comebacks, everyone around the planet rallied in spirit. When that flame blew out, so many were in the dark.
Obviously, these guys were an industry. But they were the first to actually encourage taping shows. The Bizarre Bazaar that formed in the parking lots of venues the world over were allowed to sell homemade goods and other “goods.”
Of course, one aspect of the machine was ticket sales and their own merchandise. But this team, the Grateful Dead, had so, so, so many people who had come to depend on them for their livelihoods, let alone lifestyles of their own that were a far cry from bunking together in the Haight. Yes, as several critical friends assessed, they had become trapped in the money grinder.
I submit for your processing, if you care, a brief bit from the book “So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead” by David Browne, which highlights the plague of fame and how hard it was in the end to be who they were, who they’d become. But follow that with an interview with drummer Bill Kruetzman in this PBS interview.
Whatever the naysayers and critics wanted to say about the Dead, they were who their fans wanted them to be: leaders on that Golden Road to a place in which we all wanted to exist, nirvana, maybe? Naïve? Maybe.
Whatever, the rest of the guys wanted to give it one last go, be it for the money, for the fans or whomever you may have assessed it to have been for. But for many thousands and thousands of people at the live shows and the thousands and thousands more like me and my other friends who saw the live simulcast at the Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo or theaters across the country, as ever, we took from it what we wanted — a gathering of the tribe, of the weird, the wired, the colorful, the loving, the connectedness. It’s all we ever wanted.
Yes, some of us made the short pilgrimage to the Fremont for a bird’s-eye view of the Chicago shows. Great camera angles, close-ups, plenty of dancing room (many thanks to the Fremont for letting a Dead experience “happen”!), and we felt the same bittersweet sense of finality-but-not-internally, spaced out, skipped, twirled, shed a tear and left a little uplifted. Their music was about transcendence.
Some felt it couldn’t happen without Garcia. I felt, well, he was still there and IS still there in my memories.
I hope my friend doesn’t mind me quoting him, but, “The Dead didn’t create a sense of community, so much as tap into one. It was always there and, in many ways, still is. In that, I take heart.”
The last thing drummer Mickey Hart said on the final night was, “The feeling we have here — remember it, take it home and do some good with it. I’ll leave you with this: Please, be kind.”
On the way to the car, I gave two homeless people in the dark a gratuity for letting me do something nice for someone. It made me feel even better.
We will survive.