Becoming Dead has moved and morphed into www.MoveMeBrightly.com, a catalog of unfiltered inspirations that move me ever so brightly.
On August 9, 1995 I was eight years-old, soon to be nine. My family and I hadn’t been in the new house for long, but in my memory it doesn’t feel any different from the home I call home today. I don’t remember exactly where I was or from what source I heard the news, but I learned that Jerry Garcia had died early that morning and that it would be a very sad day.
I remember Stefanie, a childhood friend of mine and my brothers’, being out of town (come to think of it, it may have been me that was out of town). Stefanie would later tell me how much she cried that day. Being a few years older and as someone I looked up to, I gauged the magnitude of Jerry’s death off of her reaction. If Stephanie was crying, then there was reason to be sad. I also looked to my brothers who, second to my father, were two of the biggest influences on my taste in music. Their reactions let me feel the seriousness of what happened.
I wish I could say more about that day, but at such a young age my memory is mostly made up of brief images and the response of those around me. I took note of the year and would always recognize it as the year that Jerry died. Even though it hadn’t been my era, I knew that ’95 was the end of one. Today, I realize that that day was also the beginning of a new era. Thanks to the “former” members of the Grateful Dead, Jerry’s spirit and music is very much alive today. Because of their gracious dedication, it is easier to celebrate than to mourn on this day so, celebrate is what I’ll do.
“This is an invitation across the nation the chance for folks to meet
There’ll be swinging, swaying, music playing and dancing in the street”
Dancin’ in the Streets
A few months ago when I was researching the CIA-led LSD tests of the 50’s and 60’s (blogged about here), I came across a 1967 CBS short documentary with journalist Harry Reasoner. How ironic his last name becomes after watching what I thought was a pretty unreasonable depiction of the hippie generation. Watch for yourself:
Tell us what you really think…
My problem isn’t that Reasoner disagrees with the hippie or drug culture. What bothers me is how he classifies anyone near the hippie scene into one, generic lump, speaks of them like aliens, (“The Hippies are capable of extremely hard work, but…”), and then disregards them with statements like, “…this seems like the greatest waste of all.” My, you must have quite the view up there on your high horse!
The truth is, Reasoner might have a point. Unfortunately, his dismissive, judgmental reporting overshadows this, but for fairness sake let’s look at his side of things. Is LSD or any other drug anything more than a cheap shortcut to artificial inspiration that ultimately fails to stand the test of time? Think about how many artists have fallen victim to drug abuse and in turn lost sight of their art. Maybe the one thing they relied on to give them vision, destroyed them in the end. But wasn’t the Grateful Dead able to successfully use drugs to tap into a rare, undiscovered world that captivated millions? Of course, “successful” has varying definitions, but I think history and hard facts show us that the Grateful Dead was successful in a very [warped] traditional way.
How about the idea of wasted youth? Reasoner said we needed “attack and imagination and youthful energy” and that hippies were instead withdrawing from the world’s problems. The implication that hippies somehow lack imagination and youthful energy is beyond confusing to me. The Grateful Dead and the hippie generation were known for their dedicated experimentation (“imagination”), and if you’ve ever seen a hippie dancing at a Dead show, you know that their “youthful energy” has no bounds. That still leaves “attack”. Maybe dropping acid, dancing in the street, and hopeful philosophies aren’t proactive enough measures for creating a “peaceful planet”, as Jerry puts it. I would agree with this, to an extent. However, the assumption that all hippies are wasted youth is false and likely based off of appearances or off of the few bad eggs giving everyone else a bum rap. If you can look past the long hair and tie dyed (although, you should ask yourself why you need to do that in the first place) then you might be able to recognize that the hippie way is more proactive than imagined. Taking action and making changes is all well and good, but if there isn’t a fundamental change in thought, which the hippie generation certainly represented, then we won’t get too far. It’s like putting a band-aid over a gushing wound. Good for now, not enough for the long haul.
But let’s face it, the plight of the Deadheads is certainly not the first, last, or most severe. How many times have you seen infuriated stands for one’s beliefs when faced with an alternate view? It’s all around us. Change is scaring the shit out of everyone and in response, people are clinging on to what they know for dear life. Too often I see the idea of an opposing view taken so personally. As if by suggesting anything different is an act of rape against one’s beliefs. The result? A whole lot of nothing coupled with dangerous resentment for one another. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want is to live in a world where everyone is agreeable. I get bored too easily for that nonsense. Instead, I’d like to get back to a time (was there ever one?) where we could all respectfully disagree, throw some passion behind it, survive a few bumps and bruises, come to a solution, and keep at it. Nowadays, there’s a bit too much judgment and hatred thrown into that mix.
So, for all the Reasoners out there…
“I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It’s even worse than it appears
But it’s alright
Cows are giving kerosene
The kid can’t read at seventeen
The words he knows are all obscene
But it’s alright”
Touch of Grey
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Thank you to Deadheadland for reminding me about this video!
Sixty-eight years ago today, Jerome John Garcia was born in San Francisco, California to parents Joe and Ruth Marie “Bobbie” Garcia. About 23 years later, Jerome would be known as Jerry Garcia of the newly formed Grateful Dead, formerly the Warlocks. Just 30 years after that, Jerry would pass away inside a rehab facility, leaving behind a legacy of music, love, and community.
But today, we celebrate his birthday. This morning I picked up my copy of Dennis McNally’s A Long Strange Trip to brush up on the beginnings of the Garcia family. McNally’s description of Jerry’s youth reads more like adventure fiction of a San Franciscan boy’s life than a dry historical recounting of an icon’s upbringing. Perhaps this is why I immediately felt like I could relate to Jerry’s upbringing despite it being very different from my own. His story, and McNally’s telling of it, reveals the unquestionable truth that we are all molded and marked by the events in our life, especially in youth. If you looked back on your own life, you could pinpoint events, people, and places that have decided who you are today. Some are out of our hands, some seem magically fateful, and the rest eventually become our own choices.
Jerry was born in San Francisco, setting the stage for a life in curiosity and experimentation. His parents were both musicians and the interest naturally trickled down. In 1947, Jerry suffered two losses that would change enormously the course of his life. First, he lost the middle finger of his right hand in a wood chopping accident. His brother Clifford was accountable for the accident making it all the more unfortunate. Two months later, Joe Garcia would drown to his death while on a family vacation in Northern California. It’s hard to determine how much of the accident Jerry witnessed or what he remembered, but those facts are inconsequential when talking about the death of a young boy’s father.
With his father out of the picture, Jerry and his brother were left to rely on their mother who wasn’t a particularly nurturing, domesticated woman*. This made for a complicated relationship between Jerry and his mother, and left Jerry with confused notions about women, love, and trust. With his mother busy tending to her own art and to the family business, Jerry and his brother were left in the care of her parents, Tillie and Bill Clifford. Jerry was inclined towards Tille’s nature as a strong, charming woman who certainly had her influence.
Also having their influence on Jerry were a few “bohemian” teachers, one whom Jerry encountered in third grade, Miss Simon, and another in eighth grade, Dwight Johnson. Both entering his life at pivotal moments in childhood, they encouraged his artistic and literary curiosities. It may be owed to them that Jerry was able to freely develop his tastes for drawing, horror flicks, and rock and roll.
On his fifteenth birthday, Jerry’s mother bought him an accordion, not exactly the gift he’d been dreaming of. Fortunately for Jerry, (and for future audiences), his mother let him trade the accordion in for a guitar he’d been eyeing in a local pawnshop. Equipped with his own guitar and the instruments his father left behind, Jerry was on his way to changing the world of music.
It’s this perspective that brings more of an understanding and accessibility when I think of Jerry Garcia. I started thinking about the details of my own youth that influenced the person I am today and I noticed events intersecting with Jerry’s life. For example, I too experienced a disfiguring accident at the age of five (I believe Jerry was 4, soon to be 5). And my taste in music? Completely passed down to me from my parents, as was the case with Jerry. My intention isn’t to draw some connection between my life and Jerry’s, but rather to point out that every one of us has a beginning. August 1, 1942 was Jerry’s.
Happy birthday, Jerry.
References and Links
“The first I remember knowin’ was the lonesome whistle blowin’
And a youngun’s dream of growin’ up to ride.
On a freight train leavin’ town, not knowin’ where I was bound
No one changed my mind, but mama tried.
One and only rebel child from a family meek and mild
Mama seemed to know what lay in store
In spite of all my Sunday learnin’
For the bad I kept on turnin’ and mama couldn’t hold me anymore.”
*Fact is, none of us know what Bobbie Garcia was like as a mother. That topic can be left for the family to decide. Furthermore, I am not a mother so, I couldn’t possibly judge.
There’s always that one person who has a few too many at the party and pukes all over Mom’s new carpet. Before you know it, Mom’s pissed and the future of your epic house parties is crushed. Mom questions the people you hang out with and gives you the stink eye every time you crack open a beer. Consider the good ol’ times a thing of the past.
The puke-stained carpet leaves a lingering smell and begs the question, “Where is the line drawn?” Who’s to say that “that person” wasn’t enjoying themselves? As far as they knew, they were just on the party bandwagon with everyone else. But, to their misfortune, they will go down as the Lightweight. The Party Foul of the Year. The Ruiner of Good Times.
By now you might be wondering, “But Elizabeth, your days of underage drinking and house party mayhem are long behind you. Why the rant?” Well, I would say, it seems that this question extends beyond the years of high school and all the way to the parking lots of present day jam band concerts. No, I’m not talking about the misuse of pot or the ever-so-popular acid trip. Those drugs of choice seem to be okay. The problem, according to one Village Voice article, is nitrous oxide. More specifically and ever so dramatically, the problem is the Nitrous Mafia. Read the entire article by clicking here.
In short, the business of selling nitrous oxide from tanks in show parking lots has become quite popular and lucrative. The people running the N20 businesses however, are not so popular.
“‘It’s a sore on the scene,’ says Kevin Calabro, a Brooklyn-based publicist for jam bands. “It’s been taken over by dirtbags and Mafia punks. It used to be, in the old Dead days, that some hippies got their hands on a tank, and it was a mellow and loose kind of thing. Now it’s become some dirty-ass shit that’s too easy to abuse.'”
…”‘They’re sketchy,’ says one fan. “They’re shit,” says another. One fan cuts right to the point: “These guys don’t even know who Jerry Garcia is, and they never will.'”
Along with the illegal and immoral behavior sprouting from the Nitrous Mafia, my earlier concerns trouble me: who is deciding where to draw the line between what is and isn’t okay? Nitrous oxide was fine when it was just mellowed out hippies having a good time. Marijuana, LSD, and other drugs seem perfectly acceptable at these events. Is the distinction in who is selling and using? Hippies good, thugs bad? My guess is that the judgment lies in how bad the consequences are. However, the fact is, anyone involved in any of these activities, is breaking the law.
Ah yes, the Law. That’s where the line is suppose to be drawn. The law doesn’t always quite work for us though does it? Not if we’re a pot loving hippie who just wants to enhance the show experience and dance with other hippies. So, we get around the law and push the line further away by justifying what we would like to do as being harmless and in good spirit. Suddenly, the law doesn’t apply to us. As for you nitrous-selling, non-hippie folks, the law must be obeyed.
“…a vigilante group called the Wrecking Crew, born out of the Grateful Dead Family—fans who followed the band, year after year—retaliated by smashing up a truck with Pennsylvania tags and leading chants of “NO NITROUS!” to a chorus of festivalgoers.”
You see how this line pushing is getting a little messy…
Do I equate smoking a little pot with the behavior of the Nitrous Mafia? Absolutely not. In an ideal world pot would be legal, drugs wouldn’t be abused, and everyone could safely and happily enjoy the show. Thanks to a few Ruiner of Good Times, that just isn’t the case. So, what happens when we don’t agree with the law and the law doesn’t agree with us? Do we stand up to the powers that be and make our own rules or do we respect the law of the land, regardless? Or maybe, we just turn the attention to someone who’s doing a worse job at breaking the law than us. That seems fair, right?
Comment below or email me at email@example.com.
Resources and Links
“If the game is lost, then we’re all the same
No one left to place or take the blame
We will leave this place an empty stone
Or that shining ball of blue we call our home
So the kids, they dance, they shake their bones
And the politicians throwing stones
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down
Ashes, ashes, all fall down”
Two weeks ago I went to my first Futhur show. You’ve heard about my first parking lot (click here if you haven’t), but I’ve kept you waiting to hear about my first show experience, past the gates. Please accept my apologies. I promise, I’d write to you every day if I could.
As I mentioned a few posts ago, the show at MCU Park on June 27th was not my first time seeing a show of reunited Grateful Dead members. It was, however, the first time I was aware of what I was a part of. The Grateful Dead and their music have been in and out of my life since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until the birth of this blog that I began to appreciate and understand the music. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, but there’s a lot to be said for the innate way in which the Dead’s music pulls me in. Simply put, it’s a part of me. And now, I want to be a part of it and that’s what this journey is about.
So, we get inside the park and choose a spot on the field about midway back from the stage. I was surprised by the intimate size of the venue and maybe even relieved. I wanted to be with a crowd, not lost in one. Not on this night. On this night all I wanted was to watch Phil Lesh and Bob Weir in all their glory. This was my chance to acknowledge them and thank them. I wouldn’t be shaking their hands and telling them how much their music has meant to me, but I would be there in front of them celebrating the music, its history, and its continuation. And a celebration it was…
They started the show with a lively rendition of Golden Road that infected the whole crowd. For me, it set the vibe for the whole night and continued with one of my favorites, Good Lovin’. At this point I must have looked like a giddy kid in the candy store of all candy stores. Can you blame me? Finally, I was here. Forget reading about the Grateful Dead or listening to historic shows of the past. I was in the middle of it, the here and now. And that was possible because of Lesh and Weir. Yes, there is more to Furthur than these two, and I recognize that. But at this show, I only had eyes and ears for them.
I was in true awe of the two frontmen. Lesh, 70, and Weir, 62, have been touring for 45 years. Forty-five years! For 45 years they have devoted everything they have to making music and more importantly, sharing that music. I’ve always admired the stamina and endurance, both physically and emotionally, it must take for any musician to tour, perform, write, sell, entertain, etc., for any prolonged amount of time. But, 45 years!? Clearly, I’m still baffled over this. Baffled and incredibly grateful.
When I wasn’t oogling the stage, I was fascinated by the crowd. The tireless dancing, the acid trips, the uninhibited mingling… it was amazing. In this respect I have to admit, I felt like a bit of an outsider. I too was dancing and feeling the music, but I certainly wasn’t uninhibited. Like I said in my previous post, I made the decision to go sober (with the exception of a few beers). By the second set, I was craving to be on a ‘different level’, but stuck with my decision. I’ve gone the other route before and this time I wanted to experience the show with a clear head. Next time… could be a different story.
After the show came the encore, Box of Rain. After that, the fireworks. Walking back to the train, Coney Island was flooded with Deadheads and a palpable post-show high. Once on the train, my friends and I looked over the set lists and swapped thoughts. From Brooklyn, through Manhattan, and back into Queens, I replayed the show in my head. The next morning at work, low on sleep, I was still in my post-show glow. Even now, recounting it, I still get that feeling.
The best part? Listening to the show on archive.org and being able to say, ‘I was there.’
“Well, everybody’s dancing in a ring around the sun
Nobody’s finished, we ain’t even begun
So take off your shoes, child
And take off your hat
Try on your wings
And find out where it’s at”
The Golden Road
On July 4th, 1989 the Grateful Dead held a show at what was then known as Rich Stadium in Buffalo, NY. Several reviews refer to this show, and the rest of the tour, as one of the Dead’s best in their last 15 years on stage. In 2005 the CD and DVD recordings of this Independence Day show were released as Truckin’ Up To Buffalo.
What better way to celebrate this day than with one of the best personifications of Americana? You can listen and download this show for free by clicking here.
So, consider this your July 4th, 2010 soundtrack and come back here to share your thoughts and celebrations. If my recommendation isn’t enough, check out these reviews:
Tomorrow, someone I love very much is deploying to Afghanistan to serve and protect this country. Please keep him and all the other servicemen and women in your thoughts.
Happy Independence Day…
“Red and white, blue suede shoes
I’m Uncle Sam, how do you do
Gimme five, still alive
Ain’t no luck, I learned to duck
Check my pulse, it don’t change
Stay seventy two, come shine or rain
Wave the flag, pop the bag
Rock the boat, skin the goat
Wave that flag, wave it wide and high
Summertime done come and gone, my oh my
I’m Uncle Sam, that’s who I am
Been hiding out, in a rock and roll band
Shake the hand that shook the hand
Of P. T. Barnum and Charlie Chan
Shine your shoes, light your fuse
Can you use them old U.S. Blues
I’ll drink your health, share your wealth
Run your life, steal your wife
Back to back, chicken shack
Son of a gun, better change your act
We’re all confused, what’s to lose
You can call this song the United States Blues”
Last Sunday I hopped on the N train for a 90 minute ride to Coney Island’s MCU Park. There aren’t many reasons you would find me in Brooklyn, but Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and the rest of Furthur are pretty damn good reasons. So, I took a seat, plugged in the headphones, wore dad’s Europe ’72 shirt proudly, and enjoyed the ride. By 5pm I was stepping off the train with perma-grin across my face and a stomach begging for a cold beer and hot dog.
I met Greg, my fellow Deadhead co-worker, and his longtime friend at Nathan’s Famous for some pre-show fuel. Other than the shirtless crazy woman one table over, everyone seemed to be rocking a Grateful Dead or Furthur shirt. I felt similar to how I feel when I’m in the middle of Little Italy among fellow Italians – at home. But, the famous hot dog joint was not as homey as it would get. A few blocks down the parking lot thrived…
Hippie merchandise, open grills, fresh vegan burrito wraps, ice cold beer, old school buses, music, Deadheads abound… heaven on earth it was. What was most refreshing was when Greg told me the parking lot scene really hasn’t changed much (Greg’s been to over 100 Grateful Dead shows…oh envy!). I’m sure there are people who would say different, depending what era they experienced, but I have a feeling it’s more of a question of how much your own experience has or hasn’t changed. Everything is what you make of it, right? Whatever the case, the parking lot at MCU park was Deadhead bliss and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
We strolled the lot for a while oogling homemade goodies and taking in the vibes. I kept wondering, ‘where are these people in my every day!? Why aren’t you around me all the time!?’. I’ve lived in New York City for five years now so, I’m pretty fond of and familiar with our diversity. Yet, it took me by surprise to see so many local Deadheads, or some genus of Deadhead, in one place. And the diversity of the crowd was pretty spectacular to be around. If you feel like an outsider here, you’re not seeing what’s in front of you.
This wasn’t my first time at a ‘Dead’ show. I saw The Other Ones in high school on two different occasions, but Sunday’s show was the first time I felt present. Some of this is owed to my choice to go [mostly] sober and some to my, albeit brief, time in the parking lot. At previous shows I somehow bypassed the lot and went straight into the venue. It was in the lot where I got to acknowledge everyone and recognize the place we were all about to go together. Without that, you might as well be at home listening through headphones. And when you have Bob Weir and Phil Lesh still live on stage surrounded by hundreds of passionate Deadheads sharing the same love, which would you choose, your iTunes playlist or the pre-show parking lot?
Next time, I’d definitely like to road trip it to a show and really settle down in the parking lot. Share some beer, turn on the radio, talk to the neighbors, get on the bus… hit the road… abandon responsibility…
K, I’m awake now.
I’ll stop myself from over-excited, senseless babble and make this post a two or three-parter. Later, I’ll share my first Furthur experience inside the walls of MCU which for me, felt like the first meeting between long distance pen pals. I hope you come back to hear the rest of my story and as always, I hope to hear your own stories. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Sometimes we live no particular way but our own
And sometimes we visit your country and live in your home
Sometimes we ride on your horses, sometimes we walk alone
Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own”
Eyes of the World