Blair’s Golden Road Blog: Here’s Where the Rainbow Ends
By Blair Jackson
Nearly two years and 90 blogs ago, we embarked on a remarkable mutual journey through the world of the Dead. At times, writing Blair’s Golden Road Blog and contributing regular features to Dead.net has felt like a wonderful continuation of putting out The Golden Road, the spirited Dead ’zine my wife, Regan, and I put out between 1984 and 1993.
Writing for this space, I’ve been able to freely explore an incredible variety of topics relating to the Grateful Dead and all the impressive surviving offshoots thriving today. I’ve had the opportunity to interview at length so many fantastic musicians from Furthur, Phil & Friends, RatDog and Mickey’s and Bill’s groups—all of them incredibly nice and interesting folks. These are all truly special people who have been touched by that GD mojo. I’ve been privileged to write about a mind-blowing array of transformative events, from Bob’s transfixing meld with the Marin Symphony, to various New Year’s extravaganzas, Phil’s remarkable 70th birthday concert, Wavy Gravy’s 75th, the Global Drum Project, various magical Rex benefits and so many more. We’ve talked about Dead-related books, movies and videos, debated myriad big and small issues related to the Dead Head community, and gone off on all sorts of strange and colorful tangents. And there was also a fairly large dose of nostalgia—memories, reflections, opinions shared and sometimes battled over.
This week’s column marks the end of Blair’s Golden Road Blog, and I want to sincerely thank you all for your input these past two years. To be honest, when I started the blog, I was worried that the discussions it would prompt might devolve into the sometimes bitter and acrimonious back-and-forth that is so common in discussion groups all over the Internet. I completely understand that this is the way of the modern world, but I don’t have to approve of it! Can’t we all just get along? Yes, we can can!
But I/we lucked out! The responses to nearly every topic I broached in the blog were informative, thoughtfully presented and remarkably free of invective. What a collection of stories you’ve shared with us — insightful, funny, scary, crazy; the whole emotional spectrum. Thanks for being so damn cool! You also have my eternal gratitude for turning me on to your favorite shows, CDs and other inspiring things that brighten your lives. For a guy who is supposedly an “expert” on all this, I have huge humbling gaps in my knowledge—hundreds of shows and even a few entire tours I’ve never heard a note from, sad to say. I’ve taken copious notes from your suggestions and they should keep me busy for a long time to come. And with any luck, you’ve learned a few things from me and your fellow fans along the way. Lord, you know we made a fine connection!
The Grateful Dead has been in the foreground of my life since I first saw the band in 1970 (talk to high school buddies I tortured with endless spins of Live Dead, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty!), but most intensely since the beginning of the ’80s, when my show-going increased dramatically (thanks to the Dead playing at the Greek, Frost, Ventura, etc.) and wrote my first book about the band, The Music Never Stopped. The feedback that book elicited (dozens of hand-written letters; remember that art form?) led directly to my starting The Golden Road, which dominated nine amazing years of Regan’s and my life. That, in turn, prompted Viking Books to ask me to write Garcia: An American Life following Jerry’s death, a project that affected me more emotionally than any in my career. Its success led to other books (such as Grateful Dead Gear) and to a number of liner notes writing assignments, and even some production work on Grateful Dead and Garcia releases — If An American Life was my favorite project of the post-Grateful Dead era, the box set, All Good Things: Jerry Garcia Studio Sessions, was a close second. To be in a top-flight professional recording studio day after day for months, listening to hour after hour of Jerry in action was powerfully overwhelming. God, I miss Jerry.
It was also an honor to work on the 17-volume Road Trips series with David Lemieux, who has been creatively steering the Good Ship Grateful Dead through both calm and stormy waters in the post-Garcia era and has consistently done magnificent work to keep the flame alive. I was, frankly, disappointed that Road Trips was critically lambasted in some circles, but I stand by every choice that was made and I continue to believe that a strong anthology can be every bit the equal of a single hot show release. Happily, the Dave’s Picks series seems to be working for just about everyone. Another highlight for me was penning the main essay for The Complete Europe ’72 megabox. That was such a special world to live in for the months it took to put together.
Sometimes I feel as though my life has been one very long Grateful Dead show. There are jamming songs and short tunes, rockers and ballads, smooth transitions and noisy train wrecks; songs I don’t want to hear, others that arrive at the perfect moment, “space” that baffles and soothes; long lines, lots of waiting around and bathroom breaks; dashed expectations and miracles beyond wonder.
At some point around 40 years ago, “Playing in the Band” started rattling around in my head, and stayed there. There have been a thousand offshoots from that theme, but it never disappears completely, and the variations are unending. Like waves upon the sand.
I’ve long embraced the concept that the sound of the Grateful Dead, and their songs, are always out there, floating in the ether, and all we do is just lock onto it/them for brief or long periods, as we ourselves move through time and space. It’s all one “Dark Star,” one “Playing in the Band,” from the early days through the post-Jerry years, and we enter that zone both alone and together. Where does the time go? It’s right there, unfolding before you. How does the song go? Just like you think it does.
Take care, everybody! No doubt I’ll see you again a few exits down The Golden Road. In the immortal words of counterculture sage Scoop Nisker, “Question authority and question reality. Stay high but keep your priorities straight.”
And as my eternal role model, the ever-optimistic Tigger, put it, “Ta-ta for now!”
Always looked forward to your blogs every week. A lot of interesting and insightful stuff over the past two years. I've been a fan of your writings ever since I got on the bus in '83. You will be greatly missed. Blair, I wish you and your family nothing but health and happiness in whatever and wherever the Golden Road takes you. Stop back and say hey once and awhile. Thanks for not just the past two, but the past 30+ years of taking us inside this band of misfits that keep following me around.
Peace, Love and the Grateful Dead................
Thoroughly informative and entertaining post, Blair. Blessings 'be' to you and yours!
I have really enjoyed the blog and have always looked forward to reading your words. You help make this a community as well, acknowledging us as fellow travelers on the scene and valuing our words and thoughts as well. See you around, you keep popping up in my worlds for the past 30 years just like the music of the Good Old Grateful Dead. I still have my complete collection of The Golden Road and your books. Peace and best to you and your family and good luck on your future endeavors.
Can't say I followed your blog like some of the other people who have posted, and I rarely commented upon them. But still, I enjoyed the ones that I read and your blog is pretty much the only reason I would check in around here.
So, thanks for the entertaining and sometimes thought provoking work, and best of luck with whatever future projects you pursue.
I noticed your blog rather late in the game. It was always upbeat and interesting. I found it to have quite a different tone than the rest of the dead.net comment sections. I tend to peruse the announcements and comments on new music offerings and those have such a similar arc for virtually every release. After the initial euphoria, there is normally a lot of griping and sniping about sound quality, music quality, and of course, shipping and customer service issues. While the topics are different there, and obviously there are no customer service issues to be addressed here, it was remarkable to me that the discourse almost always stayed civil and respectful. I can't be a coincidence that happened so often here and so infrequently at other forums on dead.net. I blame you, and I mean that as a very big compliment! You have fostered a community that shares opinions on subjects where most of us have strong ones, yet the atmosphere stayed true to the spirit that I used to find at Dead shows when I first started going (1978 in, uh, Syracuse). Anyway, thanks for the insights, the good vibe and the interesting topics.
...and that family trip to Tahiti.
It was nice to have real time insight from somebady close to the band and a longtime fan.
Hope you can pop back in once in a while Blair Jackson. Always enjoy reading your blogs! Will there be somebody else taking over?
Can't tell you how much I've enjoyed reading your work. I was an avid on-tour collector of the Golden Road and I've enjoyed every word since. Reading this blog has been a joy and I'll miss checking in to see what you've decided to write about next and the many conversations and memories it might inspire. You have been (and will continue to be, I have no doubt) an integral part of the Grateful Dead landscape. Till we meet again, Blair, stay happy, stay healthy.
Great job on the blog! Your insightful, thoughtful, happy, and grateful words on all things dead along with the discussion that followed were one of the only reasons I even opened up my internet browser. Gotta find something else now to look toward in the clouded world of delusion that is cyber space.
I would give you that Pulitzer Prize if I could. You are a great writer and an amazing community-builder. I am very grateful.