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!”
I'm sorry to read this, Blair. I rarely commented on your blog but have read every one in the last year or so, and I've immensely enjoyed your liner notes to the various releases, not to mention An American Life. I hope that we'll encounter your insights in some other forum. It seems to me that your writing has always shown the emotional, very human connection to this music, and I'll miss that. My favorite example would be the liner notes to the Formerly the Warlocks boxset, in which I found myself in your shoes, walking around that lake in Oakland with your walkman, getting goosebumps along with the audience (20 years later!) that heard the opening notes of the revived "Dark Star". You will truly be missed around here.
It seems like you just got started on this blog business and you're already signing off! I read every dispatch and I will miss these insightful digressions and the lively commentary generated. Your strength is in the addition of giant doses of context. I hope you still plan to chime in with some liner notes now and again. How else will we know the backstory?
Maybe now you can break free of the conflict of selling product vs. critical discussion of the music. I don't know if that ever bothered you. I could not have done it. But you made a great cheerleader, and your voice will be missed, even if I did not always agree when opinions were offered. What is next? Tell us, please.
I'm really going to miss your postings, lots of insights. Also, I was just going through some of the bonus tracks on the "All Good Things" box and thinking how great the selections were. It's been a while since I've looked at the liner notes, but I forget your were involved with that project.
As for Road Trips, I bought all but two of them (I was under-employeed for the ones I missed). Although I prefer full shows, I can appreciate the "snap shot in time" approach. In fact, today, before I saw this post, I grabbed a bunch of non-full-show Road Trips CDs with the intention of listening to them in the non-full-show approach I usually do.
It would be great if Dead.net instituted a rotating column where people could submit essays that would be featured. I would love to see the various topics that would come of this.
for a real good time!
i too waited for your blog. as much as i love this site, not much can happen for a few days, or more. your thoughts and columns were definitely worth the wait. i'm sure we will see your comments in various places on this site.
now, i would really like dead.net to find someone else to continue some type of regular blog. it could be more than 1 person. i'd really like to see more interesting articles, interviews, stories, etc. the more you put out there, the more folks will stop by and visit.
thanks again, blair...
Enjoyed your writing.
This is sad news. Reading your blog every week had become one of my life's favorite little pleasures. Nothing lasts :(
What a depressing turn of events this is. Each week I looked forward to the insights, to the knowledge, and all the creative twists and turns this feature provided. Your writing and inspiration will be missed Blair. The light on the party just became a little dimmer. Thanks for the ride, I enjoyed it. I protest this decision, make no mistake. I call for the Golden Road to be unlimited. But alas, I fear my cries fall upon deaf ears. Nothing lasts forever- and some good things, don't last long at all.