Grateful Dead

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Started there...made it to here...headin' for over yonder...

6-27-93
Morning after my 25th anniversary Grateful Dead Show - RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

How would I explain to my son and his heirs the reasons I leave his five-year-old world to travel to something he knows as "The Grateful Dead"? Why these curious preparations - jacket with pins & patches; odd t-shirts; beaded ancient necklace and these books? Why my excitement and why his mommy's chagrin, unease?

There must be many ways to start to answer - one is to say that every so often a man's gotta dance hard and sweat like a meat-eater to a rhythm he loves and songs he holds dear...

I live so much in the light of the mind and my daily physical lethargy that these explosive outbursts of physical, sensual energy are dear.

And because in some ways the Grateful Dead experience and allied encounters are pretty much what remains of things that were important when I was forming as a young man, twenty-five and more years ago when I lay in my parents' house, my home, and listened to the first Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow stacked on my monophonic hi-fi, the summer I turned 20 - 1967- and listened to musicians do things with music which I never had considered before - pushed boundaries, opened new doors in old forms (especially in Viola Lee Blues). My life was encountering the limitless potential that the present holds at 20 and here was its soundtrack.

And amazingly here I am 25 years later and the band is still playing and the dances are still danced and it's quite all right for a middling-age coot like me to join in with the youngsters and share in their excitement and discovery and celebration that the universe is a miraculous and a dangerous place, and that singing and dancing its joys and sorrows, ecstasies and defiances in groups come together ritually is a good thing, and maybe a necessary one.

And there is in my blood and in the myths of my parents' lore the family pioneer spirit, the frontier imperative, the draw towards and over the boundary in confidence of one's own ability to meet the challenges there with the wisdom of experience and the boldness of a restless, inquisitive mind and the reliance that one's hands can grapple, one's feet can carry, one's back can bear, and one's mind can understand and guide the others in the task.

I think of those pioneer ancestors who were not content to settle, but when they did took solace and strength from their celebratory, re-creational communities - barn dances, hoe-downs, wedding parties and Saturday Nights on the town and in my time I look at the "cosmic pioneers" around me, discovering and creating the present and the next millennium, sojourners on the great wave of incredible changes that is our time, and explorers and discoverers, Lewis and Clarks of their own psyches.

Which brings me to drugs. In the beginning, yes, there were the drugs. And yes, they worked their charms then for better or for worse and how I see things and think of them inescapably has been affected. For many Deadheads the drugs are the point- to alter their chemistry and revel in it in a safe and pretty and dedicated environment - but not for me, for nearly 20 years. It's not the drug experience I go to encounter, because I believe I pushed that as far as I could long ago and to continue would be variations on an old, if interesting, still-not-furthering theme.

Then why do I go, in short?

Because at a Dead show I encounter my youth, my old self and memories of my growth, memories of when my love, too, would walk with me and dance with me at these shows. I guess it would be a touch of nostalgia because I long to share those things again. But I don't long for that past and I'm certainly not trying to recapture it for longer than a passing, smiling nod. The music is all new, and I go for the present (in every sense of the word), to hear and see performed live, in all good companie, lyrics and music I treasure and that is wound around and within the deepest places my heart and spirit cherish: respect for the planet and the others on it, love when it's possible, awareness that all can be lost and the abyss descended yet climbed again, encounter with the great Other and an abiding optimism that there's nothing one can face that beats out love and kindness and charity. I go to be reminded, and, with others, to affirm.

Days Inn, Capitol Centre, D.C., 7-8 AM

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ace1