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!”