When the tickets arrived and I laid my hands on those intricately designed pieces of art, it was really the 1st glimmer that I may have made a poor choice, even if it was for the right reasons. I sent them off to my friend and sealed my fate with missing out on the upcoming epic weekend. I didn’t really think about the shows much that week leading up to them; I had only glanced at the setlists from Santa Clara. I made no effort to listen to the shows, and I only skimmed the content on Deadwood. No use in pouring salt on the wound, I guess. Friday rolled around and I had wrapped up my work for the day. I decided to put on the Grateful Dead channel on Sirius and I hear David Gans, Gary Lambert and Jonathan Schwartzman. That little chill you get before a good time started to creep in. I figured I might as well listen to the shows. Why not after all.
I put the channel on my phone so I could walk the dog. I turned it up as loud as I could since I didn’t want to wear headphones and started to walk. They hadn’t gone on yet, but they had gone on stage. Then Phil breaks into Box of Rain – the last song played in Chicago 20 years ago as you all know – and I felt a tear roll down my face. It sunk in that I should be there. It sunk in that I was a Deadhead, even though I had never seen the real thing. As I walked along the streets of Boulder with my phone blasting, people were out on to their various Friday night events. Most paid no attention to me. Some turned to me and smiled; did they know what I was listening to? Did they too wish they were in Chicago?
When Jack Straw came on I felt another rush of energy go through my body. This time it wasn’t feeling sorry for myself for not being there, but positive emotion for deciding to listen, for loving this band for so long, for helping out a friend. When they got to the verse, “Leaving Texas, 4th day of July,” the emotion struck another chord. Here it was 4th of July weekend, and mere months ago I finished my PhD at Texas A&M. The lyrics of the band are woven into my personal tapestry in so many ways. All the trepidations of Trey’s role were alleviated when I heard him take lead on Bertha. The frontman for the band that kickstarted my profound love of music and the need to see it live was bringing the emotion back full tilt. As I started my return home on my walk, it was like a wave of catharsis and ecstasy rolling through my mind and body.
While I wished I had not made the decision to give up my tickets, I knew it was the intelligent thing for me to do. Upon returning to my house, I put the show on my stereo and made the decision to stream the rest of the weekend. While I couldn’t be there in body, I would be there in spirit. I remember vividly years ago as an undergrad that I would have dreams about having seen the Dead or having figured out some way to do so even though Jerry had died. Obviously I awoke disappointed, but I cannot discount the wave of positive sensations I must have felt in those deep slumbers. This weekend I would reincarnate those feelings, only I would be awake to do so. Fully aware this was not the Jerry Garcia-led-Dead, but also fully aware that I needed to appreciate it for what it was – a celebration of music that has colored my life for the better for so many years. Now it is time to get reacquainted with that Deadhead spirit that has been idle in me for 20 years.
This may have been best realized during Let it Grow when Bobby shouted, “I am, I am, I am, I am.” I am a Deadhead. And while they billed the shows as the last performance of the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, by the way the music sounded, and from what I gathered from talking heads and editorials, the boys appeared to be having fun on stage together. It wouldn’t be a disappointment if they decided to play together again – after all, they were simply celebrating 50 years of great music and culture. I think numerous fans out there would be thrilled to see that band out on the road again. That goes without saying. Don’t write a check your butt can’t cash so goes the saying. Well, here’s to hoping the bank won’t take the deposit. Here’s to hoping maybe I will get to see them play together. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
An interesting thing to consider after this weekend is the ramifications it will have on so many people and objects of pop culture. I’m old enough, and the millennials are young enough, that they may never have heard of the Grateful Dead before the last few months. Surely everyone knows about them now, as well they should. I’d reckon that there isn’t a musical performer that hasn’t been at least indirectly touched by their music; perhaps some crappy pop artist’s favorite musician was a Deadhead. But all of the hullabaloo’s connective tissue will spread for a while. How will it inspire the fans in attendance and those that either watch or listened online? What impact will there be on tangential bands who operate in the spirit of the Dead with their lengthy tours, improvisational jamming and forays off into the deepest corners of our subculture?
I was watching the CBS evening news on Friday, July 3rd and they were talking about how security was being ramped up across the nation to be on guard against any terrorist threats. They named a couple key national events taking place; one of the three they mentioned were the Grateful Dead shows in Chicago. The Empire State Building in NYC did a choreographed light show on July 4th to the Dead’s U.S. Blues. I was wearing a Dead shirt on Sunday, July 5th when I went to the local burrito parlor to get some dinner before the (hopefully not) final show. The early-twenties girl at the register asked me if I went to the last shows in Santa Clara. I said I had not, but had been listening to the ones in Chicago all weekend. She responded, “Yea, I heard they’ve been pretty good. I’ll have to check out their music.” So clearly the Dead’s reach is still strong. Maybe new Deadheads can still be born. I’m glad I finally acknowledged my Dead identity. I’ve always been on the bus, it’s just now I’m finally looking out the window.