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Confessions of a Covert Deadhead

First in a continuing series.

Okay, so, I know you're already rolling your eyes and scrolling down to see what's next. But wait! There's actually real value in what I have to say. So hear me out and then you can go check out what's new in disco or whatever.

I've always loved the kind of music the Dead played. My father used to take us to go see bluegrass shows at a state park on weekends and it wasn't a big leap 'til my older brother fell for the Dead. He toured; he even took the old man to a show (the only time they played in Hershey, PA, in 1985). My dad loved it.

I fell for them in early high school. I remember one of the cool kids in my study hall saying to the rest of the honors class, "I bet out of all of you, she's the only one that can name a Dead song that's not on the Greatest Hits album." He was right.

Then came college and Deadheads galore. There actually weren't a ton of us at my school, which was primarily made up of first-generation college-goers with strong Catholic backgrounds. So we hung out with the Goths and the punks and the Morrissey-heads and got along fine.

But there was a defining moment for me, a moment when I truly gained insight into what this Dead thing was all about, and there weren't even any drugs involved.

I was living at Roscoe and Seeley, and there was this street fair. And one of the acts was a Dead cover band, so I went around the corner to check it out. And as I stood among the dancers as they twirled and contorted themselves, I got hit by a thought. I remembered that sound never goes away, that it's always traveling, that the more noise we make, the louder the universe gets. And I thought of all the awful noises we put into the cosmos - construction and yelling and fighting and war noises, but here I was and someone was making a joyful noise, and I thought "Yes! This is it! We have to drown out the ugliness with joy!" And I began to move my feet and dance and a bond was made that has sometimes gone into deep freeze, but has never been broken.

I saw the Dead two more times with Jerry, and one without, with Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers Band (good, but different), and then I buried the Deadhead inside me. No tie-dyes or backless shirts. No long flowing dresses or skirts. No Dead decorations. I successfully removed every trace of them.

I think too much of me had been bound up in them, and I needed some space. For whatever reason, I lived Dead-free for three years. Maybe because it was something I'd shared with my ex, and I just wanted to start fresh.

So I went back to being the normal, hopefully slightly edgy kid I'd been in college. Camo and black and Converse high-tops. And I was happy with that for three years.

Until I moved someplace where Deadheads gather to enjoy the music of, well, I don't want to call them a cover band, because they're just plain better than that, but a band that plays the Dead and does it fantastically. They call themselves "Uncle John's Band," but never play that particular tune. And they have become not just my entertainment, but my friends. Lead guitarist John, who has played with Phil Lesh, is, without question, one of the most talented guitarists I've ever had the privilege to listen to. Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Rich has a great range, from sweet croon to screaming blues. Bassist Mike, one of my best friends down here, puts on a show like you could only dream of. Drummers Dan and Jamie complement one another to an amazing degree. And keyboardist Art hammers away on his keys like there's no tomorrow. Together, they make magic.

My tie-dyes and backless shirts have come out of storage. There are Dead stickers on my car. I can easily set the Deadhead in me aside, when occasion calls for it. But it's time to tell the truth. Edgy though I may seem, I'm a full-blown, committed Deadhead.

It's hard to pick one song from each show to talk about, but after a beautiful rendition of "Terrapin Station" this evening, I think I'll wax poetic about that one. Now, the link will take you directly to "Terrapin Station," which is an epic song, with miles of verses. The Dead did not perform all those verses, sticking to Suite One, which includes Lady With a Fan, Terrapin Station, and At a Siding, the lyrics of which are on dead.net. The Suite always begins with Lady With a Fan, which is not listed in their lyrics base but sets the scene for what comes later. It's an integral part of the song, and furthermore, it's a joy to listen to because it's much like hearing a bedtime story. I'm going to share it with you, since dead.net doesn't, and you'll see what I mean.

Let my inspiration flow
in token rhyme suggesting rhythm
That will not forsake me
till my tale is told and done

While the fire lights aglow
strange shadows from the flames will grow
Till things we've never seen
will seem familiar

Shadows of a sailor forming
winds both foul and fair, all swarm
Down in Carlisle he loved a lady
many years ago

Here beside him stands a man
a soldier from the looks of him
Who came through many fights
but lost at love

While the storyteller speaks
a door within the fire creaks,
Suddenly flies open
and a girl is standing there

Eyes alight, with glowing hair
all that fancy paints as fair
She takes her fan and throws it
in the lion's den

Which of you to gain me, tell
will risk uncertain pains of hell?
I will not forgive you
if you will not take the chance

The sailor gave at least a try
the soldier, being much too wise,
Strategy was his strength
and not disaster

The sailor, coming out again
the lady fairly leapt at him
That's how it stands today
You decide if he was wise

The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
His job is to shed light
and not to master

Since the end is never told
we paid the teller off in gold
In hopes he will come back
but he cannot be bought or sold

Read that, then go into "Terrapin Station." There's this wonderful story being told, to music, no less, and you just can't help first swaying, then dancing.

An interesting side note: legend has it there was a terrible storm in the San Francisco area one night, and long-time Dead lyricist Robert Hunter got an urge to sit down and write these lyrics. Unbeknownst to him, across town Jerry Garcia had a sudden urge to sit down and write this song. When they met the next day, Hunter told Garcia, "I have a song for you." Garcia replied "I have the music for it." They were almost a perfect match. With a little tweaking, this became a favorite of many fans, and one of their best-known songs.

The album Terrapin Station is not considered one of their best, but then again, few of their studio albums could convey the feeling behind the music. Other tracks on the album worth checking out are "Estimated Prophet" and "Fire on the Mountain."

And that's the Dead for this week. Next week I'll be away on the night of the show, but the following will bring yet another song to light.

*

P.S. Some Deadheads are real assholes. Others are total burnouts. But the majority of us are good people who look out for one another, always have a hug for a friend, and just want to dance. Contrary to popular belief, it's not all about the drugs.

*

COMMENTS:

1. From Jerry Pritikin:

Back in the spring of 1965, there was an upstairs downtown gay bar in San Francisco called the Rendezvous, at 567 Sutter Street. On Sunday afternoon, their traditional sing-a-longs, Mitch Miller-style, were not drawing more than 25 older patrons, and they decided they needed a new "sound" to attract the younger gay crowd from Berkeley or Stanford. So they hired a couple of rock bands to alternate for a few Sundays. There was no cover charge and beers in a bottle cost 25 cents. A lid (not measured - a handful in a baggie) of pot cost seven bucks and papers were a nickel! One of the bands was called The Neighborhood Children and the other was . . . The Grateful Dead! The crowd swelled to 75!

I remember during a break when the Dead were performing there that I decided to take a walk and smoke a number, and as I was turning the corner on Sutter and Mason Streets, I bumped into two uniform San Francisco policemen . . . and one said to me "Got any extra?"

By late 1965, the Dead were playing at the Fillmore West* and Winterland for New Year's Eve. And the sing-a-longs at the Rendezvous were history. A short time later, I was spending much of my time in the Haight-Ashbury and at free concerts in Golden Gate Park, and survived the Summer of Love and became a "Peacemonger" by the end of the '60s. I took in "A Day on the Green" with the Dead and another band (had "and the Pirates" in their name) at the Oakland Coliseum in '71 and a sellout crowd of over 60,000 fans paid as much as $8 a ticket!

* Got to see a Chicago band there called "The Flock" at the Fillmore West and my ears were never the same since . . .



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Posted on November 5, 2007


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