It’s 20 years since I’ve been to a Dead show. But on the eve of the Dead’s reunion tour, it’s time to come out.
This summer, Dead members Phil, Bob, Bill, Mickey and Bruce, practiced and prepared with Jeff and Trent (a (tie) dyed in the wool younger Jerry) to go on the road. I’ve been pumped up, and not just a little excited. Last week, two dreams sent me a message of joy and healing.
I’m running toward a house that’s being remodeled – the window frames painted purple! – In preparation for the show. I am skipping along like my eighteen-year-old self – energetic and buoyed with anticipation!
The reunion is big news. Millions of dollars will be earned. Snarky commentators claim that the two-city tour (Chicago and Santa Clara) is the Dead’s ‘pension plan’ but I’m going out on a limb here. We need a miracle. The timing couldn’t be better.
I was fifteen at my first Dead show. 1969. Fillmore East, late show. I was asleep one-half hour into the Dark Star space jam.
Fast forward. Fillmore East 1971. Was it my connection with “Workingman’s Dead” or my willingness to imbibe that which I had flirted with but feared? Nonetheless, I fell madly, passionately in love with the Dead. Yes, I was ‘under the influence’ of Osley’s special “sure to bring enlightenment” tabs. And yes Pigpen and the band made sexy, delicious love to my mind with “Turn on Your Love Light.”
After the show, I was sure that I had been “reborn.” A cliché, but the truth is, I don’t think I would have ever been a poet or a writer without that experience. That show blasted open my mind and my expectations. It blasted apart rules and about what I – what our entire generation – could say and do. (Don’t forget that Steve Jobs was an acid taking Deadhead himself. Remember ‘Think Different?”)
It’s not a stretch to say that the band also helped to heal an injured part of my soul by providing a connection to something large and deep. Those early years were difficult ones for me. I’d lost my father at eleven and my mother was emotionally absent. Dead shows were my happy place. My miracle.
In 1972, I told my mother I was ‘going to California for six months.
Those six months turned into the rest of my life.
I had a new group of Berkeley Deadhead friends now. Jake and Michael Star, Sonya and Arthur and Jeff and Gary Cherry and the Angels of Light performance troupe. We went to shows, we dropped acid, we sold handmade jewelry on Telegraph Avenue. I wrote poems. We went to Dead shows. Stanford, Kezar stadium, the Fillmore West.
Much as I would have liked to stay in that particular bubble, I was a budding poet. Strengthened by the feminist community’s support to ‘come out as an artist,’ the powers that be were rallying behind me – publishing my work and organizing readings. My poem, “Strong and Free” was recorded by the most popular feminist rock n’ roll band of the early 70’s and aired nationally. But the feminist community had no interest in trucking with the Grateful Dead.
I was out of the Dead scene for nine years.
I met Debbie at a women’s business networking conference in 1983. Her accounting skills were just what I needed for my new energy conservation company. And Debbie was a Deadhead. A lesbian Deadhead!
We went to some of the great shows: The Greek Theater, Stanford, Henry J. Kaiser, Bill Graham Auditorium, Laguna Seca (one of the seminal shows labeled as ‘Monterey’ in the Rolling Stone commemorative book) and Southern California too.
“They learned how to play!” I told Debbie. And it was true. The 80’s were the Dead’s apex. I longed to write a poem to honor the moment, but I only had one line: “When Jerry solos, it’s like the stars are crying.”
In 1988, I had a daughter. Yes, Debbie and I were starting an ‘alternative family.’ And things changed again. Although I went to shows with Debbie when I was pregnant, after Simone was born, I preferred to stay home.
In another twist, Deb met Melissa who had backstage connections to the Dead. Through grace or necessity (I didn’t possess the emotional or physical resources to single parent) Deb and I worked out a manageable co-parenting agreement.
The second dream involves my next relationship. Fay was also a Deadhead. But it was the 90’s. I was preoccupied with parenting and working. We made it to just a few shows. I didn’t know that Jerry was using heroin; the music was still awe-inspiring. I grieved in 1995 when Jerry passed. I grieved for him, for the band, for my happy place. I needed a miracle.
After an acrimonious split, Fay and I went our separate ways. My next love – my current husband and life partner – was Adam – a techhie Deadhead. Again? Yup. Cranking up the Dead has been a tremendous source of joy for us. We dance around the house, we go on road trips and we party – with Debbie!
The second dream:
I’m in a concert hall – a small one like the Fillmore East. Everyone is electrified, excited, waiting for the Dead to play. People are streaming in, old friends! I’m hugging all of them. Fay, Louis, all my old Deadhead pals that I haven’t seen for years.
Joy. Happiness. A miracle.
This Sunday, Debbie and me, Adam and Simone, Debbie’s daughter Gavi and Simone’s boyfriend Nick are all going to hear the Dead at Levi’s stadium.
Here’s my question: If the Grateful Dead’s music can heal the wounds of my family, maybe music can heal the earth. Maybe we need to be dancing and singing more. We need a miracle. Fast.
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