I had two older siblings that were ahead of me on the excellent musical trail of the early 70s and the Grateful Dead was among the bands they listened to, talked about, and went to see.
Being a curious and precocious baby sister, at the age of 11, I stumbled upon my sister’s Workingman’s Dead music book for guitar. It had little graphics so I could figure out the chords. I was a bit musically inclined, so I grabbed her guitar and spent a few hours learning Uncle John’s Band. Had never heard the song, but something about the book and the easy-to-learn chords got my attention.
I was 11 years old and it was 1974 and thus began my long strange trip as a sort of dead head.
I was an early adopter of sorts — of cool music and other habits that would enhance the trip so to speak. Within a few short years, I was going to as many Grateful Dead shows as I could get to with my older boyfriend, running away a couple of times. It was all mostly harmless (not for my poor parents), but I was only 15 after all. If my kids did what I did at 15, I’d shove them in a rehab, which is eventually where I ended up at the age of 26, but that’s another story.
With all the news about the Grateful Dead’s Jerry-less Fare Thee Well shows at Soldier Field in Chicago, it’s made me a tiny bit wistful. I don’t have many strong distinct memories per se, but the overriding sensation was always one of happiness. That sheer joy to dance like a drunk rag doll and not care. Yea, I did some of that.
I stopped going to shows in the 80s, but to this day when I hear that familiar sound I smile, and remember that time I was convinced Bob Weir sang to me as I sat on my tall friend Bobby’s shoulders right up close to the stage so I was actually close to him as he sang Sugar Magnolia. I felt special. I was probably hallucinating, but I continue to delude myself happily.
Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I wrote 8 years ago, soundtrack by Grateful Dead:
(A winter walk in the woods in 2007 . . . ) I was quite happy to groove along with some early Grateful Dead at the start of our journey. When Johnny Winter cued up, I wasn’t sure this was somehow appropriate, but I almost danced down the trail and the dog, while perhaps not listening, responded to my childish glee and seemed to dance along with me. Love how the shuffle switches gears on me and I heard a soulful Joan Baez and a meditative, new agey Andreas Vollenveider before the little brain in the iPod knew exactly what to do and lit upon one of my all-time favorite Grateful Dead trips, Terrapin Station.By the time it came on, I was on the last bit of my dance with nature, so I slowed down and listened to perhaps one of the most finely produced Grateful Dead epic ballads brought on by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter (and probably some LSD). I defy anyone to follow the storyline in the lyrics in one sitting. It is almost impossible to not get utterly lost in the musical side trails. Not their traditional spacejam, but one that is so carefully produced that it has a mood-altering affect, or at least it does on me.
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