What's Dead (And What Isn't)

Ok, so I’m a romantic. This is a good thing, a very good thing. While I unfortunately romanticize less now than I did when I was younger (some people call this growing up, I call it growing old. To be a romantic is to stay young in heart, mind and soul. Age is in the mind.) I still have been known to indulge in a good session of purely romantic thinking.

Over the last eight months the Dead, the Grateful Dead, have graced my eardrums on an almost daily basis. This also had been a good thing, a very good thing. I’ll have to thank (blame) Michael Ashley for this jam band extravaganza. One fateful evening over the winter break he uploaded a few random tunes from two recent jam bands, Phish and The String Cheese Incident, onto my computer. I didn’t really give these tunes a good listen until I was stuck out in the rain on a farm in Port Orchard, Washington, digging holes for 15-foot tall fence posts. The posts would eventually be strung up with metal fencing to keep the deer from eating all of the blueberries.

After listening to this very limited selection of good jams I knew I would eventually have to delve into the world of the Dead. I didn’t know much about the Dead. For the most part I associated them and their signature lightning bolt skull symbol with potheads and leftovers from 60’s driving around the country living out of old, rusted out Volkswagen vans. And to a certain degree this is true.

Despite the heavy haze of weed smoke and LSD that surrounded this band and their thirty-year jamming career I can tell you that drugs are not required to truly appreciate their music. Nearly all of my Dead listening experiences have occurred while in a completely sober state. I listen to them when biking, cleaning (working) or just lounging around the house.

I, of course, started off listening to their more mainstream, studio recorded songs. Mostly songs like Box of Rain, Sugar Magnolia and Truckin’ from their American Beauty album. Then I discovered some of their live tracks and haven’t turned back since. There is a massive wealth of live shows in the Internet Archive vault. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent perusing through this amazing online resource.

The Dead were known for never playing a song the same way twice. In turn, every live concert is a new listening venture, you never know what you’re gonna get!

Now to tie in the romantic comment I made at the beginning of this post. When listening to the Dead I can only imagine what was happening on stage, in the crowd and outside the walls of whatever venue they happened to be blowing the roof off of at that moment in time. The Dead played music during the most recent cultural upheaval in this young countries history. They also helped to encapsulate much of what the early hippie movement was grasping for: community.

It’s been said that back in the early days of the band they would make available free food medical care and lodging at their concerts, which looked more like giant block parties than the corporate sponsored crap fests you now find in stadiums and music venues across modern day America.

I can’t help but hear the spirit of the 60’s infused into their beats and rhythms. The peace, the unity, the dramatic naivety and subsequent idealism of an entire generation that really believed, if only for a minute, that life could be lived a different way. I'm not talking about the commercialized version of the 60’s that has been shoved down our throats by the media complex. It wasn’t all drugs, sex and rock and roll.

I find it very interesting that at the time the cultural movement of the 60’s was happening Americans had more, in theory, to be afraid of than we do now. Nuclear war seemed imminent. The government was blatantly spying on and arresting anyone who stepped out of line. The draft was a reality for many young men. Unless you had the money for college it was only a matter of time before your number was called up.

And how did the people of America respond?
They took to the streets, held protests, burned flags and draft cards, held huge concerts and experimented in ways of living outside of the system. And while all of these things still occur in America they happen on a much more subdued level. They are dumbed down by the media. The significance of the 60’s cultural movement is lost on my generation.

Most parents who lived through the 60’s tell their kids cautionary tales of drugged out friends who had “turned on, tuned in and dropped out” one too many times. And that’s about it. It’s almost as if the collective memory of an entire generation was somehow washed away by the years that came afterward. Years of excess, burnout, depression and loneliness.

And then from out of that generation of free love and peace for all came the most security obsessed, consumer driven culture America had ever seen. Did I miss something here?

I suppose Hunter S. Thompson was right when he observed that, “We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

Not only did the wave break and roll back, it seems as though the entire ocean damn near dried up leaving us all flopping around gasping for air, looking for something, anything, to send us swimming again.

So am I just a crazed romantic who has the luxury of projecting whatever he likes onto a time in the past or did something revolutionary really happen in America during the 1960’s?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

dude, that's great. Loved reading this post. Miss you man. Hope that full house you're living in is good times!

8:39 AM  
Blogger Corey said...

I'm so glad you commented, Michael. I wrote this post thinking of you. I miss you too, a lot.

And yes, the full house is most definitely good times.

5:21 PM  

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