The Greatful Dead crept up on me slowly.
This isn’t a horror story. The Grateful Dead were a band. They sounded a bit like the Eagles. Or, maybe, a bit like the Eagles would have if the Eagles wrote poetry on acid and played concerts filled with 3 hour guitar solos.
In America the Dead are huge. Growing up far from anywhere though, I remained unaware of them for most of my youth. First contact was at a party once when a snowboarder fresh back from the States talked about the Greatful Dead fans he’d met. They were, apparently, into some “freaky shit”.
Next I heard of them was in the NOFX song, Jenny: “You follow us around, we’re not, not the Grateful Deaaaddd…” A friend explained this one to me. “Yeah, they’re a hippy band, they’ve been playing concerts for years. Their fans follow them from concert to concert. It’s really strange.” I agreed. It was.
I met my first Dead Head (for that, readers, is what their fans are called) in Mexico. Living off a trust fund as best I could tell, if he wasn’t following the band he was “surfing” at Puerto Escondido. He was a nice guy, even if he never seemed to surf. He’d get stoned in the evenings and play us cassettes from concerts while the setting sun melted the clouds red. We’d sip Coronas, he’d pull cones, and every once in a while he’d pipe up. “Oh man, listen to this…wow…that’s poetry.” Just in case we’d missed it, he’d repeat the couplet in a very serious voice.
Pretty soon Matt, my South African travelling buddy, and the best teller of jokes I ever met, had the poetry, and the voice, down pat. He began to use it on long bus journeys to make me laugh.
“Under the moon – you! – have to choose…Some times you win. Sometimes you…loose.”
It was mean but it worked. And, quite possibly, God made note of my mirth, and made plans for me.
A few months later I met a girl in New York, who I fell for and stayed with for two summers. She, I discovered much too late, a was a fan. She had all the CDs and hadn’t quite dropped everything to follow them round for ever, but she had been to plenty of their concerts.
I was torn. She was smart, pretty, and very cool. But try as I might I couldn’t get the music. The odd song seemed ok, but really…imagine diluting the Eagles and stretching them out over several hours. I promised never to go to a concert.
I still don’t think I was wrong about this. But I wasn’t totally right either. People are welcome to their tastes, and shouldn’t be judged for them (how could a self-confessed Duran Duran fan say otherwise). There’s more though, because there was actually one song which I really did like.
It wasn’t actually written or played by the Dead, mind you. It was a cover of Wild Horses by lead singer and guitarist, Jerry Garcia’s Bluegrass side project – Old and In the Way.
You can listen on Youtube here. I’m guessing if you do it won’t sound like anything much (the sound’s not great and such is the capricious nature of magic). But, for reasons I still can’t explain, the first time I heard it it sounded so good I didn’t just wanna buy the album and play it forever. And it didn’t just make me want to get into bluegrass, either. It made me wanna grow a beard and a tummy, hitch up my overalls and move to the Appalachians and live the fucking stuff.
Needless to say I didn’t; I’m a man of rather low motivation more than constant sorrow.
But anyhow, all this does go to show one thing. Never call other people strange at the beginning of your blog post. Who knows, before you get to the end, there’s every chance you’ll appear even stranger still.