Monday, May 30, 2005

The Grateful Dead & Me(4.12.89)

While watching a vhs recording I made last weekend of the Flaming Lips on Austin City Limits, I discovered I had partially recorded over a PBS broadcast of the documentary Anthem To Beauty which chronicles the recordings the Grateful Dead did between 1967 and 1970. As I was drawn in to the viewing, I was reminded of my eternal connection with this band...

My love affair with the Grateful Dead(not the Other Ones or The Dead or any of that related bullshit) began on April 12, 1989 with the attendance of my first concert at Rosemont Horizon in the suburbs of Chicago. Several months before a college friend named Eli Goodman asked if I was planning on buying tickets to see their 3 day run at the venue. I thought it was awful silly to be buying tickets for a run of shows that far in advance and gently said no and went about my business. Well, the day after the first show Eli showed up at my dorm room with a look of dazed glory beaming from his soul. He simply told me, "You’ve got to come to tonight’s show". I'm no fool and when somebody with that look tells you to do something, you do it! I'm not even sure how I got a ticket for that evenings show, but before too long I had blown off my Wednesday afternoon classes and hopped on the "L" with Eli and away we went. Being prone to motion sickness the bumpy 45min. ride did not treat my stomach too well, but we arrived and were soon wandering the parking lot looking for someone Eli called "the liquid guy". Before too long we found such a person who informed us it would be a dollar a drop. So, we handed him 4 bucks and he gave Eli two nice droplets on the back of his hand next to his thumb joint. As I held out my hand, the liquid guy gave it a little too much pressure and proceeded to blast the back of my hand with liquid. "Oooh, sorry", he said and off he went. I licked the excess fluid that was now running down my arm, and thought little of it.
Now, I had had psychedelics before, but what I was about to experience was beyond anything I had ever witnessed.

We moved around the parking lot enjoying all the sights and smells, which looked to me to be some sort of reject carnival that had completely taken over this tremendously large concrete lot. I recall walking down aisles of cars with people selling all sorts of tye-dyed goods along with any number of food stuffs. Before long we saw a trail of people all coming from one area who were all carrying large inflated balloons with the. I thought it was just more strangeness in a lot filled with such wonders. Well, Eli knew what it meant and he shuffled us off to the source. After procuring our balloons, we found a car that we laid on the hood of looking skywards. Rosemont Horizon is just across the freeway from O'Hare Airport, so as we leaned back on the hood the airplanes that were coming on to land lined up right before our eyes. With the first inhalation of the N2O balloon, my brain instantly splattered as one plane after the next flew directly over our heads with bone jarring decibels in tow. "Jeezzus-fucking-christ!" was the only thing running through my head as I was transported to another time and place with each inhalation. I regained a portion of my composure when Eli informed me it was now time to go inside and see the band. I already felt as if I had been on the journey of a lifetime and we were still in the fucking parking lot!

As we made our way to the door, a large crowd had assembled at the very same area. With a bank of some 2 dozen doors in front of us, the genius' at Rosemont decided it would be best to try and get everyone through as few doors as possible. Needless to say, the crowd grew very thick and soon I realized I was no longer in control of my feet and was being carried every which way by the movement of this suffocating amoeba of people. With my stomach already queasy from the train ride, I became nauseous and proceeded to throw up on the back of the poor little hippie chick in front of me. The lsd had taken, and I was no longer able to speak in order to apologize to the dear girl. She just rolled her eyes and slid through he crowd with ease (now that she had my puke as lubricant). It all happened so quickly, even Eli wasn't sure about what had happened. He asked if I had just thrown up on her, and I guess by the look in my eyes he could tell it the answer was "yes".

It wasn't too long after this that we could hear the band starting to tune up and the intensity and desperation of the crowd grew with each passing second. Before I knew it, I was at the ticket taker and inside the venue. Eli shuffled us inside the arena where my eyes fell upon a miraculous sight. A crowd of 18,ooo people all moving to the sound, with a light show that painted a pastel picture more beautiful and vibrant than any oil painting I had seen before. Despite the beauty that was before my dilated pupils, I was still VERY sick to my stomach. And to save myself from any more embarrassment in front of Eli, I ventured away from him to the upper-echelons of the venue. I found a nice large object and leaned against it to try to get my head together. Well, the object I was clinging to was a large quadraphonic speaker placed in the upper deck of the hall and was now twisting my head with bolts of delightful musical notes bending and swirling around my brain. I was too high for this. I quickly moved away and shuffled through rows of people who were bending and twisting themselves along with the musical backdrop. Even with my senses completely on overload I was aware of a "sound". A body piercing wave of musical ecstasy that filled every pore in my drug addled body. I seemed to be coming from the right hand side of the stage. There seemed to be a halo surrounding this grey haired figure playing guitar. I was aware of it, but in my state couldn't quite comprehend what exactly was going on there. I really just needed to get myself together and figure out which way was up and which was down. I think I must have thrown up 2 or 3 more time before I had the courage to find Eli again, but by this time that band was wrapping up the first set and headed off stage. Again, without the aid of speech, Eli could tell that my head was spun and he lead us off to the hallways outside the arena proper which was teaming with Deadheads of all shapes and sizes. We sat again a wall so that I could have something against my back and a solid foundation under my feet. This is where I caught my snap and it was all due to some tour rat who was bouncing a little red rubber ball against the cinder block walls of the hallway. This made me giggle...a lot!

So with my head together, we headed back inside the arena and moved quickly toward the floor. I'm not exactly sure how we made it on to the floor as our tickets were for anything but decent seats, but somehow the two of us made it down just as the lights fell for the second set. With electricity now at a fever pitch the band came back on stage and tore in to one of two songs I knew by them, Touch Of Grey. I started to move like all of the other attendees without even being conscience of it. I also realized that there was a noise floating just above the heads of the crowd. It dawned on me that every single soul in the venue was singing along with each word and it created an invisible instrument which hung above the crowd like a swirling mist. No sooner had I realized this, when the band started up their next song (the OTHER song I knew by the band) Truckin. I was dancing REALLY hard now. Jumping up and down with delight and singing along with the crowd. As the line "the lights all shinning on me" came around, the light show swooped across the stage and illuminated the entire crowd which exploded with approval. I was in heaven. Not 30min. before, I had been in hell. And now here I was singing and dancing as if my life depended on it. I had found my nitch, no doubt about it.

As Eli and I wandered out to the parking lot, a girl holding a Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) tee shirt which had him with a sort of devilish knowing grin on his face. This was me. I KNEW what he was thinking and I quickly bought it from her. It all made sense to me now. I had seen the look in others eyes as I walked the parking lot with Eli. The secret was out, but it was safe with me. We got a ride home from some friends of Eli's and I can recall thinking as we drove down the freeway back toward Chicago, "if this guy driving is anywhere as high as I am right now, we're never gonna make it." With the freezing Chicago air blowing in from the windows, I shivered a bit and held my Calvin shirt close to my body.

We made it back to the dorm where I climbed in bed. Unable to sleep for
several more hours, I watched the ceiling twist and turn as it appeared to be made of oil and water. The next 6 years of my life would be in pursuit of that evenings wonder. Sometimes I found it; sometimes it fell far short of the mark. But what I experienced on that night would profoundly change me forever. I discovered a band with music that hit me at my core. I found others, Dylan, the Flaming Lips, George Harrison that would affect me in a similar way, but never again like Garcia and band would. Even though I never met any member of the band, I (and those that toured with me for the next 6 years) felt as though I had a special window in to their lives. And whether my perception of them and their relationship with the audience was accurate, it became real to me. They had found me (or I them) at a pivotal time in my life. When I was looking for something greater than the sum of its parts and stumbled upon a lifestyle that few get to experience. I know some think I am crazy for my attachment to this group, but what they don't know is the depth to which the bands (and certain members) have affected my emotional growth. It was the school of life the guys taught, warts and all. As they are fallible, so am I. But together, we reached for a higher thing. An American Dream that went beyond the house with a lawn and 2.5 kids. An American Dream that showed me anything was possible, through hard work and determination. Taking the road less traveled has indeed made all the difference, it made me a man.

iPod Song of the day: California from the Lenny Kravitz album Baptism


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