Sunday, July 10, 2005

Searching For The Sound

Several weeks back a very nice woman, whose dog I walk, gave me the recently released autobiography of Phil Lesh, former bassist for the Grateful Dead. Those who know me, know of my fondness(bordering on obsession) with this band. I own several thousands of hours of their live music on cd, dvd, and tape. I've spoken in recent entries about my cosmic connection to them and their music which is truly unexplainable to others in words. You either get it or you don't. And after years of trying, I no longer feel the desire to waste my breath trying to convince others of the magic and joy they possess. Nevertheless, to this day, they affect me in such a profound way that I am moved to tears by their music and the memories I have of the wonderful times I experienced with them, and this autobiography is no exception.
Trying to recount Phil's journeys with them would be fruitless. However, I do recommend this book highly to those interested in learning about the inner workings of a successful rock n' roll band. Phil does not mince words. He's very candid about his drugs use(good & bad) and the highs and lows that a group can experience in 30 years of touring and recording. These guys were a family in every sense of the word. Encountering all the problems(lack of communication, enabling, petty bickering, money) and joys(love, children, music, adventure) that one would expect.
The glue that held these guys together was Jerry Garcia. All were brought together in some way by the charisma and light that was Jerry. Though all would form relationships through their travels over the years, Jerry was the guy who all would look to as the big man on campus. From the very first days of the band, Phil and Jerry would form a very special bond that was perhaps the strongest of them all. It's evident in their playing and would carry over in to their offstage life as well. It's amazing to me how this relationship would spill over in to the audience as well, breaking the "fourth wall" that exists for any other band. Ask any of my Deadhead pals and they will tell you of the personal relationship we all felt we had with members of the band even though we never met them personally. Our journey through their music and across America was enough to solidify our bond as brothers. We all spoke of them as though they were right there along with the gang, sharing our moments as if they were their own. A wonderfully unique relationship to share with others on such a grand scale.
I'll just note two specific moments that come in the closing chapters of the book that illustrate the magic that Jerry possessed and shown him to be the giant among men that he was. Phil was insistent that his family travel with him through their rigorous touring schedule, bringing his wife and sons, Grahame and Brian, along on the long strange trip. He tells how by the age of 8 his son, Grahame, had begun to journey beyond the special "kids room", set up backstage for the growing team of band & crew children, to the side of the stage having bonded with Jerry. Many nights Grahame could be found sitting atop an anvil case on Jerry's side of the stage listening to the show through headphones. As Grahame would give Jerry a wave, who at this point was beginning to backslide in to his old habits, Garcia would turn to face him and rip a beautifully inspired guitar line as only he could. Lifting himself and band to a higher plane of musical bliss in the process. Even a child could sense the beautiful lotus of energy that flowed from Jerry and his music despite his declining health and inner turmoil.

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Another tale written by Lesh is in the final years of the Grateful Dead. Having been offered the uniquely un-Grateful Dead like opportunity to guest conduct an orchestra for an annual fund-raiser Lesh, having been an orchestral conductor in college, jumped at the offer. Without informing his bandmates, Lesh was to conduct a piece called "A Celebration of Some 100 x 150 Notes" by one of America's greatest living composers, Elliott Carter. As he walked to the podium that evening, he thought he saw a familiar face out of the corner of his eye but was too focused on the task before him to turn and get a proper look. As he returned to the wings, he looked to the audience and saw, to his delight, Jerry sitting alone with his ineffable quicksilver grin shinning back at him. Jerry had discovered, through the newspaper, of the gig and had come to show support for his friend of so many years.
As I sit and listen to the sublime and unsung majesty that is Neil Young's 1999 album, Silver & Gold (too sad to listen the GD), I am reminded that Saturday marked the tenth anniversary of the final live Grateful Dead performance. And realize that I couldn't have planned it better, rather this moment was planned for me. Ole Jer is sitting just behind me, planning the next cosmic prankster move that will help me find my smile and bring the magic to the surface once again. I love these moments. Thanks guys, for everything.

"Days Between"

There were days
and there were days
and there were days between
Summer flies and August dies
the world grows dark and mean
Comes the shimmer of the moon
on black infested trees
the singing man is at his song
the holy on their knees
the reckless are out wrecking
the timid plead their pleas
No one knows much more of this
than anyone can see anyone can see

There were days
and there were days
and there were days besides
when phantom ships with phantom sails
set to sea on phantom tides
Comes the lightning of the sun
on bright unfocused eyes
the blue of yet another day
a springtime wet with sighs
a hopeful candle lingers
in the land of lullabies
where headless horsemen vanish
with wild and lonely cries lonely cries

There were days
and there were days
and there were days I know
when all we ever wanted
was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
we told them where to go
walked halfway around the world
on promise of the glow
stood upon a mountain top
walked barefoot in the snow
gave the best we had to give
how much we'll never know we'll never know

There were days
and there were days
and there were days between
polished like a golden bowl
the finest ever seen
Hearts of Summer held in trust
still tender, young and green
left on shelves collecting dust
not knowing what they mean
valentines of flesh and blood
as soft as velveteen
hoping love would not forsake
the days that lie between lie between


Blogger Andy Owens said...

Absolutely awesome post! Can't wait to read the book.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are not alone in your love for the Grateful Dead.
We Are Everywhere!

3:55 AM  

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