I’ve become a Dead fan, I guess

Before James and I got together, I only had a passing acquaintance with the Grateful Dead. I didn’t own any of their music, but I could sing along with a few songs. I remember the day Jerry died, mostly because I was bartending back then and had a regular who I knew would be devastated and probably come have a few drinks that night. He was, and he did. I think I bought him a round.

Fast forward a few years, and James and I moved in together. As he unpacked box after box of cassette tapes filled with homemade recordings of live shows from all over the country/all over the past few decades, I realized his love for the band was extensive. Like, more than I loved Duran Duran in junior high (and for completely different reasons).

We listen to music a lot in our house. So it makes sense that over the past decade and a half, I’ve heard a lot of Grateful Dead music. And over time, my relationship with the music has changed.

Initially tolerated with a few eye rolls (and questions like, “How long is this song? Twenty minutes?”), the music became ubiquitous–and then unnoticed. Then at some point in the last handful of years, after seeing what remains of the band half a dozen times (in The Dead or Dead and Company iterations), I finally got it.

Grateful Dead songs, specifically of the live variety, are aural comfort food. Much like theatre, no performance is exactly the same. But there’s still plenty to ground you to other experiences with the music. Plenty to give you that sense of familiarity and togetherness.

Sold-out, tie-dyed, pot-smoking house for the Dead show at Shoreline Amphitheatre, across the street from Google, June 3, 2017.

I’ve seen a lot of live music in my life. A lot. And I’ve never experienced the kind of crowd that has consistently appeared for Dead shows in the aughts and teens of the 21st century (I can’t imagine what the crowds were like in the ’60s and ’70s).

The shows we saw in California last decade, before we moved out here, featured a vibrant parking lot scene. People selling “pizza” made on hotplates powered by a battery resting under their rusted-out VW van. (The pizza being a tortilla topped with watery pizza sauce, a sprinkle of pre-shredded cheese and a few slices of pepperoni.) Thin bed sheets spread on the ground and covered with beaded necklaces, glass pipes and crystals for sale. Stinky, barefoot children running around barely supervised. The dress code for old and young veering past the obvious tie-dye and into crocheted tops and jeans with patches sewn on. All worn un-ironically.

Dancing bear ears on a headband. A somewhat subtle nod.

The parking lot scene has been killed for the most part, but the fashions are still pretty amazing. And the lack of self-consciousness is part of the charm. Where so many people try so hard to be “separate” while being in a crowd (“Yeah, I’m at this Backstreet Boys reunion, but only to make fun of it.”), Dead Heads are all in. They love the scene, they love the songs, and they fucking love you, dude.

The guy in the blue and white cap had the best time of his life. All night.

I’ve never seen anyone get in a fight at a Dead show. If you ever have to lose your wallet, phone or keys at a concert, do it at a Dead show because you’ll quickly find a free beer, borrowed phone or ride home from a perhaps chemically compromised but big-hearted stranger.

The guy sitting next to us printed up his own buttons (two styles) with the date of the show on them and gave us each one.

There’s a dedicated music-nerd army of people at every Dead show who livestream the audio or even provide a video feed. You can go on a couch tour and follow the Dead from show to show, and there are plenty of forums online that share set lists and bets on what they’ll play next. Before we went to see the band last Saturday, I reviewed the set lists from the first few shows of the tour and was disappointed they’d already played a couple of my favorites. Which is when I realized–I have favorite songs by this band.

A little hard to read, this guy’s shirt says, “Mayer is Dead to me.” John “Your Body is a Wonderland” Mayer is touring with The Dead on guitar. Nicknamed “Mayernnaise” by non-fans, he actually works pretty well in the mix. And I know enough about the band at this point to have seen that shirt and chuckled. Life is funny.

The saying is “familiarity breeds contempt,” but that’s not aways the case. There are many things we dismiss out of hand that, upon closer inspection, actually have something to offer. They grow on you slowly, like the frog in the pot of water that’s gradually being heated, and next thing you know you’re boiling to death to the sound of Terrapin Station. And you realize there are worse ways to go.

Half the guys on this stage may be in their 70s, but they can still get thousands of people on their feet and keep them that way the entire show. And if they tour again next summer, we’ll be there, on our feet, all night.

free listening

img_2575I was sitting at my desk working on something meaningless (while thinking about things that have meaning) when I heard waves pounding the shore. The big, crashing, loud kind that usually precede a storm, though one’s not coming. Not a literal one, anyway. The waves were so loud, I was compelled to take a walk to see them. As each one ebbed back into the ocean, the rocks at the shoreline clinked against each other like the ice cubes in the large cocktail I’ll be having shortly. Combined with the dense fog we had this morning, it seemed like nature was trying to give us a bath. Wash the stank off.

I kept walking along the shoreline and eventually came across this lady. “Free listening” her sign said. I took a picture, planning to chronicle but keep moving as usual. But she looked so peaceful staring out at the ocean, so kind-hearted that I stopped and took a seat. I asked, “How’s business?” and she said it had been busy. That a lot of people wanted to talk. That the majority felt shell-shocked. Unprepared for the events of last night. Uncomfortable knowing there were so many people unwilling to publicly admit whom they were going to vote for, but vote for him they would.

No one saw this coming (well, except Michael Moore who called it months ago), and part of the reason is many voters were keeping this choice close. Where women were taking selfies in their pantsuits outside of polling places to celebrate voting for a woman for President, other voters were quietly pulling the lever for the other guy. Maybe it’s the secrecy of it that’s so creepy.

Anyway, she and I had a nice chat. It felt soothing, healing even, talking to a total stranger on a day when the country I live in feels a little strange. I thanked her for the conversation, trudged back to my desk and got back to work. But I felt a little lighter.

As the pendulum swings one way, it must swing back the other. I can’t wait to see the opposite end of the arc we’re on now.

they once were wolves

Does an animal that finds its asshole, an ice cube and its owner’s face equally delightful to lick care about seeing the Hollywood sign?

Does an animal that chases its own tail, surprises itself by farting and is scared of the vacuum want to go to the Grand Canyon and marvel at the enormity of it all?

Does an animal that, at the peak of health, is happy running for five minutes and then sleeping for five hours want, at the very end of its life, to pose on the prow of a ship on a crashing sea as the sun sets?

Or, to put it another way, when you have the flu, do you want someone dragging you to pose in front of the house from Full House?

I’m thinking “no” on all accounts.

Dogs are delightful, happy, soulful creatures that are content with very little. Ever notice how many homeless people have a dog or two by their side? That’s because dogs are down for whatever. They just want to love and be loved in return. The accommodations don’t matter.

You wouldn’t know that from what seems to be a disturbing trend of late (if you can call something I’ve seen a total of three times a trend). I’m talking about people finding out their dog is terminally ill, then taking the poor animal on a fucking tour around the US. You know, so Max or Maggie can see Las Vegas, the Space Needle and Niagara Falls before crossing that rainbow bridge. What a happy coincidence that the places dogs want to see before they die are also exciting tourist destinations that look great in photos and the coffee table book that may come out of this!

For those of us who love dogs and consider them part of the family, the end of the road is a sad and lonely place. If you knew your dog only had a few weeks or months to live, who wouldn’t want to make the most of that time? But let’s back up for a moment and talk about what dogs enjoy.

They love the smell of shit and dead things. I don’t care how manicured and prissy your dog is. Put her in a backyard with a dead skunk, and she’s going to be all over it.

They love to eat. Filet mignon or meat that fell to the floor from your Jack in the Box taco, it’s all a wonderful culinary delight.

They love to sleep. Take your dog out in the morning when they first get up, and within a couple of minutes they’re ready for a nap.

So, for someone who wants to give Fido an exit to remember, I’d like to recommend a few hot spots the pooch might actually enjoy.

  • Dog park. Plenty of other dog assholes to smell and maybe something dead to roll in.
  • Litter box. Plenty of cat turds to eat and maybe a cat to chase or at least growl at.
  • Your bed. Plenty of opportunity to be loved and maybe a little time for a nap.

Pretty simple. It may not get anyone a book deal or make them an Instagram star, but it will make their little buddy comfortable and happy. And isn’t that really the point?

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Lest I lose my crazy-dog-lady bona fides, here’s my dog Stella in her CAR SEAT. Yes, she’s strapped in. I bought this for her when we moved from Texas to California, the longest journey the dog or I ever made. Do you know what she did 99% of the way here? She slept.

PS: If you’ve been spared these treacly stories, here’s a link to one of them. Doesn’t that dog look like he’s having a GREAT TIME and not like he was propped up for the photo and then quickly collapsed because he’s TERMINALLY ILL? The man said, “It was a little bit for him, a little bit for me.” Uh huh.