I realize that January is rapidly approaching its end, but I would be remiss if I did not at least officially say, Happy New Year! I have been writing quite a lot, but falling short of posting it on my blog. Every time I polish up a piece to publish, at the last minute I think… meh. Who cares? And then I just don’t publish it. But rest assured, I have been happily writing away.
Anyhowz, my trip to Ecuador was great and resplendent with sloth. I read so many books, took long hikes up steep hillsides, and spent more hours asleep than awake. Now I am back to the Polar vortex, sew sew sewing away. It actually feels good to be sewing again.
Tonight we had a crazy marathon photoshoot – the first of the year. Mason and I photographed 45 hoodies and dresses. Uggggghh. The photoshoots are always so difficult for me. I am not a good model. I never make it though without tears. It always makes me feel deranged and stressed, which causes me to look even crappier than usual, and sets off this self-fulfilling prophesy of deterioration. When you look at the photos in order, it is like a flip book of my downward spiral. By the end my eyes are so squinty with allergies, and my already messy hair has revolted in painful, unflattering ways.
Here is a stop motion video we made last year of a photoshoot, so you can watch me fall apart:
The only thing that kept me together in the photoshoot was the fact that I was listening to the Grateful Dead. For me, the Dead always have the ability to transport me to a happy place.
Apparently listening to twelve straight hours of the Dead does not have the same effect on Mason. The instant the last photo was taken, he lunged toward the stereo with uncharacteristic speed and turned the power off with a gasp of relief. As though he had just patiently suffered through some irrational character defect of mine. I was like, “What? You can’t make it til the end of Shakedown Street??” Gah! I guess some people don’t have the Grateful Dead gene.
Joke: What did the Deadhead say when he ran out of Drugs?
Answer: “Whoa, they were right. This music really does suck”
Not everyone speaks Grateful Dead… But I bet some of you do, right? I think of it kind of like Esperanto, but without William Shatner. Speaking Deadhead is a skill that is basically inapplicable to any other field of life, but when you recognize a fellow speaker, you are flooded with a sense of understanding that is so lovely that you are willing to shrug off the fact most people will never really get it. In Malcolm Gladwell terms, I must be a Grateful Dead Genius by now.
Just in case you are from another country and unfamiliar with the whole Grateful Dead phenomenon – they are a band from the 60’s counter culture that became a carnivalesque phenomenon for decades. Thousands of people followed them around the country like gypsies. If I really tried to explain, it would take way too long. Then I would just give up and delete everything I wrote. Just imagine a giant, traveling festival party with a lot of colorful mayhem, drugs and music. Wow, that description sucks.
By the time Jerry Garcia, the lead singer, died in 1995 I had been to about 200 shows and crossed the United States more times that I can count. Dead Tour was my marvelous coming of age. I know that we Deadheads catch a lot of flack for several well deserved stereotypes, mostly involving poor hygiene (Where do you hide money from a Deadhead? Under the soap!) and excessive drug use (What do you call a Deadhead in a suit? A defendant!) (I’ll be here all week folks!) Please let me stand as evidence that we weren’t all on drugs! Til this day I have still never even smoked pot… Sometimes I find that people want to discredit Deadheads as a bunch of druggies, and I always feel compelled to point out that the drugs had nothing to do with it for many of us. (And even if it did, who are you to judge?) Never the less, we are easy, cheesy targets.
These days I run with a crowd of artists and indie rock snobs that are far too cool to give the Dead any props. When I tell people I followed the Dead, it is the same sort of confession as showing them a yearbook photo from the 80s if you had massive sprayed out hair and shoulder pads. But I will always stick up for my roots! My time following the Dead made me who I am, and I will always be proud of those years on the road and all that it taught me about magic and community.
Over the years lot of folks have asked why I didn’t name a collection of coats after Grateful Dead songs. I always hesitated to do that for a couple of reason. First of all, it makes me roll me eyes, because Deadheads name everything after Dead songs. It’s too easy. I live near the town of New Paltz, NY and I swear – you drive down the main street and literally half the stores are names after Dead tunes. As if when you become a Deadhead, them make you sign some sort of contract that you can no longer think up your own original names for stuff. Gah… (Oh my god, how many of you have I just offended because your Etsy shops are named after Dead lyrics? Haha. Woopsy. I love you!)
The other reason I never wanted to name stuff after Dead tunes is because they are so damn personal. Almost every song is so embroidered with anecdotes that I hesitated to toss them about casually. In fact, all of this is hard to write about because I have to hold so much back or risk being completely incontinent with my nostalgia. The songs have too much of a spell on me to be careless with them. Plus, I know someday I would need the names to come to me rescue in a pinch.
Apparently, January is my pinch! I came back well rested and sun-kissed from my Ecuadorean vacation, but it is hard to get back in the groove. It is frikkin’ cold out! I can’t think. Today I looked at the weather report and sighed, “What a relief. We will be back up to 10 degrees by Friday.” So, in lieu of outright hibernation, I just started watching YouTube videos of old Dead shows. Whatever gets you through the dark, cold days, right?
I remember seeing this woman on Oprah once who was a compulsive over-eater. She bought herself an entire 3 tiered wedding cake and ate it all without leaving the house. I remind myself of her this week. Only, instead of eating cake I am listening to Dead concerts on YouTube. I am like a drooling, Grateful-Dead-listening, Jabba the Hutt who sews sweaters in a trance. I think the music gets woven into the sweaters. It is funny how frequently the colors match up perfectly with the song.
Thus, FINALLY, after dozens and dozens of themed sweater collections, I will admit that I can’t escape who I am:
This month’s sweater collection is gonna be named for Grateful Dead songs. I have no choice.
I had a friend on Dead tour named Sunshine who did a lot of acid. I would change her name to conceal her identity, but there were so many girls on tour named Sunshine who did a lot of acid, that she might not even recognize herself if she read this. (But if she does: Hi! I love you!)
Sunshine hung out with the Spinners, who were like a cult within a cult on Dead Tour. They had these poofy dresses in which they would spin and spin and spin to the music, like enraptured dervishes. She once said something that I really liked.
Sunshine told me that sometimes she was so overcome with joy and beauty of the music and the crowd, that as she spun she would collect the extra energy in her hands like a glowing orb. Then she would open a portal and send all that goodness and vision into the future, so that it would reach her in times when she most needed it. And sometimes in the present when she was feeling unsure of herself, she could feel Future Sunshine gazing lovingly at her back through time, and presenting her with the wisdom she needed to persevere.
As I said, I have never done drugs, and I don’t really think Jerry Garcia is any sort of prophet, but I love what Sunshine said. I really like this notion that you can collect the beauty of experience like a vitamin pill that you can administer to yourself in future times of need. I decided to try it. I sent myself a lot of psychic time capsules as I danced. And even still today when I figure out something that I didn’t used to know, I try to whisper it back to younger me. Mostly I just tell her not to be afraid of anything, because it is all leading somewhere wonderful.
There are so many moments on Dead Tour when I felt powerfully overcome by the beauty and the connection to a higher power. I don’t think the Grateful Dead is by any means the only avenue to this pillar of light, but they were remarkably adept at swirling us all together and giving thousands of people simultaneous moments of nirvana. Whether or not you believe in God, you can’t deny that majesty of 20,000 people all feeling the exact same joy at the exact same second. It is like a beam of light shoots from each of our heads to the sky. The way that power ripples through the crowd short circuits any sort of logic or cynicism. I don’t know what God is, but I am absolutely certain that in those swells of music I was as close to “Him” as a human can feel.
So, if my cool fancy friends want to roll there eyes at the Grateful Dead, I can confidently roll my eyes right back at them, because I WAS THERE. I know it is real. I will NEVER be too cool to be proud of that magic.
As I write this I am feeling vulnerable to falling into a common Deadhead trap, which is to express my own thoughts with song lyrics instead. If you speak Deadhead you know that whatever it is you are thinking, there is already a bumper sticker of Dead lyrics that sums it up. The one I am thinking of now is “Believe it if you need it, or leave it if you dare.”
I believe it.
People frequently look at the crazy ass shit I have done with my life – the hitchhiking adventures, the weirdo clothes I wear, the risks I take, and then they ask me how it is that I can be so fearless. It is one of the questions I get asked the most (right after, “When is your next sweater sale?”) There are so many answers to that question, but I know that one of the big, underlying factors in my life-without-fear is because I have felt this magic I just described.
I know that there is light and beauty and community that will surround me if ever I should stumble. That is the biggest take away from my years following the Grateful Dead – this indelible knowledge that no matter where you go, you always have the option of letting yourself be embraced by human goodness.
Sometime I haven’t had money or a plan. I never had health insurance. But I had Franklin’s Tower Insurance. By which I mean, no matter how shitty I feel in a moment, I can just hear that song and my spirits will lift. If things are really bad and I need the big guns, I can bust out Ripple, and then there is light in the distance.
There was this guy named Scott on Dead tour. He was this total weirdo taper guy who was prone to irrational freakouts and clearly had an undiagnosed case of something-or-other that he was medicating with the Grateful Dead.
While driving down the freeway, Scott’s van got a flat tire. He FREAKED THE FUCK OUT. Scott completely lost the plot. Dude could not deal with the flat tire on any level. It was an utter catastrophe. My friend Jake pulled out his best sweet mother voice and said, “It’s okay Scott, it’s okay. Shhhh. Don’t worry. We have AAA. We will just call them and they will come help us. It will be fine. Shhhh.”
This news silenced Scott for a brief moment as the anger sputtered. Suddenly his face was flushed with unmitigated sparkley joy. “I KNEW THE GRATEFUL DEAD WOULD COME THROUGH FOR ME! I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT!!! I KNEW THE GRATEFUL DEAD WOULD COME THROUGH FOR ME!!!” Hands in the air, he circled about the car triumphantly as he shouted.
We exchanged sideways glances and thought to ourselves, “Um. Well, technically it is Triple A that is coming though for you, but whatever.” His unbridled rapture was so jarring that it left us scarred with a catch phrase that we used the rest of the summer.
“Yes! I got tickets to Deer Creek! I KNEW THE GRATEFUL DEAD WOULD COME THROUGH FOR ME!!”
“Dude, Your mom called.” “I KNEW THE GRATEFUL DEAD WOULD COME THROUGH FOR ME!”
“Oh cool, this candy bar is vegan. I KNEW THE GRATEFUL DEAD WOULD COME THROUGH FOR ME!”
You get the picture. There was nothing that we would hesitate to attribute, with a laugh, to the Grateful Dead. That went on for months.
Then Jerry Garcia died. Our world abruptly disappeared and in our shock, we all drifted our separate ways. No one had email or cell phones or addresses or last names back then. We lost one another, and these sort of jokes dissolved from memory. We would never all be in the same place together again.
Earlier this evening, as I slogged though my photoshoot, snarfing up snot and trying not to crumble into miserable defeat (have I mentioned how much I hate photoshoots??) “Lady with a Fan” came on the stereo.
It was amazing.
I could feel it, just like Sunshine said. I could feel it tugging at my ankles like an ocean current eating the sand beneath my feet. It was a crescendo of real happiness. I could FEEL it. It was one of those happiness bubbles I shot forth to the future 20 years ago while dancing at a show. Here it was, in 2014, exploding all over me just when I needed it. I could feel the whole crowd again, all of us together, inhaling and exhaling the same joy.
Inspiration, move me brightly.
Light the song with sense and color;
Hold away despair,
More than this I will not ask.
Faced with mysteries dark and vast,
Statements just seem vain at last……
I know its cheesy, but fuck you, I don’t care. Its real.
I KNEW THE GRATEFUL DEAD WOULD COME THROUGH FOR ME!!!
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