My last post here was, what feels like in the hopefully pre-post pandemic times, a million years ago and several prior, revolved around a fitness journey. I was working hard to lose weight that arrived first when I was ten years old and I struggled to accept for the better part of four decades. That journey was important and reaching a goal I set was monumental. The way I had been attacked for being a fat kid by my friends and non-friends and the way I attacked myself undoubtedly seeded my psyche with traps that would spring in unexpected ways for years to come. Not that hitting my goal ultimately freed me from something, but it gave me a view from a different side.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if COVID was never created by the forbidden love between a pangolin and a monkey, my business-as-usual life would have remained on the same track. Forced inside my home and my head produced, well, interesting directions. I didn’t cope well. My mental health sunk like a stone and I found myself edging toward unhealthy behaviours. Anonmg other things, I was buying crap from various online retailers in a cheap plastic form of retail therapy seeking an endorphin hit that only package-ripping can produce. Cocaine felt safer by comparison. Speaking of which, for the first time, I felt threats to my five-year-old sobriety back in 2020. I never got close to consuming alcohol or hard drugs but the allure and the self-permission were gently cusping on the horizon for me to see. COVID’s timing meant the first anniversary of my father’s death, from which I was still deeply suffering, was spent isolated from my mother and brother. Now throw in a shoulder injury that deprived me of a solid night’s sleep and that dark path to a pill or a drink was starting to look paved with good intentions. What I did instead was subconsciously pull comforts from throughout my life and restore their prior value. I became obsessed with making great pizzas. I did find my way out of absolute sobriety and began using cannabis to help me sleep. It worked very well for the sleep, better than the nightly handful of ibuprofen that I hated taking but occasionally kept me asleep through the pain of natural movement. It also added a comically deep aspect of joy and euphoria that was otherwise lacking chemically. Have you ever applied facial moisturizer after a buzzed-out shower and just tingled because it “feels SO good, man”? That was new and welcomed. The final thing that loomed like a tower from my youth and returned to bring me some missing joy was the music of the Grateful Dead.
Through the Grateful Dead channel on SiriusXM, I found myself remembering every lyric dug up from an obsession laid dormant for decades. As Deadheads will attest, the music never really leaves you. At first, it becomes the majority of one’s interest and awareness, then it dissipates as family, career, relationships, food, taxes, real estate, the news and quality chocolate fill in the gaps and eventually pushes it down. But a molecule gets held, like an atom of primordial life that slowly evolves. It may bubble up from time to time as a date, a song or a tour memory fights its way through the generally boring aspects of life that presently dominate. I know for many that, overwhelming obsession remained unwavering since 1973. I was two years old that year and was listening to Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On instead. I assume, my memory is foggy.
But like a hero in a fable, the music arrived to help when it was needed most. And it took over. Thanks as well to the Dead organization showing concerts on YouTube every Friday, I was reliving carefree days from my teenage life. Coupled with my other emotional cushions, pizza and weed, I was starting to feel less existential dread. Except on the odd occasion when I ingested one too many sprays of cannabis oil. Then those bad old “WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE, MAN?” voices crept in for a bit before sleep took me. Watch those dosages, kids. And by kids, I mean you of-age adults consuming products legally sanctioned in your jurisdiction. Of course.
As music was meant to do, it took me from one place to another. Wanna smile? Put THIS on your hi-fi. Wanna not feel alone? Here’s a congregation of weirdos who speak a similar language and share a common chronology. Want to explore a richly preserved and eloquently documented history? Meet ALL these people. Returning to the fold of Deadheads was a massive security blanket. It did a hell of a lot more good than a gaggle of fucking celebrities singing Imagine to me from their palatial homes. To repeat a sentiment so obvious it now comes with an apology of repetition. COVID, lockdown and isolation taught and continue to teach us what is really important. For many people, that is being a greedy asshole, tyrant or radiator of lies. But even including those ghouls, we all found the things that we truly need by having them removed from our lives. We were stripped away of the flab of monotony to see what meat shrouds our ribcages. And we flocked to anything that gave us a sense of belonging or normalcy. There’s so much honesty in that and I know I’m not alone in finding great comfort in nostalgia. For me, yep, weed, pizza and the Dead. Evidently, that’s what composes the gelatine of my skeleton. Add ‘a cool buzz and a tasty wave’ and I’m a Canadian Jeff Spicoli.
To close, I must also point out a shining light that made me laugh during these recent hard times in my life. Around the time my father’s cancer returned to lay its final siege, I found a blogger on Twitter who through his wit and eloquence brought me back to a detente with the Grateful Dead. Mostly by taking the piss outta them and us fans. Rick Harris wrote and tweeted as Thoughts on the Dead and over my first month of discovery, I went back to the start of his blog and read every single piece he wrote. Okay, not everything. Rick wove a narrative around the fictional Little Aleppo that I never got into. Fucking cancer took Rick away from me as well in April 2021 and the Dead community lost a voice like no other. He was brutally honest to the point where it was easier to shy away than keep reading. He wove phrases like few could. And he was terrifically funny. Like ‘laughing out loud on a crowded bus‘ funny. Like ‘remembering a quip he wrote a year ago and laughing like it was the first time‘ funny. He inspired this new direction for my blog, yet I would never try to mimic his voice or accept or suggest the notion that I’m attempting to pick up where he left off. Like a global pandemic, he showed me some of the ridiculous shit that weaves tight the twine that prevents the collapse of my shambolic mental frame.
So, like a lone red and blue mote on the wind, I’m gonna chase it and write about the Grateful Dead while it’s important to me. For some who followed me because of my fitness journey, I apologize. For those of you who would rather read about abattoir hygiene practices than about a mouldy band of degenerates who played weird half-hour songs to an audience of spinning freaks for 30 years, I totally get that. Hell, that description makes me question my choices yet again. But if you stick around, I will try to teach you why they mean so much to so many and why their catalogue of music is recognized as essential in American music and the history of rock and roll. And I’ll do it with heavy doses of humour and my style of writing that made a smart scale sound like a good item to dictate the terms of your life. But as one of the band’s lyrics goes ‘there is a price for being free’.
In this case, the genre swerves right off a fucking cliff, like Coyote chasing Roadrunner. From one of the lessons I learned from the band as a young Head, that’s a good thing. Weird is good. Weird is necessary. Without weird, there’s no such thing as sourdough bread or coffee or muscle cars or skateboarding or computers or confetti cannons or sci-fi fiction or The Simpsons or Swatch watches. I plant my flag on the fake moon for weird. So, come back here soon. For more weird.
Awesome article, Aron. During these strange times I find myself YouTubing for inspiring artists I’ve never listened to, of any genre, looking for something I can hang on to as there seems to be a dearth of inspiration inside the boundaries of my skull these days. I’ve never really listened to the Dead – will have to check them out.
Thanks, Raul. I would suggest starting with the obvious hit albums, American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. Then you can dip your toe in the live stuff with Europe ’72.
I am very much down with this swerve! I can’t wait. Keep on truckin’, man.
[…] It would be a long time in Deadhead years before I started listening to the band again. And it would be longer still until I would retrieve my membership card. That story has already been written. […]