Seeing how us Deadheads are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Europe ‘72 tour, I thought I’d add my piece. I had a dubbed cassette of it, whose origin and present location I can’t recall. But I loved this album so much when I was 18 years old. I wasn’t even a year old when these shows took place. My NYC-born father was a season shy of his 41st birthday when the Europe ‘72 shows happened.
He was an only child, raised by loving, over-protective parents. As he would tell anyone who said hello to him, he grew up ‘on West 16th St. between Sixth and Seventh.’ Back then, this was a predominantly Irish neighbourhood where being an anomalous Jewish kid turned you into either a good fighter, a fast runner or a punching bag. He was not a fast runner nor a good fighter. Likely the reason why he felt lonely a lot of the time. This pushed him towards his interests; music, art, and movies for a nickel on a Sunday afternoon. He never talked about his piano lessons, which likely spared some boredom, but they stuck because he was a great player. However, not a great student because he couldn’t read a note of sheet music. He was all feel and I was fascinated as a kid at how he would trial and error his way to playing along with songs on the radio. He played by ear, he’d tell me. We had a standard Silent Generation father-Gen X son relationship, meaning we didn’t really understand each other and I was a little shit through my teen years. But the way we always did connect was music. We were both opinionated but open-minded, though, in the mid-80s, he would often walk by what I was listening to and say ‘They’ll be forgotten tomorrow’. They were, but then they started doing nostalgia tours in the 2010s, Dad.
I think he had concerns when my hair grew long and my pants turned a shade of Guatemalan. My parents both were oddly okay with me spinning out for a 4-day school skip to see the Spring ‘90 shows in Albany but one thing I was never deprived of was a long leash. I could’ve used a hell of a lot more of the discipline I came to find my own a few years later. For no good reason, I bought two tickets for the last summer tour shows that year in Tinley Park, outside of Chicago, but had no plans on how to get there. Amazingly, a friend came through to offer me space in a VW bus headed there, so I got to use one of those tickets. Way back then, kids, I paid $40 for them both. I told my parents I was heading to the shows without any real money, to which my dad said “You’ll end up dead in a ditch”. Harsh. But he came back later and wordlessly handed me a couple of American $20 bills. He was not happy but he cared enough to make sure I could afford a few St. Pauli Girls in the lot before the show.
Back towards Europe…
One afternoon, I asked my dad to have a listen to some music and he obliged, laying down beside me on my brother’s bed. I don’t know if I was seeking his approval or if I just wanted to share something that was important to me but I was happy that he joined me for a session. Something possessed me and instead of putting on ‘side three’ with Brown-Eyed Women, Hurts Me Too and Ramble On Rose, I played the last songs on the album, Truckin’ into the long jam that ends the album with Morning Dew. Perhaps it was because if my dad knew any Grateful Dead songs, it was likely Truckin’.
One quick note, my father was an artist and teacher for most of his life. He taught kids up in the Bronx in the 50s before shipping out to Arkansas during the Korean War. Afterwards, he studied at the Art Students League and then escaped the sadness he experienced after his father died. He moved up to Toronto in 1960, where he eventually met my mom and started a family. He opened his art school here in the early 70s. As an artist during these heady days, the man never smoked a cigarette much less a 1g pre-roll of Gooseberry Holocaust or whatever. He would on occasion drink perhaps a single or more likely, half a beer if urged. Usually in a single quaff. I never in my life saw him drink a second beer. The man was the straightest I ever met, yet here he was, lying beside me soaking in a waterbed of psychedelia. Literally. My brother’s bed was a fucking waterbed.
Cranking up the object of Turlock, California’s lust, the song starts with its solid groove and sweet-sounding harmonies. It rolls on for around six minutes just as one would hear from the single released in 1970. Perhaps some osmosis occurred at that time, implanting the song in my father’s mind. Truth be told, we never discussed the Grateful Dead enough to have any specific memories, so as the saying goes, I won’t let the truth ruin a good story. As the song plays out, by the eighth minute, we’re in uncharted waters. The song is still living within the framework but we’re clearly hearing a metamorphosis.
I think I started wondering if this shit was just too weird for my dad. But he grew did grow up in the jazz era, musically and while not a student of Monk and Coltrane, his exposure to freer jazz was inevitable. As the song hits the Epilogue stage, I looked over to my dad, lying supine beside me. His eyes were closed and his head was lightly nodding in time with Billy’s beats. After 5 minutes, the beat cuts out and Phil takes a slight chorded solo. Moving in the Prelude, we get some quiet dancing leads from Garcia and some picked dissonant chording from Weir. Tinkling in the background is Keith, while Phil plays underneath. Billy may be adding a few footsteps of high hat, but he’s slow to re-enter on the toms. Garcia dials up his own dissonance entering the psychedelic portal. Listening right now, I have to wonder what my dad thought of this. The freakout intensifies and I’m sure my dad had his concerns but let’s just say he slipped into a closed-eye realm of free association and creating geometric visuals in his mind. After all, his artistic mind moved in a different way than most. As the Prelude hits the 6-minute point, shit is getting weirder and I’m going to say my dad was being polite as he waits out the end. Fact is, my dad was never one to be polite for the sake of another’s feelings. He was never cruel, just honest. Or quiet. But you spend your childhood getting called a ‘kike’ and tasting meaty Irish fists and see how that forms your adulthood.
Finally, the reprieve from the weird, arguably the most beautiful song in the vast repertoire of the Grateful Dead plays. Sharp readers will recall that the song that shoved me onto the bus was Morning Dew. There could be a support group in every major city on the globe for people gatewayed to Deadhead status because of this song – in particular, the Europe ‘72 version. I looked back at my dad at this time and his lids remained closed but were pressed tight, signalling to me that he was treading upon the Purelands and gazing up at a Chandran eclipse. I deeply apologize to any Buddhists reading that fabricated phrase. As that first solo rings out, I am propelled back to my 18-year-old self. EVERY time I hear the Europe’ 72 Morning Dew solo this happens. It will probably be the last thing that passes through my mind as my soul leaves my husk. The song resolves afterwards, shrinking and contracting to a murmur.
Not a vocally introspective man, I actually knew very little about my father apart from the shallow knowledge we record from a life spent together. I never knew the first time he made love to a woman, his deepest regret, his greatest joy… These greatly important things that plot our movements despite our efforts, went into the pine box with him. One of my wishes now would not only be for him to be here again but for him to have these words soothe the sting of his defeats and disappointments, it doesn’t matter anyway, Dad. Tears threaten to form in my eyes as the second and final guitar solo plays. I picture my dad still deep in this moment, finding what we’ve all found in the music of this band.
Steering this mopey bus back on the road to Europe, on April 14th, on a day exactly 47 years after the Grateful Dead played the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen, likely within the moments they were playing Truckin’, my father passed along to whatever lies beyond.
In the Jewish faith, something that never rated particularly high in my household, we practice something called k’vod hamet, honouring the dead. The body of the deceased is washed head to foot with warm water before being dressed in a simple white shroud called a tachrichim that rich or poor, ensures all people are on level terms when they lie in finality, cold and breathless. After this was done, a man I never knew and never met, sat with my father’s body reciting psalms to soul guide my father’s spirit along. This attendant, known as a shomer, was also responsible for guarding his body for more than a day until he was moved into a simple box and then placed in a hearse, heading for burial. I know this because it was itemized on the funereal receipt we received. This unnamed man was paid $200. Probably the best money spent on this very large bill. The moment I learned this, it gave me a bit of warmth on a day when I was filled with emotion yet felt entirely numb. Not a faithful or superstitious man, I was happy he was never left alone. He would’ve liked that and had he been alive, he would’ve spent the entire night telling the shomer stories, like the one about the old Yiddish men who would tell the deli workers to dig elbow deep into the pickle barrel to retrieve the softest or how he lost a fingertip in some Army machinery while his mind drifted. He would’ve kept the conversation light, never delving into his loneliness as an only child or his fear of shipping out to Korea or how his big ideas never won him the payout he had hoped for. As the sun rose, I can picture him telling his rapt attendant about his grandkids before saying “Well, I guess that’s it” as he did so many times wrapping up a phone call with me.
Like I said in the title, this was barely a story to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Europe ‘72, but for me, it’s my story and it’s one that replays itself whenever I hear that Morning Dew. Me and my dad sharing space on one of the few stones of common ground in a vast field created by values, understanding, age difference and upbringing. I miss him and think of him every single day. Some of those days, I chuckle remembering the same 23 jokes he told us throughout our entire lives together. Other times, I feel I’m struggling in quicksand while I can’t see or speak to him and I feel a void in my gut that surfaces as anger and frustration more often than tears.
Anything I say about what my father said to me when Morning Dew ended would be a fabrication, so let’s just say he said “Well, I guess that’s it” and he got up to help himself to a bowl of maple walnut ice cream. As the finest raconteur I ever knew, I think he would approve of that ending.