Bertha trainwreck by Christian Crumlish & co.
Starting to get this cover tune into shape (a Hunter/Garcia original that debuted on Jerry Garcia’s first solo album, Garcia, and popularized by the Dead):
Back in the dawn of the web, a scrappy bunch of iconoclasts (and I) put together a hyper web text media zine art thing we called Enterzone.
This loosely knit hyperlinked episodic publication contained creative and reportorial content, experimental and traditional works, art and reviews. Some of the founders shared an interest in loose-limbed improvisational music and we prevailed upon one of our friends, Nicholas Meriwether, who even then exhibited a preternatural affinity for deep scholarly inquiry into the counter-culture (as he likes to style it*) and related phenomena.
Also, the Dead, man…!
Because, yes, Nicholas is today the curator of the Grateful Dead archive at UC Santa Cruz, a role he may have been put on this earth to play (among others – Nicholas is a stunningly talented person in many ways).
Anyway, back then we leaned on Meriwether heavily to fill in the gaps on early and recent Bay Area counterculture (that’s how I spell it) happenings and also perhaps because he was still under the thumb of a (friendly) dissertation adviser, he preferred to make some of his contributions to our ‘zine under a semi-acrosticlike pseudonym, Griffin Nicholson and I must say that some of the best original work we published in Eneterzone was by this Griffin fellow.
So, anyway, at the dawn of So Many Roads, a scholarly Dead conference that Meriwether is curating at San Jose State University this fall, it seems appropriate to formally acknowledge that Nicholas is Griffin and that Meriwether is the author of all of the wonderful pieces archived on his author page at Enterzone.
* UPDATE: Meriwether writes “I no longer spell ‘counter-culture’ with the hyphen… that was a legacy of my time at Cambridge (where I was nominally registered at the time)[.]”
Before applying the electrodes to the heart of the typewriter yesterday my last post here was about an experiment I started last July of posting videos of myself playing and singing songs to YouTube.
That’s really where my “blogging” energy has been since then, as I have built of quite a body of performances. It’s great having them out there and the feedback has been more encouraging than I’d hoped for, but I still feel like these things all need to be posted here, too, and organized by song, with the good takes highlighted, or something like that.
Or maybe I’l build out pages on my wiki and just like from here. Not sure.
Anyway, here’s my latest. I’ve got an arrangement for the Hunter / Garcia song “Loser” on ukulele that’s starting to come together:
At the prompting of a list mate, I wrote up a little recollection-type story and then thinly disguised the real names and posted it to Medium.
Here’s a teaser:
It was the summer of 1987. A year earlier I had driven most of the way across the country (before driving off the road near Gillette, Wyoming), and flown the rest of the way to start my post-graduation life in San Francisco, crashing with a bunch of friends of mine, known as the Geebens, who had graduated, or dropped out, the year before me and were at the time crammed into a tickytack rental in Diamond heights.
Since then the Geebens had rented two houses a block apart from each other in the neighborhood of UC Med, near 9th and Judah, in the inner Sunset. Our two largish Victorians had become crashpads and launchpads for a wave of friends visiting California for New Year’s shows or on wanderjahrs or on graduation. We eventually instituted a two-week rule to prevent permanent occupations by the less well motivated.
We really learned this lesson after NYE ’86 when some friends of friends were still staying with us in February. You know the old joke about “how do you know a Deadhead has been staying in your house?”
So, back to summer of 1987. One of my friends who had taken a year off or otherwise contrived to stay another year at Princeton after I graduated in ’86 was coming out to SF. I forget how or whether I knew this, but I probably had some kind of heads up. One way or the other, I got a call from the airport from Steve Capacole, a rotund, balding redheaded Italian-American from Philly whom I had met the first week in college when he found the grand piano in the lobby of my dorm and was casually rehearsing classical pieces while hungover and stoned kids lounged on couches grooving to it.
My review of a memoir by poet Peter Conners called Growing Up Dead appeared in the Proceedings of the Grateful Dead Scholars Caucus at the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture Association conference in Albuquerque a week or so ago, reprinted here with permission from Dead Letters Press, the publisher of the Proceedings:
Growing Up Dead:
The Hallucinated Confessions
of a Teenage Deadhead
by Peter Conners
da Capo Press, 2009
Pick up just about any history or memoir of the Grateful Dead and you’ll hear about bluegrass, the Acid Tests, Live/Dead, Europe in ’72, the hiatus, and the Pyramids in excruciating detail. Then the years start to fly by, punctuated by the occasional happening: hit song and tour with Dylan in ’87, return to Europe in ’90, and then all of a sudden Jerry is dead and we’re into that nebulous post-Grateful period that continues to this day. This is understandable, but for Dead fans like my self who got on the bus in the 1980s, this leaves out a big important part of the story.
During the long period between album releases, when perhaps various bandmembers’ rebellious proclivities were beginning to catch up with them, the Dead scene experienced something of a third wind. Perhaps it was the advent of the “just say no” years and the growing need for a refuge for the disaffected youth of that era. Garcia famously called the Dead tour the last remaining great American adventure. Certainly my own experience when I stumbled into the parking lot in 1984 was a stiff sense of incredulity: how was this through-the-looking-glass society existing in parallel with the malls and office parks of the Reagan 80s? How were we getting away with this? How could it possibly last?
As we know, it couldn’t last. It was a bubble of sorts, but its surface tension held for a crucial stretch of years, long enough to sustain this pocket of the counterculture until reinforcements could arrive, tune up, plug in, and rock out.
Peter Conners is a bit younger than I am, but he got on the bus just before the tidal wave of a “hit song on MTV” crashed into the parking lot scene of 1987 and his memoir, Growing Up Dead, represents the first holographic capture of exactly what it felt like at just that time. He limns the road, the buses, the parking lots, and most importantly the shows, the music, and lyrics of the Grateful Dead in the 1980s. He described growing up in a suburban middle class enclave and falling in with a stoner crowd and eventually finding himself in the world of the Deadheads.
Perhaps most importantly, he finds his muse and toward the end of the tale, when he comes off the road, he finds that he has become a poet. The language of the Dead spoke to him and brought something out of him that his teachers and his day-to-day life did not manage to reach. As Conners said in an interview conducted on the Well’s public Inkwell conference:
When I was growing up, I didn’t have any friends who connected to language on that same level. I still remember sharing my first poems with friends. To their credit, they were openly enthusiastic. No one in our group, myself included, knew anything about poetry or literature outside of what we were fed in school. We all bonded over lyrics, singing them, writing them on our notebooks, etc., but that was more about our love of the bands and reinforcing our bonds with each other.
His is not the tawdry tale of excess and destruction and repentance that we’ve been hearing since the opium eaters but one of enlightenment, joy, self-discovery and, ultimately, graduation into adulthood and self-possession.
Conners is a gifted storyteller and delivers his tale not as a series of banal or hyperbolic generalities but in a well-knit sequence of anecdotes and portraits. The book moves along swiftly and sweeps you up in the life path of this young person questing in search of fun and liberty and friendship and love.
The story of the Grateful Dead from the viewpoint of the musicians and the Peninsula milieu in which the coalesced has been told to death (and I’ve devoured with pleasure each telling and re-telling of those days) and to some extent the personal stories of the extended community rooted in those early days and into the 1970s has at least begun to be told, but Growing Up Dead crucially fills a gap in the story without which my own experience lacks a literary context, and for this I am, dare I say it? grateful.
Oh, and hey now, be sure to read Conners’ wonderful Dead Crazy Uncle, which was reprinted as well in the Proceedings.