I have to say today is a mixed bag for invaders 🙂
On June 18, 1815, Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo (and why does the ABBA song play in my head when I type those words). On a brighter note, on this date in 1942 Paul McCartney was born. For those younger than 40 — OK, does anyone not know about the Beatles and the British invasion? He was supposedly the “mushy” one — which makes him which Jonas brother? After Wings (his break-up band after the Beatles), his music has been a little hit and miss. I’ve never adored him as much as George Harrison, but for almost 70 he still rocks pretty hard.
And with a Beatles segue no less….. “It was 20 years ago today…..”
Or 20 years ago last week — June 12, 1989. Back then I was an eager, passionate undergrad dedicated to sociology (which btw, provides some awesome parameters for studying history). Dr. Rebecca Adams suggested I take a methodology/fieldwork course she was running that summer — using the Grateful Dead subculture as the population. You’ve probably heard of the class over the years. There was a book, several documentaries and I think Robert Byrd denounced it from the floor of the Senate.
Now, you know, I’ve been a music junkie since birth — but I had never been to a show, had never really road-tripped without family.
So, walking into class that June day I had a few reservations. At first, It seemed like I was the only one with no “Dead” in my past. I discovered there were a few of us — one of the grad assistants seemed to be participating despite the music (hi Jon!), and there was an artist looking for inspiration. I found the theory riveting, and the people were great. Still, as the road trip portion grew closer I had a few qualms. Would I like the music? Would I have fun at the shows? I had done my research — the studio albums were OK, but I definitely didn’t understand the hoopla.
OMG — the trip was fascinating. The music….hmmmm. Imagine the best Saturday night party band you ever saw and add 20,000 of your closest friends. So much fun. Snapshots from that trip: Rebecca telling some Boston yahoos to back off in a way a Southern girl came to appreciate! Cool, drizzly rain falling on my sunburned arms as I sat and listened to “US Blues” on the 4th of July in Buffalo, NY. People laughing after that show asking if I “got” it. Yeah, I did. The hotel that ought to have been the one for “The Shining” in Wisconsin. Standing outside a show in Philly talking to some Hell’s Angels, who couldn’t have been kinder. The tapers sections at each show, loved by both the band and the audience. They were one of the few bands that actively encouraged their fans to share the music — which I just thought was so cool. And the music — much of the time on the bus, we listened to bootlegs of Dead shows, but sometimes some Rush snuck into the mix, and maybe a little jazz. And I’ll never forget at that hotel bar near Meadowlands — the lounge singer kept playing “Lay Down Sally,” and I kept asking if he knew any other Clapton. The white russians I was enjoying did not facilitate our communication. To this day, when I hear that song I get a little queasy. And the research — it was and is something I go back to as I look at communities and events in history.
Besides the obvious benefit, the takeaway was huge. I watched Rebecca juggle her work, her baby and marriage — truly awe-inspiring. As my little ones traipse from archive to battlefield, spending 2 months a year away from home, shushing when mama does an interview or is lecturing or worse trying to write — I have to thank her for showing me how to do it gracefully.
And me, I learned just how much I love live music. I went back on the road for a few Dead shows the following year, experiencing camping, the parking lot and so much joy! Since then, I’ve discovered everything from rap to metal, and taught my girls to listen to everything. My older loves classical, sings Broadway, and worships classic Billy Joel and just about anything she can dance to. The younger can’t live without Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, gets into old-timey bluegrass and does a mean beat box when she’s rapping. And they both know all the words to “Box of Rain.”
I was at a local hangout the other night and the bar band covered “Ripple,” following it with “Friend of the Devil.” As we say back home, “bless their hearts,” they tried. Even though there were a few cringe-worthy chords, I got that little smile on the inside and raised a glass to past, present and future perfect!
playlist Aly (some of these songs I heard at Dead concerts — in addition to their original material, the Grateful Dead liked to put their own spin on a lot of material): Oh, Atlanta (Little Feat — fell in love with them as a result of that summer; Lowell George was amazing!!!); Rise (Eddie Vedder); Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic); El Paso (Marty Robbins — this was one of the songs dubbed part of Bob Weir’s cowboy repertoire); Mama Tried (Merle Haggard — my big brother told me he’d go to a show if they play some Merle — I called him from Wisconsin); The Road’s My Middle Name (Bonnie Raitt); Cigarettes and Coffee (Jerry Garcia Band — also check out his Not for Kids Only album with Dave Grisman); Born at the Right Time (Paul Simon); Under the Bridge (Red Hot Chili Peppers); Tangled Up in Blue (Bob Dylan); I Fought the Law (the Clash); Uncle John’s Band (Jimmy Buffet’s cover is just laid-back cool); You Win Again (Hank Williams); Iko Iko (both Buckwheat Zydeco & Dr. John have great takes on this); Walk in the Sun (Bruce Hornsby — for a while he played keyboards for the Dead — and he’s incredible and is still one of my favorite concerts to attend!); Not Fade Away (the Rolling Stones); All Along the Watchtower (I never know which version to choose — the Dead did it well, so did Dave Mason, and Taj Mahal’s is all smoky sounding); Run So Far (Eric Clapton — anything but Lay Down Sally); Hey Man (the Eels); It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me (Billy Joel); Sugar Magnolia (there is no happier song — you also get teased a lot if you’re a southern girl selling “mexican grilled cheese” at a concert); Light in your Eyes (the Subdudes); Brokedown Palace (another Dead song that just feels good to hear); Mama Help Me (Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians); If you Want to Sing, Sing Out (Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam — he just keeps getting better); The House is Rockin’ (Stevie Ray Vaughn); Off the Ground (Christine Kane); Girl with a POV (Don Dixon); Touch of Grey (OK, I wasn’t as crazy about it then, but 20 years later…); Knocking on Heaven’s Door (there’s an awesome version with Dylan joining the Dead); Wild Ride (he opened for the Dead once at RFK — they had kick-butt opening acts!); and of course, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
I have spent my life seeking all that’s still unsung. –> lyric from “Attics of My Life”