That line from Sgt. Pepper kept going through my mind, “It was 30 [I know the lyrics say 20] years ago today….” as I drove the miles down US 29 from College Park to Greensboro. The sky kept painting itself bluer & greyer as showers punctuated the trip. The Dead travel CDs I’d made, echoed the spring storms. As I crossed into the old North State, the rain stopped and I rolled my window down to feel the soft breeze, that isn’t like anywhere else against my skin.
Relying on the GPS as much as memory, as streets have changed over the years, I found the Airbnb nestled in a neighborhood I knew from my youth and the early years of being a mom – play and playdates mingled. I knew I’d be late to the film screening kick-off to the weekend conference, and realized I was going to have to embrace my inner White Rabbit for the whole weekend… I’m so glad I made it downtown! First, you go Greensboro! The revitalization, creativity and inclusive feeling of the downtown area was thrilling. Even better, was seeing Rebecca waving at me from under the streetlight at the Forge and the hug that erased a couple of decades of missing her. Within short order, Kathryn and Jeff were there — and we started the essential joy of catching up! Of course, watching Amir’s film as well — I had binge-watched it on Amazon, so being able to talk about it — was the most exciting part of the event. Those moments when ideas are bouncing around the room like sparks in a static electricity display fizz in my mind, connecting this conversation with this image and that book scored by that song. Afterward, Kathryn and I went back to the Airbnb, like our general roommate-ing on tour, talking for another hour or more (at least till the restaurant really wanted to close) despite our respective drives.
Realizing that I needed to hone my infinitely too long presentation, I tried to work a bit — but found myself listening to music and snuggling down into memories and sleep, sigh. We got over to campus and parked in time to grab a coffee from Tate Street coffeehouse, one of those, “I know I’m home” places. And who should we meet to share our coffee moment but Kristen, not a day older, just as poised and confident as she was as a freshman. Then it was off to the conference in the truly spiffy new student union — which lacked that “duck and cover” feel of its earlier incarnation. There was Emily, Jon, and Steve, and Hadley (who is an adult, despite all of us — having that image of her joyous, acceptance of the travel chaos of the bus). Lloyd, you were very missed!
Reflecting on the conference — I can’t do linear here… first, because it’s too immediate, but primarily neither the event nor the subject lends itself to a straight line.
- Opening remarks: The Chancellor mentioned he wanted to be provocative — and brought up diversity. It’s a fantastic topic — yet one that is acknowledged in much of the Dead literature — noting, in general, it’s a homogenous population. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva notes, “Colorblind racism is the new racial music most people dance to, the ‘new racism’ is subtle, institutionalized and seemingly nonracial.” Absolutely yes, there’s so much fodder for research, and so little need for division here — the part of me that thinks “after the girls graduate, I’ll go get my doctorate” has been like Lucy with the bon-bons faster & faster all weekend (cue the gender panel, omg brain overload)
- Panels: The class had a panel — and there was Len, and Paul, and Austin, and Rob, and Kristen, and Lisa (in spirit there — live later), and Jeff, and Kathryn, and Jon. Andy, and Shep, and Paul were there. Rebecca’s family was there. And all of us imagined at some point, Bradley there. Over Saturday, I was so lucky to be in company with some of the most imaginative, creative and successful people in the world — maybe not Warren Buffet style — but people who have overcome whatever life has offered as a challenge and they’ve overcome with grace and music, laughter and defiance. Also, I wanted to say — thank you, Rebecca. Looking back, you’d just gotten tenure, you had a new small person and you were pioneering this immersive, subculture research with a whole class, on the road. There were times you must have been terrified, and amazed, and thrilled, and challenged! Thank you so much!
- Journalists: I’m a research librarian — I still read journalists. When I’m doing a presentation on something that happened in the 1930s, or reactions to a famous speech (ie the Chicago Times commented on the Gettysburg Address, “The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances”), journalism connects me to a time and place. Jerri and Parke and Jesse offered entertaining and nuanced takes of their journeys in and through the community. Plus, when I lived in Greensboro – they were my “go-to” for cultural interest — so it was a treat to hear them out loud instead of in my head 🙂 If I have heard someone’s voice, I can hear it as I read them — which is a delight. Yet, listening to them live, hearing the south wash over me — omgosh, when Emily started talking early in the day — her voice was like seeing camelia’s in the spring, I was home.
- Moments with Jon and Rob: I had one of those wonderful conversations that make you happy for southern afternoons and good friends (though all of us were wearing our obligatory conference black jackets — and it got warm). Music, politics, family, and sociology juggled back and forth, threads connected and friendships deepened! And Jon, you are one of my favorite people — your combination of humor and compassion is rare and so appreciated! I can’t wait to meet Kim and the fur babies. Rob, not shortchanging you I promise — it was so amazing to catch up after all this time, and you have no idea how I value your contributions to the community college system.
- Let there be songs: As Austin kept saying, “3 shows in one night”. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to rebuild my music life — flooding my senses with sound again. We fed our bodies with Stamey’s (no BBQ like NC bbq & I got hush puppies & slaw) — after we’d just seen David Gans play with Jon Walters (such a pleasure to meet you) combined with fantastic photos of the Dead over the years. I was so happy to see Jeff & Mary, Len, and so many others. After touching bases all day, I had the chance to get contact information for Kathy — creating my own little Dead network in College Park! The Spartans play Dead was our next destination, and feeling my body react to music as it always does was so exhilarating (and I feel less weird, as there is science to back it up: Why do only some people get ‘skin orgasms’ from listening to music?). Then to cap off the night so perfectly, we went down to Walkers and listened to Andy’s band rock the house!! Wait! Did I think the evening was finished — we ran into Rebecca & Jon — and talked forever, sparking ideas and dreams long forgotten! By the time Kathryn and I got back to the Airbnb, we could barely form sentences between yawns. On that note, such a shout out to Kathryn — sharing lodgings with her as we did back in ‘89 was complete joy — and even more so rekindling a friendship so much missed! Thank you so much for coming down, and being you!
Before I got on the road, I had to stop at Bicentennial Gardens. It’s not just people that are touchstones in your life, there are places and specific willow trees — I know it’s silly, but that tree has been there forever — and listened to some of my most heartfelt sorrows and incandescent joys. I always thought it was splendiferous that the centerpiece of the gardens is a statue of a “Student” commemorating the David Caldwell school of the area. Sunday, I sat under its feathery branches remembering picnics with the girls, dreamy conversations with dear friends, and studies punctuated by butterflies, and breezes carrying whispered fears and hopes across the universe. I added to my cacophony on this Sunday morning — dreaming, wishing, planning, singing (very quietly — so as not to pain listening ears), and realizing that I was away too long. Mea culpa to those I missed seeing, and I will be back sooner rather than later!
Families are of blood and of choice — those bonds we created all those years ago thread through our lives, and echo like music. I treasured sharing our songs again this weekend, and hope we can do so again in the near future.
Community is a place where the connections felt in our hearts make themselves known in the bonds between people, and where the tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening our hearts. – Parker J. Palmer