Eyes of the World
Three years ago, my mom passed away suddenly. It was a tremendous loss, to say the very least. Before she passed, I kept telling myself that one day, I’d get her, the kids and my wife Mary together and head down to Los Angeles to see a musical, because that’s what my mom loved best; watching musicals. But, life got in the way and I never made the dream happen and now it’s too late. I’m good at sharing platitudes like carpe diem and the like, but my mom’s passing taught me to truly seize the moment in a much more literal sense. Sometimes tragedy is the only thing that takes life lessons from being purely theoretical to something much more concrete and real.
So, when my daughter Logan turned 12 earlier this summer, I made good on a promise that someday, I’d take her to see Dead & Company, an iteration of my, hands-down all-time favorite band, The Grateful Dead. The reasons for me wanting to do this are various. During their lifetime, it’s really important to me that my kids see Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann, three of the original members of The Grateful Dead. Since Logan is a little older, I wanted to “check that box” with her first. It’s also really important to me that my kids always believe in the power of community, tolerance, togetherness, peace, love. Even as I write these, I realize they sound like outdated hippie ideals.
I haven’t always been a huge Deadhead, as our fan base is called. When I was in high school, I thought Deadheads lived this kind of dirt bag existence; I thought they reeked, were unemployed, protested wars and generally didn’t contribute much to society. I’d grown up in a pretty conservative household. My dad wore a tie to work every day and I always had short hair. I played sports and was a good student. But, I started to appreciate how Deadheads, and the band itself, cultivated an anti-war sentiment. While I very much support those who fight for our freedom, I was and remain torn and conflicted by the Vietnam War, and countless wars like it. In high school, the Grateful Dead’s anti-war stance became the conduit that lead me into their music. Then, in 1989, at the age of 19, I saw them live, for the first time, in Denver at the McNichols Arena, and my life changed forever. It’s like something just shifted inside me, and well…at the risk of sounding super cheesy, my heart just kind of opened up to a lot more possibilities. And, of course, who wouldn’t want that experience for their kids?
Since I can’t enroll them in an alternative Deadhead education [the courses would probably look something like: Being Free 101; The Fundamentals of Letting Go; Why Judging Other People Sucks (Multiple Semesters); Just Be Yourself (Graduate Studies) and Open Your Mind, the doctoral program], this was kind of the next best thing.
So Logan and I headed off to see the Dead & Company in the Bay Area, Shoreline Ampitheatre. Now, mind you, I totally get that the Dead & Company are not The Grateful Dead, but of all the iterations of that legendary band, from Furthur to RatDog, this one has brought me the most fulfillment and contentment. And this is the only one that’s left me feeling energized like I did when I saw the original members play together many times; the kind of energy that makes you feel hopeful. Let’s just call it a given that there will never be another Jerry Garcia, and never another Grateful Dead. But still…
When we arrived at the venue, we walked, hand in hand, down Shakedown Street, outside the stadium. We saw folks pedaling their wares: tie-dye shirts, incense, and crystals. I got to explain to Logan all about how I’d once given someone a free ticket, and she said “no way!” How, before shows, Deadheads will often hold up one finger, as if to say “I need a miracle.” It’s implied that they need a hand with a free ticket. And, I told her I’d given a ticket away because someone had once done that for me.
We got great seats. Logan was the youngest person in our general vicinity. The adults around her helped look after her. When I had to run to the bathroom, or get a beer, she said it was fine. I could tell she felt comfortable.
Then the show started. If you’ve never been to a Grateful Dead show before, well, in a nutshell, as an audience member, it’s about just being free. If you want to twirl around, lost in your own wonderful little universe, that’s okay. No one is going to judge you. That’s a powerful thing. Once you feel you can really just be yourself, then the entire experience becomes communal just by nature of the fact that people are not focusing on themselves, so this wonderful vibe of tolerance and fun starts and pretty much lasts for the rest of the show.
We had one especially cool moment; Logan’s known for a while now that, if you pay attention, you can often anticipate which song will be played next live, because The Grateful Dead were always known for leaving little hints of one song inside of another, while the other was still being played. Dead & Company keep this vital tradition alive. Eventually, the previous song dissolves into the next one, and you barely know it’s happened. Unless you pay attention. At one point, before it had actually started, Logan identified “Eyes of the World”…after just a couple of hints! Right then and there, I thought to myself, “You’ve done a fine job raising this child.” (Insert smiley face here). Seriously, that was a proud moment for me.
When Brokedown Palace played at the end, I took Logan in my arms and we danced through the entire song. Someday, I’m hoping to explain things like vintage variation to my kids, using the Grateful Dead as a device for analogy. Depending upon the night, location, whatever was moving them at the time, they never played a song the same way twice. The things you could rely upon…the lyrics for example, and the general melody, were there. But Jerry would take wild creative detours from the narrative of each song. He’d go off-roading around the linearity of the song, introducing new riffs, chord progressions, you name it. He was a master of improvisation.
For me, our vineyard blocks, say, Terraces, by way of example, are each like a Grateful Dead song when it comes to vintage variation. For example. I’ve worked with Terraces for so long that I know what to expect from it in some very specific ways. But vintage variation plays with those identifiers. Some years, the more minerally tones of this block are more evident, particularly in cooler years, like in 2011. In other vintages, the fruit notes are more prevalent. Oftentimes, the structure will change according to vintage. But, no matter what, I can always go back and recognize the Terraces signature. I can’t wait to talk to my kids about farming, grape varieties and cellar work in more detailed ways when they get a little older. And, I’ll be leaning on The Grateful Dead songbook to help me navigate it all.
The morning after the concert, I asked Logan if she’d ever want to go to another show. I asked her tentatively, in that way that dads do with 12-year olds who are by now cooler than their old man. She was intently reading a book and stopped. Looking up, she said, “yes, daddy,” and THAT was the highlight of the entire experience for me.