That's because tonight's Dead show at Soldier Field in Chicago is scheduled to be their last. After tonight, the "core four" are set to retire for good.
I suppose it's fitting because the last time they all played together with Jerry Garcia before he died was on a June night in Chicago in 1995 (last song - Box of Rain). Finishing here on a July night gives the long strange trip some closure, I guess. Finishing here also gives Alexis and me a chance to get some interviews.
But what if those questions were turned on me? What if I interviewed myself about the last Grateful Dead show ever and what it means to me? Let's try a little investigative masturbation.
So, JED, when you think that this is the last Grateful Dead show ever, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
End of an era. On Monday morning, 50 years of tie-dye shirts will land at the Salvation Army store in Kearney, Nebraska. There'll be teenagers working the cornfields in "Europe 72" shirts for generations. And for years mechanics in barns will use "What a Long Strange Trip It's Been" tee-shirts laying around to mop up excess motor oil. Oh, and we can finally say goodbye.
Say goodbye to what?
Everything that the Grateful Dead meant to many of us. There has always been something special about the music, the way Jerry and Phil and Bob would just dink around on their guitars for a long time before breaking into "Ashes" or "St. Stephen." You wait around and wait around and then all the sudden it goes and you're all into it and there's sunshine in the world and it's not a daydream at all.
And then there's saying goodbye to the drugs. You can say what you want, but part of the Grateful Dead has always been about the drugs, lots of them. For me, curiousity about this part of the Dead culture ended almost 30 years ago, soon after the last time I saw the Dead live. I met a woman, had kids, work my ass off. That gets rid of the drugs part of the Dead pretty quickly.
Is this a historic moment, JED?
I guess so. The Dead will sit down and not rise again, at least not to play together as a group. That says it's over. Something's over. I can't necessarily put my finger on it. But you can feel that something is coming to an end, culturally and personally.
Yes, personally. In your life. In my life.
What does that mean?
It means that all of us, at least all of the older freaks hanging here around Soldier Field, are much different people than when we tagged around with the Dead. I am a much different person than I was 30 years ago, that's for sure. The last time I saw the Dead live I was a senior in college at Berkeley. I was 23 or so. Long hair. Finishing with a Sociology degree. Lots of partying, and of course there was the whole Barrington Hall thing.
Barrington Hall. You lived in Barrington Hall?
Excuse me, JED, but I've heard the stories about Barrington Hall. That was like headquarters central for DeadHeads back in the 80s. What was it like?
Hmmm. Well I don't know about headquarters central for DeadHeads through the 80s, but a lot of DeadHeads did crash at Barrington during Dead weekend. Barrington Hall was this former Army barracks that had been turned into the largest dorm in the Co-operative system. Part of your pay for room and board was that you had to work a certain number of hours a week. That's how the place ran, with student leadership and supervision. Although "supervision" is a pretty strong word. There wasn't a lot of supervision.
So what would happen on Dead weekend?
As you know, then, the Dead would come in for the whole weekend and kind of plop at the Greek Theater. Since it's just a few miles across the Bay from where Bob and Jerry are from, and not too far from the old hippie scene in San Francisco, the Greek Theater was kind of like the adopted home for the Dead. They'd come in at least a couple times a year and it was nothing but a big party.
And a lot of that party landed at Barrington Hall. You'd wake up in the morning and trip over people sleeping in the hallways and in the main dining room. Lots of drugs. Too much drugs. So there might be someone having a bad trip in the morning, with concerned DeadHeads of questionable hygiene holding the bad tripper as you would a child with a boo-boo. By mid-morning it would wear off and they'd be asking to use your bathroom.
Afterwards, if it were a true DeadHead, someone without money and no other life than to roam around following the Dead, your bathroom would smell like body odor for a couple of days. No biggie. It was all part of the cause, the purpose, the mission.
Which was what? What was the mission?
If I have to explain that to you, you weren't gonna get it anyhows. Suffice it to say, when the Dead came to town, if you wanted to do any Scientific Calculus homework, you had to go to the library or hang out on the lawn at Sproul Plaza. Remember, at Barrington Hall there were no real adults around. You could do whatever you wanted, including walk around naked, which some people did from time to time. Ask me about the "Naked Tetherball Story" someday.
I may never see you again, JED, so how about now. What does naked tetherball mean?
No, not right now. It doesn't feel right.
Then how about this - when the concert ends tonight, the last Grateful Dead concert ever, how do you think you'll feel?
Sad, like right now. I know it's a good vibe in Chicago with all the freaks walking around in tie-dye and the perfect weather and all, but to tell you the truth, I'm kinda sad about the whole thing. And that sadness won't really go away. Maybe it'll actually be a relief when it's over so I can get on with my radio life... without this unexpected cloud following me around.
What do you mean, unexpected cloud?
I really didn't think that the Grateful Dead even mattered that much to me anymore. The wife and I fell into some tickets and I said we might as well go... but then as the concerts got nearer, I started to really look forward to it. Months ago, I made my daughters clear their schedules so they could come to Soldier Field and experience the Dead. They did get to listen to the music as it is meant to be heard... Live, with a bunch of other Dead freaks swaying and dancing along with you. It was a nearly perfect evening... but still a low melancholy has set in and it's a complete surprise.
Is it grief?
Maybe. Since it's the final show, it's kind of like a funeral... for the Dead. It may also that I gotta face up to the fact that a part of me started to die 30 years ago and now it's official. Or something like that. I gotta go. Thanks.
Oh well, by doing this, I at least see a few questions to ask if indeed I decide to do some interviews. It's a little awkward walking up to people and just start talking to them, no matter how many times as local radio guy you do it. And there's a part of me that just wants to party it up and not "work" at all. But if you read this blog at all - and nobody really does, so don't lie - you know that I get this hankering for anything to do with "preserving history." One of the reasons that I write this fucking blog, besides it being a cheap form of psychotherapy, is that I want to preserve what it is, was, like to do traditional local radio. I'm local radio guy and this is my life. One day, local radio as we know it will be gone and at least you'll be able to follow my life around. Maybe then it won't be the blog that nobody reads.
But I digress. I gotta rally around the idea that I should charge all the batteries and get a charging cord for my Apple laptop. The other one just frayed and split last night. Just like that after all of these years. The computer actually used to be Jeanie's in high school. Now she's graduated from Wisconsin. Maybe it's not so odd then that on the last day of the Dead the wire could split.
In a larger sense, I try to let things come to me rather than making them happen through hard work and perseverence. It just seems to work better for me. In the trading pits, when shit would hit the fan in the markets, It was best if I didn't try to make sense of it but instead just let all that was happening flow through me. It's hard to explain but think of it as passive versus active. If you get still enough the next thing that you're supposed to do will come to you.
You still have to prepare, but for what you don't always know. Today, I'll prepare by getting all the cameras ready and see what happens from there. Maybe I'll get some great video and I'll post it and a zillion people will watch it. Or maybe I'll put down the camera and start drinking and, you know, forget all about the mission of preserving modern history. Maybe I'll just wind up being a little tired and hungover tomorrow for the radio show, but in a good way.