Monday, June 01, 2009

Around and Around

Today, I won’t write about what I want to write about. What I want to write about is Lupac the cat and her travails but Consort has astutely noted I’ve been writing about cats an awful lot lately. Soon, I will write about Lupac and her travails and we’ll all feel sorry for her and she’ll sneer at our pity, but today I am going to write about the least likely thing I ever did. Something so out of character, in fact, that when Consort first heard about it last night his eyes widened and he said dubiously, “You…!” This was especially pleasing since we’ve known each other over a decade and he assumed he knew every detail of my past life. He was in the room when I had my c-section so he’s even met some of my internal organs; that still irritates me on some level. And yet, I do have a few mysteries left. I have done things I’m not proud of. I have found myself in situations where I could do little more than bow my head and pray for the strength to see me through a dark and troubling experience.

Yes, I attended a Grateful Dead concert.

I like to think of myself as adventurous. Then again, I also like to think of myself as 5’9”. In reality, I’m happiest when eating something I’ve eaten before or listening to something I’ve listened to before, ideally while wearing some variation of the same khaki pants I’ve worn my entire adult life. For instance, I spent this past weekend reading a book about Patrick Henry College, a place dedicated to forming the next generation of evangelical politicians. To me, this was the perfect Quinn adventure; reading about someplace completely outside my world while sitting on my couch wearing my familiar clothes and feeling my cat sulk behind me.

[I promise you, I’ll bring you up to date on Lupac in the next post.]


But when I was twenty-two I was invited to join a friend at a Grateful Dead concert. I decided while the very thought of it made me nervous, I should consider it an adventure, something which might open up a whole new side of me. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that my personality might be an immovable object, my likes and dislikes carved in stone before I reached the age of maturity. I didn’t understand a great deal about myself and the world around me at the time.

For example, I didn’t understand that part of the Dead experience was to get there early and walk through what appeared to be a street bazaar situated in a country whose main exports were incense, body hair and whatever is the opposite of irony. I arrived with my friend and her mother. My friend’s family was wrapped in the sixties like a permanent poncho. My friend’s name was kind of a weather system and kind of a Platonic Ideal; let’s call her Raintruth.

Needless to say, they had seen the Dead many, many, many times and they were very familiar with the pre-show cavalcade. They bought their dinner and encouraged me to do the same. I’m a vegetarian but I’m not that kind of vegetarian; you know, the kind who likes a bean burrito with fingerprints. I’m the fussy kind. I asked around, to see if anyone had food which had been packaged in a large and anonymous building, preferably by Chinese prisoners who washed their hands, but no luck. Yes, there were bags of substances to be bought, but they had no relationship with the Kraft Corporation. My friend and her mother, having travelled all over the world living on local street food, had a digestive system capable of extracting nutrients from untreated sewage.

So now I was hungry. I was also coughing because we were walking though a nearly solid wall of smoke through which you could see nothing more than a flash of graying braid or the glint of sunlight off a dream-catcher. It was like walking through London in the 1870’s, only without Jack the Ripper. Or undergarments. Under the constant chatter of people buying grubby food or hemp backpacks, I noticed what appeared to be some music playing. Or rather, it was the same seventeen seconds of music, which had been playing for twenty minutes. Was someone’s cassette stuck? Do cassette tapes stick? I pointed out the sound to Raintruth. She cocked her head and focused on the noise, a pre-Raphaelite beagle hearing the bay of the fox hunt.

“That’s ‘Uncle John’s Band’, she said. “Berkeley…August ’75, I think.”

And with that, I understood a little more. I learned about the Dead bootleg tape industry, I learned that Raintruth was probably not going to find the humor in this and I learned I disliked Grateful Dead music very much. Someone once described the Dead as modern variation of bluegrass. I’m fine with bluegrass but this wasn’t bluegrass. This was the soundtrack to staring directly into the sun.

The small part of my brain which isn’t mean and horrible spoke up. Let’s try reserving judgment until we actually get inside the Forum and hear a single solitary song, okay? it snapped. Besides, they drove and you can’t sit outside for three hours so just suck it up and think of this as an adventure.

It was an adventure, all right. We got inside, the lights went down and several men who looked to have eaten a few fingerprinted burritos in their time ambled onstage. The audience cheered which I took to mean these were The Grateful Dead. I came of age in a time when “Rock God” meant “Deathly pale, thin and British.” My ideal rock star was Bryan Ferry. These appeared to be Bryan Ferry’s roadies. They began tuning their instruments. A few minutes passed. The woman next to me started spinning in circles, her hair and breasts flying around. I came to understand the band wasn’t tuning up; this was their first song. I had never heard it before but by the end I was singing along which wasn’t a great trick because the song lasted seventeen minutes and had one chord. Everyone around me was sort of spinning and sort of hopping. I had a sudden flash of insight: this is what American dancing would have looked like had black people never existed.

The song didn’t end so much as gently expire on the floor. Another song, nearly identical, began. The woman next to me, refreshed from a pull of something pinkish-grey in a water bottle, began to spin again, faster. Her hair whipped across my face, some actually brushed my lips. It tasted a bit like lentils. It was time for me to go. I raced up the aisle, prepared to sit outside the Forum in the dark and count not-so-distant gunshots to pass the time. As I dashed toward the exit, an older woman touched my shoulder and looked at me kindly. “Are you having a bad trip?” she asked, understandably assuming anyone running about at a Dead concert might be trapped in a horror of their own making, desperate for a wiser hand to lead them to safety.

She wasn’t entirely wrong, but I didn’t see her driving me back to West Hollywood. I answered, “Thanks, but I just need some air,” and I took my khaki-wearing, judgmental, hungry, novelty-despising self out into the clear and music-free night.

21 Comments:

Blogger expateek said...

Brilliant. And hysterical. And I like my rock Gods deathly thin, pale and British too.

Right after Jerry Garcia died, back in 1995, the local radio station played Grateful Dead for a solid week, and I remember thinking, "Just kill me now." I would have been grateful, probably.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Lefty said...

I like the Dead, and I've been to two shows. The bazaar is quite an experience. I had a handful of various beans and sprouts shoved into a pita. I was so hungry and this was before the Purell revolution; it was, at the time, the best thing I'd ever eaten.

The music itself is perhaps an acquired taste. It took me a while and I've still never considered myself a Deadhead.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

Quinn, you are incredibly funny. And I think in a previous life or in some mysterious way, you and I must be related. Although I am 5-9. (Trust me, it was not fun towering over all the boys in junior high.)

Line in this I will never forget: It tasted a bit like lentils.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Not The Rockefellers said...

This should be put in a time capsule.
For future generations to learn from...

You do indeed rock

Peace - Rene

4:34 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Amazing, how interesting you can be whether it is the adventures of a cat or a Grateful Dead show.

And I KNOW people reading that Patrick Henry book. Do tell, what thinkest thou?

8:45 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

Brilliant. And this from an old dead head. I've seen them countless times, but that was in my youth in the 1970's. I have extremely fond memories of the concert that got them tossed from Boulder for a couple of years. They had some guy with a huge black knapsack filled with lids of some decent pot wandering through the stadium. You would see a crowd gather around him, then a big flash of silver shiny plastic bags, a rush of hands grabbing upwards, and then he would move on to another spot. Guy must have had 50 lbs of pot on him, just tossing it up into the air.

Your comment on dancing: "I had a sudden flash of insight: this is what American dancing would have looked like had black people never existed." TOTALLY right on!

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Noel said...

Quinn!

Just saw Phish in Boston Sunday night- and while I loved the show & the one Dead show/experience I made it to in '89, your " I had a sudden flash of insight..." line killed me!- I had the exact same thought Sunday night watching (and dancing the same dance) with the multitudes :-) Thanks for the laugh.

1:54 AM  
Blogger Char said...

this is exactly the experience I expect I would had if I had gone with friend too. the same reason I didn't go see DMB on 4/20 in my hometown. there are some things better left unseen.

5:35 AM  
Blogger P said...

God you are good. This blog is always a pleasure.

Cheers.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Dodi said...

OK, the insight you have on dancing cracked me up. In college (particularly at the Earth Day concerts) my friends and I would gawk at those people doing what we named "the Led Zeplin dance." Some music was not meant for dancing. Especially white people dancing. EVER.

I would have never pictured you at a Dead concert. Asia? Yes. Dead? No.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Christy Archibald said...

I read this with great amusement, having lived with a Deadhead boyfriend in a house of mostly Deadheads at WVU lo many years ago. He owned and played only Dead albums, though there were a couple of Jefferson Airplanes in there too. I do still like I Know You Rider, but otherwise can cheerfully never hear another Dead song in my life. We lasted less than a year. He met some other chick at some sort of hippy/nude/drop acid festival. He DID do one great thing. As a combination breakup/birthday present he gave me a Siamese kitten (his mother bred Siamese, and his own Siamese was named China Cat Sunflower). The stipulation was that I had to name her after a Dead song. So, after much thought, I named her Delilah (After Samson and Delilah) and she was with me for a glorious 18 years.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would dearly love to know what brought this to mind. I'd like to thank it. -- tina

5:44 PM  
Blogger panda said...

I grew up in the SF Bay Area, and went to UC Berkeley in the early 80's. I could walk the 35 minutes from my home to campus and another 35 minutes back every day and never once be out of earshot of a Grateful Dead, Beatles or Bob Dylan song somewhere in the distance.

I do not miss that part. At all.

8:26 PM  
Anonymous scarlet said...

oh thank you for this. it was just what i needed!

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as one who loves his music psychedelic and progressive and who firmly believes music should be mind-manifesting I totally agree with you. The Grateful Dead just kinda, sorta sucketh. Thanks for the laugh! As someone said earlier, you rock!

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Basic premise, take drugs, music
sounds great,take lots of drugs
and you can hear it and dance to it.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

"this is what American dancing would have looked like had black people never existed."

This is absoLUTEly priceless! I was reading thinking, "Yeah, and that guy in college, that guy Mike - JJ said that guy listened to the Dead all the time, even in the shower, and he did this hoppy little dance thing, and..." And then I read that line.

The funnier part for me personally, was that me and my friends had a blues band, which was all about a steady backbeat and no hoppy, swooshy, spinning type of dancing - although Mike was still a really nice guy. Just had to throw that in.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Lauri Hahn said...

This is so cleverly written & expressed. Your writing draws the reader in so closely, I feel like I'm the witty one having the well-articulated experience. Lyric to apply: "...Set up, like a bowling pin..."

But still, great way to learn who you aren't, even in your 20's when I'm pretty sure NO ONE does.

8:47 PM  
Blogger marta said...

I think to be a Deadhead you have to go along with the whole "Emporers New Clothes" mindset... And people wonder how Hitler got where he did?...especially with out drugs??
Very funny post, can't wait for the Lupac update!

5:52 PM  
Anonymous abbey_kyle said...

the more I read your blog, the more I realize how ignorant you are.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous mk ray said...

I know a pair of brothers who go to Patick Henry U. Honestly, neither one is all that smart. But maybe that's a blessing.

10:49 AM  

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