In 1989 I took my father to see the Grateful Dead at Alpine Valley on Father’s Day. It was a good show as Dead shows go. I helped him down over the concrete wall and right up to the stage at the feet of Jerry Garcia. We were there for a good part of Throwin’ Stones before security escorted us back to the grass. I hope to never forget that.
In 1977 I found the Grateful Dead, or perhaps they found me, or “it” found me. Anyways, I felt like I found “it”. The back door to never never land, the secret pass to the party we’re all invited to but lost the directions, the escape hatch from a world I never belonged to, a world that robs itself of meaning and replaces it with pretty little shiny things and warns you that “it’s all good fun until someone loses their soul”. And there they were, on a rainy day in Waukesha. I was driving around looking for something I was sure I’d not find there when I ran into Duster buying a six pack. The six pack we shared while he played some music on his cassette deck, I think it was “Wake of the Flood”. Huh, lookie here, look what I found. Come to find out, the Dead were going to be playing in Madison in February of ’78. And the wheels started turning.
Sometime in the late sixties, my aunt and uncle bought me two albums for Christmas. One was The Raspberries, and the other was The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty. I actually asked for the Raspberries album, don’t remember why and it’s not important. I’m thinking one of the latent hippie salespeople at the record store was either exercising their delightful sense of humor or actually trying to share something they thought was special with some poor lost kid that wanted a Raspberries album for Christmas. Neither my Aunt nor my Uncle had ever heard of the Grateful Dead and, if they had, surely wouldn’t have presented it to their nephew. I listened to the Raspberries a couple of times, I wore American Beauty down to a skipping, scratchy sheet of cellophane. Many years later I’d dig it out and learn how to play the drums to it.
Last year, March 20th, it was March 21st, the first day of spring on the west coast, my father passed away. We hadn’t been close really for many years, I guess their was a rather healthy amount of mutual disrespect between us. I had been a bit of a disappointment while he had traded his dreams for a ticket to the “money show”. We were probably both right and both wrong, both at the same time. I have been surprised by the memories that have resurfaced in the last year, good ones. The place in my life that he filled will be forever empty save for those memories, I will never have another father. I feel the loss and, at the same time, am able to celebrate the richness his being bestowed on my world. And I admire his timing in the leaving. He had Alzheimer’s, amongst other maladies related and unrelated, his appreciation for life had nowhere to go but away. Time ground over him like a glacier, burying recent memories while it churned up long forgotten chapters of a young man, full of feeling, full of life. He would get all choked up talking about his friends that never came back from World War II. The last time I visited, I could see him looking at me sideways, a wisp of a sideways smile on his face, a childish glint in his eyes, reaching into the fog for a memory, and coming back with only the emotions left by forgotten things. I was prepared for the leaving. I was not prepared for the absence.