Email with Shasta

From Shasta sent from San Francisco, California
August, 2006:

 

1) What music were you listening to before the Grateful Dead? Did that have any effect on you getting into Grateful Dead?

 

Prior to getting into the Dead, I mostly listened to metal and classic rock, but I also listened to a pretty wide variety of music.  Having an older sister always helps.  She turned me onto everything from the Clash to the B-52s to the Talking Heads.  She was always trying to get me more into New Wave and punk.  But as a kid I got turned onto AC/DC, which was actually pivotal in my falling in love with music in general.  I got a guitar within a month and all my allowance and lawn mowing money started going to buying records.  It was the classic rock side of things that exposed me to the Dead.  I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and so at some point I heard some songs by the Dead.  I wasn't very impressed when I first heard them.  The studio versions of "Truckin'" or "Uncle John's Band" just aren't exceptional songs for someone who doesn't have the background of also knowing their live sound.  So it wasn't until I bought Dead Set that things really clicked.

Music was always an emotional outlet for me.  I was a pretty angry kid for no particular reason.  An overly strict father, a boring suburban landscape, and some friends who treated each other like crap are really my only excuses.  So I was attracted to metal and hard rock as an outlet for the way I felt.  I think as I started to mature, I became self aware enough to know that wallowing in my anger wasn't helping matters.  So bands like Pink Floyd and The Dead started to attract me more.  These were bands that steered away from the anger of metal, but were "classic rock" so they were still legitimate bands to listen to amongst my group of friends.  With the Dead, I suddenly found some music that wasn't trivial like the pop crap that was being put out in the early 1980s, but still had a happiness to it that set it apart from the music I was used to listening to.  I can remember lying down in my dad's house with Dead Set in the cassette player and headphones on listening to "Fire on the Mountain" and "Franklin's Tower" with the biggest smile on my face.  At the age of 14, it was pretty god-damn rare for me to have a smile on my face.

 

2) Why weren’t 15 Grateful Dead shows enough?  Why did you keep going to see more?

 

I think there are a few reasons for why I kept going to more and more shows. The first, and most obvious, answer is that every show was different.  They never played things the same way twice and for the time period when I was seeing shows (mostly 1985 to 1990) the band just kept getting better every tour.  Literally. So I never wanted to miss where they were going to take it next.  Following Jerry's coma in 1986, he came back and cleaned up his act and by 1988 was playing better than he had in more than a decade.  Brent was coming into his own, and he was contributing not just more songs, but also raising the musicality of the band overall.  Simply put, the music at that time period was smokin'.

The second and still somewhat obvious answer was that I was always searching for *the show*.  The elusive show when it all came together.  That night when they played everything perfectly and broke out all the songs that everyone yearned for - Dark Star, Help On The Way, etc.  You could always feel that show coming, and so you had to keep going to make sure you were there when it happened.  Luckily for me, I caught *the show* in Hampton '89.

It was everything I could have ever asked for.  But strangely it still didn't satiate me.  After that I had to see when they were going to do it again.  I had to be there for when they would break out the last two songs of the ancient Dead mythos: St. Stephen and Cosmic Charlie.  It became a jones where nothing was enough and I let shows that weren't *the show* become hum-drum.  A show that didn't include Dark Star was just another show.  I was like a drug addict trying forever to recapture the first high. 

I stopped really appreciating shows for the beauty that they possessed.  If Brent hadn't died, I probably would have stopped touring around that time anyway.  But as it was, his death gave me the excuse to break clean of the rut I had let myself get into.

The final, and perhaps least obvious, reason why I kept going was because it was something I was good at.  I was a good Deadhead.  I had started going to shows before most of my contemporaries.  I was one of the first to travel to the West Coast for the New Year's run.  I was the only one to see shows at the Greek Theater.  I drove a VW camper.  I played in drum circles.  I had an ego about it.  There wasn't much in my life during my teen years that I was good at.  Pretty much nothing in fact.  But in the Dead subculture, I was good at being a Deadhead.  I met new people and started to feel an escape from my little suburban landscape, and I started to feel both like a bigger fish in my small pond and also I felt like I had found a bigger pond to swim in once in a while.  This was good for me in a sense - for the first time in my life I started to develop some pride and self-respect.  But it was obviously a bad thing too.  I wasn't used to having anything to be proud of, so I wasn't very good at it.  A lot of the time it came out as me just being a jerk.  And, of course, doing something for the sake of its effect on your ego isn't going to be healthy in the long run.  You either need to keep doing more to keep the ego growing, or at some point you face-plant and realize what an ass you are.

 

3) Best single memory of a Grateful Dead show?

 

Nope. Not gunna do it.  There is no single best memory.  Putting a hierarchical order to times of true pure joy isn't fair and can't legitimately be done.  But, of course, there were a few that will always stand out.  The first would have to have been Canada's Wonderland in the summer of 1987.  This was my third show, but the first one where I truly was blown away.  Maybe it was the fact that I had spent the day riding a stand-up roller coaster while tripping on acid.  Maybe it was the fact that it was a beautiful summer day.  Or maybe it was the fact that they played what I still consider to be one of the best shows I ever saw them play.  It was an outstandingly well played show with fantastic song choices and a small venue with acoustics to die for.  This was the show that solidified me as not just a Dead fan, but as a Deadhead.  A few days later I saw them play at home in Rochester, and a week later I went down to Philadelphia to see them play with Bob Dylan.  My first summer "tour."

Of course, equal to that or better was Hampton '89.  The first night of the two night stand, I was in the front row right between Jerry and Brent.  When they came out for the second set, as soon as Jerry started tuning his guitar I knew.  I could hear it coming and it was one of the happiest moments of my life.  Then ... BOOM ... Help>Slip>Frank.  And they fuckin' rocked it. 
We all debated that night - what would happen the next night?  Someone said they were going to play Dark Star.  Someone else said they didn't care, 'cause even if the next night sucked, tonight was the best show they'd ever seen.  We all agreed and counted our lucky stars.  The following night I was where I nearly always was: out in the hallway near some speakers dancing with dozens of others who valued space for dancing more than a view of the band.  The second set started with one of the strongest Playing in the Band's I'd ever heard.  Somewhat predictably they surged into Uncle John's and then back for very nice little Playin' reprise.  Then the notes.  When I was growing up there was a TV show called "Name That Tune."  As a kid, I could never understand how those people could name a song in just a few notes.  But that night in Hampton, there wasn't a person there who couldn't name that tune in one note.  Or four at the very most.  Dark Star.  I'd made it.  All that traveling.  All those shows.  All the money spent.  All the years I should have been going to school or getting a career together.  It finally happened.  I was listening to the boys play Dark Star.  And it wasn't that mediocre Dark Star from the Greek in 1984.  No, this one was played with authority.  They took it out of the closet and beat us over the head with it.  There was meat to it, then there was shimmering delicacy, then they took it out for a joy ride in the cosmos.  As legendary producer Bruce Dickenson would say "they really explored the space ... I mean really *explored* the space!"  But wait, there was more.  Death Don't Have No Mercy.  They had recently played this for the first time in twenty years or so.  But the version from this night remains my favorite version of the song of all time.  When Jerry was soloing, and Bobby came in with a very loud but perfectly timed rhythm guitar lick, it sent me into tears.  Literally.  To this day, I can listen to that tape and I can not only picture that moment, but I can feel it.  But wait, it still wasn't over.  For dessert, they played one of their most beautiful songs of all time: Attics of My Life.  First time they'd played it in over twenty years.  Again, tears streaming down my face.  When it was over, I felt thankful on a level I honestly don't think I'd ever felt before.  It may sound stupid to people who've never been Deadheads, but if you've been one, then you know.

But there were a million other moments too.  Both inside and outside shows. 

The time Sissy and I got them to play Hey Pockey Way in North Carolina Spring 1989.  My first New Year's show with Chard.  Sitting in a parking lot with Peter in Hartford 1988 listening to a rare Dead version of Visions of Johanna on the radio, with the Spring 88 tour in front of us.  With all of it front of us.  Dizzy with possibilities.  Sitting on top of the VW on Mt. Shasta watching a meteor shower.  Getting to go backstage at the Cal Expo to meet Brent.  A million different moments that should never be ranked and will always be treasured.

 

4) Worst single memory of a Grateful Dead show?

 

Probably Buffalo 1986 when T.H. was having a really bad trip.  He had gotten lost at some point and when he caught up with everyone, he just couldn't shake that bad trip feeling.  He just sat there looking like he was just scared to death. Or Pittsburgh 1989 when I was dancing in the hall and suddenly hundreds of gate crashing frat boys started pouring through an open door.  When security got the door closed they broke the glass next to the door and started streaming in through the broken window.  That was when you knew things had changed.  The Dead had gotten too big and every empire must fall once it gets too big to sustain its own weight.

 

5) Do you still consider yourself a Deadhead?

 

Yes and no.  I can name entire set lists going back thirty years.  I've been to more than 150 Dead or Dead-related (Jerry Band, Ratdog, The Other Ones, etc.) shows.  It would be hard to convince an interrogator that I was not a Deadhead.  But the fact is, I don't listen to the Dead these days any more than I listen to anything else.  In fact, I've got a play list on my Ipod that I use to work out and it's got the Dead and Judas Priest back-to-back.  How unDeadheadish!  And if you asked most people who know me these days, they wouldn't have a clue that I "used to be" a Deadhead.  It just doesn't come up in casual conversation too often.  And when it does, you tend to own up to it in a sheepish way.  There's a lot of baggage that goes along with owning up to being a Deadhead.  Once someone knows that, it's a little hard to deny all that goes with it: "Ya know, I went to over a hundred shows, but nope, I never tried that uh, what'd you call it ... um, LSD stuff."

 

6) How does being a Deadhead influence your life today?

 

My past is my past. Every step of it brought me to where I am today.  The way I think, the way I see things.  It is all influenced by what I've done it my past.  Being a Deadhead influences everything in some subtle way.  But in my day to day life, there are few ways that it overtly influences my life.  I still have dreams all the time about being in the bus.  I mean all the time.  I literally had one last night.  In the dream, I realized that it was a dream because I don't have the bus anymore.  So I actually stopped in my dream and just looked around a while to savor being back in the bus.  I woke up almost crying.  Those were some fantastic times and the cruelty of linear time took them away from us and now they only get further and further away.

 

your brother,
shasta

 

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