Email with Sissy

From Sissy sent from Pensacola, Florida
October, 2006:

 

Freedom... This word when truly thought of can invoke dozens of divergent images; images of war, of peace, of love, of lost love, of responsibility... Bob Weir in the Grateful Dead's last performance of Lost Sailor on March 24, 1986 raps at length about the concept of freedom from things and freedom to do things... Lost Sailor was a prime example of Bob and John’s continuous and changing opus to misfit power - the character that stumbles his way through tragedy and triumph with a shit eating grin on his face - because he knows more than most - although he may not show it... I always thought of misfit power when tripping, that stupid ass grin I had on my face or that twinkle in my eye - I knew something that most did not... Freedom is what the Grateful Dead represented to me, I was never truly as free as I was when I traveled to see the band, I was never as truly free as I was when I was dancing around in a hallway in Chicago, I was never as truly free as I was when I was calling that stupid god damn hotline to get the tour info ...Writing this I am reminded (as I am almost daily) of just how much I gained and gain from my ongoing experience with the music of the Grateful Dead...

 

Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon, it makes things that were seem better, but the beauty of the Dead for me is that every time I listen I let go, it does not matter that I have a tie on, or that everyone that I work with has ZERO concept of who I truly am, what matters is that I have this unbelievably beautiful and strong connection with a series of notes played by a group of men I never met... I cry once a month listening to their music, sometimes it is the song (a sublime Sing Me Back Home or a perfect Comes A Time out of a scary jam) or sometimes it is the longing ache I have for times gone by - for my freedom...

 

I began my exploration of their music for a very “unheady” reason - two of my friends were drifting apart from me, they had attached themselves to a band called the Grateful Dead and I felt left behind... So I bought Skull Fuck (the cover was super cool and ‘dangerous’) ... My method in junior high was to be as cool as possible no matter how uncool I felt... I bought that album for all the wrong reasons, “real heads” questioned my reasoning... fuck it, I sat with my fat golden lab, Benjamin on blue carpet in the living room of my father’s suburban house in Western New York and dropped the needle on my father’s Heathkit (techies should remember that name) stereo... “I had a hard run , running from your window”... I was hooked, I wanted to like it , I felt bad for liking it immediately - like it was not a genuine feeling, but something clicked, maybe it was the fact that I knew the folk versions of Fennario, Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie, Stealin’, and Jack-A-Roe (my dad brought me to my first show when I was 4 - Joan Baez)... maybe it was destiny... maybe I bought the right album - had I bought Live Dead I may have said fuck it... who knows... Europe 72 was next, and so on and so on and so on... I remember for my 15th Birthday my father bought me a CD player (a big deal then) and Terrapin Station (he was always so thoughtful and such a kind man)... My “friends” whom I did not want to drift apart from, pushed me aside rather quickly because I was not a real head - it was 1984 - he (my father) did not let me go to the solstice gig in Toronto, but I heard it on the radio, what was it like to be there?

 

I was still reeling from my mother’s death (a few years beforehand) - it hurt that my “friends” did not think I was cool, but ultimately my love for the music and my ability to score tapes from traders in the back of Relix won everyone over (good tapes do that)... 14 albums and about 150 tapes later I ended up at my first show 11-7-85, first song, Dancin’ In The Streets... I had no earthly clue what to expect - I had never seen a Dead show - hell I had not even seen the Grateful Dead Movie or Dead Ahead yet... I had no idea what to expect - which is what made my reaction so absolutely perfect - the first notes occurred and I started moving ... did not even realize I was dancing until I looked down at my feet and I had them off the ground for the first time (other than sports) in my life... stone cold sober as well, a moment of perfection - a birth if you will... I remember walking into the show, we waited in line in drizzle and ended up about 4th row... when the band came out for some reason I screamed “Hey Brent” ... my “friends” again looked down upon me - Brent was not cool - Jerry was... the shape of things to come - the opening notes of a mid first set song were played - we all strained to “call” the song - I said High Time - again I was looked down on, but the shunned expressions changed to stunned expressions when Garcia started the song, “Ya told me goodbye ...”

 

Honestly, fuck those guys, I had my own ground to cover... Had I stuck with those guys I would have never have met my co-authors, my brothers of choice, my family, my friends, my gonzo - crazy ass - psychedelic brethren ... I think the answer to the age-old question, why wasn’t 15 shows enough is simply answered with a letter, X. The X-Factor, this was not born out of psychedelic jams , to me it was “discovered” by the Beats of the 50s, the idea that things could just click perfectly, a poetry session turned into a crazed all night wine festival, a glance across a bar at a woman, a perfect meal, a great trip, a sick jam out of space... The X-Factor, I was willing to chase the song, the breakout, that feeling where nothing else mattered - knowing you are where you are supposed to be... how many times in a lifetime can people really say those words “this is where I am supposed to be”... I said it almost every night the nights went out and crowd went nuts ...

 

The power of this music is undeniable... flashback to a party in a swanky house in Western New York in January of 1988 ... I was a Senior and had 20 shows under my belt... we were throwing snowballs at police cars (I know very un ”Jerry” like but fun as hell)... more commotion and we congregated, police were yelling at the rich kids to stop the party - and all of a sudden some tall and wild haired “dude” screamed “ST. STEPHEN’ just like the scene in The Grateful Dead Movie during the argument in the hallway of Winterland, the head just “knew” that if he yelled St. Stephen things would be better... I looked at the wild man (your author) and smiled and said, “Grateful Dead Movie” instant bond, lifelong friendship - boom... the power of this music is undeniable - I think he likes me because I have a photographic memory for experiences, and, well, he does not (to be polite) ... I think he needed to take more acid - I should be a cucumber - I guess it is my metabolism - I never lost the taste of orange sunshine :-)

 

Peter and I exercised our freedom in several different ways... we traveled to dozens of shows (Dead and otherwise), I watched him burn his eyebrows bout clear off smoking a mushroom bowl, I watched him jump into a dumpster because he inadvertently threw away my keys while cleaning out my car between Greensboro and Atlanta, I watched him shake his fucking bones during countless Shakedowns, I watched him recite Ice-T lyrics to shocked strangers... My favorite and most cherished moment with him was the two days following the death of Brent Mydland... We had just gotten done with Summer Tour between the West Coast swing and the East Coast dance, I saw 17 shows ... back at the pizza shop where I worked, licking my wounds and smiling every chance I got (because remember, I knew something most did not) I got a call from Sally in Southern California ... a good friend had died was the message and call her back ... so I did , Brent is dead, fuck, not the balls of the band, not the soul of the band (yes I really felt that way - he was our Pigpen - he was our connection - we all had a love for him), not the person who exuded so much raw emotion ... so we traveled to Oneonta, New York to connect with Bart and Linus, connect we did, connected with lots of whiskey... night one found a subdued crowd watching a HORRIBLE quality video of Hampton ‘89 - Death Don’t Have No Mercy ... night two found us in an alcoholic stupor (is there anything better?) ... we ended up on their equivalent of Main Street @ 3am ... passing out flowers and eventually getting a well deserved slap in the face ... the reason why this book will some day exist, is a testament to a connection that thousands of people have, a connection that is unbreakable and undeniable, a connection that can always be strengthened by popping in a show...

 

I am asked what my favorite memory of a show was - that is a very tough question to answer it the way people want - they want a date, a song, a tour... I recently drove from my home of Pensacola to Tampa for a conference, I relished the idea of 16 hours in my car, with my music ... I listened to some new music (Wolfmother, Drive By Truckers) and revisited some old times (Alpine 89)... the point is that being exposed to the Dead for so long and embracing what they / it had to offer is the best memory I can have... it is truly impossible to point to one moment in my career and say that was it... it could have been my fiftieth show on 3-15-90 (yes Phil’s 50 b-day), it could have been “the Ripple” show, it could have been the first notes of my first show, it could have been the night I was looking at this really pretty girl in the lot in Louisville ‘89 and thinking (in my warped frame of reference) that she looked like a cat and then poof she meowed at me, it could have been watching a HORRIBLE action movie in Sacramento during the day because the lot @ Cal-Expo was so fucking hot that my eyes were bleeding, you pick, I change my mind all the time ...

 

I find myself listening to this music more than ever, recently it has been a total infatuation with all things acoustic Garcia, he truly was an amazing individual - it is hard to always remember that because people place him in this icon category which dehumanizes him ... a lot of people ask me if I miss him or miss the music, no not really because I can put it in whenever I want, what I miss is me, I miss who I was when I was traveling with the band, I miss my freedom!

 

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© 2009 Peter Conners