The Dead and the Living is an essay written by Tim Clark and shared with The Ugly Writers under the theme Disenchanted for the month of May
The Dead and the Living
“Once in a while, you get shown the light,
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
They were more than a musical act, The Grateful Dead became a movement. In many ways, they embodied all the wonderful possibilities music had to offer. They allowed people to record the shows, a thriving community of Deadheads, who had message boards to swap cassette recordings before there was an AOL. Rumors of an above-average performance would bring demands for copies from all over.
I was always a fan, one of the first albums I owned was Skulls and Roses. The Dead’s second studio album. To this day Grateful Dead Europe 72 is still one of my favorite live discs. I’ve been a fan for a long time, as long as I’ve been a fan of any band.
As in most things, I’m more comfortable at a distance.
After moving to Ohio, I met a Deadhead. He planned his vacation around the tour schedule. I watched him get lost in the wealth of opportunities in the back of Relix magazine. He could talk about shows he had never seen.
We went to a couple of concerts together. He could stand and talk with people about the last time, or the first time the Dead had played a certain song, the length of time a set took, they had dates, and places memorized. I was moved by the same admiration I feel for baseball fans who can talk detailed statistics, diving into numbers, losing themselves in minutiae.
I was more interested in the show. Not just the band, the whole thing. There were people all over the parking lot with little hibachis going, hunks of meat and vegetables sizzling over open flames. Bottas of wine passed back and forth, pipes and joints and bottles.
In the Buckeye music center (an outdoor venue) I was fascinated by the swirling, sweating, dusty dancers, spinning across the barren field, clouds of fine dirt moving, rising around their ankles and drifting higher and higher. Their swaying, rhythmic movements were wrapped in a gauzy film of powder. It was almost a religious experience as they lost themselves in the minute, in the hour, in the show.
I was fascinated by the grimy, wizened old man in the leather vest who was so mad because I wouldn’t buy his blotter acid. He had white sweat stains covering most of his clothing, his beard was gray with small bits of chewing tobacco clinging stubbornly to the whiskers. “See, “he sputtered, indignantly, “it’s the dancing bears. Only three dollars. Best deal at the show.” Everything was so new and unusual I didn’t want to miss anything, or have doubts about what I had seen, and what I had thought I had seen, so I wasn’t interested. He wasn’t happy, but eventually, he gave up, after borrowing a cigarette and a light.
My friend, the Deadhead, wanted me to come with him and follow the band the following summer. I was still just a fan, though. A fan with a renewed sense of the power of the music, but I’ve learned to watch my habits, they can really take over. Besides I was in a perilous race against time to win the affection of a girl who ended up being my wife. I’m glad I did.
Still, I loved the band, the music, and the whole community, it gave me a good feeling knowing it was there.
Jerry Garcia died in 1995. He was a poster child for ways to leave this earthly vail and probably didn’t surprise too many people. It hurt, not because I was a Deadhead, I wasn’t sure why. I couldn’t understand it, not then. I just wasn’t ready to hear the music stop. Now I see it as clearly as today.
One day, by accident I stumbled across an article online, about The Dead and Company. I went to Apple Music and listened and it was good. I was happy, it wasn’t the same, but in a way, it was the same. Jerry Garcia was more than the sum of his parts, and I don’t believe anybody would ever talk about “replacing him” but I think he would be happy if the band carried on.
Yesterday, April 1st, April Fools Day, I read a post on Facebook; The members of the band have decided to let the music live forever. As the current members of Dead and Company retire there will be a vote for the appropriate replacement. The new band will be called Forever Dead. Original member Bob Weir said he believes in reincarnation, and he plans to join the band again, in the future.
It was only a hoax, but it still made me smile, and feel a little warmth, I like to think of The Grateful Dead living forever. Somehow, I think there will always be somebody in tie-dye, dancing to a song, and living a memory shared by millions.
“They’re a band beyond description
Like Jehovah’s favorite choir
People joining hand in hand
While the music plays the band
Lord, they’re setting us on fire”
 I’m not sure that’s true, I’m not really a Deadhead, just a fan, and technology is a foreign language.