Grateful Dead, family style

Grateful Dead, family style

My dad hitchhiked to California from Baltimore in 1966 at the age of 18. He rented an apartment on Ashbury Street. That pilgrimage of youthful self-discovery served as the mythical lodestone on which my own dreams would later unfold Members of Big Brother & the Holding Company had previously lived in the apartment where my dad took up residence, and if memory serves he salvaged a strip of black and white photographs of Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia, the celebrated guitar player of the Grateful Dead, mugging for the camera. My parents owned Grateful Dead LPs from the time before I was born: The 1967 self-titled debut, Anthem of the Sun, also from 1967; Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, both from 1970; and the double live LP known as “Skull and Roses,” from 1971. Later, my parents’ friend, David Hurt, a fellow communard and the father of my best buddy Garland, pulled out the Aoxomoxoa album, from 1969. My mom, my dad, David and I listened to it appreciatively one summer evening on the screened-in porch at David’s house. My Montessori teacher, Leslie Shane, another good friend of my parents, always said she had a crush on Jerry, although she may have been even more enamored of Bob Dylan. In the early 1980s, when cassette duplication technology became widely available, Leslie and another friend, Jean Zeitz, arranged for a copy of the Dead’s triple album Europe ’72 to be made for me. When my dog, Star, was killed after getting hit by a car, I mourned his passing, tears welling in my eyes as Jerry sang “He’s Gone.” Being that my parents were collegeeducated peasants who took a vow of poverty, they didn’t buy new music after they moved to Kentucky in 1971, but we somehow obtained other Dead albums: Wake of the Flood, from 1973; and Blues for Allah, from 1975. Every time my dad would visit his friend, Jan Willoughby, a balding, eccentric ex-professor who had jumped off the academic track at the University of Kentucky some years earlier, I would pull out his copy of Mars Hotel, from 1974, and put it on the turntable. 

Forever, it seems, I’ve known the band’s history and musical evolution: Their speedy rock and roll on the debut album, the acid experimentalism of Anthem, the song-based psychedelia of Aoxomoxoa, their sudden transition to rustic Americana on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, and the swaggering hard country of “Skull and Roses.” And I knew exactly what year each of their albums had been released. I loved this band from the age of 6 onward, practically to the exclusion of anything else. Listening as a child Deadhead a decade and a half

Continued on page 18