Category Archives: Today Is…

Today is Arbor Day

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I was scheduling posts for April when I looked at my paper calendar and saw April 27 was marked “Arbor Day.”

Arbor Day? That’s about trees, right? I thought.

This tree stands somewhere in Southern New Mexico.

I have a lot of photos of trees, I thought. I could do a post on Arbor day and share photos of trees, I thought.

These giant sequoias live in California’s Sequoia National Park.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation,

Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care.
The idea for Arbor Day in the United States originated in Nebraska City, Nebraska
when settler Julius Sterling Morton proposed a resolution to the State Board of Agriculture.
In 1872, the State Board of Agriculture accepted a resolution by J. Sterling Morton “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” The Board declared April 10 Arbor Day and offered prizes
to the counties and individuals that properly planted the largest number of trees on that day.

These olive trees grow in Phoenix, AZ. The palm tree, it turns out, is not really a tree at all. According to Earth Connection, “Palm trees, of which more than 2,000 species exist, are grouped botanically with grasses, sedges, bamboo, grains, lilies, onions, and orchids.”

As an April 2017 Time article called “This Is Why Arbor Day Is a Thing” explains,

Nebraska was a largely treeless prairie region when, on April 10, 1872, it became the first state to celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees.

A century after the holiday was first celebrated, the Arbor Day Foundation was created to continue encouraging people to plant and love trees, and President Nixon proclaimed National Arbor Day. Now the last Friday in April is National Arbor Day, which is when most but not all states celebrate it.

Evergreens in the snow in the mountains of California.

The USA is not the only country that celebrates trees! According to Wikipedia,

Arbor Day (or Arbour; from the Latin arbor, meaning tree) is a holiday in which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant trees. [1]Today, many countries observe such a holiday. Though usually observed in the spring, the date varies, depending on climate and suitable planting season.

(See the aforementioned article for a long list of countries that celebrate some version of Arbor Day, as well as a summary of what goes down at those celebrations.)

This tree in Northern New Mexico welcomes the night in the spring of 2017.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief history of Arbor Day and these photos of trees. I also hope you can get out there and celebrate Arbor Day by planting one or more trees.

The General Sherman is not only the largest living tree in the known world; it is the largest living creature of any species in the known world.

All of the photos in this post were taken by me.

Lundi Gras

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It was Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, and the entire city was in party mode. It was the perfect time for kissing a stranger in the French Quarter and bringing a stranger home to share my bed.

I was a student at a university in New Orleans, adrift in-between boyfriends. I’d recently freed myself from my controlling high school sweetheart who’d thwarted my plan to slowly drift apart when I went off to college by following me there. I was looking for love but settling for sex in those party days of my early 20s.

I’d gotten a temporary job for the Mardi Gras season through a friend of a friend. The t-shirt shop where I worked was tucked into a quiet corner of the Quarter and was only open during daylight hours. After closing up shop, the woman I was working with and I met our mutual friend and took our party to the streets.

Our first stop was the convenience store where cans of cheap beer floated in a tall cooler filled with slushy ice. The beer was nasty, but the price was right for working-class collage students at only a dollar for not just one but two cans. I downed one of my beers quickly, while it was still icy cold. I enjoyed the way the alchohol went straight to my head.

Where all did we walk that night? I have a hazy memory of the fountain at the Riverwalk and crowds of people packed in to listen to Dr. John play. It was too much for us, or maybe we didn’t see anyone we knew, but for whatever reason, we wandered back to the Quarter.

I think I met the DJ on Jackson Square. We met in some quiet place, because I was able to hear him when he spoke. He was a DJ at a local radio station. Although his radio name was the same as a classic rock legend, the DJ worked at a country music station. At some point during our conversation, he leaned over and kissed me. It was a rather chaste kiss, but it made my head spin as much as the beer had. He liked me! He was an older man (maybe even 30!), an adult with a real job, and he liked me! Usually my friends got all the guys, but this grown-ass man liked me.

My friends quickly got bored and urged me to come on! There was to be more from this night than me getting kissed. There was bound to be more exitement around the next corner.

I said good-bye to this exciting man who I expected to change my life.

Call me at the radio station, he said to me and told me the hours he worked. I was too naive to know that a man who really liked me would scribble his home phone number on a scrap of paper and press it into my hand.

We hadn’t gone far before we ran into the two boys* from Chicago in town from Mardi Gras. My friend had met them somewhere (a bar probably) a night or two before and befriended them. They were maybe even crashing on my friend’s floor. My memory is fuzzy after all these years. They were dressed like they’d come from the video for a song by the Black Crows–all patched pants and nouveau hippie.

The one guy had dark hair. He was nice enough, but I don’t remember his name or much about him. His friend, however, was lovely. His name was Michael and he looked like a nouveau hippie angel. His blondish hair was longish and curly, but he looked more like a cherub than a Greek god. He was good-looking, but attainable.

The five of us hung out the rest of the night, walking the streets of the Quarter. At some point I’d drunk my second 50 cent beer, but I don’t think I’d had any more alcohol than that. I was tipsy but not sloppy, and I was having a great time.

The more I hung out Michael, the more I liked him, and the more I liked him, the more I wanted him in a carnal way. Emboldened by the alcohol and the earlier kiss from a stranger (which proved I was desirable), I decided I was going to ask this young man to come home (and by home, I mean dorm) with me.

I waited until we were stopped on the sidewalk so my friends could talk to someone they knew and I didn’t. Michael’s friend had wandered out of earshot, and the two of us were standing there a little awkwardly, two wallflowers at the world’s biggest party.

I turned to him and smiled. Would you think I was a terrible person if I asked you to come home with me?

He grinned at me, said, I wouldn’t think that at all, and hugged me.

Michael and I spent the rest of the evening out grinning at each other. We knew what was going to happen next, even if our friends were still clueless.

I don’t remember how we got back to my dorm, but I remember us going to my room where my roommate thankfully was not. We had friendy sex, them grabbed a few hours of sleep next to each other in my single bed. In the morning, I walked him downstairs and watched him leave through the big glass doors at the front of the building.

I never saw or heard from Michael again, but I’ll never forget the Lundi Gras when I was kissed by a stranger and slept with an angel.

* by “boys” I mean two young men old enough to consent

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress

Kill Your Television?

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Do people still talk about killing televisions?

Back in the late 90s and early 00s, when I ran around in activist circles, every 4th of July, there would be talk of killing, smashing, destroying televisions. It was an appropriate day for getting rid of televisions because it was U.S. Independence Day, and activists were promoting independence from the TV.

I don’t hang out with many activists these days, so I dont know if getting rid of televisons (by smashing, destroying, or any other means) is still promoted on July 4th. I did a few quick Google searches; “July Fourth smash your television day,” “kill your television day” and “smash your television” didn’t bring up much. The best thing I found was a blog post by The Happy Philosopher with a lot of information about why getting rid of one’s television might be a good idea. I also found links to the Kill Your Television Theatre and references to the songs “Kill Your Television” by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and “Smash Your TV,” “Track 8 (of 54) from the forthcoming [as of December 2014] album Et Mourir de Plaisir.”

A life without television seems like a good life to me, but who am I to tell other people what to do?

I haven ‘t owned a telvision since I moved to a new state in 1998. I’ve livined in houses with other people who’ve owned them, I’ve been in cheap motels with them, and I’ve house sat in homes with them. I’d be lying if I said I never watch TV, but I don’t do it every day or even every week.

The commercials are the worst. Often I’m confused, and many seconds go by before I figure out what the advertiser is trying to sell me. Sure, I know I’m supposed to think I’m being sold happiness or sex (or sex leading to happiness), but I often wonder, What’s the real product? I know it’s strategic when the product isn’t shown until the last moment.

Most network programs are terrible. I’ve sat through bad acting and stupid plots (I’m looking at you, NCIS: New Orleans) while visiting friends and relatives. I’ve honestly seen better acting at a small-town fundamentalist Christian church Easter program than I’ve seee on primtime TV.

But yes, I will admit, there are times when I like to have a television on. It’s good company when I’m cooking, mending, crafting, or cleaning. When my brain is simply too tired to read, a decent television program is a nice distraction.

I mostly watch television when I’m house sitting. My favorite shoes are Chopped, Cupcake Wars, and Beat Bobby Flay. (I once spent a three-week house sitting gig flipping between Food Network and Cooking Channel.) I like the Travel Channel food shows too: Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Man v. Food, and Man Finds Food. For a time I was really into History Channel’s Pawn Stars and got really excited whenever I stumbled upon an all-day marathons of the program. However, after visiting Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, NV and seeing the $2 price tag on a postcard, the thrill was gone. 

In any case, who am I to say people should kill their televisons? I think people should make their own informed decisions.

I do know people who watch the tube for several hours a day would have more time for other activities if they smashed the television or just clicked the off button. If you can’t imagine what you’d do if you watched less TV, here’s a list of 50 activities you’ll have time for if you’re not distracted by your television.

Read a book

Read aloud to kids or adults

Teach someone to read

Garden–food or flowers, it don’t matter

Ride a bike

Feed hungry people

Run through the sprinkler on a hot summer day

Visit new places

Write a sonnet

Write a letter

Write the great American novel

Play ball

Make music

Wash the windows

Wash the car

Wash the dishes

Meet your neighbors

Soak in a hot bath with candles around the tub

Walk the dog

Walk without the dog

Learn a new language

Call a friend

Meditate

Mediate

Watch the sun set

Dance in the moonlight

Talk to an elder

Talk to a child

Raft down a river

Build a treehouse

Build a bookshelf

Build community

Make love–to yourself or your partner(s)

Play board games

Create art

Take deep breaths

Think deep thoughts

Throw a costume party

Swim

Wage peace

Bake bread (or muffins or cookies or cake)

Paint a portrait

Paint the walls

Cuddle

Make jewelry

Look at the stars

Run a marathon

Fix what’s broken

Mend what’s torn

Dream

I took this photos of the (popular?) sticker.

What would you add to your life if you subtracted your televison? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

 

Flag Day

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Today is Flag Day.

According to a webpage about the history of Flag Day,

…the idea of an annual day specifically celebrating the Flag is believed to have first originated in 1885. BJ Cigrand, a schoolteacher, arranged for the pupils in the Fredonia, Wisconsin Public School, District 6, to observe June 14 (the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes) as ‘Flag Birthday’.

…Flag Day…was officially established by the Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30th, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson’s proclamation, it was not until August 3rd, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.

I wouldn’t call myself patriotic, but I did have a nice photo of the flag to share. I thought today would be an appropriate day to do so.

I took the photo in this post a few years ago on my friend’s land in Northern New Mexico. Those are the Sangre de Cristo Mountainsin the background.

Happy Birthday, Dolly Parton

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Today is the birthday of Dolly Rebecca Parton. I’m sure everyone knows who Dolly Parton is, so I won’t even bother with autobiographical details. Instead I will share a review I wrote of a Dolly Parton biography I read last summer.

Dolly Daughter of the South
The book in question is Dolly: Daughter of the South,  written by Lola Scobey.

Where to begin?

I picked this book up at a thrift store for a dime. I wouldn’t say I’m a big Dolly Parton fan, but I do like some of her music and when I’ve seen her being interviewed on TV, she seems like a really nice person. So I figured, what the hell?, and forked over the dime to buy the book.

Several things about this book are suspect.

#1 It has no ISBN. Did books in the 70s and 80s not have ISBNs? What does it mean that this book has no ISBN? I dunno. (Oh, wait. I did find the ISBN, in tiny print on the spine, and again in tiny print on the right side of the front cover, right next to the price of $2.50)

#2 There are photos in this book, but no photo credits. Don’t most reputable authors give credit, if not to the photographer, at least to the person who provided the photo? No one is credited with the photos in this book.

#3 The following disclaimer is given on the book’s credit page: Sections of Chapters 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, and 18 are dramatizations based upon facts about the characters’ lives and/or attitudes they have expressed. Dramatizations? As in made up? As in fiction? Ok, the author made up some of the shit in this book, and while she admits to making up some shit, she doesn’t tell us what shit she made up. So how can the reader really know what is true and what is not?

#4 The author never says where or when she actually interviewed Dolly Parton. At the end of the book, she does “acknowledge” some “fine people of Sevierville” (the town near where Dolly Parton grew up). Throughout the book, the author does mention situations in which some of those “fine people” told her about Dolly Parton’s past, so I do believe the author interviewed and got quotes from those “fine people.” And although the author presents the reader with many direct quotes attributed to Dolly Parton (with quotation marks and all), I think the author read a bunch of other interviews other people did with Ms. Parton and cobbled together quotes and included them here. For some of the quotes, the author of this book even says who did the interview and in what magazine it appeared (but no dates or issue numbers). I think this book is akin to a term paper, where the author read a lot of other people’s writing, then put it all together hoping for something bigger than the sum of its parts, but without any endnotes or footnotes or citations of any kind. I think any of my high school English teachers would have called that plagiarism.

This book is has a copyright date of 1977, with a first printing in October 1977, and additional printings in January 1978, August 1978, August 1979, January 1981, and February 1981, so I guess it sold a lot of copies. I’m sure Dolly Parton had a lot of fans at the time who wanted to know all about her and were willing to shell out a few bucks to get all the info in one inexpensive, paperback package. (I thought my mom had a copy of this book lying around the house when I was in middle school, but nothing in this book seemed the least bit familiar, so if my mom had it, I somehow didn’t read it.)

Great literature, this ain’t. Consider the first sentence of the book: “Kicking the damp, sticky sheets away from her legs, Avie Lee stared with plucky brown eyes into the sultry morning darkness that still filled the hot rooms of the cabin.” “Plucky brown eyes”? “Sultry morning darkness”? I haven’t seen such overwrought use of adjectives since 10th grade English class. I suspect this is some of the stuff author Lola Scobey dramatized, since I doubt she was in Dolly Parton’s parents’ bedroom before Ms. Parton was even born to experience for herself how sultry that morning darkness was or to witness the pluckiness of Ms. Parton’s mother’s brown eyes. Sheesh!

I like trashy biographies. I really do. But this one was kind of disappointing. I didn’t get swept up in the writing, and nothing really juicy is shared here. I did learn that Dolly Parton has been working as a singer ever since she was a little girl of nine or ten years old. That was interesting.

Really, the best thing about this book is the cheesy photograph of Dolly Parton on the front cover.

 

Happy Birthday, Mickey Hart!

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There’s another Grateful Dead birthday to celebrate this week: today is the birthday of Mickey Hart, one of the broken drumstick, close-up, darkDead’s two drummers.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mickey_Hart,

Mickey Hart (born Michael Steven Hartman, September 11, 1943) is an American percussionist and musicologist. He is best known as one of the two drummers of the rock band Grateful Dead. He was a member of the Grateful Dead from September 1967 to February 1971 and from October 1974 to August 1995. He and fellow Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann earned the nickname “the rhythm devils”.

Dead.net (http://www.dead.net/band/mickey-hart) says,

Practically born with drumsticks in his hands — both of his parents were champion rudimental (marching band-style) drummers — Mickey Hart committed to percussion from the beginning. After experience in both high school and military (Air Force) marching bands and a brief stint working for his father at a drum shop, he encountered Bill Kreutzmann one night at the Matrix. On September 30, 1967, he sat in with the Dead… and joined the band. His influence over the next year was to push the band into complex, multirhythmic explorations. A student of Ustad Allah Rakah (Ravi Shankar’s tabla player), he added various strains of non-Western music to the Dead’s general atmosphere. Over the years, he has been involved in many musical and archival projects, most notably the band Global Drum Project, and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress’s “Endangered Music Project.” He is the author of several books, including Drumming at the Edge of Magic and Global Drum Project.

According to the aforementioned Wikipedia article,

Hart joined the Grateful Dead in September 1967 and left in February 1971 when he extricated himself from the band due to conflict between band management and his father.[4] During his sabbatical in 1972 he recorded the album Rolling Thunder. He returned to the Dead in 1974 and remained with the group until their official dissolution in 1995. Collaboration with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead continued under the name “The Dead“..

I’ve never experienced Mickey Hart’s drumming in person, but it’s not too late, right? Maybe I’ll get the chance, somehow…

Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion
Image of drum courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/broken-drumstick-close-up-dark-dirty-241687/.

Pigpen Was Born on This Day

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I was reading Grateful Dead lyrics once, and the song was attributed to “Ron McKernan.” Who’s that? I asked. My friends told me that was Pigpen; Ron McKernan was his legal name. Who knew? Obviously not me.

Today is the anniversary of Pigpen’s birth. He would have been 71 today, if he hadn’t died when he was only 27.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_%22Pigpen%22_McKernan,

He was a founding member of the San Francisco band the Grateful Dead and played in the group from 1965 to 1972.

Dead.net (http://www.dead.net/band/ron-pigpen-mckernan) says,

Starting a rock band was actually Ron McKernan’s idea, and he was its first front man, delivering stinging harmonica, keyboards, and beautiful blues vocals in the early years of the Warlocks/Grateful Dead. Nicknamed “Pigpen” for his funky approach to life and sanitation, he was born into a family that was generally conventional, except for the fact that his (Caucasian) father was an R & B disc jockey. And that sound put Pig’s life on the rails of the blues from the time he was 12. Liquor, Lightnin’ Hopkins, the harmonica and some barbecue – it was an unusual life for a white kid from San Carlos, but it was Pig’s life.

The aforementioned Wikipedia articles continues,

McKernan grew up heavily influenced by African-American music, particularly the blues, and enjoyed listening to his father’s collection of records and taught himself how to play harmonica and piano. He began socializing around the San Francisco Bay Area, becoming friends with Jerry Garcia. After the pair had played in various folk and jug bands, McKernan suggested they form an electric group, which became the Grateful Dead. He was the band’s original frontman as well as playing harmonica and electric organ, but Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh‘s influences on the band became increasingly stronger as they embraced psychedelic rock. McKernan struggled to keep up, causing the group to hire keyboardist Tom Constanten, with McKernan’s contributions essentially limited to vocals, harmonica and percussion from November 1968 to January 1970. He continued to be a frontman in concert for some numbers, including covers of Bobby Bland‘s “Turn On Your Love Light” and the Rascals‘ “Good Lovin’“.

Unlike the other members of the Grateful Dead, McKernan avoided psychedelic drugs, preferring to drink alcohol (namely whiskey and wine). By 1971, his health had been affected by alcoholism and liver damage and doctors advised him to stop touring. Following a four-month hiatus, he resumed touring with the group in December 1971 but was forced to retire from touring altogether in June 1972. McKernan was found dead of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage on March 8, 1973, aged 27 and is buried at Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Palo Alto.

I know Bob Weir is generally considered the Grateful Dead’s pretty boy, but I think Pigpen was the sexiest one in the band. What can I say? I guess I like ’em a little bit dirty.

I never saw Pigpen perform, but I love the songs I’ve heard him sing. He had a charisma that comes through in the live recordings, a presence that’s survived despite the loss of his physical self.

I miss Pigpen!

 

 

Happy Birthday, Donna Jean Godchaux!

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Did you know there was a woman in the Grateful Dead?

It’s true.

According to Wikipedia, Donna Jean Godchaux was a member of the Grateful Dead from 1972 until 1979.

The aforementioned website says she was

a backup singer on at least two #1 hit songs: “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge in 1966 and “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley in 1969. Her vocals were featured on other classic recordings by Boz Scaggs and Duane Allman, Cher, Joe Tex, Neil Diamond and many others[2][3]

before she joined the Dead.

Donna introduced [her husband] Keith to Jerry Garcia after Garcia’s performance at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in September 1971.

Here’s what Biography.com says about that fateful meeting with Jerry Garcia:

One night after a Grateful Dead show in San Francisco, she accosted Jerry Garcia and told him that she needed his home phone number because her husband was going to be his new piano player. Unbeknownst to her, the Dead’s keyboardist at that time, Ronald “Pigpen” McKernan, was sick and would soon have to stop touring due to his illness. Garcia handed over his phone number and soon after, both Keith and Donna, joined the Grateful Dead. Donna performed in the band as a back-up vocalist.

That website goes on to say,

Godchaux recorded and toured with the Grateful Dead for eight years, until, in 1979, both she and her husband left the band by mutual agreement. Keith was addicted to drugs and his playing suffered; Donna was an alcoholic, and had a violent temper when she drank. After Sex Pistols singer Sid Vicious died of an overdose in January 1979, Donna decided that she’d had enough, and flew home two days before the end of the band’s tour.

In a Rolling Stone article, Donna Jean talked about the differences between being a studio singer and singing with the Dead.

 “I was a studio singer, never singing off-key. I was used to having headphones and being in a controlled environment.

“Then, all of a sudden, I went to being onstage with the Dead in Winterland,” she continues. “Everything was so loud onstage. And not to mention being inebriated.”

Today is Donna Jean Godchaux’s birthday!

It’s true that some Deadheads don’t appreciate Donna Jean’s voice, and she was screechy at times, but like the rest of the band, when she was on, she was really on. I like her singing more often than not, and appreciate what she contributed to the Grateful Dead.

Happy Birthday, Donna Jean!

Dreaming of Jerry Garcia

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Today is the anniversary of the birth of Jerry Garcia.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Jerry Garcia was a musician: player of guitars, banjos, and mandolins and a singer too. He was famous as a founding member of the Grateful Dead, but was also in Jerry Garcia Band, Old and in the Way, Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, and New Riders of the Purple Sage.

I dreamed about Jerry just as this year’s season as a camp host started.

A couple of days before Memorial Day, I dreamed I was outside somewhere with trees. I was not in a city.

Jerry Garcia was walking around this place of my dream, smiling and happy. He was giving out LSD.

I knew him, of course. I think he knew me, but I don’t think he knew me well, like maybe we’d met once or twice, but I didn’t think he’d consider me a close friend. I wondered if he’d remember me at all. I knew he’d probably give me a hit even if he didn’t remember me because he was passing it out freely, but it would certainly be nice to be remembered by Jerry Garcia.

When he came up to me, I opened my mouth, so he could lay a hit on my tongue. I thought he’d drop a hit, maybe two, into my mouth, but he fed me I don’t know how many hits. I had little bits of paper poking from between my lips.

My feelings were torn between Oh boy! and Oh no! I was excited and scared.

How much is just enough? How much is too much?

I wondered how many hits I’d just taken, considered asking Jerry about the numbers, then decided to just go with the flow.

I heard a woman ask him in a real suck-up tone, Are you getting tickets tomorrow, Jerry?

He said, I’ve got tickets right now.

If his looks left any doubts as to who he was, the unmistakable voice erased them. It was definitely Jerry Garcia right there.

Unfortunately, I woke up before I could feel the effects of the gifts from Jerry. I wonder if the Catholic Church would view Jerry getting me high from beyond the grave cause for canonization. I bet most Deadheads would. In any case, while I didn’t wake up high, I did feel happy and at peace.

It was the first time I dreamed of Jerry, although a few weeks earlier, I’d dreamed of hearing a Grateful Dead song I believe existed only in my brain.

A couple of weeks after my dream about Jerry, I was driving when “Attics of My Life” began drifting from my speaker.

I’d not listened to “Attics of My Life” much. It wasn’t in the repertoire of songs marking my relationship with the person who really got me listening to the Dead. Since I mostly listen to music when I’m driving and I want upbeat rhythms to keep me awake, I hadn’t heard the song often since I’d been on my own. But it somehow made it onto my phone with a recent importing of music, and now it was slowly swelling out of my speaker.

It’s a lovely, ethereal song, from the 1970 American Beauty album.

American Beauty (180 Gram Vinyl)

Why have I never really listened to this song before? I wondered.

Then the last verse hit and Jerry singing Robert Hunter’s words brought me to tears.

 

I’m not even sure if I can explain how I felt when I heard this song after dreaming of Jerry.

The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics
(In The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, David Dodd says Robert Hunter was asked about the meaning of this very song  Hunter replied,

…If I could say it in prose, I wouldn’t need to write the song. Poetry is evocative–it’s meant to communicate to deeper levels and approach the levels of nonverbal experience.

So I suppose if I can’t express my reaction to the song in prose, Robert Hunter did his job as a poet-songwriter perfectly.)

I felt as if Jerry and I had some connection. I know that sounds trite and cliché . But if we realize we are all connected (even if in a state of chemical alteredness), does that make it untrue? If I hear this man sing twenty years after his death and his voice moves me so strongly that my tears begin to flow, well, I maintain that’s a connection.

I also felt as if my dream brought Jerry Garcia to life, if only in my REM state brain. There he was–living, moving, smiling, talking, feeding me all the LSD I could fit in my mouth, bringing me comfort and peace. I dreamed Jerry into existence again, for however brief a time.

 

Happy birthday, Jerry.

 

 

Allen Ginsberg

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Today is the anniversary of the birth of Allen Ginsberg.

I first heard of Ginsberg in the 10,000 Maniac song “Hey Jack Kerouac.”

Of course, the song is mostly about Kerouac.

You chose your words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood.
The hip flask slinging madman, steaming cafe flirts,
in Chinatown howling at night.

Then Ginsberg gets his mention.

Allen baby, why so jaded?
Have the boys all grown up and their beauty faded?

 I’d never heard of Jack Kerouac, so I looked him up my 1979 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia. He wasn’t there! Then I looked him up in the index and found a mention of him in the short article on the Beat poets. Did I learn about Allen Ginsberg in that encyclopedia article? I don’t remember, but where else would I have learned about him? (Our young, hip, [closeted] teacher never mentioned the Beats when we covered American Literature in 11th grade English class.)

Somewhere in my teenage life, I discovered Allen Ginsberg and grew to love him. William S. Burroughs was a really weird, really old guy and Kerouac’s work never turned me on. (Hey! Want to know what life’s like on the road? Quit reading Kerouac–or Blaize Sun, for that matter–and go spend some time on the road!) But Ginsberg? Ginsberg was a poet. I didn’t always understand what he was talking about, but the way he put words together stirred my heart.

According to Wikipedia,

Irwin Allen Ginsberg (June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997) was an American poet and one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the counterculture that soon would follow. He vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism and sexual repression and was known as embodying various aspects of this counterculture, such as his views on drugs, hostility to bureaucracy and openness to Eastern religions.[1]

Ginsberg is best known for his poem “Howl“, in which he denounced what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States.[2][3][4] In 1956, “Howl” was seized by San Francisco police and US Customs.[1] In 1957, it attracted widespread publicity when it became the subject of an obscenity trial, as it described heterosexual and homosexual sex[5] at a time when sodomy laws made homosexual acts a crime in every U.S. state. “Howl” reflected Ginsberg’s own homosexuality and his relationships with a number of men, including Peter Orlovsky, his lifelong partner.[6] Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that “Howl” was not obscene, adding, “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemisms?”[7]

My dearest association with Ginsberg came in the early 90s. One of my closest friends called me up from where she went to school across town and told me Ginsberg was going to speak at her university. On the appointed night, she borrowed her mom’s car, disentangled me from my controlling boyfriend, and drove us across town to hear the man read poems, his poems and the poems of William Blake.

I remember Ginsberg reading

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

After intermission, Ginsberg invited the audience to sit with him on the stage. I would have been too shy to go up there alone, but my friend pulled me along, and I shared a stage with Allen Ginsberg. I was so young and naive; I didn’t even fully understand the great energy I was enveloped in.

A few years later, when Ginsberg died, some poets I knew were absolutely heartbroken. I wasn’t a poet yet, and I didn’t understand how they could hurt so deeply for someone they didn’t really know.

What I realize now is that anyone who’s read Ginsberg knows him. The man exposed his heart in every poem he wrote. He didn’t try to hide or sugarcoat. He laid himself on the line with every word.

I understand now that I owe Ginsberg a tremendous debt. I couldn’t be the writer I am today if he hadn’t come before.

 
Illuminated Poems
One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned is
Illuminated Poems a collection of Ginsberg’s poetry, illustrated by the fantastic artist Eric Drooker. It’s one of the few books I miss owning.