Tag Archives: Grateful Dead

Scruffy

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Shortly before Labor Day Weekend, two coworkers quit suddenly. The Man was sent to work my old job in the parking lot, and I continued to staff the mercantile. The manager and I worked alone on the two days the other had off each week, and we worked together on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

After Labor Day, weekdays were very slow. Some weekdays, the mercantile took in less than $100. Slow was fine with me. I entertained myself by writing or reading, and I got paid the same no matter what I sold.

One Wednesday I was working alone. The weather was cold and rainy, and only a few people had been in the store all day. Late in the afternoon, a man and a woman—both with totally white hair—came in.

Are y’all here for the trail? I asked the couple.

They said they were. I told them there was a $5 parking fee.

The fellow with the white hair started to laugh. That’s what the guy down the road told me, he said.  I told him to take a hike!

I assured him the parking fee was real. The fellow with the white hair insinuated The Man (who was working the parking lot alone that day) was an imposter ripping people off $5 at a time.

Don’t you think it’s a long way to come up this mountain to hustle people?  I asked the fellow with the white hair. It’s a pretty slow day for that too, I told him.

He didn’t have on a uniform, the woman said.

He didn’t have on a uniform? I asked incredulously. I was confident The Man was wearing a uniform when he’d dropped me off at the mercantile that morning. He wasn’t wearing a jacket like this? I asked,  gesturing to the company insignia on the jacket I was wearing.

He was wearing a uniform, the fellow with the white hair said, sounding irritated.

That’s not what you told me, the woman said.

The fellow with the white hair looked at me and said, He was kind of scruffy.

I was aghast. That’s my boyfriend! I told the fellow with the white hair. He had the decency to look embarrassed.

The Man has facial hair, it’s true, and his jacket may not have been pristine clean since we live away from civilization and can’t always do laundry the moment our outerwear gets dirty. However, I’d call him handsome, perhaps rugged, but not scruffy.

The fellow with the white hair continued to defend his doubts about The Man’s validity as an employee empowered to collect parking fees. He knew a woman, he said, who hustled people by collecting money in parking lots…

Where? I shot back at him. Grateful Dead shows?

He nodded, while his lady friend grew increasingly embarrassed.

I told him again it sure was a long way up the mountain on a slow and rainy day to tell lies just to get a few bucks. He continued to look embarrassed, but not nearly as embarrassed as the woman with him.

The fellow with the white hair may have doubted The Man’s valididy, but he didn’t doubt mine. Not only was I wearing a uniform and a photo ID, I was standing behind a cash register in a store. I collected that old coot’s $5 parking fee before he went back to his car.

 

Wal-Mart and the Drug Culture

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In January of 2016, I wrote about seeing a t-shirt decorated with Grateful Dead dancing bears in a Wal-Mart in a small Southwestern desert town. I thought it was a strange and maybe one-time experience, but now it seems Wal-Mart is in the drug culture business.

I saw another Grateful Dead t-shirt in a larger, urban Wal-Mart late in 2016. This shirt had a red, white, and blue (on grey) color scheme; long sleeves; and roses and a Stealie on the front. You’re killing me, Wal-Mart, I posted on Facebook, along with a photo of the shirt. I wanted the shirt, but it was made for a smaller person, or at least one with a body shape different from mine. Besides, it wasn’t 100% cotton, and polyester makes my armpits stink. The shirt wasn’t for me.

But what did it mean that the shirt was for sale in a Wal-Mart? I’d thought maybe the first Dead shirt I saw was an anomaly, maybe the store’s buyer was an old hippie. But now it was starting to seem maybe Wal-Mart was in the Grateful Dead business.

I found myself back in the town where I’d seen the dancing bear shirt. I found myself back in the Wal-Mart. I found myself back in the men’s clothing department, back in front of the t-shirt display. This time there were no Grateful Dead t-shirts to be had, but that didn’t mean Wal-Mart had walked away from the drug culture. Oh no. Wal-Mart hadn’t walked away from the drug culture. Wal-Mart had, in fact, expanded its connection with the drug culture.

The first drug-themed shirt I saw featured a spiral of colorful, happy, laughing anthropomorphized mushrooms. WHAT!?! I’m not sure I can think of anything that says drug culture quite as clearly as colorful, happy, laughing, anthropomorphized mushrooms. I think even my mother (the picture of innocence, only drank alcohol to excess once, never took a street drug in her life) would know those mushrooms had something to do with drugs.

But if the mushrooms left any doubt in anyone’s mind, the shirt immediately below surely dispelled any confusion. It was decorated with the red, yellow, and green of Rasta (the same Rasta famous for the use of marijuana) in a tie-dye-esque spiral, and across the chest was emblazoned the word TRIPPIN. What!?! TRIPPIN!?!

Does anyone not know that trippin’ means being high on drugs? Doesn’t even my mother know that? Or do I just know that and assume everyone else knows it too simply because I am part of the drug culture?

To be fair, I looked up trippin’ on the Urban Dictionary website and found as many references to overreacting and being crazy as to being under the influence of psychotropic substances. Maybe my mother and others of her ilk could make a case that the shirt is merely referencing blowing a situation out of proportion.

But, but, but THEN I saw the Cheech & Chong t-shirt on the bottom shelf. Cheech & Chong? Do any two men in the history of the world say drug culture more loudly and more clearly than Cheech & Chong?

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the faces of the men riding the bear (riding the bear?), the shirt is conveniently labeled CHEECH and CHONG. And if anyone needs just a few more drug culture references, there’s the green, yellow, and red Rasta spiral again.

I’m not all that upset about Wal-Mart profiting from the drug culture. I’m accustomed to Wal-Mart profitting. Wal-Mart profits from everything it can get it’s (metaphoric) corporate hands on. Besides, not every stoner can afford head shop prices. Isn’t it high time (giggle) for stoners to be able to get druggie t-shirts at affordable prices?

Mostly I’m just surprised. Doesn’t Wal-Mart present itself as a bastion of wholesome American-ness? How is Wal-Mart getting away with selling such unwholesome, drug culture promoting items? Why aren’t the store’s upstanding conservative Christian clients protesting such goods? Could those customers possibly not know what those shirts are all about?

I know what the shirts are about, and they amuse me whenever I see them, especially when I stumble into the store first thing in the morning.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

 

 

Answers

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I recently offered my readers a chance to ask me questions. Today’s post consists of the questions submitted, as well as my answers.

Let’s start off with an easy one, shall we?

Dave asked, Pot pie or pizza pie?

While I would not turn down pot pie freely given, my choice will always be pizza. I would choose pizza over most anything else, except maybe ice cream.

Here’s another easy one, from Mary. Do you work for the state or federal government?

Neither. Of course, I am not working at the moment, but when I am working, it’s not for any governmental agency.

Now onto a question with a longer answer. This is a fun one.

Muriel2pups asked, Blaize, What would you do if you won a million dollars?

Funny you should ask, as I do have a plan, although buying lottery tickets is not part of the plan. Not sure how I expect to win if I don’t play…

Over the summer I noticed sometimes my coworker and I would talk about the possibility of some event or reaction and then the thing we talked about happened. I decided we needed to turn this ability to manifest into a million dollars. My coworker and I agreed to share any money sent our way by the Universe. So, if I won a million dollars, half of it automatically belongs to my coworker.

I have a handful of friends and worthy causes to whom I would dole out somewhere between  $200 to $5,000 each.

I would have my van repaired and overhauled in every way necessary.

I would visit Montana and Alaska.

Would I still have money left after that? I have no idea. I don’t have a clear concept of how much half a million dollars is. I guess I would probably do some socially responsible investing with whatever was left and try to live off that money while writing or making art.

Cindy had several questions. Let’s take them (and their answers) one at a time.

 I am pretty interested in the life out on the Mesa outside of the bridge in Taos. Have you ever lived out there? What did you think of it and what was your experience if you did.

No, Cindy, I never lived out on the Mesa. I have a couple of friends who do, one I visited a few times and one I house and dog sat for several times.

Like many neighborhoods, the Mesa is a mixed bag. There are people out there living in huge, seemingly expensive, “nice” houses. There are people out there living in shacks, old school buses, and homes they built themselves, piece-by-piece, over time. There are people out there living in structures somewhere between a mansion and a shanty. Some people on the Mesa use solar power, and other people have no electricity at all. Many people on the Mesa have no running water and have to haul their water home.

Two women I knew have been murdered on the Mesa in less than three years. For me, these killings put a dark cloud over the area’s visually stunning landscape.

Do you keep your money in a bank at all?

 Yes, Cindy, I do have a bank account. There was a time before I had a bank account when I kept my cash on me. Of course, I worried about getting robbed. During that time, I did not keep my money hidden in the van, in fear of the van getting stolen or towed.

Now I worry about a breakdown of the financial system which would leave me without access to my money. I suppose if the financial system breaks down, that paper’s not going to do me much good anyway.

Just a fun question. What is your favorite meal? Like if you could have anything to eat for dinner tonight what would it be? ..and your favorite dessert?

 If I’m cooking for myself, my favorite meal is some variation of brown rice, tofu, and veggies. I particularly enjoy blanched broccoli.

If the Lady of the House is cooking dinner, I’ll take gumbo!

If any food in the whole world could magically appear in front of me, I would go for boudin.

As for dessert, I don’t know if I’ve ever met one I didn’t like. Any sort of concoction with brownies or cookies or cake and ice cream would make me happy.

Camilla said, I was wondering why you never post a photo of yourself anywhere on your blog.

My privacy and security are very important to me. I don’t necessarily want strangers to know what I look like, so I don’t post photos of myself. The same goes for my van. While I don’t think I would be mobbed by adoring fans, I feel safer without my face plastered all over the internet.

Besides, what I look like has no bearing on my writing, my photography, and my art. I would rather you judge me on how I behave and what I can create rather than on how I look.

Louise asked, Do you think this is something that you’ll be doing for as long as you can or do you think that you may choose a more stationary life? Maybe I’m asking when/how/if you would choose a more permanent (or semi-permanent) place to lay roots for a while.

In “Truckin,'”Robert Hunter best explains my life as a van dweller:

You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel
Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down

 When I’m stuck in one place, I want to hit the road. When I’m on the road, I think about the benefits of settling somewhere.

Don’t forget, I was mostly settled before I started my life on the road. I know what it’s all about.

But yes, I do think about settling down in some shitty little apartment, working some shitty little job, stuck in some city. I wouldn’t want to live in a city where I didn’t already have friends and a support network. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to live in most of the places where my good friends live. I’m not willing to work 8 hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year at some job that’s not doing much good for the world so I can take a two week vacation to visit people I love.

Also, I wonder if I could even get a real job these days. I’m a middle age woman who’s been mostly out of the  job force for seven years. Who’s going to hire me? It’s not like I have any specialized, marketable skills.

I do worry about getting older, about getting sick, about being injured. (I am very careful getting in and out of the shower these days.) However, I’m not willing to sacrifice my now for future unknowns. Maybe I will be able to work as a camp host until the day I die.

Sue asked a long and complicated question. I will try to condense it.

I’m sure you’ve thought about what you went through a LOT. And while you did think about them, did you isolate things he said and did, and then re-identify them from casual remarks into recognizable warning signs? In other words, have you learned to think about what people say and how they act so it will help you in future relationships?

One reason I don’t write much about my ex is because there are many aspects of both his and my life (and our life together) that would immediately reveal our identities to folks who knew us fairly well. I’m not interested in my ex finding me and contacting me, so I don’t share parts of our past that would lead him to me.

That said, during my relationship with him, I was mostly cognizant of what was going on. I don’t have to look back and say, Oh, that was a warning sign. I look back and remember how I knew at the time how some word or action was fucked-up shit.

So have I learned to think about what people say and how they act? I don’t know. What I can do now is identify fucked up men from a mile away and run in the other direction. (I could probably spot fucked up women too, but I don’t get as many opportunities.)

Brent asked, Blaize, I would like to know what you don’t have in your life that you would like to have.

While I have many close and wonderful friends, I spend most of my year far away from them. I’m lonely a lot. When I do visit, my friends have work, kids, relationships, a million obligations they can’t drop just to spend some deep quality time with me. I get it, but it’s difficult for me to feel fulfilled by friendship in passing. I wish I could spend more time with the people I love.

Laura-Marie asked me the following sweet question: how did u get so wonderful? i really mean that. what factors came together to form beautiful u?

Aw, shucks.

But I don’t feel wonderful! I’m grumpy and short-tempered and pushy and annoying. Anything good you see if because I am working against my natural tendencies to talk too much and make stupid jokes. I’m working against feeling irritated and wanting to have everything my way.

I used to do nice things for people because I wanted people to like me. Now when I do nice things for people, it’s usually because it’s the right thing to do. I try to treat people as I would like to be treated. I try to act like the kind of friend I want to have.

 

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/.

During the Fire

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I wrote the following poem (as the title says) during the fire which happened near my campground. I wrote it the day after I had an extra day off, thanks to a second fire that was put out quickly.

During the Fire

Three days off and

1, 2, 3, 4–I don’t wanna work now more.

Fire on the mountain

and not one’s up here anyway–

no campers

no hikers

no visitors to scrub toilets for.

I need to find some task to do.

Like the union man in

Darlington County said,

“He (meaning she, meaning me)

don’t work and

he (meaning she, meaning me)

don’t get paid.”

How long will the company

let me sit in the parking lot

with podcast and yarn project

waiting to collect parking fees

from cars that never arrive?

There’s some raking I can do

in the campground.

Best put on the uniform

and get to work

while I can.

I reference two very different songs in this poem: “Fire on the Mountain” as performed by the Grateful Dead and “Darlington County,” which, according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlington_County_(song),

is a 1984 song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen.

Fire on the Mountain

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In the middle of August, a fire started not far from my campground. I heard different reports: fifteen miles–twenty-five miles away. Whatever the actual distance, it was too close for comfort.

The last I heard, the cause was “under investigation,” but my boss said the Forest Service thinks the fire began as an illegal campfire in a dispersed camping area. The folks who started the fire lost control of it, and the fire went wild.

The fire started on a Tuesday afternoon. On Thursday, my boss came to my campground in the morning and told me what was happening. When I got to the parking lot, my coworker said he was leaving work early to pack up his important belongings so he’d be ready if he had to evacuate. The sky was hazy with smoke.

That evening, I climbed in my hammock and zipped up the mosquito netting to avoid the the tiny, annoying flies. Around 7pm, I looked at the sky and saw one part of it was dark. At first I thought a big storm was on its way, but then I realized it was the smoke from the wildfire darkening the sky.

On Friday morning, my boss was back in my campground, this time to tell me my coworkers had evacuated and wouldn’t be at work for the foreseeable future. He also told me that a group with reservations at a campground closed due to the wildfire would be staying at my campground. Those campers pulled in early, before I left for the parking lot.

The trail and the parking lot was much slower than usual for a Friday in August.  Word of the fire must have already spread. People were staying away.

Although parts of the sky were dark, other parts were blue and weirdly bright. Sometimes the sky looked hazy; other times it looked as if a storm were moving in. The sunlight was a strange orange color, unlike anything I’d seen before. It was beautiful and scary too, because I knew it was the result of the too-close fire.

All day ash fell. It fell on the parking lot and continued to fall in the evening when I returned to my campground. When I touched the ash, it was cool, but it was creepy to see it drifting down, knowing it was another sign of the fire’s proximity. I thought about the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the story of how the Grateful Dead played “Fire on the Mountain” in Portland, OR as ash fell on the city.

Mr. Carolina gave me this Stealie, which represents the song "Fire on the Mountain." In addition to the mountain on fire, there's tea for two, a yellow sky, and a sun that's blue.

Mr. Carolina gave me this Stealie, which represents the song “Fire on the Mountain.” In addition to the mountain on fire, there’s tea for two, a yellow sky, and a sun that’s blue.

According to https://volcanism.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/the-daily-volcano-quote-the-rock-band-and-the-volcano/:

Perhaps the most incredible Weather Control story involves the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. The Dead was reportedly playing at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. A short way into the second set, the Dead played the song “Fire on the Mountain”. Legend has it that while the band was playing a particularly “hot” version of that song, the volcano erupted. When the show was over, Deadheads emerged to find volcanic ash falling everywhere. Though it was never explicitly said that the Dead “caused” the mountain to erupt, everyone agreed that the intensity of the song and the eruption were somehow connected. In fact, the Dead did not actually play in Portland until June 12, 1980, almost a month after the major May 18 eruption of Mount St. Helens, but they did play “Fire on the Mountain” at that show, probably as a tribute to the volcano…

Revell Carr, ‘Deadhead tales of the supernatural: a folkloristic analysis’, in Robert G. Weiner (ed.), Perspectives on the Grateful Dead (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999), pp. 209-10…

“Fire on the Mountain” is a fine song, but it took on a whole new significance when there was actually fire on a mountain I love. I don’t want nothing to do with a fire on my mountain!

Around noon, a Forest Service fire patrol truck pulled into the parking lot and the driver asked me if anyone had come to talk to me. I said I hadn’t heard anything about it since morning.

The Forest Service guy told me I might have to evacuate my campground. He said if an evacuation were ordered, I’d probably have about four hours to get ready to leave. Suddenly the fire seemed even closer than before.

I finished my shift at the parking lot, then headed back to my campground. The first thing I did was talk to the campers who’d arrived that morning. I asked them if anyone had come by to tell them about the possible evacuation. They seemed surprised and said no. I explained we’d be given about four hours to pack up and get out. They didn’t act panicked, but within an hour, they drove over to my campsite to tell me they’d broken camp and were leaving. The older woman in the group said she was praying everything would be ok, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, she told me.

After I ate my dinner, I began to prepare to evacuate. I had my privacy tent and a small backpacking tent I’d been using for storage to take down. I had to take down my brand new hammock too. I didn’t think it would take me long to break camp, but what if I got less than four hours notice? What if notice came in the middle of the night? I didn’t want to leave anything behind, and I didn’t want to pack in the dark, so I decided to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.

Taking down the hammock was easy. It’s intended for backpackers and other travelers, so it goes up and come down easily.

My storage tent, before it was covered with sap. Thanks Auntie M.

My storage tent, before it was covered with sap. Thanks Auntie M.

Taking down the storage tent wasn’t bad either. Most things I had inside (folding chair, cooking box) went right into the van. A few things that I knew I could live without (foil, citronella candle, cardboard box) went into the campground’s storage room. The biggest problem with the tent was that it was covered with sap from the trees overhead. It was sticky when I rolled it up, and I don’t know what will happen when I try to pitch it again. The sap may have made the whole thing a ball of sticky mess.

When I researched privacy tents, I read a lot of reviews that said the tents that pop up easily are really difficult to take down. How hard can it be? I thought. I’ll deal with it when the time comes, I thought.

My privacy tent

My privacy tent

Now the time had come, and folding the tent was as difficult as the reviews had said. I read the instructions repeatedly, but nothing worked. I couldn’t twist the top into much of a circle. If I used my knee to hold down the top, I could get my little Tyrannosaurus arms to reach the middle of the tent where I was supposed to twist the lower half into another circle. I chased that tent all through the dirt of my campground, but in the end, while the tent and I were both filthy, it was not at all folded. It fit (barely) into my storage room, so I decided to leave it there. Maybe the concrete walls would protect it if the fire came. Maybe not. But no way could I live with the dirty thing in the van with me.

My boss showed up in my campground again that evening. I told him the folks on site #3 had left. I told him I had folks with reservations scheduled to come in that day, but I suspected they weren’t going to show. My boss told me if I didn’t want to stay alone in the campground, I could stay at the campground down the road where the other camp hosts would be babysitting their campers. He said it there were an evacuation, the Forest Service might forget to come down my road to tell me about it. This information (which I now think is untrue), made up my mind for me.

By nearly 7pm, the campers with the reservations hadn’t shown up, so I left them a note and drove down the road to pass a very peaceful night.

By Sunday, all but one road on and off the mountain were blocked by California Highway Patrol officers. There was almost no one in the parking lot or on the trail. After my shift in the parking lot ended and I scrubbed the toilets in my campground, I went back to the other campground and took a bath in the plastic livestock trough doing bathtub duty in the back of the other hosts’ bus. From there, I took the only road out to a campground on the other side of the mountain where my boss said I could stay during my time off.

On Tuesday, while in Babylon, I found out where my mail had been evacuated and decided to drive out there to get it after I’d gotten the van’s oil changed and before the employee appreciation pizza party. As my van was going up on the rack, I was returning my boss’s call to learn another fire had started the night before due to lightning strikes. The one road that had been open was closed for part of the day, maybe was still closed. The pizza party was postponed and my boss suggested maybe I wanted to spend another night in town. He said there was no one at the campgrounds, no one at the trail or parking lot. I thought he was telling me to take another day off, so I did, not returning to the mountain until late Wednesday evening when the second fire was out and the road was surely open.

I thought I knew quiet, until I returned to the nearly deserted mountain. Although the quiet was absolutely natural, it felt entirely unnatural and eerie. I spent the night parked near the other camp hosts in their otherwise empty campground.

About that time, people stopped talking about evacuation and instead discussed the ever increasing percentage of containment. By the end of the month, the fire had all but burnt itself out and the firefighters were going home. We had our pizza party and my coworker was able to return to his intact home. No lives were lost, and I put my privacy tent back on my campsite.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Deadheads Are Everywhere

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I was on a remote road in California.

This was not a road that went from town to town. This was a mountain road with forest all around it. This road went past a couple of isolated campgrounds. This road went past a couple of hiking areas. In other words, this was the type of road one would only be on if one were going to a specific, out-of-the-way place. This was not a highly trafficked road.

I was looking for a waterfall. I never found it. The map I had made me think I’d see the waterfall from the road, but I never did. Upon looking at a more detailed map later, I realized there was a short hike to the waterfall. Apparently, there’s no sign announcing the existence of the waterfall or giving a trail number. Apparently, folks who want to see the waterfall need to already know where it’s located.

I drove up the road, well past where the waterfall was supposed to be. When I didn’t see the waterfall (and assumed it had dried up in the California drought), I drove back down the road.

There weren’t many signs on this road. The mile markers on the side were mostly blank. Had there never been numbers on them, or had they worn off? I had no way of knowing.

As I zoomed past one of the mileposts, my brain registered….What? Was that a Stealie? On a milepost in the middle of nowhere? How? Why? Had I really seen a Stealie? Or had it been some other red, white, and blue design, and my brain had filled in what I wanted to see?

Welcome to milepost Grateful Dead.

Welcome to milepost Grateful Dead.

I pulled over into the next wide space on the side of the road. My camera was already in my pocket, as I’d planned to take photos of the waterfall. I walked on the narrow shoulder, back to the the mile marker sign. (There was no traffic. I was in no danger.)

I really had seen Stealies! On the milepost, someone (who? when? why?) had stuck four Steal Your Face stickers. Deadheads had been here!

It’s so nice when the Universe tells me I am not alone.

According to http://gratefuldead-music.com/article/grateful-dead-symbols-de-coded-part-4-skull-and-lightning-bolt,

Designed in 1969, the logo was the collaborative work of Owsley Stanley and artist Bob Thomas. Owsley was inspired by a freeway sign he happened to pass by—a round shape divided by a bold white line into an orange half and a blue half. The general shape and colors stood out, and Owsley had the notion that a blue and red design with a lightning bolt with make a cool logo. He shared his idea with Bob Thomas, who then drew up plans of the design.

Originally, there was no skull face—the logo was simply a circle divided with the lightning bolt. The skull face was added on a few days later, as a way to symbolize the “Grateful Dead.”

The band first used the logo as an identifying mark on their musical equipment, and later the symbol appeared on the inside album jacket of the self-titled album The Grateful Dead. The logo later appeared on the cover of the album Steal your Face, and has been known as the Steal your Face symbol ever since.

Steal Your Face Right Off Your Head

Steal Your Face Right Off Your Head

I took the photos in this post.

Grateful Dead - Steal Your Face - Classic 3cm - Die Cut Metal Sticker Decal

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!

Deadheads

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Say what you will, but I’m pretty sure I manifested those people.

Exhibit  A: I’d been reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for about a week. I guess you could say I’d been savoring it. Oh man–Merry Pranksters and LSD! Just a day or so before, I’d gotten to the part where the Grateful Dead became the house band at the Acid Tests.

Exhibit B: Just the day before, I pulled out the hemp and began making necklaces between collecting parking fees. 

One Package of 400 feet 100% Natural Hemp Cord #20
I started with whimsical mushroom pendants sent to me by a friend. The necklace-making went so well (three necklaces made in a four hour shift), I figured I could do it the three slow days of my parking lot work week. I was working on a hemp necklace when the people pulled into the parking lot.

It makes perfect sensed to me: focus on Merry Pranksters + LSD + Grateful Dead, throw in the repetitive, meditative motion of making square knots from hemp, and Deadheads are bound to appear.

The people arrived in a puff of sage smoke, with maybe a bit of marijuana in the mix.

The car was banged up, a real beater, and was hauling a battered pop-up camper. I didn’t know who the people were at first. I thought maybe they’d mistaken the parking lot for a campground (as happens fairly often). I thought maybe they were just tourists in a scruffy car, regular people who wanted to see some trees.

When the car stopped next to me, the driver had to open his door to hear my rap. (My van’s driver-side window doesn’t go down, so I’m never surprised when I see other people in the same situation.)

Are y’all here for the trees? I asked, and the driver said yes.

There’s a $5 parking fee, I said.

At that point I looked into the car and began to see.

I noticed the driver first. He had a black mark on his forehead, above his nose. He looked like a Catholic on Ash Wednesday, but having been raised Catholic, I know Ash Wednesday doesn’t come in late July.

Then I noticed the child in the backseat. She was probably three and tiny and dirty and her hair was in ratty dreads that meant her mamma had quit fighting her about brushing it. Only hardcore modern hippies have kids with hair like that.

Next I glanced at the dashboard where a lot of papers were piled up. Peeking out from the pile–upside down– I was pretty sure that was Jerry Garcia on that poster.

WAIT! These weren’t tourists. These were maybe–possibly–oh, I hope!

These were the kids!

Is that a Grateful Dead poster on the dash? I asked.

The driver said it was.

I said, There’s no parking fee!

Kids don’t charge kids, man, and these were the kids, and I’m a kid too, under this brown polyester uniform, in my heart.

The driver asked the adult in the backseat (a man younger than I am, but probably the oldest of the bunch), Do you have…something…mumble…mumble…something?

I thought they were fishing around for five bucks, but instead of money, they produced a cardboard sign featuring the words I need a miracle and an awesome drawing of a skeleton.

Hell yeah! I miracled those kids right into that parking lot!

They’d been at a Dead & Company show the night before (or maybe the night before that), and they were heading to a Dead & Company show that night (or maybe the next) but I just had to take a detour and see some trees, the driver told me.

While they parked, I got some granola bars together for them. (Being on tour is hungry work.) The granola bars were met with enthusiasm by the two men, the tiny child, and the fourth person in the party, a young woman resplendent in bold face paint and a fuzzy tail swinging from the seat of her shorts.

They weren’t gone as long as I thought they might be.

When they returned to the parking lot, I asked them how they’d liked the trees.

There were many expressions of approval and thanks.

We’d stay longer, the driver told me, but we have a date with Bobby. (That’s  Bob  Weir of the Grateful Dead, Furthur, and now Dead & Company for folks not in the know.)

I wish I could go with you! I said.

Come on, the woman said immediately. Quit your job! Come with us!

It was the perfect answer, just what I wanted and needed her to say. I’d been dreaming of running away with them from the moment I realized who they were. The last week had been hard with the heat and the bugs and the idiots, and I’d really been wanting to leave.

Turns out just being invited to go with them was enough.

I didn’t go with them, not because I didn’t want to, but because that’s not the path I’m on at the moment. Also, the last time I cast my lot with Deadheads I didn’t even know–well, let’s just say the trip was longer and stranger than I’d ever imagined it could be, from the snow of Colorado to my Southwest Louisiana homeland. Getting out of that one mostly unscathed has made me less likely to run off with strangers.

In any case, when I said I couldn’t (wouldn’t, shouldn’t) go, the older (but still much younger than I) guy stopped and looked at me, told me he appreciated what I was doing keeping it locked down for these trees. That made me feel good too, even though I’m mostly just a parking lot attendant. But yeah, I’m here for the trees, and I’m here to recognize the kids who need a miracle every damn day. (I need those miracles too, and that day, those kids were my miracle.)

The crew headed back to the car, but a few minutes later, I heard a voice say, This is for you.

The woman had returned, and while she didn’t hand me the party favor I’d been trying to manifest, (but I understand, it’s not safe to hand sacraments like that to strangers in polyester-blend pants), I was very pleased with the bundle of California white sage she presented to me.

The car left as it arrived, in a puff of sage smoke, camper trailer in tow. On the back of the trailer was a heart, inscribed inside with the words Not Fade Away, as in a love that’s real not fade away.

Don’t even try to tell me I didn’t draw those people right to me.

Shakedown Street (Expanded & Remastered)