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Ain't got no rent money but I got a head full of dreams "time is precious but truth is more precious than time:" from the computer's fortune cookie strip, 188 Cramer Hall
A journal entry translated for my loving extended family, the ones that I've never met, who I feel that I know so well...
10/1/95... Raleigh, N.C. plays in the head (or "HEAD") phones. Candle lit shadows dance on the walls, Swedish Ivy silhouettes, and the cars hiss by below, rainy night. A beautiful Playin' in the Band is in anticipation and I want to wear the head phones in order to get every chunk of the mastery. It's a hissy, low-fi audience tape and I don't care. The crowd is cheering from rowdiness out of control, people bust down some weird separation gate to get on to the field. Actually, it was a chicken wire fence with thin aluminum posts about waist high, like that's gonna hold these Dixie chickens back... Memories... strange things that they are, especially when on Memorex. It was a day with head held by the sky, lysergic dreams, fresh from a Nag' sHead beach stint, spent with tan and silent people, the waves, conch melodies, still resounding. I was down in front of the stage, wearing my new batik of the ocean, feeling a new self-assurance build and shatter, arched back, neck craned, watching clouds lift, swirl and pass... The Aiko was fun and I loved how the sound up front was; big," but not too loud. I heard Phil like never before and my heart raced and I prayed for the band to open the doors of magic, pull it out of my head, raging down in front, not quite at the rail, but close, the closest that I'd ever been, alone. I could feel every note and Aiko seemed well paced and metered with an inordinate amount of patience. That patience I knew to be their own confidence, a confIdence mirroring my own, a confidence that can provide sound, solid, strong exploration. Bobby began tuning for his turn in the rotation, and half of a note hinted at Playin', and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Hornsby had his accordion, he was living a deadhead's dream, Jerry was all smiles but serious, the lights dimmed. The light techs had heard what I heard. Suddenly, Phil was the guy introducing the song, and the beefy bass notes lifted me up off of my feet onto the airy carpet ride that is Playin'. I heard the slow steady pace that had all started the previous summer in Alpine; that's where I really began to notice the difference in the band's performance, they were slowing it down. Unlike '86 and '87, there was a sense that they were taking their time, front porch evocations. Then came the Warlocks, and then during that Playin' jam in Hartford, I realized that the magic was real, opening solid passageways into the transitive nightfall. Back in Raleigh that solid intro. and steady pounding "Main Ten" rhythms led to an epiphany filled jam, electric cobwebs scattering, fractal light. The video screens were doing something in my peripheral vision. The lights were the deep purples and reds of a pensive second set moment. Suddenly, I'm vibing the band, they can feel it, they're reacting. Four or five rows back, exploding with psychedelic chaos and impatience, taking deep breaths, calming, slowing down again, focusing on each note, I was LISTENING INTENTLY! It was as though Phil had picked up on this first, and then set the pace accordingly. I even danced slowly, methodically, getting visual snapshots of the stage, in-between strobed bits of hair flashed before my eyes, a digital visual scramble, deep magenta lights, other people's figures passing, limbs, and the faint touch of lightning on the horizon from waning summer storms. Trees, exploding with growth, breathing the humid southern air, swayed in the breeze, each leaf revealing it's bright underside on the hillock above. The fold up chairs on the grass looked like some backyard wedding, or graduation event, but the monolithic focal point in front dwarfed and surrealized such comparisons. The band was now mining their own musical history of exploration, simultaneously sensing that archetypal wind rising up from the audience. I never cheered, I only nodded my head in agreement, noting the rear flank's outbursts as childish lack of control and distraction from the "IT" which was being resurrected and disseminated for our benefit. And the brilliant mining expedition continued after a sanguine Uncle John's bubbled joyously through us, and it was all making a lot of
sense. The band was right where I was, and I swayed with every step, moving as a marionette, as they often say that they are moved. Bob, Jerry and Phil seemed intent on keeping a special spirit together as one shelters a small campfire flame on a rainy, blustering night, enduring the elements and patiently tending the temporary hearth. They slipped into a drumz that became downright ethereal, coming a little too soon for my tastes, but right on time as per the audience's inability to focus, help keep the lamps trimmed and burning. If the whole group couldn't get the rowdy Dixons to settle in, maybe the drumz would pose a mandate. Their wild yet methodical rhythm would also keep alive what the jam had spilled out and revealed in its other worldly moments, and we were transported to the Serenghetti, a place most of these Duck's Head cocktailers would never go. As if the crew knew that the audience didn't know, had to show them these scattered images on the screens, groups of African women, baskets on their heads, passed through dust and scrub trees, stern expressions of patient endurance, rhythmic motion of walking, up and down. I was reminded of Koyonasquattsi, had yet to see Baraka. Mickey and Billy would then shatter the natural rhythms they had started, mirroring the carelessness abounding, the prevalent lack of reverence. The crowd reacts to these danger zones with cheers, "yay !" I elitistly, moved patiently, wishing they would chill out, shut up and watch, listen: "Holler at football games yea swarthy dogs... aye... This is not the time..." I envisioned people in enchanted forests, drinking cans of beer, perfect gothic spires looming above their heads, stories of being fucked up spilling out below, packaging strewn. The drummers responded with explosions, the angry industry of Cat Diesel powered tree pickers, earth movers, clearing the hillsides and dragging the resources into living, breathing, pinball machine, ticker tape cities of the Western industrialized menace, selling it as the only way. The warnings, drifting sounds of the beam, "the beast," the massive feedback machine, mixes with Bobby's screeching echoes of icy winds, the empty aftermath of the destruction that is looming, the beautiful desolation angels tumbling like weed through the street, the broken glass glittering, put your arms up and spin around in it, feel it hold you, "out here on the perimeter, there are no stars..." Jerry comes out and chases the rat race down, spiraling a twisted tone far removed from the basics, lurking, as complicated as everything natural is. Low heavy bass humming the undercurrent, the swift undertow, and breaking out to the magical, maniacal, meandering bus ride. Now they are all chasing the Voodoo down, messing with our heart rate, swiftly swelling and then passing away, a perfect mirror of the bus's passage through our lives, "coming around..." connoting that it is waning as well, fleeting moments, a roar of approval, a frenzied dance, a pneumatic time tube, a timeless moment, passage, that old cowbell, the hair on my neck standing up, the chills and again I blink and see hair, moving lights, finger tips, others' facial expressions and it settles, slows, and Stella Blue reminds us that it is all a dream, that this is an illusion, this is our illusion, allusions to other days, our life and we've all tried and we are trying. They see the ones who aren't getting the "IT," and they know, "can't win for trying." I've been in the blue light cheap hotels, trying to find my place in Generica, any place in Generica that I'd be happy to call a happy home. This is magic, transcendent, transient, temporal, and in the end we'll be shoved out of the parking lot, wide brimmed hats and lights flashing, clubs, empty cases of beer bottles, falafel plates, well intended garbage bags overflowing. I know that you've tried Jerry-man and I hope you know that I love you for it, oh-broken-manangel. Bobby makes these cool "ice wind" sounds, breezy noises, and I wonder if I'll ever get the chills like this again. Yeah, it's a blue star, the old silver dollar, a dusty polished glow and I can hear the mantra buried beneath the tip of the iceberg, saying, "you'll do fine at the end of the line, but don't you and your one true love ever part," it's lonely out there, those streets are haunting... The newspapers are the tumbleweed, the lone man passing by box cars and brick strewn sumac gardens is me, head down and shoulders slumped, it's you. Right now I glitter, shining a blue shine, a tear drop falls, lands, and the towel is wrung out into a fun familiar lullaby of love that will never fade away, holding that touch of hope, lurking around the corner, a celebration waiting to collide. This is but a fragment, butterflies in the belly flowing with the gentle jams, one of the most cathartic releases in my life. Squeeze me out like a wash cloth, but no, it's us who squeezed them out, drained their energy, "You're gonna suck out every last ounce aren't ya?" Sorry Phil, we can't help it, it's Wynton Marsalis's philosophy of the inoculation, "giving you the blues in order to take them away," a shield, armor of purgation, catharsis.
After Mr. Garcia passed away, I tried to send a few letters, summing up how I felt. Well, "statements just seem vain at last." The Hunter/Garcia duo, again, left me with some of the only words that would suffice. Yet, to someone "outside the loop," the full connotation and context could be lost. It might not hold the same resonance that it does for me. I tried describing the importance of this event to my mother. She had already called to send her condolences, but I thought that a detailed letter was in order. I described the magic as residing in both the music and the levels of synchronicity that ran rampant in our traveling lives as Deadheads. John Barlow said it more succinctly than I ever could in the introduction to Skeleton Key, but I gave my mother a more personal account. I told her about this past Memorial Day's events, here in Portland, and how the cathartic elements were running free. The music charmed the angst out of the depths of my abdomen as I practically stepped on some of my oldest, and best friends in the world. I hadn't seen them in years. When I tried to explain Jerry s place in all of that, I could only think of her father. When I was a child it seemed that we went to see Hammie and my grandmother at every opportunity. The highlights of our visits were always the long dinners. We would sit around the table, often as many as fifteen people. Hammie was in charge of ambiente. Table cloths and plates were laid out, all electricity was extinguished, and we basked in the candle light glow. He managed to direct the cooking with his nose and an occasional deciding taste, "Needs salt, a little cayenne " The food was always perfect. As we began, he never forgot to toast the family, praise my "grandmother's" cuisine and make sure that everyone was included. Later, as the plates were cleared and coffee was served, Hammie was always ready with a story. His bleary eyes would sparkle in the candle light, the center of our attention, and each tale got its proper due, no descriptive element was left unmentioned. As a result, while a boy, I saw New York City as a place of tailor shops and long lunches where people told "shaggy dog" stories, hung out with their butchers. Hammie's death was tragic to me, seemed to come so suddenly, yet it was all right. In my heart I knew that he was happy, had lived a fuller life than most. And now, our family doesn't gather as often, we've grown and scattered, but together we share stories of Hammie, evoking his charm, bringing a tear drop. He was a man who taught us how to live, never saying anything direct, he showed us how to live by living it. Flawless, no, because we are all human. The key is in the size of his heart and his passionate control of aesthetics... The key is in our love. Now when we gather we have our stories, they break the ice and warm us, memories of his glow. And we know that life will never be the same, and we know that we will grow.
A lonesome candle flickers,
in the land of lullabies...
Peace be with y'all,
Keith A. Eaton
P.S. I read the news on Friday, oh boy... So, the organization is disbanding. Well, you gave the best you had to give, how much we'll never know, but we will. We know... I guess all I can do is thank you. All the traveling networks, the links of people coast to coast, not six degrees of separation but familiarity and usually one degree at most, the time capsule of seeming timelessness and simultaneously a contained continuum, a thread, a chain unbroken, thanks again and I'll stay in touch...
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