If I hear one more newscaster say, "What a long, strange trip it's been," I'm going to heave up lunch from a week ago.
Don't get me wrong. I'm sorry Jerry's gone. I'm sorry his old frame finally couldn't accommodate all the drugs he believed it should. I'm even sorry that I never, ever found anything to love about the Grateful Dead. And believe me, I've tried.
I've always gotten along great with Deadheads until the subject of music came up. A long time ago, I made the foolish mistake of telling one of them at a party that I thought "Truckin'" was a good song. He immediately took my statement as an invitation to play all six sides of Europe '72, including a 13-minute live version of the aforementioned, suddenly not-so-good song. Gazing at the infamous back cover cartoon of the Ice Cream Kid ramming a frosty cone into his forehead, I found myself wishing that I were that buck-toothed dweeb, armed with two creamy cones I could shove in both ears to spare myself. That Saturday night ended with three Deadheads getting clocked by some Sabbath fans because they simply would not step away from the stereo.
Despite my purchase of many various artists compilations over the years, I've somehow managed to avoid owning a single Grateful Dead recording, even by accident. Yet here I sit: sporting a tie-dyed shirt that never gets worn out of the house, thumbing through Skeleton Key, the official "Dictionary for Deadheads," trying to like Jerry's band one last time. And it's hard. Dreadfully hard.
But even if you vehemently hate the group's music, you've got to be in awe of the band's "deadicated" following. Deadheads have seen their band of choice so many times they've actually memorized hand signals that band members give each other before playing certain songs. Given this repetition, veterans of more than 100 shows probably know when Phil Lesh has to take a leak and is holding it in.
Though I didn't see any terminology for piss retention in this handy reference book, I did come across some other eye openers, like all the subcategories of Deadheads out there. There's Deaf Heads, hearing-impaired Dead fans who still go to shows "armed with paper cups, balloons and other resonating props" to pick up vibrating bass notes. Then there are the Spinners, who twirl around continuously to the music in an effort to get a natural (not to mention cheap) high. Spinners are also adept at sneaking into Dead concerts by incessantly whirling and whining until gate guards throw in the towel and look the other way. Wouldn't you?
But, wait! There's also the Stylies (""Caucasian Heads with dreadlocks"); Touchheads (new fans pulled in by the 1987 hit "Touch of Grey"); Tour Rats (the "recreational/touring homeless" found in parking lots at every show mooching tickets); Wharf Rats ("sober Heads who take their 12-Step meetings on tour"); and Wedgers ("people who sleaze ahead of the line while the line is moving").
When all the eulogies and candlelight vigils are said and done, Deadheads of every sort will face the question of the hour: Should the Grateful Dead carry on without Jerry? Sure, he's irreplaceable, but so was Keith Moon. Though some Heads may see it as sacrilege even to suggest a Jerry-free Dead, the show may have to go on for reasons that have nothing to do with music. Because, as Deadheads inform nonbelievers ad nauseam, "It's more than just the music." With no more Dead shows, there would be a rapid swelling of tie-dyed co-dependents suddenly deprived of their only livelihood. This onslaught of aimless wedgers and spinners could wreak havoc at unemployment offices across America.
It's a long shot, but the characteristic gentle passivity long thought to be a Deadhead mainstay may recede in the coming months, and those who cannot be cross-trained might take to the streets with unbridled hostility. We may one day talk about Deadheads in the same fearful tones now reserved for disgruntled ex-postal workers.
Politicians up for reelection would try to intercede by throwing some cash incentives the band's way and pleading with the Dead to "at least consider giving David Crosby a call."
Yes, who indeed could conceivably fill Garcia's black tee shirt? Whoever the band chooses would have to possess at least three of the four following traits:
1. A patronly benevolence
2. A big ol' potbelly
3. A predisposition to take massive amounts of recreational drugs
4. A predisposition to take solos that are way too long
Let's examine some of the more likely candidates:
David Crosby Not such an odd choice since he played in the Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra, an informal collaboration between members of CSN&Y, the Dead and the Airplane in the early Seventies. True, Crosby's got a new liver now, but his impressive history of drug abuse would only serve to bolster the Dead's own survival status. Just one heated argument with Stephen Stills could make this one a reality.
Paul Kantner Ditto on playing in the PERRO mentioned above. Kantner re-formed Jefferson Airplane and no one cared. Now he's re-formed Jefferson Starship and no one cares. What else is there for him to do?
Barney the Dinosaur He's portly, benevolent to a fault and he's peaked with the under-6 set. Our purple friend may want to hedge his bets against the inevitable slide to extinction, and what better way to stall for time than to seek safety in the company of other dinosaurs. However, Barney's penchant for rewriting lyrics to preexisting songs may backfire on him when he tries to refashion "Ripple" into "Let's Brush Our Teeth."
Jorma Kaukonen Missing in action since the re-formed Jefferson Airplane split up. And, as Hot Tuna proved, the guy can noodle endlessly.
John Popper For years, bands that have played on the H.O.R.D.E. tours (Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Phish, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and Widespread Panic) were groomed to fill the Dead's shoes and take on the band's built-in following should the veterans choose to retire from the road. Popper, a man of considerable girth, has jammed numerous times with the Dead, solos without mercy on his harmonica and shares ties with the Bill Graham organization. However, Popper has one big strike against him: He's still a young guy whose band's latest album, Blues Traveler Four, has just gone platinum, making him a little too happening to prop up a fading dream.
Mick Taylor In the 20 years since he left the Stones, Taylor has also jammed with the Dead. And by this point, it's obvious Mick and Keith aren't in a big hurry to ask him back.
Randy Bachman and/or Mark Farner The Ringo All-Starrs tour will be over soon and both guys will be looking for another gig. Randy's got the edge in the weight department, but his "You Ain't Seen N-N-N-Nothing Yet" stuttering could potentially ruin "Uncle John's Band."
Carl Wilson The Dead and the Beach Boys go back a long way. Jerry and the band gave the Boys a much-needed boost when they invited the then-has-beens to jam at Fillmore East in 1971. Ironically, both bands have been hopelessly mired in Sixties nostalgia ever since. Brother Carl is certainly bearded and porky these days, but Dead purists might shoot the surfer boy's nomination down in flames because Wilson has never taken a guitar solo longer than eight seconds.
Al Dimeola This fusion guitarist could satisfy the smug Deadhead faction that has always insisted the Dead play free-form improvisatory jazz instead of the mindless boogie music the rest of us hear.
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Carlos Santana A likely replacement. Not only because, like Garcia, Carlos is of Hispanic descent, but also because he's the first on the list to publicly volunteer for the job. Deadheads should remember, though, that Carlos was such a dictatorial bandleader with the first lineup of Santana that Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon left in a huff to form Journey. No one, not even a Deadhead, wants to have the blame for another Journey on his hands.
Alvin Lee Replacing Captain Trips with Captain Speed might help bring the Dead's legendary marathon jams to a swifter conclusion. And if Alvin saved that watermelon from Woodstock, he can just tuck it in under his shirt.
Jerry's Skeleton Puppet From the "Touch of Grey" Video Unlike mortal Jerry, this marionette should survive for decades if handled properly. Best of all, most of the "hall dancers" (Deadheads who "space dance" at venues with no intention of actually seeing the band) will never know the difference.