Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reflections: How Grateful Dead Concerts Influenced My Life

Rex Foundation Executive Director Sandy Sohcot writes:

See here how everything lead up to this day...

Robert Hunter's lyric from "Black Peter" is front and center right now as I contemplate a recent conversation with a sister Deadhead about how our experiences at Grateful Dead concerts have influenced our lives. We thought it would be interesting and fun to invite a story exchange on this theme--I hope you enjoy my story and feel inclined to share yours.

Unquestionably, I'm sitting at my Rex Foundation desk as Executive Director writing this because of that first Grateful Dead concert I went to at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1972. I recall that at about 1:00 a.m., during a long space set that prompted me to wonder if deeper contemplation was called for, I turned to Art Sohcot, my husband, who in 1987 passed away from complications related to leukemia, and asked what he thought this experience was all about. "It's just fun," he said. And so, the fun began.

What also began to happen as we went to one show after another was the connecting with people. At one Warfield show a woman sitting next to me just started talking to me about random thoughts, which then became a continuing conversation. We kept seeing each other at different shows and essentially became concert friends, which in turn generated expanded connections with the various people we each knew at the shows.

I had the same experience with many different people. We found that our shared connection with the music, and all that the music and lyrics evoked, offered a common frame of reference that was both fun and soul-enriching. Going to shows meant music and community. And, independent of concert-going, it got to the point that if you met someone and found out that you shared similar Grateful Dead experiences, you immediately had a common bond, which then paved the way for a likely friendship.

I'm at the Rex Foundation today in great part because of what I've just described. The Rex board member who called me in February 2001 to see if I'd be interested in being Executive Director was a lawyer who had met Art Sohcot at a law office party in 1983, and in talking, discovered common interest in the Grateful Dead. We became close friends as we went to many shows together and then kept connecting in other ways. The person who encouraged me to take the Rex Foundation position was the friend who took us to that first show in 1972.

These deep friendships were and are based on shared life views and values, extending way beyond the concerts we frequented, yet also are connected by the ethos felt during those shows. That same ethos is, in my view, how the Rex Foundation came to be; flowing along with the fun of enjoying the music was the awareness--among the band and the fans--that there was more to care about outside the concert hall.

It's now virtually impossible to distinguish between all the connections across people, lyrics and experiences that have led to today. I know that the personal life values I started with were both reinforced and enhanced by those connections. For me, the Rex Foundation has been an incredible opportunity to connect all these dots and carry forward day-by-day the very best of my concert experiences.


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At 9:18 PM, Blogger Brian said...

And it s just like any other day , thats ever been.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger MaryE said...

Well, let's just say my first show came along a little late in the process (12/31/80), but changed my life like the cyclone changed Dorothy's. Though it could be argued that in this case the cyclone got me home, rather than the reverse.

Against that backdrop, I've been really struck by a couple of documentaries that seem to be making the rounds on PBS lately, specifically because they're about people like us for whom the music is the essential lifeblood without which the community and the culture die.

First one: Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, which is about the neighborhood now mostly known as the Sixth Ward. There is a lot going on, and in general I would say that the whole thing will knock your socks off and tear your heart out a few dozen times.

But among the sock-knockingest and heart-tearingest moments are pre-Katrina home video clips of things like Mardi Gras parades and funeral processions in the neighborhood, with centuries of deep culture, ritual, iconography, all that stuff, and the music that is spiritually the electricity and the glue, for lack of a less ridiculous metaphor.

The second one, which I just happened to see last night: When the Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan, which is about a road trip involving several Gypsy/Rom singers and bands from around the world.(Kinda like Festival Express but released in a much more timely manner!) Again, totally amazing stuff, focused on the different but obviously related local strains of music belonging to people who haven't had a home country for centuries.

Obviously our culture is at a somewhat earlier stage, but I think it's coming from a similar place. If you get confused listen to the music play, as a matter of cultural (and sometimes literal) survival.

So yeah, Grateful Dead shows--life-changing, life-sustaining, the whole enchilada!


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