Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reflections on the Grateful Dead: Saying Yes to Fun

I was moved by the conversation with Sandy that started over coffee and prompted her to share her reflections here. So, I'm taking her up on the invitation to share my thoughts, too. I hope to read yours soon!

“Thought he’d have a big ol’ party; thought he’d call it planet Earth.”

In the early ‘80s, I was a prep school student in Westchester County, New York, on track for an Ivy-caliber college and a predictable path to success: doctor, lawyer, executive with a house in the ‘burbs. Like many of my classmates, I was envious of the people who lived in the 1960s. It seemed things had been much more exciting then, and that there had been more opportunity for adventure and a focus on making a difference – socially, artistically, politically, and personally.

Rock ‘n’ roll music tied us to that “energy” but underscored that we’d missed the boat: the deaths of the Who’s Keith Moon (in 1978), Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham (in 1980), the Rolling Stones’ ventures into disco, and, of course, the shooting of John Lennon (in 1980) amplified our sense of being stuck in not-so-interesting times.

Then there were the Dead, who were just … different. The Dead’s music—and the tour milieu—conjured up the possibility of world, and a country, that was still very exciting. Intellectually, I found the synthesis of so many different kinds of music –“American” spirituals, jazz, country, blue grass, with symphonic infrastructure, “global” drums, and Eastern European folk music – fascinating and promising in the way that Walt Whitman’s poetry was. Emotionally, though, it was as much about the people as the music.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell once said, “The Deadheads are doing the dance of life, and this, I would say, is the answer to the atom bomb.” That sounded like a pretty weighty assignment! Perhaps he was right, though, and the dance of life isn’t a solution – just a healing response: the best moments at shows gave a glimpse of what it would feel like if the world were right, and confirmed that regardless of the many things to worry about, the path to right should be (and, in fact, is) fun.

While I was involved with a variety of political and social activities and experiments, from apartheid protests to organic farming, these organized endeavors did not provide the level of community or the little doses of magic that appeared spontaneously among the Deadheads. The best part … once brought to life among those people, that version of reality has stayed with me; it is part of my inspiration for staying involved through the Rex Foundation in general, and in the capacity of social networking in particular. I want to help spread the human wealth.

You see, I’m not quite ready to give up on getting those out-of-the blue reminders of the dance of life: from a guy who greeted me in a parking lot on Easter morning 20 years ago with a quartz crystal and the announcement that, “Christ has risen, sister!” to a new, online friend who told me he’d encountered a 17 year-old “just turned onto the Dead” and introduced him to the charitable works of the Rex Foundation. If we’re all here for the same party, we may as well dance together.


AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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.


AddThis Social Bookmark Button