I need to preface this by saying that I ate a great deal of Cherry Garcia ice cream growing up. My dad loves Cherry Garcia. He does not, you may be interested to know, particularly like the Grateful Dead. I don't think he dislikes the Grateful Dead. They just really didn't match up with his Spyro Gyra record collection, so he stuck with the ice cream..
I inherited his ambivalence toward the music and his enthusiasm for the ice cream (the texture of frozen cherries should be verified by the Vatican as a holy miracle). But then there was this boy...
I don't spend a lot of time going into who the boys are in these columns, because I'm not writing a teen romance novel (though that's one of my 2017 resolutions, much more achievable than "drink more water”). But this boy, as Tom Petty would say, wrecked me, baby.
He was all dark curly hair and nice forearms, and he had a vast store of music knowledge. I was 21, he was a mere 22, and he was cool. He loved music, but also had other interests. He was smart, with pithy remarks and fully formed opinions about music, but was not pretentious. I had spent the past few years developing my own tastes, and I went into every conversation with this boy reminding myself to just own what I liked and not be swayed by him.
I held out for a while. He asked if I had listened to Maggot Brain by Funkadelic, and I said no. I survived. He asked if I had listened to J Dilla’s Donuts. I said no (but I did, and quietly folded it into my record collection happily). I stood my ground. I was doing it.
And then I noticed that he loved the Grateful Dead. He would send me covers of Dead songs, and mention Dead trivia, and every time he did I would bite my tongue. But after a while, I caved. To be fair, I didn't not love the Grateful Dead. I had heard some Grateful Dead. I loved the ice cream?
But I could not, to save my life, name a Grateful Dead record.
No matter. I told him I loved the Grateful Dead, and he drove me to see Thee Oh Sees in Denver, and we listened to those noodly motherfuckers en route, and I was like: "This 30 minute mid-tempo country/blues jam sounds fantastic. I have definitely listened to it many times before in the comfort of my own home and it totally justifies the presence of two whole drummers."
I shut my eyes very hard and told myself I liked it. This was made more difficult when I saw Bob Weir's tiny shorts.
What I Think Now: You may be surprised to hear this: I like the Grateful Dead.
Here's the thing: I TOTALLY GET WHY GRATEFUL DEAD WOULD NOT TICKLE YOU.
There was some magic combination of growing up in Colorado and going to a lot of bluegrass shows where people dance like the wacky waving inflatable arm tube men outside car washes that primed me to settle into the Dead. I hear you, Dead haters, I do. They jam, they rarely rock, they wear soft-soled shoes (which is just so deeply impractical, but I guess if playing one song takes them three hours, then they wouldn't really leave the house much at all). They kept tie-dye in the cultural consciousness for much longer than it should have been.
American Beauty, my favorite Dead record and the only one that doesn't make me roll my eyes when someone tries to convince me they wrote pop songs, is a masterwork. Everything the Dead did was right on the edge of being hokey, right on the edge of veering off. It was exhilarating, joyful, and completely human. The Dead were not afraid to suck, and welcomed an entire generation to record the evidence for thousands and thousands of hours of bootleg tapes. That, right there, was enough for my high-altitude, hemp-hewn heart. The thing is, after I pretended to like the Dead, I ended up turning them back on the next morning.
And the next.
And the next.
And suddenly I was looking at the bartender with a Jerry Bear tattoo and nodding conspiratorially instead of adding another bullet point onto my Reasons to Never Do Psychedelics in Public list.
The Dead got me. I tried to escape them.
Was It Worth It: I neglected to mention that dude was not into this [gestures broadly at self] at all.
But I learned that sometimes music chooses you. Sometimes no matter how much you groan about endless mandolin solos and white dudes with gray ponytails who wear socks with Tevas, they are a part of you. They are a part of your story.
You can't choose your home, guys. Just accept it.