My First (and last!) Dead Show
I wish you could have been there. (In my place)
Last week my friend Sophie Haigney published a great article about liking the Dead which I read because of her, and in spite of them. When I was 15 I got a Dead mixed tape, a gift from a friend of mine who lived in Chicago and whose life I wanted. It was a Maxell tape, the high quality kind, hits only. “Fire on the Mountain,” “Truckin’’,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Shakedown Street,” and “Friend of the Devil.” That sort of thing.
I listened to it as much as I could. At least once I held up our Labrador Retriever by the front legs and made her dance with me to “Shakedown Street,” which struck me then, and now, as the ultimate dog dancing song.
At the end of my junior year, I was invited by the girlfriend of one of my brother’s college friends to go to a Dead show. (I have no idea how this pairing, even for one night, came to be. I think my brother was supposed to go with her and then he couldn’t? But that doesn’t make sense. Why would he go by himself to a Dead show with his friend’s girlfriend? Maybe he was supposed to go with both of them, and in fact, I went with both of them, and I only remember her being there? Maybe the boyfriend was supposed to go and couldn’t and then my brother was supposed to go and couldn’t and I was invited so the ticket wouldn’t go unpaid for, so it was just the two of us? None of this matters. I am trying to duplicate the feeling of listening to a Dead song.)
My father drove me to Hartford from Berkshire County. Massachusetts on a Friday night so I could see the Grateful Dead with this stranger. I was either legally unable to drive at night or not allowed. We were early to meet her and would have gone to eat in a diner. Then we wandered around an empty park and my father told me stuff about Hartford. I remember one big buidling and the rest mud.
It was spring, April 4, 1986, according to the internet. I have never in my life been so bored. I had been excited to hang out with an older person but we didn’t laugh once. She wore a macrame rainbow beret and danced, as everyone did, in a silly way, as if they had hung streamers for a party and the streamers had gotten tangled and they were trying to untangle them by wiggling their fingers up and down.
The audience would clap and bounce up and down on their knees awkwardly when the band reached what I would have called “new, special heights of dullness.” The singer sounded like he was running away from some situation he was going to tell you about but then just couldn’t be bothered because playing the guitar was easier and more fun.
The internet says the encore was “Box of Rain.”
I only ever liked one Dead song, and that song is “Fire on the Mountain,” and it’s like my 900023rd favorite song. I tried to like the Dead because I didn’t like anything else “unusual.” I only went to the concert because I was hoping it would make me get them, but it only made me face the fact that I didn’t, even though it would be months before I would admit this, when I realized that the Smiths were the “weird” band I actually liked.
I am sure the drive home with my dad listening to WTIC-FM, to Whitney Houston, Bananarama, Wham!, to Billy Ocean, was amazing.
My high school yearbook says that I love the Dead which is an embarrassing lie.
I listened to the April 4 Hartford ‘86 show as I wrote the first draft of this. It’s even worse than I remember, but I’m glad the Dead have made so many of my friends happy.
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