Penn Station Grateful Dead
Oct 2nd, 2012
Penn Station often makes me think of taking the train in from suburban New Jersey in high school to see Grateful Dead or Phish shows at Madison Square Garden. It’s strange because I’ve taken New Jersey Transit hundreds, if not thousands, of times in and out of the city for every imaginable reason. But I guess that’s the funny thing about nostalgia – there’s a magic to it. Like maybe it’s the core of things attempting (managing) to poke through amidst the din of the everyday, in spite of the predominant mundaneness of our general mindset.
The first encore I ever saw the Dead play was “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Was it corny that the entire arena was bathed in glowing, blue, beautiful light that somehow felt warm and completely inviting to my early teenage mind? Of course it wasn’t.
This was about a year before Jerry Garcia died, the final era of the real Dead, where every show contained a minimum of one Dylan cover (earlier in the night, Bob Weir had fronted “When I Paint My Masterpiece”). Later on, when listening to the bootleg of the show, I couldn’t understand how Garcia could deliver this vocal such that it was completely casual, utterly flawed from a technical standpoint, and yet completely human, moving, and fittingly, beautiful.
During that show I was completely transfixed. There was magic in the room, and I bit totally. The mind, feeling, and fascination of my young teenage self were opened, and for the next four years or so, even after Jerry sadly died, I was as hard core a ‘dead head’ as existed anywhere, at any time. (It bothers me to this day that Garcia/Hunter aren’t routinely acknowledged in among the canon of all time greatest American songwriters, where they certainly belong. But then again, I guess it was exactly that separateness from the general mainstream of American culture that was part and parcel of the greatness of the whole Dead enterprise).
And so here I am, this time reminiscing about the Dead, as I once again ride the train easily through backyards, in quiet, filthy, hodgepodge, manicured, warm, inviting suburbia, like I’ve done my whole life. Always heading toward home.