Penn Station Grateful Dead

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.


  1. Mat Fines says:

    I agree with your ‘take’ on things, and am quite happy to have connected with you, on Facebook!

    People used to compare my voice to Jerry’s, back in the ‘busking and private party circuit’ days of my early musical gigging times in California — before I went back to ‘something that most people could understand/relate to’… I think Robert Hunter is a great songwriter, and I used to have an album he made (Tales of the Rum-Runners’ or something like that). I think Jerry Garcia had the kind of honest and vulnerable voice that many can relate to, and — I love Bob Dylan’s work, and have listened to him since I was a child….but when I first heard “Like a Rolling Stone”, on my transistor radio (at age 10)– it was as memorable as when JFK was assassinated…a ‘pivotal moment of awakening’ you might say.

    • dbstory says:

      Hey Mat – there was a period in my ‘guitar development’ (and I’d be surprised if not songwriting, as well) when I was a little Jerry Garcia mimic, would just improvise over extended GD ‘jams’ for hours on end alongside Jerry’s lead playing, which eventually takes root. To this day I’ll catch myself doing little things here or there that I know came from him.

      There are certain Dylan songs that I was actually introduced to by the Dead covering them – not ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ of course – but a few others ended up becoming some of my favorite Dylan tunes to this day. ‘Visions of Johanna’ was probably my favorite of the ones I saw the Dead cover, still absolutely love that tune.

      Very glad we connected too! Talk soon,

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