Alive to the Dead

I have had a secret crush on the Dead ever since the late 70’s.

I had never heard of them growing up, but in 10th grade a girl I liked a lot who was musically gifted had the album Skeletons From the Closet in her collection. Since then, I always associate this band with her. After she transferred to a different school, I bought the album. Later, in the 80’s, I prided my punk-rock self on hating the the free-form hippie vibe of the Dead. (Ever heard Pop-O-Pies cover Truckin ?)

I reviled tie-die patchouli-oil types. But in the back of my mind I felt ashamed because I knew I still liked Uncle John’s Band and Mexicali Blues, so I was a punk-rock heretic and a secret hippie sympathizer. As the years rolled by I still associated the songs on “Skeletons From the Closet” with that girl from 10th grade. It was the only Dead album I was familiar with.

Now I have a daughter of my own who is 8 and I played Uncle John’s Band for her.
She immediately loved it and we like to sing it together in the car. I realized how lovely the harmonies are. I perceived, as if for the first time, the Americana roots behind the tune. I appreciated the tripped-out Biblical imagery, even Tea Party 1776 themes, and I realized what an amazing song it truly is. I discovered other Dead songs that I have learned to love: “Eyes of the World” and “Box of Rain” come to mind. I like these songs for the fusion of music with poetic lyrics.

I think the Dead mixed country-rock with Hippie ethos like few other bands. And I believe Robert Hunter’s lyrics can stand on their own as poetry without the music.
I still don’t care for the noodling around on extended jams before religiously adoring crowds of acid-laced freaks, but I have a new respect for the studio-recorded music of the Grateful Dead. I am no longer a bad punk-rocker who has to hide my shameful secret; just another person who loves certain songs by the Grateful Dead.


Well, the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry anymore
‘Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door
Think this through with me, let me know your mind
Whoa oh, what I want to know is, are you kind?
It’s a buck dancer’s choice, my friends, better take my advice
You know all the rules by now and the fire from the ice
Will you come with me, won’t you come with me?
Whoa oh, what I want to know, will you come with me?
Goddamn, well, I declare, have you seen the like
Their walls are built of cannon balls, their motto is “Don’t tread on me”
Come hear uncle John’s band playing to the tide
Come with me or go alone, he’s come to take his children home
It’s the same story the crow told me, it’s the only one he knows
Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go
Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait
Whoa oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?
I live in a silver mine and I call it beggar’s tomb
I’ve got me a violin and I beg you call the tune
Anybody’s choice, I can hear your voice
Whoa oh, what I want to know, how does the song go?
Come hear uncle John’s band by the riverside
Got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide
Come hear uncle John’s band, playing to the tide
Come on along or go alone, he’s come to take his children home
Whoa oh, what I want to know, how does the song go?
Come hear uncle John’s band by the riverside
Got some things to talk about here beside the rising tide
Come hear uncle John’s band, playing to the tide
Come on along or go alone, he’s come to take his children home
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Roxy Fave: Serenade

Darkness falls / Around your window pane
A light still burns, but just a smouldering flame
Is it the end of another affair / An open engagement with gloom ?
Or will you be smiling when the sun conjures up
A broken spell au clair de lune?

Silhouette / As you draw the shade
Cloak of night / You know it’s tailor-made
G-Plan gymnastics by an everglow fire
Could never mean the same
As summer enchantment by an old mill stream
From courtly love to costly game . . .

Maybe I’m wrong for seeming ungrateful, unforgiving
Oh how it hurts now you’re finally leaving
I couldn’t take anymore . . .

Now’s the time! Let’s hide away / Sacred hours saved from yesterday
Boo-hoo willows weep around you still, mirror reflections of dew
But waterfall pages of an open book could shower new horizons soon
Call the tune / Will you swoon / As I croon / Your serenade

Beatles Breakdowns

Returning to home from Old Sturbridge Village, I made the error and glorious decision to drink two beers and listen to the Beatles album Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  My wife was driving, thank God. I found myself once again on the verge of tears, praying to the Lord to help me not break down, repeating to myself internally:
It’s only silly hippie music by English pop stars, it’s only rock music, it’s a low cultural art form, etc.

But I was on the edge of total mental implosion and no one knew but God and myself.

 

I:  Lyric Line of Flight

Cavern Club / black leather / German rockers /  proto-youth culture groped its way from Liverpool TV slowly sped up / modernity invented / flown in planes / swallowed in pills / I watch the second Kennedy funeral on the screen in shades of gray rain / warming to mid-60’s hues / into the stratosphere / a lysergic surge / retinal after-images / intensities of nostalgic color / that British courtesy in understatement / Paul’s voice a bassline / George a guru of six-armed confusion / tasteful: now a meaningless word / it was Apollonian-Dionysiac /  my childhood’s soundtrack 

II:  Poem

They grooved—as our world became another

up from caverns to psychedelic flight.

They look so young in melancholic light

harmonizing black and white to color.

So distant—yet within our life’s short span

they grow apart as the hair grows longer

(The West’s resolve to expire grew stronger.)

Quadruplex visage:  young god sold to man.

I crack up beholding the mid-Sixties

lost in late-night YouTubes, I start to break.

time past: removed from the complexities

Recalling every song, the beat, the shake…

They sang the primrose path to confusion

nostalgia replacing resolution.

 

American Iambs for Springtime

I couldn’t stop movin’ when it first took hold
It was a warm spring night at the old town hall
There was a group called The Jokers, they were layin’ it down
Don’t cha know I’m never gonna lose that funky sound

Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Lawdy mama light my fuse
Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Truck on out and spread the news

The skeeters start buzzing ’bout this time o’ year
I’m goin’ round back, she said she’d meet me there
We were rollin’ in the grass that grows behind the barn
When my ears started ringin’ like a fire alarm

Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Lawdy mama light my fuse
Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Truck on out and spread the news

Hope ya’ll know what I’m talkin’ about
The way they wiggle that thing really knocks me out
I’m gettin’ high all the time, hope ya’ll are too
Come on a little closer, gonna do it to you

Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Lawdy mama light my fuse
Rock and roll, Hoochie Koo / Truck on out and spread the news

That I’m tired of payin’ dues / Done said goodbye to all my blues
Lawdy mama light my fuse

 

AND NOW,
The MFA Modern Lit re-write:

spring: The Jokers
(in Hoochie-Koo, the lawdy Hoochie Koo—)

and so the laying-down
until fuse lit

the mama lawdyspread, a truck
trucking the news;

skeeters buzz the grass, rolling, rolling
alarmed: the barn fire

// she had said she would meet me//

in Hoochie-Koo (the lawdy Hoochie Koo)

wriggling, spring knocked
higher // closer than time had known

bitten, dues paid, bit-lit

illiterate

mama lit that fuse
in Hoochie-Koo, the lawdy