Two years ago, I came to the UC Santa Cruz University Library to manage the project team building GDAO, the Grateful Dead Archive Online. The petals have all unfolded and the roses are now in bloom. On June 29, 2012 – just another day at Redwoodstock – we celebrated the opening of the Grateful Dead Archive and the Dead Central Exhibit space and the launching of GDAO. We sang the song electric for the living archive of all things dead. From the attics of their lives, full of cloudy dreams unreal, all lights all eyes can see, all that’s still unsung. In just over twenty-four hours, almost ten-thousand visitors from around the world from China to Iran have browsed and searched GDAO and contributed content. Building GDAO, has been a long strange trip taken with some amazing pranksters dedicated to digitizing the collection, creating metadata, designing the website, considering fair use, searching for rights holders, programming GDAO’s functions and building the virtual machine. So, as this spectacular tour comes to a close, we know another show lays ahead just a little further down the road. Update from goin’ down the road and feelin’ “glad”: electronic records archivist Jeanne Kramer-Smythe blogged so sweetly about GDAO in her recent entry Grateful Dead Archive Online: First Impressions Yee Hah!
“How do you do that?” said Terrell. About six years old, my admirer sat beside me on the concrete wall. “I like to paint too…Santa brought me some paints, brushes and paper.” While his grandmother watched, I loaned my new friend some paper and a brush and, we painted together in the brilliant sunshine of this last day of 2011. The Saturday Farmer’s Market is a worthy subject: a unique cityscape with the mixing and mingling of so many kinds of people engaged in reaping the fruits of farmer’s labor. As I walk through the market and see the bounty of the harvest, I recall the stories from a wonderful book Cultivating a Movement. Edited by Irene Reti and Sarah Rabkin, the book draws from oral histories documenting the lives of individuals engaged in organic farming and sustainable agriculture on California’s Central Coast. The interviews dig deep into the social, cultural and environmental history of California on a range of topics concerning organic / sustainable agriculture including the influence of the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s; the influence of Alan Chadwick on farming; the organizing of Mexican-American farm workers resulting in the formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union; the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; the creation of the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF); and the influence of the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Recommended reading!
Our urban life blossoms in this space called Splashpad Park; an island of trees, shrub and grass floating between a major freeway and busy city streets. Cars rush by; children and their parents line-up to see movies at the Grand Lake Theater; activists pass-out buttons and leaflets for Occupy Oakland while others gather signatures for a referendum against the death penalty; musicians play folk songs and Grateful Dead tunes; and shoppers visit the bakery, dry cleaners and other specialty shops as well as the Farmer’s Market. Oakland’s community awakens on Saturday mornings, re-energized after the busy workweek, engaging in the timeless ritual of gathering those items necessary for sustenance. Not sure if his little self will grasp all I wish him to know, but I pass on to Terrell the wise words of my drawing teacher Rob Anderson “draw what you know, what you see, what you feel, continue on until it is what you are.” Grandmother gently urges Terrell that its time to leave; she rattles off the items they still need to buy: navel oranges, beets, radichio and arugula.
Turning back to my painting, I modestly attempt to capture on paper something reminiscent of the grand American Experiment performed by the Ashcan Painters – including Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, William Glackens and Everett Shinn – a vivid description of America’s bustling cities and her people. My favorite painter of this Group – George Bellows – created some of the most moving depictions of the urban landscape: “The Lone Tenement” and “Blue Morning.” So, on this December 31, 2011 I raise my brush in celebration of painters old long ago, always brought to mind.
Thirty minutes after the doors opened, I walk off BART and onto the dance floor of the Bill Graham Auditorium, the party in full swing. Cannabis clouds envelope me, crowds of swirling dervishes surround me, the lights paint me surreally and the band welcomes me, the words of an Estimated Prophet hang in the air “I’m in no hurry, no no no. I know where to go….California, preaching on the burning shore…..California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door…..like an angel, standing in a shaft of light. Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine.” Synchronicity. I am here.
Hours before I’d burned the two thousand miles from Austin to San Francisco; a western pilgrimage branded by rain, snow and wind. Somehow synched, the band breaks into Cold Rain and Snow “run me out in the cold rain and snow….and I’m going where those chilly winds don’t blow.“ Our road home through Abilene, San Angelo, Midlands, Van Horn, El Paso, Lordsburg, Tucson, Blythe and Los Angeles shared most of the 2,765-mile route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail. The stagecoach operated from 1857- 1861 traversing the Great Plains, the Sonoran Desert and the San Joaquin Valley connecting St. Louis to San Francisco. Evidence of ruts left by Butterfield stagecoach wheels, formed more than one hundred and fifty years ago, remains visible to hikers in the Anza Borrego Desert (East of San Diego). Sobering is the power of mankind to create lasting change, or in the desert wilderness, permanent damage. Leave no trace. Good advice in the wilderness, but judging from the energy around me, the Grateful Dead left an important lasting impression.
The band breaks into Tennessee Jed singing “there ain’t no place I’d rather be, baby won’t you carry me.” My mind flashes back to John Ford’s masterpiece Stagecoach the first film with a soundtrack scored entirely on American folksongs combining traditional Texas and ballads, Stephen Foster compositions, hymns, tin-pan alley tunes and minstrel songs. Stagecoach’s theme contain the lyrics “O bury me not on the lone prairie….. Where coyotes howl and the wind blows free…..By my father’s grave, there let me be…. O bury me not on the lone prairie.” Roots of the Dead. Synchronicity yet again. As if a messenger sent, my dear friend emerges from the seven-thousand year-end revelers while the band sings Scarlett Begonias “once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.” Synched once more. My friend leans over and whispers “the jam builds with Phil and Bobby at the core, the keyboard and lead guitar forming the outer rings of sound….all echoed in the movements of the dancers.” May we all be blessed in this New Year with such joyous synchronicity.
Behind the wheel, I’d been putting miles between us and our cameos in that timeless bittersweet holiday love story; the laughter and tears of parents and children. We’d had the joy of loving those in need and receiving their blessings in return. Needed warmth in the oft-desolate wasteland of the heart. Suddenly, I am shaken from my journey in the land of existential (“dust storms may exist”; “zero visibility possible”*). Deep in the heart of Texas,** the temperature gauge spiked. Oh, shit! Was our good luck running thin? Ahead the two-lane road came to a rise. We pulled off the road feeling small and alone amidst the vast sparse plains and endless blue sky. Prickly pair cactus for miles around and a little Armadillo road kill on the side. Nearby, a hawk perched hungrily watching a meadowlark dart across the road. Mockingbirds and ravens settled on the mesquite trees as if taking their seats for the show. Feeling a little like the wilderness comic, I bowed to the audience and lifted the hood dreading the voice of doom. Somewhere in the midst of that fine German engineering the car sizzled. I knew then we wouldn’t be sleeping that night in New Mexico. Under my breath I hummed the Grateful Dead lyrics “Casey Jones you better watch your speed…trouble ahead, trouble behind.”
The miles of country behind – cotton fields, pecan trees, goats, and the occasional steer – had been punctuated with cell towers. We might feel a bit lost out here in the desert, but we could be found; GPS and handhelds with bars serving as a strong substitute for a bright guiding star. Seconds later Google maps located the nearest VW dealer some 150 miles northwest. Plan B began to take shape. Later that night in an Abilene Best Western, that had room for us, we mused about our best-laid plans and what a roll of the dice can bring. Our luck never really ran thin. It was quite the opposite. Bearing gifts they came to us one following the other. John, our Abilene VW service manager, although miles away inspired confidence as we collaborated via cell phone to diagnose the problem and how to resolve it; Mrs. Wise, a local rancher, stopped and offered comfort making sure we had water and a way forward; and Sergeant-Major, twenty-year career soldier and medic, gave us command over the problem all the while laughing and sharing stories of his life in the army as he towed us west towards the stable, excuse me, garage managed by Donna (where they affectionately called her Ma). We will never forget the Texas magi and their gifts.
* Actual road signs in New Mexico, Land of Enchantment
** In 1923, Brady, Texas was officially designated as the “heart of Texas.”
With the coming of the cross-quarter, winter begins. Leaves in artful decay proclaim the changing season. Gone are summer’s limbs heavy with ripened apricot and plum. From the corner of my eye, the persimmon, branches nearly bare, adorned with amarillo bangles and arancia hearts. Floating. Breathtaking in the fading light. I paint; a deep sense of connection between myself and everything. For the moment, I fade away, lost in the act. Later, steady cold rains: the kind we welcome to keep the drought years at bay. Mugs of hot matcha take the edge from chilled hands. In the oven, persimmon cookies bake, the golden taste of connection. (San Francisco) California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
Legends tell us the heart-shaped Hachiya fondly called kaki was introduced to Japan from China in the 8th century by a wandering Buddhist. The monk traveled Japan subsisting on persimmons spreading seeds “Johnny Appleseed-like” throughout the land. Masaoka Shiki a 19th century Japanese author helped revive waka and haiku poetry and introduced the concept of nature sketching or shashei honored the fruit’s place in Japanese culture with this poem composed while stopped at Nara on his journey to Tokyo:
I bite a persimmon
the bell tolls
In her book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Jane Hirshfield writes that “every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections….it begins…in the body and mind of concentration….true concentration appears paradoxically at the moment willed effort drops away….the self disappears ….we seem to fall utterly into the object of our attention, or else vanish into attentiveness itself.” Echoing Jane Hirshfield, Phil Lesh lovingly described his life with the Grateful Dead in Searching for the Sound . “We were in the music and the music was playing us. To loose oneself completely in a spontaneous flow of music is one of the great human joys: one is creating, but being created. In fact, one no longer exists. At the same time, there’s a give-and-take a handing off of ideas that mimics the process of thought itself….Bobby and I left holes for each other’s notes, creating an interlocking constantly changing rhythm.”
Celebrating the legalization of gay marriage in Vermont, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream makers have for the month of September renamed their popular ‘Chubby Hubby’ flavor ‘Hubby Hubby.’ I completely understand why ‘Wifey, Wifey’ wasn’t an option and I will forgive them for my sadness at this momentary gender exclusion. So three cheers for Ben and Jerry’s and pass me that pint of Cherry Garcia! (lovingly named in honor of the late Jerry Garcia legendary guitarist of the Grateful Dead). In August, my wife and I celebrated our one year anniversary as a married couple — one of the 18,000 or so couples that tied the knot when gay marriage was briefly legal in California. Our anniversary was a very special occasion graced with champagne and a piece of the wedding cake. For our wedding announcement, we used a watercolor I painted of Isola Bella in Taormina, Sicily
the beautiful place where we celebrated our 20th anniversary as a couple. So though we’ve only legally been married in California for just over a year, we’ve been a couple for nearly twenty-five wonderful years. Some day in the future, gay marriage will be the norm in our country, and not the exception or blasphemy as some see it today.
There is that wonderful saying “as California goes, so goes the country,” which in my mind translates as California sets the trends and others follow a good idea. But that hasn’t always been the case. Many of the leading abolitionists fighting to end the practice of slavery in the United States were from New England including Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau and John Greenleaf Whittier. Interesting coincidence but Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — all New England states — have legalized gay marriage. Plucky Iowa has too, but that’s another longitude. Slavery was an inhuman practice codified in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, but the rhetoric of the New England abolitionists served as the country’s conscience arguing slavery must end, and all must be free and equal. Equality under the law is a fundamental freedom was the argument against Proposition 8 heard by the California Supreme Court. While the court upheld Proposition 8 ending gay marriage in my state, the fight will continue here in California and throughout our country. Equality is one of those fine old New England traditions that runs deep. I look forward to the day I can say ” as New England goes, so goes the country.”