Monday, February 27, 2017

Sorry for My Loss

August, 2010 on the steps of our beach rental in Maine.

"Sorry for your loss."

How many times have you heard that?

On Facebook.

Or on Instagram.

On TV.

(I'm hearing it now, in my head on the show Blue  Bloods, which my husband still mistakenly calls NYPD Blue.  One of the Reagans and his partner walk in to the widow's apartment and blurt out "Sorry for your loss," before they interrogate her and surreptitiously snoop around the pantry and breakfront for clues.)

It's been quite a long time since I've heard it "in real life."

Sorry.  For your loss.  My loss this time.

My Mother-in-law, Lois Barr, passed away on Friday, Feb. 3, just a few weeks before her birthday. which, not coincidentally, is today.  She died in her home, surrounded by her four sons, her husband, her cat, and me.  At that moment, two health care workers were also there, providing wonderful attentive care, for which we were all grateful.

I have known her for 39 years, having been an official part of the family since I married her third son Michael in '84.   Since at least 83, if not earlier, we have spent a glorious week at beach together in a rented cottage in Old Orchard Beach, Maine (which I've written about here).

Lois worked hard all her lifetime, and left a legacy of helping others, building a family, and being the communicator, the glue and the strength of the family.  She enjoyed life to the fullest, tried new things and took risks. Even when her health began to fail, she took pleasure in the lives and pursuits of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Until the very end, she still made her famous brisket and chopped liver for her boys, and coffee chiffon pie if you were very lucky.

 Lois was famous for another thing - and that was her dark brown beehive hairdo. When she was near the end, and bedridden, her dear friend and hairdresser Reina made sure that the every hair in the hive stayed neatly in place.  On the day Lois died, she still had less gray hair than I do.

You might wonder, how did this elegant coiffure stand up to long days at the beach?  I don't really know.  In fact, once, when her wonderful friend Dotty was commenting on my own mass of un-comb-able salt-air-infused curls in our summer beach rental, Lois was heard to reply, "Yes, well, she likes it that way," in a  somewhat less than complimentary tone.

I thought that I'd honor her memory today by sharing a story that makes us smile whenever we think of it.

It was during an event-filled trip to Israel that really put the hair-do to the test.  Come to think of it, that trip put a lot of things to the test: our nerves, our stomachs, and our tolerance (or lack thereof) to the heat.  The year was 2000.  Our son Zachary had become a Bar Mitzvah in May, and he requested to have small luncheon following the service, and celebrate with a trip to Israel in the summer after the school year was over.

We invited anyone among our friends and family who wanted to come, and once we knew who was joining us, my mom and I sat together and made an outline of the type of trip we thought would work.  My own mother was a pro - she had spent many years organizing trips of this type for our local JCC, and knew everything from secret spots to the perfect guides.  We matched that with the people who said yes, and by July, we had ourselves a perfect itinerary.
Our Group: Back Row, L - R Yossi (Greatest tour guide ever), Michael, Me, Dotty, Lois, Ben, aka Bunny, Cat, Geof, Henry, Dana, Paula, Bill.
Front Row L - R Zachary (13), Madeleine (10) Jacob (winking, 7), Talia (3) Ben (7)

One of the most special aspects of this trip was taking my in-laws to Israel for their first, and as it turned out, only time. How powerful to stand side by side with my father in law, as he saw Jerusalem for the first time, and sat in silence at the Holocaust memorial, knowing that he was a World War II veteran and liberator of Buchenwald.

Lois held onto her Judaism through childhood  and even kept Kosher, until that was no longer possible (Zack wrote about that here) and she raised a Jewish family in Maine, making sure that all four of her sons  had a Jewish education along with their secular education.  All four boys became B'nai Mitzvah.  (I actually attended the last one as Michael's date!)

So this was a very special trip.  We planted trees, coated ourselves with mud and swam in the Dead Sea, we ate great food, we celebrated Zack's Bar Mitzvah on our friends roof top with a fabulous dinner with a lot of wine, and sang into the night.  We rode donkeys and made pita over an outdoor fire.  And we went white water rafting on the Jordan River.  All of us.

Lois helps Jacob off the donkey.
The two moms, dressed up for the special night.
The Bar Mitzvah Boy!

This was my second experience white-water rafting, the first having been on the rapids of the American River in Northern California back in the 80's.  So I was pretty confident that this would be very tame.  I took the aft of our raft, with my daughter Maddie (then age 10) in the middle, and Lois in the front.  I don't recall much about who was with whom in the other boats.  I remember that the first thing that happened was that Michael fell out of his raft, into the shallow, and slow moving Jordan River.  This was a humorous way to begin.

The flotilla moved its way down the river, which was really anything but rapid.  At times there were a few rocks, but basically it was a very easy, gentle ride.  Except that our raft kept going into the sides of the river, where willows and other branches overhung the water.

I'm not an expert, but I understand basic paddling (I did learn how to canoe in camp, and it is pretty intuitive) and I could not understand why we kept going into the sides of the river.  We also were going very slowly and sometimes getting turned around.  Finally our guide Yossi came over to "help us" and by help us I mean scold us and make us feel worse.

But through it all, we kept our spirits up.  Well, let me rephrase that.  Maddie and I did.  Because, for the first and only time ever, Lois was cursing her head off.  Words that would make a gangster blush.  Maddie heard words she had never heard before in her life, and maybe not since.  Each time we grazed the side of the river, my hair got tangled up in the overhang of the bramble, and I guess so did Lois' perfectly coiffed 'do, which had been covered with a silk scarf.  I cannot reprint the words she used, but imagine the ones your grandmother would NEVER use, and add some adjectives to make them more colorful.

Finally we made it to the end of the run.  Someone helped Lois out of the raft, and Maddie and I jumped in the water for a swim.  As I mentioned, it was not really rushing anywhere, though it was pretty cold.

I was teased for a long time of my lack of paddling ability.  It wasn't until I unearthed this photo and found out why I couldn't keep us on track.  My mother in law kept putting her paddle on the wrong side of the raft!

This is the way we will remember my mother-in-law.  72 years old and having the hutzpah to try something new and maybe a little dangerous, cursing her head off down the Jordan River.  Wearing stylish white shorts, oversized sunglasses and a Jordan Marsh scarf keeping her hair perfectly in place.  I guess she liked it that way.

Lois and Benjamin Barr Summer of 2015

Her memory will be a blessing.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Another Christmas Post from a Jewish Blogger

Looking at the back of my car, you might think you'd caught up with Santa's sleigh.

Toys for kids of all ages!
As I have done for probably about 30 years or more, I have been a happy partner in a toy drive in conjunction with a Hebrew School for the holidays.  This year is no different, and I will deliver the toys today to a shelter which keeps women and children safe from abusive situations.

Typically, like today, I deliver the toys alone, quietly in the middle of the day.  According to Jewish tradition, this is the way to go actually.  Anonymously (although when I remember, I do get a form for our taxes), and allowing the recipients to keep their dignity.  They don't know the donors, and the donors, in this case, members of our congregation, don't know where I am bringing the toys. 
But one year, things happened a little differently.

In a turn of events I never could have expected, I found myself in the middle of Hackensack, NJ with a car overflowing with toys, and my own toddler son about to engage in a mitzvah (elevated good deed) that I would never forget.

That year I had been asked to collect toys for Jewish young people who lived in several group homes in Hackensack.  The students in my Hebrew High School delivered above and beyond.  The night we were to wrap the gifts, the amount was simply overwhelming.  Back in those days, I drove a big old Chevy van, and it's a good thing. 

My van was full of huge garbage bags of gifts, each wrapped in Hanukkah paper, and labeled for a boy or girl, and the age for whom the toy was appropriate.  Also in my car was a small pile of toys we deemed inappropriate for donation:  Christmas books, baby toys, and anything that looked used.  I'd deliver those to a shelter at another time. 

I got to the drop-off location, and they took as much as they could use.  But, to our surprise, I really had too much.  The director asked me to come to their Hanukkah party so I could see the faces of the young people when they opened their gifts, but I had to teach that night, so I had to miss the fun.  But I left with my van still HALF FULL of wrapped Hanukkah presents. 

This was before smart phones, so home I went.  I opened this book we used to get called a phone book  and started to look for homeless shelters in Bergen County.  I made a few calls and I found a shelter - coincidentally right back in Hackensack - and even more coincidentally - if I could come back tomorrow - it was their Christmas Party!  And their usual donors had not come through- they had nothing under their tree as of now.  I wanted to tell them it was beshert (meant to be) but I think they knew that.  I made a plan with the director of the shelter to meet the next day.

That day, Thursday, my little son Jacob, who was about 3, did not have his pre-school, so I popped him into his car seat, bundled up in his little snow suit.  No MapQuest or GPS - I navigated by sense of direction back then! And with Jacob's favorite Hanukkah cassette tape playing we drove back to Hackensack with a car full of toys.  Every so often I'd hear his little sing-song voice say, "Waldo!" as he had found the "Where's Waldo" Christmas book from the pile in my van and was finding Waldo in the North Pole scene, then in the busy shopping scene, then in the snowball fight scene.

I got to the shelter, and it was set up like an apartment house, with a common room and a front office.  At first I didn't see any residents, just the office staff, who helped me bring the heavy bags into the common room.  There was a little Christmas tree, decorated with ancient decorations and bright lights.  There was an old television, that was on for no one in particular.  The old couches and chairs looked comfortable, but worn and threadbare.  The room was clean but smelled like smoke and although decorated for Christmas, was anything but festive.  

As promised, there was nothing under the tree.

The director as me if I wanted to put the presents under the tree. 

Um, sure, ok.  I un-bundled little Jacob and took my coat off and we got to work.  I was a little worried he would want to open the presents himself, but he had fun putting the presents around the bottom of the tree, and quickly learned that the side with ribbon and the tag had to go up.  With the tv news as our background music, the job went along smoothly.

While we were working on this I realized we were being watched.  A mother and her baby had come into the room.  He must have been 2 or younger.  Despite the fact it was freezing outside and pretty cold inside, the baby was dressed in only a t-shirt and diaper.  Nothing on his feet.  I'll never forget the juxtaposition of my bundled up boy sitting amid plenty and this little guy, in just a shirt and diaper.

The mom and I smiled at each other.  Jacob and I were almost done.  I said to them both that I thought Santa might be coming soon.  I went in to the office to let them know we were finishing up.

The director had a shocked look on her face.  I asked her what was up?  She told me that their Santa was just arrested.

"Do you want to be our Santa today for our Christmas party?"

Wow.  I'd would have loved that!  But I had to say no,  I had to pick up my other two children at school and then go to work.  But what an opportunity for a Jewish woman!  Still to this day, I think I would have been a great Santa!

As we were getting ready to go, I whispered to Jacob, "Do you think that little baby would like that Waldo book?"  Jacob thought that was a great idea.  So we went out to the van and got the book.  Jacob handed it to the baby who clutched it to his chest tightly.  His mom got tears in her eyes that matched mine.  I looked over at the director of the shelter.  She was wiping away tears as well. 

We turned around and looked at all the Hanukkah presents under their little Christmas tree.  The room seemed to sparkle in a way it didn't when we got there.  The director turned the tv on to cartoons for the little boy. He was still clutching his book  when we left.  The mom was thanking us.  Jacob scored a candy cane, probably his first. 

I forgot to ask for a receipt.

Maybe I did get to play Santa after all. 

Santified version of me by Peter White 2015

Friday, September 2, 2016

Happy Dead-a-versary

August 26
Later today, I'm going to have a conversation ABOUT being a Deadhead for my friend's podcast.  I'm not sure what we will talk about... not sure I have anything new to add to the listening world's already story-heavy compendium.

"...and then there was this one show..."

"... and we were all hanging out in the parking lot..."

"... and you know, Jerry looked right at me during the most perfect Dew... I'm telling you..."

"my best friend and I, we got separated and then during Scarlet we looked up and we were dancing RIGHT next to each other... it was magical!"

I don't mean to make fun of us, but you've heard it all before.  When we are in the moment there's no denying that the magic is there, but telling the story now, well, it makes us all sound like those callers that David Gans so gamely puts up with every Sunday on his Sirius Radio call-in show.

It's been 38 years of my life deadicated to the music. I'm not sure that just being a fan that long makes me an expert on any particular aspect of it all.

Certainly it was not a phase (as my parents had surely hoped) nor did it die when Jerry "shuffled off the mortal coil" (to quote Robert Hunter*)

Well, I guess I'll pick out a few songs from over the years and see where the conversation takes us.

That went pretty well... we chatted and had a few laughs.  I forgot the year I got married... and mixed up one piece of GD info (see if you can find it...) but I think it was ok.   Much of what we talked about has been covered in my previous blogs in much more depth and detail, which you can find by putting key words into the search bar.  (Up top, next to the "B.")  In the meantime, maybe I'll find some photos to go with the podcast to put here when it is published.  Or, broadcast. Maybe the term is "dropped?" Whatever.

It took me two days, but I just listened to the story of my life.  And wouldn't you know it, here it is. September 2.  The anniversary of my first Grateful Dead show. Which I tell about in some detail in the podcast, and more in a previous blog.  I posted on Instagram, and my cousin and I wished each other a happy first show anniversary... we didn't know it at the time, but we were about to have our little minds blown that day in September, and our love for the Dead has kept us connected through the years and through many many shows.

If you want to know more about any of the stories I mentioned in the podcast (link below) try typing in keywords into the search bar in my blog.  I think the hardest part was talking about the day Jerry died.  It's interesting, and maybe not something I should be saying so publicly, that some of the happiest and saddest days of my life have been wrapped around the Grateful Dead.
That time that Sun Becker was wandering through the crowd at Doubleday field.

Our dog, Jerry.  We had him and loved him for 11 years.  Like the one he was named for, too short a time on this planet.

Shots from my first show 9/2/78.
Since the podcast will give you links to the shows I referenced, here's the link to my first show.  Go on... click here.

And of course the podcast itself:
Also now available on iTunes, and at

So, thank you to Staci Smith for giving me, and others the chance to relive these memories, and share them.  Check out her podcast and don't forget to support your local live music! I've posted this before, but here's an interactive state-by-state map that shows you where you can hear GD music in a town near you! GD Tribute Bands Map

*For a full account of that beautiful letter from Robert Hunter to Jerry, a year after his passing, please keep reading.  I have cut and pasted the entire letter below.  It's a bit lengthy but beautiful and and poignant.  Even after the "days between."  I don't know how I came across it, but I'm glad I did.

Robert Hunter's letter to Jerry 1 year after his passing
Dear JG,
it’s been a year since you shuffled off the mortal coil and a lot has happened. It might surprise you to know you made every front page in the world. The press is still having fun, mostly over lawsuits challenging your somewhat …umm… patchwork Last Will and Testament. Annabelle didn’t get the EC horror comic collection, which I think would piss you off as much as anything. Nor could Dough Irwin accept the legacy of the guitars he built for you because the tax-assessment on them, icon-enriched as they are, is more than he can afford short of selling them off. The upside of the craziness is: your image is selling briskly enough that your estate should manage something to keep various wolves from various familial doors, even after the lawyers are paid. How it’s to be divided will probably fall in the hands of the judge. An expert on celebrity wills said in the news that yours was a blueprint on how not to make a will.
The band decided to call it quits. I think it’s a move that had to be made. You weren’t exactly a sideman. But nothing’s for certain. Some need at least the pretense of retirement after all these years. Can they sustain it? We’ll see.
I’m writing this from England, by the way. Much clarity of perspective to be had from stepping out of the scene for a couple of months. What isn’t so clear is my own role, but it’s really no more problematic than it has been for the last decade. As long as I get words on paper and can lead myself to believe it’s not bullshit, I’m roughly content. I’m not exactly Mr. Business.
I decided to get a personal archive together to stick on that stagnating computer site we had. Really started pouring the mustard on. I’m writing, for crying out loud, my diary on it! Besides running my ego full tilt (what’s new?) I’m trying to give folks some skinny on what’s going down. I don’t mean I’m busting the usual suspects left and right, but am giving a somewhat less than cautious overview and soapboxing more than a little. They appointed me webmaster, and I hope they don’t regret it.
There are those in the entourage who quietly believe we’re washed up without you. Even should time and circumstance prove it to be so, we need to believe otherwise long enough to get some self sustaining operations going, or we’ll never know for sure. It’s matter of self respect. Maybe it’s a long shot, but this whole fucking trip was a longshot from the start, so what else is new?
Your funeral service was one hell of a scene. Maureen and I took Barbara and Sara in and sat with them. MG waited over at our place. Manasha and Keelan were also absent. None by choice. Everybody from the band said some words and Steve, especially, did you proud, speaking with great love and candor. Annabelle got up and said you were a genius, a great guy, a wonderful friend, and a shitty father – which shocked part of the contingent and amused the rest. After awhile the minister said that that was enough talking, but I called out, from the back of the church, “Wait, I’ve got something!” and charged up the aisle and read this piece I wrote for you, my voice and hands shaking like a leaf. Man, it was weird looking over and seeing you dead!
A slew of books have come out about you and more to follow. Perspective is lacking. It’s way too soon. You’d be amazed at the number of people with whom you’ve had a nodding acquaintance who are suddenly experts on your psychology and motivations. Your music still speaks louder than all the BS: who you were, not the messes you got yourself into. Only a very great star is afforded that much inspection and that much forgiveness.
There was so much confusion on who should be allowed to attend the scattering of your ashes that they sat around for four months. It was way too weird for this cowboy who was neither invited nor desirous of going. I said good-bye with my poem at the funeral service. It was cathartic and I didn’t need an anti-climax.
A surreal sidelight: Weir went to India and scattered a handful of your ashes in the Ganges as a token of your worldwide stature. He took a lot of flak from the fans for it, which must have hurt. A bunch of them decided to scapegoat him, presumably needing someplace to misdirect their anger over the loss of you. In retrospect, I think Weir was hardest hit of the old crowd by your death. I take these things in my stride, though I admit to a rough patch here and there. But Bob took it right on the chin. Shock was written all over his face for a long time, for any with eyes to see.
Some of the guys have got bands together and are doing a tour. The fans complain it’s not the same without you, and of course it isn’t, but a reasonable number show up and have a pretty good time. The insane crush of the latter day GD shows is gone and that’s all for the best. From the show I saw, and reports on the rest, the crowd is discovering that the sense of community is still present, matured through mutual grief over losing you. This will evolve in more joyous directions over time, but no one’s looking to fill your shoes. No one has the presumption.
Been remembering some of the key talks we had in the old days, trying to suss what kind of a tiger we were riding, where it was going, and how to direct it, if possible. Driving to the city once, you admitted you didn’t have a clue what to do beyond composing and playing the best you could. I agreed – put the weight on the music, stay out of politics, and everything else should follow. I trusted your musical sense and you were good enough to trust my words. Trust was the whole enchilada, looking back.
Walking down Madrone Canyon in Larkspur in 1969, you said some pretty mindblowing stuff, how we were creating a universe and I was responsible for the verbal half of it. I said maybe, but it was your way with music and a guitar that was pulling it off. You said “That’s for now. This is your time in the shadow, but it won’t always be that way. I’m not going to live a long time, it’s not in the cards. Then it’ll be your turn.” I may be alive and kicking, but no pencil pusher is going to inherit the stratosphere that so gladly opened to you. Recalling your statement, though, often helped keep me oriented as my own star murked below the horizon while you streaked across the sky of our generation like a goddamned comet!
Though my will to achieve great things is moderated by seeing what comes of them, I’ve assigned myself the task of trying to honor the original vision. I’m not answerable to anybody but my conscience, which, if less than spotless, doesn’t keep me awake at night. Maybe it’s best, personally speaking, that the power to make contracts and deal the remains of what was built through the decades rests in other hands. I wave the flag and rock the boat from time to time, since I believe much depends on it, but will accept the outcome with equanimity.
Just thought it should be said that I no longer hold your years of self inflicted decline against you. I did for awhile, felt ripped off, but have come to understand that you were troubled and compromised by your position in the public eye far beyond anyone’s powers to deal with. Star shit. Who can you really trust? Is it you or your image they love? No one can understand those dilemmas in depth except those who have no choice but to live them. You whistled up the whirlwind and it blew you away. Your substance of choice made you more malleable to forces you would have brushed off with a characteristic sneer in earlier days. Well, you know it to be so. Let those who pick your bones note that it was not always so.
So here I am, writing a letter to a dead man, because it’s hard to find a context to say things like this other than to imagine I have your ear, which of course I don’t. Only to say that what you were is more startlingly apparent in your absence than ever it was in the last decade. I remember sitting in the waiting room of the hospital through the days of your first coma. Not being related, I wasn’t allowed into the intensive care unit to see you until you came to and requested to see me. And there you were – more open and vulnerable than I’d ever seen you. You grasped my hand and began telling me your visions, the crazy densely packed phantasmagoria way beyond any acid trip, the demons and mechanical monsters that taunted and derided, telling you endless bad jokes and making horrible puns of everything – and then you asked, point blank, “Have I gone insane?” I said “No, you’ve been very sick. You’ve been in a coma for days, right at death’s door. They’re only hallucinations, they’ll go away. You survived.” “Thanks,” you said. “I needed to hear that.”
Your biographers aren’t pleased that I don’t talk to them, but how am I to say stuff like this to an interviewer with an agenda? I sometimes report things that occur to me about you in my journal, as the moment releases it, in my own way, in my own time, and they can take what they want of that.
Obviously, faith in the underlying vision which spawned the Grateful Dead might be hard to muster for those who weren’t part of the all night rap sessions circa 1960-61 … sessions that picked up the next morning at Kepler’s bookstore then headed over to the Stanford cellar or St. Mike’s to continue over coffee and guitars. There were no hippies in those days and the beats had bellied up. There was only us vs. 50’s consciousness. There no jobs to be had if we wanted them. Just folk music and tremendous dreams. Yeah, we dreamed our way here. I trust it. So did you. Not so long ago we wrote a song about all that, and you sang it like a prayer. The Days Between. Last song we ever wrote.
Context is lost, even now. The sixties were a long time ago and getting longer. A cartoon version of our times satisfies public perception. Our continuity is misunderstood as some sort of strange persistence of an outmoded style. Beads, bell bottoms and peace signs. But no amount of pop cynicism can erase the suspicion, in the minds of the present generation, that something was going on once that was better than what’s going on now. And I sense that they’re digging for “what it is” and only need the proper catalyst to find it for themselves. Your guitar is like a compass needle pointing the strange way there. I’m wandering far afield from the intention of this letter, a year’s report, but this year wasn’t made up only of events following your death in some roughly chronological manner. It reached down to the roots of everything, shook the earth off, and inspected them. The only constant is the fact that you remain silent. Various dances are done around that fact.
Don’t misconstrue me, I don’t waste much time in grief. Insofar as you were able, you were an exponent of a dream in the continual act of being defined into a reality. You had a massive personality and talent to present it to the world. That dream is the crux of the matter, and somehow concerns beauty, consciousness and community. We were, and are, worthy insofar as we serve it. When that dream is dead, there’ll be time enough for true and endless grief.
John Kahn died in May, same day Leary did. Linda called 911 and they came over and searched the house, found a tiny bit of coke and carted her off to jail in shock. If the devil himself isn’t active in this world, there’s sure something every bit as mean: institutional righteousness without an iota of fellow feeling. But, as I figure, that’s the very reason the dream is so important – it’s whatever is the diametric opposite of that. Human kindness.
Trust me that I don’t walk around saying “this was what Jerry would have wanted” to drive my points home. What you wanted is a secret known but to yourself. You said ‘yes’ to what sounded like a good idea at the time, ‘no’ to what sounded like a bad one. I see more of what leadership is about, in the absence of it. It’s an instinct for good ideas. An aversion to bad ones. Compromise on indifferent ones. Power is another matter. Power is not leadership but coercion. People follow leaders because they want to.
I know you were often sick and tired of the conflicting demands made on you by contentious forces you invited into your life and couldn’t as easily dismiss. You once said to me, in 1960, “just say yes to everybody and do what you damn well want.” Maybe, but when every ‘yes’ becomes an IOU payable in full, who’s coffer is big enough to pay up? “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke!” would be a characteristic reply. Unfortunately, you’re not around to explain what was a joke and what wasn’t. It all boils down to signed pieces of paper with no punch lines appended.
I know what I’m saying in this letter can be taken a hundred ways. As always, I just say what occurs to me to say and can’t say what doesn’t. Could I write a book about you? No. Didn’t know you well enough. Let those who knew you even less write them. You were canny enough to keep your own self to yourself and let your fingers do the talking. Speaking of ‘personal matters’ was never your shtick.
Our friendship was testy. I challenged you rather more than you liked, having a caustic tongue. In later years you preferred the company of those capable of keeping it light and non-judgmental. I think it must always be that way with prominent and powerfully gifted persons. I don’t say that, for the most part, your inner circle weren’t good and true. They’d have laid down their lives for you. I’d have had to think about it. I mean, a star is a star is a star. There’s no reality check. If the truth were known, you were too well loved for your own good, but that smacks of psychologizing and I drop the subject forthwith
All our songs are acquiring new meanings. I don’t deny writing with an eye to the future at times, but our mutual folk, blues and country background gave us a mutual liking for songs that dealt with sorrow and the dark issues of life. Neither of us gave a fuck for candy coated shit, psychedelic or otherwise. I never even thought of us as a “pop band.” You had to say to me one day, after I’d handed over the Eagle Mall suite, “Look, Hunter – we’re a goddamn dance band, for Christ’s sake! At least write something with a beat!” Okay. I handed over Truckin’ next. How was I to know? I thought we were silver and gold; something new on this Earth. But the next time I tried to slip you the heavy stuff, you actually went for it. Seems like you’d had the vision of the music about the same time I had the vision of the words, independently. Terrapin. Shame about the record, but the concert piece, the first night it was played, took me about as close as I ever expect to get to feeling certain we were doing what we were put here to do. One of my few regrets is that you never wanted to finish it, though you approved of the final version I eked out many years later. You said, apologetically, “I love it, but I’ll never get the time to do it justice.” I realized that was true. Time was the one thing you never had in the last decade and a half. Supporting the Grateful Dead plus your own trip took all there was of that. The rest was crashing time. Besides, as you once said, “I’d rather toss cards in a hat than compose.” But man, when you finally got down on it, you sure knew how.
The pressure of making regular records was a creative spur for a long time, but poor sales put the economic weight on live concerts where new material wasn’t really required, so my role in the group waned. A difficult time for me, being at my absolute peak and all. I had to go on the road myself to make a living. It was good for me. I developed a sense of self direction that didn’t depend on the Dead at all. This served well for the songs we were still to write together. You sure weren’t interested in flooding the market. You knew one decent song was worth a dozen cobbled together pieces of shit, saved only by arrangement. I guess we have a few of those too, but the percentage is respect ably low. Pop songs come and go, blossom and wither, but we scored a piece of Americana, my friend. Sooner or later, they’ll notice what we did doesn’t die the way we do. I’ve always believed that and so did you. Once in awhile we’d even call each other “Mister” and exchange congratulations. Other people are starting to record those songs now, and they stand on their own.
For some reason it seems worthwhile to maintain the Grateful Dead structures: Rex, the website, GDP, the deadhead office, the studio … even with the band out of commission. I don’t know if this is some sort of denial that the game is finished, or if the intuitive impulse is a sound one. I feel it’s better to have it than not, just in case, because once it’s gone there’s no bringing it back. The forces will disperse and settle elsewhere. A business that can’t support itself is, of course, no business at all, just a locus of dissension, so the reality factor will rule. Diminished as we are without you, there is still some of the quick, bright spirit around. I mean, you wouldn’t have thrown in your lot with a bunch of belly floppers, would you?
Let me see – is there anything I’ve missed? Plenty, but this seems like a pretty fat report. You’ve been gone a year now and the boat is still afloat. Can we make it another year? What forms will it assume? It’s all kind of exciting. They say a thousand years are only a twinkle in God’s eye. Is that so?
Missing you in a longtime way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Four Concerts and a Funeral

Click here for The Wheel from Hartford 6/28/16 - thank you Dave Davis

Dead and Company are touring now and if you have caught any of the shows, either live or via your couch, you might agree that if it's not the real thing, it's close enough to pretend.  My journey with this iteration began in the fall with the Halloween shows at Madison Square Garden, and as much as I loved those, this last run has shown us that they've really become a band.  They've tightened up, brought out "new" old material and they look like they are having some fun out there.

Depending where you go, you can find a fairly authentic "Shakedown Street" taking over part of the parking lot,  with lots of groovy Dead-related chochtkes, and the obligatory veggie burrito stand, $3 beers and $1 waters.

I was happy to find a nice little hand-made pink-rose head wreath to replace the one I left in a hotel room after the last Furthur tour.
My tour took me to Saratoga, two shows at Citifield and Hartford Connecticut.  Each one is a story in itself.  The people, the music, the scene... it was a rainbow full of sound.

So I will start with Saratoga, and the perfect symmetry of the place, the music and my personal story of  NOT meeting Bob Weir.

Seeing Dead and Company at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on June 21 was not the first time I had ever been there.  I had seen Furthur play there a few years ago, and way back in July of 2001 --- I was lucky enough to see the double bill of Phil and Friends and Ratdog play at SPAC.

Since there WAS a band called Ratdog, Bob Weir and the recently departed Rob Wasserman (bass) were the founding members of this sometime trio which included Jay Lane (drums), and usually others including Jeff Chimenti (keyboard) and Steve Kimock (guitar).  The band formed in 1995 (before Jerry died, actually) and toured heavily except when Furthur was going strong.  This particular summer the group also included Mark Karan and Kenny Brooks.

Phil Lesh has been playing with assorted friends since 1998, and too many to name here.  The summer I saw them at SPAC the friends included John Molo (drums), Warren Haynes (guitar) Jimmy Herring (guitar) and Rob Barraco (keys) - a favorite line-up that would later be known as the Q - for the Quintet.  Or maybe it already was then, but not to me!

But wait.  There's more.  After years of seeing the Grateful Dead, and now Ratdog, and, okay, me being maybe just a little starry-eyed over Bob Weir, a conversation that had been going on in our family finally came back to the surface.

Turns out my husband Michael's brother was really good friends with Rob Wasserman.  As in REALLY good.  Backstage pass kind of good.  Brother-in-law had suggested many times we go meet Rob, as he is a super nice guy.  I never said yes to his offer, but this time, at my husband's urging, we decided to go for it.  Get the backstage passes.  Meet Rob Wasserman.  Maybe even meet Phil Lesh and --gulp -- Bob Weir too!

I don't remember the drive up to Saratoga.  I don't remember where we stayed.  I remember going to the box office and getting our passes, which were stickers we put on our jeans.  I have to admit I don't remember the first set at all, because I was a nervous wreck.   A few times during Bobby's set, my husband asked me if I wanted to watch from the side of the stage.  I definitely did not.

As we neared the set break, it was now or never. I had my camera in my shaking hand.

Going backstage was surprisingly easy.  As I stood there, trying to be invisible, I saw Bob Weir coming off the stage.  He greeted a few friends.  He looked a little sweaty and really --- real! And wonderful.  I took a few photos and tried to hide and not make eye contact. After I collected myself enough, we went further backstage to find Rob Wasserman.

While my head was swimming from this close encounter with my idol, Michael awkwardly asked a security guy where Rob was, when he was standing right next to us.  Oh well.  He pretended not to have heard. He was hard to miss, as he stood very tall and sightly disheveled.  And as discombobulated as I had been a minute before, Rob's kind, calm way immediately brought me back to earth. He remembered who we were, and thanked us for coming. I had brought my "Trios" CD with me and asked him to sign it, which he was happy to do.
Can you see where he signed it?  All I had was a red sharpie... 
It says "Juliet Peace Rob Wasserman"

We chatted for a minute or two more, but he seemed to be ready to go back into the Green Room.  Before we left, he asked if we wanted to meet Bob.  At the same time, Michael said "Yes!" and I said, "No!" leaving Rob looking a little confused.  We thanked him for the passes and started to walk back the way we came.

I put the CD back in my bag.  "I should have taken a picture." I said, looking at the camera that had been in my hand and as I looked up, there, right in front of us was none other than Phil Lesh.  He was getting ready to go onstage, looking great in a red, white and blue tie-dye.  I snapped a photo.  Bob was there too, mixing it up with some fans.  I heard Michael behind me saying, "Just say hello!"

It was all too much.  My head was swimming.  My insides were emulsifying.  My hands were trembling.  Michael brought me to the beer garden and sat me down while he got me something to drink.  I don't remember much about Phil's set either except that Bob sat in.  Luckily I have the magic of the Internet to see what they played that night. (See below for set lists.)

After that, I never again used my connection to the kind Rob Wasserman to go backstage, much to the chagrin of my friends.

How heartbreaking that we lost this mighty talent on June 30.  His kindness and gentle ways were evident even in my short meeting with him, and I know that those who really knew him must be devastated.   Whenever we lose an artist we go to their art to help with the process of mourning, and so I bring you some tracks off of his CD Trios...  a solo piece, a piece with Jerry Garcia and Edie Brickell and a piece with Neil Young and of course, Bob Weir.  The links are at the bottom of this blog.

So as we move back into the present, I am grateful to have one more Dead & Co. show coming up, at Fenway Park... I'm pretty excited about that, I have to say.  I get to finally go to that great stadium without having to see the Red Sox- plus I will have a blast with all my New England Deadhead friends.

Just dust off those rusty strings one more time boys...

Eventually I'd get to speak to Bobby, but that's another story!

Songs off of the Trios Album- I attached some cool photos to the songs as a bonus.  Isn't technology amazing?

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Rob Wasserman
Zillionaire - Rob Wasserman, Jerry Garcia, Edie Brickell
Easy Answers - Rob Wasserman, Bob Weir, Neil Young

Ratdog's Set that Night:
Blackbird, Me and My Uncle, Friend of the Devil, Bury Me Standing > Good Morning Little Schoolgirl > Playin in the Band > Uncle John's Band > October Queen > The Deep End > Even So > He's Gone > The Other One > Bass/Drums > Samson and Delilah, Lady with a Fan > Terrapin > Uncle John's Band
Phil's Set that Night: 
Set 1: Jam > Shakedown> Wheel Jam, *Music Never Stopped> *Good Lovin', Low Spark> Tenessee Jed, Tons Of Steel
Set 2: Viola> Mars Jam> Viola> Mountain Jam> Dupree's, Night Of 1000 Stars> Space Jam> Lucy In The Sky> Mason's Children, The Wheel> Other One Chorus> Wheel Reprise> Sugaree
E: Casey Jones
*with Bob Weir
Ratdog Opened )

Here we are, sitting in the fenced off beer garden, a garbage bag and two very early photo bombers in the background. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Don't Stand So Close to Me

I'll make this short, though not so sweet.

I'm tired of saying "I won't go out alone," or "I need a concert buddy," and something that happened last night to a good friend of mine proves that I will be saying that for a long time to come.

My friend Sharon and I went out for a nice dinner and then to hear some live music at a favorite club. I go there all the time, and was excited to show her this special place.  We hadn't seen each other in a while and never ran out of conversation: our kids, our men, our extended families, music we had seen and were yet to see, our jobs...  We really were enjoying the night and anticipating some great tunes.

When we got to the bar, she loved it and we each got a drink and found a nice spot to settle in.  I saw a few friends mine and introduced her.  We got back to our conversation.

But then, Sharon's face fell, as she saw someone she knew.   Before she could tell me anything, he came over, and was in our space.  As she's a kind person, she wasn't rude, but nothing in her voice or body language gave this guy, Carl, the impression she was happy to see him, or welcome in our conversation, except possibly his ego. After he moved on, I assured her the room would get crowded and we'd keep our distance.

Other guys came up to us (mostly her) and we coolly let them know we were not interested.  But as the night wore on, Carl, and another guy (we'll call him Stan) circled around Sharon like two hawks taking turns.  The more drunk they got, the more assertive they became.  Another friend came by and made a wedge between Sharon and Carl so she and I could dance, but this could only last so long. When Stan started touching Sharon's shoulders, we moved to the back of the room, but that's where Carl was.

By the end of the first set, we were done.  I felt exhausted trying to help her, she looked miserable and beleaguered having had to fight them off all night.  I felt stupid that I had to ask my friends to "babysit" us when we were out for the night.  I felt horrible thinking "next time we should just come with our husbands."  What is this?  1950?

This is not our fault!  Last night it happened to Sharon, but this has happened to me. And not when I was in my 20's.  It's happened all my life, and still happens.  It happens to my daughter.  If you are reading this maybe it's happened to you.  Or your wife, mom, daughter, girlfriend.

Hey men.  If this is what you do when you drink too much, stop drinking. This is not appropriate or fair behavior.  It is harassment.  If it happened in the work place you would all be fired.  But if it happens in a bar, we  women just leave feeling bad and missing the music.

It's time for a change. Instead of leaving the bar next time, I will be talking to the manager about the belligerent patron(s) hassling and harassing the women.

And then I'll have fun with my concert buddy and enjoy the music.

Post Script:
After publishing this blog and getting a lot of feedback on facebook and a ton of hits... I thought I'd publish some of the comments from people.  Since they didn't publish them here, I have omitted their names, as I did in the original blog.

From my friend who was in the band that I went to see...
I'm so upset to hear this. I wish I could have been aware. The whole band would have been off the stage to remove them in seconds. Sadly it would not have been our first time doing this. In the unlikely event you make it back our next gig... we can have a hand signal. I'll also let the bouncer know to have your back. I know (other friends in a favorite band) will do the same. No excuse for our friends to feel uncomfortable even for a second.
From a fellow concert-goer who is not my friend...well, now she is.
I go out alone all the time. Step 1: "Please don't talk to me." Step 2 (the warning): "Do I have to get security or police involved?" Step 3: Let security know and have someone walk you to your car. If you notice someone following you- head straight to police dept. I even have the police station programmed on my gps so if someone breaks into my car and decides to visit my home- they'll get a big surprise! Zero tolerance for intimidation and harassment over here!
It's a shame we have to think like this, but some good advice...

This one is from a good friend of mine:
All women have a right to go out and enjoy themselves without having to deal with being harassed and stalked. Men need to step up and call out any man they see acting in a disrespectful manner. Women however, need to stop worrying about protecting people's feelings and being perceived as "rude" or a "bitch". It goes against how our culture raises us, but we need to break the cycle. Any woman has a right to tell a guy to back off, and if they don't, get the staff involved.
Absolutely.  And another good friend, a male wrote:
Read this with great distress. I also noticed there are no comments from guys on this at all. Perhaps, like me, they are uncomfortable being associated with males that act that way. I'm sorry for your experience Juliet.
So, who knows... maybe getting the conversation started was a good thing to do.  Just today I learned that the manager of this particular bar read the blog and was completely on board with making sure all patrons in this music venue feel safe at all times.  I guess that should go without saying, but knowing what has been going on under his watch now makes him responsible.   And makes me feel a lot better about heading back there again real soon.

Okay, one more thing...

My 29 year-old son was home for a visit.  He heard me talking about this incident, and the blog.  He didn't really want to discuss it, or the implications of what must happen all the time with his sister, a gorgeous 25 year-old who goes out alone all the time. But, I did find this article, carefully cut out of the New York Times, sitting at my spot at the kitchen table one morning.

What a Lifetime of Leers Does to Us

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm gone

It was one of those times. I had some time to kill before tickets went on sale before the Dead & Company Summer tour and I needed a box to send my son a few things (including his Valentine's Day candy).  I emptied a box that had been sitting full of papers since I don't know how long.

Old lesson plans.  Post-it notes. A few packets of Emergen-C.  Some spare change. An earring that had been missing for about 6 years. (It's lonely mate, has been sitting, waiting in my jewelry box. They were reunited on my head today, joyfully.)  Then at the bottom, some really old stuff.  A few report cards from middle school years (my kids are in their 20's).  A souvenir key chain from my parents trip to the Grand Canyon.  (WHEN was that, and who did they give it to??)  A deck of cards that was in perfect condition from a trip to Israel.  And, at the bottom of the box, this photo.

From the moment I saw it, I knew exactly when it was taken.

June 18, 1995.

That was the last time I saw Jerry Garcia play with the Grateful Dead.  At the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ.   I even know why it is not with the rest of the photos from that day, or in the album.


My friend Patti doesn't look great, and yeesh... me with those high wasted shorts and a fanny pack. Worst of all, we've been captured on the port-a-potty line!  I clearly pulled the photo out from the rest when it was time to show off the pictures to everyone, and hid it in a box.

Memories are flooding back.  I remember saying to my husband not to take the picture!  I remember the two great batik t-shirts I got... I still have them... tho they are now relegated to the gym or to sleep-wear due to the holes.  I remember hanging out by our van, our beloved party van, drinking and eating and watching people play hacky-sack nearby.

The cops were pretty bad, but not as bad as they had been in years earlier.  We had a great time in that parking lot.  When we got in, our baby-sitter (the one who was NOT available, obviously) was sitting two rows ahead of us!   Unfortunately, the concert was not that great.  It had its moments, but Jerry was in a bad way, and if you listen to the show (the link is below) you can tell he's in rough shape.  After seeing hundreds of shows, I drove home (only twenty minutes away) and I'm sure I thought - "Oh well, the next one will be better."

Jerry, in his better days, 1990.

So, here I was, about to order (HOPEFULLY) tickets to see the boys, now known as Dead & Company, play one more summer tour, and in my hands, now getting shaky, were holding this relic. 

And. Just two days away from Patti's yahrtzeit (the anniversary of her death).

Karma is a crazy thing.

For the last two big "Grateful Dead" events, GD50 and Dead & Co. - I couldn't get tickets no matter how I tried.  Even for the upcoming Phil's birthday, for the first time I was SOL.

But somehow, this time, with this terrible picture of Patti and me, waiting on the porta-john line, goofing around and having a blast, I got lucky.  Looks like I'll be back on tour with Dead & Co.  I'll be with new friends and old, and Patti in spirit. 

The music never stops.  It changes, it twists and turns and I am thankful every single time I hear Bob, Phil, Mickey and Billy bring back the magic.  See you on tour!

Event image

This is the link to the last show I saw - 6/18/95 at the Meadowlands.

This is a link to the upcoming tour.  I think you all should go.  To Bonnaroo. :-)