Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Quarantine, Patti, and Grateful Dead Memories

It's been a long time since I've written a blog post.  Not much has inspired my creative writing muse lately I suppose. 

I mean certainly - I have had a lot of thoughts that have brought me joy, anger, sadness, and good old righteous indignation - but nothing blog-worthy.

Then last night, in our usual after-dinner pre-tv mode of chatting and having a cocktail, we started to reminisce. This is a busy time- or I mean- it used to be and memory-wise this time is filled with dates to recount.  Especially good times: fond memories of Passover tables filled with loved ones, spring tours of the Grateful Dead - indoor shows with outdoor lot festivities, the greening promise of spring, the end of the school year, and a few days ago, April 24, my friend Patti's birthday. 

A particular story comes to mind - it was 1982 - we were living together in our pretty rocking apartment in Brighton Massachusetts.  Let me set the scene.  Patti worked in a mental health facility for developmentally disabled adults. I worked in a placement center for teens who had broken the law and had to be removed from their homes for various reasons, most stemming from inconsistent parenting (putting it mildly). This was already my second job out of college, my first a disastrous stint as the assistant director of the Hillel at Northeastern University.  

Both Patti and I worked the second shift, that being a 3:00 - 11:00 pm shift at our respective jobs, and we didn't mind the hours.  We both liked to sleep late, and both enjoyed keeping those same hours on our days off.  This was Boston, and this was the early 80's so there wasn't a lot to do by the time we got home, but on rare occasions, we could go out, at that time.  Once driving home I heard that this new band "The Cars" were playing at a converted warehouse not far from where we lived and we changed our clothes and caught a very exciting show at midnight!

That April we were excited about seeing the Grateful Dead when they played Providence, Rhode Island. Imagine our delight when the Dead appeared on SNL the night before! Since the Dead weren't playing Boston on this tour, and Providence was only an hour away, this was an easy show to get to, and we had a blast. The concert was great and we wanted more. On Monday, we made a big sign on a bed sheet in groovy Grateful Dead lettering proclaiming "I Need a Miracle!" To my knowledge, no one had come up with that before, so yes, I do take credit for that, and you are welcome. 

There's a gap in my memory now, because I don't know why we didn't have work on Tuesday or Wednesday - (or did we use up sick days??) - and if Patti were still alive, obviously she'd remember a detail like this.  But Tuesday morning we got in my car with our little bags packed, our banner ready and drove to Hartford for the next two shows.  Hartford is only an hour and a half from where we lived so I suggested we stop in Sturbridge on our way.  I think I was thinking we'd explore Old Sturbridge Village - as I am a sucker for those kinds of things, but instead we did a little shopping and each got a jean jacket.  We then continued to Hartford.

Michael and Patti in 1983 at Duke - Patti in her jean jacket.

Me, today, in mine.  I added the fringe in about 1986. The haircut I gave myself two weeks ago.

Back then, I had every confidence that we would get tickets for the shows, and find an affordable motel room.  Patti never had that kind of optimism and felt my reckless ways would be our undoing. So first things first, we got a room.  Next, of course off to the Civic Center to find tickets.  

I remember parking in an indoor garage, and opening the trunk to get our banner out.  No sooner had we unfurled our masterpiece - then two guys appeared out of nowhere, laden with gear.  Patti backed away, but I assured her they were okay.  Tapers.  Our miracle happened right then - they provided us with two tickets for that night's show, if we would help them smuggle in their taping equipment.  Apparently they never search girls, and if I'd just hide this deck up my skirt, and Patti put these cables in her jeans, we could have the tickets.  Before Patti could say no, I was agreeing, saying it was Karma!  And did they have tickets for tomorrow?  (They didn't but rumor was that they were available at the box office.)

So we spent the next little while doing what Deadheads may do, hanging by the car, sharing stories and of course these guys promised us copies of the tapes. (Which, by the way, I am still waiting for...)

When it was time to go in, Patti was a wreck, and I was pretty confident, despite the discomfort of the tape deck tied to my waist.   Once we got through the gates, we gave the guys their stuff and went our separate ways, they went to the taper's section, we went to the box office where, sure enough, we snagged tickets for the next night.

Little scraps of paper with setlists, ticket stubs, and that same jean jacket are the tangible remnants of that time.  My memories, (dotted with holes) now written for you in this blog, are of an April holding promise, and positivity. The shows, now available on archive, are below.   

A few days later we came home and celebrated Patti's birthday.  I'm guessing we both went back to work, energized by our road trip and three awesome shows. 

Right now as I sit in the sixth week of quarantine and the 12th week of rotten weather I remember a line that rings more true every time I hear it.  "One way or another, this darkness got to give."

And just like that, the sun has come out, and it's time to get outside for a few minutes and collect some rays on my face before I go back to work.  Maybe April holds a little promise for me today after all.

Click Here for Providence Civic Center 4/15/82

Click here to listen to Hartford Civic Center 4/17-82

Click here for Hartford 4/18/82

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Happy Birthday Jerry

I should be working now... it's a Thursday... and obviously I'll get back to work after I finish this... 

But I can't help but take a minute and share some thoughts about Jerry on his birthday, today, August 1.  He has now been glorified, canonized, cartoonified, copied, and genre-ized.  Even non-Deadheads know who he is, and can be called either Jerry or Garcia and we all know who we mean.

Deadhead bars, bands, clothing and paraphernalia are more popular now than when he was with us, and this phenomenon seems to be growing as young people hop on the bus.  Thanks to Dead & Company,  Phil & Friends, Bob Weir & Wolf Brothers, all bands with original members who keep the music alive young crowds and old fans get to see our beloved icons still making music.

In honor of this day, and because I can, here is a radio interview Jerry did with the famous DJ Scott Muni and Jerry Garcia.  I am caller 3 or 4, you can hear it in its entirety  or watch a little video I made which has a guy before me and then my question.  

Short Video with Juliet's Section

Entire Audio click here:  https://soundcloud.com/juliet-cantor-barr/interview-with-jerry

So, that's it.  Back to work, until it's time to go out and dance and hang out with a few of my favorite friends and let the music wash over me, giving me a chance to find new meanings to old melodies. 

Happy Jerry Day, People!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Let Me Not Sit Idly By....

We all saw it.  That photo of a little girl with the tear-stained face.  

Then the tweets.  The blame game.   The executive order.  The ranting and raving and the terrible scenes on the 6:30 news.

For many, this appeared to be the tipping point.  You just don't take babies from the arms of their parents to prove a political point. It was and is disgraceful.  

But while we are busy working on a solution, I realized that I couldn't just sit and do nothing (besides kvetch, which wasn't really helping).

As the stories came in about these kids, the mistreatment, the diseases, the sexual abuse, the audiotapes and the photos.  The real stories told in parking lots and grassy fields by the American social workers who have been trying to help these families. I could not move.  I felt as though I was weighed down.  Nightmares of crying kids, the inescapable vision of tear-stained faces, sad eyes, cages. 

One day while watching the news, I saw a very quick item that I found quite shocking: many - hundreds - of the children were moved from the squalor of the detention centers at the border to 17 states around the country.  And in the flash of a second a graphic popped up and I saw that New York and New Jersey were two of those states.

I guess Mayor DiBlasio was watching the same news, because as I was driving to work the next day, I heard on the radio that there was a media circus at a children's shelter in Harlem.  

I did what I have done before: I called my Senators and my Representative. I left messages.  Then I wrote them letters. (I have attached it below because it was a pretty good letter, if I do say so.)  Only one of my elected officials wrote back, but I will say that I did see videos of all of them on the Senate and House floor, speaking strongly against separating families, so I am happy to say that they were doing their jobs.

And then I decided to do more.  I "went to the Google."  Through the course of about an hour, I found where I thought the children might be and made a few calls.  After striking out a few times, I called one place and I had a feeling I found the right place, though they didn't confirm it. I left my name and number and town, and was told I'd get a call back.  I didn't for about a day and a half.  

I was torn between despondency and hope.  (Were they just giving me a line, or maybe doing a little background check?)
Finally I got a call from the coordinator of Public Relations of the Center for Family Services.  
Yes, they have about 28 children in the Juntos Program, 20 teen boys and girls and 4 teen moms.
Kids stay for about 30 days while staff work toward family reunification.
Yes, they desperately need some things- she'd send me the list.  
They have been housing kids crossing the southern border since 2017.
Some girls were teen mothers when they arrived, and both moms and babies need our help.
They would desperately like to find short term shelter homes in South Jersey for the younger children, and aside from other stringent guidelines, the families must be bilingual (Spanish).

I was overwhelmed at the end of our call. Relieved that I could do something, worried I couldn't do enough. Frustrated I couldn't start immediately!  (I was driving at the time.)

So that brings us to now. 

I have the time, and I have the energy.  I now need the community to stop kvetching too and be my partner.   Pick up an extra educational toy when shopping for a birthday party, or an extra pack of twin sheets when college shopping for your soon to be Sophomore.  Grab a gift card at your local CVS or Target and pop it in the mail to me.  I have already enlisted my mom to drive the 3 or so hours (not really sure) to wherever they tell me to go.  

When this is over, this ugly chapter in our history, will you look back and say "I helped?" or will you say, "I posted a lot on Facebook?"   

Here's the info.

  • Overnight bags & totes
  • Teen clothing
  • Hoodies
  • Pajamas
  • Winter coats
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Toiletries
  • Twin Bedding
  • Towels
  • Books
  • Educational Toys
  • Gift Cards: Target, Walmart, Amazon, Old Navy, CVS, etc.
  • Items for moms/babies
  • Diapers, wipes, formula
  • Newborn & baby necessities
  • Care packages for teen moms

Here's MY info: Juliet.Barr18@gmail.com - I'm not posting my address here for security reasons, but if you get in touch we will make this happen. 

Here are four organizations that are doing great things and you can donate directly to them.  

Kids In Need Of Defense (KIND)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
Services, Immigration Rights & Education Network (SIREN)

Sample letter sent to elected official:
 Dear ___My name is Juliet Barr.  As a registered Democrat, a voter, and most importantly as a human being with a conscience I am writing to you because I am horrified by what is going on at our borders.  Children being taken away from their parents, and people being held in cages like animals.  If what we are seeing on the 6:30 news is what we are allowed to see, I shudder to think how terrible the reality is, how filthy the conditions and how wretched the children must be.
 The whole scene is all too reminiscent of the rise of Nazism, with children torn from their parents’ arms, families forced into concentration camps, and people simply “following orders” from a law that no one seems to be questioning.
 Is this the same country that was created by immigrants? The very immigrants who arrived – many reading the words at that iconic statue’s feet, “Give me your tired, your poor your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free…”  To take back a phrase which now has a bitter taste, what has truly made America great is the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot, and we have always been proud of that.   Suddenly, now, we seem to have no room for families who want to escape persecution and injustice?  I don’t buy it and I know that most of the people you represent don’t either.  It’s racist and xenophobic, at the very least.  I would also add immoral and unjust.
 I hope that you are disgusted as well, and I implore you not to sit idly by as innocents are treated like criminals, and our misguided system systematically begins scarring people for the rest of their lives.  Please take a stand, and let us, your constituents, know what we can do as well. Now is the time to act.
 Thank you in advance for your leadership, Juliet BarrRamsey, NJ 

July 20 - It has been nearly a month since I posted this blog originally.  I have attended one rally, posted and reposted, and received about a dozen emails from concerned people.  A local synagogue collected three huge boxes of items, and the kind folks at a local Jazz Club hosted me one night to collect even more items and cash, which I used to buy playground items on Amazon for the Shelter.  

Thank you to Beth Haverim Shir Shalom and Maureen's Jazz Cellar for promoting this cause and helping young people you don't know, who will never be able to say thank you!  (FYI - According to Maimonides - this is a very high level of giving- so in lieu of a thank you note, you've got that going for you, which is nice.)

In about ten days, I plan to bring what I have to office address.  It's about two hours south of where I live.  Stay tuned for the obligatory full-trunk photo!  

If you still want to donate, there's still time and there are still children in need.  Please email me, message me on FaceBook or reply to this blog.  

If not now, when?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Robert Hunter, on the 1 year anniversary of Jerry's Passing

I'm sorry I do not know where I originally found this.  But I am putting into my blog so that I don't have to keep looking for it in my files every year.

Robert Hunter wrote this letter to Jerry on the one year anniversary of his passing.  I'm posting it today, as we all are communicating to one another via social media, text, phone and in person.  Maybe you'll read it during the "moment of silence."  Maybe you'll save it.  Or you've seen it and you'll click on past it.  I'll read it and I'll be with all of you all over the Dead universe as we think about Jerry and appreciate his legacy.

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.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Letting Go

This essay, appeared in the Jewish Journal on July 27, 2017, but was written about a month before that.  Thank you to Editor Steven Rosenberg for publishing it and for his help in keeping the story short and (bitter) sweet. 
JULY 27, 2017 – Scrolling through social media yesterday I stopped to “like” my friend’s post. Actually, these days you can “love” a photo, and as I held the like button down to get to the word “love,” I felt tears welling up.
The picture was his 9-year old daughter, getting on the bus to go to sleep-away camp for the first time. There she was, this little girl, in her denim shorts with the white lace cut-outs, a hot pink baseball cap and a back-pack that looked like it held absolutely nothing, looking back over her shoulder, waving a final goodbye to her daddy.
Thirteen years ago, right around now, I was packing up my youngest child, a skinny 10-year-old boy, for sleep-away camp in the Berkshires. He had slept soundly the night before. I had been up until some ungodly hour, labeling every item of clothing, folding bedding and towels, cramming sports equipment into a huge duffel bag, and writing our address and stamping envelopes he’d never use.
Jacob loved camp so much he called it his home away from home. His camp friends became his best friends. He went back summer after summer and although he always continued with his Jewish studies through our synagogues, he will credit camp with the most vital of his Jewish learning, growth, and identity.
As his sister had done, he took advantage of the camp’s trip to Israel when he was 15 and the bonds with his friends became deeper. As his brother had done, he went to Israel for his junior semester abroad, and like his parents, attended Tel Aviv University.
I really wanted to visit him there and I knew he was wary about the whole family descending on him while he was studying abroad.  Looking back on my own experiences, I was a bit hesitant when my parents visited me at age 20, living in the dorms at Tel Aviv University. When I got on the plane in Newark that December, I was already quite self-confident, but I had never really had the experiences that would form the core of whom I was to become.
I did things in Israel I would never have done here in the US. Camping in the Sinai, no tent, just a sleeping bag under the stars, watching the sun come up over the Red Sea. Having nothing more critical to do than go snorkeling and trade for eggs and pita with the local Bedouin kids.
Hitchhiking on a day off from classes to get to the beach with a few American friends, realizing I had spent the whole day speaking only Hebrew. Going on a date with an Israeli guy and finding out that, due to the fact certain words were not yet in my vocabulary, I had agreed to going to a live sex show! Afterward, of course we went out for a snack, and as I learned, he knew the best place for hummus.
After all I had been through, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to be “parented” yet. I had also changed physically, my once straightened hair now long, slightly bleached by the sun, and curly. But when my parents arrived, after they got over the shock of my sundress, Israeli sandals, and wild hair, we had a fine time, and they wined and dined me, even setting me up on a blind date.
Believing I had my own son all figured out, we booked the trip anyway and planned to tread lightly on his schedule and plans. We took my older son and daughter, and thought we had a wonderful time.
After Jacob had been home for quite a while, more than a year, he referred to that time as less than stellar. I felt I had done so well in mastering the fine line between family time and giving him space. We fed him well, and then left him alone. But I guess that was not how he best wanted to spend those days. I then realized not only is he not a junior me, he is also not his siblings.
When Jacob graduated college last spring and announced that he won a fellowship to teach in Israel, I felt conflicted. Everything indicated parenting gone right, right? Then why did it feel so wrong? It would be a 10-month job. Apartment, car, money for food; a mother’s dream for her child. Except that I was no longer a part of that dream.
And, he asked us not to visit.
How sheepish I feel when speaking to people about how proud I am of the work he’s doing in one breath, and in the next answering the obvious question: “Well, no, I didn’t get to see him there this time.”  I just can’t bring myself to say “because he didn’t want us to come.” I told my husband recently I wonder if I will look back on this and regret it, or if I did the right thing, respecting his autonomy.
This Israel-loving, independent child is now a 23-year-old young man who is living a life that I barely get to see. There have been some posts on Facebook, short messages via WhatsApp, and a few phone conversations. Just enough to know that he’s fine.
And recently, sadly, when my mother-in-law passed away, Jacob was on a plane and with our family as we grieved. There was no conversation about whether he should come home, just the logistics.  He was fully present and there when it mattered.
He is due to come home at the end of next month. Texts about jobs and plane tickets go unanswered. I look forward to seeing him, and hopefully, having my choices validated. As surely as I returned from Tel Aviv a changed person, I am considering that this is what will happen with my son. But his way.
For now, I have had to settle for scrolling through all of my friends’ photos of camper’s smiles, with the hope that I will see my son’s smile somewhere in my news feed.
Jacob and me at a Tel Aviv Beach during his Junior year. 
Juliet Barr is married, and the mother of three. She is a Jewish educator and has worked in congregations and Jewish federations in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Washington. 

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