It was at the New World Music Theatre, Tinley Park, IL – Brent’s 2nd to last show.
Transformational is the best word to describe it. I saw the light and was converted to a faithful follower of the Church of the Dead. It was a magical day that stripped away many layers of deep seated angst and cynicism, rendering me as free and unencumbered as a child.
I’m sure the mushroom cap helped me to accept the reckless abandon that overtook me, but without the Dead’s special brand of music and community, I wouldn’t have had the cathartic experience that evolved my soul. I was forever changed.
A chapter in Scarlet Begonias (Qualia Spectarum) goes into more detail about my experience that night, but is told as if it were a memory of Rajesh Weinstein, the physicist who is attempting to isolate the International Prototype Kilogram’s missing mass. Here is the snippet which tells of my Dead re-birth:
“So where’d you get the pen from?” Driscol whispered, not intending for his question to sever their communion with the Ouisa.
Rajesh resumed his search for the pen and returned the vial of Ouisa to its protective pouch without either of them realizing that, without even having to uncap the most recent incarnation of Mannie’s potent elixir, the is-ness had entered orbit around the vibrating pinnacle of the Noumenon.
“No, I got it at that Grateful Dead show in Las Vegas the weekend when we met,” Rajesh said into his pack. “I don’t know why we got off on the wrong foot back then, but I’m glad you decided to stop hating me.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about all that,” Driscol paused mid-apology, and the eerie quiet of the stairwell seemed to tug at his mid-section. “I didn’t think you were going to the show. You said you weren’t into the Dead.”
“I wasn’t back then. I don’t think I could’ve recognized a single song of theirs besides Trucking and Casey Jones,” Rajesh said. “I had no intention of going when I went back to the roulette table in the morning to see how close you guys were to becoming hundred-aires.”
“I think we left a little before sunrise,” Driscol said. “Mannie decided to call it quits when I passed out under the table.”
“The same croupier was working when I looked for you after breakfast,” Rajesh said. “He was surprised that Mannie’s scheme had worked better than he’d expected. But after we talked awhile, we both agreed that, even if Mannie’s idea was viable, he would have to play all day, every day for a month to make any headway on turning his winnings into anything substantial.”
“So how’d you get a ticket to the show?” Driscol asked, practically banging his head into Rajesh’s to aid in the search. “They sold out right after they went on sale.”
“Mannie gave the croupier a ticket to the show as a tip, probably when you were passed out,” Rajesh nudged him away. “But he couldn’t go and knew I was looking for you guys, so he asked me if I wanted to buy it. I said yes because I wanted to find out for myself why the Dead was able to draw hippies from all over the country to come see them play.”
“I can’t believe you actually went,” Driscol said. “Did you go alone?”
“I didn’t want to. I tried to find you and Mannie again in the casino when my conference ended to ask if I could tag along, but the lobby was a madhouse,” Rajesh said. “I didn’t decide to go until the last minute. The Dead-heads in the lobby were so excited, and then all of a sudden I was in a cab and the doorman was closing the door. I don’t even remember getting in it.”
“Well? What did you think?” Driscol asked. “Did you like it?”
“I loved it from the minute I climbed out of the cab,” Rajesh said. “It was like I was entering a whole other world I never knew existed. Going to that show was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt so at one with everything. It was like I wasn’t completely alive until that night.”
“That’s how everyone feels after their first time, except for the asshole intruders who tuck their shirts in too tight,” Driscol said, but realized his unintentional dig too late. “Oh shit, please tell me you didn’t have your shirt tucked in.”
“I did,” Rajesh said before Driscol seized the chance to bombard him with friendly insults, “But I didn’t leave that way, so don’t give me any grief about it.”
“So what got you to pull your shirt out of your pants?” Driscol asked, restraining himself from offending Rajesh the way he would have if he’d been with Mannie. “Were you getting it on in the back of a VW microbus with some hot hippy-chick?”
Rajesh played along and raised his eyebrows with suspenseful promise, but continued on with the disappointingly less titillating explanation of his fashion transformation.
“When the concert began, everyone around me stood up and started dancing like lunatics,” Rajesh said. “I felt so out of place at first just sitting there so I stood up, but I still felt like I was from outer space.”
“That’s because you are,” Driscol said, and all of the posters surrounding them seemed to contract in unified agreement.
Driscol looked at Rajesh to see if he’d experienced the strange telepathy also. Rajesh widened his eyes in silent confirmation, and they waited through an eventless moment of alert silence before Rajesh continued to recount the long-winded details of the untucking.
“The girl next to me stopped dancing and held her hand out to me like she wanted to shake my hand. It was so weird and out of the blue, I couldn’t imagine why she’d be doing that, but I shook it because I didn’t know what else to do.” Rajesh’s eyes darted around the surreal stairwell in anticipation of another telepathic episode. “Then she leaned over and asked me if I was all right and wanted to know why I was just standing still. She told me to loosen up and dance, but I didn’t want to dance. Everybody else looked like their bodies were supposed to move all wiggly like that, but all I could think about was how idiotic I’d look if I tried it.”
“But that’s the whole point.” Driscol’s emphatic response generated a jarring reverberation between the walls so he continued with a softer tone. “Nobody’s judging anybody at a Dead show. You’re supposed to look goofy. It should be a requirement to get in. You should’ve seen Suzi and Eve do one of their jimble dances.”
“I just felt like an outsider who didn’t belong,” Rajesh said. “But I wanted to dance. Everyone who was dancing seemed so happy. I wanted to be one of the happy people too, but my body wouldn’t let me.”
“I can’t be at a show and not dance,” Driscol said and noticed how uncomfortable he felt sitting stooped over on the hard stairs. He stood up and placed his hands on the stairs above him, sticking his behind out to form a partial downward-dog. The stretch released a flood of lurid images featuring Suzi striking a series of provocative yoga poses.
“My body starts to dance before the music even starts,” Driscol continued and leaned deeper into the stretch. “Sometimes I’ll even catch myself dancing when I’m not at a show, like somewhere in public where it would look pretty strange, especially since I look kind of strange already.”
He finished his stretch and picked up his guitar case. “So, did that dancing girl get you to loosen up?”
“She told me to take my shoes and socks off,” Rajesh said and followed Driscol down the stairs.
“My God, you were wearing socks?” Driscol stopped on the stairs in disbelief, turning to Rajesh to see if he was kidding.
“Don’t worry, I took them off,” Rajesh said. “She sprayed my feet with her spray bottle because it was still so hot outside. The water smelled like lavender and something else. I don’t know what it was, but it made me happy. It reminded me of the flowers growing behind my house in India, but spicier.”
“What happened after she moistened your naked feet?” Driscol nudged Rajesh as they walked past the deserted bar toward the stage. “Was she cute?”
“She was a big Mamma Cass looking hippy about forty-ish I guess, long hair, very earthy looking,” Rajesh recalled. “She was acting so silly that it made me laugh. She stood right in front of me and danced until I felt more stupid just standing there watching her than I would have if I’d just let myself dance, so I did, and it was amazing.”
“Rotund and middle-aged. Nice combo,” Driscol joked, “How amazing was it? Did she give you her room number?”
Rajesh took a second to think. “You know, it’s weird. Now that you mention it, she actually could have.”
“How could you not know?” Driscol asked. “Did she or didn’t she?”
“She asked if she could see my ticket stub,” Rajesh said, “and she handed it back to me along with the pen she wrote on it with. But a bunch of people knocked into me and I almost dropped them, and I didn’t want to stop dancing, so I just shoved them in my pocket without reading what she’d written. She hugged me real hard right before the song ended and then just danced away into the crowd.”
July 22nd, 1990
1.Box of Rain
2.Feel Like a Stranger
4.Beat It on Down the Line
5.West L.A. Fadeaway
6.When I Paint My Masterpiece
7.Far From Me
9.Hell in a Bucket
10.Samson and Delilah
11.Hey Pocky Way
13.Eyes of the World
16.Gimme Some Lovin' - (The Spencer Davis Group cover)
19.Turn On Your Love Light
20.Knockin' On Heaven's Door
(Bob Dylan cover)