You Don’t Know What You Got ’Til It’s Gone
This past weekend, Dead and Company played its final three shows before a packed house at Oracle Park in San Fransisco, marking an end point to a musical journey that began in the same place nearly sixty years ago. And so comes to a close a chapter in the lives of many fans who have been listening and dancing to the music of the Grateful Dead for most, if not all, of their adult lives. Some of them have even gone on tour, following the Dead from city to city, scheduling their existences around a band they loved. But all of that is no more. Despite the song lyrics to the contrary, the music has indeed stopped.
That’s because it has to. It always has to. Nothing lasts forever, not even the Grateful Dead. At some point, everything ends, everything fades aways. And the key to life comes not in preventing that inevitability, to prolonging what we love for as long as humanly possible, but in accepting the truth of that proposition and appreciating the beauty we are blessed with for as long as we privileged to have it. That, my friends, is the essence of being “grateful”.
When the band announced that this Summer would be their final tour, it was received by two distinct responses. Many, including myself, rushed out to snag tickets as quickly as possible, wanting one last chance to sing and dance in the overwhelming brilliance of music that showered our souls with light and a community that reached out and embraced us right where we were. We knew this opportunity was not coming back, that the Dead would tour no more. Others, however, have been bitching about Dead and Company since John Mayer joined them in 2015, suggesting that this incarnation of the Dead wasn’t really the Dead, that they sounded too old, or slow, or whatever the hell else they could find to gripe about. For them, the Dead died in 1995 with the passing of legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia, the icon who truly was the heart and soul of the original Grateful Dead. But for the past eight years, they have been missing out on some amazingly sublime music, all because it wasn’t the Grateful Dead. And now that opportunity has passed them by.
Of course Dead and Company was never the Grateful Dead, despite being comprised of three of the members of the original band for most of their tenure. They were something else, something distinct to themselves. While they generally played straight from the Grateful Dead’s voluminous back catalog, their spin on those same songs was, in the spirit that has defined the band from the very beginning, unique, fresh, and innovative. Of course John Mayer was not and never will be Jerry Garcia, but damn that boy can play, and he added a renewed vibrancy to this collaboration that made those songs feel relevant again. I was fortunate to get to see about twenty Dead shows before Jerry died, but I have also been equally lucky to see about ten shows since then. And that’s just the point- you can either embrace the blessings that have been bestowed upon you or dismiss them for not being the exact blessings you were hoping for. And the key to your happiness lies in coming from the perspective of the former.
Sometimes we know precisely when the things we love will come to and end, such as this past Sunday night when we knew this would be the last time Dead and Company performed in this current contingent. Other times, the end that lies before us remains shrouded in the hazy, abstract mystery of fated predestination. No one knew that when Jerry Garcia walked off the stage of Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9th, 1995, that it would be the last time the band played with him. Sometimes endings come before we even have the opportunity to consciously recognise the possibility, to cast our eyes out in search of that horizon. That’s what makes our appreciation in the moment so vitally important because in the end, you often just don’t know what you got until it’s gone.
While I wasn’t at the final performances in San Fransisco this past weekend, I did get to see the band play two inspired shows in Boulder a few weeks back. We danced and leapt for joy knowing that this would be our final opportunity to do so. Was I sad that these would be the parting performances for a band I loved, that never again would I see the Dead in concert? Sure, but that feeling was assuaged by the knowledge and remembrance of the many shows I did get to be a part of. Instead of lamenting what I would not have going forward, I was buoyed by the appreciation for what I was fortunate enough to have had in the first place. And if you still think this is a column about the valedictory lap of the Grateful Dead, I think you just might be missing the point.
The fact is that this life is defined by impermanence. Nothing and no one last forever. Everything you have and love will someday cease to exist. You can mourn that loss all you like, but shit ain’t coming back. And while that absence is sure to carry with it an element of sadness, remorse really springs from missed opportunity. If we have cherished the ones we love and made the most of the time we have had with them, that sense of loss will eventually turn itself into fond remembrance. It is only when we failed to appreciate what we once had but now do not that the sting of dissolution truly pains us. So stay “grateful”, my friends. Jerry would have wanted it that way.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com