Posted by: twotrees | March 27, 2011

Remembering a Simpler Time

I was reading a piece in the Atlantic Monthly about how a politician is attacking the federal funding of the Grateful Dead archive in UC Santa Cruz.  I can’t blame the Republican gentleman from Oklahoma for not seeing the forest through the trees on this topic.  But to assume that the study of the social phenomenon that developed around this rock band is unworthy of federal funding is debatable.

Back in the day, there grew a culture and social dynamic that was unlike any other, some of it seedy, some of it magical.  Where else could you find a whole society of people so enamoured with the act of being that they followed the group from town to town.  Think of the cadre of people running behind Forrest Gump times many multiples.  Some did so for the music, some did so for the culture, others just to be counter-culture.

For a spell, I did it as a participant on the periphery, attending a show or two but knowing people who had ‘been out on tour’ with the band for several months.  In fact, my first experience visiting Ventura was to have hitchhiked here some 34 years ago for a show at the Fairgrounds.

What I remember is seeing people enjoying life, the music and other people in a peaceful setting.  Sure some were stoned beyond recognition (and some would argue that you needed to be to endure the 20+ minute space jams that the Dead were famous for conducting between recognizable songs) but many were not, high only on the natural endorphins that the body produces which make us feel happy.

Thinking about ‘thumb travel’ I conducted an experiment last week.  Being without my car for day, I needed a ride to high school to see my son play baseball.  So I wrote the words VENTURA HIGH on a sheet of paper and posted myself  at the corner by my office downtown with my thumb out and the sign up.  Three cares drove by in the first minute, two drivers actually noticing me and slowing to read the message.  The fourth driver pulled over.  It was a parent who was on her way to the school and so I made it there in a matter of minutes.

There was a time when this form of transportation was more common, more acceptable and actually useful.  But with the great fear that has set in this country over the past few decades, I don’t think it’s likely to return.

As my son Marshall considers accepting his invitation to attend UC Santa Cruz, I just might want to visit the school myself, to investigate the archives of a period of American history when life was a little simpler.

Grateful Dead archive at UCSC:

Deficit Hawks Target the Grateful Dead:


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