“If I told you ’bout all that went down, it would burn off both yer’ ears…”
This weekend The Dead played Madison Square Garden. Most of us have always called the band the Dead, but of course they were formally known as the Grateful Dead until Jerry Garcia died in the summer of 1995.
It’s hard to quantify what the band meant to me. In high school, and especially in college, I found myself sucked into a vortex that revolved around the music, the lifestyle, and the people in my life – a self-fulfilling cycle, to be sure. The more time I spent within its ban, the deeper I went into it. But I was happy there, and made a lot of friends. Tommy Rosen, a very good friend of mine, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post that describes it extremely well:
On October 15th, 1983, I went to the Hartford Civic Center to see the Grateful Dead for the first time. People were friendly, funny, silly, self-deprecating and loving. Life felt exciting. There was possibility and openness. The music was so different than anything on the radio. I danced with strangers as a sixteen year old boy that night in a way I had never before. To dance with others spontaneously, ritualistically was thrilling. We danced in sync with one another and it deeply moved me. Though I did not know it at the time, I had been searching for this my whole life to that point.
The only difference I can report is that my first show came two years later, in the Spring of 1985, followed by many more. It’s difficult (and possibly self-incriminating) to describe some of the most memorable moments… but let me just short-hand a few for those who were there: the week in Teluride, the Holiday Inn in Hartford, the highly-fueled drive to Red Rocks, the Mescalero Bandit, and losing our shoes in Boston.
At some point I drifted out of the scene… it was becoming a little unhealthy for me. After I moved back to New York I rediscovered other music, other styles, and realized that long hair was not conducive to my dating efforts. It is where I made the Big Change, and Tommy is one of the few people who knew me before and after, and someone who made the same Change.
It’s been seventeen years since my last show. A LOT has happened since.
I guess you had to be there.
That’s me with the striped pants. Tommy’s top left.
I know you can never go back, but I would have loved be at the reunion. I know at least fifteen people who were at the show on Saturday, possibly even more. Everyone’s been posting pictures on Facebook, and it looks like a lot of good clean fun was had by all.
Yesterday we had some friends hang out with us at the house for a lazy Sunday. All the kids were playing Jedi Ninja around the tree fort, the sun was out, and later that afternoon Karen made her excellent whole-wheat pizza. Later, when I was in the kitchen cutting tomatoes for the Quinoa salad I put on some music. I was a little sad to have missed the show at the Garden (and the reunion of so many friends), so I picked a bootlegged Dead show from ’77, one of my favorite years stylistically. As I lost myself in memories it occurred to me that none of my friends in Berlin, not even my wife, could know what I saw, what I experienced, what I felt back in those days. There is a part of me they will have never met. Not only would I not be able to go back, it was something I would never be able to share.
Nonetheless, it’s nice to know that I’ve had experiences in my life that are so positive and memorable. I’ve had a fantastic life thus far, with no boredom in sight. There have been a number of life segments that are beyond description, and I have resigned myself to the fact that they are beyond sharing.
I moved to Berlin just as it stumbled out of the Cold War and became one of the coolest cities in the world, while being deeply embedded in Germany’s Techno music scene that happened in the 1990s. Not only was I a participant, as a founder of a record label I had the chance to shape it. But all the stories and pictures from that time still can’t let someone know what it was like – it was our music, our fashion, our parties that the world was trying to emulate.
From 1996 into the new millenium I found myself owning a software company in the heart of the tech revolution, a period that changed the world more thoroughly – and quickly – than any other development thus far. It’s where Karen and I met, but our friends that weren’t there can’t imagine the positive energy that swept everyone up at the time… and the insanity that enveloped everyone as it was reaching its bitter end for many of the late-comers.
I guess the ultimate personal experience is family and children. Though many of us face the trials and tribulations of parenthood, it is always a small and intimate circle that shares it with you. God knows it will never be entirely perfect. But if your vibe is right and your partner is kind, all you remember are the good times. Just like my time with the Grateful Dead.
And for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about… here’s a track called “Eyes of the World”. This one was recorded at the Winterland Arena in San Francisco, on October 19th 1974.
Fair warning, it’s nineteen minutes long, and may lead to dancing.
What a trip.
We had a family trip to Israel – Karen, the boys, my father – and we had an unbelievable time. I used to go to Israel a lot. When I was young we went two or three times a year, and after my Bar Mitzvah it became an annual event around Passover. We would have the seder with friends around Tel Aviv, or sometimes with the family. My father survived the Holocaust by fleeing from Germany just before the notorious Polen Aktion, and he grew up in Israel. There is still a lot of family there. His cousin Gideon owned a turkey farm 25 years ago… I was allowed to walk through the fowl crowd once, but I learned that they are mean birds that will peck at you – no doubt a small revenge for the pending conversion into luncheon meat. My uncle Omri took me octopus fishing, we loved eating them pan-fried in garlic and lemon over a fire on the beach.
I went to a Jewish boarding school in England, the now-rightly-disfunct Carmel College. The Hilton Tel Aviv was always a gathering point for Europe’s growing Jewish community, and it was fun to have many of the kids from school meet in a different environment. Late nights, warm weather, and no uniform dress code made a pubescent teenager’s heart beat with anticipation.
In the late eighties I entered university in the US, where the Passover schedule rarely overlapped with spring break and the distance made a quick trip to Israel prohibitive. I ended up in Tel Aviv every few years, but my last trip was in the early nineties.
My Goodness, how that little country has changed.
Israel is one of that small number of countries that participated in the boom starting around 1994 with biotech and internet investments, but unlike some other economies it never slowed down. The country has always had excellent universities that churn out sharpened minds and intellectual property, but unlike other places the strong sense of national mission ensured that there was no brain-drain. Even those toiling abroad feel as though they’re working on behalf of the country, and plan on returning as soon as possible… even if they never do.
The success has enabled Israel to create a good social welfare system. Americans who complain about welfare families have no idea. In Israel you get a lot of money for every child, and the large families of the Arabs living inside Israel are only outdone by the loafing non-working ultra-orthodox with their eleven children per family.
Obviously Israel is the Jewish state, so it is all the more impressive how darn secular Tel Aviv is – and those who know me realize I’m praising the town. It is a modern metropolis full of great restaurants, fun night clubs, high-end apartment buildings, and beaches filled with gym-trim bodies who spend weekdays in air-conditioned office buildings working for international firms. The biggest difference compared to the U.S. or Europe is the unusual level of security wherever you go. Any place that can afford it – from fashion malls, high rises or fast food places – seems to have a recent Russian immigrant with a metal detector at the door who scans big bags and swarthy people wearing too much clothing.
The country is tiny, and looks a lot like California. The Hertzliya corridor reminds me of the Palo Alto region, with high-tech office parks housing software companies and investors. The Golan, a region overlooking the Sea of Galilee that Syria wants back, might as well be Paso Robles. There’s excellent wineries (find some Pelter Cabernet Franc!) nestled amongst rolling hills, small towns with liberal arts colleges, and manicured suburban towns with organic supermarkets. The gorges opening up on to the desert plains just north of the Dead Sea feel like the Coachella Valley, except for the 1,500 year-old monasteries nestled in crevices of the steep canyon walls.
To Karen and me, Tel Aviv is attractive for the same reason Miami is: you can have a family holiday in a warm place with a beach while still staying in a city with fun shops and world-class restaurants. Even better, the town is full of people we know through friends and family.
Jerusalem is another cup of Nana altogether. It is the Holy of Holies for those who believe, and a wonderful archeological site for students of history. The narrow streets of the old town are filled with meaningful sites. They force even the most biblically trained tour guides to flip through their well-worn pages so they might remember its significance. There are a number of large sites that predate written religions. As Jews we revere the City on the Hill because Abraham entered the covenant on the mount, and later we had our temples there. The Christians honor it as the place where Jesus’ destiny as the Son of God was to die for their sins. The Muslims think Mohamed rode a flaming chariot into heaven from there… though of course we mention the City 669 times in the Tanakh, and the Koran never mentions Jerusalem once…
The city is full of angry, self-righteous people who elbow past each other. In a place so filled with potential violence, it is somewhat surprising that every toy stand in the old market sells a large selection of authentic looking plastic guns for kids. You can even get an AK-47 that makes loud banging noises.
But the thing that Israel crystallizes is what the current battles are really about. It’s not about a particular religion. It’s about the future vs the middle ages. Whereas religion wants to tie us into obscure rituals and uncomfortable clothes to ensure we don’t mix with “them.” Religion insists it has a monopoly on morality, although the evidence proves the opposite, in my mind. Modernity (and it’s emphasis on personal realization) forces us to find a basis on which to get along, to cooperate, to take responsibility if we want real rewards. The best scenarios, as always, are the ones where everyone benefits.
Nowadays, that common ground is business – as it has been for last 5,000 years. I wish Israel, Jordan, and Syria could agree on some kind economic zone at the place where their three borders intersect. Include the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon, surround the Sea of Galilee, and create an area with tax incentives and a shared infrastructure that the three states participate in. Watch how quickly peace and prosperity will spread. Let it touch the Green Line so that the Palestinians might join once they stop letting their hatred and their Mullahs govern them. Heck, let everyone join a Middle Eastern Economic Community. It sure worked in Europe.
In the mean time, Karen and I can’t wait to get back. It was a great trip, and we barely got a taste.