I grew up listening to The Grateful Dead with my dad. My whole family–five of us in total–used to pile into our Chevy Suburban for the 9-hour drive from Cincinnati to Northern Michigan every summer when we vacationed together. Without fail, this would cause my mom to groan (she was more of a Motown fan herself) and me and my brothers to lose ourselves in our Gameboys or some shitty travel board game. As a kid, I most certainly associated the Dead with the boring hours-long roadtrip that preceded being in Michigan, away from the mundane rigors of middle school. Now, I feel much differently. During those long hours in the car, my nascent taste in music was beginning to take shape, even among the amorphous guitar solos of the Dead’s instrumental breaks.
I consider myself very lucky about several things in my life. One of them is that my dad has always been a giant fan of music. Two weekends ago, before the The Grateful Dead played a string of three final shows at Soldier Field in Chicago, they decided to play two concerts to say goodbye to the fans in their hometown of San Francisco. By some miracle, I scored tickets. My Dad’s friend had a ticket, and so at the last minute, I dropped everything to go, because I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I turned that down.
During their two-plus hour set (complete with a 30 minute drum solo) the iconic band played some of their biggest hits (“Casey Jones” and “Uncle John’s Band”) and I found myself thinking back to those early sessions listening to the group, against my will, in my family’s Chevy Suburban. I liked the idea that I had to earn my interest in them. Even though there was always mythology and far-out live recordings that ranged vastly in quality–the studio songs were always there, providing some semblance of equilibrium. Though the Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and the surviving members of The Dead didn’t play “Friend of The Devil” the night I saw them, I have listened to that track more than any other in the Grateful Dead’s discography since I saw them. I could easily listen to it for nine hours straight on a roadtrip any day of the week. In fact, I’ve got a trip planned already with my Dad and I’m looking forward to doing just that.