Note: I am grateful for this entry from Kirk Leach, a friend from Franklin & Marshall College. The band had a profound influence on many F&M students in the ’80s, and it’s a pleasure to recall what we were thinking and doing back then.
I came to the Dead relatively late in life, at about age 21 or so, thanks to an incorrigible housemate who played their tunes incessantly (thanks, DB). Over the next ten years, I had the good fortune to catch 50 or so shows, though I missed about two and a half years in that time span doing something that, in hindsight, I think in some measure relates back to getting to “know” the band and the scene around it. That something–Peace Corps service in Honduras—lead me to value exploration and a certain level of defying convention that may not have happened had I never encountered Jerry and the band.
Jerry Garcia Life Lesson #7: Explore
Let’s go back to 1985, the year of my first Grateful Dead concert. I was an Army brat who grew up up in a very typical homogenous American suburban setting for 14 years, attending a private school where almost everyone went to a four year-college, and then on to be lawyers, doctors, bankers, teachers, etc. Convention was defied only at great risk to one’s psychological and/or physical health. So naturally, I went on, as one did, to an elite northeastern liberal arts college, where, again, convention was the order of the day and exploration of ideas was sadly minimal.
My first show was in 1985, but I started regularly seeing shows and getting to know the scene in 1987, and it was, indeed, an eye-opener. Here was a band, and its followers, who, in many (but not all) ways explored and defied conventions, both musically and in life-style choices. As I read more about the band and its history, particularly about Jerry, it struck me that Grateful Dead were truly inveterate explorers and risk-takers. This appealed to me, though I didn’t fully realize it at the time.
In 1988, after graduation and having worked a couple of office jobs, I decided that there was no reason to be following this path, particularly at such a young age. So, I applied for the Peace Corps and spent 1989-1991 in Honduras building gravity-flow water systems. This sealed the deal for me. I was an explorer unafraid to chart my own way, over the queries and objections of some (though not my immediate family, who were always supportive).
The next 15 years were spent working in International Development, with six more years in Latin America in three different countries. Tucked into that time was a cross-country bicycle trip from Oregon to Connecticut. Another adventure I must have been “crazy” to do.
I’m still a fairly conventional person. I’m not naturally inclined to the truly unconventional lifestyle of Jerry and the band (particularly in their early days), and its hardcore followers. But, I can definitely give at least partial credit to them for influencing the choices I have made that were outside the norm.
Today, they continue to inspire me to explore the possibilities for that next great unconventional experience, and for that I am, indeed, grateful.
Previously: Jerry Garcia Life Lesson #7: Be Kind