The Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary final shows are now over. Blowing past the boring cliches about aging hippies, the finale turned out to be a spectacular tribute to a gentle cultural phenomenon that offers balm and hope to a pained world … as well as a glorious summertime-flavored dive into a gorgeous American songbook that unites rock and roll, jazz, country, folk, gospel, bluegrass, beat and blues.
I was able to go to one of the five final shows (the second show in Santa Clara, California) and loved it immensely. I also enjoyed experiencing the other four shows in various formats ranging from extremely low-density (following the setlists on Twitter) to extremely high-density (dancing in a sweaty wistful crowd along with a theater simulcast on Long Island). Highlights for me from all shows included “Black Peter”, “Brown Eyed Women”, “He’s Gone”, “Brokedown Palace”, “Tennessee Jed”, “Deal”, “Sailor->Saint”, “Cassidy”, “Terrapin Station”, “Unbroken Chain”. Maybe the one thing that impressed me the most was the expressive singing of Bob Weir, who delivered “Throwing Stones” (the Dead’s most explicitly ecological song) with a seriousness of purpose that no listener could miss.
But I’m not writing this blog post to tell you about the Grateful Dead. Actually, I’m barely capable of writing a blog post at all, because I just got back from my wonderful journey to San Francisco for the Beatnik Shindig at the Beat Museum, and I’m still reeling from my adventures and catching up to everything I left behind when I went on this very rare vacation. A few friends asked me to share some of my favorite photos from the Beat Generation conference, even though I already wore these pictures out on Facebook. Some of you haven’t seen them yet, so here are a few I liked best.
My favorite picture from the whole weekend is the one at the top of this page, which shows several generations of living Beat history spanning 70 years. On the left is me, your modest webmaster, who came on the scene in the 1990s. I’m next to a delightful woman named Linda aka Anonymous who became one of the Merry Pranksters in the mid 1960s when she jumped aboard Ken Kesey’s famous painted bus. To Linda’s right is the oldest living legendary original Beatnik, Al Hinkle, who traveled with Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady on the original “On The Road” journeys in the late 1940s and appeared in the novel as Ed Dunkel. Bringing it all into the present tense is a young Beat enthusiast named Tom Lake who is proudly carrying the literary torch for the millennial generation.
But I’ll be honest, it’s not because of the photo’s deep history that I like it so much. I like it because we all look happy to be standing there, and we were.
Many of the same folks were at a panel discussion I moderated about the Cassady legacy, in which we were joined by Neal and Carolyn’s daughter Jami Cassady and Brian Hassett as well as, for this photo, David Amram.
I really enjoyed getting to know Jami Cassady, who impressed me with her stylish Gatsby hat the night we first met:
Here’s a shot from my event with poet and happener Gerd Stern, during which an artist named Phillipe Lo Grande drew a sketch of Gerd.
I also enjoyed going to several parties hosted by the Beat Museum or the event’s sponsors, at some of which I even managed to strike a sophisticated pose:
I loved meeting a few Litkicks contributors! Here I am with Dan Barth (left) and Tim “TKG” Gallaher, both of whom have been a part of Literary Kicks nearly as long as the site has been alive. I’d never met either of them before.
Finally, here’s a loving reunion of two Beat poets, Gerd Stern and ruth weiss. I got a chance to ask ruth weiss why she adamantly refuses to capitalize her first or last name, wondering if she was influenced by e. e. cummings, but her explanation was more serious than I expected. She grew up as a frightened Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Europe, she told me, and since “Ruth Weiss” was the name her oppressors used to target and categorize her, she has felt a need to protest her name ever since. That’s the kind of logic I can fully appreciate.
I loved the Beat Museum’s Beatnik Shindig and I hope it becomes an annual event.
I will be back with more substantial Litkicks blog posts soon. We’ve got some good stuff planned for the next couple of weeks, including a couple of guest pieces I’m excited about.
Let’s take this out with one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, “The Wheel” coming out of “Space” … because you know that wheel of immaculate quivering meat conception keeps on turning round, and we’re spinning along with it still today …