All the Years Combined: They Melt Into a Dream
My 30 year Love Affair with The Grateful Dead
By Jill Matlow
Nestled in the pink and orange attic, ‘adorned’ with my cheerleading pom poms hanging from my bedpost, and with the tilted soda can and faux spilled soda (from Spencer’s Gifts), is where I spent many of my angst-filled teenage years, listening to music and making collages.
It was the 1970s, and music was my salvation.
Tacked up on my corkboard was a piece of lined notebook paper with the words: “I am on a lonely road and I am traveling traveling traveling, looking for the key to set me free”. Thank you Joni Mitchell.
I would listen to Decades by Neil Young until I had every song lyric memorized (and I still remember most of them). “When you were young and on your own. How did it feel to be alone? I was always thinking of games that I was playing. Trying to make the best of my time”.
But there was one band that took me to places I never knew existed. And that band was the Grateful Dead.
My older cousins gave me the albums Wake of the Flood and Workingman’s Dead, which I would listen to on the stereo in my parents’ living room. I’m not sure when and why I fell so deeply in love with this band, but I did. And I fell hard.
“Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own”
Fast forward to June 1980. I transferred to a new college my junior year, and the lyrics to Uncle John’s Band seemed so poignant to me at the time: “Well the first days are the hardest days don’t you worry anymore…”. Those lyrics, along with many of the other Dead’s lyrics, resonated with me over the years and still do.
In college, I met a fellow Deadhead and we became fast friends. I went to my first Dead show with her in April 1982 at the War Memorial in Syracuse. My ticket was $11 (and of course, I saved all my ticket stubs). And so began my 30-year journey when I ‘got on the bus’ and never got off.
“Gone are the days we stopped to decide, where we should go, we just ride”
In the 1980s, I would leave in the middle of Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah/Passover) from my parents’ home in a small Pennsylvania town, to board a bus back to Philly, where I would catch 3 consecutive Dead shows at the Spectrum. I’m not sure if they understood at the time, but my parents supported my devotion to the band. My friends who weren’t into the Dead, never fully comprehended why I needed to go to three shows in a row and not just one. To this day, they’re still left wondering why.
One particular concert in the 1980s at the Spectrum is quite memorable for me. The band played Terrapin Station (a crowd favorite and still is) and the ENTIRE audience sang the chorus, word-for-word.
“Inspiration, move me brightly, light the song with sense and color, hold away despair
More than this I will not ask, faced with mysteries dark and vast
Statements just seem vain at last
Some rise, some fall, some climb to get to Terrapin
Counting stars by candlelight, all are dim but one is bright
The spiral light of Venus, rising first and shining best
From the northwest corner of a brand-new crescent moon
Crickets and cicadas sing a rare and different tune
To this day, hearing Terrapin Station still gives me chills.
As the years went on, I traveled to see the band at the Spectrum, Civic Center and JFK Stadium in Philly, RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, an AIDS benefit at the Oakland Coliseum in California, Giants Stadium in New Jersey (where my 2 friends and I jumped onto the field from the first level), and the list goes on and on.
Too many to count.
My “Ticketmaster” back then was a small ticket office in Philly where I would line up for tickets and always had great success. I was on a first name basis with the owners “Tim and Barry”. Even when things weren’t going well in other aspects of my life, looking forward to a Dead show always lifted my spirits. I know my fellow Deadheads share this sentiment.
But that all changed on the morning of August 9, 1995. I was sitting in my office at Graduate Hospital in Philly, when I heard “Terrapin Station” being played on WMMR, a popular radio station. I thought it was rather strange to be hearing such a notoriously long Dead song being played at that time of day. And then Pierre Robert, a self-proclaimed Deadhead and popular DJ at the station, delivered the heartbreaking news about Jerry.
Like all Deadheads, I was stunned and devastated. This moment would be forever etched in our minds.
We would all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the shocking news. And while Jerry was not in great health, we never thought the end was so near. His presence on stage was always larger-than-life.
“Fare thee well now, let your life proceed by its own design. Nothing to tell now, let the words be yours I’m done with mine”
Going to shows just wasn’t the same anymore, but fortunately, there were many more ‘iterations’ of the band (Phil & Friends, Ratdog, Furthur, The Dead, The Other Ones) who kept the music alive. We all knew “the music never stopped”, but Jerry’s presence or lack thereof was felt by the fans.
In the year 2010, I turned 50, marking 30 years since my first Dead show. While many women probably celebrated this milestone event at a lovely Four Seasons luncheon with matching centerpieces, I spent it with my immediate family in the Philly suburbs.
On the night of my birthday, I stood in the kitchen of my sister’s home, surrounded by my parents, sister, brother, nephews, and brother-in-law. My mother turned to me and asked “Do you ever get tired of wearing tie-dye”?
She handed me a rolled up tee shirt. When I opened it up, I was astonished to see a light blue and purple tie-dye tee shirt, with a dancing bear holding a birthday cake with the following inscription: “All the years combined, they melt into a dream”.
This 4th of July weekend, the remaining members of the Dead will be reuniting in Chicago for their 50th anniversary show. Billed as “Fare Thee Well”, the three shows are sold out and are expected to draw crowds in the thousands.
It is a dream of mine to be a part of that weekend, as I’m not ready yet to break up with my greatest love of all time.
“I love you more than words can tell”