My life is a setlist.
Sometimes I think that there have been more shows than there are possible memory configurations in the brain. Certainly I’ve lived more concerts than I can remember. There is no question of that, no question. I guess I need to assume at least one twin of every show I’ve seen, so close to the one I do remember that I’ve found it necessary to silently reduce the overlap. Maybe even twins is just a manageable illusion.
I imagine that my mind has found very ingenious methods for shaping, thinning, making my remembered geography light, plastic, portable. It feels fine, though. I feel as though—more than most people—I carry just enough in the way of the past. I can remember music with digital precision. I can hear any song I’ve ever heard, exactly as it was played. Even songs from shows I didn’t see flicker to consciousness out of the descriptions I’ve heard from people in roadside diners and campgrounds. My mind interpolates what must have been played. I can remember the various, sweet groups of deadheads I’ve traveled with from city to city. I can remember the distinct feel and character of each of those groups. Memories like a small rack of bootleg tapes, a partial plastic testament to the live and unknowable whole.
Everything I remember has happened at a show, on the way to a show, after a show, or in long, rare intervals when there were no shows, such as December to June of 1974, when the Dead became Eastern mystics and spent months in Punjab, in seclusion, foreheads touching mats at daybreak. In my mind there is nothing else. What came before me? The musical roots of the Dead, which matured and blossomed after they shot from the ground, flowered into concerts in every major auditorium in every major city of every state in this very large country. I appear, like a sea-green aphid, on one of the leaves of one of those shows. My memories begin with a ticket in my hand, years ago, years ago. I was in an extremely long line. Dead music played invitingly. It was a Friday show. There is no question of that.
Of the more than thirty shows in or outside Denver, Colorado, one will never be collapsed or excized for lack of space: I am up on the top of a Winnebago, a top-of-the-line model, big as an aircraft carrier. Many people are on the top of this Winnebago. We sit like dark fighter jets on top of it. It is late in the evening, and we are all facing a huge band shell some three-quarters of a mile away. There are mountains in the distance, brooding, bullying. It is blue-dark, and there is enough of the taste of summer lightning in the air to feel like the end of the world. A light desert breeze is blowing. The music falls and rises, changing moods and temperatures and outlooks. It shifts as invisibly and absolutely as atmospheric pressure. There is the sweet, floating smell of marijuana. Some of the people on the Winnebago are dancing, but many are huddled in blankets. I am huddled in a blanket. Little pinpoints of lighter fire go up, burn and then go down, in small, disposable tributes.