pigpen and the godchaux to bruce hornsby and joan osborne. my wife renews my sirius xm subscription every year so I can listen to the dead channel. but I never followed them, never been part of a tourpposse. I don't have all their albums or any tapes. I only ever attended one--one!--show, in medford, massachussets, in 86. or 87. or 88. but I'm certain it was medford.
so it wouldn't be out of place to wonder why I went along with spending $25 last night to watch the grateful dead movie from 77 rereleased for what would have been jerry garcia's 70th birthday. and I might have balked at it too had I been as certain that it was the same movie I'd seen 2ce before, in the late 80s and the early 90s, and if I'd known that my wife and I would be only 2 among 10 people in the theater. but then I would have missed out on something special in a small, personal way.
my wife had called in the middle of the day a couple weeks ago telling me she'd received an email about the event and an offer for early tickets, and did I want to go, and I said, "sure, why not?" it promised to be a fun evening, maybe jammed in with hundreds, a thousand, sweaty, patchouli-soaked, bongaddled now-grandparents, ripped free from the usual wednesday night babysitting for their adult children's date night. when we got to the theater, however, it was dark and empty, and in the hallway we met with an older woman with her adult kids in tiedye, who told me there had only been 8 tickets sold for the event. we ticked off the people as they arrived, every one of us wearing something tiedyed. by the end, another 2 people had wandered in, but I never got a look at them to see if they were wearing the colors.
but we settled in. no one had anything to smoke. of all of us, only 1 guy, in his late 20s, may have had an idea where even to score in downtown minneapolis on a wednesday early evening, and he wasn't saying. my wife said several times we should have brought a beach ball. the lights went down and the opening advertisements started--the rerelease was coinciding with a boxed set of dead concert material whose pricetag made it pretty certain to whom it was being marketed--those of us Of A Certain Age and whose credit hadn't been maxed out. then bob weir came on and chatted about the recording studio he'd built in jerry's honor. it was meant as someplace to play, he said.
and then the movie itself, the feature presentation, began, and for a few minutes I was a little putoff. I recognized the opening animation and I was a trifle peeved I'd plunked down $25 for something I'd seen previously and in the company of less than a dozen other celebrants.
but after a while I got into the groove and realized I was watching something that, no matter how often I'd seen it, I hadn't seen with quite the same eyes. for instance, I'd only watched it on tape, and on drugs, and here it was on a screen, as it was made for, and straight. and the number of people, or the lack of people, that mattered not at all either. name me another band, outside perhaps the stones or the who, for whom even a dozen people will show up a decade after they stop touring to watch a 40 year old movie about them. I don't anticipate a 2050 rerelease of hannah montana the movie.
but what I was seeing in this old, old concert film was a time that I once lived, when camping out for 5 days for tickets was something one did if one really, really wanted to be there (and not spending 15 minutes online only to find the show was sold out in the 1st 3 minutes). when a community grew up, for better and worse, around the idea of a band and the measure of its output and what it gave to its fans. where attending a concert was an experience of communion, the music a kind of aural wafer offered to the suppliant by guitarslingling priests.
so we danced and swung and nodded and shimmied in our seats to the sounds barreling out of the big screen and it didn't matter that the images were grainy and sometimes skipped and that there were only a few other people experiencing this with you. it only mattered there were other people, you weren't alone, and they felt the same. and it all felt really, really good.