The Music Never Stopped

A couple of weeks ago, I posted that I’d been on a journey; a little break for family and fun. I went to the gold rush foothills northeast of Sacramento, then my brother and I went to Santa Clara for the first final concert of The Grateful Dead. Fare Thee Well, it was called.

Fare you well my honey
Fare you well my only true one
All the birds that were singing
Have flown except you alone*

2015-06-27 20.36.35Click to Enlarge

We had a beautiful, awesome time. It was a great day. The old guys still have it, and there were rainbows full of sound, fireworks, calliopes and clowns. I tell you, brothers and sisters, there is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.

2015-07-05 11.01.09

In the days and weeks after the show, the tide of my emotional life continued to rise. I found myself listening to and watching the old songs and shows far more frequently than normal. The tide ripped: I was at once happy and grateful that we’d been at this wonderful event together, like a reunion, and also melancholy because it was the last of its kind.

We’ve since learned that a new band has been formed, so maybe there will be tunes to fill the air again.

The sun will shine in my back door some day
March winds will blow all my troubles away

One day my brother shared a link to an audio stream of the last show we saw together before Jerry Garcia died. The strange thing was, I thought we’d been to more shows after that. Nope, it was the last. Over 25 years, my emotions have built a vague sense of false memory. My mind has sentimentalized concerts into existence, and shuffled years like playing cards. Fascinating.

I’ve tried many times to write about Memory. It’s difficult. I don’t mean I tried to write about memories, although I have and a lot. I’m talking about Memory itself: what it is and how it works, and what we mean when we talk about the time that seems to have already passed. It’s hard to handle.

The Buddha said we’re not made of what we’ve done, what we have, or where we live. We are made of what we think. I say we exist as consciousness and time. But nobody really knows what either of those things is.

Everything we are and everything we do, as individuals or as groups, depends on feelings; our reactions to the stories we tell ourselves about what seems to be going on. Everything we think or believe is made of our feelings about it, including what we think we remember.

“Indeed, feelings don’t just matter — they are what mattering means.”
Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

If we are made of consciousness and time, then consciousness plus time equals story. Life, the Universe, and Everything depends on Story.

Think about what you did in the last hour before the last time you feel asleep, and you’ll find a story.

Imagine the next time when someone will deliberately make you cry, and that’s a story.

Life is fragments, holograms, shadows, made of emotion. Memory is just impressions of feelings, and we’re almost completely incapable of being objective about them.

Sun went down in honey.
Moon came up in wine.
Stars were spinnin’ dizzy,
Lord, the band kept us so busy
We forgot about the time.**

So I’m going to forgive myself for believing – vaguely, wrongly – that we went to more Dead shows than we did, and went to more shows after the last one before Jerry Died.

Richard Bach wrote this:

“The world is your exercise-book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, although you can express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write nonsense, or lies, or to tear the pages.”

“You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don’t turn away from possible futures before you’re certain you don’t have anything to learn from them.
You’re always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.”

So when the sun goes down wherever you are, and you remember holding  someone’s hand for the first or the last time, or some other magic lantern scene of joy or shame, what matters is not epistemology. Even honesty may be less than clarity. What matters is how you felt, and how that makes you feel. You are an artist of emotions. Write it down, or give it to the wind.

* Grateful Dead, Brokedown Palace
** Grateful Dead, The Music Never Stopped

Remember the Animals

I’ve been thinking about the killing of Cecil the lion..

It is a tragic, senseless, stupid, deeply selfish waste of a life that should have had and should have had some deeper meaning. That life could have been lived with dignity and ended in peace and wisdom. Instead, it was simply wasted. For nothing.

The life of the lion was wasted too, but it was lived much differently, and from that we can take some measure of consolation. In Cecil’s life, in great contrast to the other, there is a legacy of beauty.

Wherever “Painless” Palmer is (ironic, huh?), I hope he’s never found. Let him who has caused suffering abide in oblivion. Let his name be stricken from the memories of the people. Let him be forgotten, forever denied the comforts of kindness in society with his kind.

Remember the animals, passing from our lives.

“We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.”

– Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Oh The Places You’ll Go

I’ve read a lot about blogging over the years. I’ve done a lot of it and I’ve read a lot about it. Seems like those who can do sometimes also teach. Or something.

One of the recurring tips I’ve seen is never blog about how long it’s been since you posted last, and why it’s been so damn long. Nobody wants to read that shit.

I don’t know. That could be wrong. And as I behold the fact that it’s been a solid month, and that my page views have slid off the continental shelf into a deep, cold sea, I say better to blog about shit than nothing at all.

So I’m going to write about not writing as a means of raising the wreck. I’m doing to throw caution to the wind and see if the dog can smell it.

First, here’s something to look at. This map shows where Google has followed me via GPS in the 30 days since last I wrote to you.

See if you can guess where I’ve been, and why.

Here’s a hint you can google: Everybody’s dancin’ in a ring around the sun.

My Google Location History 2015.06.17 - 2015.07.17

Click to enlarge


The Little Engine That Clicked

My trusty Lexus wouldn’t start this afternoon. It just said, “click.” I said, “shit.” And it said, “click” again. I didn’t think I needed to say anything else.

The problem began a couple of weeks ago. It would say “click,” but then it would say, “vroom!” Then the problem went away for a while. It happened again last Friday and the battery connections got a thorough cleaning. It started perfectly for almost a week, until today. Shit.

Both times it said “click” this evening, a jump-starter got the car to go again. So I hope it’s just the battery. But the battery was brand new last August. The starter was brand new in 2011. And even if all it needs is a new battery, I’ve got appointments tomorrow. I’ve got a trip to northern California in a week. It’s gonna be a while before I stop dreading the “click” when I turn the key.

I hate car trouble.  It makes me nervous. It makes me use bad language. It makes me question the material efficacy of the universe.

I was telling my Dad this afternoon that together we’ve been dealing with this sort of thing periodically for 38 years, when I was 16 and he was 45. Now I’m 54 and he’s 82, and having a car that won’t start and might cost anywhere from $0 to $1200 to fix still takes pretty much the same mental and emotional toll on me as it did then. (Though in 1977 $1200 would buy a lot more of a car than a starter.)

He said, “it’s an inconvenience.” And he’s right. It’s an inconvenience, not a problem and it’s absolutely vital to modern human sanity to be able to recognize the difference. But I prefer to the term, “manifest and unsettling pain in the ass.”

By the way, can anybody explain to me what evil possessed the Toyota engineers, that they put the starter under the engine’s manifold? Pernicious plot, I say.

I need a new battery, I might need a good and honest and not-to-expensive mechanic, and I probably need at least 50 minutes with a good psychiatrist.

F–kin’ Click, is my point.

The Voice of the Choir

In mind of Mother’s Day, here’s an old poem about the incredible depth of emotion in which a family swims. How long can you tred water? I think the poem has some good, sincere intensity. But it needs to be rewritten. Maybe I’ll take another crack at the imagery, one of these days.

This is from my book Finding Oakland. It’s out of print but you can have it in PDF by clicking the Creative menu, above.


In the few cold minutes
since my death
I have seen my people
going by. Now I understand
returning home
and remaining away.
We fished orange salmon
from a bridge arched in pain
and rose at three to watch
the moon in the shadow
of the earth.

My mother and father
sleep in their armchairs
and rise up singing hymns.
The sharp November air
has taken the house
the grass is gray
and the birds are gone.
No hope of rain and no

My only brother
his face to the window
is singing
to the miles and the time
behind and forgotten
the words we must say
so we don’t give up.
His words rise like clouds
with thunder and trembling
becoming San Francisco rain.

The birds which are gone
had wings of wet lapis
and the voice of the choir
of heaven. But even I, who was
dead, know the true cost:
the quiet lost, the fear
of telephones, or light
beneath a door. All we can do
is love, hold fast, let go.

Creative Commons Licensed
Published 1992.
Changed just a little, 2015