Note from the Publisher: In furtherance of our mission always to exceed our readers’ expectations, the DanJanifesto will now, at no additional cost to you, offer an advice column, responding to the letters flooding our mailbox.
Why is the world so fucked up and what can I do to keep from going insane?
Very truly yours,
Straw Man in Jamaica Plain (who is most definitely not your own alter ego teeing up a question so that you can respond by writing about whatever you wanted to write about anyway)
Dear Straw Man:
Wow, what an insightful and beautifully crafted question. I can tell, even from your very brief words, that you are a man of exquisite intellect and human compassion. Thanks for writing. And thanks just for being you.
The first part of your question – why is the world so fucked up – is a somewhat complex one. I’d need another full 1,000 word blog to address that one. So, for now, why don’t we just stipulate that, while the pendulum of how any one person feels about exactly how fucked up the world is at any given place and time swings perpetually back and forth, overall, since the dawn of human existence, the world has always been totally fucked up, and it will remain totally fucked up for the rest of time. Famine. Genocide. Disease. War. It’s the basic human condition. What are you gonna do, right? So, let’s jump to the second part of your question – how to keep from going insane. The short answer is, it is imperative that you go see a live Grateful Dead cover band no less than quarterly.
That’s what I did last night. I know you didn’t specifically ask for a review of the show, but I don’t think you can fully understand the advice I’m proffering without one.
Uncle Johnny’s Band at Hippie Hour at the Midway, Jamaica Plain
Every Friday evening at the Midway in Jamaica Plain is Hippy Hour – a rotating cast of Grateful Dead cover bands. Last night was Uncle Johnny’s Band. The level of musicianship in Boston is above average, in part because of Berklee College of Music, which churns out prodigies by the clubload. They’re easy to spot – nestled among a stage full of grizzled old road warriors, you’ll see a kid who clearly does not shave yet. A common problem with the Berklee kids is that, while technically mind-blowing, sometimes, since they’ve only been sporting pubic hair for a few years and have a commensurately shallow reservoir of shattered dreams, failed relationships and general world wary shit upon-ness from which to draw for emotion and feel, they can be a bit robotic. When the keyboard player climbed onto the stage, I unfairly assumed the worst.
Exhibit A: Grateful Dead Cover Band Keyboard Player who Clearly Never Walked on this Earth During the Time Jerry Garcia was Alive
But no. Oh hell no! This kid was smokin! He knew every lick, break and harmony cold. And he played them with real soul and passion, channeling the foundation of all hippies past through his own current physical incarnation, even if that incarnation can’t buy beer.
The bass player, another Berklee kid, started off on the wrong foot with me when he pulled out a pick. To me, playing bass with a pick is like drinking Michelob Ultra. I’ll fight to the death for your right to do it, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a total fucking douchebag. I get a little worked up when people call a bass a “bass guitar.” It’s not a guitar. It’s a bass. And it shouldn’t be played like a guitar. I don’t know why I get so outraged and emotional about this issue. It’s my problem, not yours. But still. Fucking picks. Anyway, I soon realized that this guy was at least deliberate about it. He was just using the pick for some Grateful Dead tunes, emulating Phil Lesh’s long, meandering, strangely phrased lines. Then, when the band moved on to a good, hard charging Allman Brothers straight up shuffle blues, he tossed the pick and plucked his bass the way Jesus Christ and Allah intended – with his middle and pointer fingers – meaty human flesh directly on taught, nickel-wound strings. Praised be the lord! And then… out of nowhere, not because the tune called for it or because it had any relation whatsoever to hippies, the Dead or really anything at all, but just because he could, the bass player launched into a 5 minute mind-bending, physics-defying Victor Wooten double slap solo that made me fall off my barstool and laugh out loud. Forget everything I just said about soul and emotion. If you’ve got the technique, flaunt that shit.
So that was Uncle Johnny’s Band at the Midway, an example of the kind of live Grateful Dead cover band you must go see no less frequently than quarterly.
Why is this important? Because live Grateful Dead cover bands make music for the sake of making music. They don’t tend to have ulterior motives. When you wonder how someone can afford what seems like an uncharacteristically expensive house, you think “works in finance” or “old family money” not “plays in Dead cover band.” OK, well maybe getting laid and the occasional gratis bong hit. But the main motivation is just to play music that makes people feel good.
And that’s not how most things in the world work. For reasons far too boring to share, I’ve been extra conscious lately of what motivates people to do things and where the pressures and expectations come from. Money for the sake of money. Achievement for the sake of achievement. Whatever you do or accomplish quickly becomes the new normal, and if there’s no intrinsic pleasure in the thing itself, it’s all for naught.
Sure, Grateful Dead cover bands aren’t always immune. Although highly un-Dead like, I’m sure they strive to make sure fans know how seriously they out-Dead other Dead cover bands. Deadheads can be as righteous and obnoxious as anyone when arguing about whether Not Fade Away at Barton Hall 1977 was better than Buffalo. Jerry Garcia himself drove a blue BMW and licensed his own personal artwork to a company that made shitty silk yuppie neckties.
But you get the point – go do stuff that makes you feel good, and that exists just to tap into whatever bizarre quirk of human chemistry makes people feel moved. Set up a system for yourself. Whenever daylight savings starts or ends. Whenever you change your toothbrush. If you’re a public company, whenever you file your quarterly report on Form 10-Q with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Go out and see a Grateful Dead cover band.
Good luck, Straw Man in Jamaica Plain. Let me know how it all works out.
Yours in plucking bass strings with your own damn meaty appendages,