My mom had done her part to keep me off psychedelics by repeatedly relaying the story about the time that guy spiked her Coca Cola. She didn’t know what was happening while she slowly devolved into psychosis and, as her friends looked on, attempted to escape the chemical mind trap of LSD by clawing her way out of a Studebaker via the tiny rear triangle window. The incident cemented for her that not only was she was not cut out for that specific size of window but that we kids probably weren’t either, and henceforth advocated strictly for the madness brand known as “reefer.”
Naturally, I didn’t even remember her acid story the first time I took it myself. Poised as I was to capture the event of my first experience of non-ordinary states— armed with a mini cassette recorder and list of questions I’d ask myself during—it never entered my mind that I could potentially be setting myself up for having to crawl out a window. Ends up, I just sat in my car overlooking the Pacific Ocean, recording my answers to the questions I’d written—the only answer that I remember was “you need to be there for your sister”. That was ‘87, pretty sure, in Santa Cruz, California.
Four years later, ‘91, I’d be high again—second and last time—in Virginia, and dancing to the “Touch of Gray” in the nosebleeds with three other people, one of whom was the boyfriend I’d met at a CA wedding then moved to Maryland to shack up with. Not there for the music necessarily but for the life of what Grateful Dead means.
The GD formed in ‘65–four years after this ‘91 concert, Jerry Garcia would pass away—and long time fans didn’t like this new “sellout” commercialized sound. For the free-flowing movement is the actual art of the Dead; Jerry describes that early in his life he’d viewed the Watts Towers—a huge metal art installation that took some artist 33 years complete—which had gotten scorched in a fire and slated by the city for demolition but then couldn’t be removed. A giant crane sent to do the deed even toppled over from the effort and eventually the city gave up, leaving this artist’s work intact. And Jerry said this saga inspired him, in that “It just goes to show if you dedicate your life to your art and work hard enough, you can make something huge and unchangeable that will last forever.” Which he was saying tongue in cheek since he already knew that was the complete opposite of what he felt he wanted to do and be. Jerry wanted to create something that could live inside only one moment then drift; he wanted his art to flow from person to person and change, to be “played in real time and then vanish.” And that is what I believed even then that all humans truly want; we are born, we are labeled, we desire love and validation and in all the mental froth, we forget to drift; forget how to be nothing except amazed at how profound it is that we are even alive. I wanted to invite that in; wanted to feel safe in the vanishing.
After the concert, we went to check out the deadhead tour camp. The parking lot had buses made into homes, vans made into food trucks and family-made tie dye shirts for sale. People were playing guitar, and dancing, and shooting the shit—both stoned and not—in a community designed to earn the gas money to drive to the show in the next town. Just hanging out, being their own rabbit hole. Flowing and drifting, like following the heady freedom of nothing all the way to the end.
And as we walked around in the alternative reality of both the camp and ourselves—me and this guy I’d go on in a years time to break an engagement to a month before the wedding—periodic smoke made patterns in the air, as if shadows had gotten all dressed up just for us to play a part in the performance of impermanence.
And by the ‘90s, GD fans felt they were becoming what Jerry had said he hated; that fame and lifestyles and mortgages had compromised the music and made it as solidified and immovable as the Watt’s Towers. And maybe they’re partly right; but that’s because part of drifting and being permanently unlabeled and free is you don’t attach to “not being that thing.” You do your own thing, absent froth and adherence.
I never got to listen to that mini-cassette recorder tape. A month or so after the experience, it proceeded to plunge into the sea of “letting go” when my purse with the cassette inside it was stolen during a family friend’s graduation party (in which so many people showed up we had to call the cops on ourselves). I don’t remember much else from that first time overlooking the ocean except what a beautiful day it was, and that the water sparkled like lights blinking at me in the afternoon sun.
EDIT: for the record, I have always been a teetotaler. For me, the journey into sidestepping this normal consciousness and going into the feelings this lady describes is sun, nature, quiet, poverty, stress, humility, surrender, and empathy.