Fare Thee Well, Grateful Dead

GratefulDead-fare-thee-wellSo, last night, at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Grateful Dead played what was billed as their last ever concert, which is to say that the “core four”, the four surviving members of the original band — Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart — claim they will never again all play together after the run of five shows they just did.

I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the show via Pay-Per-View at a friend’s house, it was a very emotional experience, and today I find myself still reeling with feelings.

I’ve written numerous times, here at Fish & Bicycles about my longstanding love of the Grateful Dead and my unapologetic identification as a Deadhead. I’ve gone VERY deep with the Dead’s music over many years, and I’m so grateful for all of the fun, inspiration, and meaning it has given me and will continue to give.

One of the things that was so special about the Grateful Dead, and which partly explains why I’m so emotional about their grand finale, is that the band members were never rock stars. Instead, they felt almost like friends. After all, they cut their teeth at the Acid Tests, where they thought of themselves as participants in a communal experience, rather than hired musicians up on a bandstand, there to simply entertain the party guests.

Eventually, of course, they graduated to larger and larger venues, and were, by necessity, up on a huge stage at a distance from much of the crowd, but they weren’t egomaniacal showmen, prancing and strutting around the stage for attention, as if it was all about them. They simply made music and cared deeply that their shows should be meaningful, exploratory, and uniting experiences.

Another thing that contributed to the Grateful Dead’s appeal, especially to aspiring musicians like myself, is that, due to the improvisational approach they took to their music, pushing the envelope every night, exploring new ideas in front of a live audience, not every idea worked, a flub here and flub there, just often enough to remind you that they were human, so that you notice you still love them, warts and all, and they always pulled themselves out of the occasional train wreck, eventually.

Again, for an aspiring musician this is a powerful, powerful thing, it’s the thing that encouraged millions of people like me to pick up a guitar, learn some Dead tunes, and to stick with it, in many cases long enough to get good enough to play with other musicians, where the real fun starts.

Finally, the last element of Dead appeal derives from their hippie roots. I’ve mentioned my fondness for hippie culture before, and I still long to be surrounded by people who truly believe that love; peaceful, supportive, inclusive community; and freedom of expression are the most important things.

Last night, then, was decidedly NOT just another concert. It was a fond farewell, the end of a long, strange trip, it was friends saying goodbye to friends in all directions, it was the band saying goodbye to each other, it was Bob Weir choking up and struggling to get through the lyrics of his song Throwing Stones, and then Phil Lesh doing the same thing on his tune Unbroken Chain, at the realization that this will be the last time they will ever sing those songs with their bandmates of 50 years, it was the conspicuous and painful absence of Jerry Garcia who had been the heart and soul of the Dead, and it was the reverent, loving tribute that Trey Anastasio paid to Jerry, filling his shoes as best as he could, emulating some of Jerry’s classic tones, riffs, and licks, while bringing his own touches and voice, just as Jerry would have wanted him to do.

The show ended with one of the band’s more obscure songs, Attics Of My Life, a haunting hymn from their classic 1970 album American Beauty, a song about the power of music, and about how music is even more powerful when partnered with love and shared.

In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me

I have spent my life
Seeking all that’s still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
And closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play
You played to me

Here, then, is that performance, which, even with crappy sound quality, moves me deeply once again. And, just to make up for the crappy sound quality, I’ve included the original studio recording, so that those not familiar with the song can hear more clearly the sublime beauty and lovely harmonies.

Fare you well, Grateful Dead, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell…

Reason #257 Why I Love Bellingham: Annual Naked Bike Ride

NakedBikeRide-page-001There are MANY reasons why I love my adopted hometown of 20+ years, Bellingham, Washington, and the annual Naked Bike Ride is certainly one of them.

The World Naked Bike Ride is a global event with an interesting dual message, promoting: 1.) cycling for the good of the planet; 2.) body-positive values. Riders in the clothing-optional event display varying levels of skin, based on personal preference, and that skin is often painted. Skin not on display is covered with eye-catching, outlandish costume and accessories.

No, I’ve never participated in the ride myself, and I’ve never even consciously sought it out as a spectator. BUTT, pun intended, many a time I just happened to be downtown when the glorious parade of naked weirdness just happened to pass by.

I am simply happy that I live in a town with people who support and participate in events like this; creative acts of expression, silly, fun, and with an aim to make the world a better place.

Zuki’s Displeasure Over Not Being Allowed At The Farmers Market

zuki-farmers-market

Headline of the Day: Crime Really Doesn’t Pay

Reese'sToday’s Headline of the Day installment is the second selection from our local daily newspaper, here in Bellingham, Washington, since I started this Recurring Series back in January, and it’s a real doozy!

Police: Robber spends more than he gets in Bellingham gas station hold-up

Bellingham Herald

I LOVE the fact that they include the detail about what the robber bought. LOL!

Brandon Lee Riley, 30, bought a Reese’s peanut butter cup at the Shell gas station on the corner of Sunset Drive and Orleans Street around 11 a.m. Monday, March 2. He then handed the cashier a note that said he had a gun but left before the cashier gave him any money, Sgt. Carr Lanham said.

What is your signature song?

johnhancockA few weeks ago, a friend posed the following question on Facebook:

What is a song that speaks for you in some way? A song that means a lot to you. A song that you would want played at your memorial. Your signature song.

Now, if I was just an ordinary casual music listener, this might be an easy task.

Rather, I’m an obsessive music geek, who has collected and studied and enjoyed thousands and thousands of songs over many years, over numerous genres, songs that speak to and/or for me on a variety of levels, from emotional to spiritual, from soothing to rage-venting, with lyrics simple and sweet, to abstract and esoteric, to direct and political.

To be asked to choose just one song, then, well, I don’t think it’s possible. And yet, I can’t resist the opportunity to spend a great deal of time pondering it, trying to narrow down the list, trying to determine what the phrase “signature song” really means to me.

The question was posed on January 27th, it’s now February 17th, a day has not gone by without my having thought about this, and the only thing that has become clear is that the crux of this question, the thing that makes it unique, as opposed to the typical “what’s your favorite song?”, is the phrase (my emphasis added in bold) “a song that speaks FOR you”. This, I suggest, is WAY different than asking what song “speaks TO you?”

All songs, especially those we like, speak TO us, by their very nature. Music is a form of communication, after all. But, only so many songs speak FOR us, communicating what we see, what we feel, what we experience, what we believe in, or what we don’t.

And then there’s my personal conflict, a conflict between what I experience and what I believe and aspire to.

If the purpose of a song, chosen to be played at one’s memorial service, is to represent the kind of person that we were, encapsulating not only what we felt about the life we lived, but also what we had hoped for, for ourselves, for others in our lives, or perhaps even for all humanity, in other words, an honest expression of what life was truly like for us — a Song Of Today — as well as an idealistic picture of what we believe is possible if elusive — a Song Of Tomorrow — then, in my case, it calls for two songs, two very different songs. If I’m to be authentic, I would like to be remembered for both.

Even then, picking just two songs is painfully difficult, and so I’d say that the two I’ve chosen for this post represent a snapshot of what seemed to fit today, what messages mean the most to me right now, and it’s very likely that if I try to answer this question again in the future, even days from now, that I might very possibly choose two very different songs.

The Unifying Theme
Love

A Song Of Today: Love Reign O’er Me
I think it’s safe to say that when most people long for something in their life, something that transcends material needs, if we think about it long enough we really do wish the same for all. And yet, in the immediate expression of personal longing, especially for something so fundamental as love, it’s understandable that it may be expressed with “me” language.

And so lyrically, yes, this first song — Love Reign O’er Me by Pete Townshend, performed by The Who, from their epic 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, which I wrote about a couple of years ago — sounds somewhat self-interested.

And yet, there is the suggestion in the lyric, however subtle, that longing for love is universal, in the line (my emphasis added in bold):

Only love can bring the rain that make you yearn to the sky.

But then there’s the music, music that transitions from a gentle rain of tender love to a thunderstorm of longing, a longing for love to reign down, not just rain down, on one and all. And, as I struggle day to day with how the news is dominated by all of the most horrible things going on in the world, this song speaks for my deep, desperate, urgent longing for love, rather than hate, to reign.

A Song Of Tomorrow: Box of Rain
Keeping with rain as a symbol, perhaps because I live in Bellingham, I turn to Box of Rain, from the 1970 album American Beauty by the Grateful Dead.

The music for this song was written by bassist Phil Lesh, in honor of his dying father, Phil had asked longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter, to write the lyrics, and Phil has said that he was amazed how perfectly Hunter had captured the sentiment he had hoped to express to his dad.

It’s a beautiful gesture of love, and the lyrics are filled with images of love’s healing power, not necessarily divine love, but maybe more importantly the love of one human being for another:

What do you want me to do
To do for you, to see you through?
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through.

Gone, here, is The Who’s anthemic angst, and in it’s place a sweet melody and lovely, loving imagery, a beautiful hippie song, really, in all the best idealistic ways, filled with hope for tomorrow.

And, in terms of a song for a memorial, you couldn’t do much better, given its origins, with a line that speaks to how precious and brief life may be:

Such a long long time to be gone
and a short time to be there

I just hope that these two songs won’t be needed for my memorial for quite a while longer. :)

(I couldn’t find a video that had the lyrics, and so here’s the song, followed by the full lyrics.)

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging or
Rain is falling from a heavy sky –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
This is all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago
Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way, feel your way
Like the day before
Maybe you’ll find direction
Around some corner
Where it’s been waiting to meet you –
What do you want me to do,
To watch for you while you’re sleeping?
Well please don’t be surprised
When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
You find by you, you can see
Clear through to another day
I know it’s been seen before
Through other eyes on other days
While going home –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
It’s all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
To another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
With words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A a box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain –
Wind and water –
Believe it if you need it,
If you don’t just pass it on
Sun and shower –
Wind and rain –
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

It’s just a box of rain
I don’t know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare
But it’s just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

Bellingham, Just Say No to Whole Foods

whole-foodsI was very saddened to see news in the Bellingham Herald this morning that a Whole Foods Market will be opening here in the summer of 2016.

I’ve written numerous times, most recently this past December, that one of the things that is so special about Bellingham is that local businesses are thriving here. It’s an integral part of our identity as a small city. And, local businesses are thriving mostly because we take pride in that identity and commit to support our local businesses, even at times when prices are cheaper elsewhere, because we know that the owners of these businesses are our neighbors and friends.

Another component of Bellingham’s identity is our commitment to sustainability, in terms of environmental protection and restoration, sustainable agriculture, sustainable building practices, etc.

So, you see this conflict between those two aspects of our identity when we consider the arrival of Whole Foods. While not a locally-owned business, it is a market that features natural and organic foods, including non-GMO products.

Problem is, we already have two outstanding local natural foods markets, the Bellingham Community Food Co-Op, with two locations, and Terra Organic & Natural Foods, both conduct themselves more like communities than businesses, and both contribute to a wide variety of community events and non-profit organizations.

I find the practices of these large chain stores disturbing, how they move into communities that have existing, local businesses offering similar goods and services, without any apparent concern for how they will take business away from those who were here first, wielding their corporate power against mom and pop shops, or, in the case of the Community Food Co-Op, member owners, businesses that don’t have the resources to compete fairly.

In the Herald article, a Whole Foods executive is quoted:

Bellingham is a terrific market. It’s been a long time coming…The right site was there, the right partner and developer was there, the right mix in terms of competition and suppliers. We just think the time is perfect…Our primary interest is in Whatcom County. It’s a very strong market in itself.

Now, I have no doubt that Whole Foods is confident that the market is strong enough for them to open here and succeed, but I’m just as confident that they do not consider the fact that their success could imperil the pre-existing locally-owned natural food markets.

Consider the Core Values section of their website, where you’ll find a menu of pages on a variety of topics, including one titled We Serve And Suport Our Local And Global Communities.

Sounds nice, but of course there’s no mention of their impact on similar local businesses. Why, that wouldn’t be flattering at all!

I wish I had more time to dig deeper on this topic. There are sources I’ve consulted on the impact of chain stores, which deserves elaboration, and there is the sticky fact that some local natural food producers might do better if they can sell their products at Whole Foods, and perhaps I’ll get to these topics in future posts.

For now, mine is a more personal expression of distaste for this news, rather than a thorough analysis.

I doubt we can stop Whole Foods from coming, they are already leasing the property they’ll be moving into.

But, we can make the choice to not shop there, and to continue to support the Co-Op and Terra.

City of Subdued Excitement: Origin Story

Photo: mountainbikefarm.wordpress.com
Photo: mountainbikefarm.wordpress.com
Yesterday, I wrote:

As far as I know, the origins of Bellingham, Washington‘s unofficial nickname — The City of Subdued Excitement — are a mystery.

Some claim it derives from a locally famous mural on the side of an antique shop downtown, painted in 1994, and yet others swear that the nickname significantly predates the mural.

I’d heard this ‘mystery’ discussed many times over the years, including, as I say, disagreement on the facts, with some insisting that they’d heard Bellingham referred to by this nickname years prior to the painting of the mural (pictured here).

However, shortly after I posted that yesterday, since Fish & Bicycles posts are automagically shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr, it was seen on Facebook by Bellingham Herald arts and culture reporter Margaret Bikman, who commented:

[the ‘City of Subdued Excitement’ nickname] was coined by Mr. Peanut aka, Stephen Stimson, previous owner of Lone Wolf Antiques, next to Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall, in 1995. You can research this.

Photo credit: poppiespoppy.blogspot.com/
Photo: ifeltit-poppiespoppy.blogspot.com
Well, I truly am grateful to Margaret for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight!

I had done a brief Google search, but nothing seemed definitive, and I didn’t see specific credit given to Mr. Stimson. If I had searched a little longer, I would have found the painfully obvious URL http://www.bellingham-subdued-excitement.com/history-of-bellingham, where Mr. Stimson is indeed credited.

But, since Margaret has access to the Bellingham Herald archives, she copied and pasted into the Facebook comments the definitive article on the subject, a March 25, 2007 piece by fellow Herald reporter Dean Kahn. (I subsequently tried every form of search I could think of in order to find this article online, but the Herald online archives do not go back that far, Archive.org‘s Wayback Machine was no use, and it doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else.)

And so, without further ado, here are some highlights from Mr. Kahn’s article, titled Mr. Peanut radiates ‘City of Subdued Excitement’:

  • Stephen Stimson – aka Mr. Subdued Excitement – was wearing a black top hat when I met him at Rocket Donuts. That would be eye-catching enough, but there’s more. His black hat topped his Mr. Peanut costume.
  • Back in 1995, he explains, his mother suggested that he paint a “Welcome to Bellingham” sign on the north outside wall of the Lone Wolf building at 109 Prospect St., next to Whatcom Museum. Stimson opened the antiques shop in 1988 in the building that had been family-owned for decades. He decided to think up and paint a slogan for Bellingham…He thought of “s” words that would flow well with the soft “c” of “city.” He thought of “subdued excitement.”
  • But what is “subdued excitement?” … For many people, the appeal of Bellingham lies in its quieter attractions, ones that might not immediately attract hordes of tourists. Attractions like our trails, parks and waterfront views, the golden sunsets of late summer, residents’ love of the city, people who wear Mr. Peanut outfits.
  • The reason that “City of Subdued Excitement” rules…is that it feels right. We’ll know the city is changing, and not necessarily for the best, when the slogan no longer fits.

And, that last bullet item brings us full circle, back to the theme of my post from yesterday, titled You Can’t Take The ‘Subdued’ Out Of The City Of Subdued Excitement.

May the slogan ever fit!