Sunday, October 30, 2016

De Mortuis, Nil Nisi Bonum

Neil and his band mate Leighton are contemplating the production of a podcast entitled "Speaking Ill of the Dead" in which they challenge Denver Uber drivers to defend their apparent fascination with all things Grateful Dead.

Although I am sympathetic, I have a small rebuttal.
Dear Neil
With respect to “Speaking Ill of the Dead”, you well know that no one who knows me would ever place me in the camp of the first generation of Deadheads.  Yet, every endeavor of any lasting repute must have some foundation, some basis, some work of merit, that defines its reputation, no matter how thin that reputation grows over the years.
For the Grateful Dead that work of merit is “Truckin’”.  Yes, it is just another song about a traveling band and drugs, albeit from a uniquely told point of view with a weary inevitability about it.  But in the middle of the long mumbled rambling over the demise of Sweet Jane, the defining hook comes crashing in.  Loud, high, and clear comes the chorus.

 “Sometimes the light is all shining on me;
   Other times I can barely see.
   Lately it occurs to me,
   What a long strange trip it’s been.”

You can view this as simply an expositional statement on the highs and lows of drug abuse, which it is.  But, more importantly, it is a well-versed metaphor for life, with or without drugs, life pure or impure, the wheel of fortune, not as your Grandma Jan understands the Wheel of Fortune, but as the Greeks understood it, as Baby Face Nelson understands it in “O Brother”, strapped helplessly to the inexorable rise and fall of one’s own destiny.  It is the tide, daylight and darkness, the seasons, the joys and sorrows, the loves and losses, the ups and the downs of daily life, of any life, on which all art, all life, is tethered.  The summation is no less metaphysical.  Step back from the spinning, it says, and appreciate it, accepting that our journey from the past to the future is wonderfully strange.  Or, as Seuss would have it, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!”

There, I’ve said my peace.  You can go back, now, to listening to The Decemberists.