On our very first date, I told Daniel my favorite band is The National. On all previous first dates I’d been summarily informed that The National is not a band most young 20-somethings would call their favorite and/or even know about. My musical tastes have always veered toward Sad Dad Rock, which isn’t a particularly hip genre. But Daniel immediately told me that he both knew of and liked The National, and then told me all about the collaboration The National was currently (at the time) taking on with The Grateful Dead, which happened to be his favorite band.
To be completely honest and at the enormous risk of embarrassing myself, I will admit that before I knew Daniel I thought The Grateful Dead was a death metal band. I’d seen the skull logo (a “Steal Your Face” I know now) and, I mean, Dead is in their name. As it turns out, The Grateful Dead is a hippie band with a knack for extending a single song to the length of an average sitcom episode.
In the years I’ve spent with Daniel I have listened to countless hours of The Grateful Dead. I have read Box of Rain, a book of their lyrics that read as lovely poems. I have stared at the Steal Your Face tattooed on Daniel’s bicep. I have even gone to huge Dead and Company stadium shows.
And to again embarrass myself with honesty… I didn’t really get it. I could tell how much this band meant to Daniel, but I didn’t get it. Those stadium shows were the first (and only) place I’d seen people doing hard drugs. What can I say? I’ve lived a sheltered life. Daniel ushered my through throngs of smelly guys whispering offers to sell me (me!) hard drugs. Everyone wore grungy tie-dye and nobody wore deodorant. Daniel kept greeting people he remembered from the years he spent following The Grateful Dead on tour.
It was enormously interesting for me, but very clearly not for me. Not my scene, you could say. And again with the honesty… the music itself didn’t do much for me. I know; I blaspheme. But Daniel loves it and I love Daniel, so here we are. The Grateful Dead and me.
Phil Lesh (listen, I could Google and find out what his role in the Grateful Dead was, but the truth is, I don’t know. And I’ll forget as soon as I Google it. He was one of the originals.) played Summerstage in Central Park. Daniel bought tickets before we even moved, and it was the first show we went to in NYC. I wasn’t expecting much. I geared up for a night of fending off powdered stimulants, stinky armpits, and echoey acoustics.
But it turned out to be the night I finally got it. It was small. Out of the stadium, the music sounded great. The songs sounded like poems.
Most people are surprised to learn that Daniel is actually a shy introvert, because he is uncommonly good at making small talk and befriending strangers. We made friends with finance guys, and a pregnant young couple, and an older gay couple, and yeah, some young smelly people too. Between songs, Daniel chattered and proudly told everyone to, “Meet my wife! She’s a genius!”
That night, Daniel’s face was joyful. It was the first time I’d seen him truly happy since we moved. He hollered the lyrics until I was sure his voice would go hoarse. When Phil Lesh made his case for organ donation (this happens at every show, I’ve learned) Daniel shouted that he became an organ donor because of Phil Lesh. I didn’t know that! I married the man and I did not know that.
Watching Daniel at that show, I finally got it. I can’t say I reach for The Grateful Dead records myself, but I finally get it in a way I didn’t before.