a story about a journey to the 'dead center'.
The Mantra-Rock Dance poster by Harvey W. Cohen (created December 1966
In 1993 I did an artist in residence in a remote Zoo in Guatemala taking care of animals that had been recovered from poachers. When the residency finished I decided to back track to Vancouver where I had been studying and meet up with a mate 'Skott' from B.C. While I was on the road he proposed that we could meet in Seattle and for thrill chug on down to a Grateful Dead gig in Eugene, Oregon.
I was totally unfamiliar with the Grateful Dead. On the road I would re-trap Nick Cave's 'Henry's Dream' and 'Kicking Against the Pricks' in the cassette deck to create an ambient 'song line' for my journey through Texas, Arizona. "Buy the time I get to Phoenix", had a real life vibe to it as Nick crooned me through the country of his song.
When we arrived in Seattle, both Skott and I transferred on to a sweet hippy bus. My ponytail was a passport past the special forces of dashboard guardians and talisman assembled to fight any 'Modern Evil'. Happily on, I bounced down the back and watched our bus join the vast branches of the US highway network herding us toward the 'deadzone'.
We arrived in Eugene joining a caravan of 'dead heads' in a mass convoy. We entered the stadium hitching our wagons to the center of the hippy universe. Yes in this moment, we were at the 'Dead Center', the axis mundi of Hippy Bus Bliss.
The 'Grateful Dead' scene was like a swap meet. 'Deadheads' massed, mingled, exchanged reverie and rock, swapping body and soul. The scene was a fractal of 60's happening with the car park a retro 'andromeda' of far out-ness, slotted into the orbit of rising Grunge tunings of the time. Scott and I buttered around the improvised markets filled with exhausted clairvoyants and evaporated fire twirlers.
The car park is not 'deadville', so onto the end. As I said Charles. I did not not do any pre-dead training, though the ride on the bus had given me time to tune into their ways. What I heard, annoyed me and as people imparted stories about the 'Deads' musical powers, this feeling grew stronger. I could not pin down what it was that got me so razzed. Anyway I was here, I decided to find a way to re-assemble this dislike, to give it a chance to rock my world, and to find a way into the 'deadzone'.
When the 'Dead' started playing, Skott and I dropped by the speaker stacks, then headed to the mosh zone to get front and center, to be upfront and close to the voice central to the mystery...Jerry Garcia. We got up front and got to see the man and the band. As I listened, I hoped to be transported, to be sucked into each song, cleaved closer to the sacred realm of the dead. But no banana. Here I was front'n center of the mystery and I was not 'deading' out, I was alive. I stood there out of phase, perplexed with the deads love throng moshing me from all sides.
Scott and I de-moshed and ambled through the crowd hoping to find a means to enter the zone. We found a hive of dancing punters, Spinners. They were whirling worshippers, akin of the Sufi dancers, spinning with their arms stretched out, in a trance of humming harmony as though the music where a spell. This we liked. We could hear Jerry but we did not have to see him. We watched, the swarm of spinners, and as we watched, we entered the center of the Grateful Dead mystery.