Friday, April 15, 2011

Grateful Dead War stories: The Harmonic Convergence

Inspired by a recent post on by Oakland local, Blair Jackson, I've written one of my favorite Grateful Dead "war" stories from the road.  From 1986 - 1995 my wife Annetta and many other friends joined me in "grateful dead jet setting".  From Eugene to Berlin, Paris, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, the circus never stopped.

Here's my story of the weekend of August 14 - 16, 1987, in Telluride, Colorado.  The Grateful Dead had never played Telluride before or after this weekend in 1987.  Some "New Age" prognosticator had deemed this time, particularly the Sunday of the weekend, to be the time of "The Harmonic Convergence", so we all converged on Telluride in Southwest Colorado.

Telluride is at the base of a beautiful box canyon.

  •  What is particular toTelluride are several things: 
    • It's exclusive
    • It's expensive
    • Bill Graham had a place there
    • It's not necessarily open to hippies
All of these issues presented big challenges for the growing empire of Deadheads throughout the states by 1987.  When the Dead and Dylan played a series of 6 shows the month before, Bill Graham, the Dead's principal producer, and Grateful Dead Productions, warned "the ticketless masses" to stay away from Telluride if you didn't have a ticket.  The capacity was limited to 10,000 I believe, though I was never sure of how Bill Graham Presents counted...

We were fortunate to have tickets to see the Dead outside Denver at Red Rocks Ampitheatre - 1 of the most beautiful places in the world to see anything.

Our war stories are always happy ones: at Telluride in 87 we got to town Friday afternoon without a place to stay. Yes, we had sleeping bags & a tent in our car, but we're really not campers. On the road into town we met a woman who had a sign: room for the weekend! Right on. Her cottage about 3 blocks from the Town Park, where the Dead would play Saturday and Sunday in the afternoon,  was barely 2 bedrooms; there was no door for our bedroom - $200 for the weekend, a steal by Telluride prices - just an Indian bedspread. It made me think of Berkeley in 1967.  Our hostess, Laurel,  had a wonderful big dog, Burke, who liked us, so we were made in the shade. The $200 was her approximate winter heating cost, so we really made a positive impact on her life. It was the most romantic weekend - our second honeymoon, having been married August 2 the year before (and having missed Red Rocks, our intended first honeymoon in 86). Our time in Brokedown Palace as we lovingly called this place was one of the greatest honeymoons we've had.

Nothing compares to the wonder of the Dead road experiences.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Metaphysical License: I love Amma

On the urging of one of my co-workers, I thought I should write a short recap of some highlights of a visit with Amma almost a year and 1/2 ago.  I had written the majority of this in November, 2009 and just came upon it.  I hope to see Amma when she returns to the Bay Area in 2 months, and in re-reading this I feel ever closer to that moment.

Wednesday 11/12/09: Darshan with Amma. Visited Amma's ashram in San Ramon: for an evening public session to be hugged by the most huggable person in the world. I'm accompanied on this visit by 2 French young women who are staying with us for the Fall as exchange students in the Bay Area. One is an art student, the other a therapist. They are willing to leave home in the middle of the afternoon for a 6+ hour adventure barely 1/2 hour from our house in Oakland to experience Amma's darshan. Part of the experience, not unlike the prep for a Grateful Dead concert, is getting there early, standing in line, being in another line; another lineup, this time in a chair where you'll sit during the first 2 1/2 hours of her evening's event; carousing around her center's outer buildings, dining hall and large meeting hall; waiting; eating some wonderful Indian food and drinking Chai; buying stuff in the marketplace around the perimeter of the hall; getting in the spirit of being in a South Indian ashram, and marvelling at how devoted her followers are. I've come here 6 times over the last 7 1/2 years and every face I remember is doing the same volunteer task - handing out tickets for the lineup to get darshan; controlling the aisles from the left side or the right side of the stage; offering information about the evening's program; helping others find seating, food, comfort. Most of the volunteers are wearing some form of Indian dress in white; some with pashmina shawls; some in saris - both American and Indian women; many with other signs of Indian spirituality - like the small beautiful seeded bracelets of sandlewood or rosewood. They are a constant and devoted bunch.

The meeting room ressembles a country church with balcony space on both sides and the rear, and seating on the main floor, surrounded on one side by a marketplace for Amma's books, videos and other Indian trinkets, and with educational information tables on the other.

When Amma arrives with her entourage she's royally greeted.  She makes her way down the center aisle, touched every now and again by those she passes by, feted with flowers and arrives at the stage where she's surrounded on a raised dais by a goodly number of beautiful Indian children and some of her spiritual devotees. One devotee then tells a  story of his life since he's met Amma - how she helped him understand that the only real change is from within - and how he's taken on her teachings. He's adopted her positive attitude of loving all and everything and it works.

Next comes an hour of singing bajans - spiritual songs of praise - praise to Ganesh, Shiva, Krishna, Mother Divine, the mother of all. Amma seems almost in a trance singing along with these hymns in Malalayam, Sanskrit, and other Indian dialects. The text of each song is displayed on monitors and the message of each song is the same: one of unconditional devotion to God/Mother. Amma is the all loving mother.

Then comes a guided meditation led by one of her students called simply Swami, then Amma's darshan. People in the hall get a little ticket when they arrive which determines their place in the line to get hugged by Amma. When a ticket range (typically 40 per letter-number combination) is done, numbers & letters on 2 posts either side of the room, are advanced and now that bunch gets to line up to be hugged. Not just lined up, but sat in chairs where you get to play an advanced form of musical chairs always moving forward to the goal. When you are within a couple chairs of the Amma, one of the volunteers makes sure to take your belongings & stow them; another asks your native language; a third asks: "are you single or with some one" - so as to efficiently organize the seekers. Finally you are on your knees, sitting on your heals and just behind someone who is being hugged. You move forward and basically fall into Amma's lap as she then cradles your head and chants something in Malayalam in your right ear. She looks at you a couple of times, squeezes you tightly and makes you feel like you are the most loved person in the world. She releases you and gives you a Hershey kiss or some other sweet. You stumble away.

A year before I hadn't seen Amma for several years. I wasn't feeling very good about my work, my company, my well-being in general. Not out of desperation, but rather the goal to divest myself of a certain despair, I decided to visit Amma. I needed to remember what it felt like to be loved by my mother, and she gave me that loving attention.And I haven't looked back since.  In a few short moments in her arms all pain desists, all worry vanishes, all fear is dispelled.  I felt one and only one thing: the love of my mother, of life, of God.  All the same, undifferentiated. 

Remembering, I feel strongly compelled to cry:  from the first moment I saw her that night, each subsequent visit, and even now when I'm writing, tears well up in my eyes.  Tears of joy.  Mother is home.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Proust Questionnaire

Vanity Fair, the magazine, upholds a tradition on its last printed page: the Proust questionnaire.  The Proust Questionnaire is a questionnaire about one's personality. Its name and modern popularity as a form of interview is owed to the responses given by the French writer Marcel Proust.

Your favorite virtue:  Kindness

Your favorite qualities in a man/woman: Smiles, softness, forgivingness, insight

Your chief characteristic: optimistic blue eyes

What do you appreciate the most in Your friends: tolerence, patience

Your main fault: too quick to judge, quick tongue

Your favourite occupation: helping others

Your idea of happiness: tennis @ the Surf & racquet club, 8 am

Your idea of misery: wet shoes, uninvited cold weather, bad manners

If not yourself, who would you be?  Gandhi

Where would you like to live? In the sun

Your favourite color and flower? Blue, hyacinth

Your favorite prose authors: Flaubert, Theroux

Your favorite poets: Catullus, Baudelaire

Your favorite heros in fiction: Julien Sorel, Asterix le Gaulois

Your favorite heroines in fiction: Helen of Troy, Aphrodite

Your favorite painters and composers: Francis Bacon, Satie

Your heroes in real life: Wavy Gravy, FF Coppola, Dylan

Your favorite heroines in real life: my female companions

What characters in history do you most dislike: Hitler

Your heroines in world history: Joan of Arc

Your favorite food and drink: Truffles, Bordeaux

Your favorite names: Cassandra, Alphonse, Igor

What I hate the most: bad judgement, greed

What military event do you admire the most: D-Day Landing, Omaha Beach, 6/6/1944

The reform I most admire: recycling, the green movement

The natural talent I'd like to be gifted with: play the piano

How I wish to die: in bed, calmly

What is Your present state of mind: inspired, thrilled, a little scared

Faults for which you have the most indulgence: people's tardiness

Your favorite motto:  " I'm not always right, but I've never been wrong"

Most coveted posession: good health

Most overrated: affluence

Favorite historical person: JFK