Two of my most cherished passions have been moving in opposite directions over the last half year, one rising nicely to a new place of vigor and vitality, the other sinking to a familiar place of dysfunction and despair. Let me first deal with the downward decline of the New York Knickerbockers, the basketball team I have (mostly) vainly rooted for as long as I can remember.
Last season was a promising one for the Knicks. Their 3’rd straight playoff appearance, 54 wins, and their first playoff series win since the Ewing era (more than a decade). Knicks fans felt a sense of tentative optimism as the new season began. After all, weren’t we really just one Carmelo Anthony dunk away from the conference finals last year? But instead of rewarding the faithful, the Knicks quickly reminded us that the more than decade long trend of losing, bizarre roster signings, and inexplicable management decisions was the rule, and last year’s winning was the exception. The Knicks will struggle to win 35 games this year, almost 20 fewer than last season. They will miss the playoffs. At least as a Knicks fan I am in a familiar place.
At the same time, I am grateful (pun intended) to be able to say that as the Knicks have declined, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Furthur, and currently Ratdog, has somehow rejuvenated and reinvigorated himself. It was less than a year ago when Weir collapsed at the Capitol Theater during a Furthur performance, but those there that evening (I was one) know that he was not ‘right’ from the get go. The late start of the show was an ominous sign. A disheveled looking Weir stumbling through the opening Feel Like A Stranger made us all wonder what was going on. When he couldn’t remember even one word of Me and My Uncle, a song he has probably sung thousands of times, we looked away and hoped things would improve. When he came out for the second set barely able to stand, we wondered why anyone let him come out at all. And when he finally fell, it was sad and heart wrenching, but it also all seemed inevitable.
The truth is, you could see it coming. Looking back, there was the show in New York two summers ago where Weir again struggled, and could barely remember a word to many of the songs that evening. There was the last night at the Beacon in the spring run of 2012, when Weir came on stage, pale as a ghost, not steady on his feet, staggering once or twice. Somehow he made it through that show, and even remembered most of the song lyrics. In the end the show was a hot one, but Bobby looked a shadow of his former self, literally. Drugs? Booze? Pills? All of the above? We will never know. But it was beginning to look like Bob Weir’s days of being the ‘itinerant minstrel’ were coming to a close.
So I confess I was worried when it was announced that he was reconstituting his solo band, Ratdog. I honestly wondered if he could carry a show by himself, if he could sing every song, direct the band, keep the focus that is needed to run the show. After seeing two Ratdog shows last week (the Lincoln Theater in DC), and after hearing from friends who have seen the band in the New York area, I am pleased to report that Bobby Weir looks great, and what is more is singing and playing better than he has in a long time. The shows have been long (3 hours plus), well played, and filled with great energy, much of it emanating from Mr. Weir himself. Folks will tell you they haven’t seen Bobby looking this spry in quite some time. I would agree, and it is indeed a sight for sore eyes. If you haven’t been in a while, get out and catch a show.
However he got onto his current road, I hope he can continue to walk on it for a long time. It has been a cold winter here in the mid-Atlantic, but seeing those hot shows last week reminded me of how great music – and great musicians at the top of their game – can bring light and warmth into the darkest and coldest days. Spring is coming, and with it comes hope. For everything, that is, except the New York Knicks.