Penned by Graham Nash, the song first appeared on the classic CSNY album Deja Vu, released in 1970. Arguably one of the best known and most beloved rock songs of all time, the opening lyrics are unforgettable, sung in the high, soaring harmonies that marked the group at its height:
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.*
The song came into my mind this past Sunday evening, when Becky and I had the chance to see Dark Star Orchestra at the Maine State Pier in Portland. The band was in rare form, probably the best I’ve seen them, playing with energy and verve through a concert, as they say, ‘originally performed by the Grateful Dead’ in the spring of 1989. It was a GA venue over looking the water, a gorgeous and sunny Maine afternoon, everything just about exactly perfect.
It just so happened that we found our spot in the sea of Deadheads a few yards in front of the soundboard. To our right was a multi-generational Deadhead family. The original Heads, now in their mid-60s, brought their daughters and grandchildren to the show. The grandmother took great joy in sharing the time and the music with her grandchildren, spending a good part of the evening dancing with them, holding them, laughing and playing with them.
There is something about old Deadheads that tugs at my heartstrings. They’ve often seen a lot, been through a lot, done a lot (maybe in some cases too much!). Their bodies don’t quite move like they used to (whose do?!). But there is a powerful resiliency there. And also a love of something deep and true. When the lights go down and the music comes up, the first notes ringing loud and clear through the blue sky of a late summer afternoon, they get to their feet and begin to move. The heads start to nod, the hips shake, the feet shuffle, the fingers snap. And yes, the lips smile. They feel it in their hearts and souls, the sweet melodies that have accompanied them through so many years, so many moments of their lives. The music brings them to their feet, rejuvenates their spirits, gives them a few precious hours to leave the world behind and to join in the great tribal celebration with family, friends, the extended Deadhead community, and yes, even with grandchildren. Perhaps, especially with grandchildren.
The second set of the show opened with Shakedown Street, the Dead’s nod to the late 70s disco revolution, somehow turned into one of their great jamming vehicles. “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart!” We might say the very same thing about the old Deadheads. Teaching the next generations, they are still on the road, still driving the bus.
* Deadheads will remember that the opening pedal steel guitar licks of the tune are played by Jerry Garcia
here is a link to the Grateful Dead’s original performance of the Pittsburgh ’89 show
And below a picture of the proud grandmother and her grandchildren at the show –