“Gave the best we had to give, how much we’ll never know”
A line from the great late period Hunter/Garcia masterpiece called ‘the Days Between.” Written in 1992, it was first played live and sung by Garcia in February of ’93. The haunting melody matches perfectly with the lyrics – tinged with loss, colored with fading hope, acknowledging the ephemeral quality of all things, even, and perhaps particularly, the Grateful Dead. This past Sunday night, it made its appearance as the second to the last song, in the last set, of the last show in the Grateful Dead’s already historic 5 day farewell run dubbed Fare Thee Well. Bob Weir howled out the lyrics, eyes ablaze, head tilted back, giving it everything he had to the last syllable. The entire run, and certainly this last night, every song, every line, every word, every nuance seemed fraught with significance. Clearly the songs had been selected to reflect what was happening before our eyes. Could they have closed that last show with anything else besides Not Fade Away? Built to Last acknowledged their staying power. Estimated Prophet their California roots. Touch of Grey their age, the wear on the wheels and the water under the bridge. Samson and Delilah all those years of holding big tent revival meetings. Unbroken Chain that next generation of musicians who seem to be taking up the Dead’s mantel. And The Days Between in someway summed it all up. The Dead and the Deadheads, one last time.
It was quite a sight to see. Reminiscent of the late 80s shows, when the Dead reached their all time popularity peak, when stadiums could not hold all of the fans who came out to see the shows, when Garcia was one of the most recognizable people in the world. All of that energy, that vibrancy, the excitement and the craziness and the fools and the hipsters and tricksters and hippies, the day glow and the tie dye, the bean burritos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, all of it showed up at Soldiers Field this past weekend. It was almost like stepping into a time machine. Suddenly, as if out of thin air, it was all there, like it had never been away. And most of all the love and gratitude. From the fans to the band, from the band to the fans. It was palpable, in the air, invisible but you could feel it. How does it feel? growled Dylan in Like a Rolling Stone. GREAT!!! Like it always did. The music weaving and bobbing and rising and falling, binding us together. Sage and spirit. Inspiration, moving us brightly!
But it was bittersweet. There were tears. Many. A part of people’s lives, something that is/was at the core of their beings, part and parcel of who they are, was in a way, a profound way, ending. The last page had been turned, the cover had been closed as the last ragged vocal harmonies of the last song, Attics of My Life, sweetly lifted into the late night Chicago air. We acknowledged it together, that ending. The Dead gave us that opportunity, and it was beautiful and it was hard, it was joyful and it was sad, and it was a gift. How much so I don’t think we realized until we breathed a collective sigh and walked out of the stadium clapping and singing. The old Bo Diddley beat, our love will not fade away, not fade away. Echoing and reverberating, filled with meaning and poignancy, a promise that exits in past, present and future. Gave the best we had to give. Indeed. How much we’ll never know. The Dead might not, but the Deadheads surely do. And we are grateful. Truly, deeply, profoundly grateful.