Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: December 27, 1987 (Listen Now)

And the politicians throwing stones, so the kids they dance and shake their bones, and it’s all too clear we’re on our own.

By The Deadhead Cyclist

For Week


The enduring and ever-increasing popularity of the Grateful Dead – even more than a quarter century after their last concert on July 9th, 1995 – has often been attributed to the prominent role the band played in the anti-establishment movement of the ’60s. As the icon of a new generation that represented an alternative to the greed and corruption of mainstream culture, the Dead truly were “a band beyond description.”

But what should not be lost within this deserving but incomplete portrayal – especially as we approach New Year’s Day – is the unmistakably life affirming, celebratory persona that offers a counterpoint to the band’s more political side, adding something essential to the Grateful Dead’s identity. In short, within the context of a desire to change the world, the need to enjoy the hell out of life was never forgotten.

It’s tempting for each generation to claim the distinction of living in uniquely troubled times. Such a case was reasonably made by those who lived through the Vietnam War/Nixon administration era. But would the same assertion be any less valid if made by those living through the 9-11/Bush period, or the COVID-19 Pandemic/Trump administration years? The sentiment so brilliantly conveyed in the first paragraph of Charles Dickens’ timeless book, “A Tale of Two Cities” – published more than a century and a half ago – humbles us with the inescapable reminder that any generation’s claim to the singularity of its adversity is fundamentally narcissistic.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow had an absolutely Dickensian moment when he juxtaposed the “yin” and the “yang” of the human experience against one another in his tour de force, Throwing Stones:

So the kids they dance and shake their bones,

And the politicians throwing stones

Barlow might just as well have written:

It was a time of the youth dancing and shaking their bones,

It was a time of politicians throwing stones.

Allowing your fears of judgment, heartache, playing a wrong note and, ultimately, death to govern your behavior will certainly deprive you of becoming the dancer, the lover, the musician and the individual you are capable of being.

T.W.I.G.D.H. features 12/27/87, the opening night of the 4-show New Year’s run at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. The second set of this show is truly something special as the boys weave their way through a series of seamless transitions, starting with Playing in the Band and ending with Turn on Your Lovelight. And the “music never stopped” from beginning to end.

This particular New Year’s run took place in the immediate aftermath of the Iran Contra Affair,  when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were the “politicians throwing stones,” leading a dramatic conservative shift in the country’s politics, which led to a “Culture War” still being prosecuted more than three decades later. The need to create a counterbalance was as real then as it is today, and right on cue the band transitioned from Drums and Space into Traffic’s Dear Mr. Fantasy (“Dear Mr. Fantasy play us a tune/Something to make us all happy/Do anything, take us out of this gloom/Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy”) as a preamble to Throwing Stones

Music and its first cousin, dancing, have always been powerful salves to the painful bumps and bruises life delivers with both steady frequency and unpredictable timing. One never knows when such a tonic might be needed, and we Deadheads are truly fortunate to have a ready-made prescription in the vast medicine chest of our favorite band’s archives. Not surprisingly, references to dancing are ubiquitous throughout the Grateful Dead canon, as illustrated on the very first cut of the Grateful Dead’s initial eponymously named album, The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion), which mentions dancing in both of the first two verses:

There’s laughing in her eyes, dancing in her feet,

She’s a neon-light diamond and she can live on the street.

Well everybody’s dancin’ in a ring around the sun

Nobody’s finished, we ain’t even begun.

From older tunes like Dancing in the Street (“There’ll be laughing and singing, music swinging, dancing in the street”) and Sugar Magnolia (“She can dance a cajun rhythm”) to newer songs like My Brother Esau (“The shadowdance, it never ends”) and Hell in a Bucket (“There may come a day, I will dance on your grave”), dancing is a common theme for its ability to provide a balance to the “worst of times” aspect of life that seems to be ever present in the human experience.

With music and dancing as the primary ingredients in our soothing cocktail we are off to a good start, but to complete the prescription, consider the wisdom of two unrelated individuals, William W. Purkey and Rick Marino. If you’ve never heard the name, William W. Purkey, you’re not alone, but he is as famous as he is obscure. A lifetime educator now in his 90s, Purkey is virtually unknown in common culture, with one striking exception: He’s the author of an inspirational quote so universally recognized that his place in history is immortalized:

You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,

Love like you’ll never be hurt,

Sing like there’s nobody listening,

And live like it’s heaven on Earth.

Similarly unknown outside of close circles, Rick Marino was the music teacher at Loara High School in Anaheim, California, during a period of glory in the ’60s and ’70s when the school’s marching band was recognized as one of the finest in the country. Marino’s most famous quote was simpler, but carried the same message to his students:

If you make a mistake, make it loud!

The message in these insightful expressions is clear and simple: Live your life fearlessly and authentically. Allowing fear of judgment, heartache, playing a wrong note and, ultimately, death to govern our behavior deprives us of becoming the dancer, the lover, the musician and the incomparable individual you’re capable of being. This, in and of itself, is worthy of inclusion in any manifesto of life principles. But what’s even more remarkable is the way in which these additional ingredients of self-love and courage combine with singing and dancing to create just the antidote we need from time to time to maintain our sanity while the world around us appears to be losing its head.

Throughout the ages we’ve confronted “politicians throwing stones,” and that unfortunate dynamic is likely to continue, despite our commitment to resistance. But they can’t keep us from dancing, from singing, from loving, or living a heavenly life. So long as we keep fear at bay and remain true to ourselves, “we are on our own.”

Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: December 27, 1987 (Listen Now)

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