Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: September 20, 1982 (Listen Now)

If the spirit’s sleeping then the flesh is ink.

By The Deadhead Cyclist

For Week


Despite being a West Coast band, the Dead had a special relationship with New York City, playing Madison Square Garden a total of 52 times from ’79-’94. As drummer Bill Kreutzmann remarked in 2015 as the band was inducted into the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame, “Out of about 2300 shows that the Grateful Dead played, the 52 we played here were nothing short of amazing.” T.W.I.G.D.H. features one of those amazing shows, 9/20/82, and a tune that was performed live on that date for only the third time, Throwing Stones.

With all due respect to John Perry Barlow’s signature tune, Black Throated Wind – from which the title of his memoir, Mother American Night, was derived – the lyrics of Throwing Stones represent his tour de force as a songwriter. What’s most impressive about this chilling piece of political poetry is that it’s retained its relevance over the course of several decades, since it first found its way into the Dead’s repertoire three nights earlier, on 9/17/82 at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine.

Many assert that the Grateful Dead was not a “political” band, but it can easily be argued that its very existence and longevity – both pre- and post-Garcia – are inexorably linked to a protopian theme of a world based in peace and cooperation, rather than conflict and greed. As the poster band of the Hippie movement, the Dead championed a culture diametrically opposed to the mainstream, promoting an alternative set of values that condemned the status quo for its failures, starting with the Vietnam War. 

In a fascinating program, called the Hippie Temptation, narrated by an obviously biased Harry Reasoner of 60 Minutes fame, the Grateful Dead’s founding principles are clearly revealed.

“What we’re thinking about is a peaceful planet; We’re not thinking about anything else,” stated the band’s ever-reluctant leader, Jerry Garcia. “We’re not thinking about any kind of power; We’re not thinking about any kind of struggles. We’re not thinking about revolution or war or any of that. That’s not what we want. Nobody wants to get hurt. Nobody wants to hurt anybody. We would all like to be able to live an uncluttered life, a simple life, a good life. And think about moving the whole human race ahead a step, or a few steps.”

In this context, the Grateful Dead was and continues to be as much a movement as a band, which goes a long way towards explaining why the music never stopped and is as relevant today as it was in the Sixties. The struggle for peace and justice is a constant that long predates this movement, and will continue as long as our species roams Planet Earth. Therefore, we mustn’t make the mistake of judging its success or failure too harshly, simply because we find ourselves decades down the road continuing to fight the same battles. Rather, any and all efforts to engage in this eternal struggle are, by definition, worthwhile and cause for celebration.

The Grateful Dead movement and similar organizations are comprised of “unreasonable” men and women who are committed to “moving the whole human race ahead a step.” Despite the impediments we encounter in the path to our goals, we must maintain our willingness to be unreasonable in believing we can make a difference.

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, articulated a principle that adds wind to the sails of any activist:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

The Grateful Dead movement and similar organizations are comprised of “unreasonable” men and women committed to “moving the whole human race ahead a step.” Despite the impediments we encounter in the path to our goals, we must maintain our willingness to be unreasonable in believing we can make a difference.

The late, great civil rights activist and U.S. Congressman, John Lewis (D-Ga.), was an “unreasonable man” whose efforts on behalf of the African American community (and, by extension, all of humanity) bore significant fruit. From his leadership role as an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington to his death in 2020 after serving 17 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Lewis personified an “unreasonable” commitment to the struggle for a more just society, specifically with regard to the fight against legalized racial segregation.

In the early Sixties, during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis was among the leaders of the Nashville Student Movement, an organization regarded as among the most effective of its kind, through the use of non-violent protest. It was at that time that Lewis coined the phrase, “good trouble,” to illustrate the need to oppose injustice through positive means. The common thread that runs between Shaw’s “unreasonable man” and Lewis’s “good trouble” is the same one that is woven into the fabric of the movement Jerry Garcia alluded to when interviewed as a leader of the Hippie movement.   

As has been the case throughout human history, the most formidable obstacles we face are the “heartless powers” that “try to tell us what to think.” In the internet age, this phenomenon has been magnified exponentially, as it has become increasingly easy to foment deception. We live in a world where millions believe that climate change is a hoax, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were faked, the ’69 Moon Landing was staged, Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., and COVID-19 was engineered and the ensuing pandemic was a planned event. The sources of these conspiracy theories are individuals and organizations that stand to gain, financially and politically, by lulling us to sleep while they advance their agendas.

Now, more than ever, we need to be unreasonable in our insistence on facts and truth, steadfast in our resistance to emotional and spiritual manipulation. As is amply evidenced by endless wars, gun violence, the degradation of our environment, hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 casualties, and the erosion of our democracy in the wake of the 2016 and 2020 presidential election debacles, the consequences are dire. For those who fall victim, “the flesh is ink.”

The pivotal passage in Throwing Stones is a statement of personal responsibility for our role in the writing of history that harkens back to the 1967 interview of the Grateful Dead and the movement it spawned in its infancy:

History’s page will be neatly carved in stone.

The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own.

On our own. On our own. On our own.

Yes, we are on our own. As such, it’s up to us, individually and collectively, to be certain our spirits remain awake so as to redouble our efforts to uphold the values that benefit the common good, rather than just the privileged few. Primary among those values is education. While the internet can be the source of untold amounts of misinformation, it’s also an unprecedented wellspring for truth and knowledge. It’s vital that we learn to distinguish between the two, and to recognize deception when it arrives on our doorstep. Find sources of information that you can rely on, such as, and other platforms dedicated to people before profit. Learn the truth before you act.

Another word for “sleeping” is “apathy.” It’s critical to understand that apathy is not a neutral act, but a destructive one as it transfers strength to those “thoughtless powers.” Never abandon your values, no matter how hopeless the situation appears. There is always something you can add to the fight. No matter how small any individual act may seem, the success of any movement is made up of a series of seemingly insignificant contributions, and we each have unique gifts to contribute. 

Ask yourself: What are my unique gifts? What steps can I take to integrate them? 

Enabling the status quo is far too “reasonable,” given the amount of work needed to correct the injustices in our midst. Don’t let your spirit sleep. Be unreasonable like George, John and Jerry, and set your sights on moving the human race ahead a step or two by remaining awake, seeking truth, and taking action. The human race and our shining ball of blue are counting on you.

Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: September 20, 1982 (Listen Now)

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