Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: August 8, 1982 (Listen Now)

There’s a dragon with matches that’s loose on the town.

By The Deadhead Cyclist

For Week


According to the Chinese zodiac, the next Year of the Dragon isn’t due until 2024, and we are currently in the midst of the Year of the Rat. But with all due respect to Chinese culture, we may need to depart from this ancient tradition and designate 2020 as the year of the “dragon with matches that’s loose on the town.”

Only time will tell how the disruption, turmoil and chaos of this particular year will compare historically to other years. But for those of us who happened to be alive on the planet – and particularly in the U.S.A. – during the time of the COVID-19 crisis and the 2020 American presidential election, 2020/2021 turned out to be one of the “big ones” of our lifetimes. Most of us, in one way or another, are trying to figure out how to navigate our way through these unknown, troubled waters. Few of us have escaped being affected; Indeed, millions have lost their livelihoods, and thousands have lost their lives. 

During a more carefree time, in 1982, the Grateful Dead played two wonderful shows at the Alpine Valley Music Theater, which was, at the time, the largest amphitheater in the country. Located in East Troy, WI, Alpine Valley is equally accessible from Madison, Milwaukee, Rockford and Chicago. The Dead played there 20 times during the ’80s, and left behind the fantastic concert video, “Downhill From Here,” from the July, 1989 shows, and Dick’s Picks Volume 32, from the 8/7/82 show. As was often the case when the band played a venue on consecutive days, the show became a two-day event with most attendees present for both concerts. T.W.I.G.D.H features the 8/7/82 and 8/8/82 Alpine Valley shows, the latter of which includes a signature Scarlet/Fire during the early part of the second set.

I was on two wheels when I first discovered the powerfully metaphoric nature of the phrase, “dragon with matches,” from the Fire on the Mountain part of the medley. But most recently I recognized it as a perfect characterization for what has become known, simply, as “The Virus.” What is particularly apt about this phrase and the way it fits the Covid-19 pandemic is that it is a “conditional metaphor,” meaning that it is not merely a metaphor, but one that achieves a more powerful meaning under particular conditions.

A dragon is loaded with dangerous potential. But only under certain conditions – the lighting of a match – are the dragon’s most destructive capabilities unleashed. Similarly, the Virus’s most dragon-like capacity is made possible under certain circumstances, such as within indoor settings and in large, unvaccinated, unmasked groups. But the most important conditions under which the Virus thrives is in an unprecedented time of misinformation, driven by political division, insatiable greed, and lust for power. In short, the politicization of the Virus is the match that has ignited its most destructive power. And we are living through the dire consequences.

No matter how fortunate you are in your life, there is a dragon lying in wait around the corner, usually when you least expect it. The question is not whether you will be called on to slay your dragons; it is how you go about the task. 

There’s a powerful message here: No matter how fortunate you are in your life, there’s a dragon lying in wait around the corner, usually when you least expect it. And the older you get, your dragon encounter frequency is almost certain to increase. The question is not whether you will be called on to slay your dragons, but how you go about the task. 

Doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners take an oath of ethics as a prerequisite of their certification, called the Hippocratic Oath, named after the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.E.). Part of the Hippocratic Oath is a paraphrasing of the classic Latin phrase, Primum non nocere, which means, “First do not harm.” This is an excellent way to begin the process of slaying your dragons.

At the age of 30, I was playing softball and I dived for a ball, catching the pinkie finger of my right hand on the turf and snapping it backwards. Subsequent x-rays showed a broken bone in the fifth metacarpal (knuckle). The orthopedic surgeon presented me with two options: 1. Have the bone surgically repaired. 2. Place a cast on it and let it heal in its new position. His advice was to refrain from surgery, saying, “You have a good situation there. Not an ideal situation, but a good one. The surgery might give you a better result, but it might also create unforeseeable problems. I would never advise a patient to attempt to substitute a better situation for a good situation.”

Today, many years later, there’s a slight deformity in my hand, but no pain or loss of function. The orthopedist was right: We often react to a bad situation in a way that makes things worse. Returning to the dragon metaphor, when encountering a dragon one should be very careful to avoid lighting a match that will exacerbate the problem. Further, more often than not, the challenges we face are unparalleled opportunities for personal growth. With that in mind, we invariably do better to embrace the Primum non nocere principle and consider our options carefully before taking any action at all.

Think back on the “dragons” you have faced in your life. How did you attempt to slay them? Have you ever made the mistake of lighting a match that served to release the full power of the dragon? What would you have done differently, and what will you do next time you round a corner and confront an unexpected challenge? Most importantly, have you taken full advantage of the lessons offered by your dragons?

Approaching the difficulties in your life in this way will, at a minimum, ensure that the problem will not become worse. And at best, you might discover that you have just the right pail of water needed to cool that dragon down.

Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: August 8, 1982 (Listen Now)

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