Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: June 26, 1974 (Listen Now)

Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few:

Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools!


By The Deadhead Cyclist

For Week


As spring turns to summer, we bid a fond “fare thee well” to Spring ’77 and find several wonderful summer tours to continue our concert trip around the sun. It’s hard to go wrong with the Summer ’74 run of 18 shows, beginning on June 8th at the Oakland Coliseum and finishing on August 6th at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, NJ. Among the many first-rate concerts of this tour, the June 26th show at Providence Civic Center in Providence, RI gets the Deadhead Cyclist’s vote for T.W.I.G.D.H.

Most of this show was included on the Dick’s Picks Volume 12 CD, including Ned Lagin’s Seastones set, which was heard for the first time as part of a Dead show. While the whopping 30-minute Truckin’ and subsequent jam in the second set rivals even the famous Europe ’72 version, and is perhaps the most notable aspect of this show, it’s the uncommonly sweet Ship of Fools from late in the first set that caused me to hit the pause button.

Among all of the brilliant metaphors found in the lyrics of Dead tunes, “ship of fools” may be the most deserving of exploration. Clearly not a reference to a seaworthy vessel, what is this “ship?” And perhaps of even greater mystery, who are its “fools,” and why are we being warned to “raise no flag” atop of it? Perhaps a review of some Deadhead Cyclist principles of life and aging will provide some “gold and jewels.”

By now it will come as no surprise that I don’t believe in aging. But before you mislabel me as a wingnut, “chronology change denier,” allow me to redefine the term “aging.” Within the context of aging as a biological fact, there is no “belief” involved. We all age and eventually die. That is an undeniable fact. However, there’s a lot more to “aging” than that. So, how about we broaden our definition and think of aging more expansively than merely as an inevitable part of life over which we have no control. Let’s envision it as a state of mind, a process, a lifestyle. Conceptualizing aging in this way presents a more useful perspective. In this context, aging is more than a biological fact; it becomes a choice. We can’t choose whether to age, chronologically speaking, but we can choose how to age. We can determine how we think about aging, what we do while we’re aging, with whom we age, how rapidly we age, and what our attitude is about aging. 

With that expanded definition in mind, I’ll repeat that I don’t believe in aging. But to put a finer point on it, I don’t accept that when we reach a certain age we must allow our lives, ourselves, to be correspondingly defined. Rather, I believe that each of us makes choices about aging;  those choices, not our mere chronological age, is what defines us. Feels empowering, doesn’t it?That’s because defining aging as a lifestyle choice, rather than a chronological fact, affords us the opportunity to age in our own way, under our own terms. As we grow older, we’re forced to board the USS A ship (A for Aging), but under this definition we’re at the helm – the captain – rather than sitting passively in the passenger seat. As the captain, we have some control over where that ship goes, at what speed, who our fellow passengers are, where it stops and, in general, what the experience of riding on that ship is like. Which begs the question: Why would we allow anyone to sail our ship – and it is our ship – when we can sail it ourselves?

Each of us makes choices about aging, and those choices, not our mere chronological age, is what defines us.

That’s exactly what we do when we buy into mainstream ideas, living our lives by the rules of conventional wisdom, rather than on our own terms. For example, when I tell people that I play 100 games of baseball a year (no, not softball, real baseball, hardball, 9 innings, with bunting, stealing, and sliding, et al), they look at me like they need subtitles to understand what I just said, as if I’m speaking in a foreign language. Someone in his 60s playing 100 games of baseball in a year is not consistent with the traditional assumptions about what people of “that age” can or should do. Even my teammates frequently refer to our games as, “Old Man Baseball,” often as an alibi for poor performance. To which I am quick to reply, “It’s baseball, not ‘old man baseball.’ Leave your age in the parking lot and watch how many games you win against the ‘old men’ on the other team.”

Similarly, when I mention the fact that in the first five years since I turned 60 I’d ridden my bikes (trail, gravel and road) to the tune of more than 1000 rides, covering some 17,000 miles and 1.6 million feet of elevation, the looks of incredulity are nothing short of comical. But I’m not some sort of super athlete, and I’m certainly not “juicing.” I’m just a normal guy who’s made certain choices about how I want to age, and I’m willing to do what it takes to continue doing what I love, as long as I can.

 I’m sailing my own ship, and certainly not the Ship of Fools that so many folks board when their metabolism slows down, they put on a few extra pounds (or perhaps more than a few), wake up in the morning with new aches and pains, and need a young person to explain what “derping around” is1 (even though they start doing more and more of it). 

How we age is a choice. Look at the aging process as an opportunity to live the best years of your life, not as an alibi for letting yourself go to the point where you sink into depression, due to an endless litany of “I remember when I could (fill in the blank)” statements. When I was a child, my grandmother (who was younger then than I am now) used to start sentences with the phrase, “In my day.” Now that I am in my 60s, I refuse to raise any flags atop that “ship of fools.” With all due love and respect to my grandma, she had the wrong idea about aging, and failed utterly to prepare for it, dying prematurely at the age of 70. Even though I can’t “caution all,” I am hoping to “warn a few”: Live the best years of your life as you age by stating your own terms and sailing your own ship. To do otherwise would be lending your hand to raise the wrong flag.

1. From Urban Dictionary: derping around, verb – aimlessly wandering when you could have been doing something useful. 

Derp: Hey man, what were u doing in the market?

Herp: Nothing man. I was just derping around.

Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: June 26, 1974 (Listen Now)

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