Another Perspective

What’s a Conservative Deadhead to Do?

Now that Obama has sparked a Grateful Dead -- make that Dead-- revival tour.

By 4.20.09

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President Obama's recent Internet townhall meeting attracted a number of questions concerning the president's views on the possible legalization of marijuana. He said he thought it was a bad idea for various reasons, which might have disappointed a fair percentage of the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Deadheads who voted for him, including my mother. Our three most recent presidents have admitted to dabbling in the devil weed (Jimmy Carter merely governed like he had a bong stashed under the desk in the Oval Office): Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The latter claims that he never inhaled, and it will require decades of learned historical research to determine if he did. Unlike the 42nd president, I'll say right now that I did inhale; but I never exhaled.

I have a framed photograph of Mom -- a treasured possession -- taken in Cancun, Mexico a few years ago, when she vacationed there with one of my sisters and her family. In the photo she's wearing a striped knitted cap with fake dreadlocks attached, and is holding a lit joint to her lips. This woman was in her late seventies when this picture was made. Mom sent me a paper print of it with an accompanying note describing the evening at the nightclub where other family members had posed the shot. "I didn't inhale," she wrote. Right Mom, that's what Clinton said.

After performing at a fundraiser for the Obama campaign at Penn State University last October, the surviving original members of the Grateful Dead (minus the late Jerry Garcia, and the late Ron "Pigpen" McKernan): Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (plus friends Jeff Chimenti and Warren Haynes, and now called simply "The Dead") have reunited and are touring periodically through July 4th, for a total of 23 "shows." There is no such thing as a Grateful Dead (excuse me, "The Dead") "concert." That word implies some sort of predictable musical experience, say, with night-after-night uniform set lists. A Dead show is as much an improvisational theatrical event as a musical one. According to the Washington Post, the guys recently dropped in at the White House on the night before their D.C. show at the Verizon Center and hung out in the Oval Office with the Executive Deadhead, who did inhale during his callow youth. The Dead thanked the president for reuniting them (at the fundraiser) and thus being the catalyst for the current tour. The president was his usual gracious self. Much was made about the neatness of his desk.

I've been to just two shows over the years (Watkins Glen, N.Y.,1973; Saratoga Springs, N.Y., 1988), but I can't count how many Mom's attended, probably twenty or more. At some point starting in the '60s she went from Sinatra and Streisand, to Jerry Garcia and Co. on LP records, 8 Track tapes, cassette tapes, CDs, and now online. Mom and I are big fans of the "Taper's Section" shows on Dead.net. She prefers the late '60s-early '70s period. "Dark Star" into "St. Stephen" into "Turn on Your Lovelight" gets her every time. She really misses Pigpen. She once got backstage (it was one those friend-of-a-friend connection things) at a show at the Meadowlands Arena about twenty years ago, and had her picture taken with Jerry Garcia. I found it while perusing a family scrapbook I'd never seen before. And there it was again. "I know it looks bad, honey," Mom told me. "But Jerry was so much fun to talk to, and I didn't inhale." Thank God she didn't get dosed. She likes a Scotch and water once in awhile, and it would have been a perfect target.

Being a conservative Deadhead is hard enough, but it's especially so when one's eighty-something mother behaves this way. I wonder if other conservative Deadheads can empathize with me? Are there any support groups out there that can be of help? Maybe Ann Coulter or Tucker Carlson can tell me. For one thing, political discussions in inter-generational Deadhead families can be dicey.

But I'd prefer not to explore the Conservative-Deadhead-Whose-Mother-Didn't-Inhale-and-has-voted-for-every-Democrat-she-could-since-Harry Truman political dynamics. But it's safe to say that the average Deadhead is also a starry-eyed Obamahead: Overtly pacifist and culturally relative. Tax the rich, redistribute the wealth, give a federal bailout to any struggling tie-dyed T-shirt manufacturers, and legalize marijuana, of course. But Mom's politics are her own business.

So, for Mom, this current tour is a perfect -- in Dead lingo -- "convergence" of the political and the cultural. Look for her at one of the New York area shows, such as the Nassau Coliseum or Madison Square Garden. As you're grooving along to "Sugar Magnolia" you might recognize her as a kindly senior lady wearing a Skull and Roses T-shirt and that striped knitted cap with the fake dreadlocks. Maybe she'll offer you a brownie from a tin.

Don't eat it.

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About the Author

Bill Croke, formerly of Cody, Wyoming, is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.