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[whitespace] Phil Lesh Time moves on, but Phil Lesh still draws legions of fans.


Goodbye to All That

Everyone has a musical era worth defending--from the Grateful Dead to punk rock

By Gina Arnold

THE OTHER DAY I had a disconcerting experience on Haight Street in San Francisco. Lately, that once-hip arena of cultural currency has taken on a more genteel facade--it's all frock shops and creperies and well-coiffed girls with Kate Spade bags. But I was walking there in the late afternoon, and it looked as if a huge rave or something similar was going on. Throngs of people were in Shoe Biz buying on-sale Doc Martens; Ardvark's was packed; and there was some kind of general melee taking place on the corner directly in front of the Gap.

Granted, it was New Year's Eve day, but this was even crazier than that holiday usually implies. I kept overhearing stupid comments, too. One kid walked by and said, "Look, Ben and Jerry's! That's where the Haight Ashbury is." It reminded me of the Haight 15 years ago, but in a bad way, because the metaphors were so mixed. It was as if I was living my life all over again, only now I was the old hippie and everyone else was groovy.

Or so I mistakenly thought. Presently, I went into a rave store and asked the rave-dude owner what was going on. "Oh, it's Phil Lesh at the Warfield," he replied. It seems the Grateful Dead, now personified by bassist Phil Lesh, are back in earnest, and a whole new generation of 16-to-18-year-olds are into following him around, just as previous generations followed Jerry Garcia. Once the guy mentioned it, I realized that the crowd indeed consisted of Deadheads and not ravers. It was 1994 all over again--that being the real height of the Dead's being followed around America by a crowd that was thoroughly detached from any sentient reason for following them around, other than that other people were doing it.

And now they're doing it again. The idea of seeing some grizzled old guy in a jam band just shouldn't appeal to anyone under the age of 30. Hell, make that 40. And yet, oddly, when I voiced this opinion, rave-store man disagreed: "It took the Dead 40 years to build up their reputation and following; it's OK if they keep it another 40, none of us [he meant DJs] have that kind of experience."

Everyone has an era they will defend to the death; mine just happens to be punk rock. If that evening's festivities had been the Rezillos, I might have felt differently. The Rezillos (a.k.a., the Revillos) are a late-'70s punk band from Scotland that reformed this year to play the annual Hogmanay show in Princes Street in Edinburgh, and my correspondent writes that it was fantastic. "Eugene [Reynolds] is a little tubbier, but he still has a quiff, and somehow squeezes himself into his leather jacket, and Fay Fife looked great. I guess the thing is, they always could play their instruments, and they always had a sense of humor, and neither of these things need to disappear if you're a bit older."

The Dead, to my mind, have never seemed that humorous. Ponderous, yes. And hairy. And smug. One wonders if, post Sept. 11, those are attributes that people find comforting--if cutting-edge culture is just too scary, too thought-provoking, too unsure for troubled times. Or maybe--more likely--kids just like the drugs. History repeats--tragedy, farce, etc., etc. Meanwhile, That 80s Show is about to begin on Fox Network. I hope that, rather than confine themselves to black and red spandex outfits, headbands and snippets of Flashdance, they remember to include the fringe elements: punk-rock bands like the Rezillos, alternative rockers in torn jeans and Converse All-Stars, Goth rockers and those nascent traveling Deadheads, on the golden road to nowhere.

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From the January 10-16, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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