Dude, Garcia Looked Right At Me—I’m Awesome!

Damn, who's he looking at now?

Long ago, a hundred bad haircuts into my Jurassic past, I regularly attended Grateful Dead concerts. I went to a lot of them, because for me and a zillion other fervid fans, the Dead could get us off, riding a mass-mind and bouncing-body electric-rhythm rocket, unlike any other band. When the the Dead were crackling, they had the audience bonded in an escalating excitement of communal glee. Sure, it might have been the acid, but I actually was courageous enough to occasionally attend Dead concerts where I didn’t take acid, and that you-had-to-be-there effect was still pronounced: a shared sense of good times and collective conviviality that seems completely corny when I try to describe it now.

One of the amusing side notes of being among the ragged clowns that tagged after the Dead train was that during one of Jerry Garcia’s piquant, extended guitar noodlings, there would invariably be among the crowd of bliss kittens a guy who would turn, a Saul at Damascus look in his eyes, and gush to whomever was listening, “Jerry, looked right at me! We connected, man! Did you see it?” And for the rest of the concert, the fellow touched by the divine was just a little higher than anyone else, if that was possible. I directly heard variants of that statement many times, and read the same long years later in concert reviews online, when one of the faithful described the moment that lifted him. (And note: this was always a man that staked this claim—the women seemed content to merely twirl in the tantalizing twists of sound.)

Though I always played on the periphery of the true believers, and was caught up many times in the glow of the groove, I never could climb to the top of that ladder, where Garcia’s gown glimmered—my articles of faith always needed editing. I’ve always marveled at the faith that people have, in a God described to them from pages written lifetimes ago, faith in the depth of their abilities, however limited or constrained by evidence, faith in the certainty that Garcia looked right at them, man. As far as I can remember, I’ve been uncomfortable, or perhaps jealous of, deep expressions of faith and certainty in people and in movements, because there seems so much contingency and randomness in life. And because faith seemed so exclusionary of fact. But that’s the nature of faith, isn’t it?

Keeping the Faith (or Trying to Locate It)
This is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve been particularly lacking in conviction lately, about my writing, and about my place among the faithful and faithless, which is one reason why I haven’t been posting. I’ve become accustomed to the stints of mild depression I’ve experienced for many years, watching them and waiting them out, because they do always lift, though some phases last longer than others. It’s easy to get indulgent with our pains—”No, I couldn’t possibly write that essay today, I’m in a bad mood.” Bad moods can be useful delaying tactics.

Sometimes, when you are deep in your own head, that sense of “what’s the use of writing” can seem like all you’ve got. But the pain of writing disappointment is nothing compared to real emotional pain. A few days ago I was listening to a radio broadcast of interviews with wounded vets who were learning how to ride bicycles after their limbs had been blown off. All of them were expressing such an eagerness to move forward with the difficult therapy and complex equipment that would bring them back to the simple pleasure of riding a bike. Suffering does unite us, but hearing of suffering that seems leagues beyond your own serves as a good reality check. Those soldiers had faith they’d ride the bikes again; they were committed to doing the work to make it happen. It’s a different kind of faith than the intangible one I struggled with as an altar boy, trying to discern just when and how a little bit of flour could be transformed into the body of Christ by a priest’s declaration. I was always more interested in trying some of the sacramental wine.

Sharing the Feeling (the Stains Are Extra)
I said earlier that suffering unites us, but as Tolstoy says in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” My own way has been to be stuck, faithless in my head, but it’s time to get on the bike, get the kinks out, try and write without too much judgment.

But before the ride, one more concert story: I was at a Hot Tuna concert in L.A. back in my salad days. There was a break between sets where people were milling about in that hive-like concert way. I was sitting down on the floor, a ways from the stage. For some reason, my eyes lit on a fellow who was a fair distance away, wobbling and lurching about like he was very drunk. I idly watched him making a circuitous route through the crowd, probably keeping my eyes on him for several minutes. His wanderings finally took him to a spot directly in front of me, whereupon he unloaded a rich stream of vomit on the floor, with a fair amount landing on my pants. It wasn’t pleasant at the time, but the memory always makes me laugh, because I contrast it with the other concert experience of “Jerry looked at me!”

At least Jerry didn’t vomit on me. Keep the faith.

28 thoughts on “Dude, Garcia Looked Right At Me—I’m Awesome!

  1. Where do I even begin?

    I’ve always been clear on the difference between faith and credulity; accepted the apostle Paul’s definition of faith, from Hebrews 11:1, where he describes it using the same language as a title deed to a piece of property; where he mentions belief *based on* evidence, not despite it.

    But bringing it back from the perilous edge of religious discussion: faith in ourselves as writers—I believe we do our best work when we’ve shifted fully to one end of the continuum, and the further from the edge, the less vital.

    I wrote a lot when I wanted to die. Seems many artists are moved by despair, and the ones who stay just this side of suicide have created some world-changing stuff.

    The other end of the spectrum gets less attention. Human nature to prefer pain and suffering in our art and artists. Yet, the ceiling of the Sistine, Bach and Vivaldi and so many others: they soared divine.

    We were watching a cooking show last night. The interaction between people, the exuberance of camaraderie. Cooking is art. The joy of cooking is a joyous art. Art should be joy.

    The continuum can be a circle instead of a line. Common belief is that the next step to the left of its end is nonexistence. When I looked that direction, what I was looking for was a way out of pain. Deciding that life was worth living simply because it is—the nexxus to joy wasn’t falling off a log, but it’s been a relatively short trip, and infinitely better in every way than nonexistence.

    I’ve never envied the friend who said to me, “and during his encore, Bowie pointed RIGHT AT ME.” The child’s belief that they can be a ballerina and an astronaut and a jungle explorer wears the power of innocence and future.

    Once we’re old enough to be going to concerts, I wanna see more of the same self-choosing, not that passive need to be chosen.

    Now, if I can just work in the Higgs Boson and the price of tea in China, I will have covered all possible subjects.

    I’m sorry; what were we talking about?

  2. Jerry Garcia once said (not to me personally; he and I never connected, man):

    “Stuff that’s hidden and murky and ambiguous is scary because you don’t know what it does.”

    Unless, I suppose, you have Faith?

    While I never had the honor of being an altar boy (it was strictly grape juice in my childhood Methodist church), I too started early, grappling with issues of faith, in God and in my own abilities. Still grappling. It’s always come easier to me to keep the faith in others.

    And my faith in your writing, in your ability to delight and move people with your words, is as strong as ever.

    So, definitely: get back on that bike, my friend.

    PS Didn’t I whirl past you at the ’91 concert in Oakland?

  3. Sigh. I’m one of those people who, if I had attended a Dead concert (never did), would have said later: “The music was pretty cool, but that skeevy guy up on stage with the messy beard gave me the creepiest look, and the whole night, people kept bumping into me. I like it better when there are actual seats at these things.”

    And after many years of thinking about the lessons of both religion and evolutionary biology, which I do not find mutually exclusive, my own little personal conclusion is this: human beings were designed to move, and we were designed to solve problems. The more interesting the problem, the better. Can’t answer for everyone, but I find it hard to feel down when I’m in the midst of solving something. Or exercising. What’s extremely difficult is starting, or picking back up again after we’ve been down.

    I believe that once we start, though, we generally feel better. See if that’s true for you, Tom, and if so, try to get hooked on starting and re-starting. Works for me, might work for you too.

  4. Joel, naturally I accede to the notion that the closer to the writing edge we get the more vital the writing, whether for confessional purposes, sadistic entertainment or commercial gain (or for the sheer whimsy of celebrating pain, like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man).

    Trying times in the strange arena of the mind, where the combatant selves and cheerleader selves and the dull drip, drip, drip of “I’m here, what’s for lunch?” selves all vie for attention. I sometimes give to much credence to the sad clown (who could use a new outfit). Sometimes it’s just a matter of showering off old thoughts.

    That Nesmith link didn’t resolve for me, but maybe it’s because Facebook knows I’m a hater.

    I do appreciate the quality (and tea-laden Bosonic range) of your musings, but I still reserve the right to be a ballerina astronaut.

  5. Annie, I do think grappling is second nature to me as well, though I do tire sometime of the voice of the lecturer. (Can’t he add juggling to the “what’s it all for” lecture?)

    Thank you for the kindness about the writing. As for you whirling by me in ’91 in Oakland, yes, I was the guy who asked you if you had any matches to light the pair of wingtips I was attempting to smoke at the time.

  6. Rick, yes, being disengaged from things, whether we spend our project time repairing pocket watches or contemplating the six dimensions of time (one of which is much akin to a fluffy cheese), is bad. The mind has many swamps that are best avoided by action, as you state.

    I do have some projects going, but I’ve been giving in to lassitude. Will adjust.

  7. Bastronaut. (Sounded better than astrorina.)

    Who’s your accountability partner, the person who’ll nudge when they don’t see the next chapter? Just having someone, knowing their antennae are flitting, is helpful when I prefer closetus fetalus.

  8. Joel, the accountability partner is a good idea; I am on a writer’s site where you report weekly goals and word counts, and I am pushed a bit by that, but probably not enough.

    I will probably change my title on my business cards to “Bastronaut.” It really does have a ring. (Like the ringing in your ears when someone lights a firecracker too close to your head.)

  9. “Bastronaut” is the finest new word I’ve heard in a very long time. I mean, it beats out “podcast”, “brofessional”, and certainly “man cave.”

    Although “carnivoyeur” is a pretty cool one…

  10. a. Fill ‘er up!
    b. Well, yeah, if I could only befriend someone famous and influential when they were nobody, then after they were famous and influential, have them personally recommend my book. There’s a great launch strategy.

    Um, I didn’t mean that to sound snarky. At least, not at you. Does the last 80% of the article say something more helpful than page one? (I’ve had every friend I have write something about me and my book, and not move the needle, so fame seems to be a big part of the equation.)

  11. SnarkField: I think the article does offer some useful advice about cultivating contacts in a natural way, ones that might help you move forward later. (Start now and save!)

    I do have a working relationship with the Guide to Literary Agents editor, and he might give me a chance to do an article/book giveaway on his blog, which has a good circulation. He is a guy I’ve done some writing for, and met, so I do have a better shot with him.

    What, you don’t hang with Tim Ferriss?

  12. In my newest book I quote a study which showed that parole judges start out granting about 65% of requests in the morning, then it drops to zero just before their midmorning break. After the break, it snaps back to 65%, then drops to zero before lunch. After lunch . . . well, you get it.

    So, since I posted that comment before my nap and my dinner . . .

    I think I missed the very good point you gleaned from it. Perhaps I’ll read 65% of it again.

  13. Right there on page two he writes “So what’s the relevance of all this for everyone else? Is my lesson ‘get introduced to Tim Ferriss, and send him salsa music over the Internet, before he’s famous’? That’s not very actionable advice!”

  14. Joel, I hereby grant you parole. Go out and sin no more. (Had a decent breakfast, did I.)

    I think you should immediately start sending Ferriss those Casbah-like Coptic trance music stylings of yours I remember from one of your CDs. You will move him from that tired salsa stuff and be able to get a recommendation on his blog in 2.3 years.

  15. Groovy. (Since the one word applies in oblique ways to everything you said, it’s my entire comment. This is just subtext, which happens to be visible because on the internet, everyone knows you’re a subtext.)

  16. Ah, just getting back to this.

    Here’s the rub: “If your goal was to cause a lightning storm of book sales,”

    Hmmm.

    Just as that guy in the hotel said to Clouseau, “That is not my dog,” well, “That is not my goal.”

    My goal is to make a difference.

    Seth Godin describes here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6vpBDFoMqc

    -How one view is “This is the best, everyone should buy it,” and another is “We’ve built something unique and interesting; if it’s for you, we’d love to hear from you.”

    I know it’s weird, and maybe even self-defeating, to not care about a launch. But the reason the so-called Tim Ferris effect worked is that people were already primed to hear the message in the book, whatever the frak it was about. (See- I wasn’t one of them.) Growing little tribes all over the place is an excellent strategy, no matter if it’s done all at once through one big famous blogger that I’ve never personally heard of, or slowly, over time, one person at a time. Who each tells ten. Rinse and repeat.

  17. You anarchist, Wilson. Going around breaking perfectly good systems with your thought and your caring and your humanity.

    It’s so hard not to want to be rich and famous, but wanting it is a great way not to be happy.

  18. I knew you’d understand, Joel. In this particular case, for this particular book, I’d rather cause positive change in 500 businesses than sell a particular, even a much larger, number of books.

    The one number is important. The other- not so much.

    (Having said that, I’ve already cast and scored the movie in my mind. Hey, we are all complex creatures, capable of incongruity.)

  19. Rick, and cause positive change you will. (Where’s Yoda when I need him for some phrasemaking?) I’m going to pay a skosh more attention than you to launching my book of short stories because I need to get it in front of some book reviewers and a deeper audience of readers for it to even have a chance of selling a paltry few.

    I am giving you a walk-on part (with a line, so start practicing) on the movie made from my book.

  20. Tom, it may be (I’m an amateur in this realm, so I don’t know for sure) that no matter what the project’s focus, it all comes down to this:

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/04/do-you-have-a-people-strategy.html

    We should all seek out Opinion Leaders in the right places, places that are relevant to the nature of our work. You probably know who the book reviewers are. As for the “deeper audience of readers”, that’s where I’d think that social media would be excellent. Start as far in advance of the publishing data as you can. Find little tribes of people to talk up your book for you.

    I’ll be one of them. As soon as you can send me something, I’ll post a link on my website and tell all my literary patients. As a group, I’ll bet they have a lot of influence.

    Maybe I’m an optimist. But it seems to me that if you got something like 37 of these little megaphones going, well then you’d have a pretty powerful launch with no media spend. It just costs emotional labor. Sorry, labour.

  21. I think that’s what the Ferris guy was really saying.

    Interesting thing happened the day after I read all this: someone I’ve been chatting with incidentally since they joined Triiibes had asked me to do some writing a while back (truth be told, I liked what they were doing and made myself VERY available.) Next week, we’re talking about A Bigger Idea (or Two) and I think this may turn into a mutually beneficial thing a bit like the Ferris Wheel of Fortune Effect.

  22. Joel, hear, hear to your Big Idea! May it have wings and not wobbles (or, if wobbles, pleasant, jaunty ones).

    Rick, my book is already out (and rather expensive) on the Kindle,

    http://www.amazon.com/Flowering-and-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B007ZU7LDM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1336081163&sr=8-2

    But it hasn’t officially been released yet, and I need to do a number of things before I actually announce it, mostly to my mother. Weirdly enough, the cover image has not shown up in the print version on Amazon, even though the publisher has told me he uploaded the images a while back. I uploaded my own versions on Thursday, and it still hasn’t shown up, so that definitely needs to be fixed.

    Anyway, I’m off to LA right now and then to Panama for the next month, where I’ll be redesigning the Panama hat.

  23. This will only be the second time I’ve used ALL CAPS since going online back in the mid-90′s:

    $8.99 IS NOT ‘RATHER EXPENSIVE’ FOR A WORK BY TOM BENTLEY!

    Haha. Just bought it on my Kindle. Superexcited to read it all. Will talk it up once done.

  24. Hey, you guys are all righteous citizens of honor, decency and not-pulling-your-cars-across-the-crosswalk-when-kids-are-present character. Thanks! This actually wasn’t a sales pitch, but there’s a sucker, whoops, a warm thought in every exchange.

    Joel, I’ll have to check with the publisher again, or maybe Amazon on the cover—still hasn’t shown up.

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