I am lucky enough to have amazing friends and in this way I was lucky enough to see the Grateful Dead’s Fare the Well shows in Chicago. And while people debate whether these were an actual farewell or if the Dead will keep resurfacing to cash in on farewell tours over and over like some other bands have been known to do, the shows in Chicago really felt like a goodbye to me.
After seeing 50 years of the Grateful Dead’s live music capped off with “Touch of Grey,” the last song they will perform as the Grateful Dead, I feel different about the song. As “There Were Days” and “He’s Gone” played through Soldier Field, we knew that this was goodbye. I remember, in spite of all the beauty around me those nights, my heart ached sometimes as the question of, “what am I going to do now?” rolled through my mind. And I sensed that Bob was maybe having the same thoughts up there on the stage. His lyrics sometimes dripped with lament. Sometimes the remorse of it was palpable and people around me cried as they danced.
I know some of the old heads view this song like it’s a moment of betrayal. It had its video on MTV and launched the Dead briefly and weirdly into the mainstream, drawing noobs to the lot scene that hadn’t paid their dues. And of course Jerry had his problems in dealing with the kind of stardom that was thrust on him partly because of this song. But to me “Touch of Grey” has always secretly been special.
My parents weren’t dead heads and we didn’t know any when I was a kid. MTV was my first exposure to the Grateful Dead and I found the whacky video and the melody to this song pretty appealing as a six year-old.
Having left a new impression upon my psyche, I think I will now forever find this song appealing. “Touch of Grey” applies more aptly to my life these days, whacky video and all, because I’m getting old too. I’m silly, I’m obscene and I’m certain I know less now than I thought I knew when I was six. I think I get the gist of it but it’s alright.
As the reassuring, celebratory answer to our anxious, “What are we going to do now?” we were led in song to a conclusion that stands not only to answer the issue of what we will do now that the Dead have finally stopped playing as the Grateful Dead forever, but also as a method for joyfully devouring whatever days remain of our own long strange trip.
I look to the world with all its strife and confusion and I am not worried because if there is one thing I know, it’s… I will get by.