When I covered rock'n'roll in the early 1980s, Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia were among the many performers I enjoyed interviewing. But my most lasting memory of the Grateful Dead took place 45 years ago this month long before my career in journalism began.
In the fall of 1972, my friend Bob Boyle and I made plans to see the Dead in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Sept. 19, the day after Bob's 19th birthday. At the time, we were students at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York state about 350 miles from Jersey City. But we didn't let the distance dissuade us. Nor were we concerned that neither of us had a car.
The solution? Hitchhike.
So very late on the evening of Sept. 18, Bob and I walked off the St. Bonaventure campus to West State Street, where we hitched the first ride in an overnight journey that took us to diners, Bob's grandmother's house in Queens and eventually to the concert site in Jersey City -- Roosevelt Stadium, a place where I had once played a high school football game. (My exploits on the gridiron somehow have been omitted from Roosevelt Stadium's Wikipedia entry, perhaps because it was the place where Jackie Robinson, as a member of the Triple-A Montreal Royals, made his professional debut in a game against the Jersey City Giants.)
Today, thanks to the Internet and the passion of Deadheads around the world, I was able to find the complete set list from the concert with just a few clicks of a mouse. However, the memory of the band taking the stage and launching into "Bertha" to start the show was permanently etched inside my head long before Google and social networks became parts of our daily lives.
Over the years, my affinity for the Dead continued and evolved into different areas, including my professional and academic careers. As I noted, I had opportunities to speak with Weir and Garcia when I wrote for The Aquarian Weekly. I also covered shows by the band and its offshoots and got to work closely with Ren Grevatt, who was the Dead's East Coast publicist at the time.
Later when I drafted my application essay for the doctoral program at Rutgers University, I was advised to refrain from calling my career in journalism, music, government and politics "a long strange trip" because some of the academics might think I wasn't serious about pursuing a Ph.D. I did change the wording, but during my 10 years at Rutgers, I never came across any professors who seemed likely to object to a Grateful Dead lyric or two.
Ironically, it was while I was writing one of my first research papers that I discovered GD Radio, a website that streams Grateful Dead music 24/7. The music served as the perfect background while I posited about hegemony and its role in the media landscape, and it continued to serve as inspiration as I worked my way through doctoral courses and a dissertation.
Today, GD Radio is bookmarked on every computer I use so I can listen to the band as I write, research and prep for classes. And whenever I hear the opening chords of "Bertha," I find myself traveling back in time to Roosevelt Stadium -- a mode of transportation that is much easier and safer than hitchhiking across the roadways of New York state to Jersey City.