For the past week or so, the internal hi-fi in my noggin has been playing Grateful Dead songs in rotation hour after hour. I suppose a fella could do worse as far as ear worms go. They were a damn fine band.
This cerebral concert started when I heard that the late John Perry Barlow’s family ranch, the Bar Cross near Pinedale, was on the market. Barlow was, for my money, the only legitimate Renaissance Man ever produced by the Cowboy State.
He was, among many other things, a lyricist for the Grateful Dead and wrote a batch of great songs with band member Bob Weir. My fervent hope is that, when the Bar Cross changes hands, it will belong to someone who appreciates the significance of the place, and of the rebellious young cowboy who was raised there.
I was on a campaign swing when Barlow was buried in the Pinedale cemetery a few years ago, and I missed his final shindig. But I visited his grave a few days later to pour a generous tot of Jim Beam on the fresh dirt. I found that the hippie chicks had beaten me to the punch, and festooned Barlow’s grave with tie-dyed banners, god’s eyes and little stuffed Grateful Dead dancing bears.
So, yeah, its only fitting that the playlist running between my ears should be the Dead and nothing but the Dead.
Lately, the song that’s been on repeat has been “The New Speedway Boogie”, not a Barlow/Weir tune but one penned by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. This song is the band’s response to the orgy of violence that ended the Altamont Free Concert, in December of 1969.
Billed as “Woodstock West”, the concert spun out of control because the Hell’s Angels had been hired to provide security. The Angels got drunk and stoned and began beating up the audience and the bands indiscriminately, ultimately killing a guy.
Hunter Thompson called Altamont “the high water mark of the hippie revolution”. And the Grateful Dead wrote a song about it.
Its not too much of an intellectual stretch to equate Altamont with the violent insurrection that took place on Jan. 6. During a day when the peaceful transition of power in America should have been celebrated, Instead, Trump’s thugs (not Hells Angels, but Proud Boys and Oath Keepers) attacked the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certification of election results. And people died.
Here’s where a Grateful Dead song makes me think about Liz Cheney.
In singing about the breakdown of order at Altamont in “New Speedway Boogie”, there occurs this lyric:
“I don’t know but I’ve been told
if the horse won’t pull you gotta carry that load.
I don’t know whose back’s that strong
well maybe find out before too long.”
With her courageous vote to impeach Trump for his role in the Capitol riot, and her unrelenting leadership of the J6 Select Committee, Liz Cheney is demonstrating to us the strength of her spine.
Cheney is, at great political cost to herself, standing in the gap in the wall, putting her foot down and saying, “Not on my watch.” It is to Wyoming’s shame that she is being ostracized at home by those still in Trump’s thrall.
It is entirely within the realm of possibility that, regardless of the outcome of the primary contest between Cheney and Trump’s anointed turquoise handmaiden, Cheney will run for president in 2024 and win without carrying her home state.
There would be poetic justice in that, perhaps even a song.
But for the purposes of this column, lets just consider her work protecting the institutions of our democratic republic since Trump’s forces attacked on Jan. 6. And lets listen to the last chorus of “New Speedway Boogie” as the song ends with a challenge:
“One way or another
one way or another
one way or another
this darkness has got to give.”