Some Kind of Mojo

Last night, after a long day spent mostly outside, I settled in to watch The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir, a documentary about the Grateful Dead guitarist that’s now on Netflix. I’ve been, I guess, a casual Grateful Dead fan since I was in high school (you can read something about that here) and found the film to be equal parts entertaining and enlightening. Weir will never have the legacy and cult status of Jerry Garcia – the title of the film alludes to that – but he remains an incredibly talented and dedicated musician who had just as much to do with the development and ultimate success of the Grateful Dead as any other member. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been revisiting some old favorites today and thought about sharing something from History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One, an album that was very important to me as a teenager. Or perhaps “Sugar Magnolia,” which is probably the best-known Dead song penned by Weir. But then I remembered one thing that struck me while watching the documentary last night: images and footage from the Dead’s three-night stand near the pyramids in Giza, Egypt in 1978.

Basically, the idea for the trip evolved from the band’s – specifically bassist Phil Lesh’s – fascination with “playing at places of power,” i.e. locations that had more cosmic energy that the musicians and their audience could tap into. Lesh reported that he felt that there was “some kind of mojo about the pyramids.” In 1976, with the help of concert promoter Bill Graham, the band started to work on a plan to get into Egypt. They ended up using other contacts, well-connected Americans who had worked at the American University in Beirut, to help them present their proposal to play at the pyramids to the Egyptian government. Lesh spoke with a deputy culture minister, who as it turned out, completely understood his feeling that “music changes when you play in different places.” And so, that’s how the Dead ended up rocking the pyramids in April 1978, with all of the shows’ proceeds going to Egypt’s Department of Antiquities.

I think this event was a particularly cool moment in the history of the band, an example of how they used history and mysticism to further their own sound and image. I’m looking forward to researching it some more this week. (And listening to the live album covering the shows from April 15 and 16 – Rocking the Cradle, Egypt 1978 – which was released in 2008.)

Finally, here is a very good cover of the magazine Relix from February 1979 with an image of Bob Weir in front of a pyramid.


Sources Consulted:
Haas, Charlie. “Still Grateful After All These Years: In Which the Grateful Dead of the Haight-Ashbury Become the House Band of the Certain Age of Doom.” The Grateful Dead Reader. Ed. Davide G. Dodd and Diana Spaulding. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. 133-134.

Vacay in the Bay Area, Part Two

Since I wrote the first part of this post, I’ve come down with the worst stomach flu I’ve had in years. I’m finally feeling a bit better this morning, so I thought I would continue! I think I left off on Saturday night…

Sunday morning we woke up, grabbed coffee and drove up to Napa Valley. The day, like the previous two, was beautiful and I was looking forward to it being warmer than in the city. I even wore the only outfit I brought that didn’t involve pants – a dress! Our first stop was the Town of Napa. We walked around a bit, looking for a place that sold hats because I needed one very badly for my sunburned face. We had no luck in that regard so we went to the Visitor’s Center to pick up some maps. A possibly senile woman with a cloud of what I’m certain was naturally black hair showed us a few good spots on our map of the valley. However, once Stephanie had mentioned the Chandon Winery, our aide assumed that we were only interested in sparkling wine and highlighted every sparkling winery on our map. We went straight to our first tasting room after that.

We arrived at Backroom Wines shortly after it opened at noon. We were definitely the first customers of the day. As I sat down for our tasting on some very comfortable couches, I had no idea what to expect. I think I’ve done two wine tastings before and one was the activity at an awkward alumni event and the other one was accidental in the sense that the wine store on my corner does these free tastings on Friday nights and it was empty when I walked in so I felt bad and hurriedly partook. Anyhow, a very friendly man helped us with our “Off-the-Grid” tasting menu. Halfway through the tasting, he told us that this was his third day working in the tasting room and that he had actually been working in Napa Valley as a chef for the last few years. Both Steph and I were very impressed with his knowledge of the wines. (Though, I guess it’s his job to be knowledgable about the wines, even if he’s new.) Our favorite was this Open Range Red from 2009.


Lunch at Kitchen Door

Lunch at Kitchen Door


Even though we also had a cheese plate at Backroom, we went over to the Oxbow Market after that for lunch. The market was adorable but I just wished that they had had some non-food stalls and maybe a stall that sold hats. Anyway, we ate at Kitchen Door. I had the “Alsatian flatbread”, which didn’t taste a whole lot like tarte flambee but it was truly delicious. Steph had eggs benedict, which I didn’t try, but she said they were also delicious.

After lunch, we drove to Yountville to Domaine Chandon to taste some sparkling wine. Getting a spot at the bar there for a tasting was kind of a hassle, but it ended up being a great place for people watching. First of all, it was Bastille Day, so all of the staff was wearing red, white and blue, “French” clothing. (So basically, berets and neckerchiefs, since that is what French people are known to wear. Oh, and stripes.) Also, we were the youngest people there who weren’t part of a bachelorette party. The plastic surgery I saw there was kind of astounding. Like, no joke, literally every woman behind the bar looked like Janice from the Muppets. Anyway, we did a tasting of four sparkling wines there. I’d say a solid three of them were good.


Tasting at Tamber Bey

Tasting at Tamber Bey

We then drove to St. Helena, which was a very cute town. We went to the Tamber Bey tasting room, which was in a kind of tucked-away spot. The wine we tasted there was great and again, we were the only people in the tasting room for a while. Our very chatty host gave me more wine than was really necessary and we also had some delicious shortbread cookies to eat along with the wine. After we left there, I was kind of drunk so we went to Goose & Gander for a “snack” of duck fat fries and scallops. The food was great and their outdoor seating area was very nice, even if there were like one million flies keeping us company.


View from the Passenger's Seat, Napa Valley

View from the Passenger’s Seat, Napa Valley


We drove back to Berkeley/Oakland – I was actually confused about which city I was in at all times – after that and had a little salad at Steph’s apartment and rested for a while until we went to The Trappist to meet one of Steph’s friends. I obviously forgot that I had been drinking all day because I had three different beers there. (I swear I’m not a glutton, just an Epicurean.) Anyway, I slept pretty soundly after sort of drunkenly trying to figure out what I was going to do in SF the next day.

I got up on Monday morning and was, well, slightly hungover. But I pulled myself together pretty easily and came up with a little game plan for SF. I repeated my little jaunt to the BART and into SF from Friday morning and got off at Embarcadero. This time, I took a streetcar to Castro Street, which had been on my list of places to see since I watched The Times of Harvey Milk for my Gay & Lesbian History class in college. I walked around the Castro for a while, stopping at Hot Cookie for a snack. (The snack was a cookie.) It was pretty chilly out and raining a little bit, but I decided to walk to the Haight for some more sightseeing.

While on my walk to the Haight, I came upon Buena Vista Park, which looked very wooded and beautiful, so I decided to climb up and check it out. However, I rethought that decision once I was in the park and realized it was dark-ish in there and literally no one else was walking around. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen to me, but I’m not exactly fearless when I’m traveling by myself. I exited the park after about a block and continued walking along Haight Street.





Haight-Ashbury kind of felt like a rundown Hippie Disneyland that’s slowly being transformed into a yuppie neighborhood. There were about forty Tibetan gift shops, old neighborhood coffee shops, young transients with dogs and so many music stores I’m surprised that all of them could stay open. (Actually, maybe there were only a few music stores. But still, I’m surprised that all of them could stay open.) But there was also a bunch of sleek-looking boutiques, a Kidrobot store, the most adorable bookshop I have ever entered – it’s called Booksmith and you should go if you’re ever on Haight Street – and an organic grocery store with outdoor seating where I bought a much-needed bottle of water.


At 710 Ashbury

At 710 Ashbury


One of the three things I wanted to do while in SF – incidentally, the only one of the three things that I actually accomplished – was to go to 710 Ashbury Street, where the Grateful Dead lived for about two years in the 60s. For some reason, I imagined that it was this big landmark. I, like every good Northeastern prep, went through a serious Grateful Dead phase in high school that didn’t quite last into adulthood. But I still listen to them when I’m in the mood, very much appreciate their contributions to the culture of American music and will never write them off like so many other bands I liked when I was younger. (Actually, I’ve had pretty good taste in music since I was 13, that being the year that I stopped listening to Dave Matthews Band and started listening to Bob Dylan.) Anyway, the house was not a landmark. People live in it and it’s beautiful. There are a few tiny pieces of Jerry Garcia street art on the sidewalk, which I photographed. I was there for maybe two minutes and then I walked away.





I walked straight up Haight and to Golden Gate Park, where I don’t know what I expected to do other than walk around. My original plan had been to go to the deYoung Museum, but of course it was a Monday and it was closed. So, I just kept walking straight in the wind and the drizzling rain hoping that I would find something to do. Eventually, I happened upon the California Academy of Sciences, which seemed better than nothing. It’s geared toward kids, but I bought a ticket anyway thinking that I could at least see some cool stuff. Um, I would skip this one if I could do it over. Their rainforest exhibit was cool and I like aquariums but I could have seen that shit in New York. Also, it’s weird being around so many families with kids when you’re an adult on your own. One of the sadder things I saw that day happened in the museum. This little nerdy kid with round Harry Potter glasses was wailing on a bench outside of the cafe. WAILING. And I didn’t see his parents anywhere. As I was walking by him, I looked to my left and saw that he had thrown up everywhere and I thought about how miserable that must be, to be the kid who has just thrown up in the museum sitting by yourself in front of your own vomit that’s being cleaned up by an elderly janitor.


At the Japanese Tea Garden

At the Japanese Tea Garden


I knew that the Japanese Tea Garden was close by so I walked over there and paid to walk around. The garden was originally a temporary exhibit at the 1894 World’s Fair. I loved it there. It was like the theme park version of Scarlett Johansson’s day trip to the Buddhist temple in Lost in Translation. I ended my visit by sitting down for  green tea and edamame and writing letters to my grandmothers and my great-aunt.


Walking Back to Castro Street

Walking Back to Castro Street


I found my way out of the park after that and walked through the Sunset District, back through the Haight and back to Castro Street, where I got on the subway to get back on the BART. It had been a long day of walking but I felt like I saw a lot even if I didn’t actually do much that day. When I got to Steph’s apartment, we had a beer and some baguette and cheese. And then I packed my suitcase so that it was all ready after we got back from dinner.

We had dinner at a cute little Italian place in Berkeley. (I forget the name now and I couldn’t record it in my phone because I was changing it back at the apartment.) My food was great but I was feeling a little weird, which now I think was probably the beginning of my illness. Once we were done, we went back to the apartment, gathered up all of my stuff, and Steph dropped me back off at the BART so I could ride to SFO. I probably won’t see her again until next summer, so I was sad to say goodbye. BUT I was happy that I had made the trip and we’d had so much time to catch up.

Nothing noteworthy happened at the airport. Really, I just waited a little bit, got on the plane and tried to sleep for about five hours, which turned out to be…not that possible for me. And the rest of the story is that I got off the plane and took a $70 cab to work because there was no way I was getting on a subway that exhausted with all of my luggage in 105 degree heat.

This moment, the moment in which I’m writing this, is the first time I’ve really gotten to reflect lucidly (I have been jet lagged and violently ill since Tuesday) on the trip and I have a few things to say. First of all, I’m proud of myself for making this happen. I’m happy that I had someone to visit, of course, but I easily could have put this off another year or whatever. Secondly, I really had no problem with being by myself for two days and I could see taking an actual trip by myself in the future. And lastly, I can’t wait to go back to SF and really see the city, i.e. not do all of the touristy stuff, even though I kind of liked it this time around. Actually, I just can’t wait to go back and eat more food. And I wouldn’t mind going to wine country again.

Friday Roundup: A Few From the Vault

I caught up on a LOT of reading during the past week or so, mostly because of the Thanksgiving holiday. I spent the better part of two days reading every single magazine that I had missed during this very busy month and it was great. Anyway, just a warning that some of the below is kind of old…

– I loved this piece on the Grateful Dead and their legacy that was in The New Yorker last week SO SO much. (However, I assume that if you were never into them, this article probably won’t seem quite as wonderful as I’m telling you it is?)

– Also enjoyable, from the same issue of The New Yorker, is this thing on the work of Ryan Murphy. It really made me want to re-watch season 1 of Popular, but not season 2.(Also, HAHA “Queer Eyes, Full Hearts”.)

– OMG, also! If you still have the November 19th issue of TNY…please read Roger Angell’s heartbreaking (and relatively short) piece on what the dead don’t know. And the Kid Rock profile.

– Everyone should drink a ton of coffee, apparently. (The Atlantic)

– And here are the 10 Best Books of 2012, according The New York Times. (I have only read one, Bring Up the Bodies, and it was incredible and deserves all of the praise that’s been heaped on it.)

– On the heels of reading like 47 reviews of Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree, I read this NYT Magazine article on ‘The Autism Advantage’.

– Jenny Slate was on the Yo, Is This Racist? podcast this week so you should listen to it. Yay!

– This is fun: Susan Rice, Condi Rice…How Can Important People Have the Same Last Name? (The Awl)

– And finally, this important question was posed in laaaast week’s NYT Magazine: What Brand is Your Therapist? (Mine is NOT a digital-media navigator because if she were, I would be much better at blogging.)

OK, I’m done. Have a great weekend everyone!