Writing a bio is just about the hardest thing an author has to do. Everything I write sounds like the Match.com profile of a 1950's housewife. I'm married with three children and a dog. I like cooking, doing art projects, spending time with my husband and kids, hiking and kayaking, and going to see live music.
Well, I guess that last part isn't really 50's housewife. I can't quite see June Cleaver at a Grateful Dead show.
I saw my first Dead show at the Omni in Atlanta in 1991. I'd been following the band, hanging out in the parking lot at every venue they played, hoping to score tickets and striking out every night since the beginning of Spring Tour. I was young, flat broke, living in a yellow 1978 Ford Granada with three other people, and surviving on peanut butter and jelly. The only reason I got in that night was because a kind stranger gave me their extra ticket for free, what Deadheads call getting a miracle. It was one of the best nights of my life.
Every once in a while I listen to that show on Archive.org. It wasn't the best show the Dead ever played. From a music standpoint it isn't even the best show I've been to. But that show will always be my first, and I will always love it. Surrounded by a sea of hippies, seeing the band on stage for the first time, feeling the excitement of the crowd. Music washing over me. I didn't know every song, didn't even like some of them, but it didn't matter. Being there, hearing the songs I knew and loved, was magical. If I hadn't already been under their spell, I'd have fallen under it that night.
When Spring Tour ended the band headed home for a break. Their followers, the ten thousand or so people who spent their days in the parking lot of the venues the Dead played and their nights singing along, scattered. Many went home. I went west to wait for the next set of shows.
It would be two years before I stepped off tour for good, making the decision to reenter society and go back to school. Years passed, and so did the lead singer of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia. I cried the day he died, realizing I'd never again visit the world I'd left behind. Then, I did what I always do. I moved on.
By then I'd graduated from photography school, met my husband, and was working for a national portrait photography company. I loved what I did- photographing children- but I dreamed of having my own studio.
My husband was also a photographer and together we began photographing weddings and portraits. Soon we'd built a solid reputation. We were photographing school and sports leagues and had expanded into commercial photography. One of our clients was a classic car dealership and every week I got to photograph (and sometimes drive) Duesenbergs, Packards, Camaros, Corvettes. I fell in love with classic cars: the unique features, the attention to detail, the nostalgia of them. These weren't just cars, they were history.
Throughout those years I hid my own history. I couldn't imagine anyone trusting me to shoot their wedding knowing that once upon a time I'd lived in a car. Nothing stays hidden forever, though. I may have walked away from the scene, but I couldn't forget the life or the people I'd known. With the advent of Facebook I was suddenly able to track down friends I'd lost touch with all those years before.
I thought I was looking for closure. What I found instead was that, under the professional button-down shirt I wore to work, my heart was still beating to the tune of the Grateful Dead.
It's a hard thing, to reconcile the persona you've very carefully crafted with who you really are. In an attempt to come to terms with that, and with the life I'd left behind, I began to write a story. I wanted to capture the feel of the scene that surrounded Dead shows in the early 90's. It wasn't a memoir. It was fiction, loosely based on my years following the Grateful Dead, written as a romance.
A Deadhead romance novel sounds a bit crazy, even to me. Romance was what I knew, though. It had kept my mind occupied while my kids made mud pies in the back yard for hours on end or dumped piles of glitter over globs of glue slopped onto a zillion sheets of construction paper. Romance, and the predictability of it, had gotten me thought some of the toughest times of my life. Picking up a romance novel is like chatting with an old friend, one you know is going to make you smile, maybe cry a little, but always leave you in a good place when the conversation ends. No matter what was going on, I could count on romance to be there for me. It made sense to me to write my Grateful Dead story, a story about live and love and friends who are always there, as a romance.
The story was never supposed to go anywhere. It was for me. To sort out my thoughts and, hopefully, allow me to finally let go.
This is the point where I laugh hysterically at the innocence of that idea.
Here's what really happened. I started writing, then decided I wanted realism. Because the Grateful Dead allowed anyone who wanted to to tape their shows, there are recordings of just about every concert they every played. More than fourteen thousand recordings, actually, available on Archive.org and free to anyone who wants to listen to them. And I listened to them. Shows I was referencing, historically significant shows that all Deadheads have heard of, and shows I'd been to.
Memories came flooding back. Looking around at tens of thousands of people holding lighters up in venues packed to capacity from Florida to California. The feel of all those people clapping in perfect unison. Of eating whatever the Hare Krishna's on the Lot gave out for free because I couldn't afford to buy food. The way the sun felt as I sat on a blanket behind my car in the parking lot at Deer Creek in Indiana, making and selling beaded jewelry so I'd have gas money to get to the next show. The smell of patchouli, of incense, of veggie stir fry. Nights between shows, sitting around a campfire with twenty or thirty people playing drums, talking and singing. Of traveling from show to show with ten other people and two dogs in a van with no seats. The colors, the clothes, the songs. Always the songs. And I cried for all I'd left behind.
I wrote the book, sprinkled my own memories in for safe keeping, and I set it aside. I moved on to another, because I had more stories to tell.
Things never stay hidden, though, including that book. I'd been living in a world full of my own family, work, and writing. No one talked about music, and definitely not about the Grateful Dead. Until one night, a fellow writer came to a meeting wearing a Grateful Dead hat. Without thinking, I blurted out that I had a book he had to read. It was a romance, about Deadheads.
The story I'd been working on for publication was put on the back burner, the book I'd written for myself became front and center. Instead of hiding my past, I've embraced it and ironically the story no one was supposed to read became the first book I published.