Touch of Grey

So I’m driving down the highway the other day, and this song comes on. Now normally, I’m not a big singer-in-the-car type, but I was really feeling it. So I start to belt out the chorus, ” I will get by, I will survive!” And I felt a little better instantly. It’s the power of music, like a cathartic release from the stresses and difficulties of life.

Touch of Grey is by the Grateful Dead, one of their most recognizable songs. In fact, it was the only top 10 hit for the band (it peaked at #9), which is remarkable considering the wealth of songs the band recorded from 1965 until Jerry’s untimely death in 1995. Their career was so vast yet remained mostly underground to the general population. It seemed that it was a secret to the community of Deadheads, of which I consider myself an honorary member. I was just getting into the Dead in high school and went to “the lot” for their concert at Soldier Field in 1995, if only to experience the scene. It was eye-opening; the sights, sounds, the smells! It was truly a community unto its own, with people who followed the band around the country. They looked out for each other, and forged relationships that were unique to the tour. People sold merchandise, shirts, grilled cheeses, or other things…….just to make enough to get to the show or the next town. At Soldier Field that night I didn’t have a ticket or much money, so I was content to kick it in the lot with some new friends. I always thought I would make it to more shows, but alas it was not to be. Jerry died a little less than a month later, August 9, 1995, of a heart attack. He had been in and out of rehab, had horrible health problems stemming from obesity, diabetes, and longstanding drug addictions. It seemed to be a byproduct of the lifestyle of a traveling musician; some figured out how to take proper care of themselves, but he never did. The band continued on after his death, in many different forms, with many different people trying to fill the void. I have been to quite of few of those ensembles over the years, but it was not the same without Jerry.

Thinking about Touch of Grey, and how it applies to my life now, its kind of an obvious correlation. All I have to do is look in the mirror, and I see a little grey in my beard, a few grey hairs and evidence that I am getting older. Robert Hunter, Jerry’s songwriting partner, wrote this song in reference to the band growing old gracefully. I think about that, and how I’ve tried to evolve over the years. To be a better version of myself, correcting my past mistakes and behavior. Is this a perfect evolution? Of course not! There are plenty of moments where I feel myself reverting to my past, not taking proper care of my health or acting like a child. But I’m conscious of those moments, try to take a deep breath, and stop those tendencies before they take over. It’s not a perfect system, and there are plenty of times when I am not happy with myself. But I try to have more good moments than bad. Like the song said, “Every silver lining has a touch of grey.”

Having gone through all I have in life, I try to draw on those experiences and that perspective to then evolve into a better person. I think about all I have now, as well as all the struggles and difficulties (both physical and mental) that have led me to the point where I have grey hairs! If I told my teenage self that I would still be not only kicking but successful at 40 years old, I would have laughed at myself and dismissed the possibility. But here I am. I keep waking up everyday, and moving forward. So I try to keep progressing and growing as a person, a man, a father, a husband, and a CF elder statesman. 🙂

Also, as it is Sept 11th today, I want to take a quick moment to remember the people who were tragically lost on that day, and the first responders and everyone who put themselves at risk to help. That was the best version of America, how we came together as one to pick ourselves off the mat. Hopefully, we as a nation can get back to that America. NEVER FORGET!!

Like a Hurricane

This song seems very appropriate today, as another deadly storm is barreling down on Puerto Rico and Florida. Written and performed by Neil Young, one of the best singer/songwriters of all time, his lyrics can be applied to the masses. That has been one of his great gifts. Some people can write a song or two that relates to people of all backgrounds or generations. Neil Young has been writing those kinds of songs for 50 years. Canadian born, he started his ascent as a part of Buffalo Springfield, co-writing or contributing to great songs like Mr. Soul, For What it’s Worth, and Bluebird with another budding songwriting great Stephen Stills. Their great chemistry led to Neil Young being including in the collaborative group of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. I could write about that group on its own merits, but today I want to focus on Neil Young. He can paint a picture with his words, relatable to most everyone’s experience at some point in their lives. It’s astounding, and he has done it over and over again.

Like a Hurricane depicts a love that was both irresistible and toxic at the same time. While you are in the eye, you feel calm. But once you are blown the the edges of the storm, you can see the intensity and damage that is being done.

You are like a hurricane
There’s calm in your eye
And I’m gettin’ blown away
To somewhere safer where the feeling stays
I want to love you but I’m getting blown away

Now, this does not have to apply to one thing alone. One could relate to many things in life: a lover, a family member, a close friend, or even an illness. I can say that CF has felt like a hurricane at many points in my life, creating chaos and destruction to all aspects of my immediate surroundings. I have lost multiple lovers and close friends over the years, as it can be traumatic to be a bystander. The unrelenting cycle of illness and hospitalizations have created conflict and hurt to my family and marriage. CF can be out of anyone’s control sometimes, like a rabid dog that needs to be put down. But you can only push it down but so far before it comes back seemingly harder and stronger than before.

Sometimes, in the middle of the storm, you can’t assess the damage it is inflicting. Instead, you are just trying to push through and get to the other side. But when you have the ability to step back, you can see the effects, like a boat leaving ripples in its wake. Since I have been a little healthier, and CF hasn’t taken over a majority of my thoughts and concerns for the time being, I have been looking back at the damage. The ones most obviously affected are the ones closest to you: my wife, son, brother and mother. I try to think about their mindset, being concerned about someone they love, watching them struggle while totally helpless to stop the progression. And after a hospitalization and I improve, the people around me can then breathe, but at the same time are holding their breaths for the next storm coming through. Over the years, the storms have been more frequent and severe. (Just like the effects of global warming have caused worsening and more violent weather. It’s a real thing people!!). Since the storm has seemingly passed, even for the moment, it’s hard not to brace for the next one. Yes, the new drug therapy has done wonders. But by no means it is over. I’m not cured. Part of me can’t help wondering when the next illness will hit, and I’m sure the people around me feel the same. What happens to me happens to them as well. So while I’m not metaphorically boarding up my windows for a new storm, the chronic and unrelenting nature of this depicts there is a storm on the horizon. I just don’t know how far away.

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