I tell people I don’t know that I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I rationalize to myself that outside of the Twin Cities, no one has ever heard of the small, upper middle class suburban town of St. Louis Park where I actually grew up.
Truth is my response is really a hold-over from my youth where the response to the question of where I went to high school was invariably met with, “Oh, St. JEWISH Park.”
A WASPY enclave it was not. Nothing edgy or remarkable in any way. No anchors from my youth to latch onto.
Kids from pasty white, affluent Midwestern U.S. suburbs during the mid 1970s could not begin to relate to any type of urbane culture or iconic markers of our time. In actuality, there was no “our time.” We could only borrow the cool cultural touchstones from the recent past and hope we could connect.
Counter- culture? What was that? We were too late for the beat generation, beatniks, civil rights movement or Vietnam activists. Al Goldstein, Jerry Rubin, Jack Kerouac, Huey Lewis and The Weather Underground were people I could only imagine knowing or hanging out with.
I never went to a “coffee house” and had absolutely no idea what Black Power was all about.
I was a skinny, scrawny Jewish kid with skinny, scrawny Jewish friends. We all had kinky dark hair, affectionately known as “Jewfros.”
Music? Please. Mine was the era of DISCO. Donna Summer, K.C. and his Sunshine Band and the Brothers Johnson.
I did NOT shake my booty. I did not HAVE a booty. The fact of the matter was my era in the Twin Towns was well before Prince was on the scene and I knew nothing of Black culture but I longed to have an identity, any identity different than the one I had.
Truth is I didn’t relate to most kids my age on any level. The jocks at my high school didn’t ignore beanpole-like, dope smoking Jew-boys, they tortured them for sport. I recall one episode where the entire senior boys wrestling team spied me en route to gym class one day and hung me by my shorts (can you say super-wedgie?) on the elevated door stop outside the locker room for all those who happened by to enjoy. This included my gym teacher, Mr. Daly, who told me to “wait right there” for him and he would get me down in a minute.
I needed a soundtrack for my life and I was on the quest. Maybe I could borrow my brother’
He had the Grateful Dead and I was really jealous.
I first heard Jerry and the boys; this was the original Pigpen band - long before Donna Jean Godchaux was a band member, just when Europe ‘72 came out. My brother was overseas and actually heard the Dead in Amsterdam, became a groupie and followed them around for six weeks before coming home a true Dead-head, the American Beauty rose embroidered on his jean-shirt in an era that predated the popularity and ubiquity of today’s tattoo.
He played the album nonstop when it came out a year later and told me of his personal experiences with the loose women who followed the band. I came to think of Jerry Garcia as my own personal Bob Dylan, a hip rocker who spoke directly to me. I bought every Dead album ever made and in 1976, made my first of many roundtrips as a college freshman to see the boys, outdoors at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
I was not disappointed as the wall-of-sound that greeted me was stupendous. Jerry, Phil, Mickey, Bobby, Bill delivered. Even Bill Graham was hanging out just off stage, still producing the tours back in those days. More than four hours and three intermissions later it was in the books. I still have the set list from more than thirty years ago, Uncle John’s Band to open, Casey Jones was the encore.
Oh there was plenty of dope too. Mary- J- Wanna, exhibit A, as Garcia was famously quoted in the film version of Woodstock. Sticky sweet, pungent and oh-so-cheap, the mid seventies were good for something and that was very affordable weed.
For the next four years, my entire career as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, I went to Grateful Dead concerts, smoked a lot of dope, lost my Jewfro and grew up, only slightly a “child” of Haight Asbury and the counter culture.
No Odetta, no peace marches, no protests, sit-ins or rallies. My salad days had none of the above.
Just Panama Red, Sugar Magnolia and Jerry Garcia. It wasn’t all bad.
published 23 July 2011