A Buddhist monk was asked once if the diligent practice of meditation could result in any special powers. ‘‘The only special power worth having,’’ he replied, ‘‘is happiness.’’
This is a book about two kinds of happiness: that of experiencing meaning beyond language, and the exhilaration of using words to describe it anyway. That’s a very human edge on which to dance. Sometimes I like to say that, in writing Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads when we did, David Shenk and I took the big class picture in the last year of the school. In 1993, when we were researching our dictionary for Deadheads, it seemed important to get down as much cultural data as possible—to hoard as much characteristic ephemera against forgetting, and preserve as many voices, as we could.
We wrote our book in present tense, so that someone who picked it up from a blanket at a Dead show would feel it was a fair, if sketchy, representation of the living reality unfolding around them. I don’t think David or I imagined that school would be out forever so soon. Adventures in Deadland always carried a whiff of eternity, but the problem with eternity is that it doesn’t last forever. I fully expected to see Garcia on a small stage somewhere someday, white-haired, wise-cracking, and spry, jamming on Doc Watson tunes. As it turned out, the last classes at Grateful Dead University graduated a year after our book came out, under a shower of fireworks.
Perspectives on the Grateful Dead is the curriculum, reverse-engineered from joys that were so rich, so dependably a source of wonder and renewal, that the thought of codifying it all seemed beside the point while there were still tickets to be had. Some of my favorite moments in this book are when the reality of what is being described comes startlingly alive in a telling detail, as when Mary Goodenough explains that, ‘‘for some, dance and freedom of