Just completed the autobiography of Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh. “Searching For The Sound: My Life With The Grateful Dead” was one of those reads that took me back about 18 years to when thtere was nothing but Dead bootlegs playing on my stereo.
No, I never got to see/hear The Dead in concert. Had the opportunity to see one of their last ffive shows, but, alas, it’ll remain one of those coulda, shoulda, woulda things.
Anyway, being such a fan during my high school days, it was cool to re-read many of the experiences of the band from their 30 year history. Most interesting was their stories about the acid tests in the mid 60s in San Francisco, hanging out with the Merry Pranksters, Woodstock-just that whole hippie thing. Again, I think I was born about 30 years too late.
One thing the 60s hippie generation did really well was their “live and let live” attitude towards everyone. This isn’t to take away from all the things the hippies did wrong, but that Zen attitude of just letting others do their thang is cool. Instead of trying to control people and get them to do what YOU want, the notion of just letting others be free to live their lives the way they want is something of which I’m envious. Lesh’s book really highlighted this.
And that live and let live thing is cool…to a certain point.
See, there’s a fine line between being Zen and being a wimp. Lesh says as much in his autobio.
During the Dead’s career, they lost no less than half a dozen people directly to substance abuse. Pigpen drank himself to death, Janis Joplin ODed on heroin, Keith Godchaux officially died from head injuries received in a car crash (but we know how that works with someone who is a known abuser), Brent Mydland died from an overdose of booze and pills and, last but not least, Jerry Garcia’s use ultimately led to his demise in 1995. Throw in all the other hangers on and influences and it’s real, real obvious that the whole free love/thinking/mind expansion from drug use has a dark underbelly.
In one episode of the book, Lesh describes how the band had a meeting about one of their members. A bandmate was abusing drugs, probably addicted, and everyone was suffering. Still, no one in the band had the fortitude to step up to the plate, confront the abuser and draw the line in the sand. So, in typical cowardly fashion, they made their manager do it.
I love the idea of Zen. You cannot control the stream, you must simply learn to flow along with it. That stream is life. Great in theory, right?
What Zen fails to address is what happens when someone you love is going down the tubes. Live and let live can easily turn into a Beatles tune: Live and Let Die.
My theory is that by practicing being Zen, letting others have free reign to let their freak flag fly, the 60s attitude ultimately meant that some folks lost their lives. Those who were not addicted, abusing nor caught up in letting drugs control their lives saw the damage those drugs were doing…and no one helped.
Does this mean the hippies have blood on their hands? Kinda, yeah. By choosing to NOT take action when someone is in trouble isn’t Zen-it’s cowardly
Look around. Are there people you know who need help? Do you have the guts to state your concern? Addicts have great defense mechanisms built in…but they can’t even balk if no one has the courage to show their concern.
When you know someone who is hurting, abusing or needs help-don’t be a hippie. Zen can only take you so far. Step up to the plate, try to help…you may not succeed, but at least you didn’t let the world abuse your loved one without a fight.