I Forget How to Play

A hallucinatory deadhead fantasy dream.

Dreamed I was Phil Lesh, bass player for the Grateful Dead. I could play like him, fingers straying across frets and strings in insane syncopation, notes unplanned-for spilling out across melody and rhythm. I could sing like him, slow and strong and impossibly deep, with just a hint of twang. I even wore those trademark red-white-and-blue wristbands keeping back the sweat—though I noticed the base I was playing had only five strings instead of six. I was standing onstage at a festival show, playing an impossible reunion set with Bobby, Mickey, and yes, even Jerry himself. We played four or five songs in perfect, organic, group-mind unison, voices in a harmony rich and old with scratch and creak, Cryptical Envelopment, The Other One and Wave to the Wind.

Then we took a minute to breathe. Jerry went off stage for a minute (maybe to do a line) and while we waited I stood there noodling away, dropping that deep, heavy E note so it ballooned out without end across the undulating crowd. Mickey and Bobby bantered away about what to play next, then Bobby turned to me in his big new bushy Jerry beard and said, “Hey, let’s play ‘Friends’—you remember that one, one of mine? A new one.”

Then it all started to unravel. I remembered who I was—me. “Uh, yeah,” I said, with Phil’s voice, “I think so.” And fiddling away with the strings, I somehow managed to break one. A thick, immensely sturdy bass string snapped and fell away. Bobby and a couple of techs swarmed over with a new one. I fumbled it on, clumsy, cursing myself, and then suddenly there was Jerry, smiling, gently showing me what I’d done wrong, twisting it taut. He slung on his guitar, plugged it in.

“Let’s do ‘Sunshine of Your Love’,” he said. A song I actually know—me, not Phil. Though of course I’m sure he knows it too.

I ran through that crisp, smooth bassline a couple of times in my head. Then I let my fingers follow. The rest of the band fell in, and we were playing.

“It’s getting near dawn…”

I woke up with a song in my head.

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