It’s not often that a meme inspires honest philosophical reflection, but here we are. Maybe isolation is just weird like that, or maybe some jokes are truer than they were ever intended to be:
Quarantine is the Drums and Space portion of your life.
I’ve been thinking about this concept since I saw Stephen Welinsky post it on Facebook last night.
For those unaware, during the Drums/Space portion of a Grateful Dead show, the band would cede the stage to drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart for a percussion exhibition (Drums) which would eventually slip into ambient experimentation (Space), giving the “Rhythm Devils” a chance to break out their ever-evolving stable of unusual instruments and effects.
Grateful Dead fans have always been decidedly split on the merits of Drums and Space. The Grateful Dead were known for their spontaneity, and their ever-changing setlists, so many Deadheads see this regular second set segment as something of an intermission—a break in the action, a chance to hit the bathroom and grab a drink. When listening back to old shows, most fans skip over Drums/Space—not necessarily because it’s bad, but because it’s inevitable. It’s different every time, but you know how it’s going to go. May as well get on with the main event.
Others, however, are quick to defend Drums and Space as a quintessential creative vehicle for the band’s unique rhythm section, a testament to the persistent creativity at the core of the Grateful Dead. To this camp, Drums and Space is the part of the show where you turn on, tune in, drop out, and let Billy and Mickey push your mind somewhere it’s never been before. Even the haters will tell you they’ve enjoyed the Hell out of live Drums/Space experiences—whether or not they went to take a piss before settling in.
At face value, the idea above— that “quarantine is the Drums and Space portion of your life”—is a “bathroom break” joke. It’s a “skip track” joke. We all can’t wait for this to be over. We all wish we could fast-forward to the end, back to a state of relative normalcy. Lol, etc. But you can actually take this off-hand observation much deeper.
Mid-March was Drums. All of a sudden, the melodies were gone, and the pounding started. Shows canceled, tours postponed, festivals dropping like flies. Those hits built to cacophonous, ominous, anxiety-riddled levels as the live music industry effectively screeched to a halt.
Now, however, we’re on the cusp of Space. The hits have slowed. The industry has started to pivot and adapt to this temporary “new normal.” We’ve settled in. We now have the time to explore a different state of being, try out some tricks we’ve been waiting to use, find ways to keep our lives fresh and interesting, get lost in reflection and contemplation. Use it.
Space is about channeling the raw, untamed energy of Drums into something new and beautiful and soothing, something driven by feel and emotion. It’s a chance to get turned around, to dive in the deep end, to get weird, to lose track of time. Eventually, the dream state begins to melt away, and you find yourself in a song you know well, back from the cosmos. The time you spent away is a blur, but at least you enjoyed the ride.
Your quarantine will reach a similar end, eventually. We don’t know when it will come, but one day in the not-so-distant future, you’ll find yourself at a show—back on earth, back in your happy place—and you’ll appreciate it on a new level after the uncharted journey you just completed.
When you “listen back” to the best of times in your life—just as you’d relisten to a great show—you probably won’t pull too much from Spring 2020. You may hit “skip” on this portion, and I get that. These months won’t be as “eventful” as other months, other years, but if you get past your begrudging feelings toward the momentary pause in the usual action, there’s something beautiful and worth experiencing in this situation. Learn something. Create something. Reflect. Take stock. Improve yourself. To borrow a phrase from the late Anaïs Nin, “In chaos, there is fertility.”
Accept the path we’re on for the next little while. Make the most of this breather. Open your mind to its unique upsides. The first few notes of your first show back in action are coming—all good things in all good time. I’ll see you on the other side…
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