The HUNDREDTH MONKEY
The GRATEFUL DEAD
1995 was an eventful year for me. Two visits to Glastonbury, a performance at a minor music festival, the Hundredth Monkey Camp out of which came my book ‘Waking The Monkey!’, and two deaths. The closer of these to me was that of my father, late in the year. The other was that of Jerry Garcia, on August 9th, Nagasaki Day, and it coloured my experience of the late summer of that year.
At the Hundredth Monkey Camp two weeks later I happened to arrive on my father’s birthday and brought with me the memory of Garcia’s recent passing and a pocketful of songs by him and his fellow band members The Grateful Dead.
We had been invited to bring with us artefacts or associations with whatever tribal group or otherwise that we felt we had some identification with, as well as to wear what was described as ‘shamanic dress’. The Grateful Dead tribe had primacy in this for me. I had a flag which I had recently made of the bands emblem, the Skullflash as it is known, as well as an Afghan style sheepskin jacket on the back of which I had painted a design based on that from the cover of Aoxomoxoa, famous for being probably their weirdest album.
This was partly meant in jest, and indeed the correspondence with the court minstrel on their record label was not lost on me, but it also seemed to take a more serious note after Garcia’s passing.
I played several times at the camp, and while it probably sounded rough and mangled to my listeners, I was the only person on site with a guitar, so it seemed that I had somehow been put there for a purpose. If we were to spend the week trying to get in touch with cosmic intelligence and divine levels of being, then it was only right that God’s Own Rock’n’roll band should be there in spirit and I was probably a sufficiently odd enough misfit to take their part.
One of the reasons why the Dead have inspired such loyalty amongst their fans is the metaphysical and transcendental poetry of Robert Hunter, long time song writing partner with Garcia and on occasion with others. There was a frequent background theme that would break through of mysticism and spirituality, at times gothic in its feel, and this was perfect for the vibration of the camp, at least as I felt it. This was not mere Rock’n’roll, but poetry and devotion too. I was pleased to find that I was not the only Deadhead on site, and that one had even seen them at Woodstock.
A small group of singers practised Taizé chants daily in the late afternoon, and there were the occasional beats of drums, or drones of a didgeridoo or two. My guitar and singing seemed to fit comfortably between them.
As the week progressed I found myself going through an intense series of experiences and emotional states, and woven into the backdrop of it all were the words of Hunter, occasionally Barlow, Dylan or Kantner and Slick.
It was an inner journey, my own long strange trip, that was so much the richer for the metaphysical engagement with the unlimited weirdness of the Grateful Dead, but without which it would probably not only have been bare, but also empty.
There is a core thread with the Dead that is about both community and self reliance, surely values we should espouse and propagate. It is these that I believe embody the spirit of the Hundredth Monkey of human consciousness.
The Dead have been at the centre of much controversy over many years, but we should look beneath the surface and understand these virtues which have enabled them to survive and prosper. Many people and interests have attempted to control, manipulate and direct them, but they have survived as an entity, with some notable casualties along the way, admittedly, but the Community has survived. If the Spirit wasn’t in there somewhere, the old engine would have come off the tracks a long ago and ended up in a ditch.
As an American national institution they can be summed up by Hunter’s words in the song ‘Liberty’ ‘Say what I mean and don’t give a damn, I do believe I am who I am’. You can’t really say fairer than that, can you? And the President sends them a congratulatory message on their achievement, seeking to bask in some reflected glory, when all this demonstrates is that they have achieved a status beyond needing to pay heed to such things.
It pays off in the end, being your own man.
You can purchase a paper or e-book version of my account of my shamanic rite of passage at The Hundredth Monkey Camp ‘Waking The Monkey! ~ Becoming the Hundredth Monkey’ (A Book for Spiritual Warriors) at