Grateful Dead on repeat and marriage

I am married to a Dead Head. My husband Mark didn’t discover the band until he was in college, so he missed much of the touring that makes the the community vibrant, but he’s made up for it ever since. Like most Dead Heads, he has listened to the 200+ versions of Fire on the Mountain and could tell you what date and venue the best version of the song was played. He loves the Dead so much that he plays keys in a Dead cover band called Peak 2 Peak (they gig locally so check them out if you live around here!).

I could probably sing every word to every song – because the band practices in our house, and when the band isn’t practicing, my husband is practicing. We have keyboards on every level of our home – just to make sure that when the urge arises, there are no barriers to the music. Over and over again, I hear the songs. Gig after gig I hear the songs. Our friends talk about different versions of the songs. Which songs Bobby sings and how John Mayer is an unlikely but decidedly talented add to the latest version Dead & Co. Try as I might, even as I attempt to force myself, nope, I still don’t like the music. One of the great tragedies of my marriage is that I am decidedly NOT a Dead fan, and many other marriages share in this dynamic.

In addition to the Grateful Dead, my husband is also in an Eric Clapton Band called Forever Man, and an original band called Max Mackey Band. And all of them practice in my house. My home is often overrun by musicians who are lovingly grateful we donate our house to the cause – and I smile and say “You’re Welcome” through the earthquake level vibrations that the raging rock band inflicts on the bones of my home and the teeth in my head. My kids have learned to sleep through the loudness, even though the air is literally saturated with sound. I was at Forever Man’s inaugural gig on Friday night, and one of husband’s best friends Berger leaned over to me and said “Hey, have they played Layla yet?”. I responded that they had, or at least I though they had, and then 60 seconds later the band launched into Layla, starting with my husband’s solo… I looked at Berger, shrugged my shoulders, and said “Well, I suppose I should get to know Eric Clapton better now too!”. He leaned back over and said “It’s okay. You are an amazingly supportive wife.” And I haven’t been able to shake the comment since because my story is that I’m not supportive enough.

I want to love the music. I want to love his music. I want to be the girl standing in the front of the stage dancing and whooping and getting the whole crowd into it. I want to be the one helping book the gigs and dragging all my friends to the shows and passing out flyers. I want to be stoked that he bought a new synth (expensive!), or replaced the heavy monitor he was lugging around with the new in-ear monitors (also expensive!). I want to be less bummed when I think about how much money we’ve spent at ProStar Audio or SweetWater Sound. I want to be impressed with the original Hammond B3 in mint condition, complete with the Leslie 145 rotating speaker cabinet – all tube powered, currently collecting dust in my basement. It would be more fun, and my marriage would be better for it. And sometimes I am, but not very often. My support is limited to the quiet and constant acquiescence of my home and attending gigs when I can rouse the sitter. Thus Berger’s compliment seemed empty to me.

But the compliment got me thinking – while I am listening to his music on repeat that I might otherwise run screaming from, you should see his face when he’s into the music. Ear to ear grin, eyes sparkling, radiating life and energy. It is awesome to be around, contagious even, and sometimes I can’t help but dance and sing along – not because of the music, but because of HIM. His joy infects our whole family – and how could I ever want that to stop?

Yet I talk to a lot of people that think I’m “generous” because he spends so much time, money, nights, etc on his passion. They wonder how I can put up with the loud music in my home when the kids are trying to sleep, the musicians traipsing through late into the evening. How I can deal with the number of evenings he’s not around, the time away from him. They focus their attention on the sacrifices I am making for his dream. And the truth is that it is hard sometimes to deal with, but it pales in comparison to the light radiating from him when he’s happy. That alone is worth it. I find joy in his joy – isn’t that part of what love is?

Everything worth having has it’s struggles. You want a great body? Don’t eat that pizza and beer and push against intense resistance every single day. You want that career? You’re going to work hard every single day to get it. You want financial success? You learn every day to control your spending and invest your excess. You want that bubbly happy baby? It involves incredible sleepless nights and emotional turmoil. Things and experiences worth having involve sacrifices to make it happen.

The trick is when you see the sacrifices as “sacrifices” – then yeah, good luck with attaining the goal. All you see is how much you’re giving up. However when you see sacrifices simply as stepping stones, but keep your eye on the purpose, they aren’t sacrifices at all, but rather just part of the journey to attain your goal. They are moments of learning, of improvement, of discovery, of patience. For me, his music journey is part of my stepping stones to a happy, fulfilling marriage and life. And that is a journey that has no end.

I see this dynamic at play everywhere, in relationships, in career goals, in life goals. When I focus on the part I don’t like, the hard part, when I start saying “woe is me, look how hard this is” – I never accomplish the goal. But as I keep my eye on the horizon, my happy husband, my well grounded kids, what I want out of life, then the little discomforts become just that, little nothings that are part of the journey that give my life it’s sweetness.

So Mark, thank you for teaching me all about jazz-based jam band music and letting me truthfully say to fans “I’m with the band”. Also thank you for not being a football guy, and this is all just practice for both of us as our 8-year-old son loves to CRANK dub step from our professional PA system…

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