I first met Dean in 1976. We both attended Northeast High School in Philadelphia. He was 17 and I was 15. We were both members of a high school fraternity (it’s a complicated story).
Dean had an immeasurable impact on me at that time. We were opposites in so many ways. He was fearless, confident, daring, and he had street smarts. I was shy, nerdy, unconfident, and I had book smarts. For whatever reason, we hit it off, and started spending time together.
Dean died on September 8, 2020. I didn’t learn of his death until September 13. By the time I learned about it, he had already been cremated, and I don’t think there is going to be a service. I am feeling a lack of closure, so I’d like to share my memories of him with you, and also to remind me.
Dean did something back in 1976 that changed my life. He introduced me to the Grateful Dead. For those of you who don’t understand, nothing that follows will make sense. Note that I didn’t say that he introduced me to “the music of the Grateful Dead”. He introduced me to the entire culture of the Grateful Dead.
That means that he introduced me to a way of living that I didn’t know existed. He took me to my first Grateful Dead concert on May 13, 1978 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. He had been playing their records and tapes for me for several weeks, so I expected….I’m not sure what I expected. I suppose I expected a rock band to come out and play their latest record, and talk to the audience, and play all of their hits. What happened was that the band came out, did not speak to the audience, took a while to tune up, and then played a lot of music I didn’t know. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it very much.
But Dean was persistent. He promised me that if I was willing to go again, he would pay for the ticket. So on January 5, 1979, I went to see them again at the Spectrum, and this time I loved it. I don’t know why, I can’t remember what was different. But this time I left the show and I thought “Now I understand!” And I began a lifelong relationship with the music, and the culture, of the Grateful Dead.
Dean listened to other music also, and he enjoyed sharing that with me too. He introduced me to Bob Dylan, and Pink Floyd. I remember him telling me about “Dark Side of the Moon”, and he played it for me from start to finish. I enjoyed most of the music he shared with me, but some of it I didn’t really understand.
Dean introduced me to “bootleg albums”. At the time, very few bands released live albums. The best way to obtain a live recording of an band in 1976 was to obtain a “bootleg album”. These were recording made by fans, and somehow (I’m still not sure how) those recording were pressed onto albums. Local record stores seemed to have copies of “bootlegs” for locally popular artists like Bruce Springsteen, The Grateful Dead, and one or two other bands. Dean introduced me to albums for the Dead at the Great American Music Hall (8/13/75) and at Parc des Exposition in France (9/18/74). I listened to these albums over and over again, and the versions of songs on those albums became my favorite versions.
We spent a lot of time together between 1976 and 1980. We went to concerts together, listened to music together, and we grew up together. Two kids from Northeast Philadelphia, trying to figure this life thing out together.
I went away to college in 1979 (University of Pennsylvania) and Dean went to Bucks County Community College. I could tell his heart wasn’t really into it, and I don’t remember how long he stayed.
One of our last adventures together was a concert we attended on October 25, 1980 with the Grateful Dead at Radio City Music Hall. The Dead played a special series of shows in the fall of 1980, and played an acoustic set, followed by two electric sets every night. Dean managed to obtain a pair of tickets for $40 apiece, which was incredibly expensive at the time (think $400 per ticket now). We were thrilled to have tickets, and we took the train to New York City.
The concert was great (I have a recording), and it was long. So long that we missed the last train out of Penn Station to come home. This was before Uber and Lyft, so we had to stay in the station until the first morning train (about 5am). To make matters worse, it was “clock change night” so we had to wait an extra hour for the clock change.
That was the last time that I saw Dean for a long time, like 25 years. Dean moved to Florida for several years, and then he moved to New York City. I connected with him on Facebook about 6-7 years ago, and I was really impressed by what he was doing. He worked for several years in medical device sales, and then he took a role working with Maybelline (the cosmetics company) where he was very successful.
We reconnected in May 2017 at our high school fraternity reunion, and it was like nothing ever changed. We kidded, we teased, and we said “let’s get together again”. It took us a while (a year and a half), but we reconnected for lunch in November 2017. Here is a photo of our lunch together:
We agreed to get together again, and ironically, a few weeks later, tickets went on sale for a special show with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead performing as a duo at (of all places) Radio City Music Hall. We got together for that show (March 2, 2018), and it was another adventure. It snowed, it was a pain getting to the venue, but Dean and I had a great time together. Here is another photo:
After the show, I drove him to his mother’s house in Northeast Philadelphia. He was devoted to his mother, and looked after her carefully. I pulled up to his mother’s house, gave Dean a hug, pulled away…. And that was the last time I saw Dean.
I have been reflecting on his life, and mine, this week. Dean and I were very different people. That doesn’t mean that one of us was right and the other was wrong. It just means we were different.
There is an expression in our culture, “march to the beat of a different drummer”. That was true for us. Our lives had different rhythms. One of the things Dean liked to do was to refer to things as “WEIRd” (after Bob Weir) instead of “weird”. “WEIRd” was a good thing for Dean. He never wanted to conform, and he didn’t care if he marched to the beat of a different drummer.
A day after I saw news about Dean’s death on Facebook, I went back to his Facebook page, and it wasn’t there anymore. It had been wiped clean. I didn’t know his family, he had no children, and I no longer had a “place” to go to share memories about him.
I have only a few photos of our lunch and our concert, and many memories of him.
I will cherish my memories of him.
Dean, “may the four winds blow you safely home”. (Franklin’s Tower, the Grateful Dead)