Robert Hunter's Journal
Sept .10, to Sept. 27, 2001
Been awhile. Writing a daily journal began as a joy, became a duty,
turned into a task. At one time I felt there was much that needed
communicating about the changing face of the post JG Grateful Dead
organization, some of it hopeful, some not. As there became less and less to
say about it without repeating myself endlessly, or ratting out the side, the
journal became more personal. Maybe overly so. It was a quandry. I began to
wonder how much I really wanted to say about myself and my daily existence in
what was, after all, prose. It got in the way of rhyme. That was okay to a
degree since I wasn't much motivated by the musical promise of the time.
Motivation is everything. If I don't believe deepy in a project, the
words falter and stop. And I'm pretty picky about what I believe in. I find
it most appealing to direct my power to believe toward those who believe in
themselves in a big and positive way - I don't mean big star wannabees;
that's private stuff and okay if it doesn't muddy up the fishtank or lurch
around like a drunken bear mauling lesser but perfectly good aspirations,
such as mere musicianship. Zero fulfilled my desires for awhile - until the
band blew apart, leaving shards of a damned good repertoire in the dust.
I tend to be a repertoire writer more than a one off man. Also, as I've
said before, I don't tend to motivate myself to write songs for myself too
much. Oh, yeah, once in awhile when I catch glimpses of myself that seem a
cut above my usual glimpses, I can write myself a song, but I find it works
more easily when I project my faith onto others - find it easier to believe
in those I know less about than I do about my own ego.
Have decided maybe to give solo performance another go. Why not a band?
'Cuz I'm a folksinger, mon.! I travel light, and that's that. Been nearly
three years off the road now, time enough to forget what I don't like about
it, romanticize what I do like, and to remember how needful adventure is in
my diet. Sixty is possibly too young to retire, though I gave it a tentative
Phil is dropping by to show me some new changes today.
we talked about livers and tours and layed down a tune: "No More Do I" a
little ray of sunshine, kind of thing reminds people why they hate Grateful
Dead songs or maybe why they dig 'em. Felt hyperstimmed afterwards - the
sparks that fly during a brisk creative session, left and right brain
channels criss-crossing between the act of explaining the changes, grasping
the structure somewhat, then dissolving into image making, cross referencing
with the melodic intention and getting the words on paper. My element.
Probably looks like telepathy to a bystander, but it's just moving very
quickly with much that need not be said aloud, swift responsiveness to shades
of doubt, instant resolution from having done this before enough times to
My family returns from England today. Away for a couple of weeks to
attend a wedding in the West country. I spent time kayaking on the Russian
River and reading novels. Crime novels. Fond of Dennis Lahane and of Robert
Crais. And Sherlock Holmes. Where it started and where it is to date. I've
been weaning myself from science fiction, realizing that character and plot
are all its about and extra-terrestials sometimes get in the way. Not always,
though. Gregory Benford writes sci-fi that delivers a college course on
plasma physics, quantum mechanics or whatever he chooses to explore.
Oops, hold up on that return from England - Maureen and Kate still
enroute as I write this, but their flight has been diverted to Toronto due to
the attacks on NY and DC. With airports closed, how will they ever get back?
Considering the gravity of the situation, I'll refrain from complaining at
our small measure of inconvenience.
God be with our nation, and all the nations, in this time of tribulation.
May a modicum of common sense be with us too.
Wrong about diversion to Toronto. Maureen called from Heathrow Airport,
had been halfway to San Francisco when they turned around and flew back to
London. "What happened?" she asked when we spoke by phone from the airport.
The crew hadn't said much to the passengers about the reason for returning,
not knowing much in detail themselves except that all the airports in the
U.S. had been shut down and hijackers had blown up the WTC. Katy was unclear
as to whether or not the plane she rode had been commandeered by hijackers. I
reported briefly about the attacks while Maureen repeated what I said aloud,
item by item, for the information of others similarly uninformed, then had to
get right off the phone because the queue to make calls home was so long.
Tried many time to call our eldest daughter - circuits to NY busy - who lives
on the lower east side and is in agony (this from her sister) having heard
nothing yet from her steady, a fireman who was deployed to one of the twin
tower basements right before it collapsed. She says she saw, on TV, a helmet
from his unit lying in the thick dust. The fire department, Chief dead and
many men missing, can't tell her one way or the other.
Looking out the window earlier in the morning she'd wondered what the hell an
airplane was doing hanging there stuck into the side of the World Trade
Center. What indeed? Sometimes time stops.
After a day of "manning the switchboard" of family and other concerned
callers, I worked my way to sleep last night listening to Brahm's 4th. 1a.m.
the phone rang me out of sleep - Australia calling. Left wide awake, I read
in my old friend Diane DiPrima's recent autobiography (astoundingly engaging,
a poet's prose) until my eyes wouldn't take it, then turned out the light and
listened to Ozawa conducting Mahler's 8th, the chorale "Symphony of 1000",
fell asleep during a second playing of it, woke at 6:30 and called England.
Heard that the fireman was listed among the missing in the NY Times.
Morning overcast and seemingly in sympathy with what's going on. Aware
that I'm just one of millions whose life is tangentially but directly
affected by the horror. The legion of helpless bystanders. I have no thoughts
of revenge and no notion of what should be done. I guess that this deep
disempowerment of the populace, hence the government, is the point of the
attack. Why do I write about it? I dunno, That's what I do about things.
Write about them. A sudden ray of sunshine through the clouds. Amazing what
that mundane phenomenon can do for the spirit.
Third day of extending my personal center from here via NYC to London.
Not "tired" exactly. Not angry - haven't felt that once, strangely, and I am
a reasonably irascible old man. Just surges of disbelief at the kinds of
things said on tv and radio; the damnable dance of politicians and the
professional pundit puke while shattered hearts lie bleeding true blood. Warm
and wet. The stirring promise of endless battlefields to satisfy lust for
metaphoric blood. Just experiencing, along with a legion of others, the
advancing exhaustion of some subtle psychical strata due to encompassing more
than the emotional machinery is yet (if ever) evolved to accomodate without
something palpable and accessible to touch. Lots of pictures but no picture.
Lack of effect leading to lack of affect. Absurdity of trying to comfort a
grieving loved one by email. Not that there's anything to say, only the will
to feel alongside of. O world of lost children believing in disbelief instead
of doubting doubt. History returns to the starting point armed with ever less
poignant weapons. Image of a Fireman in a crumbling tower when the heavens
suddenly open and forever rushes in like a leviathan come to reclaim her
Almost got killed crossing 1st Avenue at 12th Street last night - the red
face plate is off the DON'T WALK sign, and, without my glasses, all I saw was
that the color wasn't red and began trucking. Wondered why taxis were
thundering full speed down the avenue but assumed they'd stop. Well, they did
- suddenly. Maureen said "My God! It say's DON'T WALK!" We were both in a
daze after taking the red eye to NYC from SF - didn't sleep at all - and then
passing the day in the City walking and walking and walking.
I write about this not to show how frighteningly out of it I was but to
record the amazing fact that none of the dozen or more cars who had to slam
on their brakes for these suicidal idiots so much as blasted their horns or
screamed "ASSHOLE!" at us!
Monday morning traffic rolls past the hotel with hardly more than an
occasional polite tootle of horn.
New York is not what I expected. I held open the door of a 5th Avenue
shop for a lady and her kids and she thanked me graciously, clasped my
shoulder and said "have a good day!" Strolled past an overflowing blue neon
lit Moslem mosque on the lower East Side (shortly before the negligent street
crossing) without the slightest feeling of negativity whatsoever directed at
my blond wife and me. A guardian cop car sat right outside, but, with the
compassionate state of mind which seems to suffuse this city, it seemed more
a symbol than a necessity.
The only references to the tragedy we overheard were in a restaurant
where someone was speaking of how Californians seemed to be reacting to what
happened. When I refer to the reason I'm here, people just shake their heads
and say "aq terrible thing" (but don't speak further of it). Other than the
heartbreaking blocklong billboarding of "missing" notices pasted on the walls
along certain streets - and the conspicuously changed skyline - you wouldn't
know a tragedy had visited the City unless surreptitiously looking more
deeply into people's faces than New Yorkers are wont to do. Then you see it.
Otherwise, you'd maybe just wonder what conjunction of planets had suddenly
turned this hard assed city into a gentle and compassionate place.
After dark fell, I sat alone on the roof, fifteen stories high, of a
building in Soho commanding a panoramic and unobstructed view of the
skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan and the lights of the bridges. I had my
guitar in hand and felt moved to sing "Terrapin Station" to the City. While I
sang, rain began falling - I stood and edged around to the other side of the
roof, still singing, to the corner of the roof facing the World Trade Center,
some fifteen blocks away, where the sky is bright with floodlight
illuminating the work of the excavation crew. A great plume of smoke
continues to rise from the site of the devastation.
As I sang, a powerful wind blew up very suddenly - wind so strong it
threatened to rip my guitar out of my hands - reminding me of the storm in
which I first composed the words I now sang. I wondered if I was involved in
some kind of sacrilege, singing like this in the face of all that had gone
down - the wind roaring increasingly louder and stronger, as though filled
with spirits, as though trying to blow me over, make me stop. I kept singing
until the end, repeating the "hold away despair," expressing all the sorrow I
felt for the lost loved ones and for the healing of this magnificent and
resilient City. I hope it helped. Helped me, anyway.
Bright morning, blue sky. Stiff hurricane flattened parts of Maryland the
24th - must've been part of the same wind system tried to blow me off the
roof Monday eve. Lots of just walking around town yesterday, joining the
humanity flow which banishes ego like nowhere else I know of. Used to resist
it and consequently could spend no more than three days in New York, back in
the 1970's, before needing to get out. Not so anymore, I submerge more easily
and don't view it as a threat to the integration of my own personality,
rather as a complement.
Got together with Matt Blumberg, who makes movies, last night. He's
developing "The Patchwork Girl of Oz" for an animated musical and has
enlisted me for lyrics and Mick Jones to do the music. I've been involved in
the project since mid '99 and love the idea. It's being done in the charming
Victorian style of the original J.R. Neill illustrations.
Matt saw the first tower fall as he was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. It was
like a million splinters flying off in all direcdtions, then it just wasn't
there anymore. He remembers feeling that, when the smoke cleared, it would
still be there, but of course it wasn't.
Unlike the reticence I observed in midtown Manhattan the other day, people
closer to ground zero have a real need to talk about what happened. There is
something akin to missionary zeal in the intensity of their expression of
what they saw, the effects on everyone they know, and what should be done
about it. I did not hear any expression of hatred or revenge, just of shock,
loss and overwhelming compassion. Some of those witnessing eyes, you can just
see through to the scorched ground of the soul.
Survivors with lost loved ones gather daily in Union Square to be with
one another, the only ones who fully understand the existential depths
peculiar to this unique shared sorrow. One by one they begin to give up hope
of miraculous rescues now, face the reality of absolute loss, come to terms
in solidarity with one another. A picture of our daughter's fireman hangs
outside his station house.
Traffic restricted to arterials (the Avenues) the minor cross streets
being blocked off by barriers tended by police in NYPD baseball caps, mostly
young men and women, trainees and rookies. This to keep an eye on all rolling
traffic. Saw several boisterous incidents of in-yer-face public drunkeness
unattended, in full view of lots of cops, security being the sole focus of
the force. Day by day the horn levels increase, though there is still more
roar than honk. Didn't even know the bridges and tunnels to Manhattan were
blocked yesterday until a cabbie told me. He was Indian, an eye witness to
the disaster, but said he was mistaken for Arab and complained bitterly of
harrassment by whites. Sadly, the tabloids (The NY Post and the Daily News)
tend to encourage pretty overt racial animus. The papers feel dirty to the
touch. This driver ranted like an old fashioned New York cabbie - something
you don't hear too much anymore. Used to get a whole life story and opinions
on everything on a long enough ride, but no more. Even so, there seems less
frosted silence than usual towards this Caucasian from Muslim cab drivers
(who have gradually more or less replaced trhe stereotypical Irish drivers of
the past in the land of the yellow chariot).I've been coming to NYC since I
was seventeen - some forty-three years, long enough to notice cultural
changes. The skyline looks like it did when I was a youth, before the towers
were erected. The Empire State building is once again the lord of the
horizon. I think this place is beginning to get to me. A few thicknesses of
skin have been peeled away, at any rate.