Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Dead’s “Unbroken Chain”: Love, Hypocrisy, Nostalgia, and the Road

I don’t remember when “Unbroken Chain” became my favorite Grateful Dead song, but I think it must have been during my period of renewed grief, which started in 2006 when I started to think once again about writing David’s book, and during which I spent every night drinking, smoking, crying, and listening to songs that reminded me of him on my iPod. I was, to use one of my favorite expressions, a train-wreck.

I guess I love haunting songs, and “Unbroken Chain” certainly fits that description.  And there are parts of it that particularly remind of my time with David, and of that time in general. I love the line, “They say, ‘Love your brother,’/but you will catch it when you try,” and the lines that lead up to, “…Unbroken chain/of you and me” (I know now that the chain was, in fact, never broken).  And the long instrumental part (what would a Dead song be without a long instrumental part?) always, for some reason, brings to my mind images of a much younger David, on the road (as I almost always tended to imagine him), running between New Mexico, Kansas, Minnesota, Mexico, New York, and wherever else fate or his yearnings took him before he got sick, his arm out the car window, playing with the wind. It may be an overly romantic image, suffused with nostalgia for times, places, and parts of David’s life I was never a part of, but that’s me. The Dead were just kind enough to come up with a soundtrack for it.

Here’s the song:

“Paint It, Black” : The Anger Part of Grief

Every so often I’ll hear a song somewhere and wonder why I didn’t include it on my playlist for Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.  The Stones’ “Paint It, Black” is one of those songs.

In many reviews of the book, people write about the sadness of the story; quite a few say that it made them cry.  And of course David’s passing filled me with a sorrow for which it seemed there would never be any remedy–a sorrow that came back to me, full-force, sixteen years later when I started once again to try to write his book.

But the book also describes my anger–anger at the loss, anger that people’s lives seemed to go on as if nothing had happened when I lost David, anger at AIDS and the attitudes about it, anger that a man I’d been seeing around the time I met David had the nerve to want to spend time with me again, and even, sometimes, an irrational anger at David himself.  And the anger returned all those years later, when my bout of “disenfranchised grief” began.

This is an excerpt from the book in which I describe the anger I felt shortly after David’s death:

“I wrote something in my blog about trying to get back to my old life: …returning for the first time after David’s death to one of the bars I used to spend a lot of time in before I met him, sitting alone on a barstool under the blue lights in the early evening as the band was setting up, feeling, for the first time, anger instead of grief, or as a different manifestation of grief. Old friends tried to talk to me, but I could barely speak; they had become intrusions, and I hated them for it. I hated the lights, I hated the music, and I hated anyone or anything who wasn’t David, or a means of bringing him back, and I went home early.”

“Paint It, Black” is such an obvious “soundtrack” to those feelings that I’m really surprised that I never thought to include it in my playlist.  Consider it included now. (Generally when I provide links to YouTube versions of songs I try to use the ones not preceded by ads, but this is a wonderful version of the song–a live version by a group of little boys who call themselves the Rolling Stones.)

Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available on here:

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