Tag Archives: Mexico

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:


Solitary Souls

I know that I wrote in an earlier post that I wasn’t going to post any more excerpts from the book, but it’s Halloween, and it made me think of a Halloween (I was, in fact, in Mexico at the time, so it was more properly one of Los Dias de los Muertos–Days of the Dead, or the Mayan Hanal Pixan) six years ago, when I was just starting to experience the delayed grief I’d suppressed since 1990.  (The quote I use in the excerpt is from a book called Hanal Pixan Yesterday and Today: The Mayan Ritual of the Dead, trans. David Phillips.)  So–one more excerpt:

“…Around that same time, I was sent to Mexico for a magazine assignment.  By coincidence, I arrived on October 31st, the first of the Days of the Dead.  On my second day there, I posted:

The people here create altars for their dead on these days, setting out candles, images of saints, photographs of those who have died, cigarettes, tequila, sweets, the things the things they loved when they were alive. It’s believed that the souls of the dead return and partake of the essence of the food and drink left out for them, leaving what’s left for the living. Yesterday someone gave me a book about Hanal Pixan, the Mayan ritual of the dead, and I found this passage:

‘…it is also common to set up an altar to the solitary soul, dedicated to all those deceased who have no one to remember them on Earth, or who have no known relatives, or relatives who showed no interest in them. It might also be…the sick who were abandoned by their relatives…’

Well, my solitary soul, I’ll need to set up your altar here, in a room at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun, overlooking the sea. There are bottles of water here, a bowl of fruit, a red flower, and a warm breeze from the sea blowing the curtains around. If you come back, I’ll be waiting here, in a place nothing like the one you left—the kind of place we used to talk about visiting together.

These past few weeks, I’ve been willing to believe in almost anything.”

In the six years since I wrote that, I’ve gone from being “willing to believe” to absolutely certain, and I’m no longer afraid of death.

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6

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