It's a tough one to write because even now, so many years later, there are so many emotions attached.
I always knew there would be.
Some things stay with you forever.
So I'll tell the story, at least the story from my perspective, and most people reading it won't really understand what I'm saying. It was more than it was. It was once described to me, years later, as "a time when we were surrounded by angels."
Once upon a time, there was a band.
Six guys, most from Long Island, who ended up in this hippy town in upstate New York.
They were friends as well as bandmates.
And all was good.
They played original music, progressive-jazz-rock-out- I'm not really sure how to describe it music. Some was a little over the top pop-related, except when they'd turn it into a jam in the middle. Some was avante guard from the first note. Some had words, some didn't. I think everyone in the band wrote at least a few songs. If I wanted to, I could probably still sit down and make a list.
They were way, way ahead of their time musically. No question. Excellent musicians, all of them.
But as good as they were, oddly, what they were most known for wasn't really the music, at all.
I still remember the first time I saw them, at the old Strand Theatre. Some friends had suggested I go. I think they had been going to hear the band for some time, but I wasn't as easily able to get out to hear music, not being able to drive, and not generally being allowed to go most of the places where bands played: bars. But this wasn't in a bar, and I got a ride.
When the band came on stage, the energy in the place changed. First came a few notes, like they were warming up, maybe, and some chimes, a little work on the cymbals, sort of atmospheric, building, building to... I had no idea what.
When the song really started, people came out of the woodwork, almost literally. Men and women, many of them dressed in white, or in long skirts, flowing clothing. And they danced like nothing I had ever seen before.
This was not the kind of dancing typically seen at concerts, or to "dance bands."
First, they clearly all knew the music note for note.
And the dancing was expressive, it was connected, it was joyous. They danced alone, or in pairs, or in groups, mirroring each other, playful.
I could not tell whether this was actually part of the performance, or if it was open to anyone who was there and felt like dancing.
Turns out, it was both, really.
The band was most known for these dancers, the audience, who showed up at every show. I'm pretty sure the band didn't really ask for that to happen, and there were times when I wondered if they even liked it, or if they thought it was too... something.
And it was. Something.
It took me three shows to get up the nerve to go out there for one song. The last song of the night.
At the fourth show, I danced for two songs.
After that, I don't think I missed a performance, or a song, unless it was literally impossible for me to be there.
I spent half my freshman year of college on a greyhound every weekend to wherever the band was playing.
For anyone still reading this far...
No. This was not the Grateful Dead.
Once I was one of the dancers, some interesting things happened.
First, I no longer had ANY self-consciousness about getting out there and dancing in front of people, even knowing that many people thought we were all "weird hippies." I didn't care what anyone thought.
This is HUGELY important.
What I learned is this:
In general, other people don't pay any attention to what you do.
If they do, they don't say anything, and they don't remember it five minutes later.
If they DO say something, they still don't remember it later.
And who cares? Who cares what someone else thinks about a person doing something that hurts no one, and brings them joy?
I made friends there that I'm still friends with today.
And the other thing...
I can't explain this part, at all.
But when I walked into wherever they were playing, I was part of the world. I existed in the same dimensions as everyone else on earth.
When the music started, within a few notes, we were transported... somewhere else. Somewhere that transcended time.
And no, for the record, I was not on any drugs.
How could a band, a simple rock band, have this effect, or matter, in the long run, at all?
I don't know.
But they did.
I don't expect anyone who was not there to understand it. I really don't.
I'm sure you have had your own experience that made such a difference to you, and it's probably something you can't explain any better than I can explain this, and that's okay. We each have our own path.
For a time, my path intersected with some interesting people and musicians, in an odd way.
Before the end of my freshman year, the band split up. I understood why at the time, and hated it anyway. I will never forget the last show, when they packed the very same theatre where I first saw them. Thousands of people, and all I could think was "Where were all of you all along?" Why do people often only appreciate something as they lose it?
They all went on separately in the music world. Of the six, five still make their living with music in some way, whether it's composing, recording, playing, teaching or engineering, and one died an untimely death from complications of diabetes.
After the band split up, something very strange happened, that I still don't completely understand.
It was true that some of the people who danced were also students at the local alternative school.
Somehow, the name people used to refer to the dancers was totally transferred, to become the name used to describe the students at that school.
It was not intended to be complimentary. It was used in much the same way that some groups of people use "dirty hippy" now.
People who really were a part of it didn't mind being called that, and didn't care that the people using the term thought it was an insult.
The band split up in 1980.
The name continued to be used for years after the band split up, long after those people had graduated, long enough that no one using it, or being called it, had any connection to or knowledge of where the name came from.
I have heard it used as recently as last year.
I think that's really, really funny, and very interesting.
Zobosend, Feb 15 1980
Thirty-two years ago.
A lifetime ago.
Some days, I would swear to you that the angels never left.
RIP Jeremy Werbin (1953-1997)