022104 Mickey Hart, Ottawa, ON

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Buckle up kids, this little torn piece of paper has a lot of stories attached to it.

Mickey Hart is one of the drummers from The Grateful Dead, and on February 21st, 2004 he came to Ottawa U. for some sort of conference.  It might have been a writers conference or maybe he was a keynote speaker for some music and culture thing, either way he wasn’t playing (that much was clear) but with the appearance of any member of the Dead in Ottawa being such a rarity everyone attached to the local scene was there.

I only remember one thing about this night, and I remember it like it happened just now.  Mickey was doing a meet-and-greet before or after his…whatever it is he did…and my friend Dave and I went up and said hello together.

And so the stories begin:

I had been living in an unbelievable loft in Chinatown.  It was ridiculously cheap and so awesome.  The only door in the open-concept place was to the large bathroom.  In the main room of the two-storey apartment I had assembled a pinball machine, a punching bag, a hammock chair, a piano, Hammond organ, sitar and tablas, wonderful art, and a million guitars and such all plugged in and ready to go.   There was a staircase going up through the middle of the main room to my bedroom and office/meditation room upstairs, all lit by two large skylights.  Plants dangled everywhere and the place was done up in thick pastel colours and cedar beams.  I also had the place wired for sound, with four pairs of speakers running off my stereo providing music to every nook and cranny in the place.

Dave lived downstairs.

In January of 2004 the place went up in smoke after a fire was started downstairs when a wicker basket was ignited by a baseboard heater.  I could write a book on the five minutes between miraculously waking up at 5am and finding my apartment full of smoke and having myself and my cat safely outside waiting for the firetrucks.  I took the cat outside with me but he ran back in so I ran back inside to get him.

Don’t ever, ever do this.  I hope you never find yourself in the same situation but if you do, once you are outside of a burning house do not go back in.

Don’t worry, I got the cat (and myself, obviously) back out again, but by this time it was a crawl-on-your-belly situation up there and little did I know that beneath the stairs that I was going up and down to my apartment was the hottest, most blazing fire, and falling through the stairs would have taken me straight down into the basement; The End.  I found the cat soon enough and grabbed a guitar that was close at hand on my way back out of the house*.

Now, my friend and downstairs neighbour was old friends with Dave Lemieux, an Ottawa Deadhead who had worked his way into one of the most envious jobs in the entire jamband scene.  An interesting story in itself, Lemieux managed to get himself hired as the official archivist of The Grateful Dead, and he had somehow gotten word of our fire and sent along a care package from GDHQ in California containing every single Grateful Dead release in existence, which was a significant pile of cd’s and dvd’s to say the least.  

And so it was that Dave and I wanted to thank Mickey Hart for the gift we had received from his band via Dave Lemieux.  So we waited our turn and then approached Mickey together.  We briefly told our little story, Mickey half-listened and though obviously not at all interested or aware of the event he seemed happy to accept our thanks.  

And then I told him another story, this one about my friend Andre.

Y’see, Andre has a curious little collection.  He collects celebrity autographs that are inscribed, “How about that Phil Lesh?”, as in: “How about that Phil Lesh?  All the best, Bobby Orr.”  I don’t know how it started, but I guess he’s just such a fan of the Grateful Dead’s bass player that the collection somehow started itself.  Anyway, I thought having a CD signed “How about that Phil Lesh?” by another member of the Dead would be a great addition to Andre’s collection, so I quickly explained the deal and asked Mickey if he would sign a cd for my friend.

Any actual Grateful Dead fans out there certainly know the next story.  You know, the one where Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh were involved in a long-standing feud with one another?  Basically, the two guys hated each other as much as two former bandmates could, and I soon found out that Mr. Hart did not feel like having a sense of humour about the whole thing at all.

And so the only thing I remember from Mickey Hart’s appearance in Ottawa is Dave and I awkwardly thanking him for something he neither did nor had any knowledge of, and then having him literally throw the still-unsigned CD back across the table at me.  Crossing his arms gruffly, he refused to say another word to either of us and turned his attention abruptly and completely away from us and to the poor sucker who was next in line.

Peace & Love, brothers and sisters, Peace & Love.

*Curiously, I also experienced a house fire when I was maybe eleven or twelve years old.  That one was a grease fire but I wasn’t at home when it happened.  A friend of mine who works in insurance assures me that the odds against having two house fires in one lifetime are astoundingly high.  Lucky me.

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