If you know me in real-life or follow me on Twitter then you know that, in addition to being a fan of the Oilers, I’m a fan of the Grateful Dead. And in this case, fan is absolutely short for fanatic. I’ve got a collection of almost 200 live shows, every studio album, posters, books, t-shirts, you get the idea, I’m a fan. But while most people can easily understand why I cheer for the Oilers, likely because most of them are Oilers fans too, my passion for the Grateful Dead is often much harder to understand. After all, this is a band that never played in Edmonton, rarely even in Canada, and is almost never on local radio. So, what is it?
The short answer I often give is that I enjoy the experimentation and improvisation in the music, that no two shows are the same, and then I like to give people a fun quote from Jerry Garcia that I feel helps explain things:
Our audience is like people who like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice. - Jerry Garcia
For most people that’s more than enough. And everything there is true, but it’s also not the whole truth, because the whole truth is a little more personal and doesn’t fit into 140 characters.
I’m a reasonably successful person, I’ve got a great wife and wonderful kids, I honestly love my job and I tend to think I’m good at it too, but despite all this I’ve always struggled to be comfortable and happy with where I am in life. I’m my own worst enemy and I spend a lot of time in my own head, thinking about the future, almost always thinking to myself that I’ll be happy when I get x, whatever x is. And then I get frustrated because I’m not there yet. I don’t always enjoy the now because I’m worried about the future.
What does all of this have to do with the Grateful Dead, or the Oilers for that matter? Well, as strange as it may sound, in the Grateful Dead I find a release from this. While you might hear nothing but noise in 20 plus minutes of the band making their way through “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain” - for an idea of what I’m talking about, this is my favourite Scarlet > Fire - I hear five guys who aren’t concerned with where they’re going with their songs, only with where they are at that moment. To me, the music of the Grateful Dead is all about the journey, not the destination, and listening to it helps me to remember the same about my life.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I think following the Oilers as closely as I do - I’m the guy who rescheduled his wedding to not miss Mark Messier’s jersey retirement - used to provide me with a similar release. I say used to because over the last decade there was never a now to enjoy, only a future to look forward to, and to my eyes that future rarely looked good. I still watched the games, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I used to.
This year though was a very different story. Back in September and October I wasn’t confident that this season would be all that different from the previous ten. At best, I thought that if everything broke right for the Oilers that they’d play some meaningful hockey in March. Honestly, that’s a pretty low bar for success, but after the last decade I think most fans in Edmonton would have been very happy with it. Luckily for us everything did break right for the Oilers this season: they were healthy, they got fantastic goaltending, and Connor McDavid established himself as, arguably, the best player on the planet, all of which added up to a lot more than meaningful hockey games in March. In fact, by March we weren’t even looking forward to March anymore, we were looking forward to the playoffs. Even now it’s almost hard to believe.
In the end the team finished second in the Pacific Division, and from mid-February won 25 of the last 39 games that they played; 18 of 26 during the regular season and then 7 more in 13 playoff games, including a first-round win over the Sharks. Yeah, we were all hoping that the ride would go on just a little longer, but there over the last few months, and especially over the last couple of weeks, it’s been a lot of fun to be an Oilers fan again. The number of jerseys that you’d see around town. The car flags. Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand. The anthems at home games. And probably a few other things I’m forgetting. Someone who’s better with words than an engineer can probably say it better than this, but that was fun.
There is still work to be done to build this team into a true Stanley Cup contender, but, for today at least, I’m not going to worry about the destination, I’m just going to enjoy what was a truly enjoyable season of hockey. And I’m going to listen to some Grateful Dead.