Articles

Keith and the Girl Tattoo #88

I began my journey with Keith and the Girl in 2006.  I had recently moved out of my parent’s house, bought an iPod and discovered iTunes.  I remember searching the iTunes Store and wondering, “what the hell is a podcast?”  Five years and 1500 episodes later, I sport Keith and the Girl tattoo number 88, have been proposed to at one of their live events and will be getting married on their show.

In the internet age, Keith Malley and Chemda Khalili skyrocketed to www. stardom by producing a 5-day a week comedy talk show.  KATG, as it’s known among fans, features guests from the New York comedy scene as the hosts lampoon the daily news, pop culture and taboo subjects like racism.

When I first downloaded the show, I was confused by their “comedy” moniker.  To me, KATG was centered around a hyper-masculine white guy who went on insane rants that deeply offended my sensibilities.  (Episodes entitled Reading is for Faggots, Keith and the Sand Nigger, and Titties for God confirm that the podcast is not for the faint of heart.)  I kept listening for a couple of reasons:  1.)  the show was so offensive that I had to be missing something, 2.) though Keith might have been asshole, The Girl seemed to make sense and 3.) the Thursday gossip queen, Patrice, was so funny that I shit a brick.

After about a month of listening, things started to make sense.  The show is a searing satire of our cultural climate.  Keith is an asshole, but a funny one.  And neither holds anything back.

Many fans enjoy the show because of the “NO HOLDS BARRED/TAKE NO PRISONERS” attitude.  In fact, the self-named “KATG Klan” have helped the comedy duo win multiple honors, including “People’s Choice” and “Best Mature Podcast” at the Podcast Awards and a Swedish prize that has more consonants than the million plus downloads a month the show receives.

The one-time serioso couple, a word Keith and Chemda created to describe a long-term relationship stronger than boyfriend-girlfriend but not quite a marriage, have been through a lot since creating the show– much of it on air.  They have fought, shared intimate details of their lives and even lost friends while we’ve listened and picked it apart on the popular KATG forums.

The biggest shock came in 2010 when the co-hosts announced that they were broken up, had been so for over a year and, what’s more, Chemda was dating a woman.  I was unloading the dishwasher when I heard the announcement.  I had to pause my iPod and leave the silverware untouched in its tray.  My hands grasped the counter to steady myself.

As much as other people rely on music, I have Keith and Chemda’s voice playing from my earbuds.  I came to age with and through their show.  KATG played a huge part in my transition from boy to man.  (Though, as Keith says, you don’t really become a grown up until 25, so I’m still not quite there.)  In the absence of a father, Keith dispensed of such fatherly as advice as:  if your customers are excessively rude, it is okay to give them a free milkshake.  And it’s equally okay to shit in it.

After a few seconds/minutes/hours of stunned silence, I pushed play and their voices resumed.  The reason, it turns out, for their deception was a clause in a contract they had signed for their book, What Do We Do Now?   Smart Answers to your Stupid Relationship Questions.  (Which they are currently recording as an audio book.)  They had to stay together for at least a year after the book came out, otherwise they would be taken to court.  Only a select number of people, countable on one hand, knew what happened.   After 18 months, Keith and Chemda were able to start a new chapter of their lives.

And that new chapter involves KATG VIP, a subscription-only section of their website that gives members full access into the Keith and the Girl world.  According to the site subscribers receive “every KATG in-studio episode ever created” (the 10 most recent are available for free) “constantly updated material including the What’s My Name show” (Chemda’s weekly podcast) and downloadable versions of “exclusive bonus content such as KATGtv.”   Subscriptions range from $11 to $15 a month.

All information regarding Keith and the Girl can be found at www.keithandthegirl.com.

-Benjamin Rexroad
Managing Artistic Director
___________________________________________________________________

The Grateful Deadheads

When my best friend texted that TJ and I could stay with his Aunt and Uncle in Colorado, I was excited to have a bed for few nights during our 6-week journey through the western United States.  Aunt Renee and Uncle Matt, he told me, spent years following The Grateful Dead around the country.  I thought we’d be staying with a couple of burn outs who were doing a favor for their nephew.

Judging by the name and artwork for The Grateful Dead, I’ve always assumed the band was some kind of heavy metal band, playing music I’d rather not have on my iPod.  In consequence, I, to the best of my knowledge, had never heard one of their songs.   In my mind, it took a special kind of person to not just listen to their music, but to devote their life to following the band– even for the shortest amount of time.  As TJ and I hurtled toward Colorado, I wondered, with some unease, where we would be crashing.

Arriving at their home after a day of meetings in Boulder, I was surprised by the well-kept appearance of their property.  The large house sat nestled in the midst of several empty lots that the couple own.  The talkative, straight-shooting Renee greeted us in the driveway with hugs.  Immediately we were treated with a hospitality cultivated, we would learn, though their years traveling with “The Dead.”

The Grateful Dead, as it turns out, did not play heavy metal.

They were a genre defying, psychedelic jam band with influences ranging from bluegrass to space rock with philosophies about life, community and performance that ring true with thoughts floating around in my head since Burning Man.  Both the Dead and Burning Man formed a traveling community existing as a sort of alternate society of strangely dressed gypsies.  “Traveling with the Dead,” Matt excitedly told us during our alcohol-fueled marathon chat session, “was like being taken through a whole experience.”  With so many similarities, it wasn’t a surprise to learn that the band and art festival were born out of the same city– San Francisco.

The band formed in 1965 in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.  They gained notoriety by playing as the house band for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters at their Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests.  They hung out with the likes of Neal Cassady who was the real-life bases for Dean Moriarty from Kerouac’s On the Road.  The Dead became popular throughout the seventies and by the late eighties were routinely selling out venues like JFK stadium in Philadelphia.

Matt and Renee started to follow the Dead in the early nineties.  Matt, from Colorado, started by following a few West Coast tours.  Renee, from Ohio, hit up a series of shows in New York.  (The Dead usually played multiple nights in the same venue.)  By then, the Deadhead subculture was firmly established.  However, as Matt was quick to point out, “they weren’t judgmental at all.  Nobody didn’t welcome you.”  Both fell in love with the crowd.

The couple met at concert in Buckeye Lake, Ohio.  As Renee tells the story, Matt was playing Frisbee with a group of guys while she and her friends were making dinner.  Smelling food, the boys ventured over to scope out the situation.  They have been inseparable ever since.  Without the Dead, Maggie and Kaylie, their teenage daughters, would have never been born.

***

Between the two of them, Aunt Renee and Uncle Matt attended over 100 Dead shows.   According to Renee, “every show was different.”  The band was known for playing a unique set list each night while weaving songs together through improvisational riffs.  The spontaneity and originality of the performances created a special class of Deadhead denizen known as a “taper.”

At each show, the Dead dedicated a section of the audience to those fans who wanted to record the show.   As Jerry Garcia famously stated, “my responsibility to the notes is over after I played them.” The tapes were– and continue to be–circulated among the Deadhead community for free.  Of the more than 2,300 concerts the Dead played, almost 2,200 were taped.  Many of which are now available online at sites like http://www.archive.org/details/GratefulDead

But there was something Matt and Renee spoke about with more nostalgia than the shows– the parking lot.  (They showed us an excellent documentary about the scene entitled Tie-Died.)  “The Lot” was the tent city that sprung up near where the Grateful Dead were playing and served as home base for the itinerant fans.

“The parking lot was as good as the show,” Matt told us while explaining why the couple sometimes chose not to see the Dead play, instead hanging with friends and strangers outside the venue.  Matt told us a story about partying in one of their motor homes. “On the table was a map of the united states.  Everyone would sit at the table, point out where they were from and we would have huge conversations about it…We got, like, 18 people in there one time.”

In the same motor home (or was it one of their numerous Volkswagen vans?) they decided they would hang out with whomever they encountered on the way to the next show.  At a rest stop, they approached an older couple that was down to party.  Matt and Renee ended up traveling to the next show, along Pacific Coast Highway 1 with a convoy of new Deadhead friends trailing behind.  Confused, I asked Renee how they knew the couple was cool.  She responded, “You know your people.  That’s how you can tell.”

Lot regulars bartered or sold things to make it to the next venue.  Renee sold dresses she made and the couple frequently ran a grilled cheese business out of their vehicle.  They’d go to the store and buy as many supplies to make the sandwiches as they could afford– sometimes as many as 10 loaves of bread.  According to Matt, “we’d invest $25 and come out with $100, $125 in our pocket.”

Matt and Renee were quick to assure us that they never sold drugs.  They made more money running a free/pay-what-you-can kitchen than they would have by selling.  Deadheads believed in lending a helping hand.  “You would do a favor for someone,” explained Matt,  “and they would repay it.  6 shows later you would see them and it was, ‘hey! How have you been?’”

Most of their money was made off of locals who attended the Dead shows.  “We were polite to locals, but you could tell who they were,” Renee remembered.  They were the people who had money to burn and had no problem donating a $1 in exchange for a grilled cheese sandwich.  Especially when they were coming from the show either stoned or drunk.

But it wasn’t all fun and games.  When the Dead took a break, Matt and Renee would return home to work dead-end jobs to save money for the next tour.  Renee took a job at a fabric store only to get the discounted fabric to make the dresses she sold at concerts.  This extra cash helped prevent the couple from resorting to panhandling for gas money.  (Most of the time.)

Practically tripping over each other to tell the story, Matt and Renee recounted the time their van broke down in a small town.  They had to stay for a month, working jobs to pay for repairs.  When they finally had the money, the mechanic pushed the van to the front of the workload.  “The guy seemed to really want work on the van because he respected what we were doing,” Matt finished.

The police presented a serious problem for the Deadhead community.  Often, traveling with the Dead, Matt and Renee would see police lined up waiting to pick off anyone who looked “different.”  Which was one of the main reasons they never painted their vehicle.  Having a psychedelic looking van was a sure way to get pulled over and harassed, justifiably or otherwise.

Matt believes his experience on the road with the Dead was similar to what most people experience in college.  “Marketing. Business. We learned to be entrepreneurs.  We had to support ourselves.”  (Not to mention the wild parties.)

Finally, Matt and Renee ran out of stories.  Or I passed out due to the altitude and 6 beers.  It’s hard to tell.

The next day, TJ and I began the first major leg of our journey around the west.  As Matt and Renee were sending us off, they were envious.  Both wished they could join.  “You’ll have to tell us about Burning Man,” Renee demanded.  Just as TJ and I had been eager to hear about the possibilities of a life spent traveling, they were eager to reminisce through ours.

Swapping stories is an essential part of life on the road.

***

During our third and final pass through Colorado, we attended a Further concert at Red Rocks, a beautiful natural amphitheatre a few minutes away from Matt and Renee’s home.  Further is led by former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh.

TJ and I wanted to explore Denver, so we were late getting to the venue.  It was an early show on a Sunday evening– the culmination of a series of shows that started Friday– but the six parking lots were already full.  Had been for hours, we were told.  The four of us were forced to park along the road leading out of Red Rocks, a 20-minute walk from the gates.

Every type of person was at the show­– goth, hippie, middle-aged sales men.  We missed the parking lot crowd, speed walking to get into the show.  But TJ participated in another Dead phenomenon– spinners.  Spinners are people who spin in a circle to Grateful Dead music as a type of religious experience (think Whirling Dervish.)

The concert was mind-blowing.  Between the music, the venue, the view of Denver, the lightning in the distance and a very *special* cookie TJ and I shared, it was the perfect end to our cross-country adventure.

And it was over by nine.  (Most likely because of people like Matt and Renee who had to be up for work.)

“The crowd was different,” we were told by Renee, as we were getting ready to make the 2,000-mile journey home.  “It wasn’t the same.” Eager to postpone the end of our trip for as long as possible– even if just by a few minutes– I tried to think of a question to ask Renee, but I already knew what she meant.  The crowd was different.  Everyone had either grown up or were the children of the original Deadheads.

Our goodbye hugs were bittersweet.  It will be a while before TJ and I make it back to Colorado.  But we know, when we return, we will be welcomed with open arms and a warm plate of food.  That is, unless Matt and Renee have sold all their possessions and returned to life on the road.

Which, we are assured, won’t happen until the girls have started college.

-Benjamin Rexroad
Managing Artistic Director

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