by Mike McHugh
Earlier this year, my wife signed us up with a new doctor. “All in all, I’d say you’re in decent health for your age,” he told me at my first appointment. “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up!” That sounded good to me, but there was a problem. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing that was keeping me healthy.
Certainly it couldn’t have been my fondness for Louisiana foods such as gumbo and boudin, although I’ll admit I was tempted to latch onto that one as the primary factor. I’ve spent these past few months racking my brain for answers, only to conclude that, given my lifestyle, the only thing that my body should be good for right now is to fertilize our tomato plants.
The answer came to me suddenly last weekend, while I was watching the Grateful Dead on pay-per-view, performing one of a series of farewell shows in Chicago in honor of their 50th anniversary as a band. “So, what’s the Grateful Dead got to do with staying healthy?” you might ask.
The question is legitimate. After all, four (count ‘em, four!) of their keyboard players, in addition to front man Jerry Garcia, have gone to that great gig in the sky over the band’s tenure. Statistically, it makes playing for the Dead among the world’s most hazardous professions, easily eclipsing Alaskan crab fishing and a close second to suicide bombing.
But fortunately, this risk of mortality doesn’t carry over to the band’s fan base. Thinking back over the forty years that I’ve followed the Dead, it’s easy to see why.
First off, “Deadheads,” as they’re called, have to be the healthiest eaters on the planet. As proof, one only needs to peruse the offerings of the food vendors in the parking lot outside of any show. Every single item on every menu is prepared from hummus. You’d be hard pressed to find a funnel cake outside of a Dead show, and if you did, odds are it would be made from hummus.
I’m sure this is one reason that I’ve never seen many overweight fans at a Dead concert. Hummus contains fewer calories than the equivalent weight of air. Moreover, whatever calories Deadheads do consume get quickly burned off by their dancing. Fans never stop moving the entire show, dancing even while the band is tuning up—something they’ve been known to spend 20 minutes doing between songs. If you look down from an airplane at a stadium during a Grateful Dead show, it would bear a striking resemblance to a fire ant mound that had just been kicked over.
Now I can finally tell my doctor what it is that’s been keeping me going. But with the band now officially retired, my fear is that I might fall victim to what could become a national health crisis (not to mention the devastating impact on the hummus industry). Luckily, their music lives on in the form of a huge library of live audio and video recordings. I wonder if I could get him to write me a prescription for the box set from the farewell tour so I can charge it against my health insurance.