Let's go crazy. Let's get nuts. Oops, wrong Revolution
Of course http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/07/august-17-1970-fillmore-west.html covered this in 2012, but I will add some color, photos and fun stuff.
There's a UK publication called Revolution that covered the Dead well, but this article that covers the August 17, 1970 show at the Fillmore West also was in the Rolling Stone issue 66 with the Grateful Dead on the cover.
Of course this show was the first to see Truckin', Ripple, Brokedown Palace and Operator (kinda like the 2-18-1971 and 2-9-1973 shows) but I don't see a tape, so I put on the next night for you in the cloud above. On a UK site, I found several interesting pieces like the "Mick Jagger's Death- Concert front page (Dead ran off early from that mess) Now these shows in August 1970 at the Fillmore West that saw the debut of Truckin (aka "Juggin' ") and Ripple Operator Brokedown among others would be the holy grail of soundboards to emerge (someone have ;em??)
I just love 1970 because (1) it is fucking amazing (2) total transition year (3) acoustic and NRPS sets (4) still incomplete in the SBD department (5) still incomplete in the AUD department (6) probably should be number one, but the playing.
Oh and for extra highlight, I borrowed the Playboy piece on the Dead from the UC Berkeley Deadsite and you can read that to.
An Evening with the Grateful Dead
Jerry and co. mellow out, grow up
We change and our changings change, a friend said once. It sounded true, but it seems too that through it all we stay the same. That obscure rumination takes us to, of all places, backstage at the Fillmore West, a spot that has mutely witnessed its share of changes and has gone through some of its own. Backstage used to be literally that, a few murky closets with just a few inches and a thin wall separating them from the amps. Now the car dealer on the corner has gone through his changes, and Bill Graham got extra floorspace for a dressing room as big as the lobby of a grand hotel.
No palms but a lot of sofas, on one of which sat Jerry Garcia as if he owned the place. Which he once had, sort of, when it was the Carousel, changed from an Irish dance hall to a mad den of psychedelic thieves who for a few months put on a series of dances the likes of which hadn't been seen since the early days of the old Fillmore.
Jerry Garcia had played over there too -- he had been a foundering member, so to speak -- but he had never owned it. Bill Graham had owned that Fillmore and now he owned this one and Jerry was working for him one more night. There was a time when Bill Graham was always on hand when the Dead were playing, but this night he was in New York on business (the next night in LA), and a second or third generation of underling, a soft-faced young man named Jerry Pompili was watching the clock and counting the heads on behalf of Fillmore Inc.
It was just past eight-thirty, showtime, and Jerry P. approached Garcia and asked if they were ready to go on.
Jerry G. was deep in one of his eyeball-to-glittering eyeball monologues, but he paused long enough for a glance around that indicated he was the only musician present and accounted for. "The other guys will be here in a minute, man," he said, "Phil's the only one who might be late."
"Well," said Pompili, "what happens if Phil is late?" allowing into his voice a hint of his hope that the Dead would find a way to start without him, to be nice for once. A hopeless hope.
"Nothing happens," said Jerry G. grinning deep within his hairy tangle, "We'll start whenever Phil arrives."
"Okay," said Pompili, shrinking like a tired balloon, and Jerry geared back up to rapping speed, instantly oblivious of the interruption.
Everything had changed, and nothing too. After over five years of extra inning play, the celebrated Fillmore (and all of rock and roll show biz) versus Grateful Dead game was still a nothing-nothing tie. For five of those years the Dead took their lumps, always scraping through but never out of trouble. In the past half year, however, their tenacity has finally begun to pay off (perseverance furthers, says the Book of Changes). The years of weathering cosmic crises have given them an unshakable musical and group foundation (and even an odd sort of financial stability) and on that they are building afresh.
Typically, their luck waited until the last possible moment to change. 1969 ended with the near disaster of Altamont. The Dead family had been crucial in its organization, and they were as responsible as anyone for the sanctioned presence of the Hells Angels. That day -- they did not even get to play in the end and do their best to save it -- was, says Jerry, "a hard, hard lesson," and while they were absorbing it in early 1970, they had an epic management crisis. Their manager, whom they had chosen because of his honesty and earnestness, was irritating some family members who did not trust his ingratiating manner. Weeks of tense encounters led to a showdown and the manager was let go. Only then did the band discover that he had been bilking them all along; by that time he had disappeared and no one had the time or heart for a suit.
Then they got busted en masse in New Orleans (their second time, the first in the fall of '67 in San Francisco). That has now turned out to be just an inconvenience of time and money, but in March they didn't know that. In the middle of all of this they had to do a record. Something complex was out of the question; Jerry and his writing partner Ron Hunter had some tunes, so they walked into Pacific High Recorders in San Francisco, and banged it out in nine days.
The result was Workingman's Dead, one of the best of the few good records released this year, their simplest production since their first LP, and their most popular release so far. "It was something," said Jerry, "all this heavy bullshit was flying all around us, so we just retreated in there and made music. Only the studio was calm. The record was the only concrete thing happening, the rest was part of that insane legal and financial figment of everybody's imagination, so I guess it came out of a place that was real to all of us. It was good old solid work. TC (pianist Tom Constanten) had just left to go his own way, and with his classical influence gone, we got back to being a rock and roll band again, not an experimental music group. Man, we had been wanting to boogie for a long time."
Workingman's Dead is just about as good a record as a record can be. Easy on the ears from the first listening, it gets mellower as it grows on you; a lot of different rhythms but one sure pulse. In it they tap the same rich emotive vein that the band has reached, and have made from it story songs with down-home feel hiding sophisticated structures, but the Dead's molding of the material is a lot more raw and driving. The Dead look at the world from the outside edge, and their song heroes are losers and hardworking men. "A friend of the devil it a friend of mine," they sing at one point, and the closest they come to "I Shall Be Released" is:
One way or another,
One way or another,
One way or another,
This darkness got to end.
That's a long way from the messianic enthusiasm of "Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion" ("See that girl barrbonn' around, she's a dancin' and a singin' she is carryin' one"; remember?), but it's won them more friends. Sales haven't been at hit proportions, but enough to make Warner Brothers friendly for the first time since they were trying to sign the band up.
"Of course we still owe Warners money," Jerry said, "but we're getting the debt down to the size where it's more like a continual advance." A family member, John McIntire, is now the manager, some old friends are watching the books, and the days when organs got repossessed five minutes before showtime have receded, at least for the present.
"We're feeling good," Jerry went on, "really laid back, a tittle older and groovier, not traveling so much, staying at home and quieting down. We used to push ourselves and get crazy behind it, but now we're all getting more done but not having to work at it so hard.
No one could say when the turn from the old Grateful Dead to the new began, but the key was opening up the band's structure. The Dead's complex personal changes are as legendary as their public ones, and they ended only when they decided that they didn't have to be just the Grateful Dead. They could also be Bobby Ace and the Cards from the Bottom, a reentry group led by Bob Weir, or Mickey Hart and the Heartbeats which a lot of golden oldie rockers. At the same time (spring 1969) Jerry got a pedal steel to fool around with and ended up commuting dawn to Palo Alto twice a week to play Nashville style in a little club. That group became the New Riders of the Purple Sage and other Dead members sat in from time to time.
All that country music got them singing, something for which they had not been noteworthy in the pass, and hours of three-part harmony rehearsals got them back to acoustic instruments. Less noise made them less wired. The small quiet groups could and did do club work, around the Bay which meant gigs without touring or equipment hassles. All that ended up with the groove that made Workingman's Dead possible and has created a unique musical experience which they call, rather formally, An Evening with the Grateful Dead.
Phil arrived, sweeping in with madman-long strides, a few minutes before nine, and the latest evening began before a happy crowd of oldtime heads. They opened with the acoustic part (there's no other name). Jerry and Bob Weir on guitars, Pigpen on piano, Phil on electric bass, and Bill Kreutzman (who alternates with Mickey Hart) on drums. The first tune was "Juggin'," an easy going autobiography of a band's life on the road, dotted with busts and bad times and long gone friends like Annie who they've heard is "living on reds, Vitamin C, and cocaine, and all you can say is 'ain't it a shame.'" It went on like that for an hour, music soothing to weary hearts and hard-driven minds because it understands that state of mind only too well. Jerry and Bob shared lead guitar and vocals, Pig doodled around when he wanted and just sat there when he didn't, and Phil and Bill just kept the beat. David Nelson of the New Riders came in about half way through on mandolin, and Jerry switched to his Fender, and it was all very sweet and funky. They ended with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and believe it or not, the Grateful Dead looked angelic at last.
The New Riders came on after the break -- Jerry on pedal steel, Mickey on drums, David Nelson on electric guitar, Marmaduke lead vocal and acoustic, and Dave Torbert on bass. They opened with "Sly Days on the Road" and that too set the pace for a rolling set of country rock that probably sounded a lot like the Perkins Brothers when Carl was working honky tonks around Jackson, Tennessee. Except that Carl Perkins never had a drummer as tense as Mickey Hart, and while Jerry most often was tastefully traditional on the steel, he allowed himself some short freakouts banshee-style seldom heard below the Mason-Dixon. They ended with "Honky Tonk Women" which was a gas; Keith Richards, from a film clip in the light show, watched them without cracking a smile.
Then it was time for the Grateful Dead, and everyone was on their feet moving as they began as they used to begin with "Dancing in the Streets" ("It doesn't matter who you are, as long as you are there"). After that came the lovely "Mama Tried" that the Everly Brothers had on their Rootsalbum, and then Pigpen took it away with an all-out dramatic rendition of "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World." Out of that into "Not Fade Away" (quite a repertory that night, huh?) and it was past one thirty; Jerry Garcia was still going strong after four hours on three instruments but the Fillmore floor had gotten to me and we wandered out with that Bo-Diddley-by-way-of-Buddy-Holly beat pounding on and on and on ("My love is bigger than a Cadillac . . .") It wasn't one of those weird nights when, acid-blitzed, they gushed out music as hypnotic energy; is was more legible and, if not as spellbinding, more open music. Very fine indeed.
Those weird nights are surely not gone forever, but the Dead are a bit more careful these days. "Altamont showed us that we don't want to lead people up that road anymore," Jerry had said before the show, "taught us to be more cautious, to realize and respect the boundaries of our power and our space." The Dead never called themselves leaders, but they were high-energy promoters of the psychedelic revolution. On one hand they know now that it's not going to come as quickly as they thought; on the other, they know it is already too big for them to direct. They are now just helpers, like the rest of us. "At last the pressure's off," Jerry said.
He is disturbed, however, about what he calls the "politico pseudo-reality that we find when we go out on tour. Dig: there's a music festival, but because there are people there, radicals say it's a political festival now, not a music festival. I don't want to take over anybody's mind, but I don't want anybody else to take over anybody's mind. If a musical experience is forcibly transferred to a political plane, it no longer has the thing that made it attractive. There is something uniquely groovy about the musical experience; it is its own beginning and end. It threatens no one."
"The San Francisco energy of a few years back has become air and spread everywhere. It was the energy of becoming free and so it became free. But the political energy, the Berkeley energy, has assumed a serpentine form, become an armed, burrowing, survival thing. It's even still on the firebrand, 'To the barricades!' trip that I thought we had been through in this century and wouldn't have to will on ourselves again.
"'Accentuate the positive' though, that's my motto," he said with a gleam in his eye, "and there are more heads every day. Heads are the only people who have ever come to see us, and it used to be that if we played some places no one would come out because there weren't any heads in the town. Today there is no place without its hippies. No place."
With that Phil had come and the band had to start juggin,' playing for the people and hoping to get them high. "We realized when we started out," Jerry had said a few minutes before, "that as a group we were an invention, as new as the first chapter of a novel. We started with nothing to lose. Then suddenly there was something, but always with the agreement that we could go back to being nothing if we wanted. So nothing that has over gone down for the group has ever been real except to the fiction which could be made unreal at any time. A lot of limes when we were at that point, we consulted the I Ching, and the change we've gotten has always said push on. So we have; there's not much else we can do until the next change."
(RS 66, September 17, 1970)
From:email@example.com (Beth Dyer)
Organization: University of California; Santa Cruz
I don't usually read this magazine, but we happened to have a copy
of the March 1972 Playboy hanging around, and I thought you might in
interested in one of the articles.[B.D.]
GRATEFUL DEAD I HAVE KNOWN by Ed McClanahan (reprinted without permission)
A bright Sunday afternoon in August 1971, just one week after Bill Graham closed
the doors of the Fillmore West forever and ever, and I'm sitting in the living
room of Jerry Garcia's new house on the headlands above a coastal village an
hour north of San Francisco (a very *nice* house, by the way, not luxurious or
anything but altogether nice enough to reflect the Grateful Dead's rising
fortunes during the past couple of years); and if I were to glance over my
shoulder, I could see beyond the picture window all the way down the tilting rim
of the continent to the shimmering Pacific. Only right this minute, I'm not
into scenery at *all*; right this minute, I'm deeply engaged in being paranoid
about my tape recorder, just sort of *stroking* the treacherous little b*stard,
before I entrust to its tape-eating maw the wit and wisdom of Jerry Garcia, lead
guitarist and chief philosophical theoreticiain of what some claim is the
greatest rock'n'roll band in the world -- Captain Trips, they call him.
Jerry meanwhile, is doing exactly what he always does, playing it as it lays,
which right now means sitting there beside me in his rocking chair, gazing
benignly out the window, beaming within the dark nimbus of his hair and beard
like a stoned-out John the Baptist, waiting.
"What I'd like to do," I'm prattling, rather desperately trying to fill with the
sound of my own voice the void my incompetence has created. "I'd like to feel
free to take as many liberties with this interview as I've been taking with the
rest of the material to, uh, interpolate and rearrange things here and there
when it seems... But maybe you....?"
"Sure," Jerry says cheerily, waving aside my question. "You're gonna *lie* a
little, you mean. Sure, you can say I said anything you feel like, I don't give
"Good deal! Because what I'm planning to do, see, is to take this interview and
sort of write myself out of it, my own voice, I mean, so that what's left will
be just *your* voice, disembodied, just rapping out loud. Like, for instance,
did you hapen to read John Sack's interviews with Lieutenant Calley? Do you
remember how Sack himself isn't really a *presence* there, how it comes down as
if it were just Calley alone, telling his own story? That sort of thing. And
then I'll just take your voice and weave it through the piece, probably in
italics or something, just lacing it in and out wherever it seems..."
Jerry grins and says: "Sure, feel free, whatever. Only the erroneous
assumption in that, see, is that a guy like Calley might ever volunteer any
information at all. Or me, for that matter. I mean, nobody ever hears about
some of the sh*t that comes out in interviews unless somebody asks me, you know
what I mean? In fact, it's like the bais of the reality from which you write,
because you wouldn't write this thing if you'd never talked to any of us, would
you? I mean, you know what I mean? If you weren't interacting in there, the
story would never have occurred. So it's, like, you can include yourself or
not, but either way, it's all you..."
OK, then; *me*, by God!So there I am in September 1970, early morning, and I'm
hurrying home to California to write about the Grateful Dead (I've been at this
quite a while, you understand) after a three-week hiatus back East, barreling
along in my big Dodge camper all alone through the everlasting vasty reaches of
central Iowa, on a back road somewhere 40 miles in some direction or another
from Cedar Rapids, and it's raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock, a cold,
driving rain that chills me even with the camper's heater ramming hot air up
both pants legs; and beside me on the hump of the engine's housing are spread my
Official Accuracy Reporter's Notebooks filled with three-week-old runic
scribblings (garcia missing 2 joint midl. finger rt. hand! --phil leash leanness
*lincolnesk*! -- sam cutler rd. mgr. look like capt. hook!! -- bob weir billy
the kid!! -- john mcintyre bus. mgr. *elegant*, look like yng. *rich
widmark*!!!!) and several yellowing copies of Rolling Stone featuring articles
about the Dead, and my little portable stereo tape recorder and five cassettes
of the Dead's albums and -- here comes the weird part -- on my head I'm wearing
an enormous pair of superpowerful headphones plugged into the recorder, and the
volume is turned up full blast and the Dead's "Turn it *on*! Turn it *on*!" is
crashing into my eardrums and I'm bouncing ecstatically in my seat and hammering
the heels of my hands on the steering wheel to Bill the Drummer's surging, 19-
-to-the-dozen rhythms, while the guitars scream as loud as locomotive whistles;
and now an image swirls to mind and shapes itself, the interior of my skull has
somehow become the interior of the Fillmore West, San Francisco's onetime
Carousel Ballroom, this cavernous old relic of a pleasure palace amid whose
tawdry grandeur our forebears forbore Guy Lombardo and Shep Fields and His
Rippling Rhythms that we might live to dig the Dead, my throat and tongue the
Fillmore's threadbare maroon-carpeted lobbies and stair wells and my teeth it
curlicuing rococo plaster baustrades and my brainpac the grand ballroom itself,
my medulla oblongata its vaulted ceiling festooned with havily sagging billows
of silvery-gray asbestos damask, and there are 3000 dope-crazed Dead fans
crouched haunch to haunch in the darkness on the immense dance floor of my mind,
while at the far end of the great chamber, onstage, dwarfed beneath the high
curved bleach-white band shell that is the inner surface of my forehead, the
Grateful Dead are getting it on, a demon-driven suicide squad of assassins under
the harsh comand of the archbrigand Pigpen ("*turn* it on! jes a leetle bit hi-
eee*-yer!"), a murderous little band of renegades, savages, tartars in cowboy
mufti, angels of death armed not with three supercharged guitars and a set of
traps but with three choppers and a mortar, mercilessly laying waste to the
shrieking, writhing mass of defenseless supplicants spread beneath them, and
against the back of my eyeballs the giant light-show screen behind the bandstand
is ablaze like the night sky above the battlefield with the garish lightning of
their fusillade, it si more than just a massacre, it is a by-God *apocalypse*
hurtling along right here inside the fragile eggshell of my skull at 70 miles an
hour through the Iowa monsoon, the incredible cacophony of it thrumming in my
blood and beating wildly against the backs of my eyes, mounting and mounting and
mounting and mounting until it peaks out at 11,000,000 megadecibles and Pig
screams "*Yeeeeeeeeeeeeo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-wwwwwwwwwwww*!" and barks "And
*leave* it on!" and within the headphones there descends an abrupt and wonderous
stillness, a silence made infinitely deeper and more profound by the absence not
merely of the Dead's righteous racket but of *all* sound, the headphones
baffling out even the engine's roar along with the slap-slap-slap of the wipers
and the steady suck of tires on the flooded roadbed, as if the whole wet world
were inexplicably and without warning stricken mute, and as the wipes streak the
veil of water on the windshield, I see, standing stalwart by the lonely Iowa
roadside like heaven's own herald, an enormous billboard, sky-blue with great
thick square letters proclaiming, for no good reason at all,
and even as the wind-blown water sheets the glass again, blurring, then
fracturing the image beyond all intelligence, I hear Jerry Garcia begin the next
song on the tape, his voice rising sweet and clear and plangent into the
"You know Death don't
Have no mercy
In this land..."
"I mean, everybody who's makin' a big thing about the closing of the Fillmore,
that's a crock of sh*t, actually. Because, you know, what'd they do before
there was a Fillmore? I mean, there's always been a musician scene, musicians
have _always_ traveled around and you could _always_ hear music. And that's
gonna happen no matter what. In most places, see there isn't any Fillmore.
And that doesn't affect anybody expect, you know the Fillmore freaks. I think
the end of the Fillmore is just the beginning of different space...."
"The first time I saw Jerry Garcia," my young friend Harry (who is said to be a
genius in molecular physics, his major at Stanford, but nonetheless retains a
certain charming innocence in matters of the spirit) was telling me the other
day, " was in the Straight Theater up in the Haight in '67. I'd never even
*heard* the Grateful Dead except on the radio; I was just beginning to find out
about the head scene in those days. But I just *loved* their music. And when
they came on that night --I remember the light show was all thse yellow,
swirling things going all the way up to the ceiling, it was like *sunshine* --I
went up to the front by the stage and stood there lookin' up at Jerry, and I was
thinkin' how I'd just never *seen* anyone like this before, this far-out, mellow
dude just playin' that rock'n'roll, the notes so clear and uncluttered, a
beautiful, sparkling thing, you know? And so I looked up at Garcia and I just
couldn't *help* but smile, it was just that... the *calm* on his face, it was
like a *Buddha*, you know, like you can see where the *Buddha* is *at*.
Nirvana you know... and Jerry saw me lookin' at him, saw me smiling and *he*
smiled at *me*! And that just blew my *mind*! It was so *different*, this dude
was just so *different*, I mean before that I could *never* have smiled at a
rock musician, they were all guys who were just showing off. 'I'm the big
stud,' you know. It was all just a big *pose* kind of trip with them, showing
off for their chicks and the audience, being tough guys. But *this* dude, I
mean you could relate to him *directly*, with just your *eyes* that way...."
It's a late-July Saturday night backstage at the Fillmore West, and out front
the Grateful Dead are blasting away on the third and final set of the evening,
but I alone of all the 3000 mind-blown music lovers in the hall can't hear them,
not at this particular moment, anyhow, because my head has just now bottomed out
of one of those bottomless nitrous-oxide tail spins and is only just beginning
its swifter-than-the-speed-of-sound ascent, whizzing upward toward a reality I'd
I'd just as lief not hurry to confront, thanks all the same, this tiny
overheated broom closet of a dressing room with six or seven freaks (foremost
among them Zonk the Gasman and his faithful chrome-plated side-kick The Tank,
that immortal pair to whose mutual benficence the rest of us owe this glorious
occasion) laid out on the floor in one or another stage of laughing-gas-hog-
wildness, grunting and groveling and slobbering and scuffling for the hose like
so many French pigs rooting after the Ultimate Truffle (one spaced-out little
groupie has had about 12 separate and distinct sets of convulsions in the past
half hour, so many that her seizures have become part of the decor of the high;
we anticipate them now, and when it's her turn to toke on the hose, we observe
her as coolly as if her drooling rictus and spasmodic shudderings have been
provided by the management for our amusement between our own tokes), and up
there in the real world, where this particular gas flash is about to surface,
I'll be obliged to open my eyes again and deal with the dismal fact that the
Dead's final set is well under way and I have yet to really listen to a note
they've played all evening, not to mention the equally onerous fact that my tape
recorder and my brand-new Offical Accuracy Reporter's Notebooks are lost
somewhere amid the melee at my feet (I've somehow succeeded, by the way, in
commandeering the only chair in the room, an overstuffed old number that's just
right for doing nitrous oxide in, since it's so thoroughly rump-sprung I can't
possibly fall out of it), and sooner or later I'm going to have to dig them out
-- the ignominious tools of this ignoble trade, I mean -- and Get Down to
Bidness, fall by the nearest phone booth and slip into my Front Page Farrell
suit so that when the Dead have wrapped up this set I'll be all primed and
cocked to zap them with the ole five Ws, the way Miss Parsons taught us in high
school journalism (Who-What-Where-When-Why-and-sometimes-How-are-you, Grateful
Dead?), when suddenly my head pops through the surface of my consciousness like
the bobber on a fishing line that has just been gnawed in two by The Big One
That Got Away, and the sound of the Dead catches up to me all in one great
roaring rush, the voice of Jerry Garcia amplified to boiler-factory
rumbustiousness yet still somehow as sweet and gentle as the purest babbling
branch water chiding me:
"Please don't dominate the rap, Jack
If you got nothin' new to say..."
Oh well, I tell myself happily, settling back into the welcoming embrace of my
armchair, probably Jerry's got the right idea there, probably I'd better just
have me one or two more tastes on them there noxious gases, just to clear my
head, and then I can go out there nice and fresh, all primed and cocked to ...
SCENE: The Dead's business office in San Rafael, where Bob Hunter, the Dead's
lyricist, has just been telling everybody about a friend recently returned from
a trip to Cuba. Enter Ramrod, one of the band's equipment handlers.
HUNTER: Hey,you know who So-and-so talked to? Fidel Castro!
RAMROD: Yeah? Far out! How'd he get his number?
Now the first time *I* ever saw Jerry Garcia was in midwinter 1965, in Ken
Kesey's house up in La Honda. I'm lounging around Kesey's living room, see, and
this extraordinarily curious looking party comes shuffling through. In point of
fact, he's the very first true freak I've ever laid eyes on, this somewhat
rotund young man with a hairdo like a dust mop dipped in coal tar, and after
he's gone Kesey says that was Jerry Garcia, he's got a rock'n'roll band that's
gonna play with us this Saturday night at the San Jose Acid Test, their name is
the Warlocks but they're gonna change it to the Grateful Dead.
At the time, to tell the truth, I wasn't exactly galvanized with excitement by
this bit of news; after all, only a few Saturday nights before that I'd attended
what I've since some to regard as the Olde *Original* Acid Test, a curiously
disjointed but otherwise perfectly ordinary party at Kesey's house featuring
nothing more startling than an abundance of dope and a drunken Berkeley poet who
kept loudly reciting Dylan Thomas and, at midnight (hours after I'd gone home,
adept as ever at missing the main event), the ritual sacrifice and subsequent
immolation of a chicken.
But what I didn't know then was that 400 people would turn up for the San Jose
Acid Test, which begat the Palo Alto Acid Test, which begat the Fillmore Acid
Test, which begat the Trips Festival, which begat Bill Graham, who (to hear
*him* tell it, anyhow) begat Life As We Know It Today. Still, like I said, I
couldn't possibly have know that at the...
Michael Lydon (in Rolling Stone) on Jerry Garcia: "Some call Jerry a guru, but
that doesn't mean much; he is just one of those extraordinary human beings who
looks you right in the eyes, smiles encouragement and waits for you to become
yourself. However complex, he is entirely open and unenigmatic. He can be
vain, self-assertive and even pompous, but he doesn't fool around with false
apology. More than anything else he is cheery -- mordant and ironic at times,
but undauntedly optimistic. He's been through thinking life is but a joke, but
it's still a game to be played with relish and passionately enjoyed. Probably
really ugly as a kid --lumpy, fat-faced and frizzy-haired -- he is now
beautiful, his trimmed hair and beard a dense black aureole around his beaming
eyes. His body has an even grace, his face a restless eagerness, and a
gentleness, not to be confused with 'niceness,' is his manner. His intelligence
is quick and precise and he can be devastatingly articulate, his dancing hands
playing perfect accompaniment to his words."
"The thing about us, I guess is that we're not really _layin'_ anything on
anybody. I mean if you're telln' people directly how to 'be right,' how to
_act_, how to _do_, if you're talkin' to people on that level, then the kind of
feedback you get is gonna be more of, like, 'You _promised_ me this, man, now
where _is_ it?' It's the I-demand-to-speak-to-John-Lennon-personally syndrome.
Like one time this guy came into our office, this f*cked-up guy, just walked
right up and started staring at me in this intense way, man, and he was so
_heavy_, it was as if he was about to say something really important, you know,
really _urgent_,he looked like he was on the verge of _exploding_ or something,
and finally he says, 'Listen when are you guys gonna get it _on_, man? Because
you know scientology's got a good head start!' But it's just the price you pay
for standin' up in public, you get stuff comin' back at you, and if you're a
little f*cked up yourself, you get f*cked-up feedback, that's all."
Another summer Sunday afternoon, and I'm driving up to Marin County to see a
softball game between -- get this -- the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson
Airplane, and just before I get on the Golden Gate Bridge I pick up this most
remarkably scroungy, stringy-haired snaggle-toothed hippie hitchhiker -- "Wheat
Germ," he called himself, I swear he did -- who says he is bound for Sausalito,
and in the slow Sunday bridge traffic I light up a number and rather grandly
offer him a hit, all the while coming on (I admit it, I'm freakdom's own Major
Hoople) absolutely shamelessly about the Great Moment in Sports that the editors
of a certain Nationally Known Publication have prevailed upon me to cover for
them this afternoon, and Wheat Germ coolly takes his toke and lays a fat smoke
ring against the windshield, and then goes for the inside pocket of his ragtag
old Goodwill Bargain Basement tweed hacking jacket and outs with ... gasp! ... a
badge? a *gun*? No, just a saddle-soap tin, the kind that about twice as big
around as a Kiwi can, which he extends to me the way one might proffer a tin of
lozenges, and I see that it's full of these little purple tablets* thousands of
them, tiny lavender pastilles that slither around inside the can like collar
buttons when Wheat Germ shakes them gently, saying, through a sudden spray of
spittle so dense that, as his excitement rises, I can sometimes almost make out
a rainbow in it, "Serve yourself, dad, go on, take some, sh*t yeah, all you
want, me and my brother Yogurt's got a factory up in Sausalito puts out seven
hunnert of these tabs an hour, it's good acid, man, I mean I've moved over six
million dollars' worth of dope in the last three years and nobody's got burnt
*Yogurt? _Six_ million?*
"Sh*t yeah, over that. And that don't even *count* the shipload of hash the
Interpol narcs shot out from uner us down at Yucatan last month! Them Interpol
pigs, man, they're all a bunch of Commies or somethin', fifteen hunnert keys,
man, straight to the bottom of the Pacific!" (The Pacific? Uh, say there,
Wheat Germ, Yucatan is.... ) "Sh*t yeah. I mean they tar-*petered* the mother,
man! But I don't give a sh*t, I got me a crew down there right now, divin' for
it, I mean I'll get the bastid back f*cking-A dig it, dad, I deal for all the
*big* people, see, the really *heavy* dudes, I mean Janis and me was just like
*that*, dig, and whenever I need anything done, I just ... I mean I got people
all over the f*ckin' country workin' for me, man, in my organization. The
Syndicate, me and Yogurt call it, hee-hee-hee. Listen, man, are you *sure* you
can't use a hit of this acid? Because I was just thinkin', you know, I wouldn't
too much mind doin' a little dealin' to them guys, the Dead and the Airplane."
He pauses long enough to glance down at the array of Official Accuracy
Reporter's Notebooks spread between us on the engine housing, and adds,
"Reporter, huh? I can dig it. What are you, dad, a sportswriter or somethin'?"
"I don't have too much trouble with that kinda stuff, dealers and guys like
that. Because I think there's _thing_ to it, like bein' able to say, No, man,
*I* don't feel like goin' on that kinda trip today. And when you learn how to
do it, you just don't find yourself in those situations very often. And it's
not necessarily to be putting somebody down, or even to be turning down some
kind of energy exchange or whatever, it's just learning to assume that
_everybody_ can understand _everything_, and just tryin' to communicate with
that principle always in mind. So I don't have too muuch trouble with those
guys, _actually_... "
Anyhow, I didn't go to the San Jose Acid Test. But a few Saturday nights later
I did make it over to a ratty old night club called Ben's Big Beat, in the mud
flats beside the Bayshore Freeway for the Palo Alto Acid Test; and the what's-
their-names, the Grateful Dead, they were there, too, Jerry Garcia plucking
strange sonic atonalities out of his Magic Twanger, backed up by a pair of
cherubic-looking boys named Phil Lesh, on bass guitar, and Bobby Weir, on rhythm
guitar, and a drummer -- Bill Kreutzmann -- who looked so young and innocent and
fresh-faced that one's first impulse was to wonder how he got his momma to let
him stay out so late, and, mainly, this incredibly gross person who played
electric organ and harmonica and sang occasional blues vocals -- Pigpen, someone
said his name was -- beyond a doubt the most marvelously ill-favored figure to
grace a public platform since King Kong came down with stagefright and copped
out on the Bruce Cabot show. He was bearded and burly and barrel chested, jowly
and scowly and growly, and he had long, Medusalike hair so greasy it might have
been groomed with Valvoline, and his angry countenance glowered out through it
like a wolf at bay in a hummock of some strange, rank foliage. He wore, as I
recall, a motorcyclist's cap, crimped and crumpled Hell's Angel style, and heavy
iron-black boots, and the gap between the top of his oily Levis and the bottom
of his tattletale-gray T-shirt exposed a half-moon of a distended beer belly as
pale and befurred as a wedge of moldy jack cheese. Sitting up there at that
little spindly-legged organ, he looked enormous, bigger than life, like a
gorilla at a harpsichord. But the ugly mother sure could *play*! To one as
dull of ears as I, who'd always pretty much assumed that the only fit place for
organ music outside of church was the roller rink, those ham-fisted whorehouse
chords he was hammering out seemed in and of themselves to constitute the most
satisfying sort of blasphemy. And sing! The way this coarse-voiced ogre
snarled his unintelligible yet unfathomably indecent talkin'-blues phrases would
curl the very Devil's codpiece; fathers of teenage daughters must have shuddered
in their sleep as far away as Burlingame that night. Verily, he was wondrous
gross, was this Pigpen; yet such was the subtle alchemy of his art that the more
he profaned love and beauty, the more his grossness rendered him beautiful.
"Far *out*!" the teeny-boppers and their boyfriends in Ben's Beat kept
exclaiming while Pig worked. "Isn't he far f*ckin' *out*!" It was an
expression I'd not run into before, but even at first hearing it seemed
destined, if only for its sommodious inexactness, to be with us for a good long
while. In any case, it accommodated Pigpen very nicely; he was indeed one
far-out gentelman, no doubt about it, none at all.
Summertime, midmorning, and I'm sitting in the living room of what was then
Jerry Garcia and Bob Hunter's house, under the rewoods up a canyon in Larkspur,
15 or 20 miles north of San Francisco, sitting there in an old easy chair
reworking my notes on last night's three sets at the Fillmore ("An Evening with
the Grateful Dead," the show is titled, and Jerry played all three sets,
straight through from 8:30 until nearly two a.m., two sets with the Dead and one
with the country-cousin stablemates the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and will
do the same tonight and again tomorrow night, yet while he's playing he looks as
if he could happily go on forever). While I'm sitting there, Jerry, yawning and
stretching and scratching like a freshly dehibernated bear, is puttering around
the stereo in search of a record by a vocalist he's so far identified only as
"my favorite girl singer," and Jerry's lady, Mountain Girl (a great, gorgeous
creature, an Amazon's Amazon, a Valkyrie with raven tresses, the sort of
awesome, Venus-of-Willendorf beauty who inspires me to pure press-agent
flackery, the "one-hundred-sixty-pounds-of-eye-poppin'-pulchritude" school of
prose) ... ahem ... and as I was saying, Mountain Girl is banging around in the
kitchen fixing breakfast for me and Jerry and Hunter (who is right now standing
in the doorway blinking myopically behind his enormous, sleep-frazzled Pecos
Pete mustache), and Hunter's lady, Christy, is out back playing with Jerry and
Mountain's two kids, and Jerry, dark eyes suddenly aglint behind his dandelion-
yellow-tinted glasses, hollers "Eureka!" or "Aha!" or whatever and plunges his
hand wrist-deep into a disordered stack of albums and comes up with ... no, no,
not Joplin, not Grace Slick, not Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez or Laura Nyro, not
even Tina Turner or Big Mama Thornton, but ... Dolly *Parton*?
Who'da thought it? Who'd ever have supposed that the favorite girl singer of
the spiritual leader of the Heaviest Rock'n'Roll Band in the Known World would
turn out to be *my* favorite girl singer ... Dolly Parton, the fairest
wildflower that ever bloomed in Tennessee, the best female country vocalist
since the prime of Kitty Wells? Far --how do you say? -- *flung*! Far f*ckin'
Jerry's at the turntable now flipping switches and adjusting dials, blowing
invisible dust off the record with French maid fastidiousness, delicately
plucking up the tonearm, catching it the way one might pick up a small but
outraged serpent, with two fingers just at the base of the skull, gingerly
almost to the point of reverence, and a moment later the room is filled with the
exquisitely melancholic strains of Dolly Parton's mourning-dove-with-a-broken-
wing voice, keening,
"In this mental insti-too-shun,
Looking out through these arn bars..."
It's her beautiful "Daddy Come and Get Me," about a girl whose husband has had
her committed ("to get me out of his way"), and when Dolly comes to the lines
"It's not my mind that broken/ It's my heart," Jerry Garcia, standing limned in
soft morning sunlight before the arched front window, turns to me and ...
remember now, this is *the* Jerry Garcia, Captain Trips himself, the same Jerry
Garcia who only 12 hours earlier utterly blew out 3000 of the most jaded, dope-
devastated heads ever assembled even at the Fillmore (Dead fans are notorious in
that regard) ... *that* Jerry Garcia turns to me and clasps his hands to his
breast and rolls his eyes after the goofy, ga-ga fashion of a lovesick swain and
utters an ecstatic little moan and swoons into the nearest chair... and for the
next half hour, while our breakfast turns cold in the kitchen, he and Hunter and
I sit there in the living room tokin' on a taste of Captain Trips' morning pipe
and groovin' on Sweet Dolly's bucolic threnodies about lost loves and dying
lovers and stillborn babes, and by the time her last words ("O Robert! O
Robert!") fade into silence, I swear to God there's not a dry eye in the room...
It is, I suppose, my unhappy destiny to be eternally numbered among the Last of
the First; 'twas ever thus, even in 1966. For by the time I arrived, stoned to
the eyeballs, at the Longshoremen's Hall in San Francisco for the final night of
the Trips Festival, it had somehow got to be one or two or three o'clock in the
morning, and the Dead were packing up their gear and nearly everybody had gone
home. Some late-lingering hanger-on was fiddling with a slide projector,
running through old slides that one of Kesey's Pranksters had shot in the La
Honda woods, and even as I walked into the vast, almost empty hall there
flashed, purely by cosmic coincidence -- the *synch*, Tom Wolfe named it -- on a
giant screen above the bandstand, a gargantuan medium-close-up image of ...
right ... of *me*, slapped up there on the wall behind the stage like some kind
of weird wallpaper, head and shoulders in monumental proportions, my eyes masked
behind a 12-foot span of impenetrably black wrap-around shades and my nostrils
as big as manholes and my tightly pursed mouth, a furrow the length of the grave
of a good-sized dog, fixed in what I must have intended to resemble a pensive
attitude but that now seemed fraught with nameless apprehensions (to tell the
truth, for all the time I put in hanging around the edges of the La Honda scene,
I never did quite manage to shake off that vague, stranger-in-a-strange-land
uneasiness that is the special affliction of us day-trippers); and, dwarfed by
my looming monolithic visage, the Grateful Dead and their equipment crews
slouched about at their assorted chores, a shadowy platoon of climbers grouping
to scale a one-man, two-dimensional Mount Rushmore. All in all, it seemed as
appropriate an image as any to remember the Trips Festival by, so I turned on my
heels and split as quickly as I'd come.
And that was the very last time I sought out the company of any Rock'n'Roll
Stars whatsoever, the very last time until...
"Looks like you fell in with a bad crowd, man."
Huh? Hoodat said dat?
Jerry Garcia, that's who; Jerry Garcia wading through the jack-strewn corpses
carpeting the floor wall to wall, Jerry Garcia grinning down at me, his face
swimming slowly into focus, his hairy aspect droll, almost elfin, Jerry Garcia
reaching for the guitar case he stashed behind my chair about seven centuries
ago when this night was young and so was I. All of which means, lemme see now,
all of which means ...
Sonofabitch, it's *over*! Three sets, three whole sets of the Sweetest Sound
this Side of Pandemonium, five solid hours I've been cuddled up back here in icy
congress with a cold tank while out front the Dead were raising a rumpus loud
enough to wake the living and set a multitude to boogalooing, and I've scarcely
heard a sound all evening long, save the nitrous oxide whistling through the
empty chambers of my mind ... I mean great *Scott*, Front Page, you've got a
*story* to write, fella, you can't be loafin' around back here on your dead ass
Prodded at last by my long-dormant conscience, goosed by good intentions,
eyeballs, bulging maniacally with the effort to Pull Myself Together, I am
halfway to my feet when Jerry, who by now has retrieved his guitar case and made
his way back to the doors, turns and halts me with an upraised hand.
"What's your hurry?" he says, still grinning. "The tank's not empty yet, is
I blink as this highly relevant bit of intelligence illuminates my socked-in
consciousness, and when I look again Jerry is gone, vanished like the Cheshire
cat, leaving just the memory of his grin hanging in mid-air to mark his passing.
And the next thing I know I'm back in my chair once more, and somehow the hose
is rising magically, like a fakir's cobra, from the writing turmoil on the floor
to meet my outstretched hand, and I am thinking Yeah, right, just another l'il
toke or two for the road, and then I'll get a good night's sleep so I can come
back tomorrow night all primed and cocked to ....
"An Evening with the Grateful Dead," Fillmore West, first set, raw Official
Accuracy Reporter notes considerably refined and amplified after the fact: The
Acoustic Dead lead off, Bill the Drummer and the three guitars (all acoustic, no
electronic augmentation) and Pig, his electric organ temporarily supplanted by
an old upright piano -- they open w. Cumberland Blues, much fine bluegrassy
gittar pickin', good downhome lyrix like "a lotta po' man got de cumberland
blooze/ he cain't win for looo-zin'" -- sounds like it came straight out of
Appalachia (didn't tho -- Hunter wrote it) -- Jerry sings it *just* rite, his
husky tenor a power-thru-gentleness sort of trip, almost unnaturally soft but
with kind of lilting gulp that makes me think of Lefty Frizzell or the way Hank
Williams sings Honky Tonk Blues -- JG's voice's sweetness belies its tuffness,
and is in perfect counterpoint to the uncompromising pessimism of Hunter's lyrix
-- seems to me the Dead are carrying their years in this meatgrinder racket
really well, aging gracefully -- Bobby Weir *still* has the face of a debauched
Renaissance choirboy, beautifully modeled features, thee are moments when he
looks like a dissolute 12-yr-old -- when does backup vocals for JG (or solo, as
on Truckin' and several others) he sings ina voice not quite his own, the kind
of voice that skims across the top of the glottis and comes out sounding like it
never plumbed the depths of the throat at all -- Pig has somehow shed 50, maybe
75 pounds in the five years since that night at Ben's Big Beat, and now stands
revealed as what he was all the time beneath that S. Clay Wilson-ogreish
exterior, a fierce-looking *little* guy in cowboy funk, boots and low-slung
Levis and oily leather sheepherder's coat, a battered Stetson with its rolled
brim cocked so low over his eyes that his touch, pinched little face is barely
visible above his scraggly goatee, Gabby Hayes with teeth -- Phil Lest almost
never surfaces in the group, but is always working behind everybody else,
providing substance on bass, fleshing out vocals, clowning, goofing around with
little hippy-dippy mouth-breather mugging trips, he looks to be the loosest of
them all onstage -- Bill Kreutzmann is darkly handsome, dour, brooding, solemn,
looks "deep" and plays the same way, hunches possessively over his traps and
seems almost to lose himself in his own rumbling-hoof-beats-in-the-middle-
distance rhythms -- he is *never* flashy; his drumming is as steady as the drone
of a tamboura, a fixed point around which the guitars work their airy
filigrees; tonight's the first time the Dead have tried a strictly acoustic set
on the Fillmore audience, and when Cumberland Blues is over, a scattering of
old-line Dead fans, missing the electronically amplified bedlam of yesteryear,
holler "Play louder! Play louder!" -- but Jerry, smiling beatifically, steps to
the mike and cools them out by explaining, very gently, "No, no, man, you don't
understand, this is the part where we play *soft*, and you listen *loud*!" --
then they do New Speedway Boogie, Dire Wolf (Don't Murder Me), Candyman and two
or three others, mostly from the Workingman's Dead album, then finish off the
set with a reverently beautiful and altogether decorous rendition of that All-
Time Number-One Sike-O-Deelik Space-Music Golden Oldie, Swing Low Sweet Chariot,
everybody *loves* it, crowd really gets off behind it -- a fine rousing set,
looks like a *good* night...
"I just play the way I play, I play what I like to hear, I don't really think
about guitar players anymore, I think about _music_, I like _music_, you know
what I mean? When I buy records I don't buy guitar players, I buy ... _music_.
Because all those guys, they're just _learning_to_play_the_guitar_, just like I
am, and I don't listen to them much, because that'd be like learning from _me_.
_You_know_? They've derived all their sh*t from the same sh*t I've derived all
_my_ sh*t from. No, I listen to the real sh*t if I'm lookin' for ideas
musically, guitarwise and so forth, I go to the masters, not to the other
students. Like Django Reinhardt or B.B. King, you know, guys who really _play_.
But the main thing is that I play music because I _love_ music, you know, and
all my life I've loved music, and as I've gotten more and more into lookin' at
the whole, over-all _thing_. And that's where I am now, doin' that..."
Among the habitues of the peformers' lounge backstage at the Fillmore is this
tall, rangy, loose-limbed, spacy-looking young freak --the Sunnyvale Express,
they call him -- who, during the breaks, is never far from Jerry Garcia's circle
of friends and admirers, usually toying idly with a guitar, just noodling,
picking out disconnected phrases and fragments to underscore whatever
conversation is going on around him, nothing special, here a bit of bluegrass,
there a snippet of flamenco or a rock riff or what-have-you, anything at all,
apparently, that comes to mind. It's obvious he's a Garcia fan, but there is
about him none of that earnest innocence and humility that can do so much toward
making even us hero worshippers a tolerable lot; rather, the Sunnyvale Express'
languid arrogance of a coxcomb, and a couple of times I've spotted him eying
Jerry with a look of ill-disguised envy.
He is here again tonight with his old lady, an impossibly beautiful but other-
worldly looking redhead named (brace yourself) The Burning Bush, who paints her
eyelids dead black like Theda Bara and wears antique crushed-velvet vamp
costumes, the two of them lounging in an old threadbare armchair near the couch
where Jerry sits talking animatedly to a rock-magazine interviewer. As I cross
the big room toward them, the Sunnyvale Express disentangles himself from The
Burning Bush, rises slowly from his chair, takes up his guitar, props one foot
on the arm of Jerry's couch and announces, in a voice as somnolent with dope as
a sleepwalker's, "Now I'm 'onna play jus' like ole G'cia, here."
And with that he launches into what has to be accounted, at least on the face of
it, one of the most dazzling virtuoso performances I've ever heard, clawing
great fistfuls of sound off the bassstrings even as he picks the high notes off
with blinding music-box precision and delicacy, playing, as far as I can
determine, no particular song but rather a kind of collage, a mosaic -- all
right, a *medley*, then -- of those staccato riffs that are almost a Garcia
signature, not chords but swift, rushing runs of single bass notes in which each
note is resonantly, sonorously deep yet somehow clear, sharp, *bright*, never
murky or muddy. Closing my eyes, I can at first almost make myself believe it
is Jerry himself who is swathing my mind like a swami's turbaned head in layer
upon layer of silken sound; but after a minute or so I begin to sense that for
all its resonant vibrancy, the Sunnyvale Express' playing desperately wants the
quality that Jerry's is richest in, call it density or warmth of even, if you
must, soul, and the only ingredient the Express can replace it with is a sour
mix of envy and insolence and sullen mockery. His playing is technically
perfect but as devoid of human feeling for the music as a player piano tinkling
away on an empty stage; one whoe first interest was in listening to the real
thing had as well attend a concert featuring an oyster playing "One Meatball" on
So it is no surprise to discover, when I look again, that the same old Sunnyvale
Express is playing still. Just behind him, leaning forward in her chair, sits
The Burning Bush, her dark-ringed eyes glazed with rapture, her right hand lost
to the wrist between her lover's parted thighs, cupping and fondling his crotch
in the upturned palm. And around them, on the couch and in the other chairs,
Jerry and his friends sit listening and watching, their faces stonily impassive.
When, after he's played for maybe five minutes or so, the Express senses at last
the chilly indifference with which his efforts are being received, he abruptly
stops playing, favors his implacable audience with an elaborately phlegmatic
shug andturns and driftsofftoward the far end of the room, The Burning Bush
floating along beside him, her busy hand now wandering aimlessly, crablike,
across his narrow rump.
"Whew, that guy," says Jerry wearily, rising to go out front for his set with
the New Riders. "He's like, my own personal psychic bedbug." Then,
brightening, he adds, "But you know, I *need* guys like him around, *everybody*
does. I mean, they keep us *honest*, you know what I mean?"
Phil Lesh: The Grateful Dead are trying to save the world.
"I don't think of music as a craft, see. Like when I'm writing songs, I don't
sit down and _assemble_ stuff. Because music to me is more of a _flash_ than
a craft, so that somethin' comes to me and tha's the thing I'll bother to
isolate, you know, the stuff that nudges its way out of the subconscious and
you sorta go _Oh!_ and suddenly there's a whole melody in your head. And it
happens just often enough to seem like a, you know, like a _flow_, I mean I
recognize the mechanism, I know what it is as opposed to everything _else_. And
that ends up to be the stuff I can live with a long time, and that's a thing I
think about a lot, too..."
So here we are, me and ole Wheat Germ, smack in the middle of your typical sunny
Sunday afternoon in a small, semirural suburb in upper Marin County, and well
under way is your typical softball game in your typical small-town municipal
ball park: chicken-wire backstop, rickety wooden bleachers along both base
lines, scrofulously barren infield, shaggy outfield -- in short your regulation
government-issue I-see-Amurrica-playing scene as it is enacted every summer
Sunday not just here in Marin County but from sea to shining sea, lots of good
cold beer and good fellowship and good-natured umpire baiting ... and here today
among these particular devotees of the national pastime, an abundance of good
vibes and good karma and the world's own amount of goooood dope.
Because the curiously coiffed 50 or 60 fans in the stands here today are not
your common ordinary garden-variety bleacherites, those dulcet-toned,
undershirted cigar chompers and their frumpy Cowbell Annies who customarily
attend to the umpire baiting on these occasions. Such undershirts as are in
evidence this afternoon are brilliantly tie-dyed, and the ladies in the crowd,
for all their electrified "Bride of Frankenstein" hairdos, are almost
unanimously pretty, not a frump in sight. No more do those improbably befurred
gents manning their posts upon the field of combat bear more than a passing
resemblance to the Mudville Nine's anonymous opponents, nor is that the Mighty
Casey at the bat.
No sports fans, the awful truth (may J.G. Taylor Spink, up there in the Great
Press Box in the Sky, be spared it!) is that the freaks afield are Jefferson
Airplanes to a man; and the big-wigged fellow who just struck out, the one who
looks like John the Baptist, that's Jerry Garcia, guitaristt extraordinaire but
a banjo hitter if ever there was one. And the umpire just now being baited,
scowly little dude with the scraggly chin whiskers and the red-white-and-blue
backwards baseball cap, is either Augie Donatelli or Pigpen McKernan, choose
So far, seen as I am seeing it through the sickly-sweet blue smaze of the dread
devil drug, it's been a genuine pisscutter of a ball game -- which appraisal
has, as the Great Scorer is reputed to have written, nought to do with who's
winning (the Airplane, by about 11 to about six, nobody seems to know exactly)
or losing, but solely with How They're Playing the Game. For if the Great
Scorer ever looked in on this contest, He'd probably take His ball and go home;
because these weirdos are simply having much more fun that this moldy old sport
was ever intended to provide. Most of them play like the guys who always made
the second string in high school but never actually got in a game: lotsa
hustle, lotsa chatter on the benches and base paths, no end of hot-pepper
razzle-dazzle when they're chucking the old pill around the infield, but
complete and utter panic when they somehow get themselves involved in an actual
honest-to-god *play*. The Airplane, for instance, has a beautiful, big-bearded
guy wearing bib overalls in the outfield who circles frantically under pop flies
like a man with one leg shorter than the other hollering "Me! Me! Me! Me!" and
waving his arms as though besieged by a swarm of bees, but who, to my admittedly
none-too-reliable recollection, has yet to lay a glove on the ball. And Jerry
Garcia cavorts very impressively around the Dead's hot corner until he sees the
ball headed in his direction, at which point he instantly goes into such gleeful
paroxysms of excitement that he can't possibly execute the play.
What they lack in skill, though, they more than make up for in *elan*, jawing at
Pig and guzzling beer in the on-deck circle and squawking "Whaddya waitin' for,
*Christmas*?" at batters who don't choose to swing at every pitch within bat's
length of the plate. So that when, along about the fifth, Mickey Hart, sometime
second drummer for the Dead, bounces one out of the park over the low fence in
deep left field, and a furious hassle ensures along the third-base line over
whether or not Pig should have ruled it a ground-rule double instead of a homer
-- both teams storming up and down the base paths and gesticulating wildly and
turning the air yet another shade of blue with good old-fashioned cussing plain
and fancy -- one understands immediately that behind all their histrionics the
players are taking enormous delight in burlesquing these hoary old rituals, and
at the same time one seses too that behind *that* is a profound and abiding
respect -- *reverence* even -- for the very traditions they are pretending to
make light of. Which in turn goes a long way toward explaining how it is that
the Dead, who not long ago were plunging ever deeper into the howling wilderness
of electronic exoticism, are now working almost exclusively within the
relatively strict, fundamental forms of stay-at-home country music and blues.
It may even help explain why Mickey Hart, after he has negotiated the knot of
wrangling dialecticians around Pigpen and tagged the plate, trots directly over
to where I'm sitting with my ubiquitous notebook spread upon my knee, and says,
grinning proudly, "Listen, man, I don't give a sh*t what you write about my
drummin', but you be *sure* and put that f*ckin' homer in, OK?"
Anyhow, all those heady speculations aside, there remains one more disconcerting
little distinction between today's contest and your run-of-the-mill Sunday
softball game; to wit: That unwashed young chap over there, furtively but
but eagerly proffering first this freak, then that, something or other from the
small round tin he's palming, is no peanut vendor. As a matter of embarrassing
fact, he's none other than the noted Wheat Germ, my very own millionaire
millstone; and judging the withering scowls his attempts to peddle his wares all
afternoon, business is bad, exceeding bad. Evidently, the Dead's and the
Airplane's respective rooting sections prefer their trademen to come on -- if at
all -- considerably cooler than Wheat Germ, who, his self-advertised $6,000,000
worth of experience in these affairs notwithstanding, has already forgotten the
cardinal precept of his chosen profession: *Nobody* loves a pushy pusher. Poor
old Wheat Germ; even from where I sit, in the bleachers down near third, it's
apparent that he's trying way too hard, buttonholing fans while they're trying
to watch Paul Kantner strike out Jerry Garcia, spraying them with the humid
spindrift of his enthusiasm, generally conducting himself in a manner likely to
get him reprimand from the Dealers Association's Ethical Practices Committee if
the word gets around.
Which is all the same to me, actually, except that as I ponder the obdurate
sales resistance his cheap-Jack wheedling seems to be eliciting in the market
place, it begins to occur to me that it just might not be in my best interest to
associate myself too closely with this pariah in the present company. After
all, despite the unarguable fact that it was my vainglorious boasting of
Connections in High Places that brought him here in the first place -- thereby
making Wheat Germ in a sense the corporeal embodiment of my vanity, my alter ego
incarnate -- I am nonetheless a Responsible Card-Carrying Member of the Fourth
Estate and, as such, it behooves me... oh Christ, here he comes now, heading
straight for me, wearing the rueful hangdog look of a man who's just suffered
put-down upon put-down, everybody'll see that he's with me and suppose I got no
more cool than he does and I'll never get within hollerin' distance of the Dead
again and ... it positively *behooves* me to maintain at all costs my
credibility in the eyes of these the subjects of my report to my vast
readership, one might almost say I *owe* it to my public to cook this albatross'
goose somehow, to sneak away from him or pretend I don't know him or offer to
drive him to the bus station or ...
*We need guys like him, they keep us honest*. Jerry Garcia's own true words
echoing up from some lost recess of my memory, and even as I hear them I hear
too my own voice saying, aloud and straining to convey the heartiness I'm trying
hard to feel, yet in a kind of secret harmony with Jerry's words, "Hey listen,
Wheat Germ, the New Riders are playin' at the Family Dog tonight, and I've got
an extra ticket. You want to come along?"
And as his snaggle-toothed grin chases the despair from Wheat Germ's unlovely
countenance, I am smote by yet another Cosmic Axiom, this one more or less of my
own making: One man's pain in the ass is the next man's psychic bedbug. Dig
it, dad, you never know when you might need one.
Pigpen: Hey, Magazine, y'wanna know the secret of m' success?
Me (*eagerly*): Yeah, sure, hell yes!
Pig: (growling *sotto voice* behind his hand, mock furtive as a Disneyland Foxy
Loxy): Take thirty-five percent off the top and *split*!
"Well I think the Grateful Dead is basically, like, a good, snappy rock'n'roll
band, I mean that's its basic character. So when we do country stuff, for
instance, people sometimes tend to think we've suddenly gotten very _pure_, very
_direct_. But we don't actually do it very purely or directly at all, compared
to, like Roy Acuff, say. And if we're talking about _country_ music, we _have_
to compare it to those kind of guys. I mean, when _we_ play it, it's _still_
"An Evening with the GD": fillmore west, second set, new riders of the purple
sage: garcia on pedal steel, dave torbert on bass, david nelson on electric
guitar, mickey hart on drums, and most of all, marmaduke, nee john dawson
vocalist-lyricist-acoustic-guitarist, lovely little guy all decked out (unlike
other deads and new riders in the shitkicker roughrider cowboy funk) in high-
style western sartorial splendor, dude duds, hand-embroidered cowboy shirt,
hand-tooled high-heel boots, trimly blocked stetson stop incongruously long pale
blond locks, a psychedelic roy rogers -- they open w. the great dave dudley
truck-driver song "six days on the road", leap blithely from that to the stones'
dope-disease-and-dark-night-of-the-soul song "connection", then to "henry", a
*very* funny rock'n'rollicker by marmaduke, about the travails of a dope runner
("...went to Acapulco/to turn the golden key...") who gets himself involved in a
wild keystone kops car chase after sampling his own wares ("henry tasted, he got
wasted/ couldn't even see...") --crowd *loves* it, fillmore is jammed to the
rafters with dead fans by now and they're unanimous in their enthusiasm for the
new riders -- marmaduke onstage is really something to watch, he's so fresh, so
ingenuous, so entralled by the whole rock'n'roll star trip, even backstage he
can hardly keep his hands off his guitar, and out front when the crowd shows it
digs him he blushes and grins all over his face and practically wags his tail
with delight -- new riders do 2 more marmaduke songs, "dirty business" and "the
last lonely eagle" (which yr. reporter, ripped again, keeps hearing as "the last
lonely ego", but fortunately does not fail to note that garcia plays brilliantly
on it despite the fact that he's only taken up the pdal steel seriously in the
last year or so, none of the mawkish, whiny, hawaiian-war-chant rebop; his pedal
steel, like his guitar, is crisp and intense, it *weeps*, of course -- it
wouldn't be a pedal steel it if didn't -- but it's properly *melancholy*, never
merely sentimental) -- then marmaduke does a yodeler that I don't recognize
(*yodeling*? in the *fillmore*?), then they finish off the seet by bringing the
whole house to its feet with the stones' "honky tonk woman" -- as marmaduke,
beaming happily, basks in the warm applause, it occurs to me that these guys
rank right up there near the top of the lower order of eternal verities: rock
'n'roll stars may come and go, but there'll *always* be the sons of the
Backstage again, and I've retreated to the remotest corner of the lounge to work
for a few minutes on my notes on the New Riders' set. I'm just getting fairly
deep into it when I begin to feel that creeping uneasiness that signals another
presence, close at hand and watching me intently. I lift my eyes reluctantly
from my notebook and find myself face to face with a small child, just a
toddler, a little boy about a year old, standing there right next to the arm of
my chair, his wide blue eyes fixed on my moving ballpoint. He has rust-red
hair, brushed nearly flat, and a round, fair face upon which has settled an
expression as solemn as a judge's. And he very definitely does *not*, let it be
said here and now for reasons that will momentarily become apparent, resemble
Jerry Garcia in any way, shape or form.
"Hi sport," I greet the boy, offering him the pen. "You wanta write something?"
"Oh lord, baby, don't go bothering people that way, sweetheart. Is he bothering
The mother, presumably: a tall, slender blonde, very pretty in a sort of pale,
bloodless way, oddly brittle-looking somehow, a china figurine off some
Victorian parlor's whatnot shelf, or perhaps, with her plaid wool skirt and
cardigan sweater and plastic barrettes and silk stockings and penny loafers, a
portrait by Andrew Wyeth. Here amid this tribe of weird Aquarian savages, she
seems, in *every* sense that the phrase can conjure, out of time.
"No, he's fine," I reassured her, flipping a page in my notebook for the boy to
leave his mark on. "Let him write; he probably understands it all better than I
"Are you writing something about the band?" she asks. I own up to it and name
the magazine I'm doing it for. "Oh," she says, "that's very interesting.
Because Jerry Garcia, well, he's, you know," she rolls her eyes significantly
toward the kid, who by now is assiduously inscribing his hieroglyphic autograph
in my notebook, "he's little Jerry's father."
Uh, beg pardon, ma'am, but heh-heh, I could've *sworn* you said ...
"His true father, I mean. He's his true father."
My first flash is to those two lines from Jerry's song Friend of the Devil, the
ones that go "Got a wife in Chino, babe/ And one in Cherokee..." But then I cop
another quick peek at the weanling at my knee, with his sober delft-blue eyes
and that red hair, and instantly the next lines of the song come to mind:
"First one say she got my child,/ But it don't look like me." Which is to say
either that the girl is some kind of shakedown artist, or that she is, as the
quaint old phrase so delicately had it, bereft of reason. Because if this kid
is Jerry Garcia's offspring, then I am Walter Winchell.
"And you know what?" she hurries on. "I came all the way out here from Stockton
on the Greyhound, just so he could see Little Jerry, and I paid my way in
tonight just like everybody else, and I talked the door guy into letting me come
backstage and *everything*, and then when I said Hi to Jerry and held up the
baby to him and all, he acted like, you know, like he didn't even *know* us.
Which I just don't understand what's *wrong*, I mean, I sure hope it's not
because of something I've, you know, *done* or anything..."
True father indeed. But this time I can plainly hear, through the rush of
words, the faint rattle of hysteria that bespeaks a screw loose somewhere.
"I just hope he's not, you know, *mad* at me or something," she adds, bending to
scoop up Little Jerry and clutch him defensively to her breast, as if to
demonstrate that nothing in the living world terrifies her quite as much as the
thought of Jerry Garcia in a snit. "Because I certainly don't know what I
could've, you know, *done*..."
My pen slips from Little Jerry's moist grasp and clatters to the floor. Rising
to retrieve it, I offer her what meager reassurance I can muster. "I wouldn't
worry too much if I were you," I tell her lamely. "Jerry's pretty busy these
days, he probably just didn't..."
"I mean, we're *very close*, me and Jerry are. Like, you take the last time I
saw him, last April I think it was, why, I just walked right up to him, right on
the street outside this building and said, you know, Hi! And he said Hi back,
and *smiled*, and sort of patted the baby on the *head* and *everything*. And
that's why I'm afraid he must be mad about something. Because this time he
just, you know, walked right on by like he didn't even *see* us!"
The girl is beginning now to look as distraught as she sounds; her cheeks are
flushed and several strands of hair have pulled loose from the barrettes to
dangle limply at her temples, and her pale eyes well with tears. She is, as
they say, Going All to Pieces, and as her fragile composure shatters I can read
in that crazed web of striations a case history of her delusion that, if not
altogether accurate in every detail, will answer almost as well as if it were:
Two years ago she was a carhop in a Stockton A&W root-beer stand, and that night
summer before last when she got herself knocked up, the redheaded Stockton
College dairy-and-animal-husbandry major who took her and two six-packs out on
the levee in his Mustang played the Grateful Dead on his eight-track stereo
while he pumped drunkenly atop her in the back seat, and she heard, in midzygote
as it were, not the redhead's sodden grunting but a true dream lover's voice,
his honeyed lips just at her ear whispering what somehow seemed -- even though
she didn't exactly, you know, *understand* it, quite -- the sweetest, tenderest,
loveliest thing anybody had ever said to her, ever in her life:
"Lady finger, dipped in moonlight,
Writing 'What for?' across the morning sky..."
Jerry Garcia of course, ready, as always, with the right word at the right
moment. And since from that night forward she never once saw or heard from the
redheaded dairy-and-animal-husbandry major ever again, whereas she could hear
from Jerry Garcia any time she wanted to, merely by playing a Grateful Dead
album on the $29.95 Victor portable stereo she'd bought on sale at the discount
store with her first week's wages from the root-beer stand, we-e-ell...
"I mean," she whimpers wretchedly, "we don't *want* nothing from him, not one
thing. But you'd think he could've at least *reckanized* his own flesh and, you
Well, it occurs to me to observe, there are an awful lot of people around here
tonight, most likely he really *didn't* see you. But then it also occurs to me
that she is already quite clear on that technicality, and that as far as she is
concerned it's altogether beside the point; according to her lights, a man is
*obliged* to see and recognize the fruit of his own loins in *any* crowd, he
And anyhow, before I can utter the first word, the girl suddenly squeaks, "Oooo!
There he *is*!" and takes off for the other end of the room, leaving me standing
there dumbfounded in a leftover cloud of her tooty-frooty dime-store perfume,
still biting the air and trying to think of something to say. She is headed, as
you might expect for Jerry Garcia himself, who stands at the far end of the
lounge talking to Pigpen and Phil Lesh and Zonk the Gasman's handsome wife
Candace and Bob Weir's beautiful Garboesque girlfriend Frankie; and as she makes
for them I see, over her shoulder, those great blue eyes of Little Jerry's
gazing back at me, grave as a lemur's stare.
The girl marches resolutely up to Jerry and thrust the baby at him and announces
herself -- I can't hear what she says, but its doubtless some such commonplace
pleasantry as "Allow me to present your own flesh and, you know, *blood*--" And
Jerry looks at her with an expression so blankly devoid of recognition that for
an instant I'm afraid some hideous little slice-of-life drama is about to
happen, that any second now she's going to whip out a .44 and start blazing away
at Jerry or herself or Candace or Frankie or whomever a lady in her frame of
mind might settle on as a fit target for her ire.
But when at last Jerry's countenance light up with that fabled beatific smile,
and he says Hello or whatever and bends to peer closely at the baby, then at
her, and still smiling, shakes his head, there is even in his denial of them
such a palpable quantity of gentleness and generosity that she is utterly
disarmed and undone. She blushes and shies and smiles back at him, and after a
moment she shoulders the baby once more and goes on out, restored, into the main
ballroom. As the door closes after her, Jerry turns back to the others and
delivers himself of one of those exaggerated, palms-upturned, beats-the-hell-
out-of-*me* shrugs, and that's it, it's over. Good karma has triumphed once
more over Bad, and playing lead guitar for the Grateful Dead is still quite as
safe a calling as, say, playing first base for the Philadelphia Phils n 1949...
"Guys in other bands have that kind of stuff a lot, there'll be five or six
chicks runnin' around all the time sayin' they're somebody's old lady, that kind
of trip. But we don't get too much of that sort of thing, actually, we're all
kind of ugly for that. Ugly but honest, that's us. Hey, there's a good title
for you, 'Ugly but Honest.' A'course, we ain't all that _honest_, either.
Maybe just 'Ugly' is good enough...."
"an evening with the gd," fillmore, third set, full complement dead (garcia,
weir, lesh, pig, kreutzmann, hart), full electronic amplification -- they open
w. "dancing in the streets," a motown-style rocker, follow that w. merle
haggard's tender honky tearjerker "mama tried," then "it's a man's world" with
pig doing a very creditable james-brown-in-white-face, then buddy holly's "not
fade away," working through their repertory the way a painter might put together
a retrospective, displaying their influences, putting the audience through the
same changes the dead themselves have been subject to -- it is eclecticism in
its very best and highest sense, and the audience already thoroughly jacked up
by the first two sets, is flashing strongly to it -- the upturned faces near the
stage, awash with the splashover of swirling colors from the light show, seem
almost to glow with enthusiasm and delight, and each time the band takes up a
different song there arises from out there in the dark a wild chorus of voices,
*dozens* of them from even the farthest corners of the hall, whooping and
howling and yipping like coyotes baying at the moon, aa-ooo-aa-ooo-aaaa-oooooo,
a savage animal, tribal thing one knows instinctively they do *only* for the
dead, in *honor* of the dead -- a christian missionary would get gobbled up in
seconds in such a scene as this -- now bob weir, looking like a full-color,
slick-paper idealization of billy the kid on a dime-mag cover, sings "truckin'".
hunter's leisurely, laid-back ramble about the vicissitudes of life on the road
with the dead ("busted/ down on bourbon street/ set up/ like a bowlin' pin..."),
puts me in mind of those old-timy toddlin' tunes like "side by side," only with
more substance, gene kelly and donald o'connor with soul -- they follow that
with two more hunter songs, "uncle john's band" and "casey jones," and by the
time casey ("drivin' that train/ high on cocaine..."), is highballing down the
track toward that fatefulencounter with train 102, the crowd is on its feet and
chugging up and down, it *is* the train, a great joyous surging mass of energy
hurtling headlong into the uncharted darkness of the future -- and it doesn't
stop when the song ends but charges right on into *lovelight* with just the
scantest pause to catch its breath, pig taking the throttle now, strutting
around onstage with his tambourine whirring in his hand and his hat cocked low
and mean, *dangerous*,snarling and fierce ("i don' want it all!/ i jes wanna
leetle bit!"), his exhortations as raw and lewd and laden with insinuation as a
carnival kootch-show pitchman's hype ("git yo' hands outta yo' pockets and turn
on yo' *love* light!"), and every now and then i seem to hear a line of such
brazen unbounded lickerishness ("dew *yew* lak ta fu-u-u-uckkkk?") that i start
and blink and wonder did he really *say* that? -- and the whole thing builds
and builds, 10 minutes, 15, 20, and now the audience is clapping to keep time,
they have joined the dead en masse as one enormous synchronized syncopated
single-minded rhythm section, taking up the beat from bill the drummer's tom-tom
and making it their own, *insisting* on it, *demanding* it, and the dead are
delightedly handing it over to them, one by one laying down guitars and
drumsticks and leaving the center of the stage to pig and jerry, first weir,
then hart and lesh, then even bill the drummer, leaving their posts to join the
crew of groupies and quippies and buddies and wives and old ladies at the rear
of the stage back against the light-show screen among the throbbing blobs,
greeting friends and accepting tokes on whatever gets passed their way, beer or
joints or coke or ripple, and just jerry and pig and the audience are left to
mind the music, jerry's guitar weaving incredible intricacies in front of the
rhythmic whipcrack of applause, pig chanting his unholy litany (".... so come
awn bay-beh, baby please,/ i'm beggin' ya bay-beh, and i'm on my knees...") like
a man possessed by a whole mob of randy, rampant demons, and now jerry too puts
down his guitar and leaves, and it's just pig up there along with his tambourine
and his snarl ("... turn on yo' *light*, all i *need*...") and his 3000-man
rhythm section keeping time, *keeping* time, i've never before considered
("...huh!...") what that expression really means, the crowd has undertaken to
tend and cherish the beat until the band comes back ("... i jus' got ta *git*
sum, it's all i *need*...") and resumes its stewardship, the whole arrangement
amounts to a very special kind of trust, we are ("...huh!...") not just audience
but keepers of the flame, we are *of* the grateful dead, *with* them ("...got ta
keep pooshin', all i *need*...") and *for* them and *of* them...
It's the crack of doom or the first shot of the revolution or anyhow a cherry
bomb that Pig has somehow set off just at his feet, a cloud of dense gray smoke
still boils up around him, no longer any doubt about it, he is plainly a satanic
manifestation, and without my noticing them the other Dead have stolen back to
their places and taken up their instruments, and at the signal of the cherry
bomb the song blasts into life again, the decibel count is astronomical, the
crowd is shrieking in one hysterically ecstatic voice and the volume of the
music is so great it swallows up the very shriek itself; by a single diabolic
stroke a multitude of 3000 strong has suddenly been struck dumb, the din is
enough to wake even the moldering spirits of those moribund old poets who once
set myriad toes atapping in the hallowed hall. I can almost see them now,
Vaughn Monroe and Wayne King the Waltz King and Clyde McCoy and Ginny Sims and
the Ink Spots and Frankie Yankovic and Ralph Flanagan and the Hilltoppers and
Kay Kyser and His Kollage of Musical Knowledge and Horace Heidt and His Musical
Knights... a whole host of phantoms, troupers to the last, crawling out of this
old wormy woodwork and rising up from the rankest, dankest depths of the memory
of man to join the living Dead for one last encore, just *listen* to the racket,
Bill the Drummer's heavy artillery is pounding at my temples and Mickey Hart is
laying into his four great shimmering gongs until the pandemonium itself is all
atremble with their clangor and my back teeth taste of brass, and Lesh and Weir
are ripping furiously at the faces of their guitars and the crowd is screaming
as if that enormous papitating blood-red blob of light behind the band were the
flaming dawn of doomsday, and Jerry's guitar is winding out a shrill silvery
coil of sound that spirals up and up and up until, whining like a brain
surgeon's drill, it bores straight through the skull and sinks its spinning
shaft into the very quick of my mind, and Pig, a rag doll buffeted by hot blasts
of ecstasy gusting up from 3000 burning throats, flings himself into a demented
little St. Vitus' dance of demonic glee and howls the kamikaze cry of one who is
plunging headling into the void, the last word beyond which *all* sound is
rendered meaningless as silence...
"When I talk about musicians, I'm talkin' about people who make _music_, not
just people who are technically perfect. Music bein' That Thing Which Gets You
Off, I mean that's just my definition of that word. And when you're playin',
and really Gettin' Off that way, it's like when you're drivin' down a road past
an orchard, you know, and you look out and at first all you can see is just
another woods, a bunch of trees all jumbled up together, like there's no _form_
to it, it's chaos. But then you come up to a certain point and suddenly --
_zing!_zing!_zing!_ -- there it _is_, the _order_, the trees all lined up
perfectly no matter which way you look, so you can see the real _shape_ of the
orchard! I mean you know what I mean? And as you move along, it gets away from
you, it turns back into chaos again,but now it doesn't matter, because now you
_understand_, I mean now you _know_ the secret..."
Have a nice day!