GRATEFUL DEAD ARE MUCH ALIVE
The Grateful Dead, a loud and very much alive Haight-Ashbury rock band, is hippier and happier than almost any group that comes to mind.
They're a fun-loving, far-out group with a hard-driving sound which is surfacing above the vast San Francisco rock underground.
The Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Charlatans, Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and several other bizarre bands have plugged San Francisco into a rock movement which has left the city reeling and now exerts a nationwide influence on pop music.
One of the principal reasons is Jerry ("Captain Trips") Garcia, 24, lead guitar for the Grateful Dead, who has been described as "a cross between Wanda Landowska and the Three Stooges" but is more of a beatnik Beethoven.
Garcia, regarded by some critics as one of the best guitarists in the country, used to teach his instrument in a Palo Alto music store. He earned his nickname, friends say, not only because he takes psychedelic drugs, but also because "everything is a trip with him." He is witty, articulate, perceptive, and usually laughing.
Other members of the Dead are just as alive. There's Ron McKernan, 21, on organ, harp, and vocal, known as "Pig Pen," for his outrageous appearance: long black hair, Indian head band, long black mustache, short, hefty build and a much-worn vest. He has been described as "one of the major bluesmen in America." He is relatively famous on the West Coast for his 45-minute renditions of "Midnight Hour."
Youngest is Bob Weir, 19, thin and soft-looking, with straight, very long hair. Weir, from a socialite Atherton family, brings his own sort of richness to the rhythm guitar.
Phil Lesh, 27, is an astoundingly good bass player. He shares song-writing chores with Garcia.
Bill Sommers, 21, played drums with about twelve rock bands before he "finally settled on the Grateful Dead."
The group maintains an uncompromising attitude ("We have to do our thing our way") which has earned them respect throughout the hippie movement, where they have a reputation for always being their own grubby selves.
They pocket concert fees as readily as any group, but they play only on their own terms. They'd rather play for free in the park (and often do) than for money in an atmosphere which will "bring us down."
One well-known San Francisco rock group quibbled over how big its part was to be in Richard Lester's new motion picture "Arch Kook Petulia." The Dead appeared in it more "for the fun of it" than for the money. They sing one song and slink in and out of another scene. In their view, that's plenty.
"A flash is enough," one of them says. "A flash is all you need."
They figure the right kind of flash will turn anybody on. And that's what they aim to do.
"That's why we like to play in the park," said Lesh. "We tried playing at a high school gym, but the kids couldn't feel free so we didn't turn them on."
"We're not a recording band," says Garcia. "We're a dance band."
Something about the Dead's music can't be captured on records. Partly it's because they draw from so many different idioms: blues, country and western, popular music, even classical. "We're musical thieves," Garcia noted. "We steal from everywhere."
It has more to do with the excitement of playing weekly concerts to very tuned-in dance-hall audiences. These aren't ordinary concerts. They're psychedelic and extreme examples of total environmental theater, which engages all the senses: thunderous rock music, light shows that burst and flow in choruses of color, hundreds of dancing young people, incense floating through your mind.
The Grateful Dead tried to capture this gut-level excitement in their album called "The Grateful Dead." Although there's a taste of the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom, the full flavor doesn't come through.
However, the album can stand alone. It contains some fine work, such as the strangely haunting "Morning Dew," the bluesy "Good Mornin' Little Schoolgirl" and "Viola Lee Blues," which is as close to jazz as Paul Butterfield's "East-West."
The songs convey a sense of integration in the playing that has come about through the Dead's having played and lived together, sharing experiences and dreams, for nearly three years. With their two managers and an assortment of friends they have occupied a nine-room Victorian house one block from Haight Street.
They have been as much a part of the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene as the Psychedelic Shop. They even have turned over an office across the street to a free legal aid bureau for hippies in need of a lawyer.
But they are leaving the Haight-Ashbury soon. They expect to live for a while in the Southwest, perhaps Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"We've been squeezed out by tourists and Tenderloin types," said Rock Scully, one of their managers.
Many of their friends are drifting from the scene, and there's too much interference now in the Haight for them to continue to grow.
"We've got to get ourselves together before we can turn anybody on," says Garcia.
(by Philip Jeffers, from "The New Generation" column in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 2, 1967)
(also run by the Baltimore Sun: "Hippier, Happier Group," 31 August 1967; and other papers)