Sep 7, 2012

May 1972: Paris


In Paris, Le Grand Hotel is a big deal.

Across the street is the historic and opulent Opera House and running off in several directions are the city's famous tree-lined avenues. In one career of the massive structures is the Cafe de la Paix, the sidewalk meeting place in all those romantic Hollywood flicks. Nearby are the shops of Saint Laurent and Dior.

The hotel itself is so big you can get lost in the hallways. Single rooms start at $35 a day and all are equipped with balconies and small automated refrigerators that dispense liquor and beer and champagne at ridiculous prices. There are jewelry shops, restaurants, hair stylists, masseurs, art galleries, theater booking agencies, shirtmakers. Everyone on the staff speaks fluent English. It is a popular favorite of visiting Americans.

"Are you still expecting the Grateful Dead?" I asked the reservations clerk.

"The Beautiful Dead, monsieur?"

"Uh...not quite. The Grateful Dead."

"Oui, monsieur. Would you spell the surname, please."



"It's a musical group," I said, filling in the silence. "From America."

"We are expecting a 37-piece orchestra..."

Only the figure was incorrect. The Grateful Dead, halfway through a two-month tour of Europe, numbered not 37 but, depending upon who you talked to, up to 48. There were seven musicians and singers, five managers, five office staff, ten equipment handlers (handling 15,000 pounds of equipment, not counting the 16-track recording system), four drivers and 17 assorted wives, old ladies, babies and friends. In its 100 years of catering to the tourist elite, the Grand Hotel had never seen anything like it.

The Dead arrived late Monday, not quite fresh from a two-day overland haul from Hamburg, Germany. Yet, when they awoke on Tuesday, just as on the first day in each new country so far, a copy of their own Xeroxed newspaper, the Bozos & Bolos News, had been slipped under their hotel room doors.

The Dead began drifting into Room 4600 about noon. This was the Office Suite, where Rosie [McGee] prepared the Bozos & Bolos News and others manned the telephones, while Sam Cutler greased the Dead machine -- changing German marks into French francs and handing out daily "road money" ($10 for the ladies, $15 for the gentlemen, for food), dispatching couriers to check an English festival site and see why the latest Dead single wasn't getting the desired promotion, worrying about lights and sound checks and transportation and luggage and laundry.

When the Dead arrived in Paris, they'd been on the road exactly a month. They'd played two nights in London's Wembley Pool (to 8000 each night) and to smaller crowds in Copenhagen and what seemed to be half the cities in West Germany. The Dead had appeared at a festival in England in 1970, had performed at a free concert in France in 1971, but never had they done The Grand Tour, long de rigueur for American bands anxious to improve European record sales.

Outside Room 4600 the day was warm, the sky a cloudless blue. In small groups, the Dead set out to see the sights.

"Today is a free day," the Bozos & Bolos News had said. "In the evening, Kinney is hosting a dinner for all of us (and a few discreet press people) at a very fine restaurant located in the Bois de Boulogne (the city park, but what a park!). It is called La Grande Cascade, and holy shit, is it ever neat! You might even feel like dressing special for it, although you don't have to. It's just that kind of place..."

At 7:00, Sam Cutler was telling the bus drivers he was sorry, but could they please do this one thing...yeh, he knew he'd given them the day off, but they could have the next two days off, there was just this one dinner...and yeh, of course they could join the boys for the Royal Kinney Feast.

Downstairs, in a lounge the size of half a football field (with a fountain in the middle), the Grateful Dead were assembling. Jerry Garcia dropped into an orange imitation-leather chair. "Almost every place we went today was closed," he said. "The Louvre is closed Tuesdays. We went to the Notre Dame and we saw that, really boss, but we couldn't climb the tower. We went to the Cluny. We saw that. It was sacked by the Barbarians in the year 300, and before that it was a Roman bath. Flash flash. History everywhere you look. Far-out. Stunning."

What about the rest of Europe so far?

"There's a lotta energy in Germany. Like the US, it's opted for the material thing. Everybody looks pretty well-fed. It has the same external trappings, factories, apartments, cars, lotta roads. The thing that made it for us was the world war flash -- all those movies. Germany has had its culture cut off, and it had to start again. It's not like France or England, where it's still all there."

Babe began talking about how boss the purses and hats all looked and somebody else said purses and hats were dumb, and Babe said right, but Paris was where the purse and hat thing was happening and they sure knew how to make them look good. Jerry admitted everybody was buying at least one thing: switchblade knives. And out came half a dozen. Flick. Flick. Flick. The knives began moving from hand to hand.

Around the huge room, other Americans in Paris swung their heads, mouths open, staring at the tie-dye and denim and hair, watching the flash of knives. Was this Le Grand Hotel?

By eight the "labor dispute" had been settled and we were off by bus to Le Grande Cascade, a splendid wedding cake of a room with oval walls of glass that look out onto a lawn of blossoming chestnut trees. The dinner lasted three and a half hours. (As long as a Grateful Dead concert set). During the serving of liqueurs, which followed the Alsatian Riesling Grande Reserve and the Chateau Meyney "Prieure Des Couleys" 1959 and the Champagne Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut, things got a little loose. That was when the Dead turned the waiters on.

"Here ya are, yer head some good."

The waiter stood stiffly in his black tie and tails. Timidly he allowed the pipe to be raised to his lips. He sucked deeply, there was a cheer, he smiled, and the pipe was passed.


The Dead were to play the next two nights at the Olympia Theater two blocks from the hotel. Jerry Garcia seemed anxious. "I got a letter from one of our fans here, and he said the police like to put plants in the audience to cause trouble, and then the police use that as an excuse to clear everybody out and stop the show."

"Just let 'em try it," said Phil Lesh, leering with anticipation. "We'll go up to 'em and we'll say, 'Come along, Officer -- have a drink of this Coca Cola.'"

It had been four years to the month since students nearly brought the French government to its knees; it was true that the police -- the flics -- got nervous whenever young people gathered. Two nights earlier, when the Doors played the Olympia, there'd been rioting. So when the Dead walked to the theater, there were seven busloads of police at the curb, many of them in riot helmets and armed with rifles.

Inside it was friendlier, as 2200 ticket holders (each of whom paid about $4.50) began swarming into the old theater to the recorded sounds of Jefferson Airplane, Ike & Tina Turner, and The Rolling Stones.

"Bon soir, mes amis," said Phil Lesh. "Uh...that's about all the French I know."

The music began at nine, reaching the first climax two hours and 14 songs later with "Casey Jones." It was clear this was a gathering of Grateful Dead freaks. The opening rhythms of every song were greeted with joyous shouts and applause, and between the numbers there were happy requests.

The Dead took a half-hour break at 11, then played for another two hours. During "Truckin'," as the mirrored ball near the ceiling revolved reflecting light, the audience rose as one, weaving and yelping and applauding the long, jazzy drum, guitar and piano breaks. This set closed with hard rock, the familiar Bo Diddley rhythm pattern in "Not Fade Away" and the Dead's new single, "One More Saturday Night." Now Donna Godchaux, singing backup for the Dead, and some of the Ladies Auxiliary were boogying on the crowded stage.

So mellow was the mood as the concert's end, the police outside had nothing to do but smoke cigarettes.

"It's called muscle fatigue," said Jerry Garcia the following day. "We couldn't have played any longer if we'd wanted to."

"Like I sang three songs in a row there at the end," said Bob Weir. "Forty-five minutes of singing and singing hard, which for any other singer is a whole night's work and we'd been on for three hours or something before that. When we quit, my chest was fucking heaving, man."

(In England, Weir had said, "when we got there, all the people in that big country show" -- a reference to a country festival -- "were here at the hotel, and I was talking to a lot of those guys and we were talking about how many nights a year they work. I was telling them we work 50 nights a year and they were amazed because they work 150 to 200 nights a year and more. I got the hint that they thought we were really lazy and just laying back and making money off a big name. Then it occurred to me to ask them how long they play every night -- about 45 minutes. Well, we play about three hours a night, so it works out about the same. You can't carry on to 150 to 200 nights a year while playing three or four hours a night and expect to survive.")

But Jerry Garcia wasn't quite satisfied.

"Everywhere we've been, the audiences have been Grateful Dead audiences. We've had the German equivalent of the guy who gets up on the stage and takes his clothes off. We've had the English freakout, the Danish freakout. But we haven't been playing enough. I'm a music junkie and I have to play every day. The gigs are too far apart. It's like we're not fucking off enough to enjoy that or we're not playing enough to enjoy that."

The second night at the Olympia was better than the first. There were only 30 or so cops on hand -- down from 180 the night before -- a unique sort of "review" of the Dead's music and audience, when you think about it. Again all 2200 seats were filled. Again the audience crawled forward in a friendly inquisitive Gallic swell, applauding, cheering and chanting "one more one more one more" at the end of another four-hour-long set. And this time, Jerry Garcia admitted afterward, "We played peachy."

Next morning, it was raining as the Dead began piling luggage in the hotel lobby. They would play that night in Lille, at the other end of a high-speed motorway near the Belgian border. That'd make it three concerts in a row. Maybe Jerry Garcia and some of the others would find more satisfaction on this tour after all.

As all the tie-dye and denim and hair gathered in eddies, the other Americans in Paris began swinging their heads, mouths open. If this was the famous Grand Hotel they'd heard about -- and were going to spend at least $35 a day to enjoy -- then who were all these freaks?

(by Jerry Hopkins, from Rolling Stone, June 22, 1972)

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