DEAD IN EUROPE
"The Festival is Dead. Music is Eternal. The Dead are alive," read a makeshift poster above Jerry Garcia, laughing, drinking wine, his face almost totally hidden, surrounded by a mass of black, curly hair and beard. "This whole thing about us being here is systematic," said Grateful Dead Scribe, Hank Harrison. "Country Joe moving to Europe. It's part of a whole thing. We're part of it. It's a whole movement, going back the other way this time. Some of us plan to stay here a while, or if we can't, to come back."
In two shifts, together with three and a half tons of equipment, three equipment crew and eight members of the Family, the Grateful Dead arrived in Europe. They were to be the star attraction at Jean Bouquin's Free Pop Festival, held at Pontoise outside Paris. A festival that they never had a chance to play at. Dress designer for Bardot, Bouquin had sold virtually everything he had to get the festival off the ground, but idealism without togetherness won't make a festival. He had tried to run the entire organisation from one single telephone line in his fashionable St Germain boutique. But one telephone line was just not enough to break through the hassles, hustles and hang-ups of what everybody expected to be the most spectacular pop concert in Europe. Most of the available British bands were tied up at Glastonbury, and after a week of rumours and expectations it was finally established that the Stones would not be appearing. Then, to cap it all, the night before the concert was due to start, local French peasants tried to burn down the site after Bouquin had refused them protection payment.
The festival had started well on the Friday, but halfway through Mormos' session (Mormos is a musical offshoot of La Mamma's New York theatre troupe), the rain started falling. It was a catastrophe. Idealism had triumphed over togetherness. The stage had been up for a month, yet there was no roof, no covering. Someone had blundered. The scaffolding for the cover was still lying neatly underneath the stage planks. As the rain began to pour down, Mormos' sensitive cello and soft vocals came out as weak, yet beautiful. Slightly reminiscent of the Incredible String Band, they were strangely precious.
As the rain became heavier, the harder sound of the German group, Eruption, took over. It was their first gig together. They were almost trying to fight the rain, but without any covering, their amps were being silenced one by one. It was a losing battle. At eleven o'clock, Jean Bouquin, a disappointed man, announced that the festival was over. The message was monitored onto French radio, in an attempt to head off the thousands still coming in. It was to no avail. Thousands were without shelter, food, or amenities. Finally the French police had to declare the site and its surroundings a disaster area. It was as if The Bomb had fallen, or there had been a great tidal flood. What had once been a series of cornfields had become a sea of mud. What Bouquin had expected to be a European Woodstock now resembled a still from a World War One battleground.
Saturday: while the young French audience, looking like a defeated army, trudged back towards Paris, disillusioned and disappointed, champagne was flowing freely only a few kilometres away at the Chateau d'Herouville, where French Pop Music Voyeur, Michel Magne was entertaining the Grateful Dead.
"I mean this is really old," said Bob Wier, sounding no different than any other genuine American Express tourist. He looked super-straight until you caught a glimpse of the ponytail behind. "I've seen old things before, like in Mexico, but this is different..."
"Where would you most like to do a gig?" I asked him.
"The Gates of Peking. That one Mao, he's really incredible...six hundred million, close to two billion now. The Gates of the Dawn. That's the main entrance of Peking. I would like to play there."
"It'll be the biggest benefit in the world," someone adds.
"Do you think that you will ever be able to do it in your lifetime?" I ask.
"Yeah, I think that I will," Bob says chuckling.
After the champagne, there was red wine that went with the dinner. Michel Magne was hustling to get the Dead to record in his studio above. Three weeks ago the Stones were due to appear for a session, but had never turned up. While the main body are still eating and drinking, Garcia slips off, sets up his small Fender amp in a corner and blows. When British stage manager Lenny Smith joins him on Spanish guitar, Garcia just looks up and smiles. Together they take off moving somewhere, together.
The meal is over, there is a general movement upstairs to the studio for a session. Kreutzmann on drums, Pigpen with some bongo drums, Wier and Lech on guitars. Lenny is invited to join on electric piano.
"What shall we play?"
"You're the pianist," says Lech, "you decide."
But he hardly has a chance. While Lenny is still checking out the keyboard, the Dead, minus Garcia, move in, Zappaesque. Later, when Garcia joins them, it becomes even more abstract. A spacey sound.
And then, the biggest surprise of the evening, "Teddy Bears Picnic." Coming via the Dead's unique sound, it was surrealistic. "That's going to be on our Christmas LP," Bob Wier told me. "This Christmas we want to produce a record with children's songs on it."
"Sugar, Sugar, Sugar Lee," beats out Garcia.
"Hey, hold it, hold it. Don't get into that double bit," says a frustrated Garcia. "Let's start again." It's clearer this time. Garcia turns to some of his Family for approval. He gets it. "That was just tuning up," says Scribe Hank afterwards. Lech, in Western shirt, cowboy boots and short hair, smiles. "It's that kinda music that's going to be on the new album," said Hank. "It's nearly finished. Hey, Phil, it's nearly finished, right?"
"Yeah, in about a week after we get back. It's a double album for Warners. We've got this contract with them. Two double albums a year. That will just about tie it up. They're going to be shorter tracks, like what we were doing earlier. It'll be in the shops in a few months. Don't know if you'll be able to get it in England, though."
That night, in surroundings that came straight out of the seventeenth century, bodies were huddled around blankets, on chairs, carpets and floors. "What's happening?" asks an English roadie, looking very lost. "It's the Grateful Dead crashing on Louis XIV," someone replies.
"Where's MacIntyre?" a voice asks the next morning.
"You know, the one who manages us." Everybody laughs.
"He's still asleep, the slob."
"Ah, leave him alone," says Phil.
Jerry, who is standing next to him, wants to take the two cars for a sightseeing tour of Paris. "John was mumbling in his sleep about needing one of the cars for hustling somewhere for us to play here. And he was heavy enough so I thought best not to take the keys from his pocket."
Jerry, with three others takes one of the cars to Paris. For the rest, a football match is organised. The Grateful Dead v the Rest of the World. There's general agreement that no one should pay too much attention to the rules. Someone even suggests awarding extra goals for originality. Phil, together with two members of Light Sound Dimension (a West Coast band) and a French session man, opt out of the game and make their way up to the studio.
Midsummer's Eve, while thousands are assembled across the Channel at Glastonbury, several score assemble in the Chateau's garden, while the Grateful Dead are setting up their equipment. The equipment that had become part of their myth. An entire plane, the three lorries had been needed to bring it over. And what equipment! From out of the basic amps, the music was miked into an awe-inspiring PA system. From there it was wired into two vast towers on either side of the stage, each made up of four enormous cabinets with Altec Lancing speakers in each. Above each tower were a series of aluminum horns with a battery of tweeters resting on top. Fitted onto every speaker was a tie-dyed cloth, a mass of exploding colours that vibrated with each note. At full volume, the equipment was capable of the loudest sound in the world, yet turned low it was clear and precise, picking up each and every note.
"Another gift from Owsley," said an unknown voice, high on acid.
They played two sets of an hour each. Garcia picking his guitar, given to him by Graham Nash in return for session work on Songs for Beginners. Few of the numbers had appeared on record, yet the ones that had (e.g. 'Sugar Magnolia') seemed so totally different than what one was familiar with.
As the gig continued, Bob Wier's country-style vocals came much more up front than two days previously. He sang a lengthened version of 'Long Black Limousine," but by far the most beautiful sound of the evening was his version of 'Me and Bobby McGee.' Pigpen also sang, and played harmonica and electric piano.
This was their gig. They had come from the West Coast to play it, free of charge. (It wouldn't alter their bank balances by even a dollar.) They were the most political of all the super groups, playing at more benefits than any of the others. I hoped that Bob Wier was right: that in his lifetime they would play before the Gates of Peking, play at the "biggest benefit in the world." Because if ever they do, you can be certain that it would be for free.
(by Robert Trench, from Cream, unknown date)
Thanks to Uli Teute.