Sep 2, 2014

September 19, 1972: Dylan Stalks the Dead


“He’s crazy. He’s out of his mind, just like everyone that’s stinkin’ rich,” observed one individual of sound mind and limb. “How’re ya doin’?” a shaggy “bum freelance artist” called Doreen asks him. He replies “not too bad,” then disappears into a maze of scaffolding above which the Grateful Dead are braving the savage elements of a sudden fall night in New Jersey and playing “Playing in the Band” for the upteenth time this year (apparently with no great enthusiasm; maybe it’s the rain, but it sounds turgid anyway).
I permit myself the question: what is Bob Dylan doing, picking his way around under there in the dark, wearing a pair of shades? His movements lend no clue; he isn’t taking a piss, he’s not checking for explosive devices, he can’t be holding a private conversation because he’s completely alone, and he certainly isn’t shooting up. Jesus, maybe that’s the kind of thing he has to do just to be alone – and even then it’s futile because I’ve seen him in there and have chosen to acquaint several other mythology-suckers with his movements because coming within clutching distance of Bob Dylan for the first time compares favorably with the experience of chomping the Eucharist to pulp and finding that it doesn’t in fact bleed all over your molars and send you falling right into the horny old lap of the Prince of Darkness. It is simply the ultimate thrill of its kind. Why, you could keep a whole commune happy for months with a story like that and get out of doing chores to boot – but you could play footsie with John and Yoko for a month, only to find that you’d send everybody to sleep with the telling of it and run up against some jerk who’d seen it all six times on the Dick Cavett show anyway.
Very counter-revolutionary stuff, this, very uncool – but then everyone’s in Show Business including me and Bobby McZ, and I can only hope that nobody is terminally offended by my lack of taste regarding the publicity paranoia associated with personal appearances of Dylan.
So what is Dylan doing here with Dave Bromberg at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, on this foul night? The Dead have announced “surprise guests”; all week rumors have been mounting up to the point where even the promoters (especially the promoters) have hinted in no uncertain terms that the Jam to end All Jams is about to take place right here and now, or maybe (perhaps) in a couple of hours (or more).
We wait. Nothing happens. The Dead play three or four sets at low energy level and naturally everybody bounces as they always do as soon as God’s gifts to the counterculture haul their denim onstage. The general scene is verging toward the big A on our handy Altamoodstock Vibrometer ($3.96 from Kimney Leisure), but of course once you get past the pig-versus-rat manglings at the front gate, the Dead’s influence is felt; those who aren’t actually ecstatic are at least torpid, therefore no threat to anyone.
New Jersey offers a colloquial variant on the classic rock ‘n’ roll conversation: “Hey man, you got anything for the head?” No man, but I got a great Dylan story and some far-out Grateful Dead quotes.
“Why don’t we play anyplace in New York?” says Phil Lesh the bass-player who’s always grinning. “Because New York sucks, that’s why. There’s no place decent to play there.” Roosevelt Stadium is Valhalla by Path? Why is it that the image of a rancid hot dog keeps recurring in my rock ‘n’ roll venue recollections? OK, Phil, what about this rumor about you and the band doing an album with Dylan?
“The marshal? I never met the guy, wouldn’t know him if he was right here in front of me.” By one of those quirks of circumstance that curl a writer’s toes, Dylan the singer/songwriter is, in fact, running the gauntlet of bloody-minded Deadmen who wait by what passes as a stage door not 10 feet from where Lesh is holding forth. “Hold it. Where do you think you’re goin’?” challenges the spokesman at the pair with a practiced snarl. Dylan just looks at him and laughs. Unaware, Lesh continues, “What can I say if Bob Dylan doesn’t want to make an album with me? Guess I’ll just have to bow out!” No sign from Dylan; he moves to an unobtrusive spot at the side of the stage, secures his black Stetson against the howling wind, and stands there looking like any young hobo in shades.
Nobody bothers him. This is Backstage, behind the reinforced chicken wire where only groupies and holders of the magic pass roam free – and little Bob Dylan is somehow completely unapproachable. Can you imagine getting snubbed by Dylan?
Nothing happens. The biggest East Coast rock concert of the year (23,000 gate) draws to a conclusion with Grateful Dead pyrotechnics (the burning kind), easy music, and the greatest concentration of cowboy shirts ever seen in Jersey City. Many leave early, and this plus the wind and rain is offered as the reason why the expected performance never materializes. On the way out to the freeway, my beloved Earth Shoe inadvertently inserts itself into a broken Boone’s Farm bottle. It smashes on the concrete; my shoe is cut up.
“A reviewer falls off the press bus and all of a sudden the whole trip stinks, right?” said Shep Gordon – Alice Cooper’s gentlemanly manager – on the occasion of a discussion between him and me following some of my published remarks about a certain rock press/Alice Cooper event. Damn right, Shep – but what was the bottle doing there in the first place? (Gotta have lackeys to take care of these things….can’t just lay on the hot dogs.)
Alice Cooper – everyone’s getting in on the action. The New York Times wonders why Alice appeals to the teens, rhetorically of course (it’s because they’re jaded). So how come 23,000 teens turn up for a Grateful Dead concert in the rain? What does that do to your thirst-for-decadence theory? From close recent observation, it seems that the Dead don’t go in for their old socko mind-fuckers anymore, but they draw more than they ever did. Hmmm. But then the word is out (in those very same Times pages) that the Big Thing is melody and sophisticated lyrical treatments. Hmmm. Gee, those kids sure are puzzling. We’re all headed for Broadway; let’s do this thing right. That’s it, Broadway’s the place to be…
In Jersey City, we reach the freeway. A real hip guy in a tooled-up Chevy just like the one James Taylor fondled all the way through “Two-Lane Blacktop” leans out his window. “Anythin’ fer the head, man?”
No, man, but I got some great Buddy Miles stories and a whole lotta love…

(by Patrick Carr, from the “Cheap Thrills” column, Village Voice, September 28, 1972)


  1. Carr evidently wasn't too impressed by the Dead at this show - which is interesting because he'd been a fan since '67, and had written ecstatic reviews of how great they were at the Felt Forum in December '71 ("the best rock band in existence"), and the Academy of Music in March '72 ("the best set I have ever heard"). Here, he barely notices them - and just calls them "God's gifts to the counterculture."
    It's a surprise to read that this incendiary show was played on a foul, rainy day! But Carr's impression that the music was unenthusiastic and turgid was way off; a surprise from someone who'd seen them so often. (He seems to have been distracted, though.)
    The Dead played three sets, with fireworks - he mentions the "pyrotechnics."

    There is an amusing description of the scene: "once you get past the pig-versus-rat manglings at the front gate, the Dead’s influence is felt: those who aren’t actually ecstatic are at least torpid, therefore no threat to anyone."
    He also notes that "the Dead don’t go in for their old socko mind-fuckers anymore, but they draw more than they ever did." Not entirely accurate (the Dark Star at this show was certainly a mind-fucker), but the jamming emphasis at Dead shows had changed over the years more toward a straightforward song presentation, and partly as a result, the audiences kept growing.

    Here Phil explains why the Dead aren't playing in NYC: “Because New York sucks, that’s why. There’s no place decent to play there.”
    The show poster proclaimed this was the Dead's "only New York metropolitan area appearance this summer;" but they returned a couple months later to play Roosevelt Stadium again, and the Stanley Theater. The Nassau Coliseum opened in '72, and the Dead started playing there in '73, though they weren't thrilled with it. (Bill Graham promoted those shows, while John Scher handled the Roosevelt Stadium shows.)

    Carr says the Dead announced "surprise guests" and the promoters hinted that there'd be a Big Jam, which didn't happen. I think it was probably supposed to be the Allman Brothers, who'd shown up for the 7/16 Dillon Stadium show - Garcia & Weir then joined the Allmans for their 7/17 Gaelic Park show. Perhaps the Allmans were traveling on the 18th?

    The focus here is on Dylan of course, unobtrusively watching the Dead's show. We don't learn whether he spent time with the band backstage, though I presume he did; Carr is pretty uninformative here. Lesh makes fun of the rumors that the Dead are going to do an album with Dylan. (Though I wonder whether Carr made up or embellished this little exchange.)

    The writing style here is so annoying & digressive I was tempted to just post excerpts...

  2. Yikes - no one caught my mistake!

    This article is actually describing the 9/19/72 Roosevelt Stadium show - Carr describes it as a windy, rainy fall night.
    I'd thought it was the Roosevelt Stadium show a couple months earlier, on 7/18. Don't know how I didn't catch the right date.

    An Archive reviewer comments on the show: "The weather was miserable, chilly and damp. There were sound and equipment problems that forced the band to take a few mini breaks. The performance...was inconsistent at best."
    The show may have been better than Carr thought - unfortunately, only a wretched AUD circulates, so it's hard to judge.