Apr 27, 2017

3/21/70 Capitol Theater, Port Chester NY


After our performance on Sat. night, a few Pageant Players went up to Portchester to catch the Grateful Dead doing a late show at Howard Stein's Capitol Theater. We got in free since someone in the group knew someone on the inside. The Grateful Dead are generally considered to be one of the grooviest rock groups, in terms of the cultural revolution: the most political, the most freaky, doing free shows whenever they can, supporting communes, doing a more relaxed kind of jamming show, rather than a slick series of arranged numbers. And they're really great musicians. They were my favorite American group. I hadn't seen them perform for over a year, and was looking forward to it when we went up there. But in the back of my head, I was wondering how I would respond to them now that I have a much more complete consciousness of women's liberation, and a strong awareness of how Male the whole rock scene is.
We came in just as a Busby Berkeley film was ending. The Grateful Dead were to go on next. And the crowd was hollering for them. I thought I was imagining things, but the atmosphere seemed hysterical, more than I've ever seen at a rock concert. I found out later that the Dead the night before had given the audience free acid, and this crowd wanted the same. The Dead came on, and opened up with a few fast numbers. The audience, or a large part of it anyway, was up on its feet shouting, dancing, screaming, waving. That was beautiful. It was a nice change from the usual stoned stupor of rock concerts. But the audience was so high strung and crazy that they couldn't wait for the Dead to tune their instruments in between numbers. They would start hooting and screaming. Then someone from the Dead gave the finger to the audience, and this started the playful hostility which continued all evening between the audience and the Grateful Dead, and between the audience members themselves. It reminded me a bit of a nightclub, with the hostile drunks yelling comments at the performers. I did feel that the energy of the audience had nowhere to go in that theater, with all the seats. It was very frustrating to try to dance, and let loose, and you began to feel like a caged animal.
I felt sorry for the Grateful Dead at different moments, having to contend with a bunch of nuts everytime they tried to tune up. But, then I thought, they agree to play at those theaters, they agree to play for those prices, they agree to play under those blue lights, that go off completely in between each number, And the audience is in darkness the whole time, so you can't possible relate to anyone near you, only the STARS on stage.
Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh did some beautiful blues, spiritual numbers on acoustic guitar. I was digging it. Then on comes Pigpen, and in his mellow lyrical voice sings about Cala May, who some people say is built like a Cadillac, but I know she's just a Model T, by her shape, and she can't take the weight, etc., etc. Something inside me went boom. There I was digging this beautiful voice, beautiful guitar, but with words about some woman's box. And I knew it would happen. I felt pretty sullen for the rest of the concert. I was also getting turned off by the fact that the audience just seemed to be waiting for the hits, like they didn't come to hear great music, great jamming, just the hits, which they were screaming for in between each number. The Grateful Dead just seemed like another commodity.
Everyone flipped out when Pigpen launched into "Turn on Your Love Light." It was what they were waiting for. Pigpen's riffs for that night included a little story about how his baby calls him when she wants him, first softly daddy, then he says yeah, real cool, then louder Daddy, him still cool yeah baby, then she screaming DADDY, and he's still real cool, says yeah baby, yuk, yuk. The predominantly male audience naturally flipped out over this. I flipped out inside.
The men in the Pageant Players who went, said they felt funny themselves about the concert, the songs, etc. In fact, it was my boyfriend, who pointed out to me that the audience was mainly men, and they seemed to be flipping out over the Dead more than the women. Weird atmosphere.
I thought about it all the next day, and realized the whole concert seemed like a hippie stag party.
We all know that the rock scene is male dominated, as are most other areas of creative work. But no other area is so totally male, as music. Has anyone reading this article ever met a woman bass player, a woman electric guitarist, woman drummer? I doubt it. And if you have, it's one or two, and maybe you had to think about it for a few minutes. Women write, paint, do theater, etc. But men make music, and this goes for classical, jazz, rock.
When I was in Brooklyn College majoring in music, I spent many hours around musicians, jazz and classical. And in the last few years, to some extent around rock musicians. And I tell you that musicians incorporate the hangups of straight society regarding men and women, more than men in the other fields. I know there are exceptions. But I found that in general guys who were poets, painters, were much more willing to see women as intellectual creative people, than were musicians, who thrive on a male ego, subservient "chick" relationship, which the whole hippie rock culture reinforces. And the fact that musicians spend so much time together playing music and that they are all men, makes their relationships with women purely sexual. It's exactly like the straight world where the man has his work outside the home, his main interests, outside the home, away from his woman. But he comes home to get fed, get laid, and maybe dig his kids.
I think that rock music has changed a lot of things, released a lot of energy, created some good images for young people, emphasized enjoyment, sensual pleasure, relaxation, freaking out, looking weird, turning on. But I also think as far as the male-female relationship goes, as far as women's liberation goes, and the image a woman should have of herself, it is totally reactionary, and must be changed. A woman can relate to rock music now only if she is a groupie, if not literally, then figuratively. As the drooling sex hungry little girl dying for IT from Pigpen, Jim Morrison, or Peter Townshend. I can't relate to that bullshit.
I don't think music should be asexual either. I think music is communication on a very emotional, sexual level. That's why I've always dug it so much. But sexual not in a male chauvinist context nor narcissistic display. Women and men should be playing in groups together. Women playing the instruments, writing the material. And not just having a "chick" sex object singer, in a male group. There's nothing new about that. But women playing drums, or electric guitar, is somehow very threatening to our images of what is feminine and masculine.
To me the whole image of the rock scene is an image of a mod, "pretty," long-haired, mini-skirted, or bell-bottomed passive, sweet chick, nice enough to be at the side of any strong manly rock musician or business man. Or an image of a braless, long-skirted, sweet, mother earth commune hippie chick. Both of those are distortions. And accepted roles. Just as the aggressive, dominant, creative genius is the role that men play, and what women LOOK UP to. And that's not my revolution, nor any of my sisters'. Women unite. Let's start making music. Revolutionary music.

(by Arlene Brown, from Rat, 4 April 1970)



More reviews of 3/21/70:


  1. I'd been hoping to find this article for some time, so I was glad to see it turn up. This is a rare early feminist perspective of the Dead, offering a different point of view than you'll find in almost any other Pigpen-era article on the Dead.

    Arlene Brown was one of the Pageant Players, a radical New York street-theater group. Here's an article describing them in April 1970: "We will dance and make music and fight and make love and make the revolution."

    Rat Subterranean News had been a radical-activist underground New York paper since '68. In January '70 a women's liberation collective took over and it became a women-only feminist paper:

    Brown was a Dead fan who'd seen them before: "they were my favorite American group." It seems not anymore after this show, though she still thought they were beautiful & great musicians, except for what Pigpen was singing. But she's disappointed that she can no longer consider them the "grooviest...most political, most freaky" group in "the cultural revolution."
    (New Yorkers tended to think of the Dead as being a lot more political than they were, what with all the free shows, benefits, and "supporting communes," but the Dead tended to disavow political activism in interviews.)

    A couple things turned her off in this show - for one, the aggressive crowd, "hooting and screaming" for the hits; the hysteria and "playful hostility" soured her. Curiously, she says that "the Dead the night before had given the audience free acid, and this crowd wanted the same." (Even if this was just a rumor, it shows the expectation at the time. Sam Cutler in his book claims the Dead didn't give acid to audiences anymore, just to people backstage, but he does admit to dosing a cop at this very show.)
    The audience energy is very clear on the tape, and the Dead were taken aback by the restless crowd - she says a bandmember "gave the finger to the audience." As the Archive notes say, the crowd "tested the band's nerves during the first half of the show with an endless arsenal of hoots, jeers, cries for quiet, and a relentless bombardment of song requests." Weir of course urged everyone to shout louder, while Garcia muttered, "Take it easy out there, you unruly pigs... Shut the fuck up!" And after the acoustic set, the tired band finally obliged with a series of 'hits.'

  2. Brown also noticed that "the audience was mainly men, and they seemed to be flipping out over the Dead more than the women." This was probably true at all early Dead shows, but it's not something most reporters observed.
    She especially liked the acoustic blues & spirituals, but "the predominantly male audience flipped out over [Lovelight]...it was what they were waiting for." Given the screams of ecstasy that greet Lovelight at most shows of the time, this was probably generally true as well.
    She writes Pigpen's lyrics pretty accurately (his "Daddy" riffing was in Midnight Hour), and they make her feel sullen and alienated. Pigpen clearly wasn't singing to the women; his lyrical themes came straight from '30s blues, directed to crowds of young guys.
    I wonder how she would have reacted to seeing Janis Joplin sing Lovelight with Pigpen...with nausea, perhaps. And she probably would've been horrified to learn of women's roles within the Dead family, the "old ladies" keeping house and taking care of the men, more or less just as she describes here. (Though the band did get a "chick singer" a couple years later.)

    One interviewer had an interesting exchange with the band in Nov '70:
    CHARLIE: Do you have any opinion on women's lib?
    BOB: I've seen a couple of women's lib papers, and all I can say is their diatribe seems to me long, loud and negative.
    CHARLIE: Well, male chauvinist pigs, did you ever consider having a woman in the group?
    JERRY: Always did have designs on Janis, and she sang with us a couple of times. It would have to be someone of that stature.

    In transcribing, I fixed some misspellings and added capitalization to a few names. Brown used "i" instead of "I," which i didn't preserve.

  3. Robert Christgau wrote an article responding to this Rat piece in the 6/11/70 Village Voice ("Look At That Stupid Girl"). He discussed sexism in rock, the lack of female rock musicians ("the idea, of course, is ridiculous"), and the feminist response to rock.
    A slightly condensed & touched-up version is reprinted here:

    It omits the references to the Rat article, so I'll include a little excerpt from the original:
    "I have been struck by how little writing has appeared on the subject of rock and women. The most important exception was a description of a Dead concert by an unnamed female Pageant Player in Rat, an incisive exposition of the basic problems which - due largely, I think, to the women's-lib truism about the absolute validity of individual reactions - failed badly in specifics...
    Many unattached males attended, she complained, but few females. Now, I would contend...that the absence of females at the Capitol Theatre was mostly a matter of Saturday-night protocol in Westchester, and yet I would also agree that there is an essential change here. The era of early rock, 1964 through 1966, was star- and dance-conscious, its media theatre dominated by the tearful pre-nubile girl who participated automatically and unaffectedly - and worshipfully - in the music. The present era, on the other hand, is musician- and concert-conscious; its typical fan is male and vacillates between forced frenzy and the nod.
    It is possible to argue from this that women - as a function of cultural deprivation, of course, not innate disadvantage - have little natural bent for instrumental improvisation. As the music exists now, this may be true, though the male bias of jazz in this respect was much more pronounced. But the deeper truth, I think, is more unpleasant than any cant about cultural deprivation. First, women cannot play rock guitar because men won't listen to them... Second...women cannot play rock because they cannot and/or do not want to create in blues-based male styles...
    I know by name of three all-female rock groups... I heard the Ace of Cups about two years ago; they were strong vocally but unkinetic in spite of themselves... I think it is significant in any case that the group, despite its professionalism and gimmick appeal, never got a recording contract, and I hope for my sake and for the sake of the music that more women see fit to challenge the odds and enter rock..."

  4. Another interesting article from 1970 on the subject of the low status of women in rock, in the October 1970 issue of Jazz & Pop, by the editor Patricia Kennealy: