Aug 23, 2018

August 1969: The Dead and the Community

COMMON SENSE  (excerpt)

If you are a performer in any sense of the word you belong at the common meetings at the Family Dog. It happens at 1 p.m. Tuesdays. It began with what some have called "Berkeley Bullshit" - confrontation with a march - but has evolved into a strong community of artists who want to be able to do their thing together with the people.
From now on the game is not draw at the Dog. Their new trip is not a game. There will be no more flat guarantees to groups, families, performers. The name of the trip is share. And everybody brings their trip to share.
No longer do the common want the sardine-can environment. An integrated construct by all artists and the community is where it must be at for the total scene to further its form. There will be jams and parties where everybody contributes to the trip. No longer will one performer work in the corner while everybody else is forced to just sit or stand there because no one can move.
In the process of the so-called [light-show] strike, as Jerry Garcia stated: "We discovered the inequities." To share with all the performers the common had to define just exactly who is a performer. And that's everybody that works toward what is finally put on. [ . . . ]
[ Discussion of out-of-town groups, benefits, and the planned Wild West festival.
This week the question was: "Where is Wild West's head?" Can the common extend the form of WW to include not only the park but the ocean? Let's call it Wild West and work together. Could WW and the common work together to create a 72-hour-plus environment that would really be remembered as a good trip? The biggest thing that seems to loom in everyone's mind is that Kezar should be free too, besides the rest of the action in the park. But no matter how it comes out, we should really all just get out there in the park and put it on. [ . . . ]
"We have this fantasy painting of an experience in the park that is being labeled Wild West," according to Rock, "and the common has explored fantasy more than them. Now we have to see if we can make it work on a community basis." Chet then asked if it couldn't be done as a non-competitive alternative to WW. The common could in that way communicate what the scene at the Dog and other places could be like. Steve Gaskin, whose Monday night thing is over capacity, wants to join and do a thing in the park. The Grateful Dead, says Jerry Garcia, will join in and do it for free, too. Rock Scully wants to lay down a free trip at the Horsemen's Retreat.
But, can they communicate this to the people at Wild West? They don't want conflict. It should all happen together. So far it hasn't been too together.
The Haight Ashbury Commune, the Mime Troupe, and other groups are calling for a strike against Wild West. . . . A People's Festival is scheduled for Sunday, August 24, on Hippie Hill. We'll all get together and have a free blast.

(by Verne, from the San Francisco Good Times, 14 August 1969)

The same issue reports that "The Wild West has been shut down."  

The 8/21/69 Good Times included in its rock listings for August 24, "Hippy Hill: Trans-Cultural Rip-Offs, Inc. presents Steve Gaskin & the Grateful Dead in concert with Shiva Fellowship. Bring dope (the sacrament) and good vibes. noon. free."



It was Tuesday afternoon at the Family Dog.
"Nights? Nights?" Jerry Garcia was shouting, "what about during the day? We got musicians running around looking for a place to jam - why not here?"
It was a meeting of the Common, and all the tribes had come together to discuss the form of what should happen at the Family Dog. About a hundred brothers and sisters sat around in a circle, with their dogs and their children. They passed the peace pipe, and exchanged ideas.
"You want to lower the price of admission," somebody was saying, "from three dollars to two fifty. That doesn't make much difference. I'll tell you, the audience isn't going to supply much magic at $2.50. The audience is going to supply a hell of a lot of magic at a buck!"
After about twenty minutes cross rapping, it was decided that each show should have its own price, and there should be enough "cheap" nights for those who can't afford the steep weekend rates.
Chet Helms likes to talk about "new forms."
The Common is a new form. It is all the people who want to do a trip out on the Great Highway: musicians, light artists, impresarios, auctioneers, media people. And most important, the people in the streets who come to goof, and dance, and get high.
Steve Gaskin is part of the Common. Steve is a sort of priest of the new age. Every Monday night, 1,500 of his friends come out to the Family Dog to rap with him, and get stoned together on each others' vibrations. Steve wants to get people high, so they'll stay stoned on the street - and maintain at the same time.
Last Tuesday night, the Common put on a good ol' hoedown. The dance hall was transformed to a psychedelic barn with bales of hay, charcoal-roasted corn (ten cents a hit), and the New Lost City Ramblers.
For the people who didn't have the price of admission, there was a "hassle door," where you could barter your way in for baked goods, clothes, and other nifty shit like credit-card numbers. But it was, be forewarned, truly a hassle. There was an auction: box lunches and apricot pies. If you didn't like German chocolate cake, there were carob cookies at the Messiah's World Commune health food stand.
At the square dance Tuesday, a new San Francisco band made its debut, sort of. The New Riders of the Old Purple Sage, with Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, and starring the fair-haired John Dawson on vocal and acoustical guitar. The sound was as smooth as the Dead is, yet it had this sweet country pulse and tune that just made you swoon.
The week before, Fuzzy Dice Productions staged a sock hop. The Fuzzy Dice are in real life a bunch of old men who sit around and play rock and roll records. But, one day, they put all their records together and decided to do something. With the help of KSAN's Tony Pig and Mike Daly, they staged a camp trip that parodied the middle fifties.
Next Tuesday night Howard Wolfe will be playing tapes of some of the classic San Francisco music concerts of the past few years. Wolfe, who worked with the Family Dog for two and a half years, wants to get together a musical and pictorial history of what went down in San Francisco. Nobody is better qualified to do it, he feels, than the people who created it in the first place.
That same night Jerry Abrams will conduct a light show laboratory. Jerry promises "a whole history trip, in film, of the San Francisco scene." The tapes to be played Tuesday will hopefully be released as records, Wolfe hopes, to help pay for the expenses of the Common.
Something is happening in San Francisco again. People are trying to create their own scene once more, rather than be content merely to lay out bread to watch and listen to somebody else's pre-packaged product.
"What about a Latin night?"
"We can raffle off enchiladas?"
"A juke box out of a Mexican restaurant for intermission - "
"How about a cock fight?"
"We'll get busted for that."
"We ain't talkin about chickens, man!"
For the past several years, the most creative and alive artistic energy of our generation has come from San Francisco. But the San Francisco music scene is going through a change. Bill Graham is closing the doors of the Fillmore. The Family Dog is about bankrupt.
Only the concept of the Common - all of us tripping together, coming together, standing together - will enable our culture to survive and grow.
The Common. Get behind it. At the Family Dog on the Great Highway.

(by Art Johnson, from the Berkeley Tribe, 22 August 1969)



Right now, September 1969 is a major turning point in the evolution of Rock Music as well as the crucial test of whether or not there IS a hip community in the Bay Area.
The Family Dog is faltering, folks. We are the family, this is the pet we have (sort of) kept for the past 4 or 5 years. Now it looks as bucolic, dyspeptic & strung out as an establishment pet. Who has not witnessed the 55 year old matron with her freaked-out, watery eyed fluff ball of a dead dog under her arm as she waddles off to oblivion? Is it happening to us? Maybe so, if we let it. Kennel master Chet Helms has tired of looking at his weekly loss sheet, and is showing it to the public.
The Family Dog has $50,000 in debts and Chet Helms has only been eating because his wife has a straight gig. There are many reasons for the Dog losing, among them, the performers want such exorbitant fees, attendance is down, lack of advertising saturation, but even when the house was full he wasn't making money.
As a result Mr. Helms has thrown the situation open to a "Common," composed of Members of the Dog, Members of the Light Artists Guild, Musicians, and people of the community. "The Common," which meets on Tuesdays at 1:00 at the Family Dog, is trying to set up a co-operative system whereby everyone involved with the production receives a percentage of the profits.
At the same time, Bill Graham has announced that he is quitting the scene when his lease runs out in December.
"This town has never stopped rapping an honest businessman for four fucking years," says Mr. Graham. "I leave here very sad...I may be copping out, but your attitudes have driven me to my decision." Mr. Graham is tired of having fingers pointed in his face, the hateful crazies screaming: "Capitalist Motherfucker, Capitalist Motherfucker!"
Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, after many a war, says that Capitalism is the only game in town. Chet Helms also says that "aside from the fact that they don't leave ya much choice in this society," he has "always used a capitalist format out of a feeling that there are a lot of groovy ideas about how things could work, but you gotta get from here to there, and anything we do has to start with a capitalist system and evolve to some other point. In fact you do not create the ideal society and sort of go out into the woods and set it up...we must evolve that structure so that the cumulative effect of it over a period of years becomes something else."
One of the major problems, as stated before, is the fees charged by the performers. The fees for all groups are going up and up. Graham, with a capacity for 2500 people, can work within that framework, while Chet Helms would rather have a participant theater of smaller proportions with access to the outside, trees, fountains, etc., introduce new bands, and have a free-flowing total scene in which everyone can get his rocks off.
Here I think we have stumbled onto the crux of the issue. Getting one's rocks off. In the midst of mechanical monsters, frozen psyches and tension-ridden bodies, Rock music in the dance halls has allowed us the opportunity to relax, to release the dit-dot-ditty-da fragmentary consciousness of everyday intellect into a flowing unity. The loud pounding music, the flow of the lights and colors, all the stoned bodies dancing, weaving through the maze, can shake all the uptights into the stream.
It was thus the scene began, in '65 and '66. Then dances were not super concerts but stoned out Bacchanalian delights. But eventually the bands did sign huge contracts, their fees did go up, until now the bands would rather play the large Rock Festivals and charge huge fees.
The Rock Festivals have developed rapidly into something beyond anything the promoters imagined. The Woodstock Festival had more than 400,000 attending. Atlantic City drew 110,000, Seattle 70,000, Dallas had 40,000. Bob Dylan drew 140,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival, knocked 'em out with 14 songs and split, probably bothered by the photographers. Here in San Francisco Speedway Meadows draws upwards of 10,000 of a Sunday.
Why are people gathering in such huge numbers? The music? Well, it seems that the stage is more like an emotional center for the audience. Many people are lying down, many face away from the stage. The stars of the show are the spectators. Thousands never get to hear the music clearly, but if you ask them how they like the festival, they will say: "Fantastic, the most fun in years," etc. A better explanation is that everyone is starved for good vibrations. Festivals are a gathering of the tribes, people coming together around a common focus and absorbing the high-tension vibes in the air. They will suffer anything, mud, hunger, fuzz, no matter, in order to give love, feel love, be love.
This is tribalism coming on strong, NOW. It is happening. We are beginning to remember about dancing together, singing together, doing Yogic breathing together. As a group and as one-to-one partners we can get it together.
The Bay Area is obviously a nerve center for this thing which is beginning. All the good and bad vibes pass through here. We must be the ones to keep the fires lit. The Bay Area is 5, 10, 20, 40 years ahead of other parts of the US.
Whether our music is inside or outside, whether you want to be a dancer or a thinker, it is ours to CREATE the place in which we wish to live, and the style in which we want to live.

(by Muhammad Khan I, from the Berkeley Barb, 5 September 1969)


The 8/14/69 Good Times also ran an interview with David Rubinson, record producer and owner of the Fillmore Records label, on the record business. An excerpt:

How come there is only one band in SF right now that has a checking account with money in it? Out of all these fucking people who made records, there is one band that is reasonably solvent and they're not doing as well as they should be. They are the Jefferson Airplane. The Grape has no bread, the Dead no bread, Country Joe has no bread.  
[ . . . ]
GT: Let's get into the Grateful Dead. Most of the community can identify with the Dead more than other bands and you said the Grateful Dead don't have any money - could you talk about that? How much money do they need?

DR: What I mean is that if they have a gig in New Orleans tomorrow they don't have the money to get on a plane - their life style demands that when they get a gig that they can ship themselves and their equipment to the gig. They don't have the money necessary for a national tour and they're very very deep in debt. I don't know where the money went. Rock Scully has been on the street and knows where it's at - he's a very smart guy. Jerry Garcia has been on the street, he knows where it's at.
But the Dead and many other groups of this sort are not getting even the money they should get out of what they've sold. Also the Dead spent a huge amount of money in the studio they'll never make on sales. That was I think because no one was able to sit down and say look this is where it's at, you're looking for a given sound this is how you get it.
I know right now that the Dead is as famous in this country as the guy who wrote Moon River. But the Dead aren't making nearly as much money because the guy who wrote Moon River is the kind of artist and kind of writer toward whom the whole music industry is geared. Hoagy Carmichael is making a fortune - Jerry Garcia is starving.

(untitled interview from the San Francisco Good Times, 14 August 1969)

Garcia at a Common meeting, August 1969

See also:  


  1. A few articles on the Common meetings that started at the Family Dog in August '69. There's not really any Dead content in them (the Dead's own appearances at the Family Dog were unfortunately not reported), but I included these in part to show Garcia's involvement. It's odd to see Garcia as a civic participant, taking part in community meetings and public debates, no guitar in hand; but he seems to have felt a responsibility to represent musicians and help the Family Dog.

    Most interesting to me was the "Uncommon Common" article from the Berkeley Tribe, where Garcia suggests the Family Dog as a place to jam, and brings his new band the New Riders to play at the hoedown along with his heroes the New Lost City Ramblers. (It wasn't really the New Riders' debut, but their name was new.)
    Also note the upcoming show playing "tapes of some of the classic San Francisco music concerts of the past few years," as a history of the local music scene. The desire to preserve and share this history arose early - indeed, the concerts of '66-68 were already regarded as "history" - although sadly, the plan to release records of the tapes didn't pan out. (The "Vintage Dead" release in 1970 was similarly inspired, but offhand I don't know how many other bands at that point were already putting out archival shows.) Some of these tapes were played on local FM radio over the years, but it's odd to think of people at the Family Dog in '69 listening to, say, the Dead in '66.
    The event was on August 26 - Ralph Gleason announced, "Tomorrow night at the Family Dog on the Great Highway there will be a lightshow spectacular - The Great S.F. Light Jam - with 13 different light shows and taped music from three years of unissued tapes from the Matrix including tapes of Big Brother, Steve Miller, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. It's a presentation of the Light Artists Guild."

    As it turned out, Bill Graham didn't close the Fillmore West at the end of the year, as threatened; it stayed open until summer 1971. The Family Dog limped along for another year, til August 1970.

    San Francisco papers in August '69 had numerous articles on the Wild West Festival fiasco. I didn't transcribe these, since there was no Dead content (it was a canceled event and the Dead didn't play). But Michael Kramer's book The Republic of Rock includes a detailed account of the Wild West tangle and the initiation of the Common meetings:

    The last interview excerpt shows the public perception of the Dead as being totally broke. At that point, financially, they were perhaps at their lowest ebb so far, but Rubinson exaggerates - Garcia wasn't starving! (Actually I think he was pretty comfortable in his Madrone Canyon house in Larkspur, under the redwoods...) As it happens, the Dead were still able to fly to Atlanta for a free show, and directly contradicting Rubinson, headed on a plane to a New Orleans festival just a couple weeks after this interview.
    But his general point holds up; the Dead were doing very little national touring and were staying broke, although that may have as much to do with Lenny Hart's vanishing-money management as with their financial foolishness.

  2. A stray Garcia quote from a later article:
    'I remembered a Common meeting when someone had accused Garcia of being a rock star, and Garcia said, "We can't help it, man, if people need to make us rock stars we gotta play along."'
    (from "Black Shadow," SF Good Times, 2/13/70)