Jun 19, 2019

December 31, 1970: Winterland

Bill Graham moved in a sideway crablope from the front of the stage to the midway point of amplifiers, picked up two empty beer cans and a crushed cup, and put them in the trash barrel. Then he put his finger to his forehead at the exact spot where his wires crossed and completed his anxieties by shortcircuiting himself. He was the prime mover attacked by his army; it was New Year's Eve at Winterland and the Grateful Dead were catering. Don't eat anything - I'd been advised - don't drink anything either, not even beer, unless you wipe the can. They doctor the edges!
Backstage: long interleading rooms ending in the one with the sloped ceiling and the toilets. Two men were sniffing coke; we watched them, disguised our watching with a sophisticated cool. The tall, elegant man turned toward us, held out the small delicately inlaid wooden bottle, the tiny golden spoon with its pile of pale dreams. We bent low and drew it into our nostrils. So many people, Deirdre, butterfly lady, and I flew through the spiraling nest, across the empty theatre floor and up to the balcony where the sound of men being devoured by a buzz saw came loudly through the men's room door. Two men came out. My God, I said! Who's being dismembered in there? They looked at me and moved past. "It's the juicer," the girl next to me said, and pointed toward the organic food concession.
We leapt and flew in front of the giant mirror in the ladies' room. Deirdre's butterfly was captured by a stork and she said I looked very very small. Robert was in the slope room with Sal and the band - Stone Ground. They were to have opened the show at 8:30, were now suddenly scheduled to play after the Dead at 2:30 am next year. They were wound up with nowhere to fly.
The costumed people who paraded the fur-lined halls were dressed in velvet with Rhinestone messages. "Beware - I am the new life." They sparkled and radiated around the giant fires. "All the queens are here," the bishop told me as he wiped his venison fingers on his marmoset hem; "it's the final first reunion of a continuing resurrection, nothing said," he crossed himself. "Janis and Jimi are with the angels now," he paused, and then, "Weren't they always!" I evaporated him with a wave of my fingers and went to find out what was happening in the trenches.
There were TV cameras on stage, eating up the life for a two city quadraphonic simulcast. The cameraman did a tap dance zoom. A blonde girl in the front of the audience turned on her hair which flung round and round until she rose straight to the ceiling, where she remained for the rest of the concert. I saw lots of famous people; their faces rose and swelled in front of me. I knew them all though their names remain mystery. We stood together by the food trays, waiting. I wiped the top of a coke can I drew up from a deep pool of water and ice. The woman next to me nursed her tie-dye baby. I held the baby in an eye lock, its pupils grew and grew and were of an amazing blue; they were the earth seen from the moon on which I stood. "Food will come," said the woman in silken flames pasting velvet on her arms. People undulated in the dim green tunnel, searching faces, smiling smiling, all an intensity to be relived.
I pasted my Fillmore West bumpersticker stage pass around my upper thigh. I sat on the backstage bleachers, the probe beams of the spotlights shuttering my eyes, then swung away to allow me the audience which twirled under the strobe light with the rhythm of sea anemones. I moved again through lace and leather, feather, silk and fur. Food, haunch of beef and dangerous looking sweetmeats, baked potatoes, smiling faces pressed toward me, a forest of skin, opening mouths, golden, golden, radiance, an organic Fellini.
It is almost midnight; Bill Graham ushers in three people from an Hadassah meeting. mother? father? sister? Guides them to a box on stage where they sit brave and composed, not every son can be a doctor. Two men in white togas are hoisted to the top of the stage on little hoist seats and sway above us. The giant screen over the stage shows a clockface where before the projected permutations of dye and oil and water billowed and glowed. A burst of light! Another! We held our breath, the strobe light bounced shatters of light from the giant turning mirror ball. Drums! Firecrackers! The men are descending from their high ride, throwing flower petals on the audience. They have leapt into the aisle in front; they are freaking out! Spurting champagne on the audience, they are taking off their clothes! They are naked and glistening with wine; they are holding their arms up. They are in spasm! The band is driving death away! It's 1971!
Earlier, a naked man had leapt onstage from the audience and into the waiting arms of two guards and Bill Graham. "It's all organic!" she shrieked as they carried him past. "I am the Messiah, we are all the Messiah," and then as he vanished through the crowd forever. "It's all organic from now on!"
Back in the tunnel I hold an envelope in my hand; everyone is holding an envelope. (No one saw who handed them out.) I open the envelope; inside is a beautiful card with a glowing colored mandala. At the center of the Mandala, neatly stuck on with Scotch tape, an orange tab - "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, from the Sunshine Family!"
The slope room is hissing, keasy! I rush to the tank, we all rush, sucked into its spewing nozzle. The man with the suede jacket gets the nipple deep within his mouth, binds his arms round the tank and hangs there. We wait, torn between compassion and greed; has he od'd? He slips to the floor, another mouth sucks; bodies glide down, the floor is strewn, a baby sleeps under a shelf, an empty bottle by his face, his face, the faces on the floor, it all slips away.
Sitting high on a shelf with the Light man, looking down on the floor at the pie man, and the rock band, it's Stone Ground! Deirdre is dancing with a fancy man, the ladies are singing with the rock band, the band is playing like a demon, and I think I'm flying but I'm only dreaming, but it's all right, ma - 'cause it's 1971.

(by Liza Williams, from the Los Angeles Free Press, 8 January 1971)

1 comment:

  1. No Dead content here. I included this since it's a vivid description of the backstage scene at a Dead New Year's Eve show - a Felliniesque dream awash with drugs and visions and strange occurrences.
    Many odd word choices I couldn't tell if they were typos or intentional. It's funny that Williams was warned not to get dosed, but apparently proceeded to consume everything possible; by the time the Dead come on, she's long since left reality, and in fact she misses their entire performance.
    Imagine the plight of poor Stoneground, who were supposed to open but are "now suddenly scheduled to play after the Dead at 2:30 am"...

    Some comments from dead.net:
    "The show was billed as Stoneground, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Grateful Dead and "friends". Instead of Stoneground getting things started, David Crosby and Graham Nash started with their band. After them, New Riders of the Purple Sage came on but Jerry Garcia wasn't feeling well so he did not play with them. In his place Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen from Hot Tuna joined the New Riders. After that set, the rest of Hot Tuna came on stage and played a set. After they finished it was close to midnight so the Dead came on and played. Finally at 2:30 AM, the warm up band - Stoneground - finally came on stage. After that set, the jam started."
    "Hot Tuna was the unbilled surprise guest act... Stoneground did indeed come on after the New Years set about 2:30am. After that they had a big jam from compilation of all the acts that night until 5 or 6 in the morning. Bill Graham followed that great night with a great breakfast for all that braved a long night of music. Croissants, fruit, and much needed fresh squeezed orange juice by the vats."
    "Early on, before the GD came on stage, there were hippy chicks walking through the crowd handing out something to those who wanted it. One came up to me and said, "The Grateful Dead wish you a Happy New Year". She handed me a tiny piece of paper and told me to put it in my mouth for a good trip.... I don't know if these girls were sent out by the GD or were acting on their own. Regardless, it was quite a scene!"

    The jam after Stoneground was Bob Weir playing some oldies with Hot Tuna:

    As well as being shown on KQED-TV, the show was simulcast on the KSAN & KQED FM stations, starting during the Hot Tuna set. Here's a description from someone who tried to tape the broadcast at home - only to find that both radio stations had failing signals and dropped out midway through the Dead's show. (The TV broadcast made it all the way through, but has not been preserved.)