Aug 5, 2019

November 24, 1970: Tarot Rehearsal


The tarot cards have been read for me three times, twice by so-called professionals, who meandered their way through a mish-mash, and once by an amateur, a girl who made a true attempt, but she didn't send me reeling with revelation either.
Several times I've gotten out my deck and tried my own reading, and it's been a little less fascinating than a game of solitaire except for one occasion when I came up with a sequence of cards which had me mumbling, "Right...uh-huh...well, if that's the way it has to be, so be it and kismet." Then I discovered that I had omitted one part of the card pattern, which disqualified the whole interpretation. It didn't help strengthen a belief in the cards.
But then I never had the tarot read for me by an old gypsy woman living in a wagon and traveling through Denmark, the way Joe McCord says it happened to him. McCord heads a pantomime company called Rubber Duck. A show conceived by him called "Tarot," reportedly based on the gypsy's reading and others he's done on his own since, begins previewing Tuesday at the Chelsea Theatre Center located in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn (783-2434).
I sat in on a rehearsal the other afternoon. The stage manager cried, "Quiet, please, places!" and "We need God!" The actors portray the tarot deck characters, and one of them, the Hermit, also is interpreted as a form of God in the play. "God" got up with his lantern and the actor playing the Hanged Man stood on his head as he does for the entire 40 minutes of the first act (a feat he achieves by going into a yoga-like trance), and McCord, as the tarot deck's Fool, mimed being born. Suddenly "God" swung his lantern too hard and it went crashing to the stage. Everyone broke up and someone yelled, "Hey, your power's gone!"
In the ensuing break, Rubber Duck - the name with which McCord is registered at Equity - sat down and filled in his background: born in Manhattan, aspirations to both sculpture and acting, studied mime under Jean-Louise Barrault in Paris, digressed to Denmark, fell in with a gypsy's daughter and met her mother, from whom he got the works - palm, numerological, astrological, and tarot readings. Back in the U.S.A., he formed a pantomime company in San Francisco, where the directors of the Chelsea Theatre saw one of his plays, "Tarot," and brought him east to do an expanded version of it as part of their series.
What will interest some people most about the show are its musicians, the Rubber Band, who joined forces with the Rubber Duck company this year. They're headed by Tom Constanten, who used to play organ with the Grateful Dead. Constanten did 90% of the show's score, with a bit of assist from the other musicians and former associate Jerry Garcia. Garcia will sit in with Rubber Band for some of the previews, opening night Dec. 8, and maybe a few other dates, but he has Dead commitments.
A man who never seems to run out of energy, Garcia came walking in at 2:30 p.m. to rehearse although he had been up till dawn playing a Hell's Angels-sponsored concert at the Anderson. The other musicians include Paul Dresher on guitar and flute, Jim Byers on classical guitar, Art Fayer on violin, Wes Steele on bass and cello, and Chicken Hirsch (of the Country Joe troupe) on drums.
Publicists for "Tarot" conscientiously refrain from calling it a rock musical because that's hardly a novel concept any more, but it doesn't keep the ads from referring to it as "an occult communal phantasmagoria in mime and music." The only words in the show will be lyrics for two songs.
Nothing heavy is intended, just entertainment, said Duck during the break while Garcia set up his pedal steel guitar and Constanten on a facing platform noodled around with "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds."
"The first act is the presentation of the tarot characters," Duck said. "The second act is the gypsy's reading and ones I did later."
What card patterns does he use, I asked, and what written text does he follow for interpretation? "You don't have to do that," he replied. "Just lay them out and look at the pictures. How you interpret them is up to you."
Gradually it came to me: Why, it's just like what we do when we flip off the alarm clock in the morning, turn on the radio, stare out the window, and decried "good day" or "bad day." That's tarot.

(by Ernest Leogrande, from the "Night Owl Reporter" column, the New York Daily News, 27 November 1970) 

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1 comment:

  1. Although this isn't the Dead, I've included it here since this article is an interesting new find that illuminates one of Garcia's lesser-known activities in late 1970.
    Garcia had been helping with the music for Tarot on and off through the year; now on 11/24/70, we find him joining a rehearsal on pedal steel shortly before the play hit the stage in New York.
    A Garcia/Constanten performance of 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds' sounds enticing!

    Rubber Duck member Paul Dresher recalls, "Garcia also came to an early rehearsal for Tarot when we were rehearsing in some warehouse in Chelsea. That rehearsal was actually my first opportunity to play with Garcia and I was TOTALLY pumped. We had a great jam session and part way through, we took a break and Jerry got out a couple of joints which we all shared (except TC, who wasn't partaking of any such intoxicants at that point) and then got back to jamming. At the outset, I had inquired about recording the session and was told that it was going to be recorded. The recorder turned out to be an old (even at that time!) two track Wollensak and when I got the tape, it was TOTALLY distorted, like the levels were set at 11 and not monitored. Needless to say, I was disappointed... I think it was a great session but we'll never know for certain."

    Per this article, in between his Dead schedule "Garcia will sit in with Rubber Band for some of the previews, opening night Dec. 8, and maybe a few other dates."
    His participation turned out to be more minimal - Dresher said that "while we were playing the first run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the fall, he came and sat in for one performance, playing only pedal steel... The music for this show was mostly composed and while he was somewhat familiar with the music from having played in early demos for the score (and from attending one rehearsal), he was very careful and held back most of the show, only cutting loose in passages where jamming was possible (and there were a few). So, he most definitely played ONE and only one show of Tarot."

    On the other hand, Jim Byers (who was also in the group) said Garcia never joined them onstage - "I was at all performances and he never was there." Art Fayer also said that "Garcia was supposed to play with us, never did." (I don't think the other bandmembers have commented.)
    But it seems one audience member recalls seeing Garcia play pedal steel in a Tarot show, so I think it most likely he did play just a preview (or maybe opening night) before splitting. Previews ran the first week of December, when Garcia was free.