'TIS THE SEASON TO BE GRATEFUL
Going to a rock concert with a narcotics-drug abuse officer is like going to Purgatory with the Pope. Even now, I'm not sure why I went. Curiosity, I guess. Maybe I just wanted to see 5,000 kids high on marijuana or perhaps I hoped to chance upon someone dropping acid. Whatever, I went. The group was the Grateful Dead, six musicians who, I should report, are very much alive and playing as a unit. Loudly. The noise made it difficult to determine whether one would prefer to be dead or grateful. Or both.
When the officer and I arrived at the St. Louis theater where the concert was being held, it didn't take long to realize this was sure-enough pandemonium. Kids were running in every direction, police were frantically trying to keep order, and debris was everywhere.
And that was just the outside of the theater. Inside, things were much worse.
The first thing I noticed was that I was the only person in the entire theater wearing a tie. Toward the end of the evening I did spot another man wearing one - he was an 80-year-old janitor wearing a leather bow tie. The second thing I noticed was that I was about 25 years older than anyone else, that I wasn't wearing levis, that I didn't need a shave or a haircut, that my shoes were shined, and I wasn't wearing either beads or a knapsack. Outside of those few minor details, I felt very much at ease.
As we made our way to our seats, which were positioned so that we could watch almost everything in the theater, I said to my friend, "Gee, this place smells like a tent out of Arabian nights."
"Dope," the officer said tersely. I started to take exception when I realized he meant the odor was marijuana. Fearing I might get high myself, I tried not to breathe. With my sinuses I was soon gasping for breath and decided it was better to die of pot than become the first case in medical history of self-asphyxiation.
Turning my attention to the stage, where the Grateful Dead were holding forth, I was soon tapping my feet along with the rest of the audience. I wasn't sure what they were playing (in fact, I didn't catch two successive words in any song during the entire evening) but the music was something like they play at the Grand Ol' Opry, only faster and without Minnie Pearl Bailey. It was pretty good. I even caught myself starting to clap my hands with the kids.
Turning to a young girl sitting next to me, I ventured, "Say they're pretty good!" I figured I ought to establish some contact with the natives before they charged me with being over-aged and took me to their chief. "Far out," she replied. "Yeah, man," I replied, trying to get into the vernacular. "Say, what is this, a bust?" she said belligerently. "Far out," I said, thereby effectively ending my efforts to establish contact with the natives.
As the concert wore on, I found myself becoming enamored with the music, rather taken with the cheering, appreciative audience. My friend left me at one point to confer with another narcotics officer and I suddenly felt very much alone among 5,000 cheering, clapping, smoking young boys and girls who were jumping around to music that was just on the other side of ear-splitting. I felt relieved when my friend returned, uncomfortable when he tapped on the shoulder a young man getting ready to light a joint, relieved when the youngster put the joint away, uncomfortable when the group he was with turned around to stare intently, relieved when they only smiled instead of beating us to death with chains.
By now the concert had been going on for five hours. The Grateful Dead were still very much alive, the audience was as enthusiastic as ever, and only the narcotics officers, the police and myself appeared to be very dead. "When can we go?" I asked desperately about 12:30. "Had enough?" my friend asked, smiling. I nodded.
Outside, the air was cool, damp and smelled of industrial waste. But it was still good. "Bet you've never seen anything like that before," my friend said.
"Yes, I have, but not all in one place. I'd have to combine a state Legion convention, halftime at a Missouri football game, and dollar-day at a discount store to get one rock concert."
"Far out," my friend answered.
"Right on," I said as we laughed.
Just then an establishment-type couple (the man was even wearing a tie) looked at us suspiciously, then belligerently. As they passed, I heard the man say to his wife, "Dope."
(by Jack Stapleton, from the "Missouriana" column, the Stanberry Headlight (MO), 30 December 1971)