Dec 25, 2020

December 5, 1971 letter

Monday morning after the best 
fucking Dead concert I have 
been lucky enough to be a part of.!?! 
Man, I can't help but feel that you made a mistake in deciding to do your homework instead of seeing something like what went down last night here in N.Y.C. at the FELT FORUM for a total of 6 SIX tripped hours. 
The concert hall, acoustically is the best I have ever experienced. There couldn't have been more than 3,000 people present - and it was sold out. The place is excessively plush, modern, almost sterile, but no matter where you sit the sound is good and loud and you have at least a decent, relatively unobstructed view of the events. 
I went with Tom, Gary, and my good brother Jacques. Our seats were in the last row near the middle. We split downstairs right after the RIDERS set which went from about 8 pm to 9:30 pm. The RIDERS no longer feature Jerry on the pedal steel. Instead there's some thin guy with very long silky brown hair - I think he's even better than Garcia at the pedal. Torbert, on bass, has grown a small mustache - BIG SHIT! MARMADUKE now plays a white Fender solid body. Dryden is still plugging away on drums. They've got several new songs which are good - extensions on their original style. Dawson's voice was fading faster and faster during the entire set - he was squeaking bad. Oh well, what followed from 10 pm to 2 am was enough to erase any feelings of disappointment. 
The concert was carried live in full by Wnew FM. Throughout the evening the DEAD were very aware of the fact. BILL GRAHAM introduced the band - "Keith Godswell on keyboard, Bill Kreutzman on drums, the oldest old timer I know - Pig Pen, on the organ, the youthful cowboy, Bob Weir, on rhythm guitar, and the master, Jerry Garcia, on lead guitar...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" 
The applause was UNBELIEVABLY LOUD AND FERVENT and lasted SO LONG! The fact that the DEAD were playing to a sell out NYC crowd and especially the fact that whoever wanted to within a 100 mile radius could tune into the tripped atmosphere made this concert perhaps the greatest there will ever be. They started with BERTHA and during the next four hours played tunes like DARK STAR, PLAYIN' IN THE BAND, RAILROAD BLUES, CHINA CAT, FANNY RAE, UNCLE CHARLEY TOLD ME SO, NOT FADE AWAY MEDLEY, BOBBY MCGEE, ME & MY UNCLE, CASEY JONES, UNCLE JOHN'S BAND, SUGAR MAGNOLIA, BIG BOSS MAN, TRUCKIN', AND MORE, MORE......................................................
About 2/3 of the way thru the set I ran into a friend of mine from EXETER who had graduated from EXETER a year ahead of me, gone to NYU and moonlighted on weekends as a FILLMORE usher. There he was behind the police lines, backstage with a pass. I found out that they had run out of passes, and were using black tape around the wrist as a new pass. This trick plus some very heavy doses of BS, con rapping got me past two guards and a DEAD personnel BOUNCER. I eventually wound up right next to the stage. When the concert was over I wandered over to the stairs leading off the stage and ENCOUNTERED JERRY GARCIA, PHIL LESH, BOB WEIR, AND BILL KREUTZMAN gathered together in a kind of conference, discussing the concert hall and the sound as they heard it thru the onstage monitors. My mind! Somehow, whereas in the past when I encountered the DEAD I was speechless, this time I had ease in talking. I eavesdropped on their conference and when Garcia queried as to the sound in the aisles I said that I had been in the last row and the sound was loud and crisp. They seemed dubious of this, saying it sounded fuzzy and distorted with annoying static. I somehow drew Garcia away for about 5 minutes and began by asking him what address I could use that would assure me that they would actually see and read what I sent. He said the DEAD HEADS address was the one. I asked if he had learned anything that he didn't already know from the mail they had received at that address. He said that the feedback was excellent. He felt that the image people had formed from their records and concerts came generally very close to what he felt the Grateful Dead stood for, and in essence were. "Man, the people just simply feel that what we do is groovy, and it is." I asked him if he could put his name down on paper for me - he did. I said "You guys are just the hardest working band of musicians I know of, that's all...." As he handed me back my pen, he said "Naw, what we do is easy, it's fun. It usually takes us about an hour to warm up, and then another hour to break thru all the bullshit, and then if we're lucky we can get in 15 minutes of real music." Garcia has charisma! 
Behind GARCIA, sitting casually on the steps leading to the stage, was BOB WEIR. His silky dark brown thin hair tied in the usual pony tail, wearing leather cowboy boots, very tight brown levi style cords, and a deep blue T shirt with the figure of Mr. Peanuts embroidered on it in orange. There is something weird about Mr. Weir, if you know what I mean. He looks like the archetypal, eternally youthful, totally together, creative, intense, mind blowing guitarist that he is. His gaze, which wanders at will on the people around him, is open and warm, but concentrated and direct. He is smooth and powerful. I began rapping with him for the first time in my life - I had had the [chance] to rap with WEIR before, but had never been able to get it together to rap with him. I asked him if he'd mind putting his name down on paper for me. He did. Then I asked him if there was an address that would guarantee me that he'd read it. He said that if I put on the letter BOB WEIR / DEAD HEADS / P.O. BOX 1073 / SAN RAFAEL / CALIFORNIA he'd be sure to read it..... I asked him if it was true that he lived on a ranch and raised bulls. He said that ending a few months ago the DEAD had lived on a ranch for about a year and had raised horses. I asked if that was where the photo of the DEAD sitting on lumps of hay in front of a barn was taken. He said no that was at Mickey's farm. I asked what Hart was doing these days. WEIR said that he and Hart were producing records out of HART's 16 track recording studio. I asked him if there was ever such a thing as MICKEY HART AND THE HEART BEATS and he said yeah, for a while a few months ago. My final question was about the rumored movie with the DEAD and the AIRPLANE on the STARSHIP theme. He said that it has and will continue to be a real possibility and is something they definitely would like to do. 
I finally split............................................................................ 
My mind!................................................................................
Tonight and tomorrow night I return for more of those blissful melodies. I'm trying to get a good tape recorder together in order to tape the next 2 nights. If successful I will be able to offer you for a small fee a nice addition to your record and tape collection. 
I also listened to a rap between Bill Graham and some freaks. Some punk pseudo hipster was castigating Graham for having closed the Fillmore. Bill said "Listen kid, all you kids want is a machine in which you place a nickel and in return you get happiness, a fantasy world. If you tried to run the Fillmore it would cost you 420,000 dollars and you wouldn't last a day and a half." He said later that he was leaving the USA for good trying to get somewhere quiet and peaceful, was planning to move to Switzerland within the next six months. Had no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Said once, before he started producing gigs, he used to be a very good waiter. 
Things are going well for me. I currently plan to stick at this job until the end of JULY 1972 at which point I will take a month off and travel to CAL and TEXAS if you guys [...] are still hanging your hats out there in the desert sands. [...] 
peace, happiness, and creative inner growth during the sacred season of CHRIST'S birth....................... 
your piscean friend, 
Thanks to Dave Davis.

See also: 


  1. This letter was found by Grateful Seconds; I don't know the author but it was apparently written to Ken Ulansey, who is currently a musician and was then in college (in Philadelphia, I think).
    The letter is surprisingly detailed - the writer was clearly a hardcore Dead fan who'd seen them before and knew their songs. (In his list of the songs played, Dark Star takes pride of place. He guesses at a couple new titles; I'm not sure what "Fanny Rae" was. The Dead did not actually play China Cat, but they did tease it in NFA.)
    He calls this maybe the greatest Dead show ever, and attributes that to the trippy atmosphere, fervent NYC crowd, and radio broadcast. (He also praises the Felt Forum.) He can't wait to go see the Dead again on the 6th & 7th "for more of those blissful melodies," and even plans to tape the shows himself. So obviously he's aware that the shows might be different each night.
    His quote of Bill Graham's introduction is a paraphrase, not an exact quote. It's close enough that I wonder if he was already listening to a tape of the FM broadcast the next day, but he doesn't offer to send a copy. (Maybe Ken was already getting a copy and that's why he didn't go see the shows. I suspect that Ken's "tape and record collection" included a few Dead boots already, but that's just a guess.)
    Oddly, he omits any comparison between this and previous Dead shows he'd seen, maybe feeling that was unnecessary - although in contrast, he does mention a number of changes in the Riders. It's a little disappointing not to hear similar comments on how he felt about the Dead's changes that year (like the new piano player), but he's more eager to write about his backstage encounter with the band.
    Wouldn't you know it, after the show the Dead are found discussing the sound quality in the hall. They gripe about it ("fuzzy and distorted") and don't believe that it sounded "loud and crisp" in the back, but they're clearly interested in hearing an audience member's opinion. When he corners Garcia, Jerry sounds quite pessimistic about shows in general, claiming it takes the Dead two hours to warm up and adjust before they can get to maybe "15 minutes of real music." (So much for those 4-hour shows!) But Garcia's comment on their excellent letter feedback echoes what he'd say to Muther Grumble the next year about fan perceptions:
    "On the basis of what kind of feedback we get other words, when people are talking to me as a member of the Grateful Dead, who do they think they are talking to?...if somebody says something to me, I would say that we're about 85-90% pretty correct in terms of what goes out about us... What comes back to us from people [is] very much like the way we are. People who relate to us are very much the way we are, so I think it's pretty straight."
    Considering how many people must have been going after them backstage in NYC, Garcia & Weir are pretty gracious here; Weir even answers a few questions. (The rumor about the Dead/Airplane movie is news to me.) Bill Graham, on the other hand, is as crabby as ever.

  2. The only thing close to Fannie Rae that I can think of is Lightnin Hopkin's Katie Mae, a tune Pigpen would occasionally play solo at GD shows.

  3. Yeah, could be that. Maybe she was a good girl, too.