GRATEFUL DEAD: WHISTLING THROUGH THE FOG
It seemed, for a while, like San Francisco.
It’s been about two years since I left California and a lot of the old feeling has gone. It’s just not as foggy and wild in Baltimore as it is in San Francisco. You can whistle here but the sound doesn’t echo back from hundreds of miles of cold Pacific like it does in San Francisco or up on the Tamalpais Mountains a few miles north of San Francisco where Jerry Garcia lives.
There’s nowhere in Baltimore like that. But somehow, listening to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead in the Civic Center last week brought the feeling back, for a few days at least, and maybe communicated some of it to Baltimore people who have never been to San Francisco or the Tamalpais Mountains, where the ocean wind has an unbroken shot at the land.
I mention whistling because legend has it that the first hippie settled in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, just east of Golden Gate Park, because that was the best place to go whistling in the fog.
That was in the early Sixties, when the Dead were just beginning to gear up, playing in coffee houses around Palo Alto, meeting people like Ken Kesey and Stewart Brand, and discovering that LSD could be had for free at a Stanford University testing center. And learning how to whistle.
Eventually they all moved into the foggy Haight-Ashbury and that was the start of the great San Francisco thing: the be-ins in the park where the Dead played for free, Ken Kesey’s Cool Aid Acid Tests where the Dead also played for free, the all-night sessions in the Dead’s apartment at 710 Ashbury street among people like Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and Neal Casady, where policy for the movement would be debated and planned.
But the Haight-Ashbury fell apart, Ken Kesey moved to Oregon, Timothy Leary fled the country, and Neal Casady’s body was found lifeless on a railroad track in Mexico. That was the real milestone. For Casady had been sparking the movement, or whatever it was, ever since the Fifties when he drove Jack Kerouac’s frantic car back and forth across the country more times than anyone could count.
He’s gone, he’s gone
Walking down the track
And nothing’s going to bring him back
The Dead sang that requiem last week at the Civic Center. They were uniquely qualified to do it, having rubbed head and shoulders with Casady at countless acid tests, and after he became the bus driver on Ken Kesey’s Kerouac sequel, the cross-country Day-Glo bus “Further.”
But it was obvious last week at the Civic Center that the Dead’s own trip is far from over. They were still whistling in the fog and for about four straight hours the fog rolled into the Civic Center as thick and heavy as it ever was on the Tamalpais Mountains.
I had worried some about it before I went to the concert. I wasn’t sure it would be the same for me here as it was, say, in the old Fillmore West or in Winterland, where everybody used to sit on the floor and get as close to the stage as he wanted. Or in Sproul Hall, Berkeley, where the Dead once gave a small and cozy concert inside a giant plastic pillow. Or in Golden Gate park, at the first big be-ins. But those were before my time anyway.
I was even more worried when the Dead came out on the stage and saw a line of police keeping the crowd in their seats about a hundred feet off. There was nothing free or friendly about that, and there was nothing free or friendly about the Dead’s first couple of numbers, even though they looked the same and Jerry Garcia was wearing a fine new workshirt over his friendly stomach and his hands moved as capably as ever.
But then they moved into one of those expanded renditions of a familiar piece that moves from a couple of sung verses way out into something entirely new, even for them, and it seemed as if I was back home again.
“I’ve always thought that the Grateful Dead should be sponsored by the government or something,” Jerry Garcia said recently in a celebrated interview with Charles Reich, author of “The Greening of America.” “It should be a public service, you know, and they should set us up to play at places that need to get high. That’s the kind of thing we should be doing; we shouldn’t be business – it shouldn’t be any of that stuff – it should be a thing like that and that’s the direction I’m looking to go into.”
It is high music. It travels and you travel with it, and finally last week in the Civic Center the police moved away from in front of the stage and the people left their seats and moved up through the fog to get closer to the band.
(by Gordon Chaplin, from the Baltimore Sun, 9/24/72)
* * *
More than 8,000 young adults packed the Civic Center on Sunday for the cosmic concert starring Grateful Dead. In the aspect of digging the music, or just wanting to make the scene, young people from all over emerged on the Civic Center.
Grateful Dead’s cosmic rock sound, of course, should be put at the top of the list of reasons for attending the concert.
Grateful Dead, an exposed but not over-exposed group, has the reputation of cosmic, country sounding. They, like most rock or hard rock groups, use a basic “c” blues note, which gives them that Muddy Waters sound with a bit more rhythm. With their whining guitars and ever so heavy drums, the group makes a psychic dust of music flow, whenever they play.
Their concert at the Civic Center was better than the last one, and may have surpassed the others. Once Gerry Garcia – lead guitarists and vocals; Bob Weir – rhythm guitar and voals; Phil Lesh – bass guitar and vocals; Bill Kreutzmann – drums; and Ron McKernan – organ, piano, and harmonica started to play, happiness struck the audience.
Such tunes as “Mr. Kelly Blues,” “A Friend in the Jungle,” “Cosmic Charlie,” and Feedback were the foods that soothed the music hungry crowd.
From their album “Grateful Dead” came “Bertha,” “Big Railroad Blues,” “Wharf Rat,” and “Men and My Uncle.” This music made the audience want to rock dance, stand up and cheer…grew and grew as the concert went on. And just as a book has a climax, so did the concert.
The group had played their last number and left the stage, but the audience was not ready for the music to be stopped. The shouts started for “More, more,” and you could hear hands clapping and feet stomping. Suddenly the darkened stage became lit again and music was coming from the huge speakers covering the stage. The spotlights began to move and reflect beams off the glass ball, which hangs from the ceiling of the Civic Center.
In seeing these beautiful rays reflecting all over the hall, the crowd let out expressions of pleasure. Though their names may be Grateful Dead, this group is very much alive.
(by Angie Thornton, from the Afro-American, 9/23/72)
These reviews were included in the Dick's Picks 23 booklet.
These reviews are mostly worthless, but I thought they'd be worth including as examples of the worst type of Dead reporting.ReplyDelete
The first review is OK - the reporter uses his time in San Francisco, not to give any personal memories of the band, but to give a brief & somewhat inaccurate summary of the band's history.
The police presence at this show is noteworthy. Unfortunately it was common in many places in the late 60s/early 70s to go to a show & find the stage surrounded by police. The Dead weren't thrilled about this either, and sometimes it led to confrontations.
Lesh comments after Sugaree, "Here's what it seems like from up here, folks. It seems like as long as you all don't try to approach the stage, or should I say the no-man's land there bordered by the strip of concrete in front of the stage, everything will be pretty cool. If you don't push them, they won't push you."
I wonder when the Dead played Sproul Hall in Berkeley?
The reference to Garcia's "friendly stomach" cracked me up.
The second review is, I hope, the most pitifully bad review I'll ever include here. Just terribly written. I don't know why the Afro-American paper assigned this writer to this show, but I doubt she even went, and her complete unfamiliarity with the band shines through.
There is no end of hilarity to be found in this brief review, with its parade of cliches, inept writing, and blatant falsehoods.
While the band did indeed have a "cosmic, country sound," the whole description of the Muddy Waters-style "blues note" and the "whining guitars and ever so heavy drums" sounds made-up to me.
Ron McKernan, of course, wasn’t there.
The Dead had never played the Civic Center before (they'd only been in Baltimore once back in ’69).
And, wouldn’t you know, they played none of the songs listed in the review (even the made-up songs!) – except for Me & My Uncle, which was a lucky guess. The reviewer probably just glanced at the backs of some old Dead albums for song titles!
There was indeed an encore, One More Saturday Night. (It was left off the Dick's Picks, which Bear complained about.) No doubt the audience did "let out expressions of pleasure"...
More musings -ReplyDelete
There probably wasn't a line of police at every rock show back then (as the first reviewer's dismay shows). If, say, Kenny Loggins played the Civic Center, I doubt the riot squad would be brought out to control the crowd! The cops probably just targeted what were considered the "dangerous" bands, like the Doors or the Dead. (Since I've listened to so many Hendrix & Zeppelin shows, where cops often roughed up the crowds, sometimes stopping shows or even tear-gassing audiences while the performers pleaded for calm, I tend to assume cops were surrounding the stage on a regular basis in those days...)
For a sad example of one 1971 show where the cops were manhandling the audience, check this out:
After the first song, the crowd is booing the cops who were yanking people off the stage & keeping people in their seats. Phil says "That's not really necessary!... There ain't gonna be no music as long as there's cops on this stage." The crowd chants, "Pigs offstage!" Then Sam Cutler has to come on & tell the audience to quiet down & they need to have the stage clear before they're allowed to play any more...
Fortunately, Baltimore '72 wasn't as bad as Atlanta!
But it's worth remembering that some old Dead shows were played to a wall of cops.
As for the second reviewer - it's possible she really was at the show and, not knowing or liking the band at all, simply couldn't name any of the songs played, let alone identify the piano player.
It strikes me that "Mr Kelly's Blues" and "Friend in the Jungle" may well be mishearings of "Mexicali Blues" and "Friend of the Devil," which were played.
It still seems gratuitous to claim that Cosmic Charlie and Feedback were played... And the review is still a shameless piece of lazy non-reporting.
Angie Thorton's review is laughable but she nails it with her last line.ReplyDelete