HELL'S ANGELS PRESENTS "THE GRATEFUL DEAD"
Well it sounds so sweet
I had to take me a chance
Rose out of my seat......
I just had to dance!!!
I remember the first day the sign blared out all over Second Avenue from the Anderson Theatre marquee..."Hell's Angels Presents the Grateful Dead" to the positive dee light of all us second hand Second Avenue freaks. This was the one we'd all been waiting for, and it was too fucking much to believe. Hell, the tickets were completely sold out the first few days of sale. God, what a trip...walking up to the glass window and buying a ticket from a hairy Angel...and the sign that warned..."Only two tickets per person"...nobody argued.
Christ, it was cold! The mind had to adust to the cold, hard fact that it WAS November after all, in fact it was the 23rd...and as the Dead hit New York's lowuh East Side...so did the cold wind. But it was an easy wind.
Living only two blocks from the Anderson, I had no trouble finding the place, especially with a huge searchlight outside the theatre beamed all over the night sky. "What balls," I thought..."The Angels having a bash, and having the fucking balls to put a searchlight out!" I could see the crowd from the distance huddled around the light...what's happening...a fight maybe?...as I stumbled closer...god it's cold...wow, a couple of cops standing around but nobody cares. Man, those Angels are really herding 'em in there... "OKAY, EVERYBODY WITH TICKETS IN THIS LINE!" Again nobody argues.
With strains of Casey Jones humming in my brain and visions of jolly Jerry dancing through my head, I joined the happy herd. My first flash at the sight of all the Angels was...yikes...well, you know. Anyway I realized I wasn't in control any more (if I ever was). I never saw a party with more horrifying hosts...yeah, right, a party! Right in the Hell's Angels' living room. And we were their privileged guests. Some guy is going up and down the line selling acid and mescaline...no one in my region wants any...he seems surprised and rushes off. Hmm...business must be good. I wonder, should I? Oh well, I never see him again. And then from behind I hear "Anybody want some free water? It's electric water!" Everyone turns to look and here's a guy sitting on the aisle with a bottle of water, AAH! and he's shaking it all around and it's sparkling. No one really grabs for it except for a couple of acid freaks who jump up: "Where? Where?"
Finding my seat was easy, with a little help from my friends. None of those (thank God) fucking Fillmore hot shot ushers with their flashlights. I didn't even see an usher...oh, wait a minute wasn't there a little guy with a flashlight standing at the head of the aisle telling people "Go over there...Center aisle...straight ahead"...and somehow you found the seat all right and what vibes! But it's a Hell's Angel party and it's their living room and you know you damn well BETTER be stoned kiddo. The seat next to me is still empty...I'm expecting my friend Ron...suddenly the aisle moves in and two people come in and say they have tickets for here and all the seats are taken except Ron's, but somehow it gets straightened out with no hassle...some sweet little Mama comes up with a flashlight (not on). "Is everything okay?" she asks worriedly, the perfect hostess...no we're fine thanks.
A freak walks by and lays a tab of sunshine on the end man in my aisle...wow, free acid...but nobody wants any and it gets passed down to me. "Say it looks pretty potent, don't it... Well, let's split it up and we'll all have a piece...and WHAM the bulking orange pearl gently breaks apart in my fingers...I start handing out pieces...and magically, it keeps breaking in even portions...enough to feed about six of us...why not? A pleasant stone for the evening. And the joints keep going around. The guy in front of me has a fucking ounce of really dynamite smoke and he's rolling these fat things! The guy next to me blows a hit for me and the smoke goes all over the spasmic laughter of that beautiful FLOW that comes from godknowswhere...rippling up and down the aisles. Ron finally makes it and sits down in the empty seat. He's tired...starts rubbing his hair and begins some small-talk bitching about what a lousy day it was and yeah, how the cold weather seemed to piss everybody off...then someone hands him a joint and he hands me part of his "dinner"...a half-chewed apple. A chick in front of us comes in and hands her friend a tab of...what? Psyllocin? No, its not psyllocibin, she assures us, but it lasts real long. This time it breaks in Ron's fingers and we each take half after giving a piece to her friend.
It's been about a half hour now, and Ron asks me how long I've been here and I say about twenty minutes. Everybody's starting to get off and we can see the Angels sitting around with their chicks and their wine, melting in against the walls, making the Anderson Theatre seem like...well...if there's a Sistine Chapel in hell, this is it.
The MC finally comes up to the mike. He's wearing a brown suit with a British accent to match. He burbles something eloquent into the mike, but I'm so busy digging his British accent I don't even listen to what he's saying. The first act hits the stage and the announcer tells us this is going to be the "highest night New York ever had," or something like that. And the first act is...WhaaHaa!? a Pantomime artist...whitefaced and all...a veritable freaked out Marcel Marceau and forgive me friends, but I didn't catch his name...I think he was on one of the late night talk shows once...anyway he studied with Marceau and his movements are something to watch. The audience can't believe it! What class! A mime artist at a Hell's Angels party. That's class, baby! He gets into a thing about a guy who grows a marijuana plant and he finally has us with him, after a few heckles. (Ever wonder how a mime artist handles a heckler? He puts a cupped hand to his ear...listens...doesn't hear anything...shrugs his shoulders and keeps on walking.) I think he came on twice but after a while no one could hack what he was into. He just kept making all these movements, to the tune of Purple Sage on guitar, but we were all too stoned to appreciate it. Anyway, I remember he ended by rolling a huge imaginary joint which he could light only by placing the lighter on the floor while holding the joint up to his lips. He kept taking hits off that thing and really getting whacked out...his little white clown face going through contortions. Then he passes the joint (a real armful) to a guy in the front row, and with a sweeping gesture as if to say "Take it, smoke it and be happy." Everyone gets the message and another batch of joints begins making the rounds.
Someone throws a balloon down from the balcony and I'm starting to feel the "psyllocin" and the freak in front of me says he wishes he had some hash...and like magic a hash pipe is passed to him, complete with matches...seems like everyone is getting their wish fulfilled tonight...I run out of cigarettes and say "Where's a cigarette!" and I get handed a cigarette...too far out...and baby, we are SOOO stoned.
The next act is on and it's the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and there's what's his name...Sage? Sorry about the names agin, friends, but this is another act I've never seen although they usually accompany the Dead, I know. A voice from somewhere behind me yells, "Hey Sage, how come your guitar's so big?" And it's about half his size and Sage looks down at it and says, "Because it's a big one!" leaving us to grok what he really meant by "IT." Then I look to stage left and there is the center of all those good vibes...it has to be...Jerry Garcia...the cherub hero with his big red smile glowing out from inside all that hair..the frizzy frizzed-out explosion of a beautiful soul. Where did he come from?? He's playing the pedal steel guitar now screeeeupeedoodleeoobooowm. Shucks Jerry, your maw must be proud! The Sage finishes their first number and lawd it's so fine. Some creep yells from the balcony, "The Grateful Dead are still the best!"
I began my slow climb on the frenzied psyllocin during the next few Sage ballads, so I didn't catch the titles much except I know they were about travelling on the road and girls and love and all that. The next thing I see is Weir from the Dead stepping up to the mike to do some duets with the Sage. He looks like a ghost, that boy. Tall lanky Weir with his sunken eyes and tied back hair and his face like stone, but those sparkling eyes keep flashing out from deep inside...what a face. He and the Sage begin singing "Mama Tried," one made famous by Cash. [sic] Weir looks like a freaked out Glen Campbell. He projects a real honest feeling when he sings...his eyes crossing as he sings to the microphone. My eyes begin to wander now and there's the bass player, neat with long black hair...sings too... The lead player sticks to mostly simple country riffs, perfect for Garcia to move around in on the pedal steel.
Next they break into "Cathy's Clown" and it is terrific. You ain't heard Cathy's Clown until you've heard it with steel guitar and all. They sing it down a lot lower than the Everly Brothers, though. After it's over, someone shouts out a request for "Wake Up Little Susie." But instead, they wind it off with "The Weight." (The man standin' next to me, his head was exploding.) "Oh, this is so fine," he moans. Then he starts rapping to me about how they did this number in Philadelphia or somewhere, and Garcia came on with electric fiddle and someone suffered a coronary.
Trying to relate the evening at the Anderson is about as insane as the experience itself. But by the time the Dead finally APPEARED, I realized that I was probably more stoned now than I'd ever been before. But what I didn't realize was that I was going to be even more stoned before the night was over. Well, that's what the man said, didn't he? The highest night you'll ever have in New York, or something like that...really, the nerve of some people...to actually carry it off! People were standing in the aisles now...sitting on shoulders, passing bottles of water in beer bottles, spiked with God knows what...and I can't begin to tell you what a cosmic thing it was but if you like figures, I heard someone say there were two thousand people there. Ron took a trip to the john and said the urinals were flooded, there were so many people...glassy eyed, just waiting in line to piss...anywhere. There was a minor hassle, with someone freaking out and getting the flashlight treatment from an Angel, and Ron remarked that it seemed like an existential drug confrontation...to take the dope...as much as you want...but you better not start freaking out or you get disciplined by the Big Daddy... Oh well, what do you expect when you're cooking with the cosmos in Hell's kitchen?
I think the first three songs were new ones, because I hadn't heard them before. Everyone was yelling for Casey Jones and telling Garcia to turn up his amp, and someone yelled "Play whatever the fuck you want!" And OOHH the vibrations...(grok the groovy hippies and Hell's Angels, whose angels?) The stage is crowded with groupies, Angels, people in coats who look like they just dropped in. I'd never been this close to the Dead...about twelfth row or so...and I decided to get into Garcia. Hmm. Interesting way of picking...it looks like he holds the flat pick between index finger and thumb, but he also uses his middle finger to pick with too. Garcia's an Aquarius, right? I know another Aquarius who picks like that. Garcia lets his fingers slide all over his guitar in mellow twangy passages, and Weir plays those metallic country licks on "Bobby MacGee," a Gordon Lightfoot number. "Feelin' good was good enough for me...good enough for me and Bobby MacGee," sings Weir, occasionally giving the finger to the stoned out sound men in the balcony. They didn't have the monitor loud enough or something, and there was a feedback problem. And Garcia just kept on smiling.
Everybody really got their rocks off on "Midnight Hour," done by Phil Lesh. [sic] The perfect part for a Hell's Angel. He stands up there in his cowboy hat, dungaree jacket and boots, and tells us about love like he's the granddaddy of them all. "Sometimes I like a little somepin' to eat...and sometimes I like a little somepin' to drink... (smack - he wipes his mouth with his sleeve) And sometimes I gonna creeeem on you!" And oohh baby you know what I like and you should have seen those Angels lapping it up as Lesh continued with his lesson: "And what d'you do when a sweet little chick comes up behind you, and she's smilin'...What you DON'T do is yuh don't try to stand there and look cool, but yuh move in on her and yuh say, 'C'mon baby let's fuck!'" Too much.
I didn't realize how long I'd been dancing until the Dead launched into "Not Fade Away." I remember thinking how I've got to dance on THIS one and realizing that my body had been going for some time now.
When the Dead first came on, all these balloons appeared. Balloons and beach balls, and one long balloon that looked like the Zeppelin trade mark. Everyone kept them bouncing around for the longest time. Occasionally one would bounce up on the stage, and POW...get kicked right back by Hunter or Weir. The insanity of seeing those balloons and beach balls bouncing around is beyond description. But now they were passing around bags of confetti and it was like New Year's Eve. This was the ultimate bash of the year, friends, and boy, did it make Bill Graham look sick. It just goes to show how when all us freaks get together to do something, it comes out RIGHT! None of this phony bullshit plasticity of the hip capitalist regime that rules rock and roll. This was OUR party with OUR people and OUR music and thank you, Hell's Angels, for doin' it right!
By the time the Dead lumbered into Casey Jones I was beginning to feel emptied out...like, when I first got there I was soaking up everything and taking everything and getting up...up...and now I felt emptied out again. I felt cleansed. God, it was beautiful. And now it was about three in the morning and it was like we were all sitting around a fire. Jerry sang a soft slow ballad...soft and sweet. You could just picture him on a freight car somewhere, with that high jubilant voice sifting through the darkness, taking us all with him on his trip.
Then finally it came. Their last song, "Uncle John's Band." And I hope none of you decided to leave early, because after all the preceding spiritual ejaculation, this was the song that made a lot of souls whole again. Just to see Garcia as he sang the most beautiful line the Dead have ever written - "How does the sun go?" [sic]
Then it was over. Over? Whuzzat...there's the British bloke again, telling everybody that's all for tonight. "After all, we want the neighbors to have a good idea of what we're about, don't we." Get serious! Rocking and doping with the Hell's Angels until three in the morning and somebody's worried about making an impression? Anyway, it was the nicest announcement we were to get, because after he went off, all the Angels began cleaning up and doing their number walking around on the stage. Ron says that now's the time to go up on stage, but the Angels are starting to shout "Go home! Get the hell out of here!" And we decide NOT to go on stage after all, but to make our way up the aisle past all the TOTally spaced out faces frozen in their chairs...and the trip outside is like emerging from hell into the Arctic...the walls are icy blue in the Anderson lobby, enough to give you a chill withOUT locusts. There's an Angel with something dangling from his nose...some kind of fishhook affair with a gold and green design hanging down above his lower lip, and even the Angels were touched by the gentleness of it all, and you know where they're at, but they're insane just like the rest of us. And after hearing the Dead sing about feeling good and about good, gentle things, you know, we could save the world...with our love...it they only knew...
And so we bade farewell to the Anderson Theatre and walked off feeling grateful for the Dead...feeling grateful for having been able to experience the "highest night ever in New York"...and feeling that the Hell's Angels are really a bunch of all right guys, after all.
(by Chip Crossland, from the East Village Other, 1 December 1970)
Alas, no tape! (The tape circulating with this date is actually from the Fillmore East 11/16/70.)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com