Jul 6, 2017

April 21-23, 1969: The Ark, Boston


"Ted who?" said the chickie in bell-bottom dungarees, transparent lavender blouse and big sunglasses.
My God. Here she is, standing not 50 yards from where St. Ted stood most of his life, on the other side of The Wall on Lansdowne St., and she's asking "Ted who?" Oh, wretched Generation Gap - don't they teach these kids nothing?
It is Wednesday and she has come to Lansdowne St. bordering Fenway Park,. Why, if not to welcome back that revered figure of our own youth, Ted Williams? Why?
Why, to welcome Pig Pen and his colleagues of The Grateful Dead, an outfit considerably more alive than Ted's Washington Senators, and more capable of punishing The Wall with electronic smashes than even the Red Sox with bats.
Truly, The Wall seemed to quake when The Dead played their fine music across the street from Fenway Park. Though buried in a surrealistic cavern called The Ark, The Dead were so live and so well amplified that their supercharged tones were ricocheting off 3000 young eardrums, rebounding against The Wall and charging into the night to land...where...Saturn?
With the emergence of The Ark - ex-garage, ex-icehouse, ex-warehouse - Lansdowne St. has become a paved Generation Gap, separating two eras and their temples of diversion. On the south side the gothic playground, Fenway Park, accommodating the Grand Old Game of another time. And on the north, the labyrinthine Ark where the new music is played. It is getting newer, more demanding of musicianship - today's rock band, tomorrow's symphony? - yet louder.
Listening to The Grateful Dead's climactic number, "Feedback," when everything is turned on all the way, is the next best thing to standing next to a jet at takeoff. The next best thing for whom?
"The sound is so strong it's unmeasurable," claims the band's manager, Jonathan Reister. "About 130 decibels - just about the same as a jet, except that a jet gets away from you fast." Yeah. If you're in the same room with The Dead, you can't get away. The wax in your ears melts like sealing wax touched by flame. Then your ears melt.
"That one is a little loud," winced the possessor of the oldest eardrums in the house, white-haired 66-year-old Ethel Tessel of Brooklyn.
Ethel and her husband Sam were seated on the bandstand, a couple of grandparent groupies, nodding their heads nicely as though The Dead were playing Johann Strauss. Below them getting bombed on sound - catatonic or wriggling - was a crush of 1500 kids. And at the back of the room was the usual detail of cops, their faces changing color in the light show, aware now of what was meant in those childhood warnings of purgatory.
Mrs. Tessel, grandmother of Mickey Hart, who is one of the two drummers, said the boys were very nice to put her and Sam near the music. "We go to see them every time they're near Brooklyn. I bake cookies for them."
Hashish brownies?
"No, no," she smiled as the Boston Yellow Pages flashed on the wall, and then Jack Benny's face, and then Mr. America Comics (it was a good light show). "Chocolate chip cookies. They're just like any other boys," she said, beaming at lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who looks like Groucho Marx, and at conga player Ronald C. (Pig Pen) McKernan, who looks like Buffalo Bill in basketball shoes. "They like chocolate chip cookies and music."
Her grandson, wearing a grand mustache and his hair in a peruke, confirmed it. "Nothing like gramma's chocolate chip cookies. On our next album we're gonna have a cut called 'Gramma's Chocolate Cookies.' Freaky, right?"
Gramma's young men. The Grateful Dead out of San Francisco are today's All-American boys - two sets of drums, congas, three guitars, and organ, and the loudest sound-reproducing equipment in the business. A couple of them had even heard of Ted Williams and Fenway Park.
Gramma Tessel knows who Ted Williams is. She approves of him but feels The Dead have a better future. Gramma's hip all the way.
But that chickie who asked "Ted who?" Next time I see her I'm gonna say, "Pig Pen who?"

(by Bud Collins, from the Boston Globe, 26 April 1969)

Thanks to Dave Davis.


  1. The Grateful Dead illustrate the generation gap in Boston... Pigpen more well-known than Ted Williams! (You can almost hear "where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio...")

    Bud Collins was a sports journalist (specializing in tennis), born in 1930. It's a little odd to find him outside the sports pages, at a Dead show, but at the time he was a general columnist for the Globe. And as he notes, the Ark was right across the street from the baseball park.
    It's interesting to find Mickey Hart's grandparents such staunch supporters of the Dead - "We go to see them every time they're near Brooklyn." (Just like Pigpen's parents, going to see all of the Dead's local shows.)
    Collins complains about the noise level (and was no fan of Feedback), but the Dead aren't presented as musical barbarians. "They're just like any other boys... They like chocolate chip cookies and music." The Dead might even have a future - it's implied they might become the classical music of later generations: "today's rock band, tomorrow's symphony?"

    The light show is complimented (though the images don't sound very imaginative to me). The cops at the show, hilariously, are said to be going through purgatory. However, another article on the Ark, running in the Boston College paper that week, said, "When I was there to see the Grateful Dead, even the policemen were smiling, joking, and enjoying themselves as much as anyone - just like Eric Burdon (!) said." (Robert Pomerone, "Arkitel," The Heights, 4/29/69)

    The Boston Tea Party (an older rock club) moved into the Ark's location in July '69, so when the Dead returned to play the same place in October & December, it was named the Boston Tea Party.

  2. I didn't know Pig's parents went to local shows. How sweet.

    "They like chocolate chip cookies and music" - what a great line.

  3. I think Pigpen's grandfather, Frank, died in 1949, according to this:
    His father, Phil, was a DJ known as "Cool Breeze" at KRE Berkeley in 1951 until 1956. He was born on 3/26/20. he died 4/4/92.
    His mother, Esther Elvera McKernan was born 1/5/17, died 10/16/89

    Then I found this:

    His parents and his young brother and sister, Kevin and Carol, followed his career with the Grateful Dead and, according to Kevin McKernan, "attended every concert the Dead played on the peninsula."


  4. A bit more information on the Ark:

    http://gratefulseconds.blogspot.com/2017/04/loud-enough-to-melt-ears-ark-april-1969.html (a couple scanned newspaper articles on the Ark)
    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1969/2/28/bostons-white-rock-palaces-pbboston-tea/ (Feb '69 comparison of the Ark & the Tea Party)