Aug 1, 2017

August 1, 1969: Family Dog, Playland

LIGHT STRIKE

Chet Helms spent Friday night in dialogue with the people.
In fact, Chet Helms has spent most Friday nights for the past three years talking for hours with the people, but usually not on the street. This Friday was different from all other nights because, for most of it, there were more people outside his Playland dance hall than inside.
The big attraction (and obstacle) was 50 pickets from the Light Artist's Guild who sometimes blocked the doorway. They handed out a leaflet which Helms claimed, bitterly, was full of lies; chanted; and harassed those who were undecided about spending $3 to see whether the Grateful Dead would or wouldn't appear.
The Dead (minus Jerry Garcia) and Albert Collins did appear, along with the Ballet Afro-Haiti, but fewer than 700 paid to see them.
Outside, Helms rapped with everyone who wanted to talk to him. "I spent five years on the streets, came out of a meth thing, and went into music with the Family Dog because I wanted to change America. What I'm seeing here on the street tonight is the worst thing that I've seen since I began..."
Helms grabbed a sign from a picket, which read, "The name of the game is Glare." "Look at this, it makes me sick, demeaning another man's work. Glare did the lights tonight because they wanted to, no one forced them..."
The dialogue went on and on.
"You talk like a 1930's businessman, anything to keep the store open, as long as it's the workers who pay."
"It's you who put the thing in 1930's terms, talking about exploitation and bread when the name of the game here is to draw. My books are open. We're $20,000 into operating this hall, I still owe $50,000 from the Avalon, and our current debt here is $7,000. I was counting on the Dead to pull us out - we'd have 1500 inside and 2000 waiting to get in on a normal Friday. I haven't been paid in four weeks myself."
"Why aren't we getting enough to live on - where's the money going?" light show members repeatedly asked Helms.
"The name of the game is draw, man, and as soon as you can show me in any way how that can be changed..."
"The name of the game should be share!"
"Sure it should, but it isn't, and how are you helping to share anything by economically destroying this dance hall? I don't want light shows, I want friends. I want an example of behavior for a million kids all over America. I have enough theater in me to do any kind of environment I want without your light shows, but what we really pay for outside ourselves is the music. What's starving us is Big Jefferson Airplane, Big Grateful Dead, they draw and they get the bread they ask for..."
"But light shows are art, man, just because people don't scream for more that doesn't mean they don't dig it. You make every light show here project on a big screen and then you pay $110 to rent the screen and only $50 to the light show!"
"That's the same lie you guys tell on your leaflet. The group tonight, Glare, dropped out of the Light Artist's Guild and then offered to work for nothing, but they're getting $300 for the weekend. $50 is all I have to pay for an auditioning group, but I'm paying $300, and I usually pay more on a weekend, a lot of bread for something we could do without, particularly when we're hurting financially. And then you say you made repeated efforts to negotiate or something like that, but no one even called me after our first meeting except a few people who said they didn't speak for the negotiators - that's better than Graham got, anyway, no one called him at all, he just got a letter announcing the demands and a strike for next Tuesday!"

There are, obviously, two very different issues at stake in the light artist's strike, both of which have important roots in the growth of San Francisco hip culture.
First, who needs light shows - are they any good, and can they develop as an art form alongside the runaway commercialism of the rock industry?
And second, are the economics of running rock concerts insane merely because a lot of weak people (and some manipulative, strong ones) have gotten on the merry-go-round of sales capitalism? Or do public concert performances no longer represent anything relevant to the hip community and therefore those who still attend them are paying for a Broadway-type operation?
Tom Wolfe, writing about the infant era of head culture, described what light shows once were, and what they want to be now:
"For months Kesey had been trying to work out...the fantasy...of the Dome. This was going to be a great geodesic dome on top of a cylindrical shaft. It would look like a great mushroom. Many levels. People would climb a stairway up the cylinder...and the dome would have a great foam rubber floor they could lie down on. Sunk down in the foam rubber, below floor level, would be movie projectors, video-tape projectors, light projectors. All over the place, up in the dome, everywhere, would be speakers, microphones, tape machines, live, replay, variable lag. People could take LSD or speed or smoke grass and lie back and experience what they would, enclosed and submerged in a planet of lights and sounds such as the universe never knew. Lights, movies, video tapes of themselves, flashing and swirling over them come from the beams of searchlights from the floor from between their bodies. The sounds rolling around in the globe like a typhoon. Movies and tapes of the past, tapes and video tapes, broadcasts and pictures of the present, tapes and humanoid sounds of the future - but all brought together now - here and now - Kairos - into the dilated cerebral cortex..."
Such a trip can end several ways.
It can become the plasticized nightmare of a New York psychoanalytic chamber where too many fucked up people with too much money take off their clothes, pay and leave.
Or it can really work, with the cooperation of people who have environmental vision, a genius for what creates unity and what is human rather than humanoid, "submerged in a planet of lights and sounds such as the universe never knew" but related to the universe, protected and expanded in a drug culture neither selfish nor ignorant.
Or it can become a symbolic appendage of the strongest force within the impetus for that new environment - in this case, the music, which has become portable, cheap, and expert.

What has happened to light shows in San Francisco artistically is what has happened to concerts in San Francisco. People once had a choice of three or four or five ballrooms, at less than half the price of records. There was grass and acid, smiles from strangers, communal streets nearby where one could live, dancing at the dances, and the newness, high or straight, of light and form - whirls, strobes, black light, strange movies.
Check out the Fillmore West one of these nights for nice highs, smiles, a walk home, a place to dance - and see if the light, still pretty and sometimes even inspired, makes up for what's not there.
Bill Graham, despite his repulsive image of Hollywood hucksterism - "concern" for "artists" born of an inability to relate to their art; impatience with public behavior; paternalism; inaccessibility; irascibility - is not the villain of the scene. He's in the grinder with the rest. Although more obviously capable of supporting a $600 per weekend light show than Helms, still not out of the financial woods. He can't really turn a profit at the Carousel most of the time, because of the same big, evil bands.
But the big, evil bands aren't so evil, either. The Dead are reportedly at least $50,000 in debt; other name groups show reliable figures of great financial losses. Equipment, lawyers, friends, travel, houses, toys...it all goes, even for bands pulling $10,000 a weekend.
"The name of the game is draw," as Helms said over and over last Friday. Until a hundred thousand people make a habit of visiting Playland Family Dog, Helms can't risk leaving the star band system for competent, lesser-known groups. Nothing is structured that way: rents, insurance, payroll, investment returns, everything is geared to make the money make money, and the people, unless they hang on to money's ride, scramble forever.
This, then, is really why the light shows are up against it. Unfortunately, their demands seem too money-oriented and their tactics were poor - not contacting Graham except too late and by letter, and fucking up Helms when he's in bad trouble. With these things and their sloppy Guild structure, the light people seem to be combining the worst traits of bread-and-butter unionism and rebel culture indignation.
If there were positive aspects to the demands, some sense of what light show art might become, some relevance to the community, the light show strike might be supported as the first opening in the cancerous culture boil which the rock music scene has become. Instead, it looks like it will be just another brief gleam on the hip horizon, suitable for cute pictures in the Chronicle.

(by Lawrence Bensky, from Dock of the Bay, 5 August 1969)

* * *

OUT ON THE EDGE [excerpt]

"We're out on the edge...hangin on, tryin to live, but tryin to live just a little bit better."
- Chet Helms

It was like, you know, the whole wild, free feelin that was the spirit of America drifting ever west, to the farthest edge of the frontier, till the frontier was no more and we were just hangin on to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
And there we were, in a coney island dance hall, all these hairy freaks who had come together in a community crisis, to see if we, and our common vision, could hold together: Chet Helms and the Family Dog, Jerry Abrams and the Light Artists Guild, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, the Messiah and his World Crusade, Teddy Bear and his Thirteenth Tribe, Ron Poulte of the Wild West Show, Mike Bloomfield, the Good Times, the Berkeley Tribe, and Bill Graham even.
[ . . . ]
It's Friday night down in Playland, but there's only 300 people inside the Family Dog, hoping to hear the Grateful Dead, who are late as usual. On the street outside the Light Artists Guild has set up a psychedelic picket line, with light show, conga drums, coffee and food.
"If the Dead crosses the line," declares Jerry Abrams at the stage door, "as far as I'm concerned the rock trip in this city is down the drain. We would never cross a musician's line."
The San Francisco light shows, 67 of them, all the major shows except the Brotherhood of Lights (which has a corner on the Fillmore - and intends to keep it) have come together to work for the development of their art form, and their economic survival.
The Guild voted to strike the two San Francisco ballrooms in order to gain recognition for the Guild, equal billing with the bands, and a minimum pay scale.
Chet is out on the street too, maintaining that "I want to deal only with individuals. I don't think I could ever reach an agreement with an organization. I would give my right teeth, man, never to have to deal with another agent or middleman." And here, the lanky, gently-bopping Helms, who looks like he stole his long silky blond hair from the head of the baby jesus, straightens his shoulders and flips into a crisp baritone, mimicking a businessman: "Now please look here, Mr. Helms, it's like this..."
If Jerry Abrams is anything, he ain't a businessman. He ain't the world's greatest organizer either. By throwing a picket line around the Family Dog, the Guild made a serious mistake. The Dog has been losing $4000 a week since it opened on the Great Highway June 13. The Guild's asking for a minimum of $300 a week. Chet has been paying $400 a week on the average.
"I could use some money too," Helms relates. "I haven't been paid in 4 weeks. I still have a $50,000 personal liability from the Avalon. Very simply, we put the place together with 6 grand, and we've been given another 12 grand by our investors. I was counting on this weekend with the Grateful Dead to get a paycheck." If the Dead ever turns a profit, Helms will get 30% to feed his Family.
Inside the ballroom Friday night, Glare light show from Palo Alto is shedding light on the situation for 300 bills, but was turning the money back to Helms.
Why didn't Glare join the Guild, or at least honor the picket line?"It's kind of insane," Richard of Glare says. "Chet Helms doesn't have any money. We want to help save the Family Dog. The Guild is a good idea, but if the Family Dog falls down, so does everybody else."
On the dance floor below, the feeling was summed up by one chick who comments: "We got to stand together, brother, it's as simple as that. I came to hear the Grateful Dead - if they didn't play then I wouldn't cross the line."
When the Dead finally arrived, we all trucked out to their Metro van, 50 yards from the pounding surf, lit the peace pipe, and began to rap. It became clear that all of us are "out on the edge, hangin on, trying to live."
Even the Dead are $50,000 in debt. "The way I experienced this strike," Helms explained a few days later, "was like a run on the bank. It feels like a precursor, you know, of what's going to happen around the country. They're looking at us to see not only what we can do about us, but what they can learn from us.
"We started out with the forms that were given, business forms, union forms, but for 3 years the whole fuckin world has been looking at us for new solutions."
"If we work together collectively," Jerry Garcia of the Dead offered, "we can all extend our forms. Right now the bands get more money than anybody else, and that's not righteous."
"At one time," said Helms, "people would come to the Fillmore just because it was happening. They didn't know exactly what it was, but knew it was exciting. Then the record companies came in, put $50,000 on it, sealed it, packaged it, and said here is what it is.
"I think essentially people don't come to see this band or this light show - people come to have a good time. Billing is the linear structure we have to leave behind. I mean the draw game, man, where this group is best, this group next best, and so on, you dig?
"I think, though, that light shows, you know, in their relative importance to the whole thing have come down over the past few years, you dig? It isn't necessary to say any more, lights by - "
The Dead did not play Friday. But a temporary settlement was reached Saturday afternoon, so that the Family Dog could be open that night.
Saturday night on the Great Highway [August 2] was one of the best gigs since opening night [June 13], when the Airplane played. With the strike over, the Dead, Albert Collins and the far-out Afro-Haitian Ballet played to a full house. The scene there gave off comfortable vibes.
Bill Graham, at the meeting the following Tuesday, would rail on about his "rights" as a businessman, and his right to run the Fillmore exactly according to his whims, as the individual with the bread. "Why do we have light shows?" Graham would ask. "Why do we have apples in the cafeteria? Because I like them. The man with the dollars, and not the man with the art form, has the negotiating point."
All well and legal. Yes, Bill Graham, the Fillmore is your personal trip, and [the] fact that it may be our trip too don't bother you. Maybe that's why I never go there, because I always feel the heavy presence of somebody's personal money trip.
But at the Family Dog Saturday night, I felt as free and comfortable as I would in a friend's home. "We're all locked into games - the Family Dog, the Grateful Dead," as Chet Helms said. "When are we something happening [sic], but it doesn't have to be called the Family Dog - it can be The Common or whatever."
[ . . . ] 

(by Art Johnson, from the Berkeley Tribe, 8 August 1969)

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com

* * * 



PERSONALITY POWER

The great rip-off is now in the open. Heavy vibes, heavy actions, set the tone for this past week.
Last Tuesday Jerry Abrams of the Light Artists’ Guild announced a strike against the Family Dog and the Fillmore West. On Friday night the pickets appeared in front of the Dog with conga drums, signs, projectors, strobes, people, and much excitement.
The scene was absurdly festive to begin with. Dog staffers passed out carnations; Michael Christopher served a tray of macrobiotic bread to projectionists working from the roof of a van. Power for the light show was supplied partly by a generator, partly by an extension cord from the Dog.
Earlier that day, Chet Helms had cast the I Ching to learn the outcome of the strike. The answer was Peace moving into Taming Power of the Great, two very favorable hexagrams. The moving line, however, was critical: “The wall falls back into the moat. Use no army now. Make your commands known within your own town. Perseverance brings humiliation.” The judgement turned out to be sound advice for both sides.
The reading of the I Ching convinced Chet not to resist. They would just have to wait out the evening. The hour of doom was at hand, in the words of the I Ching. Or, “It’s fate,” as Michael Christopher put it.
The strike (boycott, really) was successful from the start. By 9:30 there were still only 200 people in the Dog…14 people and 2 cops on the patio. Top attendance at any time never exceeded 500, on a night that should have drawn 1500 or more. Finally Chet appeared outside to plead with the picketers. If the Guild was trying to close the Dog, they had nearly succeeded.
The present ballroom concept – Bill Graham’s game called draw – has ruined the San Francisco scene. Chet’s version of the situation is called Concentration Camp. We’re all inside: people who run the Dog, light artists, musicians, audiences, all dependent on one bag of potatoes that comes in once a week. Somehow we must distribute a few potatoes to as many people as possible without letting anyone starve.
Rumors and declarations abounded. The Grateful Dead would not show up…their equipment was set up and they were on their way…everyone would play except Jerry Garcia…Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart were gigging at the Bear’s Lair in Berkeley and would arrive late.
At 11:20 Rock Scully arrived and offered to mediate the dispute. Rock began a heavy rap with Chet and some Guild members. Ideas for restructuring the concept of the game were batted around. How do you beat a scene predicated on the idea that the bigger the name of the band, the bigger the draw? How do you cope with what has become a sardine-can environment? How can you bring back the fun?
By 11:30 the crowd inside was still under 500. The Dead were scheduled to go on at midnight. Chet: “What are we going to do?” Rock: “Let’s have a fucking good time!”
Jerry Abrams to Bill Kreutzmann, outside: “I talked to Jerry Garcia, and he told me he wouldn’t cross our picket line. And you told me that if Jerry doesn’t play, you won’t either.” Bill Kreutzmann: “I’d rather play music than argue with out. [sic] I like to play music.”
The Dead – minus Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart – went on at midnight. Jerry Abrams complained bitterly, “That’s bullshit. Those are our brothers. They should have played outside, we have a generator out here. We offered them the use of our generator and electricity and they refused to do it. We feel that our brothers have betrayed us.”
At 12:30 Jerry and Mickey arrived from Berkeley, and a heavy confrontation shaped up in front of the stage entrance. There currently is a rumor going around that Jerry Abrams physically prevented Garcia from entering, that’s not true. According to Bluto (that’s the name lettered on the T-shirt Garcia wore Saturday), Abrams only stood in front of him. Bluto: “You guys are saying we can’t play.” Abrams: “We’re saying we wish you wouldn’t play.” Bluto: “Why are you doing this, man? Chester don’t have no fuckin’ money.”
The Dead stopped their set and joined the scene outside. A heated argument erupted between Jerry Abrams, John McIntyre, and Phil Lesh. Some pickets and members of the negotiating committee tried to move Abrams away from the door so that Bluto could make an end run any time.
Dog staffers showed up and the argument went on for nearly half an hour. Garcia: “Let’s talk inside. Let’s get Chet and talk.” Abrams: “We vowed not to go inside. Let’s talk right here.” Mickey Hart: “Let’s go up on stage and say what we have to say.”
Around 1 the crisis session moved into the Dead’s silver metro truck, where Bluto passed around some superweed as a peace token. Twenty representatives of the Dog, the Dead, and the Guild got totally ripped. In the dope-rap that followed, people got into a group mind-thing and discovered they all shared the same problems. Chet owes $50,000 in personal debts left over from the Avalon, and the relocated Dog is already seven grand in the hole. The Dead owe $60,000, probably from recording and equipment expenses. There are over sixty light shows and only two major outlets…and one of them is sewed up. Where do we go from here?
Jerry Garcia: “I’m speaking first and last as a contracted union musician. Also we’ve got a big family and we’re broke. Next, Chet is a good friend who is also broke, and I know the artists in the Guild are also broke. What I’m thinking about, just for tonight, is that there are a bunch of people inside whom I feel responsible for too. We’ve got to decide something here and let them know about it.”
Chet: “We’re not unresponsive to light shows, and in fact we’re responsible for putting them where they are.” Chet rapped some more about concentration camps and potatoes, and finally proposed a settlement: a sliding pay-scale, some kind of recognition of the Guild as a family, and equal billing for everybody.

IN THE TRUCK
The Guild hassled over Chet’s proposal for a while. As closing time approached, the pressure increased. At 1:23 AM one of the equipment men let loose a cherry bomb under the truck. BLAM! “Jackson wants his truck back!” “Let’s go INSIDE.” “But we haven’t got down to the issues yet.”
Bluto and Mickey never did make it inside that night. The light show people caucused near the beach. Inside the Dog, a few of the Dead jammed with two flutists from the audience and a conga drummer off the beach. Fewer than 100 people heard them. It just wasn’t the Dead.
Finally a negotiating session was called for Saturday at 1 PM for bands, light shows, all interested members of the community.

SATURDAY’S MEETING
The common, as Chet suggested calling [it], convened Saturday, after a Guild meeting that morning to discuss Chet’s offer. It got off the ground around 2:30 with Chet and Rock laying down the rap. The Dog is dying. Because of the strike there’s not enough bread to pay the Dead their $5,000 guarantee for the weekend. Chet had invited his investors to what he’d hoped would be a packed house, but the strike blew all that.
Chander Locklin [Laughlin] (formerly Travis T. Hip) spoke in favor of the Guild as a national entity because of the need to get one up on promoters elsewhere in the country, not on Bill Graham and Chet Helms. Messiah Allan deplored the commercial interests displayed by the strikers, and preached his vision of a world commune. Nick Gravenites suggested that if the light shows wanted a percentage, they should be willing to accept a percentage of Chet’s debts.
Jerry Abrams: We’ve come to realize that we’re all in the same bag and we’re all broke. Chet: The light shows have gotten the short end of the stick as far as pay and billing goes, but the blame belongs to everyone in the community. The issue is still that slogan of Graham’s; The Name of the Game is Draw. Mike Bloomfield: Does the Guild feel that musicians are getting too much bread? Because they’re not, the industry cops it all.
An interim agreement was finally reached shortly after 5 PM. Abrams: “Let’s work on a settlement. I promise you we won’t strike tonight.” Rock Scully: “Hare Krishna!” The final handshake came at 6:30, and Chet and Jerry embraced.
The main point of contention still to be settled was whether the Guild had the right to set minimums for any light shows, even for shows not in the Guild. Chet absolutely refused to concede that point, and the negotiations were continued to next week.

TUESDAY’S MEETING
The entire community was invited back to the Dog Tuesday for what was hoped would be the last negotiating session. Chet opened the meeting by casting (Union) moving into Work On What Has Been Spoiled (Decay). The book laid it right down; it was all there. “…Water flows to unite with water… So too should human society hold together through a community of interests that allows each individual to feel himself a member of the whole.” Also, “Decisiveness and energy must take the place of inertia and indifference…in order that the ending may be followed by a new beginning.”
There were several moving lines, one perhaps a reference to Bill Graham, who was present. “We are often among people who do not belong to our own sphere…”
Chet finished reading from the I Ching and started his rap once more on potatoes. He was not the only one to repeat himself that afternoon. Bill interrupted: Chet is not being realistic. Chet runs a groovy trip, but it’s not businesslike. The only way that Chet can survive is with a state or government subsidy.
Chet: Why not a community subsidy?
Bill: I will never share my profit with anyone in the community. Go out and pay your own dues. If you want to support your art, get a gig on the side. As long as I control the show, no one will ever tell me how to run it or what to do with my money. I have a house in Pacific Heights and an $8,000 Mercedes-Benz, and it’s mine, I Earned it.
Graham was intransigent on the subject of pay and billing for the Guild, because he feels that light shows are not a draw (i.e. money-making) factor. “When I choose to support you on the basis of artistic merit alone, it is my choice alone. I decide whether I want apples or flowers or posters or light shows each week. I sign the checks.”
As for recognition of the Guild, Graham insisted that he could not recognize an organization for which he had no respect whatsoever. And he had no respect for the Guild because the Guild had no respect for him. As evidence of their disrespect, Graham mentioned received a tactless letter stating what the Guild minimums would be at the Fillmore, before he had even been contacted by anyone from the negotiating committee. Abrams admitted that some of the Guild tactics had been impolitic, but that the shows had been trying to talk to Bill for two and a half years and had gotten nowhere.
Graham and some members of the community got into a personal trip and started a mutual exchange of anger and frustration. Each side displayed a fundamental inability to accept the other’s trip. “You will never step on me, you will never disrespect me, because you haven’t got the balls.” Graham invited anyone to do as well as he had, simply by opening across the street and out-drawing him. But then, “You have neither the guts nor the ability to change the world.”
Graham – obviously tired and overwrought – suddenly announced in an emotion-charged voice that he would not relocate the Fillmore West in San Francisco when the Carousel Ballroom closes on December 31. “I’ve taken this shit from you for four years, and I’m not going to take any more. I’m through with this town.”
From the moment of this statement on, it was obvious that the strike was dead. As long as the Fillmore remained open, Graham would never give in to any of the strikers’ demands. One thing about Bill Graham is that he is always up front about what is on his mind. Perhaps some who heard his “retirement speech” refused to take it at face value. Perhaps they considered it only a gesture for sympathy. For whatever reason, people refused to stop sniping at Graham long after it became clear that he and the rest of the Common had nothing in common.
Steve Gasking, who conducts his mystic/religious lecture/classes Monday nights at the Dog, hammered home the final attack. “You can’t ask for both our money and our love. You’ve got our money, so you can’t have our love. You are a good manager, a good promoter, but still you’ve fucked over many heads with your emotional trips.”
Graham’s response was, “I APOLOGIZE, MOTHERFUCKER, THAT I’M A HUMAN BEING. I fucking apologize. Emotional, you’re fucking right. FUCK YOU. You stupid prick. Do you know what emotions are? Stand up and have emotions! Get up and work, get up and sing, get up and act. You think I’m an actor? You’re full of shit, man, I have more fucking emotions and balls than you’ll ever see. You want to challenge me in any way about emotions? You slimy little man…YOU SLIMY…LITTLE…MAN. FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU. Don’t get peaceful with me. Don’t you TOUCH me.”
It was all over after Graham split. Jerry Abrams got up and delivered the consensus opinion: “I think the strike is off.” Yet despite (or because of) Bill Graham’s walkout, those who remained felt a tentative stirring of optimism, a sense of regeneration of communal spirit.
A new community settlement of Guild’s strike against the Dog will be worked out on Thursday. The Dog may die, but the Family lives. We’re all in it together. Nobody won the strike, because we’re all losers. Our victory becomes real only if we can prove that Bill Graham was wrong, that we can survive together as a community. Let’s get it on.

(by Verne/Bill, from Good Times, 7 August 1969)


Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com

* * *

BILL GRAHAM EXPLODES: "QUITTING SAN FRANCISCO"

As has been his manner for more than three years, Bill Graham was a lonely and angry figure August 4th when he announced that he was finished with San Francisco as a dance/concert operator, effective December 31st, when new owners take over the Fillmore West building. Graham made his surprise announcement — he'd been reported looking for a new location for his operation — in front of more than 100 artists, musicians, and other persons gathered at the Family Dog to discuss the then-still-flickering light-show strike.
The announcement, made haltingly through a voiced choked and shaken by emotion, followed a lengthy, acrimonious lecture in which the pugilistic ballroom master hammered out a theme of "the reality of being a businessman," the rights of an individual. Time and time again he insisted: "I will never have anyone tell me to what level I support an art, what I must pay a light show." But Graham, long-ago ostracized from the hip community as a profiteer and the target of as much abuse as respect, had much more wrath to vent.
"This town has never stopped rapping an honest businessman for four fucking years," he said, brooding. "I leave here very sad ... I may be copping out, but your attitudes have driven me to my decision."
But Graham really blew his gnarled top only after Steve Gaskin, a resident communications lecturer at the Family Dog, stood up and told him: "When you started, you had to make a choice between love and money. You've got our money, so you can't have our love ... You've used dramatics today to fuck over a lot of heads with your emotional trips."
Graham's reply (as tape-recorded by the Good Times newspaper): "I APOLOGIZE, MOTHER FUCKER, THAT I'M A HUMAN BEING. I fucking apologize. Emotional — you're fucking right. Fuck you, you stupid prick! Do you know what emotions are? Stand up and have emotions. Get up and work. Get up and sing. Get up and act. You think I'm an actor? You're full of shit, man, I have more fucking balls than you'll ever see. You want to challenge me in any way about emotions? You slimy little man ... YOU SLIMY ... LITTLE ... MAN. (To the crowd): Fuck you. FUCK YOU! (To a musician trying to calm him) Don't get peaceful with me. Don't you TOUCH me!"
With those words, Graham barreled out of the room, followed by a paled Time magazine writer working on a profile of the man.
Contacted last week, a still-petulant Graham at first refused to talk with Rolling Stone, citing the publication as "one of the other reasons I'm getting out." But he went on to confirm his abandonment of ballroom operations here. He is expected to maintain Fillmore East in New York, his Millard agency, the still-fledging Fillmore record label, and his residence in San Francisco.
"We're not good, we're not bad," he said, "but I think this city will know what it's lost by the first week of 1970."

Before his violent walkout at the Family Dog the focus of discussion (that word used loosely) had been the light show strike, called by the 500-member Light Artists Guild to force Graham and Chet Helms to raise wages. A picket line had been set up Friday, August 1st, at the beachsite Dog house, and another was planned for the uptown Fillmore West the following Tuesday — the day of Graham's explosion.
Chet Helms had reacted to the strike line with predictably open gestures of brotherhood — provision of electricity for a coffee percolator and for a Guild light show projected on the Dog's outside wall; flowers for the pickets, and an invitation to negotiate. The lines were down by late Friday night, and light heads agreed to meet with Chet, on his terms: a "common" gathering including not only light artists, but the community as well. That's why Graham, along with Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead, David and Linda LaFlamme of It's a Beautiful Day, and numerous other scene-makers were at the convocation.
Helms, the mystic/Texan who has tried, in the past two months, to move his operation away from the big–name band and dance/concert hall concept towards a free-form environmental theater, opened the meeting by casting the I Ching. The hexagrams spelled out the need for unity. The judgment: "Holding together brings good fortune. What is required is that we all unite ... around a central figure." Graham, seated with head hunched over, looked bored.
Then Helms, always considered the altruistic figurehead of the San Francisco music scene where Graham was the I-came, I-saw, I-conquered figure, laid the basic question across: "How is the community going to relate to (1) Mr. Bill Graham and to (2) Chet Helms?" For himself, he proposed recognition of the fact that the Dog had been losing money since its Avalon Ballroom days. "Money is tight in America, and we get the feeling we're disconnected from that scene," he said. "We're not. We're at the bottom of the totem pole and we're feeling the run on the bank first."
Helms proposed the need for "some new models" for "distributing the few potatoes available" — perhaps a percentage-rate for all artists — musicians as well as light shows — at the Family Dog. But he wasn't speaking for Bill Graham. Graham made that obvious.
First, he smilingly brushed off Helms as "not a realistic person in terms of business." That set his theme. "You cannot tell the world, 'Look at what we're doing, it's right, you must come here.' You can only suggest. Chet runs this place on a dream, a nice one, but he's having financial problems because although he understands the problems of the business, he has refused to meet them."
Then he turned to challenge the rest of the meeting. "You do not tell me what to do. If you don't like the way I conduct my business, why the fuck don't you get off your asses and do it? Where the fuck does the artist come to say 'you the businessman must support us' when I personally think the light shows are not producing an income for me? The only way you can do this is to kill me and step over me."
Graham indirectly explained his choleric tone when he dove into a self-defensive spiel about his honesty and about the dues he paid before hitting onto the ballroom idea in late fall of 1965.
Finally nearing the nitty-gritty of his expostulation, he faced long-time archenemy and Light Artists Guild member Jerry Abrams, stating: "I'll challenge the Light Guild to tell me if their approach to the strike was the ethical approach." The Guild, before contacting either Helms or Graham personally, sent a blunt notice of new light show rates, signed "Ma." Then Graham got wind of a picket line being planned for the Fillmore — still before any personal contact with the Guild — and from that point on, Graham "lost respect" and any communications with the Guild – all of this aside from his insistence on the right to negotiate prices for acts on an individual basis.
His "I'm through with this town" statement came after a bitter, heated exchange with Abrams — Abrams defending the Guild's approaching of various bands to gauge potential strike support and apologizing for the "tactless" letter; Abrams slamming Graham for "refusing negotiations over the last three years;" Graham insisting on the "reality" of the Guild's obvious disrespect for him and his operation. Graham made it painfully clear that now he would never hire a Guild show at any rate. And Helms hardly had enough money to buy a bag of potatoes each week.
Helms pushed in the final pin. "Friday night finished the Family Dog as a business," he said. (On Friday, standing outside his building looking glumly at the pickets, he had stated his theory about the few potatoes around to be distributed. "And if we can't get together and decide who eats, I don't see where we've arrived at in three years." Now, he said, Family Dog would give up the struggle to cover its $50,000 of debts. The new commitment, he says, is "to extend the form artistically," with a new mode of business and finances.)
"The dream burst Friday," he continued to the assembly. "I have a proposal to make at our next meeting Thursday. But if there's a picket line at the Fillmore West tonight, I won't bother to come up with a proposal, and Family Dog won't operate this weekend."
Within minutes, one Guild member, from the Garden of Delights, withdrew his support for the strike. Finally a beleaguered Abrams, trying to hide defeat behind various voices hailing "a new community" rising out of the shambles, then unofficially drew a curtain over strike plans. The reasons: Helms' statement and Bill's stubbornness. "We are we and he is he," Abrams understated.

The actual strike lasted only about four hours, and all three booked acts — Albert Collins, Afro-Haiti Dancers, and Grateful Dead — honored their contracts with Helms. Only Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart of the Dead — reportedly physically detained at the door by Abrams — didn't cross the line. Inside, a small crowd saw lights worked by a Peninsula group called Glare, a strike–supporting Guild member until "we were turned off by the attitude at a strike meeting — we were falling back into the Establishment trip." Glare offered to do the work this weekend for free, after seeing Helms' profitless loss statements, and spokesman John Darcy further stated: "This is the only new art form left in this City. Graham has prostituted it, but Chet's doing all he can for it."
It was a matter of relating with (1) Bill Graham and (2) Chet Helms.

(by Ben Fong-Torres, from Rolling Stone, 6 September 1969)

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/bill-graham-explodes-quitting-san-francisco-19690906

11 comments:

  1. Dock of the Bay was a short-lived San Francisco underground newspaper that ran for a few months in late 1969.
    These articles have very little to say about the strange Dead show on 8/1/69 - just a few words, really - but a lot about the heated strike context in which it took place.
    Along with the collapse of the Wild West Festival, which happened at the same time, there's a strong end-of-the-sixties feel here, especially in the Dock of the Bay article with its elegiac paragraph on the way concerts used to be, and its concern over the "runaway commercialism" and "cancerous boil" of the music industry.

    One witness on dead.net who went to the show commented on the light-show strike:
    "They were picketing outside the Family Dog - projecting the light show on the front of Playland. They had an extension cord coming from inside, and I noticed a handwritten sign in the window that said "Power supplied by the Family Dog," and as I was reading it, I noticed - thru the window - Chet Helms nodding and smiling.
    Everybody was debating whether to honor the pickets, or ashamedly break solidarity just to see the Dead. I'm ashamed - I crossed - I'd hitched all the way from Minnesota just to see the boys - but the joke was on me, as the lightists had convinced Jerry not to cross - "I ain't goin' in!"
    So there we were, watching Billy and Bob (scabs!) and maybe Mickey jamming. They said, "Anybody that can play can play." That wild guy that danced with everybody - remember him? - got up and played drums. I was too chicken, damn it.
    One night when Jerry did show up, they had a couple of guys sitting in on flutes - very informal."
    http://www.dead.net/show/august-2-1969#comment-3385

    Garcia, oddly, was playing another show with the fledgling NRPS at the Bear's Lair in Berkeley that night:
    http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2010/01/nrps-bears-lair-uc-berkeley-berkeley-ca.html

    Michael Kramer has a page on the light-show strike in his book The Republic of Rock: "The 'scene...was absurdly festive,' local underground newspapers reported. 'Dog staffers passed out carnations... [One man] served a trayful of macrobiotic bread to projectionists working from the roof of a van' and 'power for the light show...supplied...partly by extension cord from the Dog.' Helms, Jerry Garcia...Jerry Abrams of the Headlights light show, and others retreated to a van to discuss the strike.... By the end of the talks in the Dead's Metro van, the Light Show Guild members agreed to suspend their strike. In return, Helms called two 'community meetings.'"
    The Berkeley Tribe stated, "There's no reason why the rock bands and ballrooms can't return some of their monies to the community." The idea was for money to circulate within the community, rather than being given to "the hip capitalists." Kramer goes on to describe how the idea of community involvement evolved into the experiment of the Common at the Family Dog - also see:
    http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-common-september-5-6-7-ish-1969.html

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  2. Here is McNally's description, set amid the chaotic preparations for the Wild West Festival:
    "In the last days of July, promoters Bill Graham and Chet Helms received a letter from the Light Artists Guild signed with the pseudonym "Ma." It announced the existence of the guild, demanded equal billing for light shows with the bands and a fee of $900 for a two-show weekend. [...]
    When the band arrived [on August 1], they found the guild picketing the building and, with power supplied by Helms, staging a light show on the outside walls of the Family Dog. Years later, Jerry Abrams, the LAG leader, would defend their actions: "As long as light shows were being hired and we were a certified art form...we felt we should be compensated and publicized...we struck the Family Dog first because it just turned out that that was the first weekend we were going to do it. The Dead were playing and we figured we could reach the most people... I had assurances from Jerry Garcia...that he would honor our line. Chet knew, everybody knew." Both Chet and Jerry said they did not know in advance, and Garcia certainly felt that, as he later put it, "The whole thing was stupid."
    There were around 400 people inside and perhaps a thousand outside at the Family Dog when Garcia and Hart arrived [from the Berkeley show]. Whether Jerry Abrams knew it or not, he had a perfect victim in Garcia [whose grandmother was a union leader]... Garcia couldn't [cross the picket line]...he felt a sense of responsibility to his greater musical community, an obligation to try to mediate if nothing else.
    Chet, Jerry, Mickey, Rock, and a representative of the LAG, Bob Ellison, crowded into Ram Rod's equipment truck and began to talk. As Hart recalled it, Garcia said, "It's not about the fuckin' lights, it's about the fuckin' music... Yeah, there should be more equity and lights should be treated with respect, but this is not the way to go about doing it." Mickey, being Mickey, was ready to fight his way out, but calmed down. And instead of a negotiating session - there was nothing, really, to negotiate - it became a catharsis, each of them singing the same tune. No one was making money, and they were all emotionally stretched to the limit. By the time they exited the truck, it was too late to play; in their absence, the band had thrown together a jam, but the full Dead did not perform." (McNally p.323-24 - he then recounts the meeting with Graham.)

    The Friday strike was ruinous for Helms ("I was counting on the Dead to pull us out - we'd have 1500 inside and 2000 waiting to get in on a normal Friday"). He said in the Rolling Stone article, "Friday night finished the Family Dog as a business." However, Dead shows proceeded as usual on August 2-3, after the strikers dropped the picket line and agreed to negotiate in the meeting a few days later, described in Rolling Stone.

    All this describes what happened outside the Family Dog...however, I'm personally more interested in what happened inside! It's striking that some members of the Dead felt free to put on some kind of a show regardless of the strike. Did Bear make a tape of the Garcia-less Dead in a public jam session?

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  3. The first community meeting at the Family Dog was on Saturday afternoon, August 2 - Garcia was one of the speakers. The next meeting on Tuesday, August 5, was where Graham appeared and had a fit, which seems to have finished off the light artists' demands. Nonetheless, the idea of the Common at the Family Dog continued over the next few months.

    The Berkeley Tribe article does say that the Dead didn't play on August 1, but is contradicted by every other source. It's notable that we have two witnesses saying they crossed the line - "I came to hear the Dead," regardless of any strike, and a few hundred people went inside anyway to see the show. (The exact number varies in each report.) As usual, the Dead's presence inspired fans to shove their way in - "if they didn't play then I wouldn't cross the line" - although it's not reported that the other groups had any issue with playing.
    It's odd to think of Garcia & Hart negotiating in a truck outside while their bandmates were jamming in the Family Dog - especially after Abrams proclaimed that the Dead couldn't cross the picket line. I wonder if their invitation, "anybody that can play can play," had anything to do with the mystery guests who showed up on August 3 - although those guests were not just random people from the audience, it doesn't seem coincidental.

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  4. 8/1/69 has long had a powerful hold on me. The only Jerryless Dead show, I guess.

    Yes, the guest players the next two nights certainly feel like they are part of The Common vibe. Then there's the Wales gig at the end of the month, the Airplane stuff on 9/6 and 9/7, etc. They played all kinds of rarities in their Dog gigs as well, Big Boy Pete and New Orleans and all that sort of stuff. Man, I wisht I had been there ...

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  5. The Dock of the Bay piece is remarkably level-headed. Indeed, all of the coverage provides pretty good balance around the knotty problems of art and commerce. Agree about the "end of the 60s" feel around all of this.

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  6. So it seems that on Aug 1 '69, Weir, Kreutzmann and Hart jammed--but with who? All very odd.

    One thing that this whole scenario shows me is how Garcia was pretty calculating at getting what he wanted. He didn't like personal confrontations, but he liked getting his way. Garcia wanted to play, didn't want to cross a picket line and didn't want to be "the face" of the dispute any more than he already was. So he booked a gig across the bay. All accounts of the "Light Show Strike" seem unaware that Garcia was booked elsewhere. Garcia thought the whole thing through. If he had been called to account (by Rolling Stone or the Chronicle or something) he could have just said "I thought the gig was canceled so I booked another show, and at that point I was committed" or words to that effect.

    Garcia has agency here, he's not just a passive actor.

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  7. I added a lengthy report on the light strike from the Good Times newspaper, "Personality Power," courtesy of JGMF. It's incredibly detailed - an hour-by-hour account of what went down on August 1, with dialogue - and fills in some of the blanks we had.
    There were many typos that I corrected. I included the full article, which goes on to describe the first meetings of the Common at the Family Dog to discuss the strike (much of this is repeated in the other articles). Though my interest is only in the Dead's involvement, it's still an inside look at San Francisco music politics circa '69 - and if this seems like an angry debate, it was dwarfed by the citywide squabbles over the Wild West Festival.

    Remarkably, the dead.net witness (in the first comment above) is confirmed - the Dead did indeed jam with a guest drummer and two flute players from the audience. It's also remarkable that Phil, Bob, and Bill decided to go on at midnight even despite the strike, and without Jerry or Mickey. As Bill's quote suggests, they just wanted to play a show regardless - and Phil even had "a heated argument" with the disappointed strike leader, who accused them of betraying him. The Dead probably expected in advance that Jerry & Mickey wouldn't show up.
    The Good Times reporters sigh, "It just wasn't the Dead." (Too bad the reporters didn't catch the Dead show two days later!)

    The timing of the New Riders show at Bear's Lair is curious. The article says the light-show strike had been announced "last Tuesday," July 29. The first ad for the Bear's Lair show ran in the Daily Californian that very day, July 29, so it must have been scheduled earlier - before Jerry knew there would be a strike. There were two shows scheduled (8:30 and 10:30), so I presume Jerry's plan all along was to arrive back at the Family Dog around 12:30, which he did (along with Mickey) - I don't think they were too concerned about being "on time," since the Dead frequently started shows late in that period.
    In any case, the strike went ahead, and the rest of the Dead didn't feel like waiting for Jerry; I would imagine they'd talked earlier that day about whether to go on. Abrams claimed that "I talked to Jerry Garcia, and he told me he wouldn’t cross our picket line." Apparently he got (short-lived) reassurances from other band members that they wouldn't play without Jerry - maybe they expected it would all blow over, or that the crowd would just surge in once they started playing!

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  8. Rock Scully's offer to mediate seems well-meaning but ineffectual (his comments are hilarious - "Let's have a fucking good time!" "Hare krishna!"). But it's amazing to see Garcia immediately take charge of the negotiations, which impressed the reporters. Shortly after arriving and finding arguing strikers in his way, he offers, "Let's get Chet and talk," sits everyone down, passes out weed for all, and has them rap to find a consensus - just like a Dead family meeting!
    Garcia is concerned about "the inequities" between the performers and the others - "right now the bands get more money than anybody else, and that's not righteous" - and says everyone should "work together collectively" to find a solution. He reminds everyone that no one has money - "we’ve got a big family and we’re broke...Chet is a good friend who is also broke...the artists in the Guild are also broke."
    From a post-'90s perspective, what really stands out is that Garcia feels responsible for everyone - particularly the audience. "There are a bunch of people inside whom I feel responsible for too. We’ve got to decide something here and let them know about it.” (I'm reminded of the Toronto 1970 Festival Express show, where Garcia came out as the spokesman to calm down the protesters.)
    Though I know less about his involvement in the later Common meetings, he seems to have been a leading voice in them as well - not only does the Berkeley Tribe have a picture of him giving a speech at the August 2 meeting, a later article also quotes him from an August 19 meeting: “Nights? Nights?” Jerry Garcia was shouting, “what about during the day? We got musicians running around looking for a place to jam – why not here?”
    http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2010/04/family-dog-at-great-highway-august-13.html

    The confrontation with Bill Graham may explain a small puzzle in the Dead's schedule in summer '69 - they were billed for shows at the Fillmore West, August 5-7, but canceled at the last minute (their name was removed from the poster). Meanwhile, the only shows they played in San Francisco until the end of October were at the Family Dog. There's some discussion of that here:
    http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2010/01/grateful-deadjerry-garcia-tour.html?showComment=1435097203140#c4230745176226705214
    I wonder whether this was a move by the Dead to show Graham that they were siding with Helms - although canceling Fillmore West shows would have had severe financial ramifications for a broke band.
    Nonetheless, within a few months they'd patched things up with Graham again, and Fillmore West shows continued as usual until 1971.

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  9. LIA, your analyses are totally compelling, as usual. I need to process.

    On the last comment first, I would also add that JA had previously been much closer to Graham than to Chet, but the September 6-7 thing and maybe the 2/4/70 thing have always indicated to me that, in The Common period, they were trying to chip in to help Chester, as well.

    I had never thought of the FW cancellations as connected, but it's a fascinating thought. Maybe Bill was saying Fuck You to them ("you slimy little man!").

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    1. On JA, I do note that they inaugurated the FDGH on 6/13/69, so the helping hand predates The Common. But that was also a payday for the Airplane, unlike 9/6/69.

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    2. Since we don't know when or why the Dead were removed from the Aug 5-7 Fillmore West shows, we can only speculate - I don't think it was actually "last-minute," that is, that very day. But their name was awkwardly removed from the show poster, leaving a big blank spot, so they must have pulled out in some haste after the poster was designed, and no replacement name was ready.
      Corry speculated that it had to do with the upcoming Wild West Festival (to get a bigger draw for the Dead at Kezar by not having them play the planned Fillmore run a few weeks earlier).
      Another possibility, perhaps, is that Graham yanked the Dead off the billing himself once he learned they were playing a Family Dog run on Aug 1-3, withholding the bigger Fillmore earnings from them out of spite, to show them who was boss.
      Whatever the case, they seem to have played at the Family Dog as often as possible in summer/fall '69, to support Helms. Not that it helped in the long run: the Family Dog closed the next year and Helms pretty much left the concert business, while Graham continued to thrive.

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