Feb 14, 2019

1971: The Dead and Rock Music


For six months now I've put off writing about The Grateful Dead. For a variety of reasons. When I first started writing about music, for a paper called Avatar which is no longer with us, its editor told me that he was not particularly interested in the quality of music. "I mean, take Lothar and the Hand People - Now, their music may not be that good, but they're really nice people. What we care about is the scene." His criteria for the success of a group - and are these criteria so unlike Gloria Stavers' at 16 Magazine, or so unlike, although we may not care to admit it, our own? - were entirely extra-, super-, or non-musical.
It's hard to write about The Dead and divorce their musical accomplishments from their socio-cultural and/or quasi-spiritual significance. They and most of their audience would no doubt resist such a separation. The Dead mean so much more than their music! Maybe this is why Jerry Garcia has had speaking roles in both Woodstock and Gimme Shelter although his band plays in neither. After all, the best article on The Dead I've ever read, Michael Lydon's in Stone a year or so ago, wasn't about the group's music at all. As the embodiment of whatever it was that San Francisco meant, The Dead loomed large before their records were popular, and they continue to figure importantly more as symbols than as musicians.
But when music is justified on non-musical grounds, problems can arise. Such justification makes judgment and criticism impossible and all of us too susceptible to hype. We can look pretty foolish as we flit from one fleeting enthusiasm to the next, from Dylan to The Doors, from The ISB to BS&T, rhapsodizing each in turn and then, after our inevitable disenchantment, condemning each for failing to live up to promises it never made.
Our non-musical expectations demand at once too much and too little. They can burden music with a relevance or a spirituality which no musician, not even Dylan, can consistently achieve. And at the same time they allow much that is mediocre to flourish. Most of Pharaoh Sanders, for example, has done, with the exception of Tauhid, strikes me as pretty cruddy. He seems to me a very redundant musician whose range of expression is extremely limited. His ideas are too frequently borrowed, most often from his mentor, John Coltrane. But because Pharaoh's music claims to be part and parcel of the Godhead, it becomes Cosmic Crud, some sort of Primal Piss, as I believe Nick Tosches called it in this magazine. But is crud anything more than crud, even when it is capitalized?
The sad truth is that music which pretends to be more than music often garners an audience where better music doesn't. Surely one of the reasons why Coltrane has always been more popular than Ornette Coleman, musical considerations apart, is that Coltrane was Ohnedaruth, a pseudo-deity of sorts, whereas Ornette has always been just plain old Ornette. What makes this sad is that it would seem to indicate that we don't really like music all that much. We always want it to be something more than music, and thereby inflict upon our ears much that is something less than music. Too much of Dylan fits this description.
I've been reluctant to write about The Dead because, when you get right down to it, much of their output isn't all that great. To admit this is like coming out against grass or sex or, in an earlier era, against Motherhood. So much of what The Dead stand for is so admirable that to criticize their music seems churlish, the ego trip of a writer with a small soul. And who wants to be The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?
Much of my problem with The Dead stems from their two most recent albums, the countryish ones. I enjoy them tremendously and play them more often than any of their others. But as background music. I don't listen to them with the same intensity I do their second album, Anthem of the Sun. I can't leaf through a magazine while Anthem is on, whereas I can't focus all my faculties on Workingman's Dead or American Beauty, which seem more fun, but somehow less interesting. Is this a valid criticism of The Dead? I haven't made up my mind. Because if the criticism is allowed to stand, it dismisses much of the superficial music I enjoy (The Hollies and Turtles, for instance). Rock then becomes something more self-conscious and serious than we might want it to be. But if, on the other hand, fun is all that rock should be, many of us are left with nagging dissatisfactions, and writing about rock in critical terms can never progress beyond the standards of American Bandstand. I like it - I give it an 85.
Should rock be more than just music, and should it be more than just fun? You tell me. Too many writers have ignored these questions and written with either flippant subjectivity or with an unexamined yet questionable assumption of objective standards. And yet, these questions matter, and not simply in order to satisfy a pedantic urge for consistency. We may be able to get along quite well without answering them. But so much music today exists in a state of tension between these alternatives that to fail to recognize them is often to fail to understand the music itself.
These questions have been immediately relevant to The Dead. Their development may be divided, roughly, into three periods: 1) the blues rock of their first album and the recent releases on Sunflower, an MGM subsidiary, of old live performances; 2) the experimental eclecticism of Anthem, Aoxomoxoa, and Live Dead; and 3) the country folky sound of Workingman's and American Beauty. These periods may be described in terms of the ways in which each answered these questions to The Dead's satisfaction.
The pivotal musician here is Tom Constanten, a dedicated keyboard artist. On Anthem he worked with prepared piano, something which to my knowledge no one else in rock has done. (Prepared piano is a piano the sounds of which have been altered by the positioning of metal and wooden objects - nuts and bolts, usually - among the instrument's strings. John Cage, among other "serious" composers, has utilized this procedure.) Constanten came when The Dead were a blues rock band no more and left when The Dead became what they are today. With Constanten came Mickey Hart as a second drummer. A large share of the credit for the success of The Dead's middle period must go to Hart and the way he interacted with The Dead's original drummer, Bill Kreutzmann. Now their sophisticated rhythms are superfluous. In the new, simpler format Hart has nothing to do.
The point is that during their second period The Dead were committed to a music that was more than fun, to a music of experiment and originality. If experiment and originality have any place in rock, the first side of Anthem is one of rock's foremost accomplishments. It is a triumphant synthesis of heterogeneous musical forms - blues, country, jazz, electronic music - within a coherent structure which is satisfying both musically and emotionally. Composed as it is of tapes spliced together from live and studio performances over a period of seven months, the perfect mesh of Anthem is also a technical feat of the first order.
One of my troubles with the later Dead is that I realize that someone else could have done this. That the Buffalo Springfield could have written and recorded "Box of Rain" and it would sound precisely the same. That the Flying Burrito Brothers could have done "High Time." Now, this may not be a legitimate criticism, but no one else could have created and executed Anthem. Not The Beatles, who on their white album showed that they could only juxtapose, not synthesize. The Beatles did a blues and then they did a ballad and then they did something else. Unlike "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," Anthem never stops; it flows. The white album is a crazy quilt; Anthem, side one anyway, is Joseph's beautiful coat of many colors. (The second side of Abbey Road, since the forms it yokes together are not that disparate, would be a Glen Plaid sportcoat.) Or, to use the terms in the way Coleridge meant them, The Beatles were fanciful, The Dead imaginative. Furthermore, implicit in The Beatles' parodistic stance was a disrespect for the musical forms it employed. The Beatles had fun at the expense of music. Time called them "cheeky and irreverent." But The Dead enriched and enhanced the music they took up on Anthem. It was more than just fun.
The problem with Aoxomoxoa, which followed Anthem, is that too much of it is less than fun. Like the eight-and-a-half minute electronically distorted recitative, "What's Become of the Baby?" On Anthem The Dead somehow never ceased to be delightful, but experimentation can neglect the pleasure principle. And when it is mindless, it can also disregard the most rudimentary necessities of form. Which is why "Dark Star," which consumes twenty-three minutes of Live Dead, rarely transcends doodling. Mere spontaneous experiment, doing one's thing without the reflection and forethought which shaped Anthem, can be less interesting than competent plagiarism.
For whatever reasons, The Dead have abandoned the direction of Anthem. Constanten left and Hart might just as well have (and as of this writing has disappeared from The Dead's live performances and seems to have left the group). And The Dead have profited financially from the shift. Workingman's was their first album to succeed commercially. They may have been hungry, they may have been tired, they may have been convinced that they were doing the right thing in returning to a less sophisticated approach. They cannot be criticized for having done so unless one is confident that he knows what rock is and should be.
But if The Dead have done the right thing, rock may be a more diminished music than we supposed. It may be incapable of wholly satisfying a person. A common bond unites those who get their albums in their mailboxes: boredom. Almost every talented rock writer has jumped ship cursing at least once, and some have never returned. It's almost impossible to sustain one's enthusiasm.
A significant phenomenon among rock writers has been an increasing interest, naive and uninformed in many instances but genuine nonetheless, in jazz. Not because jazz is "better" than rock, but because it may speak to a part of one which fifteen or twenty new rock albums a week usually leave unsatisfied. Because a writer, as opposed to a listener, is condemned to thought, and because rock may offer him very little to think about.
And yet at the same time the glory of rock, like the glory of Rosemary Clooney to her generation, has been that it can give you the blessed opportunity not to think. Maybe rock writing has run into critical problems because it shouldn't be written about critically. Perhaps all that should be written is the gossip and Gloria Stavers was right all along. Gloria Stavers and The Grateful Dead.

(by Ken Emerson, from Fusion, 25 June 1971)

Feb 12, 2019

1971: The Cultural Meaning of the Dead


The Grateful Dead transcend categories. They are a spirit. Medieval Saints and abstract electronic music, raunchy blues rock and complex philosophical considerations live happily side by side in The Dead. Carefully and consciously they have avoided all elements of the commercial rock star trip. And this insistent, at times heroic, genuineness has brought them to the top in terms of public acclaim, critical judgment, and sheer staying power. For in the stormy times following the end of rock's Golden Era about a year ago, The Dead, with their irrepressible album "Workingman's Dead," were a breath of new life.
The Grateful Dead have been with us since the beginning. They were one of the founding spirits of the great San Francisco rock renaissance seven years ago, and have remained an abiding repository of its true spirit, even in the recent hard times for the love culture. Their strange name, or so the legend goes, sprang in its full glory from the pages of a dictionary. To perceive universal truth in unlikely places, however, requires a special state of mind. The nature of the state of mind is evident from the nickname, "Captain Trips," given to their musical and spiritual leader, Jerry Garcia, on the cover of their first album, "The Grateful Dead."
The musical leaders of the acid culture were The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, and Country Joe and the Fish. In 1965/66 their music sped throughout the rock world of America and England and, predictably, was labeled "acid rock" or, less provocatively, "the San Francisco sound." As exotic as these names sounded, "acid rock" has its roots in exactly the same music which inspired The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dylan, and all new forms of rock in the '60s: the blues of the '20s, rhythm and blues, and '50s rock 'n' roll. What distinguished acid rock from its musical antecedents and cousins was a wonderful looseness of categories, a complete open-endedness with regard to rhythmic, sonic, and melodic composition. "Viola Lee Blues," the final 10-minute track on "The Grateful Dead," is analogous to jazz in the intensity and extent of the development that the basic melody undergoes.
This musical and spiritual relaxation requires a coherent inner strength, a trait which characterizes Jerry Garcia. Garcia is part Mexican, part Metaphysician, and entirely musical. He was also a high school student in the affluent San Francisco suburb Menlo Park (which more recently has given us The Whole Earth Catalogue) when Ken Kesey was teaching there. The friendship between them, which has continued to flourish over the years, drew Garcia into the creative vortex of the emerging acid culture. In those original Haight-Ashbury times, this culture was an intense social, philosophical, and even religious experience. The combination of chemicals and metaphysics flooded the minds of the young adventurers with incredible new visions of life's possibilities. Metaphorically speaking, they "died," passing beyond what was then considered "life" in the day-to-day sense in America. And as in the spirituals of old, this death was the doorway to a new ecstasy and a new joy.
A reflection of this joy, and a feeling that distinguished acid rock from other rock cultures, was an intense new sense of community. Money, fame, and success were simply not the motives. They played for each other and for as many people as they could reach, often for free and out of doors, as in the case of the famous 1966 Be-In in Golden Gate Park. They played to communicate their new visions and happiness in the hope of freeing the spirit of America from the chains of a moribund technological and political structure.
One of the first looks that New York had at The Grateful Dead was at a free concert in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village in 1967 (a vintage year for the East Village). Public response was not overwhelming, but it was clear that The Dead were something special, as might be imagined from another blues rock song from their first album heard that afternoon in Tompkins Square, entitled "The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)."

Well, everybody's dancing
In a ring around the sun.
Nobody's finished
We ain't even begun.
So, take off your shoes child
And take off your hat.
Try on your wings and find a habitat.

Those in attendance not too stoned to make the observation particularly noted, along with Garcia, a short, fat person whom they called (for good reason) Pigpen. He (Ron McKernan) played good blues harmonica and sang, but a lot of the time he just wandered around. As New York and the rest of the country were to learn, Pigpen was the West Coast answer to The Beatles' Ringo. In The Dead's wildest metaphysical and extra-sensory musical flights, dirty old bluesy Pigpen has provided an essential ballast of reality.
A five-man group at the beginning, by the time they made their second album, "Anthem of the Sun," in 1967, The Dead were a well-integrated seven-man musical family (plus their perennial poet-lyricist, Robert Hunter). To original members Garcia, Pigpen, guitarist Bob Weir, bass guitar Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, they had added another drummer, Mickey Hart, and pianist/electronic composer Tom Constanten. A second drum would seem to be a noisy insanity, but drummers Kreutzmann and Hart are an essential part of The Dead's musical magic. Playing with masterful sensitivity, they refine rather than amplify the rhythm, creating an almost tangible resonant axis as well as supplying an inexhaustible rhythmic energy. The Dead can literally play all night.
With the new classical and electronic gifts of Constanten, "Anthem of the Sun" was conceptually complex, artful, and far-out. The music was also heavily drug-y, and for those not oriented toward musical tripping in which "rainbows explode" and your mind becomes a "smoking crater," it is repetitious unless you are dancing (or tripping), in spite of the beautiful, lyrical themes.
The third album, "Aoxomoxoa" (which backwards is "Aoxomoxoa"), was simpler and extremely lyrical, particularly the songs "St. Stephen" and "Dupree's Diamond Blues" that jump in theme from medieval mysticism to a man who kills a jeweler to get a diamond ring for his "baby." Neither album was a great success. Their concerts except in home-town San Francisco drew a not too large following of mainly deeply committed "heads." But with stubborn authority The Dead persisted, and their gritty honesty to the music and the causes in which they believed (How many "revolutionary" rock groups have held benefits for the Black Panthers? Few.) gave them an ever greater stature, especially as the rock giants one by one sold out to fame, fortune, and exploitation of rock fads.
By 1969, when rock culture was staggering in the political and commercial crossfire, audiences had reached sufficient musical sophistication to respond to The Dead, and were finally aware that here were qualities of strength and continuance. This was the time of their fourth album, "Live Dead," recorded at the Fillmores West and East. It begins with a 23-minute metaphysical suite entitled "Dark Star"...

Dark star crashes
Pouring its light into ashes.
Reasons tatters.
The forces tear loose from the axis...
Shall we go you and I while we can
Through the transitive nightfall
Of diamonds?

...and ends with a 36-second version of the spiritual "And we bid you good night" four sides later. In between there is a totally abstract electronic suite, a 15-minute-straight blues rock track, and the magnificent concert version of "St. Stephen" with its philosophical wisdoms as well as the following charming vision of California flora:

Underfoot the ground is patched
With climbing arms of ivy wrapped
Around the manzanita stark
And shiny in the breeze.

In retrospect, the most important event in their career in the period was the organization of a free concert to cap off The Rolling Stones' American tour. Garcia and some of the best people in San Francisco hoped to recreate the spirit of the 1966 Be-In, and give The Stones a chance to participate in a non-commercial, people-oriented, olde-fashioned San Francisco phenomenon. The staggeringly infamous result, the Altamont Free Concert, was described by Garcia as "the biggest voluntary mass bummer of all time," and revealed the pathetic state of the "revolution" as well as the devastating effects of the pressures under which rock culture had been struggling.
Profoundly shaken, The Dead parted ways with Constanten, turned their energies toward simple, ecological activities, and with the guidance of Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) as a six-man group brought forth their most coherent and moving album, "Workingman's Dead." In the troubled summer of 1970, everyone - from West Coast freaks to East Coast poets - was dancing to "Workingman's Dead." It was the Yellow Submarine of the year and helped to get the culture through the worst of bad times. Pure rock and roll, the songs are all thoughtful and clear, talking about people who are dealing with crises, and in the case of "Uncle John's Band" inviting everyone to help out:

God damn! Well, I declare,
Have you seen the light?...
Got some things to talk about
Here beside the rising tide.

The magical catharsis of the album, however, resides in the rock and roll masterpiece, "Casey Jones." In this re-telling of the railroad classic, the tragic engineer is representative of The Dead, and really the entire culture who were all...

Drivin' that train
High on cocaine
Casey Jones you better
Watch your speed.
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion
Just crossed my mind.

The self-delusion of the "revolution" is clearly understood, and the tragedy is Altamont:

Trouble with you is the trouble with me
We've got two good eyes
But we still don't see.
Come round the bend
You know it's the end
The fireman screams
And the engine just gleams.

The Dead's most recent album, "American Beauty," while along the same lines as "Workingman's Dead," doesn't begin to approach its fineness or physical weight. And their current activity of trying to bring back the spirit of the classical rock emporiums, "The Grateful Dead's First Annual Dance Marathon," suffered in New York a catastrophic "overselling." In an irony new for The Dead, the ballroom was too packed for dancing, and throngs of fans on the sidewalk never got near the door.
But this is part of The Dead's cultural meaning. With perennial honesty and hopefulness they have given their energies to the spiritual rejuvenation of America. With equal intensity and good faith they tripped with the love culture and were among the inadvertent authors of its spectacular crash at Altamont. Most impressive, they have had the courage and the art to take responsibility, pick up the pieces, and inspire a new, clear-eyed confidence. The ecstasy and the bummers, however, are only a part of the story because in drummer Kreutzmann's words: "Everything is relative to the center of it all, which is music in motion through time and space."
Like The Beatles' John Lennon, they took off with rock early in the '60s, followed it through all its psychedelic wildness, and have emerged coherently on the far side, with their feet firmly on the ground of a new reality. It is, in fact, impossible to imagine the evolution and survival of the new culture without the powerful, unselfish contribution of the good ol' Grateful Dead.

(by James Lichtenberg, from Cue, 8 May 1971)

Feb 8, 2019

May 24, 1970: Pigpen Interview and Hollywood Festival, England


That the Dead's records never really took off here was probably a combination of Pye's inability to realise that there were other markets besides 'family listening,' the usual failure of disc jockeys (apart from the obvious few) to recognise good music, the general lack of publicity and media exposure, and the incompetence of various promoters who were just too inefficient to bring the band over. You see, no-one in England really knew much about the Dead...the pop press weren't pushed to write about them, and probably knew nothing about their music, lifestyle, attitude, or anything anyway. And a lot of what filtered across the Atlantic; ie the only bits and pieces that one could base any knowledge on, was either wildly inaccurate, wildly exaggerated, or else merely opinion...and more often than not, the opinion of someone more qualified to discuss Bing Crosby, or at least the music of a different generation.
For example, one of the first references to the group that I can remember was a mention on the Third Programme. Kenneth Rexroth, one of the speakers in a series about "America Today," in a programme about dissent, bracketed the Dead with the Sopwith Camel (certainly one of the weakest of the SF groups) and dismissed their music with a few sweeping generalisations about the ineffectuality of revolution in rock lyrics.
Then, in his review of the '67 Monterey Festival, Downbeat's Barret Hansen talked about "uncontrolled cascades of notes building up to the threshold of pain." "Certainly it mesmerizes the freaks, which is what the Dead get paid for doing," he said, "but it's kind of a slipshod, lazy way to play music." Quite amazing. He completely misconstrued the attitude and entire approach of the band.
All in all, then, we had to rely on their music to tell us about them.
So, what about the Dead?
I got chatting with PigPen, organist, percussionist, and vocalist extraordinaire, at the reception Warner Brothers held for them when they came over for the Hollywood Festival, and he was delighted to sit and talk rather than do the tiresome rounds of introductions which the others were going through. "We never get involved in anything like this at home...all these people look like they've been put in here and told how they've got to act."
I've got to admit I was taken aback. I was expecting to see a massive, hairy, bear-like hulk...aggressive and rowdy, as depicted in the legends and stories about them. Nothing of the sort. It looks as thought he's lost about half his bodily bulk, half his facial hair, and altogether I reckon he's one of the most charming, polite, and quiet people I have ever met.
"You're blowing your image," I told him. "Everyone's expecting you to leap around like a brawling wild man."
"Oh I can get wild sure enough," he said, "but usually it's with the rest of the band." I'd read about these internal arguments that threatened to break the group up every so often. "Oh we've got past the stage of thoughts of breaking up. What usually happens is that we go into town, to a saloon, shoot some pool or play cards. Then we accuse one another of cheating and start fighting."
All this sounds a bit like a Virginian TV addict's fantasy, but the Dead are like a bunch of cowboys. 3 of them have ranches and all ride horses a lot. They all wear these excessively pointed, stout leather boots. PigPen took pains to explain how they were pointed to enter a stirrup with minimum difficulty, and the high cut-back heels were to prevent the foot slipping through. "I wear them all the time - you can't beat a good, solid pair of boots; I've had these for 2 years and the soles are hardly worn at all. I like them to be functional. I mean, look at those snakeskin boots that guy's got on; you might just as well wrap your feet in paper. Like, if I was on the run from the police who were chasing me through the forest," (a very bizarre piece of fantasy, I thought) "I'd be OK because I'd be dressed in the right clothes. That's why I wear the same stuff all the time." The back of his denim Levi jacket was ornately decorated, he had a little stash bag hanging from his belt, this battered corduroy Rambling Jack cowboy hat, and his hair was pulled into an elastic banded pigtail. (Compare the appearance of today's rock star with those of the fifties; there's Jerry Garcia looking like something out of the Bowery, with his dark stubbled face and paunch. Then remember Frankie Avalon.)
PigPen was tired. They'd flown direct from San Francisco to London, over the North Pole ("just an ordinary TWA flight") and he hadn't had much sleep. He hadn't seen much of London either, but he'd got the hang of our monetary system - to a degree. "Well the first thing you've got to do, is the Sonny and Cher trip," I told him. "All the Americans do that so that they can tell the papers about it...that means seeing Buckingham Palace (bonus points if you see the Queen), a London policeman with his funny hat, a double decker bus, Carnaby Street..." "I don't want to see any of that stuff," he replied, "but I do want to find a good cutler; I want to get a nice long, open-out razor...and a shaving mug."

How did it all begin? Well, towards the end of the 'folk era' of 62-65, a lot of folkies started forming groups - John Sebastian, the Mamas and Papas, Country Joe and the Fish, Jim McGuinn; and in Palo Alto, a community of about 30,000 on the road between San Francisco and San Jose, 3 such musicians, Ron McKernan (PigPen), Bob Weir, and Jerry Garcia did likewise, starting a band called The Warlocks. Previously they had been Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions (a similar set up to Country Joe's jug-style band style before they plugged in to become the Fish), but gigs were falling off, until a music store owner volunteered to sponsor their electrification. But the Warlocks, when they started in mid 1965 didn't exactly fit into, or dig the available work, which was the Byrds type Hollywood club circuit, so it was fortunate, just when they found the limitations of conventional venues becoming an unbearable drag, that they met up with, and got mixed up with Ken Kesey's bunch of LSD disciples, the Merry Pranksters, and Owsley Stanley III.
In his book "The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test" (an essential book to anyone who is interested in San Franciscan music, but still only available here in hardback), Tom Wolfe describes how the Warlocks, or the Grateful Dead as they became a few months later, became the Pranksters' travelling band, playing at the Acid Tests where they invited the world (or the people of Southern California anyway) to sample the esoteric delights of LSD.
Kesey had first run into Jerry Garcia in 1962, soon after he had discovered the beneficial effects of acid. Garcia was one of the local beatniks who used to crash the parties where LSD laced venison stew was the main dish, followed by a summer night on a mattress, stuffed into the fork of an oak tree, watching the stars and the sky. But because of his youth and his inability to contribute to the parties, he was an unwelcome guest.
It was another story towards the end of 1965 when Garcia's group supplied all the music for Kesey's Acid Tests, and instigated the music which was aptly termed "acid rock." Everyone was happy - the heads really dug the music and the Dead really dug the freedom of playing what they wanted for as long as they wanted.
The series of Acid Tests culminated in the Trips Festival of January 1966, which was the start of the Haight Ashbury era. The festival was a 'huge wild carnival' which inspired Bill Graham to open the Fillmore a fortnight later, and a new multi media, weekly psychedelic dance hall genre was initiated. "The heads," says Wolfe, "were amazed at how big their own ranks had become - and euphoric at the fact that they could come out in the open, high as baboons, and neither the sky nor the law would fall down on them."
Acid remained legal in California until October 1966, and Augustus Owsley Stanley III, or Owsley as he was notoriously known throughout America, manufactured millions of dollars worth; several million capsules and tablets. His tabs were the perfection by which others were judged, and as well as becoming the legendary 'White Rabbit,' he became very rich. A lot of his bread, he channeled into the Grateful Dead - as well as being a chemical genius, his hands had a way with electricity - and bought them more equipment than they knew how to handle...every device on the market became part of their sound. Says Wolfe, "The sound went down so many microphones and hooked through so many mixers and variable lags and blew up in so many amplifiers and rolled around in so many speakers and fed back down so many microphones, it came on like a chemical refinery. There was something wholly new and deliriously weird in the Dead's sound."
When Kesey split for Mexico, to evade American 'justice,' the Dead went off to LA to live with Owsley, but discovered that his way was too erratic for the partnership to succeed. Owsley had a strange past: he had been expelled from school for consuming alcohol, been busted for issuing rubber cheques, arrested for disorderly conduct, and subsisted on unemployment money for some time before insinuating himself into the nascent hippie scene with his project to benefit the community by manufacturing as much acid as possible.
To the Dead, Owsley was a financial angel as well as supervising their sound at gigs, but things didn't go too well and they split back to Marin County near San Francisco in mid 1966, reverting to standard Fender amps and allowing Owsley to cart away all his speakers, amps, tapes, and mikes. I asked PigPen about the split, and the equipment, because I'd heard that the Owsley stuff produced a very loud but very muddy sound anyway.
"Well, when it was working properly, it was really good...the best in the world, literally. But that wasn't too often. You see, Owsley had this time lag - it took him so long to get things sorted out, and we couldn't put up with that if we were to function as a band. Even now our equipment is standard stuff, but we've had it altered around a bit to make it more reliable."
As well as that, the Californian authorities were passing legislation to make LSD illegal and the Dead didn't want Owsley's business to be too closely connected with the band's work. But there's no rancour separating them; he still hangs around with the Dead periodically and gets credited on their albums, but PigPen hadn't seen him for some time, he said.
In the last half of 1966, the Dead moved into a big house at 710 Ashbury, right in the middle of San Francisco's growing head centre, by which time Garcia (then popularly known as Captain Trips) was practically the local patron saint, and they'd become one of the city's three most popular bands, but one still without a recording contract. Their attitude to this side of the business was shared by Quicksilver, whose manager Ron Polte, when questioned, said, "We're all waiting for an honest record company that we can talk with," and they resisted all the offers of the slick-suited LA record company executives who came up snooping for lucrative contracts. Another thing: "If the industry wants us, they're gonna take us the way we are"...Bob Weir, 1966.
Their first album eventually appeared on Warner Brothers in early 1967, and though one could assume that they had found their honest company, all but a few critics either attacked it, or wondered where the excitement of their live performances had gone. Typical comments read: "For some reason it succeeded in capturing only a small fraction of the excitement they shower on the listener in a concert performance." Loyal Crawdaddy Magazine loved it of course: "pure energy flow...West Coast kineticism developed to a fine art."
Their second album "Anthem of the Sun" was very long in appearing (Summer 68) and it leaked out that the Dead and Warner Brothers were at loggerheads, with much dissatisfaction and animosity on both sides. In the course of recording, the Dead sacked their producer Dave Hassinger and finished the production themselves, using over 20 taped performances to achieve what they wanted.
Aoxomoxoa, their third album (readers of Zap Comix will know that Rick Griffin is a palindrome freak - hence the nonsense title), was presented to Warners as a completed entity, sleeve and all; but their last to be released here, Live Dead, is probably the most successful in terms of capturing their live excitement. "It completely eclipses the faults of their previous albums...well mixed, completely non commercial in approach, and completely free flowing," said the LA Free Press.
What was the cause of the mutual displeasure between them and Warners? PigPen: "Well they wanted us to give them a hit and we didn't, and we wanted them to stop advising us and promote us more than they did. Let's say that was basically it; but I try to keep clear of those kind of hassles."

"We're not singing psychedelic drugs, we're singing music. We're musicians, not dope fiends," said Bob Weir back in the past. But what about their supposed overt use of euphoriants? The Dead have been endlessly described as drug freaks (or experimenters, let's say) of the first order. The Rolling Stone article gave detailed descriptions of cocaine snorting and nitrous oxide inducing, and they were involved in mass dope busts in late 67 and just recently in New Orleans.
"Were you arrested in New Orleans?" I asked Pig.
"No, I wasn't," he replied.
"How was that?"
"Because they didn't find anything in my room. They came in and went over the place, then searched me, then the room again, but they didn't find anything. I told them that I didn't use drugs, and eventually they went away saying that I was either telling the truth, or else I was mighty sneaky."
"Were you telling the truth?"
"Yes, I just don't use drugs anymore, because it just doesn't help me at all. Marijuana makes me act stupid, and the few times I've taken LSD weren't too good. So now I stick to drinking and cigarettes...they're my only vices."
PigPen, amazing character who almost left the Dead a couple of years ago, but got persuaded to stay.
PigPen, asking me how far the Festival site is, and how near it is to Manchester. His grandmother was born there, he tells me...used to make military uniforms in the First World War. And how can he get to Dublin...because a lot of his ancestors came from there.
"There's a lot of Irishman in me," he says.

Articles you read about Dead performances are invariably based on comparison with previous appearances - like "they were sloppy and didn't get it on like they did last time they played the park" and "as usual, they took about half of their marathon set to warm up." Well at the Hollywood Music Festival, most of us in the audience were witnessing the spectacle of a Dead set for the first time in our lives, and only the records, played till the grooves had worn out, served as a foretaste or comparison.
Of course, the music they played was for the most part completely different. "Wait till you hear our new things," PigPen had told me, "we've gone right back to simpler, more straight forward type of stuff." And so they had. The traditional Americana that has always been peeping through their music has suddenly become prominent; traditional blues ('I know you Rider' - variously known as Woman Blues and Circle Round the Sun), traditional folk (a 900 Miles derivative), traditional type country ('Riding that train, high on cocaine' - well I said traditional type), neo-traditional cowboy epics (Me and My Uncle, the John Phillips/Dino Valente classic), traditional pop (Good Lovin', Too hot to handle). Most of this material represents the new style Dead music and will presumably comprise the new album "Working Mans Dead." The pop stuff, they've always been doing - I remember them saying in an interview, "We'll play our half hour version of 'In the Midnight Hour' for anyone who'll listen."
Then they played a superb "medley" consisting of most of the Live Dead album. Incredible. And I don't use that word lightly. It was incredible...the awe, the music, the excitement, the whole scene.
Sure, vocally they are weak; Garcia, who does most of the singing, has a reedy, most unforceful, undistinguished voice, and neither Lesh nor Weir are too hot either. On the other hand, Pig Pen, almost totally obscured by his giant organ (that sounds suspicious), swings into his vocals with tremendous gusto and turns cruddy ancient pop songs into driving, classic performances. But musically they cut other rock bands to ribbons.
The solid red Gibson looked so small and flimsy in Jerry Garcia's hands - like it would just break like balsa if he squeezed it - but it seemed that every time he touched it, beautiful, clear, ringing notes poured out; and on 'Me & My Uncle' he was just fucking fabulous. Phil Lesh's bass playing was superbly inventive, and Bob Weir was nice as a complementary lead guitarist. As they began each piece, the three of them zigzagged from the back to the mikes at the front of the stage, squeezing past the two drummers, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, who hammered phrases at each other and occasionally attacked us with other percussive devices like gongs and pistol shots.
I can't really agree with one appraisal of the Dead - that their music is "a synaesthetic assemblage of disparate ingredients and tonal colours whose progression from start to finish is non-focused but dynamic" - because I don't really know what all that means, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.
Before the festival, I'd spoken to this San Franciscan cat who had told me he was dubious about attending. There had been a full moon a couple of days before, and now, with the moon in Capricorn, things were bound to go wrong; at least, he reckoned, it would be freaky if not disastrous. "The last time the signs were like this," he said, "Quicksilver's roadie nearly hanged himself with an amp cord." Well, Wall Street had its worst day for seven years, but the Dead were totally magnificent.

Further reading:
Rolling Stone No 40 (the best ever article on the Dead)
The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.

Who is Robert Hunter?
Where is Tom Constanten?
Who was Reddy Killowatt?
Why did Bill Sommers become Bill Kreutzmann?
Who are Mcgannahan Skjellyfetti?
The best answer wins prizes!

(by Mac Garry, from Zigzag no. 13, June/July 1970) 

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com

See also:

Feb 6, 2019

November 17, 1968: Eagles Auditorium, Seattle


Re-tribalization will be the keyword Sunday afternoon from 3 to 9 when the Grateful Dead rock group moves into the Eagles Auditorium (7th and Union) for a benefit concert to help Indian fisherman in their battle to retain traditional netting rights on the Nisqually and other Washington rivers.
Admission is a flat $2 per head. Children under 12 will be admitted free.
Al Bridges, an Indian leader who has led numerous fish-in protests at Frank's Landing near Olympia, will introduce the Dead.
Suzette Bridges, a vivacious and articulate young lady, will present the tribes' side of the fishing feud.
Backing the Dead will be the Bryon Pope Ensemble from Los Angeles, Easy Chair, Light, and Papa Bear. The Retina Circus light artists will provide illuminations.
Part of the funds from the benefit will be used to establish a bail fund for Indians and others arrested for allegedly illegal fishing. This year alone there have been 27 gill-netting arrests. Bail - formerly set at $250 - has been raised to $1000.
The Indians also must replace nets confiscated by the state. They cost between $60 and $100 apiece.
Some 40 persons, Indians and non-Indians, have established a communal colony at Frank's Landing on the Nisqually. Some live in teepees; others in tents and crude hogans. They contend that the Medicine Creek treaty of 1854 gave the Indians the right to fish in "their usual and accustomed places" for "as long as the sun shall rise, the streams shall flow and the grass shall grow."
The state, on the other hand, claims the treaty is invalid and that the Indians must adhere to seasonal regulations.
The colony at Frank's Landing is seeking to re-tribalize, to return to the bounty of Nature. But it hasn't been easy. They've been tear-gassed, terrorized and hassled by citizenry and officialdom alike.
Now they've dug in for the winter. It promises to be a long, wet one.
Their choice of the Dead for Sunday afternoon's gig is an apposite one. The Dead more or less started the whole concept of group tribalization on a musical level. Beginning with Ken Kesey and his early Acid test prankstering, the Dead (originally called the Warlocks) have solidified under their Chief, Gerry Garcia, as a sub-tribe with something to say - and the sound and talent to give their message a voice.
The Dead and the Indians. Far out!

(by Bob Houston, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 15, 1968)



by Roger Downey:

From Herodotus to Stanley, Pizarro to Powell, mankind has loved explorers. And not only seekers in space; Nietzsche, Beethoven, Buddha, William Burroughs; what fascinates us is not their discoveries, but the risks taken to make them. We are an adventurous race at second hand.
At Eagles' Sunday the Grateful Dead mounted an expedition into the unknown, using portions of the work-in-progress called Anthem for the Sun as navigational charts. Define it as a problem (and you can't, for a problem suggests an answer): given, the universe determined by the instruments, the players' physical endurance, their creative energies: to transcend that universe by devouring it, filling it up, shattering it by pressure from within, and thus reaching Somewhere Else. Now if Somewhere Else were really the goal, and not the journey of exploration, the Dead would fail: beyond the limits of music is not Somewhere Else, but only Not-music. The end of the journey comes at the point where the senses can absorb no more, the mind can no longer comprehend, hold together, the experience; as in orgasm, things fly apart, returning to their separateness; but not unchanged. The terrain defined has been used up, thoroughly experienced, exhausted; and in the process, as in the art of love, the musicians, and the audience, so far as it can follow them, are used up, exhausted, as well.
In music, if anything is possible, and equally likely, the result is necessarily chaos. The Dead maintain a lifeline back to ordinary musical experience by their use of rhythm, refusing to allow the integrity of the line to be disrupted. When it begins to weaken, there is an immediate lessening of other musical tensions until it is re-established. This is not to say that there is anything simple about the Dead's rhythms: the section of WIP (not recorded yet, but played at Eagles' and Sky River) in 11/4 time, subdivided 3+3+3+2 is, with sections of Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale, the most exciting use of rhythm as a creative, not just a sustaining, element that I have ever heard. Over and through the polyphonic rhythmic texture, Garcia, Weir, and Lesh (who is as much a melodic contributor as the two guitar players) create a contrapuntal, ever varying texture of lines that tightens and thickens until disaster seems inevitable, then relaxes only to tighten again. It is always the texture that is important. Melody as such, solos, are secondary. Harmony in the almost defunct traditional sense is nearly absent; it could only get in the way of the development of the primary all-enveloping texture of sound.
The experience I have said, like love, is exhausting; I, and I'm sure many in the audience, longed toward the end for each climactic surge to be the last; but when the last climax came, we realized that it was in fact the only one, necessary and final.
Like good lovers, the Dead do not abandon you at the peak, but return you, not at all quickly, to earth. In the last section, the insistent pulse of rhythm is absent, melody irrelevant; the texture is open, full of yawning vacancies and sudden violent displacements. When you land, the journey seems to have been inevitable from the beginning; your feet touch ground as lightly as leaf falls.
For what it is worth, the Dead succeeded in getting an Eagles' audience on its feet and kept it there for the duration of the piece. When it was over, and the crazy calls of "More!" had died away, someone came out on stage and told us to stick around for the rest of the program. All respects to the others that played, that is like announcing, "You have just been present at the end of the world. Please stay tuned for our next big attraction."

by Max Smith:

The Dead is up there on the stage playing, and they are really looking at us, the audience, and it looks like they love us and if they didn't, wouldn't bother to pretend. And I am surrounded by people I love, and who love me. But still something is wrong. Our blood is rioting, but we're sitting there quietly as if listening to a sermon or watching Chet and Dave. A few people move with the music, but stay seated.
Karma and I are sitting there wanting to dance, wanting to pulse with that music, wanting to tell what we know and feel.
So we dance, and yippee, everyone is dancing. And the Dead is dancing with us.
Right in front of the stage is Floyd Turner, dancing like there's no tomorrow, a combination whirling dervish, Charleston and twist with extraordinary virtuosity. He is expressing what he has been wanting to express all this time and we in a circle around him, clapping, feel his expression, real and powerful. Communication achieved. A cataclysmic orgasm is no better.
Then I notice the performers up there above our heads, on a stage five and one half feet high, and I realize that I envy them; I want to be up there. The stage belongs to the people. I feel the collective power of the people behind me and I feel my own ego, a monster engaged all these years in a puritanical society where "showing off" is a high taboo.
I dance toward the stage, then retreat. This several times; then riding the crest of the music, leap to the stage, pulling Karma up behind me. We are met by angry beard heads. "You're not supposed to be here." Fire regulation.
But they don't want everybody up here. O.K. then: two at a time. We get off the stage and boost two more up. Everybody can take a turn. Nobody else wants to go up. It seems to me they are afraid of looking silly; I will go up and show them it doesn't hurt to look silly, so I go up and fall on my face and get up, as if nothing happened. "See, it doesn't hurt to look foolish; come on up." Then it occurs to me that this may be another case of someone trying to lead people where they don't want to be led, of someone not knowing the people he's trying to lead.
Floyd and I are backstage after another hassle with the stage crew. He is telling me he has deep love and heavy ideas, but no words to express them. The number ends, and we rush onto the stage to take bows.
I see Mike Watson, who has worn himself slick arranging for the benefit, and I explain I wasn't trying to sabotage the show, but that people as spectators are automatons. He understands, but he explains it is the Indians' benefit, not mine. I agree, but I want to say something to the crowd. I am full of joy at the truths I have discovered, and full of myself. So Mike says I should make the closing remarks, and I agree.
But I am burning to talk. Right then. For too long I have been following leaders and listening to most of them by people who know less and care less about people than I do. So I go to the microphone, at a point when the stage is empty between groups. The microphone is shut off, and I do not have a voice like Norman Mailer.
Another hip looking, angry face orders me to get off the stage now.
"I have something to say."
"You better get off here."
"I just want to say something."
I leave.
He follows me and asks me who I am. I tell him my name and that I'm a citizen who wants to speak, He tells me his name, Boyd, and explains that I'm not on the program and that there is a schedule.
"But between groups, there's only recorded music."
"You should go to the Helix. They're nice over there. They'll let you write something. Or, speak over station KRAB; it's a good place to air your views."
"Yes, but I want to speak now,. By tomorrow, someone else may have the message or it may be lost."
He's sorry, but the program is running late already. I go back stage to prepare my closing remarks. It will be a soaring epic of the Indians, but I can see that Buffy, Suzette, and the other poetic voices of the Indians have done that as beautifully and powerfully as it can be done. I will tell them in thousands of words how limited words are...I am beginning to have an inkling that I may be just another boring speaker.
Through the curtains I watch the next act, a rock group with a good sound, and a talented mime with a painted clown's face. An angry stage manager stomps up. The curtain must be kept closed for the "continuity of the light show." I can stay, but the curtain must be zipped up, the state K.P. inviolate, the mystique of the performers preserved.
I am thinking of this mystique while I watch the performers perform back stage. It occurs to me that maybe my mind is distorting all of their behavior to fit my new hypothesis, but what I say, as I rap to a performer's woman, seated back stage, seems valid.
"You people are Gods. And you like to keep it that way. You're scared of the audience, 'the masses.' Afraid that they'll find out they can sing and dance and play too, afraid you'll lose your bread and butter. I see what the Mime Troop (San Francisco) meant by wanting to do away with rock bands. They only wanted to do away with labels, album covers, copyrights on music, copyrights on the truth."
She smiles, silent.
I hear applause, so I return to the stage for one more bow.
Later, Byron Pope's jazz group, the last on the program, is playing. At first what they are playing is not pleasant, discordant to my stoned head. I would rather play with my friends than listen, so we make a circle, hand-in-hand, and start a snake dance through the dwindled audience.
Wait a minute. It dawns on me that they are excellent musicians and that they are already mad from having to play to an empty house. I reason: performers aren't Gods, but because of their discipline and mastery, deserve some attention.
But what about Elizabethan audiences? If they didn't like the show, they let the performers know about it. The exchange between them and the actors added to the show.
In this case, it seems to me that Byron Pope's group exchanged for our inattention the most pissed-off music I had ever heard.
But it was honest and when it wasn't hurting my head, beautiful and fresh,
The short set is finished and the house lights are on. The remaining few scuff through the papers and bottles. I am disappointed about not speaking, and I feel for an instant as empty as the hall. But there are all my friends, goofing and smiling. And the Indians have a couple thousand dollars and some new allies for their struggle. 

(from the Seattle Helix, November 21, 1968) 

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com 

Alas, no tape!

Feb 3, 2019

October 23, 1970: McDonough Gym, Georgetown U, Washington DC


One of the finest rock performances to hit the Washington area happened last weekend. The Grateful Dead and their sidekick band, The Riders of the Purple Sage, played to a jam-packed audience at McDonough Gymnasium Friday night.
Possibly McDonough was the only place available for the concert, but the promoters couldn't have chosen any place worse, for at the 8:30 p.m. starting time, the hall was already packed to well over capacity. Meanwhile, over a thousand people waited outside to get in. Tickets were sold out, and all entrances were sealed and guarded by police, some with dogs. Those waiting outside were afforded the opportunity to at least hear the Dead by means of several speakers set up outside. That crowd, partially made up of ticket-holders, was not satisfied with merely listening however. They wanted to see, too. Their solution was a simple one. They clambered in open windows, smashed closed ones, and shouted obscenities at the innocent guards.
On the inside, many people, near collapse from the ninety degree heat and the 100% humidity, tried in vain to escape the unbearable discomfort. Despite their efforts, guards would not open any doors for fear of those outside charging in. Finally the guards and the management gave in. When the doors were opened, a great rush of people streamed in. At this point, McDonough Gym was not fit for human beings. Nevertheless, on "Honky Tonk Woman," Jerry Garcia's slide-guitar work and Bill Krentzmann's drumming evoked the entire mass of people to stand up and dance wildly.
Following the Riders' set, they and The Dead went back to their hotel in Washington for an hour, leaving everyone just sitting there. But the crowd, used to long delays typical of Claude Jones and Company, made good use of the time by tossing around the inevitable Frisbee. While the crowd cheered and booed the Frisbee-throwers, the Mother Truckers made their usual idiotic announcements and remarks like "Keep it Cool." There were also those who kept telling everyone to move away from the front of the stage. Because there was obviously no room, no one moved.
Finally, at eleven o'clock the Grateful Dead walked onto the stage and opened with "Casey Jones." On this through their next five songs they displayed a togetherness and musicianship that made this writer wonder why they haven't enjoyed as much success as they deserve. But it was when they went into their seventh number, "Good Lovin," that they sent the crowd wild. Garcia's five minute introduction along with Bob Weir's fine rhythm guitar work and the beat of two drummers brought the crowd to an ecstatic frenzy. Through 25 minutes of that song, Garcia and Weir swapped leads and harmonized with organist "Pignpen" McKennan and bassist Phil Lesh.
The Dead's thirty minute finale, "That's It for the Other One," was interesting, but anti-climactic after "Good Loving" and many of their earlier songs. Stomping and chanting, the audience brought The Dead back from their dressing room to encore with "Uncle John's Band," from their current album, "Workingman's Dead."
Although the music was excellent, all were relieved to get out of McDonough. Many swore they would never go to another rock concert at that place again. Again, Washington came close to ruining its concert scene.

(by Rowland Teape-Davis, from the Spur, late October 1970)


See also:

Thanks to Michael Backhouse.

Feb 1, 2019

1970: Myths of the Dead


It has only been in the last year that the Grateful Dead have started to make the same impact nationally that they have enjoyed for years in San Francisco.
The band's popularity has grown to startling proportions, especially on the East Coast, where their concerts habitually sell out, no matter how frequently they play the area. Even the records are starting to sell in reasonable quantities - while they are not yet in the Gold Record class, both "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty" have done very well.
A straightforward success story of hippie capitalism in action, or so it would seem.
And yet, and yet, the Dead are not entirely what they seem to be - more than any other band, they are the victims of many myths. Some of the myths once had a bit of truth to them, but time goes on, and no one, least of all a band as fluid and experimental as they, can remain unchanged and untouched in their music and their lives.
Perhaps the time has come to explode some of these myths, for they not only distort and detract from the central point of any band - its music - but they can also cause definite harm.
Everyone is interested in the beginnings of the Grateful Dead and how they grew; everyone, that is, except the Dead themselves. Their description of how they finally formed their band is loose and vague - a jug band in San Francisco, then the Warlocks, then the Grateful Dead. It doesn't really matter how they finally got together, the important thing is that they did. Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh have been friends for nearly ten years, but Jerry was playing with Bobby Weir in an earlier group long before Phil ever joined them. And Jerry and Pigpen McKernan played together in a totally different band. All the members of the Grateful Dead were in San Francisco and part of the cultural explosion going on there at the start of the 1960's.
And it is here that the myths come into full bloom. Tom Wolfe, in his book, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," puts the Grateful Dead as central figures in Ken Kesey's Trips Festivals, but the truth is that at the time, the band members (not yet joined into the band) were teenagers who had little to offer Kesey and his friends in the way of intellectual experimentation that they wanted. Phil Lesh remembers going to Kesey's parties with any girl he wanted particularly to impress. But Kesey was likely to throw them out, since they were just kids unable to contribute to the evening. True, they actually participated in one Merry Pranksters trip to the extent that they travelled with them on a truck for 200 miles. Then the truck broke down. So much for that. The involvement was never any more serious than it was for many others who were involved in the music and art scene in Berkeley at the time.
But the memory, the distorted memory lingers on, compounded by the fog of "acid rock" that was bestowed in the group in the famous "summer of love" in 1967. And it is this misnomer which has so often caused trouble for the band, for their audiences, which misinterpret just exactly what that means.
Phil Lesh described acid rock as "rock you listen to while you are tripping on acid." It does not mean that the musicians are tripping. Actually, it would be most difficult for any band to play good music while stoned out of their minds.
Bobby Weir said it: "You must remember that as musicians, we must be temperate. Of all the people who get carried out of our concerts on bad trips, the Grateful Dead are never among them." But the connection remains in too many minds of people who think that the only possible way to truly understand the music is to hear it while they are wrecked on some sort of drugs. So the Dead are faced with audiences who are much more prone to trip out than is generally found. The problem is compounded by the generosity of those who are more than happy to share their acid, good or bad, with anyone who wants it. The Grateful Dead do not give out acid - another myth, that they enjoy "electrifying" their audiences. They don't have to. They know that their music can stand on its own merits and can afford to be heard by people who are unstoned.
But that belief of constant drug-taking continues to intrude. You can also find Hell's Angels around the Dead - a friendship that goes back to the days when they were both persecuted minorities in San Francisco. It all seems to indicate more of an open-mindedness that sometimes borders on the naive, a contradiction in light of their genuine intelligence. And it is the intelligence that counts in the music. The group knows that temperance is a necessity, that good music does not suddenly and magically appear without a tremendous investment of time, self-discipline, and effort.
It is called paying dues.
And the Dead are still paying dues. More than any other group of comparable stature, they continue to tour and play. In 1969 [sic], they played 20 separate engagements in the New York area alone - not 20 shows, but 20 different series of dates ranging from two to four nights. Jon MacIntire, the group's manager, complains that they are now more of a New York group than a San Francisco group, purely in terms of numbers of concerts given in either city.
And the concerts themselves have a whole set of myths clinging to them like barnacles. The myth of a free concert - no myth, actually, for the Dead, in effect, invented the free rock concert and did many in parks all over the country. But that requires permits which the change of political climate now makes excessively difficult to get. And unfortunately, it has led some kids to believe that they should never have to pay to see a Dead concert. But music is their livelihood. They have to do lots of paid dates to support themselves and the "family," which now numbers more than 50 persons. In addition, there is the staggering cost of life on the road for a show that must take at least 15 people in order to function properly.
Free concerts are a gift, they are not something that can be demanded, but because they have made these gifts before, the Dead are now faced with serious problems of gate-crashers and would-be rioters who try and force their way into the concerts. All the band members I talked to viewed with distaste the kid who, as Pigpen put it, "thinks that rock and roll owes him a living." Neither rock nor the Dead owe anyone a living. Nevertheless, this attitude [of] a certain percentage of their audience is creating real difficulties for the band. They are now in a situation where they are being forced to play bigger halls than they like, just to have the extra money needed to pay for larger security forces that the promoters are demanding as insurance against damage to their property.
It would probably be a severe shock to any fan who thinks of the Dead as the ultimate in anti-Establishment thinking to hear their views on the police at most of the concerts. While Jerry and Phil and Bobby all agree that it is unwise to make generalized statements, they concur that for the most part, the police have behaved with great dignity and restraint in the face of extreme provocation. They have seen gross exceptions, but mostly they have handled themselves extremely well when pitted against that small segment of the audience who are more interested in making trouble than in listening to the music. Jerry Garcia remembers happily that an Irish cop of about 45 came up to him after a concert in Boston and shook his hand and told him how much he enjoyed the music. Jerry found it heartening that his work was more inclusive in appeal than he otherwise supposed.
And yet, and yet - for the Grateful Dead are nothing if not honest, and therefore full of contradictions - when asked what they thought of their fans, Phil Lesh said, "I love each and every one of them." The tone was slightly facetious, but then later he repeated the statement and added, "You can quote me." The group does appreciate their fans - those famous "Dead freaks" who have been known in their excess of enthusiasm to travel 14 hours to find one of their concerts, and all those who show up whenever and wherever they play the neighborhood, no matter how often that is. Music without an audience is not music, and the Grateful Dead know this.
Where you are depends on where you have been. The Dead used to live together in a communal house in San Francisco, but times have changed and the family has expanded. Now that most of the band members have old ladies, and more and more people are added to this extended family system, a communal house is no longer practical or desirable. As a result, each one has his own house or ranch in Marin County, north of San Francisco, although family members do tend to float from house to house, staying at each for periods ranging from several weeks to several months. The arrangement is fluid and informal, but still gives everyone space to breathe, as well as a sense of roots. But it is this new direction to homes and land surrounding them that prompted Bobby Weir to make his comment that "We are neo-rednecks. Mr. and Mrs. America, that's us now." Bobby went on to explain that his nearest neighbor is the local sheriff, and that they get along very nicely on a rancher to rancher basis.
But then, as I have said before, the Grateful Dead are not ever what you expect them to be. We have all had a hand in distorting their image. They get confused with the "new politics" in spite of the fact that they refuse to support any specific politician or candidate. And then become upset when people expect them to get out and support the revolution in ways that are inimical to them. They feel, and rightly, that their music is making a revolutionary statement and that that should be enough. But they do help when they find an individual whose ideas impress them. For instance, on a recent plane trip across country, the band met Huey Newton, leader of the Black Panthers.
He told them his philosophy; they were impressed by what he said, as well as his personality. As a result, they agreed to do a benefit for the Panthers that was held in New York on Christmas Eve. They were questioned about this, and asked why, the explanation was simple and a good demonstration of how the group operates. They were impressed by Newton himself and felt that his philosophy was humanistic and benevolent. So they chose to disregard the several and conflicting Panthers credos that have been published on the grounds that all media deal in second-hand information and are therefore likely to be inaccurate. Not just inaccurate as far as groups like the Panthers are concerned, but distorted overall. Jerry Garcia would like to talk face to face with President Nixon, just to find out what his opinions really are.
But no one should give the band a group personality. Each is his own man, and they do not always agree with each other. There is a wide divergence of opinion on politics ("Are you all pacifists?" "No. The drummers are the most violent."), promoters, and music. Phil Lesh originally studied classical violin and trumpet, and even now retains an interest in Renaissance choral music and "any music that is used to get people high." Old church music, which was played in conjunction with incense and highly theatrical liturgy, is thus a prime interest. Jerry's musical beginnings are diametrically opposed to that. His first guitar was electric and his first loves were straight 50's rock. A later interest in country music was developed when he met country musicians in the army. Jerry Garcia in the army? Yes. And yet, two such diversified beginnings can blend and complement each other. There is mutual respect and a shared interest in extending themselves as musicians. Phil's bass playing is now at the stage where he can combine both rhythm and melody simultaneously ("stasis and motion" is the way he describes it). Jerry, more than any of the others, spends his spare time playing sessions on the albums of his friends - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers," Paul Kantner's solo LP, and Howard Wales' album for Douglas.
What they all care about is the music.
Life-styles, as such, should really be their own business. When they were told that someone who had heard them on both coasts considered that no matter how good [they] ever were in New York, it couldn't compare to a good night in San Francisco, they disagreed strenuously. Bobby Weir stated that some of their best concerts had been done in New York. Basically, the group likes to get off with their music, and since the more they play the higher their standards become, they have to play better and better to satisfy themselves. Result: the best shows are the most recent shows. Usually. They are the first to admit that their off-nights are totally irrevocably off. And it still sometimes happens, especially when they are tired from too much touring. They hate touring. Well, who doesn't? The only consolation is the music, so they feel compelled to make that as good as possible, for their own sakes, as well as the audience's.
The music gets better and more varied. Originally an all-electric set, the Dead have, in the last six months, expanded the format into "An Evening With The Grateful Dead." Now they can include more of the things that interest them, and in addition, leave themselves free to play with different people. The result is a three-part program that starts with an acoustic set, moves on to the New Riders of the Purple Sage - a country-rock group that includes Jerry on pedal-steel guitar and Mickey Hart on drums, as well as a tiny dynamo of a singer called Marmaduke (who has been a member of the Dead family for years) - and finally ends with the electric Dead that everyone loves. The whole concert frequently runs for five hours. How long will they continue to use this format? Phil says that they usually work in cycles that last about a year, so this one has another few months to go, before a further stretch of their talents and energies will be needed to make them happy.
Certainly this latest expansion has brought a wonderful new dimension to the group. Where previously they were noted for their instrumental work, they now do some fine singing. The three part harmonies remind many of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and not without reason. Crosby and Stills have both been long-time close friends of the group, and the story is that they have helped them with their singing. This, in turn, has brought Robert Hunter's lyrics into the foreground as never before, showing them for the integral part of the band's magic that they are. Hunter has been with the group since the beginning and frequently travels with them, although he never performs. The performers envy him the option of going on the road or not, as he wants, and cannot wait for the day when they do not have to tour quite as much as they do now.
Their plans for the future include any number of ideas that they recognize as fantasy. The proto-fantasy would be an independent record company encompassing the Dead, the Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Another is finally having the financial means to play only when and where they want. The reality though is getting better. The group have full control over the production and packaging of their records. The albums are self-produced, and they have at last learned through their mistakes how to do good records as well as good live performances. And Warner Brothers Records is now looking for land in the Frisco area to build them a recording studio - a rare honor, since it will be the first studio built and owned by the company.
The only recent record about which they are unhappy is one called "Vintage Dead." This contains old tapes of the group as they were recorded at the Avalon Ballroom in 1966. When they signed a contract to allow the tapes to be used, it was intended to be one of a 10-record set covering the early history of San Francisco rock. Unfortunately, the company which had bought the tapes went bankrupt, sold its catalogue to another company, which then released a record containing not only a portion of those tapes, but also some other tapes they had acquired. In the group's estimation, both they and the prospective buyers have been burned. But they are philosophical about the whole thing and plan no legal action, since in all likelihood, the record would be on the market for at least a year before any judgment could be handed down. By then, it will have been bought by most of the people who are interested in having it in their collection.
They would like to do more television in the future, but on their own terms, as they did in the instance of the local San Francisco educational station which broadcast a live four hour performance of quintessential S.F. rock - the Dead, the Airplane, and Quicksilver. Any further programming of that type would ideally be "live" since they feel that even videotape weakens the immediacy of the music. But they are realistic enough to know that this will be some time coming, if at all. Certainly the commercial networks are loath to try and tackle anything as spontaneous and uncertain as the music of the Grateful Dead. But another fantasy in which they indulge is the one where they get to play a live show on New Year's Eve and keep wishing everyone a Happy New Year each hour as it comes in across the country. Just a nice cheery standard five or six hour concert with the Grateful Dead. Well, it would be [a] refreshing change from Guy Lombardo!
So they go on their way - still in debt after all these years from supporting so many people. Presumably, they could get clear financially, but that would mean giving up their help to those whom they believe should be helped. For example, they are the sole support of an experimental electronics firm in San Francisco. And they are trying to raise the money to get their friend and former sound man, Owsley Stanley, out of jail. But these are gifts, freely given, with love from the Grateful Dead. They are in some ways a most surprising collection of people, but in others just what you would expect. Good ol' Grateful Dead.

(by Penelope Ross, from Hit Parader, June 1971)

Picture caption: "By and large, some of our policemen are wonderful."

Much of this article was drawn from these November 1970 interviews:

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com.