Good Old Grateful Dead

Page 2 of 8

"Sorry," he shouted, "but we're gonna split for a while and set up our own PA so we can hear what the fuck is happening." He ripped his cord out of his amp and walked off. Rock took charge.

"The Dead will be back, folks, so everybody go outside, take off your clothes, cool down, and come back. This was just an introduction."

Backstage was a brawl. "We should give the money back if we don't do it righteous." Jerry was shouting. "Where's Bear?"

Bear wandered over, still lost in some inter-cerebral space.

"Listen, man, are you in this group, are you one of us?" Jerry screamed, "are you gonna set up that PA? Their monitors suck. I can't hear a goddam thing out there. How can I play if I can't hear the drums?"

Bear mumbled something about taking two hours to set up the PA, then wandered off. Rock was explaining to the knot of curious on-lookers.

"This is the Grateful Dead, man, we play with twice the intensity of anybody else, we gotta have our own system. The promoter screwed us. and we tried to make it, but we just can't. It's gotta be our way, man."

Ramrod and the other 'quippies were already dismantling the original PA.

"Let's just go ahead," said Pigpen. "I can fake it."

"I can't," said Jerry.

"It's your decision," said Pig.

"Yeah," said Phil, "if you and nobody else gives a good goddam."

But it was all over. Bear had disappeared, the original PA was gone, someone had turned up the houselights, and the audience was melting away. A good night, a potentially great night, had been shot by a combination of promoter burn and Dead incompetence, and at one AM it didn't matter who was to blame or where it had started to go wrong. It was too far gone to save that night.

"We're really sorry," Phil kept saying to the few who still lingered by the gym's back door. "We burned you of a night of music, and we'll come back and make it up."

"If we dare show our faces in this town again." said rhythm guitarist Bob Weir as they walked to the cars. The others laughed, but it wasn't really funny.

They rode back to the Ocean Palms Motel in near silence.

"When we missed that plane we should have known," said Bill Kreutzman. "An ill-advised trip."

Jerry said it was more than that. They took the date because their new manager, Lenny Hart, Mickey's father, while new at the job, had accepted it from Bill Graham. The group had already decided to leave Millard. Graham's booking agency, and didn't want anymore of his jobs, but took it rather than making Hart go back on his word. "That's the lesson: take a gig to save face, and you end up with a shitty PA and a well-burned audience."

"Show biz, that's what it was tonight," Mickey Hart said softly, "and show biz is the shits."

The others nodded and the car fell silent. Road markers flicked by the car in solemn procession as the mist rolled in off the muffled ocean.


t's now amost four years since the Acid Tests, the first Family Dog dances, the Mime troupe benefits, and the Trips Festival; almost the same since Donovan sang about flying Jefferson Airplane and a London discotheque called Sibylla's became the in-club because it had the first light show in Europe; two and a half since the Human Be-In, since Newsweek and then the nation discovered the Haight-Ashbury, hippies, and "the San Francisco Sound." The Monterey Pop Festival, which confirmed and culminated that insanely explosive spring of 1967, is now two years gone by. The biggest rock and roll event of its time, that three-day weekend marked the beginning of a new era. The Beatles (who sent their regards), the Stones, Dylan, even the Beach Boys – the giants who had opened things up from 1963 to '67 – were all absent, and the stage was open for the first generation of the still continuing rock profusion. Monterey was a watershed and the one to follow it has not yet come. Though it was, significantly, conceived in and directed from Los Angeles, its inspiration, style, and much of its substance was San Francisco's. The quantum of energy that pushed rock and roll in the level on which it now resides came from San Francisco.

Since then what San Francisco started has become so diffuse, copied, extended, exploited, rebelled against, and simply accepted that it has become nearly invisible. One can't say "acid rock" now without embarrassed quotations. The city, once absurdly over-rated, is now under-rated. The process of absorption has been so smoothly quick that it is hard to remember when it was all new, when Wes Wilson posters were appearing fresh every week, when Owsley acid was not just a legend or mythical standard, when only real freaks had hair down past their shoulders, when forty minute songs were revolutionary, and when a dance was not a concert but a stoned-out bacchanal. But it was real; had it not been so vital, it would not have been so quickly universalized. Since 1966 rock and roll has come to San Francisco like the mountain of Mohammed.

Its only two rivals in attractive power have been Memphis and Nashville – like San Francisco, small cities with local musicians who, relatively isolated (by choice), are creating distinctive music that expresses their own and their cities' life styles. Musicians everywhere have been drawn to both the music and ambience of the three cities, just as jazz men were once drawn to New Orleans, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Rock and roll has always been regional music on the lower levels, but success, as much for the Beatles and Dylan as for Elvis or James Brown, always meant going to the big city, to the music industry machine. That machine, whether in London, New York, or Los Angeles, dictated that the rock and roll life was a remote one of stardom which, with a complex structure of fan mags and fan clubs, personal aides, publicity men, limited tours and carefully spaced singles, controlled the stars' availability to the public for maximum titillation and maximum profit. The fan identified with his stars (idols), but across an uncrossable void. The machine also tended either to downplay the regional characteristics of a style or exaggerate them into a gimmick. A lucky or tough artist might keep his musical roots intact, but few were able to transfer the closeness they had with their first audience to their mass audience. To be a rock and roll star, went the unwritten law, you had to go downtown.

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Song Stories

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