Surviving the Dead

Its not just a band, its an adventure

Jerry Garcia died in August 1995, a month before the first issue of the Weekly, conveniently keeping a staff of Deadheads from scribbling about the band whenever they came around. But lo! After some less-than-stellar reunion attempts as the Other Ones, the Grateful Dead are back—this time as just "the Dead," which is what legions of tie-dyed, shower-phobic 'Heads always called them anyway. For this tour, the four surviving principals—Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann—are joined by a few sharp session players and Joan Osborne, whose caterwauling should be at least as interesting as Donna Godchaux's was back in the '70s. Of course, it'll never be the same without Jerry, but it sure beats the hell out of Phish. Grab a veggie burrito, light a patchouli incense stick, strap on your hemp sandals and revel in these remembrances (the ones we actually can remember, anyway) of some of our favorite Dead moments on that long, strange trip:


I was 15 years old and whacked out of my mind on drugs, so recollections of the infamous Watkins Glen Summer Jam in the summer of '73 come as an Impressionist painting, shadows seen through a haze of Southern Comfort, weed and opium.

The Watkins Glen "festival," a single-day event featuring only three bands—the Dead, the Allman Brothers and the Band—is well-known as the most-attended musical event in history; 600,000 people—nearly double Woodstock—turned out at a racetrack in upstate New York. A couple of friends and I arrived via Greyhound the night before. Fifty miles of parked (and in many cases, abandoned) cars clogged thoroughfares leading to the concert site, but we were lucky enough to meet up with some fraternal-minded older hippies who let us hitch a ride on the back of their car as it crept along, literally inches at a time, to the Summer Jam grounds. That night, festivalgoers were treated to a sound check that turned into a concert of its own, as all three bands played for several hours. I clearly recall hearing people murmuring, "It's like Woodstock all over again, maaaan" throughout the evening.

The good vibes of that night were replaced by harsher realities the next day. Between several bouts of opium-induced unconsciousness, perhaps what I most recollect is the horror of waiting in line for hours outside the befouled outhouse. I also remember being alternately burned by blistering sun and pelted by hammering rain; suffering wicked hunger pangs, which were briefly alleviated by a can of cold Beef-A-Roni; watching naked, mud-covered concertgoers freaking out on god-only-knows-what illicit substances; becoming paranoid over the menacing presence of a biker gang called the Diablos; and hearing that some poor bastard had croaked himself while trying to skydive into that teeming cesspool of hair and stink and slime and drugs. This was not exactly my idea of utopia. It was more like Altamont Lite. But then again, I don't think I was ever very good at being a hippie.

Oh, yes, the music. Well, I remember dancing giddily as the Dead tore into a great version of "Bertha," and I remember much of the Allmans' late-night set because I had abandoned further substance abuse after the onset of my fourth mini-coma during the daylight hours. Oh, and the recent death of Duane Allman hung over the Brothers' set as a palpable cloud of gloom. That's about it.

As the bootleg albums of Watkins Glen began to appear in the following months, I bought 'em all and bragged insufferably how I was there and what a great experience it had been. But you know the physiological truth, and the bootlegs revealed that the music was, by and large, something less than inspired.

In fact, the Dead were already past their prime by the summer of '73, saddled with the hell-spawned yowling of Donna Godchaux, and they indulged in the usual interminable, noodling jams.

When I want enjoyable Grateful Dead memories, I go back and listen to the Workingman's Dead and American Beauty albums. The truth is, after seeing the Dead in concert about a dozen times over the years, I long ago concluded that they were one of the worst live bands I've ever endured. (Buddy Seigal)

The Dead shall rise.

October '76, Oakland Stadium. The Dead are opening for the Who on Keith Moon's birthday. My buddy Mark and I stop off someplace way the fuck past Prunetucky to pick up his cousin Roy, who's dressed all in black with big pointy cowboy boots and wraparound shades and has his hair slicked straight back like a vampire cowboy. Roy says he lives way up on the mountain "so I kin see them cops comin'." At the show we drop some orange barrel and are frying good and proper by the time the Dead are midway through their set, and Roy is just sitting there with an evil grin on his face, smoking and drinking whatever comes his way, saying "Dig it, man. Fucking dig it," and the mass of twirling hippies down on the field turns into a giant human pizza. There's a huge line at a stall in one of the men's toilets, and you can see a chick down on her knees in there and some guy standing in front of her with his pants around his ankles. Then I'm back in my seat, and Keith Moon is doing cartwheels across the stage and someone sticks drumsticks in his hands, and Pete Townshend is standing there, straddle-legged, his arm raised—dead silence—then he whirls his arm around and WHANNNNGGGG!, everybody's pinned in their seats the music's so fucking loud. The Who kids are beating the shit out of the Deadheads and the chick in the bathroom gets hauled out on a stretcher, a long streamer of goo oozing out of her mouth. And Roy's just sitting there grinning the whole time: "Dig it, man. Fucking dig it." (Broos Campbell)

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