Surviving the Dead
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:
NEW YORK OPIUM AND COLD BEEF-A-RONI
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.
KEITH MOON'S BIRTHDAY
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)
I got beat up and robbed by a pair of evil crackheads on my way to a couple of Dead shows in Las Vegas, and it was all Neil Young's fault. If he hadn't postponed a gig at the LA Sports Arena that April of 1991 and rescheduled it three weeks later—the night before I had to drive 250 miles across the Mojave Desert to make the Dead dates—maybe I could have set out for Vegas a day earlier instead of pulling an all-night drive in a less-than-trustworthy automobile. Maybe my windows would've been cleaner, and that 3 a.m. stop at a Fullerton Mobil station wouldn't have been necessary. Maybe I wouldn't have had to withdraw the $60 that was eventually snatched from my hands, along with my wallet.
What I knew for sure is that I needed gas and a squeegee, and that I should have paid better attention to the car that screeched behind me into the lot as I stood at the night window feeding a 20 to the woman locked safely inside the mini-mart. Because the next instant, I'm getting punched in the face and knocked to the ground, landing squarely on my left shoulder, and watching my wallet, the guy who hit me and the guy driving the getaway car vanish into the early morning darkness. I thought my shoulder might have been dislocated, but the cops who eventually arrived told me that if that was the case, I'd really be a-hurtin'. I could still drive. And talk about destiny: my driver's license flew out when Evil Crackhead No. 1 grabbed my wallet. And I still had my tickets . . . clearly, God still wanted me to see the Grateful Dead!
Traumatized but undeterred, I got on the 57 freeway and didn't stop going north until I made Vegas, squinting in the morning light after four hours of steering with my right hand and resting my hurt wing on my lap.
I made it to the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl okay, but the all-night drive and the mugging turned what would've been an amazing Dead show—"Maggie's Farm" and "Loose Lucy," but especially the second set of "Sugar Magnolia," "Scarlet Begonias" into "Fire on the Mountain," and the ever-beatific combo of "Playin' in the Band" and "Uncle John's Band"—into white noise. All I could do was sit on the Mojave-baked aluminum bleacher seats and sulk, as 35,000 happy, high Deadheads swirled around me. The next morning, I sold my ticket for the second show and drove home, deflated.
After that, I probably should have stayed away from the ill-fated Dead/Vegas combo, but I went back for the next three years—only to run into bad luck each time. As I was coming home in 1992, a truck carrying highly toxic chemicals overturned on the I-15 about 30 miles into California, which caused a six-hour delay and a traffic jam that stretched back almost to Vegas—we got home about 10 hours later than planned. In 1993, my crappy Ford overheated while we were in a line of cars waiting to enter the Silver Bowl parking lot. We abandoned it and walked the rest of the way—eight miles. In 1994, the same pseudo-car conked out on the drive up somewhere around Walnut, and, after being overcharged by a friendly AAA-recommended mechanic, we barely made the second set. Skipped 1995, the last time the band played Vegas, and Jerry died about three months later. Maybe I should've gone—but maybe I would've died too. (Rich Kane)
ENGLISH WEREWOLVES AND ACID TABS
Wembley Arena, London, Halloween 1990. I took the train down the day of the show. It was a cold, blustery afternoon, just like every day in England from late August to December that year, when I was an exchange student at the University of Nottingham. I had an army parka and a return ticket to Nottingham for the next morning, but I had no food, little money and no place to spend the night.
My plan was as simple as it was stupid: bump into some other students from my exchange program who were studying in London and had tickets to the show. While I waited, I got into an argument about the Gulf War—which hadn't started yet—with an American girl who told me her dad was the most powerful doctor in the Army. Probably to shut me up, she gave me a couple of tabs of acid. I swallowed one. At first, nothing happened. Then I started feeling really happy for no reason. I forgot about needing to find a place to spend the night. I bought a falafel. That's when I finally bumped into a guy I knew, who agreed to let me crash on his couch. I gave him my other tab. We agreed to meet at the falafel stand as soon as the show ended.
After three hours of music, the Dead ended their Halloween show with a predictably crowd-pleasing encore: a cover of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London." Still reeling from hallucinogens, I tried to locate the falafel stand—but it wasn't there anymore. My friend never appeared. Meanwhile, I saw people leaving the stadium in groups of 20, holding hands, everybody smiling and howling in unison, "Ba-oooh!Werewolves of London!"
That's when it dawned on me that I was completely alone, as isolated and vulnerable as I had ever been in my life. I was on acid in a foreign city.
Despite the LSD coursing through my brain, I knew that I had to get to the train station, where I could sleep through the near-freezing night inside a heated building. But the entrance to the subway was chained shut. My map indicated there was a bus stop a few miles away where I could catch a lift to the train station. I started marching.
I didn't see anybody else on the streets that night, but occasionally I could hear echoes of Deadheads yelling "Ba-oooh! Werewolves of London!" Because of the acid, I wasn't sure if I was hearing real echoes or imaginary ones. When I got to the bus station, I found a bench and sat and waited for the next ride. An hour passed. I lay down, using my parka as a blanket. My body shivered uncontrollably. I listened to a bootleg tape of one of my favorite Dead shows on my headsets. The batteries began to drain and the music went into slow motion, but I didn't care. It was as if time itself had slowed. All I could think about was whether my feet had fallen asleep or if I had frostbite. By the time my bus arrived—just after dawn—I was already starting to warm up again. (Nick Schou)
ECSTACY BONERS AND PANIC ATTACKS
First Dead show. Cal State Dominguez Hills, 1990. Don't know what to expect. Like Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Not familiar with much else. Waiting for the show to begin. Patchouli and armpit hair. Hot sun. Parrot heads. Sue asks me if I want a hit of acid. Okay. Never dropped before. Crowd roars. Music starts. Never really stops. Sound of bear growling. A song begins. I've never heard anything like it. I swear my friend says it's "Franklin's Towel." I'm frying. The sky is gelatinous. There's a blimp on the horizon. It grows larger. It dwarfs the sky. Alert everyone within earshot of this salient fact. No one else impressed. After the show I can't find my shoes. I'm obsessing about Jimmy Buffett and The Lord of the Rings. I am nine and 90 in a single second. Bill Graham rides a motorcycle in the parking lot. There's a bus. Someone's selling lemonade. The music never stopped . . . New Year's Eve, whenever. Oakland Coliseum. Indoors. Graham plays volleyball on arena floor. Know our love'll not fade away. We are all sparks of the eternal flame. I have to shit . . . The Coach House, 1991. I dose at a Bob Weir show. I am convinced that the venue is a portal into another dimension. A troll sits next to me at the bar. He offers me his nachos. He is evil with a smiling face and really bad teeth . . . Las Vegas, 1992. Bad trip. Full-blown panic attack. Hard to breathe. Have to get away from people. Duck outside stadium. Find a small lawn. Lie down. From behind, two dudes talking. "I don't know, man. Don't you ever get scared about that whole Armageddon thing in Revelation?" Not what I need to hear. I truck back inside. Jerry is standing on the moon. He sees the battle raging below. Now he's standing somewhere in San Francisco on a back porch in July. All is one. Our incompleteness makes us whole. Embrace the fear. I'm frozen in a moment of sublime transcendence. I taste tears. The storm has passed. Life is limitless, again . . . Shoreline Amphitheater, whenever. Spend my last dollar on ecstasy powder from a Head named Chocolate Chip. I swallow it. Gag. Must wash it down. Have no money for anything to drink. Walk to a condiment stand. Enjoy my ecstasy with great relish. Enjoy show with boner for entire second set . . . August 1995. Jerry's dead. That night, we open our small downtown theater to anyone who needs to chill. We crank up the stereo, sing "I Know You Rider" until the small hours of the morning. The fat bastard landlord calls the cops . . . These days, it's a lot harder to hear the music, but sometimes, if you look at it just right, you can swear it's still out there, further than ever before, still never stopping. (Joel Beers)
The Dead perform at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-6937. Thurs., Sept. 18, 7 p.m. $38.50-$48.50.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.