COLUMN EIGHTY-FOUR, FEBRUARY 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
(Copyright " 2003 Joyce Metzger)
LONG STRANGE TRIP, The Inside History of the Grateful Dead by Dennis
"Dennis McNally knows the Grateful Dead as intimately as they know themselves. His historian's eye, his immersion as a Dead "family member," and his crazed hippie heart
have made this the book to read about the life, times, and twisted, double-helix road of
the band's evolution. It's a great read." --Peter Coyote
The author of this in-depth volume
that plunges to the heart of darkness, then lifts out and into the light, is
Dennis McNally, a historian, a friend, and an acutely aware observer and
recorder. He graduated from St.
Lawrence University in Canton, New York, and received a Ph.D. in American
History from the University of Massachusetts.
After being selected as the Grateful Dead's official historian in 1980,
he assumed the band's publicity duties in 1984 and has been running that post
ever since. He is the author of one
previous book, Desolate Angel: Jack
Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America.
Pot was memorable. Friendships were
made, and finalized. The stream of consciousness flowed while the joy of
listening developed. The Kennedys
defined a current that shouted change to the youth. Freedom Riders in the south challenged segregation.
The Cadillac Hotel, and The Boar's Head figured largely in their
activities. Phil Lesh challenged
guitarists to "come up with knuckle-busting perverse chords, seventeenths with
flatted eighths with augmented..." Brigid Meier became Garcia's 'the
love of my life, really, in a way." Youthful lust cemented their relationship
into a physical one.
Hungers grew, so did talent. Moral,
ethical, doctrinal, and transcendental issues were considered, faced, and
scaled. Psychedelic use of
marijuana and LSD became common, and the altered state was more desirable than a
normal one. But the spiritual quest
co-mingled with an expansion of musical awareness as well as personal
relationships; some, which came rapidly, left as quickly.
Everything became picturesque and irresistible. They fed gnawing hungers.
Contentious exchanges arose as distractions to be abandoned.
Music and interaction were
dependable, consistent and authentic. This became the moment of illumination for
all and took precedent over the now soft dream of daily life that rapidly faded
into the background. Rock and roll
was a passing fancy, but Garcia remained serious about Bluegrass.
Hundreds of thousands participated in the Dr. M.L. King's "March".
Three weeks later, four little girls died when a bomb exploded in a church.
On November 22, 1963, J.F.K was murdered.
The country was in chaos.
Garcia once said, "I am not an
artist in the independent sense, I'm part of dynamic situations, and that's
where I like it." The once
organized "Warlocks? that evolved into the Grateful Dead, worked precisely
around this principle. The
Warlocks found a home at The In Room, in Belmont, California.
Kreutzmann looked young and innocent. Pigpen was bearded, burly,
barrel-chested, "jowly, scowly and growly". but the ugly mother could play!
The more he profaned love and beauty, the more his grossness rendered him
beautiful," said Ed McClanahan, one of Ken Kesey's Stanford friends.
Garcia said; "I'm really a jive
lyricist." Because of a conflict
of name interest, a new name emerged; the Grateful
Dead. "Innocent as babes,?
Dennis wrote, 'they had connected with a motif that twined itself throughout
human history. The term is about
karma and asserts that acting from soul and the heart guarantees that
righteousness will result. It is about honor, compassion and keeping promises.
It implied layers of depth and suggested something very powerful." The name
Neal Cassady became prominent, almost a leading force for the new Grateful Dead. San Francisco was over-run with hippies and beats. Ken Kesey's "merry prankster bus? was created and his place La Honda was well known. Hunter Thompson thought to introduce
felt like a party
where psychedelic exploration was free
the "Angels? to the Pranksters.
Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Garcia, Lesh, Weir, Sue
Adventures began, wave after wave,
each higher, lasting longer, leaving more profound impressions. There were more
people tripping in one room than anyone had seen before.
Their fame grew. They rented
paradise, Olompali, a former Native-owned commune now in the hands of The
University of San Francisco. Life
at Olompali always felt like a party where psychedelic exploration was free,
easy, and the order of each day. Drugs
took over and later were to have long lasting consequences. Rock music became
the agreed medium for the extended bohemian tradition of the San Francisco
scene. The Grateful Dead was the
first band to sign with Warner Bros. Their status changed.
Everyone recognized a "winner."
As Dennis wrote, "A band is a
very fragile social institution." Artistic
self-doubt frequently handicaps mature, or normal relationships. The celebratory
setting that permeates the scene becomes saturated with drug and alcohol abuse.
Suspicions arise, and eventually, all suspect imagined slights and
The Monterey happening of 7,500
paid tickets (with more splash-over) cemented a "big brother? relationship.
Promoters, hustlers and con-men came forward, each scenting something
new, and big, which would make money for everyone.
LSD was playing havoc with Robert Hunter's life in August 1967. Mickey Hart joined the band. A fundamental approach mixed two
drummers, and the bass player was a "harmonic co-leader."
On Feb 4th, 1968, Neal Cassady lay dying of exposure on the
railroad tracks near San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Two major currents began to emerge.
One, the integration of live and studio music; the other was the time
used and engendered by Indian music. In
April they performed on the student union steps during the Columbia University
As Dennis wrote, "In the final
analysis, the most important promoter in Dead history was Bill Graham." Later
there would be charges of mismanagement and fraud. In February at the Oakland Coliseum Arena everything that can
go wrong, did. Weir announced;
"Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, the circus is in town." Noises erupted and Weir fluffed his "just keep truckin?
on." The audience loved the errors, and realized they were a part of this
process. They cherished the normality of a band that could make obvious errors!
Stoned. On top of everything else,
they brought nitrous oxide tanks into the studio. Garcia said: "it?creates a
fast, synchronous, telepathic thing that's fantastic." Mickey dosed his
horse and dog with LSD. Garcia became an adept gunsmith. On May 15th,
police and CHP entered the People's Park as, Dennis wrote, "6000
Berkeleyites marched down Telegraph Hill. The
next day, the police trapped 3000 and strafed them with tear gas from
helicopters." John Lennon and
Yoko Ono were holding a "Bed-In for Peace?in Montreal. Garcia considered
good and evil: 'they exist together in their little game. Good and evil are
manifestations of consciousness. . .We've chosen to go with the thing of "we
don't care whether they have expectations, or not."
We don't want to be entertainers. We want to play music."
One thing the Dead got from
Woodstock was their most recognizable logo in the world; a skull, the forehead
cleaved by a lightning bolt. The bolt had thirteen points. The colors were red,
white and blue. Some 299,000
people/fans/deadheads came to see the show at the Altamont Racetrack.
The Hell's Angels had been hired as security. Later as the crowd became
crazed, scuffles against the Angels broke out. Everything exploded wildly.
Angels swarmed Meredith Hunter;
Alan Pasaro repeatedly stabbed him. Garcia had always been dubious about
politics but Altamont was the capper. This had been a Rolling Stone and Grateful
Dead combo performance. It ended in
Joseph Campbell lived next door to
Bobby Weir and was a frequent guest. Campbell came to a Dead show and was
enthralled. Everything changed, and
nothing changed. The Dead stopped
breaking out garbage cans of dosed Kool-Aid. The audience increased, in size,
and in loyalty, no matter the tribulations.
Garcia and M.G. (Mountain Girl) had been happy with their home in Madrone
Caynon. In June, 1971, M.G. found
Sans Souci in Stinson. It was on a hilltop, backed by county reserve land.
'the panoramic ocean view was beyond spectacular," Dennis McNally describes
the setting in vivid detail.
In September, Pigpen was
hospitalized with an attack of perforated ulcers and hepatitis. The Dead
traveled to Europe; London, Copenhagen. They played the clowns on the Bozo bus,
then adopted momentarily, Hypnocracy, a theory derived from 'technology? but
essentially a language joke, 'surrealism as metaphor." It died when the tour
The album Rolling Thunder comprised, "Alla Rakha, Shoshone chants, a water
pump, big band jazz and electronic music."
They worked a recording session for
David Bromberg. Garcia and Al
Aronowitz, Bromberg's manager, had become good friends.
Aronowitz had gained fame while a feature writer for the New
York Post. He asked a favor and Garcia and the Dead complied. The album was
one side of Wanted: Dead or Alive. Bromberg
wasn't comfortable with the Dead. Elegant
over-dubbing polished harmonies, and Legate's liner notes were superb for
On March 8th, the band
learned of Pigpen's death. They
held a righteous wake at Weir's new digs in Mill Valley. It was pouring rain. Five hundred people were invited with
several hundred extra on the hillside. The Grateful Dead plus many other
musicians attended the traditional Roman Catholic funeral. An era of wildness
was passing; a new era was knocking. Garcia
had a couple of run-ins with the police. Wives, girlfriends, and daughters of
the Dead handled financial enterprises; Kumquat Mae, a travel agency, and new
fan clubs. The Dead were a "Megadead Business."
'suddenly the music is not notes
or a tune," wrote Michael Lyndon, "but what those seven people are
exactly?an aural holograph of the GD. All
their fibres, nuances, histories, desires, beings are clear."
Bent notes are scattered, and tossed seemingly aimlessly. Drums crashes
and chords rumble lower, the music slows to become giant boulders in the trance
like states of improvisation, the beating throbbing pulse of all combined into
Playing to audiences meant the
road, a combination of motion, boredom, with a stream of jokes, sexism,
sarcastic testing, the improbable, the obscene and experimentation. Their
on-the-road trips became invasions. They
had fiascoes in Dijon and in Paris. Herb Caen confirmed that 'the Dead were
about to retire, to rest, recuperate, rethink, and one hopes, regroup."
In May 1974, Hunter had written, "It is time to retreat. It is time to
advance backwards. No longer are
there any choices. What a relief."
Garcia had been drifting away from Mountain Girl. He now began a relationship with Deborah Koons. M.G. was at home with the three children, Sunshine Kesey, Annabelle
who didn't want to lead soon discovered heroin
and Theresa (Trixie). Weir's romance with Frankie collapsed. In the end she would
shoot herself, but not fatally. An
attention grabber with no serious thought involved?
By spring 1977, Garcia and company
were nearing completion, and Jerry discovered heroin. The required role of being
a leader who didn't want to lead was contributory to his need to seek out a
psychic painkiller. Garcia's
intimacy with a lover had always been a problem. At times, when angry or
neglected, Deborah used physical violence.
Garcia took heroin to sooth his frayed nerves.
It had horrific effects, including the destruction of his unquestioned
moral authority within the band. They traveled to Egypt in 1978. It was a wild
eye-opening experience for most of the Dead.
Jerry's continued drug use gained more attention.
He rarely went to bed, and had moved into the in-law apartment of Rock
Scully's home. Donna Jean, their
singer, flew home.
Garcia was at Front Street when a
call told him of the assassination of John Lennon. In 1985 the Dead were influenced by the Gyuto Monks of Tibet.
The Grateful Dead became the monks? de facto American promoters; they
held Bay area shows to raise funds for them. Garcia had had health problems but
now as 1986 passed, he seemed healthier. Lesh quit cocaine, and Kreutzmann began
to attend AA. Hard drugs were no longer stylish. After an especially hot tour in
Washington D.C., Jerry returned home to gradually slip into a coma, the
consequence of adult-onset diabetes, and drugs.
Every excess extracted its toll, on
Garcia, the hub of the Dead, and on the band members. In 1987.
In May, the work on an album was completed, and a video was shot in the
Frost Amphitheater. Thousands of Dead Heads were there to watch.
In May, Bob Dylan and the Dead spent three weeks at Front Street,
rehearsing for a concert. The Touch of Grey video was an instant hit.
On July 6th, the Dead and Dylan began a six-stadium tour.
Later Dylan talked about the positive effect the Dead had on him.
Jerry took a vacation in Hawaii to return tanned, and with a appreciation
for a new underwater hobby.
Hunter sent a letter in March to
the Dead Heads: "Here we are sitting on top of the world?which raises the
question of who we are'the answer
is: partly us, partly you." In
Oakland the press focused on neighborhood gripes about public urination and
D.H.s taking too much parking space. Despite
success and good works, the Dead would never be seen as saints. In 1989 Dennis
McNally tells us, troubles began. Three
gigs had been cancelled. Fans tried
to gate-crash doors. Cameras caught a cop punching a D.H. who had been
Success was sweet but a price was
extracted. Garcia, 1974: "It's
embarrassing to be considered part of the entertainment scene.
And weird to be so popular. That's a mystery."
Garcia, in 1979: "Ugly but honest, that's us."
The Dead hit a peak in 1991. "Coverage
of the tour phenomenon verged on the overwhelming." Many band members had
developed hearing problems. On
August 1st, Jerry returned home, and the next day lay comatose. His lips were blue, his legs swollen. His heart enlarged,
lungs were diseased, and he had borderline diabetes.
As the crisis passed, Garcia went on a vegetarian diet, and agreed to
change his ways. He lost seventy pounds by 1992 and renewed interest in Brigid
Meier, his old flame (first love) from 1961. Jerry asked Vince Di Biase to tell
Manasha that things were finished between them.
The Dead were inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 19, 1994. Shows continued, fans adored, the musical Mobius strip rolled
on as Garcia established a rhythm one could not drown out.
Everything was perfect but the underpinnings were shaken. Though
beautiful music was created, a sadness permeated as a specter hovered on the
Jerry sought treatment at the Betty
Ford Clinic. His physicality was failing and the drugs had masked symptoms.
Other band members were troubled with dreams. August 9th, a nurse
passed by his room, stopped to investigate, and found he had stopped breathing.
The smile on Garcia's lips was as if to reassure everyone, things were all
right, at last. In April 1996, Weir and Deborah scattered some of Jerry's
ashes in the Ganges. The remainder
were returned to San Francisco, and were scattered near the Golden Gate.
With the death of the hub, the
unifying center, the Dead sought independent directions. The Dead legacy was
stylistic and social influence on other bands, on the hearts of die-hard
followers, and the unique music itself. Garcia
said: "'sometimes we ride on your horses, sometimes we walk alone."
The era was over, the music still floats across, and into our ears and we
feel a gifted gentle giant walked among us.
All he ever wanted was to play music, as Garcia listened to that torrent
of notes that raged inside his soul.
I enjoyed every page and encourage
without hesitation, for any who were fans, or for any who are curious, or are
historians, to order Dennis McNally's book . . . today!
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