Thursday, May 10, 2012


     The Dead were playing at the Cow Palace soon- it was now March of 1974. I had no ticket, but figured that I would get one when I got up there. After looking at the situation in the refrigerator (one slice of ham for a sandwich was about all there was in ready-made food- the side of bacon from the construction contractor last Christmas was still basically untouched)- I made one, stuck it in the pocket of my surplus field jacket, and hitchiked up there.

     I ran into Donohue in line. He had also come up from Pacifica via Geneva Avenue, and we were both pretty jazzed to be catching the Dead again. Inside, there was a real change in the way things looked up on stage. It seemed there were now hundreds, literally, of speakers lined up in tall stacks behind the band. Well, there had also been a lot of them at that concert at Kezar, but now, we were talking twice as many and stacked twice as high.

     This then was the premiere of the famous Wall of Sound- a PA system unparalleled, unrivaled, and heretofore, unprecedented in the annals of music history. Each stack of speakers was set for one instrument, one only, with the exception of the bass, which got four. (Or two, but separated into four channels.) The midrange vocals were hanging in a configuration a lot like a rounded halfdome set on its side, at the center of the stage, and hanging from a scaffold. There was Keith’s grand piano, and everyone had those Macintosh power amps with the little glowing blue dials. I think there was even an oscilloscope hooked up to Lesh’s amp stack. In any case, it was a marvelous impression all that gear made, and the sound- when it happened- was absolutely spectacular.

     The PA had been tuned for the hall, this would be its first shakedown cruise, but in general, the way they worked was they would acoustically test each hall while setting up, and figure out the exactly best angles for the different columns. The propaganda they sent us through the Dead Heads newletters said this was so that {“each seat and each person in the hall could have a pristine field of hearing up to 100 yards”}*

     There was no opening band- from the start, when they came out playing US Blues, one got the feeling this would be a very, very special night. Kevin dropped half a hit of acid he had got from one of the ‘Bini Brothers back on the coast that day, I had just a few joints in my pocket, but I had a lovely time. Acid was never that neccesary for a good Dead show experience, it just happened I was not in the mood for it that night.

     The center of the hall made a good place to begin the show, and I was there for most of it.
Once the second set began, (with a long “Playing in the Band-Uncle Johns Band-Morning Dew-and back out again” sandwich), I was really feeling upbeat. Getting to the midpoint of Morning Dew, everything so quiet, you might have heard a pin drop. I listened to audience tapes of the night  later with Scott Wiseman and discovered that my clapping along (in time, and rather loud!) seemed to dominate that part of the tape. 
Oh well, I said, I’m not in this world to help you make pristine Dead tapes, I am at a Dead show to party!

     Kev went for a walk back into the area behind the arena and ran into a guy he said looked “just like Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’. Ramblin’ Jack had blown our minds, discovering one little song on a tape in Charlie’s collection,  his “912 Greens” song about the folks down in New Orleans he met one year, and his line:

     Did you ever stand and shiver-
     Just because you were looking at a river…

     Well, we did learn later, it actually had been Ramblin Jack. And the song was truly iconic for both of us, opening us up to all kinds of hopeful future situations…

     While Kevin was out there in the lobby beginning to feel like he was Dante exploring the outer regions of the circles of Hell, I was in the arena, toward the back, beginning to get my own snapshots from Hades. 
A young woman about my age, perhaps a year or two older, was dancing barefooted in front of me. 
I noticed there was a broken quart beer bottle right there underneath her feet, and I tried pulling her away, toward where she wouldn’t need step on any of the shards. She kept pulling back from me and going on with her dancing. After three or four such attempts and screaming each time into her ear “There’s broken glass down there!” I finally gave up. There’s only so much you can do, for people unwilling (or too high) to receive help, I suppose.

     Kevin and I linked up again right at the end of the show, and we hitched ourselves a lift back down the coast highway to the Marine Boulevard house. The driver looked a lot like Jerry Garcia, himself, but he was a welder and lived farther down the coastside from us, and Moss Beach was no trouble. The spooky rocks and cliffs of Devil’s slide in the dark, let us know were were, indeed, exiting Hades and coming back to more familiar territory.

     Debbie, Suzanne and a Half Moon Bay kid named Mike Watson were up at the house, wide awake, drunk, and offering us more. I had a little of the beer,  smoked what was left of my pot, and Watson wandered off into one of the corners and puked. I guess it had been a good party! In the morning I got up, showered and hitchiked back over the hill.

 *{more or less. I no longer have the document to express it in exact terms}

[excerpted from No Backstage Passes In Heaven (an autobiographical memoir)]

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