Chapter 9: Where Is the Child Who Played With the Sunshine?
Page 153, bottom; life after living in the Haight:
Ron Rakow managed to finagle a deal whereby the band and extended family bought 16 British-made Ford Cortinas so everyone had a way to get around Marin and into the city. "He got them on time at a fleet price and they each put in like $60 a month, taken out of their paychecks," M.G. remembers. "They were pretty shitty, but they got us where we needed to go. All the cars ended up smashed and broken and in lagoons and over cliffs — there are really astonishing stories about these cars! We hit two deer with ours. It absolutely destroyed the front end of the car, but we managed to keep driving and we made it home, but then that was it. It was totaled." Rakow says he gave his own Cortina to the Black Panther Party, who later drove it into San Francisco Bay, "but Pigpen kept his for something like five years," Rakow says.
On the record front, the Dead released a very strange single version of "Dark Star" backed with Weir's "Born Cross-Eyed" in May '68. The release served to keep the band's name in circulation while the interminable chore of mixing Anthem of the Sun continued. Few radio stations played the single and not many people bought it outside the Bay Area. The only reason it is remembered at all today is that it was included on a 1977 Warner Bros. "best of" compilation called What A Long Strange Trip It's Been. And it is a curious piece of work. At just two minutes and 41 seconds, it is the shortest version of the song the band ever played, and the mix is bizarre, highlighting Phil's bass line and Pigpen's rudimentary organ almost to the exclusion of everything else. Garcia's vocal is double- or triple-tracked and buried in echo. There is no jam at all between the two verses, but after the second verse there is an odd little coda where Robert Hunter can barely be heard over swelling gongs reciting a spacey "word salad" (as he called it) that was never recorded again:
spinning a set the stars through which the tattered tales
of axis rolls
about the waxen wind of never set to motion in the unbecoming
round about the reason hardly matters nor the wise through which
the stars were set in spin
It was Hunter's only appearance on a Grateful Dead record. Then, during the song's fade, a few seconds of Garcia playing a banjo breakdown (from an early '60s tape) skitters into the foreground, a jarring and confusing juxtaposition. All in all, the 45 bears little resemblance to any other version of "Dark Star."
"The single that we recorded at the time was a very poor exposition of the idea that I had in my mind," Garcia said years later. "I wanted it to have a lot more depth, but I had no idea how to make the band play that way. I especially didn't know how to speak to drummers then. I didn't know how to tell them what I wanted. For me, the single of it is a blunder; it didn't work. ... I wanted it to have more power. I wanted the bass figure to be more powerful. ...
"As always with Grateful Dead stuff, my version usually just dies somewhere and the Grateful Dead version takes over. I've learned to trust that process. At the time I was panicked a little because I thought, 'Well, what happened to my song? What happened to the thing that I wanted to have happen here?' But as it opened up and we got really risky — when we started to drop the rhythm and just [go] all over the place — then I realized that the Grateful Dead version — the x version — was way more interesting both to me as a player and also to me as an audience."
Page 155, bottom; more studio weirdness:
Another nitrous-influenced piece the group worked on around this time was called "The Barbed Wire Whipping Party," which was little more than layers of spoken and chanted phrases — "Meat, meat, meat, give me my meat, meat, meat!" — jumbled together to hallucinatory effect; sort of an audio nitrous party. Mercifully, it was left off the album when it came out many months later, but it's been in circulation among Grateful Dead tape collectors for many years.
156, bottom; another gig for Garcia outside the Dead:
It was around this time, too, that Garcia, Hart and Jack Casady flirted with the notion of starting a "power trio" in the mold of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, the great British psychedelic blues "supergroup" consisting of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Cream was as influential as it was popular. The group's long, noisy, distorted jams made most bands sound positively mousy in comparison, and there's no question that the Dead and the Airplane were impressed by the volume and intensity of Cream's live assault.
"Me and Jack Casady and Mickey were gonna form a power trio one day or one afternoon or one week," Garcia said. "We actually got together one afternoon. We took this stuff called THC [tetrahydracannabinol, the active ingredient in pot] but it really wasn't; it was horse trank [tranquilizer] or something — one of those dumb drugs. ... We ended up with a tape that was about two and a half hours, and we played [the tapes] ostensibly around the neighborhood, and everybody was really encouraging." Although Garcia said the trio's one-day lifespan showed that "we could kick some ass," the idea never went much further: "I don't know what the situation was, but it just sort of petered out."
Page 157, bottom; T.C. and Pigpen:
T.C. and Pigpen roomed together on the road and became great friends, and T.C. said, "I don't think he felt that threatened by me. After all, they already had two guitarists and two drummers, and the interpersonal dynamics among the players were already strange enough without worrying about the mitigating effects of instruments. In other words, it's strange enough relating to the guitarists and drummers already — in terms of the music, dynamics, balance. If anything, adding my keyboard stabilized it, rather than disrupted it. I never felt any professional jealousy in that situation; it seemed more like brotherhood and connection. If he did feel jealous he hid it well.
"Beyond that, [not playing organ] freed him up as a vocalist. He could stand up with a microphone, which he was really good at, and to judge from appearances, he liked. I think Jerry did some things to make Pigpen feel included, like featuring his songs and encouraging him. The perception I had was that Jerry was always encouraging him, and he felt that Pigpen's thing should have a platform in the band's context."
As for his own role in the group, T.C. said that he often found it difficult to find a place for his organ work between Garcia's busy, melodic leads and Weir's "atonalist" rhythm guitar: "I wanted to be able to stay out of their way. You can have all kinds of musical activity side by side as long as it's in certain prescribed areas of the audible spectrum. Mahler was a genius at that — he'd have six, seven, eight things going on that you could hear clearly."
Page 158, bottom; Garcia on "Dupree's Diamond Blues":
"'Dupree' is one of my favorite recorded [songs]," Garcia said in the early '70s. "It reminds me of a little cartoon strip, with cartoon characters. It had a banjo in it, a little 12-string and stuff like that. Texturally, it's really successful to my ears. It does what it's supposed to. It has a little sort of calliope sound, where T.C. is playing a perfect organ part for it."
Page 160, lower-middle; more on touring with the Dead:
"I met the V.P. for public relations of TWA and I was bitching at him — 'Look, I'm a big account; I'm $80,000 a year. I'm not someone who's going to visit my aunt one time a year,'" Reister says. "They didn't know how to deal with us at all. But this was really the beginning of airlines understanding that bands were becoming a big business for them. It was myself, Bill Laudner, who was road manager for the Airplane, the Quicksilver guys, Big Brother — we sort of pioneered the way they treat bands now. They figured out how to coordinate our air freight. Still, for a long time, they used to hide us from the other passengers, either by boarding us first or putting us in a lounge until the plane was ready to go."
Page 162, top; life on the road, 1969:
Bill Belmont, who had road-managed for Country Joe & the Fish before helping the Dead out on the road for their winter '69 tour, found Garcia "very quiet, very withdrawn. He hung around with Owsley and didn't do much of anything. I remember him being in a relatively bad mood a lot, at least on the road. I don't think he liked being on the road then. He always had trouble sleeping; he was something of an insomniac. I don't remember him going out much. I do remember that he always had a guitar in his hands.
"Garcia once said to me, 'You know, you're just an observer; you don't participate,'" Belmont continues. "'What am I supposed to participate in?' 'You know.' And what he really meant was, they could never really get me stoned enough and they could never really get me to lose it, and that was the only reason I was successful at what I did — because I didn't lose it. Rock and Danny lost it; they all became totally out there, with the band. The combined collective made it function, but not one single person was sufficiently together to get much done because they were all high most of the time. The equipment guys got the equipment packed, and they never lost anything. The guys managed to get their own stuff together and move around from place to place. And together they managed to function. But there had to be someone kind of like a sheepdog, running around the herd so they wouldn't get lost; that's what I did. So I managed to not get immersed in whatever craziness there was."
Belmont says that winter '69 tour was "an extreme low-point for the band" economically. "They only made $1,500 a night at Fillmore East. They made $3,000 at Kiel [Auditorium in St. Louis], $2,000 in Nebraska. But they took gigs where they could get them and expenses weren't like what they would become later."
Page 162, middle; more on the hiring of Lenny Hart:
Jonathan Reister says, "I wanted Bill Graham to be our business manager, but Mickey overruled that because of his dad. We were just starting to become successful and Rock and I needed somebody to deal with the money. I didn't want to deal with it. What I wanted was credit cards and ways to make it smooth on the road for the band. And the band certainly didn't want to deal with it. They hated dealing with money. So Lenny came in and we thought he was going to stay at home and take care of all the money and give us a legitimate foundation to build on.
"became interested in the pedal steel," Keith says, "but for me, one of the things that was appealing about the instrument was that it was such a contrast to the banjo. Banjo tunes are great when the tempo is fast, because of the banjo's tone and its quick decay. But for playing slow tunes, ballads, you can't sustain [notes] well with the banjo, whereas with the steel a note can almost go on forever." No doubt this aspect of the pedal steel also appealed to Garcia, who became increasingly interested in the balladic form when he started writing a lot with Hunter. At the same time, as Sandy Rothman points out, "the pedal steel is played three-finger-style, with a plastic thumb pick and two metal fingerpicks, just like the five-string banjo played Scruggs-style, so in terms of right hand technique, it was already familiar to Garcia."
Page 167, middle; more on John Dawson's background:
A rich kid from the cushy Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Dawson moved to the Los Altos Hills with his family in the early '50s and attended the hip and progressive Peninsula School there before shipping off to the Millbrook School for Boys in upstate New York, just down the road from the Hitchcock mansion where Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert did their psychedelic research.
Dawson liked country music from a very early age, and when the folk boom hit, like a zillion other kids he took up the guitar and learned how to play basic tunes from the Kingston Trio's repertoire, as well as songs by the Canadian folk duo Ian & Sylvia and others. After graduating from Millbrook in '63, Dawson went to Occidental College outside of Los Angeles, where his roommate was a banjo player who turned him on to Flatt & Scruggs and other bluegrass musicians. Dawson continued to spend his summers and school vacations on the Peninsula, so it's not surprising that he became a part of the folk scene there, and in due course encountered Garcia.
"When I attended Peninsula School, before Milbrook," Dawson says, "I met a couple of guys there who were into playing guitars, and one of them had a mother who taught guitar, so I went to her and took some lessons. One evening she brought in some other pickers to play, and Jerry came over with Sara. He still had his goatee then, and he played the mandolin and Sara played guitar. At that point he was into listening to all the old-time records. I didn't know enough about that kind of music to really be included in all that, but I was allowed to hang out."
Dawson spent a lot of time around The Tangent in '63-'64, mainly listening, but also sometimes playing at the Wednesday night hootenannies: "Everybody would meet in the back room and you'd throw together all these little two- and three- and four-people groups that would play whatever everyone knew or could teach each other easily. Then the more advanced ones were getting into bluegrass and listening to Buck Owens and people like that."
Dawson traded his Martin D-28 acoustic for a Gibson SG Les Paul "because that was a country guitar and I'd decided I wanted to play country music. So I got a bunch of country & western records and I listened to how they played and how they sang. Then I found a beautiful old [Fender] Telecaster, and I was really in heaven."
By this time Dawson was starting to write his own songs, which musically were firmly rooted in the straight country tradition, but lyrically were influenced by his own experiences on the fringes of the Bay Area psychedelic culture. "In March of '69 I took this amazing trip at Pinnacles [National Monument, south of San Jose], which I thought was going to be mescaline but which was probably acid mixed with strychnine or something. There were four of us — Dave Torbert, Matthew Kelly, Chris Herold [all musicians] — and we drove down in my little BMW. And over the course of this trip, I sort of discovered myself for the first time — it was one of those life-transforming acid trips. I cried for the first time in many years. It's a very stark, barren place and when you're out there all alone, it really reminds you of the fact that we're little creatures that need to keep warm and be with other creatures like ourselves; otherwise, this planet we're living on is much too big and much too scary and much too difficult to deal with all by yourself. So you need to be with other people and in touch with your own feelings about all that. I learned that on that day and that enabled me to write some of the songs that ended up on the first New Riders record. The eagle song ["Last Lonely Eagle"] came out of that very directly. I went back to my little house in Los Altos and wrote a bunch of songs right after that."
Page 168, upper-middle; Garcia on learning steel guitar:
"I could understand enough about the pedal steel to play along with simple stuff," Garcia said. "I thought, 'Wow, this is the perfect chance for me to be able to get into pedal steel.' So I went down there and set up my pedal steel in the corner and slowly proceeded to try and learn how to play it. I had a pretty good idea in my head of what I wanted it to sound like, but I didn't have any chops down. Pretty soon it started to sound pretty good, and a couple of other friends who were around here sort of fell into a scene."
Page 168, middle; early New Riders:
"We played our first gig at Longshoremen's Hall for the Hell's Angels," Dawson remembers, "and Owsley was the sound guy, and everything went wrong with the equipment and Owsley's there with his soldering gun out and taking the P.A. apart and there are these giant Hell's Angels lurking over us saying, 'Hey, you guys—Don'tcha think you could play some music? Like now?' 'Yeah, as soon as Bear gets the P.A. fixed, man.' 'How 'bout you just play some stuff on your guitar?' 'Well, they're electric instruments.' So finally we got it on and we got the gig done. Then we did a gig after that in the Bear's Lair at U.C. Berkeley, and that was more like our first official gig."
Page 171, top; more on the Dead at Woodstock:
"A gust of wind came up and caught the [light show] screen like a sail," Rock Scully remembered, "and the entire stage, which was huge, started to shudder and slide down the hill. So all the crew and myself and few others whipped out our buck knives and flew into the screen and started rending holes in this monstrously expensive screen to let the wind through. Meanwhile, all the stage crew was down below shoring it up with wooden blocks to try to keep it from collapsing. It was outrageous."
Meanwhile, things were plenty weird onstage, too. The band opened with "Saint Stephen," but something evidently wasn't right about that choice, and they actually abandoned it in mid-song and went into the comfy country tune "Mama Tried" instead. "We were just plumb atrocious," Garcia said many years later. "Jeez we were awful! We were on a metal stage and it was raining to boot and I was high and I saw blue balls of electricity bouncing across the stage and leaping onto my guitar when I touched the strings." To make matters worse, random CB radio signals kept erupting out of the P.A. while they played and "people behind the amplifiers kept yelling, 'The stage is collapsing! The stage is collapsing!" Garcia said.
Two songs into the set, equipment problems forced the Dead to stop the music, and while the road crew scrambled to fix things, Ken Babbs launched into a rambling, disconnected monologue about whatever popped into his obviously acid-soaked mind at the moment. After 10 minutes of that, and the people in front of the stage variously yelling "Sit down!" "Stand Up!" "Louder!" and "Jer-eeee!" Country Joe McDonald ambled out onto the stage to make an announcement:
"You know, all us people from the Bay Area, we're real LSD freaks. We take a lot of LSD. We've taken a lot of LSD. We know what LSD is. But I'll tell you one thing. This stuff that they're passing out here today may or may not be LSD, but there's a chance that you won't have a very good trip. What you're supposed to do after you know that is you're supposed to stop taking it. Now if you've taken it already, don't worry, because you're not poisoned and you won't die. But if you haven't taken it, I would recommend that you don't take it. Just listen to the music and wait until you can get some stuff that you know is good, if that's your inclination. That's called common sense. Right on!"
Then, as if to tempt the fates, the Dead played their psychedelic anthem, "Dark Star," turning in a surprisingly powerful 20-minute version before Garcia shifted gears again and sang his new ballad, "High Time" — also appropriate for that night and that crowd. Then Pigpen took center stage and led the band through a long, upbeat "Love Light" (which also featured Babbs' trippy ravings) that got the band and crowd going. By then, though, from the band's perspective, the battle was lost.
"It's too bad the Dead weren't happy with their performance, because I thought they were good," Babbs said years later. "The Grateful Dead have nothing to feel bad about. They were great, as always, and they were grateful, as always, and they were not a bit dead." And to a man, the band had a fine old time for the 48 hours they weren't onstage at Woodstock — when they, too, could be awestruck by the enormity of it all.
Page 172, middle; more on Altamont:
With less than a week before the big day, the president of Sears Point Raceway in rural southern Sonoma County, about an hour north of San Francisco, offered his facility for the concert, which, since going public, was expected to draw about 200,000 people. Stones tour manager Sam Cutler immediately flew to the Bay Area and met with Rock Scully and Woodstock stage manager Chip Monck to work out details of the show, and just 48 hours before the scheduled start of the concert, Monck's troops started building the stage at Sear's Point. The organizers' euphoria was short-lived, however — Filmways Corporation, which actually owned Sears Point, came into the picture and demanded that they be given distribution rights for the Stones' movie in exchange for using the raceway. The Stones rejected the deal and suddenly the concert was without a home again.
Enter Dick Carter, who operated Altamont Speedway, 45 minutes east of San Francisco in a hilly, windy, sparsely populated part of the East Bay. No one involved with the concert knew anything about Carter or Altamont, but there was no time for a thorough analysis of the situation, so they accepted Carter's offer and Monck's crew tore down the stage they'd been building at Sear's Point and hurried over to Altamont, with less than 24 hours to go before showtime.
"Sunrise was kind of interesting," says William Wynans. "The place already looked like a refugee encampment, with fires everywhere and people huddled together, and everyone had beards and long hair and raggedy clothes. It was pretty weird-looking but the vibes weren't bad yet."
Page 173, lower-middle; Altamont horrors continued:
"The Stones’ thing was that they didn’t want to go on in the light; they wanted it to be dark so they could use their lights," William Wynans says. "So there was this really long gap between the last act and them; like a couple of hours. And the anticipation grew and grew, and people got restless, and then when they finally came on there was this huge surge — wham! Just this wave of people heading towards the stage. I was pretty far back at that point and I remember that when they came on I suddenly had 50 feet in front of me where there was nobody, and up until then I thought it was as packed as it could get. So the people up front must have really gotten crushed and so some of them fought back against that and so did the Angels, who went kind of crazy lashing out at anybody."
While Mick Jagger sang and pranced around the low stage in his skintight body suit and cape, he could see the fists and pool cues flying in the blur in front of him, and during "Sympathy for the Devil," appropriately enough ("Just as head is tails, call me Lucifer, 'cause I'm in need of some restraint" ), Jagger actually had to stop the music a couple of times to plead for peace in the crowd. But instead it just got scarier and more violent, and during "Under My Thumb" a man apparently brandishing a gun was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angel just a few yards from the stage. The show continued on to its natural end, but it was hardly the groovy crowning glory of the Stones' career that they had envisioned. Even they saw it for what it was — the biggest collective bummer of the acid age; the anti-Woodstock. Thirty years later, the name Altamont is still synonymous with bad vibes.
"There were a lot of bad trips at Altamont," Wynans says. "But at the same time, it was one of those 'couldn’t get high' days for a lot of people; that’s the summation for me. It was difficult to get high because it was like you were in a cosmic sink. A sink in the broadest meaning of the word is the lowest spot, to which all the waste or whatever goes. At a certain point you’re in a psychic sink because that’s where the low energy has gravitated.
"It just wasn’t a 'lift-off' kind of event. I was looking for that. I was going through the crowd photographing everywhere and it was obvious that most people weren't getting off. My friend James said he was down front and he took every drug that came by him — anything that anybody handed him — and he didn’t get high. It was like a black hole — everything that went into it just disappeared."
The Dead were scheduled to play the third night of a four-show run at the Fillmore West that night, but the show was canceled. According to Rock Scully, a bunch of the band and crew went down to the Fillmore West anyway, hung out backstage and sucked on a tank of nitrous oxide — one more dose of strangeness at the end of a surreal and trying day.
"The day after Altamont everybody was wandering around in a daze, saying, 'What happened, man? What was that?" Wynans says. "Nobody could quite figure out what went down. 'Whoa — Where did that come from?' It was out of left field. It was like the beast within all of us was somehow able to come out at that moment in the cosmic sink and nobody had any defenses against it. There it was and it was all of us. Nobody could stop it. And it wasn’t just the Angels, or the Stones. It was beast energy.
"That next day some friends and I were out cruising, sort of checking the pulse of what the community was into, so we rolled our joints and went over to Sausalito to hang out at the Trident [a hip waterfront restaurant]. We ran into Jerry on the street there and we started talking to him, saying all those things — 'What was that?' We didn’t have any conclusions. It seemed to me that some of the feeling I got from him was that he felt a bit personally responsible, like 'How could we let that happen in our community?' They had been sort of godfathers of the event and somehow it happened on their watch."