N is for Nunkeys, which are like regular monkeys, except they’re all female and they don’t show their swollen pudenda to anyone because they are married to Monkey Christ.
O is for old loves.
P is for praising the Lord, which is what Donna does a lot of now. She is a Southern Girl, and when one of them goes astray–and allowing Keith to timorously mount her from behind (it was always from behind; Keith would get all sideways on you if you tried to go face-to-face) is the definition of going astray–she goes back home, and back to Jesus. Exactly how mired in sin she has become is measured by whether she gives Jesus a loving hug or just tackles the fucker like Ray Lewis. Actually, think about the actual Ray Lewis. Actually. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction, right? So, the way that woman loves Jesus now, she must have gotten up to some Billy-level bullshit back then.
Q is for quality, as in this ten-minute plus Casey Jones from 10/2/77 at the Paramount Theater in Portland, OR, where Garcia pulls a Bobby on the lyrics and just tells the lyrics, “Fuck you, lyrics: I’m Garcia,” and then he goes and Garcia-s all over the place for five minutes or so and he realizes the sheer volume of Garcia he’s placed around the room and just goes, “Keith, take one.” Garcia was the most interesting man in the world.
R is for Robert Hunter, who put the words in the right order. Even his goofiest, most floweriest poweriest songs show a love of and fascination with myth and America and Miss America (people got paid off) that all other ninny chants of the Bay Area lacked. The Dead’s first genius move was Hunter, by the way. They realized the commonest way of assigning the songwriting-singer writes the words–had a whole bunch of fairly self-evident flaws. James Hetfield sings for Metallica, and thus writes the lyrics. He once wrote a song called Trapped Under Ice, which you might imagine is a metaphorical snapshot of a man under strain, under pressure. No, he is merely and only under ice. There has been a winter-related accident and now a man is literally trapped under actual ice. The Dead chose to hire a poet.
S is for soup, which was a sacrosanct moment in the Dead’s working day. Soup, it was believed, kept you hale and hearty; never a day would pass without the bowls being passed. Every day, the bowls were passed. Bean or pea-based, chowders of all sorts. All locally sourced, far before hipster weenies who live next to Santa Claus thought of it. Each of the band and crew had their own spoon. The spoons cost two grand apiece. Every day, the bowls were passed and life would slow down, slow down for soup.
T is for transitions, such as this China>Rider from 6/22/73 in Vancouver, which is the capital of Canada. At 7 minutes in, Keith softly pads the Uncle John’s Jam chords that were the hallmark of this greatest of all Dead transitions. Those ethereal, infinitely descending chords and if you were lucky, Garcia would top the whole thing off with a little I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Going northbound, I suppose. In his invaluable book, Dead to the Core, Eric Wybenga* notes that one is either a Scarlet>Fire or a China>Rider and, as you might guess from the title of the book, he declares himself the former. Not me, but his theory reminds me of one of my own..
U is for UnSub, which is a word on those creepy murder shows that women seem to love. A theory: all people are either serial killers or spree killers. Serial killers kill people in secretly for years. Spree killers lose it in a Sports Authority. Garcia and Bobby were serial killers. Mickey was spree, but Billy was serial. Phil was the definition of a spree killer.
V is for Vince, whom no one liked. The others were unkind to him, reforming as “the surviving members of the Dead” without him. A few years later, he would prove them right, but with all due resquiet in pace, the guy wasn’t very good. Prone to high-end tinkling, not particularly adept at soloing, emasculated from the get-go by Hornsby’s presence, AND saddled for some reason by Bralove with the worst sounds. Vince’s playing always resonated at what must be the human equivalent of a dog whistle: it was piercing. His songs were worse than dreck, simply stopping shows in their tracks. They were all in bad shape after Brent died, physically, morally. But they learned the lesson of overpaying your crew AND giving them a full vote.: they will be sending your ass back to Oklahoma in March, no matter how dead certain people claim to be. So, they got the guy from the Tubes because he was available.
W is for Winterland. Do you have the run from the ’73 box set? The ’77? The Farewell Shows out-of-their-gourds electricity of closing night? The From Egypt with Love shows? It’s where Frampton Came Alive and Johnny Rotten summed it all up when he asked if we ever felt cheated. It’s condos now. Better, less crime, they say.
X is for X-Men, who got Bobby into trouble this one time. In the 70’s, the X-Men comic had become popular, with no one more so than Bobby. He gobbled down each new issue. Sometimes he would buy and read the same issue three or four times, once for each airport, but he always had the same look of glee when he read–well, it was more looking really hard at the words than reading, really–the latest exploits of Wolverine and Bug Face and Mister Mess Yo Pants.
When Bobby left the hotel that night, he had nothing on him that a normal man wouldn’t: pack of gum, couple of joints, four ounces of cocaine, and five thousand dollars in cash. But the night called to him, to protect a world that feared and hated him. Bobby strolled down the sidewalk, walking straight at some young ruff-tuffs except Garcia had sent Billy to protect Bobby, so Billy jumped out from behind a garbage can and performed what he liked to call the Kill Bill Bill Kill, wherein he jabbed your scrote so fast (but with demonic force) that you didn’t know what had happened. You would wander away, confused. “What just happened? Did I see Billy? If I saw Billy, then–hurrrrg” because at that point, you’ve realized that Billy has taught your crotch the Truth. Bobby knelt before it.
Then Billy kicked the living shit out of the kids, who weren’t really bad kids, and not especially tough, either. But Billy played drums and Billy punched dicks. That’s what Billy did.
Y is for yurt, which is what Mickey lived in for a year trying to master the nomadic beats of the Mongolian Quakers of Iceland, who were the most ethnic people Mickey could find, being that Google maps hadn’t been invented yet. One of the many (suspiciously many, some might say) oddities of the MQ of I is that in their culture, it is the beats that are nomadic, not the people. The people actually lived in tidy little Cape Cods around a lake; Mickey just wanted to live in a yurt. In a nomadic beat, the One constantly migrates, based on a system of biorhythms, astrology, astronomy, rollin’ dem bones, and a touch of making it up as you go. They said this with a straight face to Mickey and he ate that shit right up. Most reasonable observers, however, would quickly have come to the conclusion that these people were fucking with Johnny Can’t Sit Still over there. The album was not even recorded, yet still lost $350,000.
Z is for zebra, which is an animal that Brent used to dress up as so he could engage in frottage with possibly women in badger costumes.
* Seriously, go buy this man’s book. It is awesome in the biblical sense where you are actually filled with awe and drop to your knees begging for your life. It is that good.