Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Live Nudies

The Nudie Suit experiment has never been properly explained; this sounds like a job for Lost Live Dead. There’s not many pics of The Boys in their suits, and they only wore them for a few shows: one (or more) of the Winterland run in December ’72, and then again at New Year’s. The outfits came out again 2/19/73 in Chicago, and then made their final appearance on 3/19/73 at Nassau Coliseum. (And not even for the whole show: everyone changed during set break.)

Wait, you’re saying. Those sound suspiciously like facts, TotD. You don’t traffic in fact and research.

Stop talking, I’d say, or I’ll throw myself out the window and you’ll never find out how the Little Aleppo story ends.

Wow, you’d reply. That got dark real fast.

And then I’d start crying. Are you happy? Is that what you wanted?

Stop this.

They did it. It’s all their fault.

Who is “they?”

Them.

Just stop it.

Fine. The dates from Winterland and Chicago may be wrong–I’m just going on Archive comments–but the Nassau show is a confirmed event. There is, Enthusiasts, evidence.

Look:

Bobby says in an interview that Garcia had his first, in fact had his before April of ’72 because he brought it to Europe with him (even though he didn’t have the balls to wear it onstage.) After March of ’73, though, they were gone forever. Phil still has his…

…and it still fits. (Phil went a little low-key with his, which I disagree with. What’s the point of a Nudie Suit if it can’t be seen from space?)

Who has Garcia’s? Gotta be worth something, more if it hasn’t been laundered.

But let me start at the beginning: 1902 was a terrible time to be born Jewish in Kiev. There’s never been a good time, but 1902 was worse than usual.

“Izzy?”

“Yes, Schmuley?”

“We should go somewhere where there aren’t Cossacks.”

“What is it with those guys?”

“They just seem to like hitting us with sticks.”

“And kicking.”

“Kicking, too. Let’s go to America.”

“You mean the Land of the Free, a country built on immigration that would never turn away needy and desperate refugees?”

“No, America.”

“Oh, okay. At least there’ll be jobs.”

“Sure.”

And so on.

One of these newly-arrived Jews was a young man named Nuta Kotlyarenko, who renamed himself Nudie Cohn and became a tailor, first in Minnesota where he met his wife Bobbie; they opened a shop in New York selling underwear to showgirls, and then moved to Los Angeles in the 40’s to make Western Wear. Spangles and frills and themes, and the last one is the most important: the key to the Nudie Suit is the theme. Anyone can slap some rhinestones onto a jacket, but a Nudie has a raison d’etre.

Look at this bullshit:

That’s some down-home bullshit right there.

That’s Porter Wagoner (right), and he was the first Country star to start wearing Nudie Suits; in fact, Nudie gave him his first suit for free, thinking it would be good promotion. It was. Soon, every male Country star had to have a Nudie Suit.

Hank Williams had one:

The notes represented his love of music.

Gram Parsons had one, too:

The drugs represent his love of drugs.

Every artist has a masterpiece, and Nudie Cohn was certainly an artist. His greatest suit of all time may have been both his simplest and his flashiest. You’ve seen it before once or twice:

“AH’M BACK!”

No, you’re not. Shh.

Anyway, Nudie Cohn died in 1984, but you can still get “Nudie Suits;” they make periodic comebacks adorning roots-rockers or alt-country acts. (You really can’t wear a Nudie Suit anywhere other than the stage. If you walk into a Taco Bell dressed like this, you will get gorditas thrown at you.)

Circling back to the Dead (this is about the Grateful Dead, remember), we still have many questions. Why would Garcia have had one in the first place? A Nudie Suit wasn’t an impulse purchase, nor could it have been a gift: they were hand-made, so you have to visit Nudie for measurement and fittings, and very expensive. And recall that Garcia got his before everyone else did, so it wasn’t a group decision. Garcia–in an entirely out-of-character move–bought himself a Nudie Suit out of nowhere? None of this makes sense. Bobby was the one who thought he was a cowboy. Someone explain this to me.

Like I said, the rest of the band thought it was a spiffy idea, so they followed Garcia down to the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, where Nudie’s of Hollywood was located, and fancied themselves right up. Bobby and Billy looked like this:

“I was gonna get skank on the legs, but I settled for pot.”

Quiet. This is not a dialogue post.

“Ah, suck my nuts.”

Great.

Even Keith had one, though there’s just this one black-and-white photo of him:

Poor Keith. He doesn’t want to be in a Nudie Suit. He knows he’s not pulling it off. Aw.

Much like the Farewell Shoes, Mrs. Donna Jean was not included. She did, however, wear a very fetching red number when the rest of the band payed dress-up. She looked like this:

Another alternate reality created, another unwritten future. What if they hadn’t learned to write songs? What if they buckled down and rehearsed and continued being the band they were in ’77? What if Brent didn’t die? And: What if they gave a shit about what they looked like?

Alas, it was not to be. The Nudie Suits were put in the closet, and the tee-shirts and jeans came out; in the 80’s, sweatpants and short shorts replaced the jeans. Never again would the Dead have “stage clothes.” But for a moment, they looked bitchin’.

14 Comments

  1. look what you can do with a few facts and a little bit of evidence! that is a great post.

  2. This is completely fascinating. I had no idea Garcia got his first, I thought they all got them at the same time. So let’s be realistic–when did you buy a suit? When implicitly or explicitly, some woman who mattered needed you to have a suit. We know it wasn’t Jerry’s mom or daughter, not in ’72, so that leaves Mountain Girl. She knows, but if she’s not saying, that’s intriguing in its own right.

    My understanding is that the Nudie Suits debuted on the obscure October 9, 1972 Winterland show. The band definitely wore them on December 12, 1972, but I don’t know about December 10 or 11. I can vouch for December 12, however, because it was my first Dead show.

    I should add that my first Dead show, with the light show, the noise, the joints, the hippie chicks, and everything else, the Nudie Suits seemed perfectly normal. Keith briefly got up from his piano at one point and he had the spangly pants, I recall that.

    From another point of view, the subsequent 107 Dead shows were kind of a letdown because the band didn’t wear Nudie Suits.

  3. That photo from Dec 12 ’72, with the Nudie Suits–what guitar is Garcia playing? I’m no guitarist, and it seems like a Fender, but its not Alligator. The frets are numbered, there’s a 1-3-5-7-9 down the neck. I can’t identify the guitar in the usual references.

  4. News you can use!

    Poor Mickey.

    Porter and Dolly were the the template for Gram and Emmylou.

    Cold Hard Facts of Life
    https://youtu.be/hh883MdYdRE

    Gram was nearly as much of a badass icon as Miles.

  5. Robert Hernandez

    April 30, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I attended the early December Winterland run in 1972. They wore them once. Except Phil & maybe Keith. Then on New Year’s Eve, they came out again including Keith. But Phil still didn’t wear his. I never saw the Nudies worn for a whole show, just one set per show. Hope this helps.

  6. Luther Von Baconson

    May 1, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    .

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