Even allowing the Dead in the city of Los Angeles during the Academy Awards was inadvisable, but inviting them to perform a medley of that year’s Best Song nominees was downright foolish.
To their credit, the Boys did rehearse. Well, they hung out in Bobby’s studio for a week or so, and played a little, but spent most of their time on the phone arguing with the manager of the local chicken joint. (“But, we’re not in Kentucky. Do you fry it there, and then ship it out? Hello?”) There was also a pinochle game.
As far as the actual medley goes, they did not get around to it. For a number of reasons, of course: Garcia found four of the five tunes “pedestrian;” Bobby got confused at to which mailbox was his and, instead of the charts and tapes he had been sent, got a Berlitz course and spent his time learning Italian; Phil was just lazy as usual and didn’t do it, relying on the ol’ perfect pitch to pull him through, even though perfect pitch has nothing to do with arrangements.
It should be noted as this point that, of all Great Bands, the Grateful Dead may have been the least-suited of all to the medley format. Medleys rarely, if ever, allow for four or five minutes wandering around the stage smoking and fiddling with doohickeys. They also–and here’s the real dealbreaker–don’t change dependent on whether or not you’re “feelin’ it.”
Medleys require serious rehearsal, not two hours of jamming on a riff that Bobbys been promising to turn into a song for 18 months now. They need someone to lead the band and tell people what to play, which in the Dead so often ended poorly: with the ritual punching of the dicks, or hiding for a decade in a basement being a junkie, or Bobby’s solo albums.
“Um, okay: here are the changes and there’s a chorus in here somewhere, so when I find, I’ll cue you. Bobby, you know the words?”
That bullshit right there? The way all the other Dead songs came together? That bullshit right there does not work for the Oscars.
They should have been cut before the show: all the signs of a disaster were there. Brent showed up in one of his furry costumes. He had affixed a bow-tie to it, but that somehow made it worse. Billy mistook the red carpet for the valet stand and ran over Anjelica Houston. Then, he mistook Sidney Poitier for a parking attendant and tossed him the keys.
Bobby had a lovely chat with Tom Hanks, who is just as wonderful as you think he is, about space and World War II that was unfortunately and suddenly brought to an end by Mickey’s duffel bag full of raccoons. (Marlon Brando got bitten, but hired a Puerto Rican woman dressed like Pocahontas to accept the vaccinations for him.)
Bad luck multiplied, as it will. The opening number, a schmaltzy broadway-style goof in which the affable and gently-talented host sings about how wonderful the industry he belongs to is, ran so long that by the time it was over, the show was four days behind schedule.
The Dead took the stage to an audience made up of mainly seat-fillers, the stars having decamped to do cocaine at one another and let out the farts they’d been holding in for hours. They made an abortive stab at the Randy Newman song they were supposed to do, then played Playin’ in the Band for twenty minutes.
They were not allowed in Elton John’s after-party.