Thoughts On The Dead

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

One Night In America

deadandco charlotte pride flag

If you were a snazzy dude or a stone-cold fox in Santa Rosa, CA, on 6/28/69, you were in luck. The Grateful damned Dead was in town and for the price of a ticket, or a boost up the venue’s drainpipe, you could kick the shit off your rock and roll shoes. You could get down, or get high, or get busy, or get real loose with it, or you could get into some real heavy shit. The cops would give you the stink-eye, and pick off the dumb and unlucky, but mostly it was a summer night in America and you could fall in love.

If you were gay in Manhattan and wanted a drink, you were fucked. I mean: you could purchase a beverage. You just couldn’t be gay while you drank it; it was illegal. And actually, the beverage itself probably was illegal, as the only bars that catered to homosexuals were owned by the mob. An establishment that tolerated homosexual behavior would get its liquor license pulled, and there were undercover cops scouring the city looking for enclaves of gays and lesbians who had the temerity to be thirsty and want to dance to the jukebox. A legitimate restaurateur needed his license, so even if he were sympathetic (or secretly gay himself,) he wouldn’t permit gayness in his place.

Criminals, on the other hand, couldn’t give a shit about licenses, and they owned the gay bars.  Every week, the local precinct’s bagman would swing by for his payment, and every month or so, a bunch of cops would swing by to arrest people: men for dancing with one another, or women for wearing “un-feminine” clothing. These bars were terrible and filthy places with stolen and watered-down liquor, and the worst bathrooms in Manhattan until CBGB’s opened. One place, the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, didn’t have running water.

Veteran’s Auditorium in Santa Rosa had running water. The kids could dance, and wear whatever the hell they wanted.

The undercover cops I mentioned? They’d hit on guys, and arrest them for responding. The paper would print your name and address the next day, and lawyers wouldn’t take your case. And–and this is the important part right here–society was happy to see you get what you deserved, fairy. You weren’t a criminal. You were the crime.

A drink in a clean, well-lighted place. A dance floor, and dimes for the Wurlitzer. It isn’t too much to ask.

On June 28th, 1969–probably at exactly the same time the kids in Santa Rosa were doing exactly what they wanted to do–the cops raided the Stonewall, where the kids were not allowed to do what they wanted.

I called them kids.


They were.

The busts were usually peaceful, but not this night; the riot lasted three days and sparked the modern gay rights movement. People will only eat shit for so long, and there are stories of drag queens ripping up the sidewalks to throw chunks of paving stones at cops. I hope those stories are true, but there’s no tape. Not even an AUD.

’69 was a long time ago, but not that long, and society’s come far, but not far enough. The finish line keeps moving itself backwards, it seems.

Some people like to go to Dead shows, and some people like to go to gay bars; they’re the same thing: something to drink, and someplace to dance, and people who understand you. Maybe even want to kiss you. Somewhere you could let your light shine.

It isn’t too much to ask.


  1. This one I made my wife read.

    “It’s good” can be high praise.

  2. Best. Post. EVAR.

    (Sent to my sis, who was at the show last night, hopefully not kissing Mickey).

  3. They pulled that shit in Toronto in 1981.

    • Luther Von Baconson

      June 11, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      Trawna was brutal, the cops were bad but homophobia was the norm. i remember people would assemble outside the St. Charles Tavern and hassle the patrons regularly. hallowe’en was the big night for this shit, yonge st. would be packed with idiots out to cause trouble. went on for years and pretty much accepted. ugly.

  4. An excellent post. You might say that June 28 1969 was a signpost for those who just wanted to march to a different drummer, and weren’t going to take no for an answer.

    The Grateful Dead, in their synergistic way, had marched to a different drummer the night before. On June 27, 1969, their first night at Santa Rosa Vets, Mickey was late. The Dead invited the drummer from the opening act (Tom Ralston) to sit in for the first several songs. Mickey was never late again.

    June 28: Stonewall Riots. Coincidence? You decide.

  5. hugh.c.mcbride

    June 11, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    This is magnificent. Thank you for writing it.

  6. beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

  7. Thanks for this. A particularly heavy read this afternoon.

  8. NoThoughtsOnDead

    June 13, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    It’s still a heavy read a day later, but I really thank you for writing it. Your blog has been particularly excellent all weekend, with a number of good posts; again, thanks.

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