Thoughts On The Dead

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

Tag: chicago

Down In Front

The past looked like shit. The present is a hyper-designed nightmare of weaponized professionalism, but the past looked like shit. It was slapped together; “good enough” was good enough for the past. You could see all the seams, several of which were fraying before your eyes. See how there’s no chairs or aisles or sub-divisions within the crowd? That’s called general admission. It kills people. Not always, and not often, but it kills people. The past was more flammable.


This is 11/27/70, which was the day after Thanksgiving that year. The Dead played on the 23rd in New York City, and then this show on the 27th. Did they fly back to the Bay, or did they eat their turdrugken in Manhattan? (Turdrugken is a chicken stuffed into drugs stuffed into a turkey.) The venue was called The Syndrome, because in 1970, you could name a venue “The Syndrome” and people would respond to that by saying “Groovy” and “Far out,” instead of “That’s a terrible fucking name. Are we in a hack novel about the Sixties? Don’t name it that.”

The Syndrome used to be called the Chicago Coliseum when the Blackhawks played there in the 20’s. In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt accepted the Republican Party’s nomination when they held their convention here; TR accepted the Bull Moose Party’s nod here, too, in 1912. Didn’t work out as well. There was roller derby during the Depression, and then the Chicago Packers laid in a hardwood floor and put up some hoops. They would change their name to the Chicago Zephyrs shortly before moving to Baltimore and becoming the Bullets, then heading a few miles south to D.C. where they are today the Washington Wizards. (Fun philosophy question: is it still the same team? Discuss.)

Out of date and lacking any sports teams to support it, the Coliseum turned to a life of crime; worse, it started presenting long-hair bands. The owners renamed the dump The Syndrome and booked acts throughout the 60’s. (Did they think the kids would be fooled by the dopey hippie name? That they would overlook the fact that the joint was less a building and more a building-shaped pile of material? I can smell the urine through the photo.)

Anyway, the Dead played there only once, on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1970. They brought the New Riders with them, as was their wont in 1970. There’s no tape.

Three months later, 6,000 fans crammed into the arena to watch the simulcast of the Ali/Frazier fight. The projector broke. Riots broke out, and the fight fans damn near tore that old building down. The ensuing insurance inspection turned up so many fire code violations that even a bribe couldn’t fix it, and may I remind you that this was Chicago. Takes quite a bit to be beyond a bribe in that city, but the Coliseum was not longer financially feasible as a performance space. Japanese Buddhists own it now, and they do Japanese Buddhist things there. There is most likely no roller derby at all.


Check out JT Leroy looking back at the camera.

Something Sweet

You know Annabelle and Trixie, but those are Trey’s daughters, Kay and Fay, on the outside.

O, Yes, They Both

The worst part about getting this song stuck in my head is that I can’t sing it without fumbling up the chorus.

He’ll Rip Your Lungfish Out, Jim

Hey, Granddad, 83-year-resident of the Shedd Aquarium on Chicago. Sorry about the euthanasia.

“Eh. I was losing it. Couldn’t do the things I used to do.”

What did you used to do?

“Lay on the bottom of the tank.”

Sure. What the hell are you?

“Australian lungfish.”

Why are you called a lungfish?

“Got a lung.”

But you’re a fish.

“Weird fuckin’ world, ain’t it?”

Seriously: how do you have a lung?

“Same way pandas have a thumb made out of bone and plants in North Carolina eat insects.”

And that is?

“Evolution is on drugs.”

Stop it.

“You ever see half the shit floating around the ocean? Evolution’s a damned dopesucker. Starts one thing, then abandons it. Forgets shit all the time. You still got a tailbone, right?”



Okay. So, how’s Famous Animal Heaven?

“Everyone is being a huge dick. Honestly? Huge dicks.”

What? Oh, no. Why?

“They say I’m only locally famous.”

Well, they’re not wrong.

“A gorilla keeps asking me about memes.”

That’s Harambe.

“Guy’s always on his phone. Very rude. You know Flipper?”

The dolphin? Yeah, you met him?

“‘Met’ is one way to put it. Another is that he used me a masturbatory tool.”

Dolphins do that sometimes.

“How about Gentle Ben? You know Gentle Ben?”

Did the bear try to eat you?

“No, he didn’t.”

Oh, good.

“The bear did eat me. But I’m already dead, so I just regenerated. And then he ate me again.”

That sounds rough.

“Imagine Groundhog Day, but instead of having adventures and crises of faith, Bill Murray got eaten over and over.”

That’s a different film.

“It is. I wanna go back to Chicago. Be a big lungfish in a small pond.”

C’mon, buddy. You can make it. I believe in you.




“Here I am. Gentle Ben ate me again.”


“This is unsustainable.”

Good luck.

A Thought On The Cubs

The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, everything in Chicago was covered in horse shit 18 inches thick and everyone had tuberculosis. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle hadn’t come out in softcover yet, so cows were still slaughtered in the mayor’s office; in the Southside of the city, Polish men and sturdy women were hunted for sport by the Irish.

And women couldn’t vote, and King Leopold was still in charge of the Congo, and most folks still took shits in holes. Life expectancy was short: 47, and God help you if you got sick. Actually, He was the only one who could help you, as doctors were still grave-robbing quacks. People were short, too: there’d be four inches less of you in 1908, on average.

Congratulations to the Cubs, and congratulations to all of us; they won this World Series in a better world than the last time.

Doobie, But Don’t Be A Moron


In any room, there’s a dumbest person there. If the room’s large enough, there might even be three dumbest people there. Here are the three from Chicago.

The only explanation I can think of boils down to: it was their fault. I am not blaming the cops on this one. Sure, doobie should be legal and prohibition doesn’t work and yarble yarble yarble, but I can say from direct observation that the cops assigned to Soldier Field that weekend were not being all that aggressive; most seemed bemused, and all of them looked happy to have an easy shift babysitting the white people. We’ve all read stories about (or been present for) cops using Dead shows as hunting grounds for revenue, and being violent louts. This was not the case at the Farewell Shoes.

Cops do what they’re told (in public), and they had been told to welcome all the visitors and their money into the city and not bother anyone; Deadheads are mostly clever (yay, us) and we all figured out the score quickly. But 64,997 of us remembered: cops are still cops, no matter how pleasant they’ve been ordered to be, and certain rules still applied. Basic rules that have their roots in not the law, but primal primate bullshit.

Yes, the grounds of the stadium and the park have been de-facto declared a free-for-all, but no, you cannot smoke your doobie right in front of the cop. Like I said: 64,997 of us knew enough to–when walking past a police officer–cup the joint in our palm. Or slip the bowl in your pocket. You didn’t even have to do a good job: the point was to let the cop see you making the effort to hide the contraband. It’s a respect thing; cops are into that bullshit, and it doesn’t matter if you aren’t: when the cops play status games, participation is mandatory.

These three idiots, I’m sure, were dabbing up while making eye contact with one of Chicago’s Finest. There can be no other explanation; quite frankly, I have no sympathy for these rebels.

Come Back To Me, Fare Thee Well



Sunday night, the last night, we were in Section 331 or maybe 313: the top section on the right, maybe an inch in from the right border of the picture. Second row in the middle. The Captain was in front of us, and Hobbit was to the right.

These are not cruel nicknames; one is not a nickname at all: Hobbit introduced herself to me as “Hobbit. (Right, right: Hobbit was technically a nickname, but what I’m saying is that I’m not calling her “Hobbit” to be a dick and comment on her appearance. Although, she did get that nickname because she looks like a hobbit.)

The Captain was a Jew in his 30’s in a captain’s hat; he shushed Martin and I because we were having a giggling fit naming all of our favorite Phil songs. (Terrapin, Stella Blue, Deal, etc.) In the Captain’s defense: we were being boisterous. On the other hand, when I say that he shushed us, I do not speak euphemistically: he pouted his lips and exhaled forcefully, resulting in a sound we onomatopoetically refer to as a “shush.”

It wasn’t a “Hey. Guys?” You’d expect one of those. You trail off on the “guys” a little. People are being too loud? You turn around and go, “Hey. Guys?” and everyone knows what has transpired.



I am uncertain as to whether or not the Captain put his index finger to his lips to underscore the shush.


I managed to fuck up a grocery run.

Martin is a chef and prepared the three of us breakfast in the morning at around 1 in the afternoon. Left to my own devices, I would have stopped at the taco truck before and after the show and called it a day, but Martin is not just a chef, but an adult, so he made breakfast.

Nothing fancy. Eggs and bacon. The kind of breakfast Charles Bronson would approve of.

Supplies had run low and I, wanting to be a good guest, volunteered to shop. It was a short list; I had cash and a credit card; the store was two blocks away.

Sadly, there was a Ukranian grocery next door to the regular grocery, which I entered. Now: did I walk back out on to the street and check to see if there was another place to buy food where all the labels weren’t in Cyrillic? Of course not: I circled and re-circled the aisles as if that were the way to learn the language.

Not only was all the writing in gobbledygook, I’m pretty sure Ukrainians have a different definition of “food” than we do: I did not recognize some of the animals hanging behind the butcher case. I think they eat a lot of elk.

On my fifth or sixth circumambulation of the store, the babushkas were giving me the eye; I got eggs and orange juice, then tried to hide my failure with a shitload of fruit. (I regret not buying the Latvian version of Fanta, which is called Blug.)

I got back to the apartment and explained what had happened; neither Martin nor Chris brought up the fact that the store I was supposed to go to was right next door, which is polite of them.


Chicago made me realize that we need autonomous cars, and we need them quickly.

I checked my phone during a Dead show. (Kinda. Not I kinda checked my phone; I mean they were kinda the Dead.) Not obsessively–less than normal–but I did. I would never throw friends under the bus, but Chris and Martin totally did, too. And all the people in our general area the first night, and all the people in our rows the following nights.

Everyone in that stadium who had a phone played with it at one point, and not just to take pictures: they would get a text and take their phones out of their pocket to see who it was, and then notice they had a notification on Twitter, and so on.

Please understand that I am not just talking about the sober and the dragged-there: people on acid who had not been on acid in a very long time played with their phones. A headful of LSD and the Grateful Dead (kinda) onstage, and all of us chose at least briefly to fuck around with our magic toys.

And you expect people to stop using their phones while they drive? Bring on the robot chauffeurs; we have made our choice.


You don’t make eye contact in the Men’s Room: it’s a rule. It’s an impersonal room for a personal act. However, laws supersede rules, so when someone shreds the fabric of the social contract by walking into the Men’s Room barefoot, you are allowed to make eye contact with the guy next to you.

I don’t remember what the barefoot guy looked like, but my fellow witness was tall and had a brown beard; we both saw him–naked heels and toes squishing and semi-sliding on the slick, sickly tile–at the same time.

We looked at each other.

And then back down.

How often do you know the totality of a complete stranger’s mind? And have him know yours? We shared the kind of instant communion that only onlookers to terrorist attacks or natural disasters are privy to. (Pun semi-intended.)

I couldn’t tell you the set list of any of the shows I attended; I will never forget that moment in the Men’s Room.


If there had been no show, no music at all, and was just a crowd of happy people in the summer, then that might have been okay, too.

Soldier Field was not built to be wandered around. The outside, I mean: unlike most stadia plunked in the middle of ten-acre parking lots, Soldier Field is on a little strip of land in between the highway and Lake Michigan; there are natural choke points for movement, plus there are hills and multiple levels so you can’t ever get a vantage point on where the hell you are.

(Grant Park, which is right next to the stadium, was built to be wandered around in. It is a park.)

You had to show your ticket twice: first to get in to what you could call the front yard of the joint, and then again to get in the building proper. Once you got inside the wire, there was open space, flat, on three sides of the stadium; space and grass and sun and opportunities to buy anything you could ever want, as long as the only things you ever wanted were Dead merch and RC Cola.

People were in wheelchairs: the unlucky, with their legs in casts; and the really unlucky, with nothing obviously wrong. Hobbit’s left leg was in a massive brace, the canvas one that wraps around your entire leg from the back like a tortilla, and the velcro straps in front.


Soldier Field was refitted around the turn of the century (the most recent one, not the old-timey one) and it was necessarily a bit of a kludge: there’s at least one part where changing levels on the concourse involves going both up and down. They had a certain amount of space, and they fit a football stadium into it. It’s a little discombobulating on the best day.

But during a Dead show, the place becomes completely uncombobulatable.

“Chris,” I said. “Can you combobulate?”

And he said nothing, because that conversation did not actually occur. (The fictionality of that anecdote takes nothing away from the fact that I will now be using the word “combobulate” to mean “finding your way with purpose and efficiency.”)

We were not so confused as to disregard the cardinal rule of show-wanderin’: follow the tall guy and you’ll get there eventually. If you try following the short guy and getting there soon, you will fail.

While we were walking, we talked loudly about the soon-to-be-announced shows at CitiField in two weeks. We were hoping, perhaps, to return to our seats and have the people around us buzzing like extras in a screwball comedy.

“Didja hear, Marge? They’re taking the show to Queens!”

“Queens! This bunch of jokers?”

“Why I oughtta…”

This did not happen. That people who heard us did not believe us.


RC Cola should use the marketing strategy that they employ in Soldier Field in more places: I would buy RC Cola much more if it were the only product available. People have brand loyalty when it comes to soda–I’ll admit to preferring Pepsi to Coke–but it’s all the same poison; I have one every two weeks or so. In Chicago, I had one every two songs or so. The trick is to get the soda/sweating ratio just right; this limits both bathroom runs and the chance of sunstroke.

Chris and Martin, who I have mentioned previously are adults, had beer.

After the show, back at the house, we watched Ferris Bueller in honor of the city. There was whiskey or whisky or scotch or whatever that brown stuff is officially called. Martin and Chris relaxed with their drinks; again: like adults.

I asked for a glass, pounded the shot like I were in a biker bar, and then made this noise MANACXHblech HOO nHOO and I also made a face like a six-year-old forced to finish her broccoli.

They judged me a little.


The stadium was protected by being a stadium: they build them to be defensible, and while most of the security was “security,” there were also the requisite number of enormous private guards and bemused cops. There was also a fence, and nothing can get through a fence.

In the corner of the stadium, by the taco truck, someone managed to crack the fence code: he climbed it.

“I never would have thought of that,” Chris, whose book Paradise Now is garnering rave reviews and you should really buy, said.

“So that’s how you do it,” Martin said.

“You use your hands and feet. Right,” I said.

He was a little wiry guy with a massive backpack; it didn’t slow him down as he scampered up the chain-link, over, around a cop, and into the crowd.

We were mild. “This is why we can’t have nice things,” was our first thought and then we remembered it was 2016 and that backpack was enormous; we talked about something else until nothing blew up, and then we talked about the kid with the backpack a little.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

GODS ABOVE, do I love being wrong and fuckaduck, I should be at least¬†inured to it by now, but sometimes my mistakes and misconceptions decide to destroy me with kindness, like when my long-held prejudice against ’76 was cured–a MIRACLE my brothers and sisters!–by this molasses-slow Peggy-O from Chicago’s Auditorium Theater on 6/29/76. Fist off, it’s listed as Mama Tried on the Archive, and second, Garcia’s a little out-of-tune, but SO WHAT, YOU BOW DOWN AND RUB HIS SWOLLEN ANKLES, PEASANT. He’s just killing it and there are eons–milllllllllennia–between beats. It drips over you like Billy’s lotion; it pools to fill every crevice; it is pristine and then, holy shit, it’s Mission in the Rain.

They only played it three times. Or five times, depending on whether you believe this sentence or the one previous. Garcia and Mrs. Donna Jean sing about whores and loss while the band swings behind them, then she duets with Bobby on a gorgeous Looks Like Rain that finds some astounding work from all of them, most of all Billy playing the thunder implicit in the song’s title. It’s transcendent and resplendent and other words, so many other words I can’t be bothered to type right now.

And then they tune up for, like, seven minutes.

This might be the rarest of all birds: a DONNA SHOW. Listen to her wee-hoo-hoo! during the verses of Lazy Lightning, melding her voice with Garcia’s (who was always a Galaxy-Class backup singer) for the “Myyy liiiight-nin’ tooooo!”

I didn’t see how before how hypnotic the Slow Dead could be–it’s not a dirge, it’s hypnosis.

Check this one out, if not for yourself, then for the Turks.

P.S.¬†Great googly-mooglies, you must listen to the Playin’>Space Jam>The Wheel>Playin’ Reprise. One of these days, you’re gonna be dead, so liste to this right now. IGNORE YOUR CHILDREN AND LISTEN TO THIS IMPROVISATIONAL COUNTRY-ROCK PERFORMANCE.

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