Phil nearly started a riot at the quiet little office where you get your passport when he insisted on using this as his picture.
Breaking news, my fellow Enthusiasts: the Hiatus was a lie! Well, not that it occurred: the Dead played only four shows in 18 months. That’s fact. What’s not fact is the reason why. We were all told it was because the Wall of Sound and the Wall of Drugs were driving them into bankruptcy and insanity. True, but not the only reason. In fact, not even the MAIN reason.
In the Summer of ’74, the Dead played a gig that appears in no database. They appeared as ringers in a local Anal Creek, WV, talent show to raise money for Li’l Possum, whom the city doctors had proclaimed was, “just as fucked up as you can be and still be alive. You want me to kill it? Let me kill it: I’d be doing everyone involved a favor.”
Well, they won, and raised that money. To thank them, the townspeople gave them a hospital, short on staff but long on love: St. Stephen’s Medical Center.*
Billy became Chief of Staff and immediately improved the hospital’s standing, financially and medically. From the top brain surgeon to the lowest psychiatrist, everyone respected Billy’s simple management style. He had one rule: “Y’sure you wanna do that?” And only one punishment. You knew where you stood with Billy. And sometimes, you knew where you lay in the fetal position, tenderly cupping your battered banana while puking.
Phil immediately went Phantom of the Opera: like, during the very first walk-through. Not only was Phil skinny, but he could dislocate his hips to the point where he could shimmy through an 18-inch pipe and he ran away from the group right when they got in the door and SHHOOOOOOP right into a duct and no one saw him for a month or so.
Garcia became the pharmacist and then four minutes later he threw up on himself and passed out, so the road crew instinctively put him on a plane to Milwaukee.
Vince would wander the halls convincing people to let go and follow the light, but he wasn’t all that good at judging how sick people were, so he would end up with a lot of 12-year-olds getting their tonsils out and 55-year-olds getting their knees replaced. Vince would clutch them tight (otherwise, they would squirm away) to his chest, and whisper, “Stop fighting. Be with your ancestors. THEY CALL TO YOU. Succumb. Succumb!” People lodged formal complaints; it was the kind of thing you filled out paperwork about.
Keith “would fuckin’ thank people to stop mistaking me for a corpse, please. I’ve had CPR administered on me four times today. Stop it: this is just the way I look.”
Bobby was the crusading internist/trauma doc/diagnostician (which is not a thing) of the hospital. He could heal anyone…but himself: Dr. Bobby, M.D. He battles with the suits, makes love to Nurse Donna Jean and tries to find a lead in the case of the disappearing livers.
Brent was a male nurse. He was gentle and kind and shaved all the ding-dongs.
*Yes, we’re all quite aware none of this makes sense and this bit makes no sense in particular. You’re very clever to have noticed.
I’ll only say this: at 4:14, you will see Phil do something utterly inexplicable. Do not attempt to explicate it. Then, at 7:20, something occurs that will blow your ass off.
Garcia was in the service, the Army. It was normal back then for most everybody except sissies, commies, or college boys in their raccoon coats. Mickey and TC were both in the Air Force (Mickey played drums in the Air Force, because the Brass didn’t let him play for three days or so and set fire to a mess hall, so they decided to just let the monster have his Slingerlands and keep the peace.)
Phil was in college and driving a mail truck while shooting speed, which seems like a lovely way to spend a summer at age 22, so no playing soldier for him. Billy got his letter and walked into the draft office, Pall Mall dangling from sneering lips under a newly-grown but already treasured mustache.
“You send me this letter?”
SHWOKKATHOOM Dicks got punched, dicks got punched left and right, my friend. The sergeant, the lieutenant, the other hard-to-spell things: all of them down, dicks punched, just punched to shit, my man. Everyone got it; sometimes it seemed like he was going harder on the people who were just randomly there. A plumber just in the office got it the worst for some reason, perhaps because he begged. Ah, you think: if Billy hates it when one begs, then therefore, one must fight back to gain his respect.
No! Never fight back. You’re not understanding the main motivator here: when Billy gets to punching dicks, Billy gets to punching dicks. It’s not a competition: it’s a thrust, an urge, he MUST PUNCH DICKS. The thing that pisses him off is the time wasted: beg, bargain, fight, offer to slobber his johnson–these all just register on Billy’s radar as vague buzzing that, every second that it lasts, trends towards white-crazy lightning ruining his brain. You’re making it worse: just lie back and think of Sausalito.
1975. Weird year. Weird shows, with an “everybody in the pool” type of vibe to them. “Who showed up? Ned? Umm. Does he have any weed? Well, give him a keyboard, I guess.” Merl and Matthew Kelley (pre-dickpunching incident) sit in; Sammy Davis, Jr. comes out for a number. And each set begins the only proper way a Grateful Dead show can: with an intro by Bill Graham.
The drummers weren’t quite together yet, and the sound is cluttered, but it’s HUGE and it just doesn’t sound like any other year. Garcia sounds like it’s ’72, laying down long, ropey lines and just soloing throughout pretty much every song, expecting the other 97 musicians on stage to carry the actual song. Due to the ad hoc nature of most of the Hiatus show, having a grand piano on stage was impossible (said the road crew before pantsing Keith, forcing Donna Jean to shoo them away. “You have to stand up for yourself, baby. Can’t let the bigger boys bully you. Look at me, Keith: it gets better.”) so Keith was confined to the Fender Rhodes
Did they ever really retire? Were they ever serious about it? The fake-out retirement is a classic show-biz move: Sinatra retired at least 17 times, the Stones have done five straight farewell tours, Tupac became a hologram for some reason. They certainly needed a break from playing Atlas with the Wall of Sound, there was way too much coke and the Persian was creeping into the scene.
So, they took ’75 off, playing only 4 shows, all of them backyard gigs in the Bay Area. The most well-known (justly) is 8/13, the One from the Vault release from the Great American Music Hall. The S.N.A.C.K. benefit was certainly the weirdest: the human brain hadn’t evolved for a pre-noon Blues for Allah. The Winterland show in June is the most overlooked.
But the Secret Hero show is 9/28/75–Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park. Check out the Franklin’s, where Mickey and Billy chase each other around with their cymbals and Garcia lets loose a roaring solo right after “…if you get confused, listen to the music play.” AND THEN THE END OF FRANKLIN’S HOLY SHIT which is like the end of He’s Gone with the long a capella call-and-response and it’s just remarkable.
Aaaaaaand then the intro to Big River, which is a mess.
P.S. Thank you to the tapers, to the archivists, to the digital cleanup artists, to the uploaders. Thank you to the scribes and the safekeepers. After all, if Bobby forgets he words to Truckin’ and it is not preserved, then did he really forget the words? (Most likely, yes. Bobby forgot the words to Truckin’ so much it was on his to-do list: hair, squats, tickle-time with Garcia, slide guitar lesson (cancelled), forget words to Truckin’.)
P.P.S. As I was writing about my gratitude for the archivists and digital Jawas that keep everything running, Archive.org went down.
The Dead neither dated nor married for effect. There are no reports of Phil squiring, say, Joyce Dewitt into the Whiskey while wearing an enormous trenchcoat containing Mickey and Billy for some reason, I don’t know, it’s just a funny visual: the two of them LEAPING out from within the coat like that was Phil’s mutant power, to be able to generate two rampaging cashfuckers at will from his vestments. Phil was actually an X-Man briefly, but chafed under the authority of Professor X and got Colossus killed again, so…
He had to transfer to Garcia’s School for Exceptional Youngsters. Garcia was a benevolent presence that infused the grounds with his personality, riding around in his Alembic-made $400,000 wheelchair; he wasn’t crippled, just lazy. His mutant power was to bring people together and spread love and cheer so that everyone in the room was having such a good time that no one saw him sneak off to the bathroom, which he would invariably burn down.
Bobby takes down villains and keeps the peace with the power of his muscular thighs.
Donna is capable of emitting a banshee wail powerful and strident enough to paralyze an enthusiast at ten paces away from a good ’74 Playin’. (Wait, she’s not a mutant? She just sang like that? Huh.)
P.S. Despite my general distaste for most of the dirges of ’76, here’s a goodie from this day in Dead history: 6/15/76 at the Beacon Theater in money-making, heart-breaking Manhattan.
Things that would get you thrown out of the Grateful Dead’s backstage: