You know my feelings on Hunter and his way with words…
…but you can’t have Aces back to back if you’ve got a Royal Flush. A Royal Flush is a suited run of 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace.
N is for Nunkeys, which are like regular monkeys, except they’re all female and they don’t show their swollen pudenda to anyone because they are married to Monkey Christ.
O is for old loves.
P is for praising the Lord, which is what Donna does a lot of now. She is a Southern Girl, and when one of them goes astray–and allowing Keith to timorously mount her from behind (it was always from behind; Keith would get all sideways on you if you tried to go face-to-face) is the definition of going astray–she goes back home, and back to Jesus. Exactly how mired in sin she has become is measured by whether she gives Jesus a loving hug or just tackles the fucker like Ray Lewis. Actually, think about the actual Ray Lewis. Actually. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction, right? So, the way that woman loves Jesus now, she must have gotten up to some Billy-level bullshit back then.
Q is for quality, as in this ten-minute plus Casey Jones from 10/2/77 at the Paramount Theater in Portland, OR, where Garcia pulls a Bobby on the lyrics and just tells the lyrics, “Fuck you, lyrics: I’m Garcia,” and then he goes and Garcia-s all over the place for five minutes or so and he realizes the sheer volume of Garcia he’s placed around the room and just goes, “Keith, take one.” Garcia was the most interesting man in the world.
R is for Robert Hunter, who put the words in the right order. Even his goofiest, most floweriest poweriest songs show a love of and fascination with myth and America and Miss America (people got paid off) that all other ninny chants of the Bay Area lacked. The Dead’s first genius move was Hunter, by the way. They realized the commonest way of assigning the songwriting-singer writes the words–had a whole bunch of fairly self-evident flaws. James Hetfield sings for Metallica, and thus writes the lyrics. He once wrote a song called Trapped Under Ice, which you might imagine is a metaphorical snapshot of a man under strain, under pressure. No, he is merely and only under ice. There has been a winter-related accident and now a man is literally trapped under actual ice. The Dead chose to hire a poet.
S is for soup, which was a sacrosanct moment in the Dead’s working day. Soup, it was believed, kept you hale and hearty; never a day would pass without the bowls being passed. Every day, the bowls were passed. Bean or pea-based, chowders of all sorts. All locally sourced, far before hipster weenies who live next to Santa Claus thought of it. Each of the band and crew had their own spoon. The spoons cost two grand apiece. Every day, the bowls were passed and life would slow down, slow down for soup.
T is for transitions, such as this China>Rider from 6/22/73 in Vancouver, which is the capital of Canada. At 7 minutes in, Keith softly pads the Uncle John’s Jam chords that were the hallmark of this greatest of all Dead transitions. Those ethereal, infinitely descending chords and if you were lucky, Garcia would top the whole thing off with a little I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Going northbound, I suppose. In his invaluable book, Dead to the Core, Eric Wybenga* notes that one is either a Scarlet>Fire or a China>Rider and, as you might guess from the title of the book, he declares himself the former. Not me, but his theory reminds me of one of my own..
U is for UnSub, which is a word on those creepy murder shows that women seem to love. A theory: all people are either serial killers or spree killers. Serial killers kill people in secretly for years. Spree killers lose it in a Sports Authority. Garcia and Bobby were serial killers. Mickey was spree, but Billy was serial. Phil was the definition of a spree killer.
V is for Vince, whom no one liked. The others were unkind to him, reforming as “the surviving members of the Dead” without him. A few years later, he would prove them right, but with all due resquiet in pace, the guy wasn’t very good. Prone to high-end tinkling, not particularly adept at soloing, emasculated from the get-go by Hornsby’s presence, AND saddled for some reason by Bralove with the worst sounds. Vince’s playing always resonated at what must be the human equivalent of a dog whistle: it was piercing. His songs were worse than dreck, simply stopping shows in their tracks. They were all in bad shape after Brent died, physically, morally. But they learned the lesson of overpaying your crew AND giving them a full vote.: they will be sending your ass back to Oklahoma in March, no matter how dead certain people claim to be. So, they got the guy from the Tubes because he was available.
W is for Winterland. Do you have the run from the ’73 box set? The ’77? The Farewell Shows out-of-their-gourds electricity of closing night? The From Egypt with Love shows? It’s where Frampton Came Alive and Johnny Rotten summed it all up when he asked if we ever felt cheated. It’s condos now. Better, less crime, they say.
X is for X-Men, who got Bobby into trouble this one time. In the 70’s, the X-Men comic had become popular, with no one more so than Bobby. He gobbled down each new issue. Sometimes he would buy and read the same issue three or four times, once for each airport, but he always had the same look of glee when he read–well, it was more looking really hard at the words than reading, really–the latest exploits of Wolverine and Bug Face and Mister Mess Yo Pants.
When Bobby left the hotel that night, he had nothing on him that a normal man wouldn’t: pack of gum, couple of joints, four ounces of cocaine, and five thousand dollars in cash. But the night called to him, to protect a world that feared and hated him. Bobby strolled down the sidewalk, walking straight at some young ruff-tuffs except Garcia had sent Billy to protect Bobby, so Billy jumped out from behind a garbage can and performed what he liked to call the Kill Bill Bill Kill, wherein he jabbed your scrote so fast (but with demonic force) that you didn’t know what had happened. You would wander away, confused. “What just happened? Did I see Billy? If I saw Billy, then–hurrrrg” because at that point, you’ve realized that Billy has taught your crotch the Truth. Bobby knelt before it.
Then Billy kicked the living shit out of the kids, who weren’t really bad kids, and not especially tough, either. But Billy played drums and Billy punched dicks. That’s what Billy did.
Y is for yurt, which is what Mickey lived in for a year trying to master the nomadic beats of the Mongolian Quakers of Iceland, who were the most ethnic people Mickey could find, being that Google maps hadn’t been invented yet. One of the many (suspiciously many, some might say) oddities of the MQ of I is that in their culture, it is the beats that are nomadic, not the people. The people actually lived in tidy little Cape Cods around a lake; Mickey just wanted to live in a yurt. In a nomadic beat, the One constantly migrates, based on a system of biorhythms, astrology, astronomy, rollin’ dem bones, and a touch of making it up as you go. They said this with a straight face to Mickey and he ate that shit right up. Most reasonable observers, however, would quickly have come to the conclusion that these people were fucking with Johnny Can’t Sit Still over there. The album was not even recorded, yet still lost $350,000.
Z is for zebra, which is an animal that Brent used to dress up as so he could engage in frottage with possibly women in badger costumes.
* Seriously, go buy this man’s book. It is awesome in the biblical sense where you are actually filled with awe and drop to your knees begging for your life. It is that good.
The first time Robert Hunter dropped, “But what would be the answer to the answer man?” on everyone, I am willing to bet everything I have there were at least three “whoas.” I am also laying 7-2 on a “far out, man.”
7/19/74. Selland Arena in Fresno, California. Start with He’s Gone.
None of them are in tune, with themselves or each other, and Garcia is the worst: he is a noticeable quarter-step away from where he wants to be for most of the song. Plus, he playing the wrong chords. Combining those two choices makes it difficult to succeed. He’s not the worst, though: Billy keeps wanting to get to the next bit a beat early and Keith is being overbearing like he could be, stomping and comping in the middle register with block chords like he did near the end…
But then, as they’re finished with the song part of the song, they turn around and snatch it from themselves and wrestle it with brawny arms and steaming loins and thrusty parts and soiled trousers and punchy crotch and shivering fists and they make Selland Arena in Fresno their lady-friend. (Which would be kinda nice, actually. Old ladies got put on the payroll. Plus, there was most certainly not going to be any of that Led Zeppelin shit going on. Yes, hotel rooms were being consumed by flames at precisely the same rate as Keith Moon went through them, but Garcia was always really sorry about it, man. You know he didn’t mean that shit.)
Here’s the only problem: Selland Arena only held 6,500 people. How do you get 6,500 people to produce enough revenue to justify moving the Wall of Sound? During the GODDAM GAS CRISIS. And it wasn’t like nowadays, they didn’t charge rich people prices at concerts yet; hell, there were no rich people in Fresno fucking California in 1974 going to the Dead show. There might have been some cats with a roll, but nobody with any money. Even if they had money, rock bands didn’t learn how to really sell shit until the Stones’ Steel Wheels tour.
But not of that matters, because GO BACK AND LISTEN TO EYES, PEOPLE. The end of it, the Stronger Than Dirt part, where you suddenly realize again that the Dead, if they hadn’t had such strong strictures in place regarding practicing, could have been Yes. You listen good and hard to what Billy is doing: he has, as I’ve mentioned before, become Jazzbo Billy by 1974, but he was GOOD AT IT. Billy played his drums like he fucked his women: anally. (You are right, that is going too far and it doesn’t make sense, but wow did it make me giggle like a ninny when I thought of it)
Did you know Bobby wrote a children’s book? He did, in 1991. It was called Panther Dreams. Because of course it was. It had an environmental theme. Again, because of course it did. (Were the Dead that fucking famous in ’91? Children’s books are some high-level Regis and Madonna famous person bullshit.)
Tarot. Do you remember Tarot? It was the play TC left the Dead to score. Did you know it was a mime musical? This is a fact: I am not making it up. Tom Constanten was the Crispin Glover of his time.
Bobby’s looks were becoming a problem. The problem was, Bobby was a pretty young man. Which meant he could essentially wear clown clothes and make them work, but when a man gets older, dignity should take the forefront. The pretty do not learn dignity.
Robert Hunter recorded an album called Amalgamalin Street. It was described as both an “audio novel” and a “rock-opera.” It was about a guy named Chet. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?
Sweet heavenly hosts, I’m sitting here listening to them, while I read and write about them. These baboons have infiltrated my very Essence. they have befouled me like worse than Billy did that Holiday Inn that time in Des Moines when he got bored. No, not that time: the other time. No, the other time.
Mickey spoke in front of the Senate? The real one, not a bunch of dogs wearing human shirts Steve Parrish wrangled in the parking lot? The actual human Senate of the United States? In this reality? Not in some Quantum Leap type deal? (Billy could totally play Dead Stockton.) The same year he also produced an album called Honor the Earth Powwow? What a world we created.
The American Book of the Dead by Oliver Trager is awesome.
By the way: Mickey spoke in front of Senate about the benefits of drum circles for the elderly. Because of course he did.