Winterland was to rock what Trafalgar was to the Empire, but with slightly more dead Brits. It was the proving ground, where you came to make your bones; perhaps even more the place you came to call it a night. The Band, the Pistols, hell: the Sixties and the Seventies probably both came to a close in the cavernous barn that somehow managed to be sweaty and chilly at the same time.
Crumbling around the crowd and bent under the weight of the Ghosts of Capades Past, Winterland was a dump: outmoded and dilapidated even before it began its run as the House That Bill Graham Built.
There’s a Yiddish word: haimish. It means a whole bunch of things, because of all the things Jews enjoy about themselves (and, trust me, there are many), the “fact” that Yiddish words take at least twenty minutes, three anecdotes, and a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda to explain. The gist is homey and comfortable, like a couch made out of boobs.
That’s what Winterland was, all thanks to Bill Graham and if you didn’t give him all the thanks, he would scream about you to Herb Caen and then 86 you while yelling lines from old Elia Kazan movies. He offered haimish…as long as you weren’t acting like a schmuck. Don’t even get me started on what he would do to gonnifs! The only person allowed to steal in Winterland was Bill.
He had a great scam: at the end of the night, the promoter and the road manager sit there in the office and count the ticket stubs. X stubs and Y dollars equals cash on the barrel. So Bill would have the ticket takers gently, carefully, lovingly take the ticket, not rip it…for the first two or three thousand folks, anyway, so when the Dead looked out…
…and saw what was clearly around eight or nine thousand filthy, filthy hippies, Bill could point to the receipts and actually mean the old line: Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?