They blew all their big gigs. Dane County Coliseum in the middle of February? They knocked that shit out of the park. They did a show in Virginia once where they deliberately did not tell anyone they were coming and killed it. Woodstock? Egypt? US Festival? They decided, for these shows, to play everybody’s favorite Dead game, “Do you think people will mind if I tune my instrument in the middle of a song?”
Yes, we minded.
They were at Altamont, but didn’t play, staying only long enough to cameo in the movie Gimme Shelter. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out: upon exiting the helicopter, Lesh and Garcia are apprised of the situation, to which Garcia responds, “Wow, bummer, man.” I swear that’s what he said. Then Phil, who will certainly not let himself be topped in the ongoing, intraband battle to never do, say, or wear anything that won’t be deeply, deeply shameful in hindsight, manages to stuff the words “groovy,” “man,”” dude,”” whoa,” and “maaaaaaaaan,” into one sentence. He is able to do this because he is the educated one.
Monterey was another disappointment. They weren’t bad, just unmemorable playing between The Who and Hendrix, both of whom ended their sets with the destruction of their instruments. Someone suggested to the Dead that perhaps they could smash a guitar or two, which led to an angry tirade from Garcia about the new pickups and their delicate wiring he had recently installed in his guitar, followed by an hour-long tour of root vegetables that produced a pleasing sound when beaten upon that Mickey had collected in his recent ethno-percussionist mission to the farmer’s market in San Luis Obispo. So they just kinda played Dark Star for 28 minutes.
The Dead were not at Live Aid. First off, Live Aid was in 1984, so the band responded to the invitation with an RSVP reading, “Can’t make it. We have too many awful, awful shows already scheduled. The weekend in question, we are committed to playing rather poorly in St Louis, then flying to Baton Rouge to disappoint and sadden many of our fans. You should call Queen.” Second, acts at the charity concert were confined to tight 20-minute sets, or as the Dead call it, half a song.
The Dead never had the chance to display their magic at the Gathering of the Juggaloes. It would have been lovely: Garcia in face paint, Billy getting his ass-kicked by an obese goth chick on PCP, Bobby starting El Paso despite the torrent of rocks, trash-cans, and actual human feces flying toward the stage. (Now, I know that metaphorically, that’s what happened every time Bobby started El Paso, but Juggaloes aren’t into metaphor: they sincerely throw human feces at people who are trying to entertain them. And they get the same amount of votes as you do.)
Truly tragically, there never got to be a Grateful Dead night on American Idol. Tiny, semi-talented closeted gay teens being tutored by our beloved Walking Felonies.
“Okay, kid, now when you sing the part about “Inspiration, move me brightly…” you kinda gotta hit it. It’s, like, highlight of the cosmic symphony and all that, right, Kevin?”
“My name is Lisa, Mr. Garcia.”
“Cool, so here’s the arrangement: we’re gonna play the song however the hell we want to play it, depending on our chemical intake and which member of the band we’re currently not talking to. Then, you come in.”
“How will I know when to start singing?”
“Well, that’s just it, man: you’re just gonna KNOW, y’know? Like ‘when the music plays the band,’ right?”
Over in the corner, Phil is helping another kid:
“You’re pitchy, dog. Speaking of pitch, did you know–”
“Yes, Mr. Lesh. Perfect pitch. It’s on your business cards.”