To the crowd, it was a normal show: Bobby forgot the words to Truckin’, Mickey hurled drumsticks at a guest, Garcia was technically present. There were smiles on the stage, though. While this hockey arena still resonated with the last of our rocking power, we’ll be getting the Full Rock Star, the band thought. Like the Stones, or Zep, or The Who: we’re every bit as big as those bands, except in sales and popularity, so we deserve the same treatment!
They raced through Johnny B. Goode for an encore and exited: stage left. The cheers followed them past the drum riser, to the real show.
There is, of course, no recording of what happened that night and multiple eyewitnesses have multiple stories, but they all follow a similar timeline, except for one which mentions terror-dactyls, but that account did come from Lying Jimmy, so we’re discounting it. This is what we know:
The structural failure of the zip-line was both complete and immediate. Billy was the first to go because he pushed everyone else out of the way; he grabbed the handle and ZWANGCHWEEE the cable flew free in a deadly and unpredictable arc, sending Billy tarzanning around the room kicking bystanders in the heads. The line ran out of energy quickly and Billy wasn’t swinging around anymore, but he was still kicking anyone who came close to him in the head. His drunken, violent flailing is a metaphor for this whole incident.
With the destruction of the zip-line, there was now no way to exit the back of the stage. No stairs had been built, as everyone was positive the new protocols would work flawlessly. It was a good twelve feet. Phil tried first, edging his legs backwards, but gets frightened. He attempts to clamber back up, but lacks the upper-body strength; he hangs there like the bad guy in the last reel of an action movie. A Teamster gets beneath Phil, except his feet are doing this bicycle thing and whichever way you want to look at it, two members of the Grateful Dead are kicking people in the head.
Luckily, there was still some audience left in the arena. Luckier still is that they were a team of Chinese acrobats. They came backstage and, using only their bodies and incredible strength, created a human ladder from the stage to the ground. It was beautiful in a way and as Keith made his way down their bodies’ limber gossamer, he was careful not to touch their bits. Mrs. Donna Jean, for reasons that have still not been fathomed, straight-up stuck her finger up an acrobat’s butt. It was intentional: she had to get through clothing and eye contact was maintained the entire time.
This might have weakened the human ladder made of small Chinese nationals, but Garcia cannonballing into it was what broke it. It also broke most of the young women, some of whom will never acrobat again. Garcia was fine, as he went limp before the impact.
Leaving aside the reasoning behind the cannonball, we now find ourselves with all of the Dead on the floor of the arena, waiting to be be-robed, then taken to their fancy limos.
The valets have all been robbed and thrown out of the arena by the road crew. They have put on the musicians’ fine robes and prancing around like pretty, pretty ladies. A beauty pageant has spontaneously erupted: Ramrod won; Kidd was pissed.
Bobby’s “surprise” comes into play at this point. If one guy with a flashlight pointing the way was good, then one each would be better. The seven flashlight holders, however, had been dosed and were predictably wandering about the building at random. This was unfortunate in that big-time rock stars had been conditioned to follow without question the guy with the flashlight after the show. They are much like cats with laser pointers.
For far too long, the Dead followed various beams of light around the darkened back of the arena. Billy followed his light until it disappeared into the darkness; he wasn’t seen for two days, and when he came back, he claimed to have had adventures being a bounty hunter in space, but everyone was sure he just went to the track.
Mickey finally attacked the fellow holding the flashlight he was following and over time, got the rest of the band to follow him except Bobby, who had also wandered off after remembering that this was all his fault and he didn’t want to be in the room when everyone else remembered that fact.
Finally, Garcia, Mickey, Keith, Mrs. Donna Jean, Phil, and Brent got to the cars, where they made Brent go right back to the time he came from. (He said he was lonely.) It is here where the fatal flaw of beginning the Full Rock Star in Fresno became apparent. There weren’t seven limos waiting because there weren’t seven limos in Fresno.
There were two according-to-Hoyle limos, even though one was white and the other wouldn’t start. A couple guys had brought their old man’s Buicks which, to their credit, were hella-spacious. A Toyota. Van with dragon painted on the side. Beyond that, it was a total clusterfuck: asshole in a dune buggy, fucker in a motorcycle with a sidecar, shithead with a shopping cart.
Keith and Mrs. Donna Jean, who had been punching one another in the head since the moment the concert ended, commandeered the Buicks and began ramming them into one another. Everyone else looked at the white limo and got in the van.
Things were quiet on the way back to the hotel, until the kid driving got lost and everyone started yelling at him and Mickey took the wheel and immediately drove them onto a highway going the wrong direction.
When the group assembled that night, there were serious questions on the table: Whose fault was the failure of the zip-line? How could the robe issue be so bungled? What happened to the driver guy, Avi? It seemed like he was going to be a big part of this and he didn’t show up at all. What’s the deal with that?
All good questions, but ones only Bobby can answer, and he has wisely fled the scene.
The Dead would grow into the Full Rock Star–it’s impossible in just a logistic sense to play a football stadium casually–but not for a few years more. What did they learn? Almost definitely nothing. What have we learned?
What have we learned?