Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Way Down In The South Of France

Fun fact: the Dead’s impromptu show is nowhere near the most impressive Rock Nerd trivia about the Château d’Hérouville. The Boys went to Europe twice before the famous ’72 tour, both times to play only one show because it took the Grateful Dead a while to learn about scalable economics. (That was actually a theme before Cutler taught them how to make money touring: they would play a week in New York, and then fly to Hawaii, and then back to California, and then one night in Texas. It’s like the schedule was decided upon by stoned hippies voting on stuff.)

Both trips were to play at hippie festivals: the European kids had heard about the Be-Ins and Woodstock, and they wanted a piece of the California dream. The first one was 5/24/70 in Newcastle.

“Hey, Jer.”

“Yeah, Bob?’

“We’re bringing dope to Newcastle.”

“Good one, Bob.”

It was cold and muddy, but Elvis Costello was there and the band played as well as they could with their stiff little fingers.

In 1971, the Dead flew back to perform at another festival, this time in France at a place called Auvers-sur-Oise. But it rained, and so the show was cancelled. As usual, the band had found a benefactor to keep them in the lifestyle they’d grown accustomed to: Michael Magne was a French film composer–he did the score for Barbarella–and he hosted the Dead’s whole party at the Château d’Hérouville.

He had the space. The main house was built in 1740 and had 30 rooms in two wings. Chopin used to live there. Van Gogh painted it.


And now it was occupied by a bored horde of hairy Americans, one of whom kept walking up to viscounts and asking them how to say “Please punch me in the dick,” in French, and when they told him they would get punched in the dick. If you don’t give the Grateful Dead something to do, then they’ll amuse themselves through destruction; they’re like border collies with arrest records.

Well, why don’t we do the show right here?

Precarious had to be talked into leaving America, but he didn’t let his reluctance affect his skills.

The Dead kicked ass that night. It was loose and groovy and people got wild and real with each other. (Obviously, the punch was spiked and–as in all of these stories–the cops wound up taking off their clothes and dancing.) You can listen to it.

Hell, you can watch it:

(I suspect the film crew was there to shoot the festival and got invited to the party.)

You might say, “TotD, what could be cooler than an impromptu Dead show that somehow became one of the handful of performances captured on video?”


And you would be like, “Whatever, asshole.”

And I would buy you flowers, but the wrong kind and you would make a face, and then I would beat you with the bouquet of flowers, which is an on-the-nose metaphor but it’ll do.

After the Dead played the Château d’Hérouville, Michael Magne converted it into a studio for rock and rolling types, and all sorts of silly-looking people came by to record albums.

How about Bowie?

He recorded most of Pin-Ups there, which was the covers album and is not the reason people were so sad when he died.

Or the Pink Floyd Sound, maaaaaan?

Hey, look: it’s Roger Waters! And David Gilmour! And another guy! Maybe he’s Pink? (They recorded Obscured by Clouds at the Château.)

And Iggy and T. Rex and the MC5 and Joan Armatrading and Cat Stevens and Bad Company and Elton John. This was the Honky Château, and Elton also recorded Goodby, Yellow Brick Road here.

He looked like this:

Yellow Brick Road sold 30 million copies, and it’s nearly perfect: sloppy and bulging and fizzing over like a proper double album, but it’s still not the coolest thing about the Château.

The Bee-Gees recorded this and How Deep is Your Love at the Château, and now that Van Gogh doodle doesn’t seem so impressive, does it?


  1. Also, Phil Lesh jammed with Mama there (really). No word if Phil sang harmonies in Kobaian

  2. Never try to get your peter sucked in France.

  3. Jethro Tull tried to record “A Passion Play” there but the session ganked, so they went home to England and tried it again. The first attempt was released many years later as “The Chateau D’isaster Tapes,” and they are actually very good.

    But, yeah, The Bee Gees. Yeah . . . you can’t beat that, you nailee it. Perhaps you have some, say, Thoughts on them?? I did, once:

    • the d’isaster tapes are also on the very excellent out of print 1st tull boxed set.
      maybe DL the second of his name will release the 71 dead show at some point it really is a good groovy listen wherein they choogle smartly…and one of the last of healthy pigpen

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