MY LIFE AS A DEADHEAD
dead-head [ded-hed]-verb: Horticulture. To remove faded blooms from (ornamental plants),especially in flower gardens, often to help continued blooming.
No that is not the definition that I was looking for. How about this:
Deadhead [ded-hed]-noun: A person that is a fan of the Grateful Dead to the point of excess. One that has spent many years on the road following the band, listening to their music, trading tapes/cd’s, may or may not have ingested legal and illegal substances to enhance the experience (not really a prerequisite), and has had life altering experiences effecting which fork in the road of life one takes.
Yeah, that sort of covers it. I am a Deadhead. Yes there, I admit it. The Grateful Dead have not played live since 1995 and yet I still listen to them every day. And yes they have changed my very being. Now I have NEVER done heroin, but to me they are my drug of choice. Why the magic courses through my veins to this very day.
I began my addiction in the early 1970’s. In fact I was invited to go to Watkins Glen, which would have been my first show, but my father (fresh off of the Woodstock scare after he saw the movie) told me that if I left the house, I was not to come back. Well in 1973, in the middle of dealing with a minor bust, and I felt that I had better listen. So my ticket went elsewhere. But I had albums and Skull and Roses, Live Dead kept me going. Later on Europe 72 was added to the list. My friend Rich had reel to reel (you younger people will have to google that one) bootlegs and I got to listen to them. Some were even Bob and Betty tapes.
Okay the years were marching by. The Boys of Summer took a year off from touring and then came 1976. Ah what a year. Me and my friends went and bought tickets to almost every Schaefer Music Festival show in Central Park NYC. Good music, bad music, at $5 per ticket we saw it all. Then the Dead dropped into Passaic NJ to play the Capital Theater. A XXX theater by day and a great place to see music by night. It was June 19, 1976 I wanted to see the Dead but everyone else talked me out of it as we had tickets to see Jesse Colin Young and Aztec Two Step. I should have gone with my first instinct. As we were driving home we listened to the Dead on WNEW and I nearly burst a blood vessel I was so angry. Amazing show, just a classic. Here is the YouTube link for a pre radio quality show with black and white video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYa0JaRdokc&list=FL71AwImT8jRG5ZG89kCAqUg
August came and we had tickets to Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. Still as I had never seen the band live before I had no idea what I was in for. Well in we went, hours before the show. What a party everyone was there early. At that point I began to realize that it wasn’t just a Rock Concert this was a Culture. I liked this culture. I liked this togetherness, I liked this scene.
That was it hooked.
Well I can’t really write about each and every experience that I had on the road because that would go on forever so I am going to tell some of my most memorable moments. Yes the people that were with me will say that I missed some things or that I have the story wrong or the year or order of the shows mixed up, but hey remember this was miles and years ago on a planet that doesn’t exist anymore. So feel free to comment and fill in the gaps. In fact I would love to read your stories.
A major player in our band of bozos and bolos was a friend named Flori, although I don’t get to see live music very often anymore, Flori is still out there catching as much good music as she can. Somehow Flori seems to be a cog in the wheel that makes up our band of Heads. Every spoke in the wheels somehow has Flori in it. (Seven degrees of Separation) Well when we would plan on hitting the road (remember the mid-late ’70’s were loads of small general admission shows and we would just go from one to another. College be damned) Flori was always late and there we would stand waiting for Flori to show up so that we could hit the road. One day we were discussing what time to leave the next day for a show and someone suggested that we tell Flori we were leaving an hour earlier than we were and that way she would arrive when we really planned to leave. So we did and it worked and so Flori time was born. It worked beautifully.
There was the time that we were going to see the band play in Syracuse. Well the whole ride up it was pouring. Suddenly our driver, Dan, windshield wipers stopped working. Well what could we do? We had a show to catch. Not a Boy Scout among us we put our heads together and decided to take the laces off of our sneakers and tie them together. Then we tied them to the wipers and ran them in through a small crack in the rear windshields. And in unison, for hours, we pulled the wipers. Right, then left, then right, then left. And it was indeed for hours. But we made it to the show.
There was the time that we drove to Rochester and Binghamton NY in 1977 for what have become classic shows. Man it was cold. In Rochester we were sleeping in our bags on the stoop of the War Memorial. As day broke the crowd began to swell and swell. Remember this was a GA show. Suddenly Dan (hereby known as MM, for the Mystery Man) were standing right in front of the doors and the push began. Well the plate glass doors were pushed through and people started streaming into the arena. I guess that the cold got to everyone. The next night at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton we were careful not to get to close, in fact from that point on I decided that up front at a GA show was not where I wanted to be. It was a bad crushing scene and I was too out there to deal with that. Needless to say when they brought out St. Stephan the place went wild and that show became one for the history books.
Another time we saw a good show up in Utica NY (they loved to play NY State) we came out into a blizzard. Well they hadn’t begun to plow yet so what could we do? We went to a really Republican bar and drank tequilla and played backgammon. Our friend, Brian was there with a painted face and boy did we get looks. Well the bar had to close and we needed to get back to NJ. So we piled into my 1974 Chevy Vega and hit the NY State Thruway. We got behind a plow and drove home, all night behind that plow doing about 35 scary miles per hour. But we made it.
Then there was the time we went to Rensselaer Poly Tech Institute and when we got there we had no idea where the show was. So we asked some student coming out of a building where the Dead were playing. His reply was “the Grateful Dead are playing here?” Well that was no help. We found it anyway.
All of this touring was becoming very expensive, never mind it was killing my college career, so we came up with the idea to become a vendor. We all put our heads together and came up with the idea of a Grateful Dead car window decal. Well Flori was the only one with artistic talent so we put her to work. Here is what we got:
We made a few thousand, or hundred, by a local silk screen printer that Laura found.
Now some genius at William and Mary College had the idea to have new student/parent orientation and the Grateful Dead on April 15th 1978. And so we got a campsite not far away, packed up our decals and stuff and head off to a beautiful day in Williamsburg Virginia. Problem was that we never sold anything before to try and make money (to eat and get to the next show) and also for the first time our pockets were lined with singles and we now had cash to buy all of all the GREAT stuff that others were selling. We bought some great things, Ed Donohue shirts, framed skull with lightening handmade pictures, other decals, and of course things that I won’t go into here. Remember this was in the past and Reagan wasn’t President yet.
Before the show we began to get hungry. So we went a wandering an low and behold we found a barbecue for the new parents and students. Good enough for us. We got into line for some burgers, fried chicken, soda, and chips. As parents began asking us questions we just made believe we belonged there and told them what a great school W & M was. Good thing I had my Raybans on or my cover would have been blown.
Well the rest of the day was hysterical. Imagine, me a student at W&M? I was lucky to be at FDU.
This wouldn’t be my first adventure at Williamsburg but I’ll get to that later.
One time later in the year the Dead were playing in Miami. So Marc and I decided that since we were finished with finals, why not. We called and got a flight. Packed a bag, with decals too, and hit the Turnpike for Newark Airport. Of course they were working on the roadway and it took forever to get to the airport. We parked the car, ran to the terminal, and were encountered by a Hari Krishna. Being nice, we gave him our cash, got a nice flower and ran to the gate, just as our plane was pulling away. The next flight was too late for us to make the show. So we turned around only to remember that we had no cash to get the car out of the lot. We found the Hari Krishna and tried to sell him his flowers back. No deal. We pleaded and pleaded. We explained our predicament and he still wouldn’t help us out. Not even a dime. So we got to the car, and explained what happened to the attendant and after some coaxing he let me write a check and back to school we went. Laughing all the way.
One of my least favorite places to see the Dead was in the state of Connecticut. To this day I dislike the place. The Police were nasty and always looked for any reason to make our lives miserable. We were selling decals one night in New Haven after the show. The cops were hassling us so we went into the parking garage and worked the ramp to the exit. Someone stole a decal from me. So I dropped my backpack and ran after him. Stupid I couldn’t outrun a car. When I went back my backpack filled with decals was gone. Argghhh.
A couple of months later Laura and I decided to send a decal to Grateful Dead Merchandising and see if we could become legal and sell these things through them. We never heard back but you know what, suddenly when my GD Almanac came in the mail, there was our decal. Coincidence, I think not.
Ithica, another place the Dead loved to play and usually immortalized. We went to the famous show at Cornell. Actually that was the very last time I saw a Hells Angel at a show. Other than that and of course the amazing show, nothing out of the ordinary (for a Dead show) occurred.
Then in January of 1979 I met the girl that would eventually become my wife and partner in life. But having a rough run of girlfriends that couldn’t ‘get it’ with the Dead I decided to have a talk with Alice. I explained to her that I was a Deadhead and that when the Dead came I went. She was welcome to join me but not to expect me to not go. Boy talk about being a pompous ass. Well after she calmed down, and I of course apologized and explained myself, she has been on the road with me ever since. Talk about luck. (Think Cold Rain and Snow here gang. LOL)
Laura got us tickets to see the band at the Saratoga Performing Art Center (SPAC). Only problem was that I HAD to be at work the next day. So Laura and I hit the road. She promised to drive home so that I would make it to work. We partied, danced, partied, danced and a grand old time. When it was time to go home, I piled into the back of Laura’s car and got ready to sleep for the ride. Laura then told me that she was night blind. I didn’t sleep much that ride.
There was the time that we rented a school bus to take us to the Nassau Coliseum for Halloween.If you were in costume you paid less than if you weren’t in costume. We lost money on the deal but man what a bus ride. We got a couple of cases of beer, and the party began. When we got to the show, we told the bus driver that he could have a beer while waiting for us. When we got back there was NO beer left. I still don’t know how we made it back to campus.
Now back to Williamsburg (this is definitely out of sequence). Alice had a job interview and the Dead were playing the Hampton Coliseum. We had our tickets, we were up to 3 car loads of us by this time. We had a hotel room for 15 and off we were going to go. And we were going to visit Williamsburg too.
Now how to get Alice to the show and to the interview? Easy, I called the airline and wove a tale. Alice’s Aunt passed away and we needed to get her onto a flight to Hampton that very day or she would miss the funeral. Bingo. I was to leave the car and keys for her at the ticket counter. We got on the road not feelin’ too bad and left the car at the airport with the keys and directions to get to the show. We went to the hotel to get ready. Well now it’s show time, and I am a bit concerned, no Alice. But hey, I never missed an opening number and I wasn’t going to now. So off we went.
Back at the airport Alice went to the ticket counter and no one knew anything. Time was a wasting so she decided to take a cab. As luck would have it, I parked right at the cab stand and Alice had her own copy of my car key. But no directions. Well she made it and only missed the opening number. The next day we went To Colonial Williamsburg and had a great time.
Hey be a Deadhead and see America and I did indeed have a Chevrolet.
I could keep going on and on and sometime else I will share some of those other adventures with you but I have to leave you with this one last story for this installment. And it has to do with my bride and the Capital Theatre in Passaic.
It was March 30th 1980. The place was more than jam packed, why they even sold Standing Room Only tickets which we had. Brian came in from California, Jeff was there, Dan, Laura, MM, Flori and of course my girlfriend Alice. The Blues Brothers showed up and joined the band on stage, or so I am told.
We were lucky enough to get a hold of something really amazing (that’s all I’m going to say on that). Alice couldn’t handle the crowd and went across the street to the bar and drink and watch basketball. But no one told me. Now right in the middle of the show the world began to take on a whole new look. But where was Alice, I couldn’t get past that. No way no how. Jeff grabbed me and screamed at me “you’re at the place you have always wanted to be, doing what you have always wanted to do now get a hold of yourself and watch the show.” Or something along that line. Well I was stuck. I missed most of the show, made everyone with pissed off and meanwhile Alice was sitting sipping drinks and watching basketball. Later after the show Laura piled 12 of us into her Lincoln and like an idiot I got into the car. Of course I got car sick but luckily outside the window. Well lucky for Laura and everyone in the car.
Like I said I could go on but this is already a long post.
I leave you with these two things:
1- There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert
2- They’re not the best at what they do, they are the only ones that do what they do.