In the Book of Love’s Own Dream - Garcia: An American Life (2000)

Garcia: An American Life (2000)


In the Book of Love’s Own Dream

he Grateful Dead stayed in Los Angeles for only about six weeks, but things were moving so fast in San Francisco in the winter of 1966 that the dynamics of the city’s music world had changed fairly dramatically by the time the band returned to the Bay Area. While the Dead and the Pranksters were scuffling around L.A. digging up odd places to play, the scene in San Francisco was simultaneously solidifying and opening up in exciting new directions, as both Bill Graham and the loose-knit group known as the Family Dog began putting on dance concerts more frequently, showcasing both the city’s own up-and-coming bands and out-of-town groups.

Because of what they became and their longevity, the Dead’s role in the early days of the San Francisco rock ’n’ roll renaissance has probably been somewhat overemphasized through the years. While the Acid Tests were unquestionably influential, the Haight-Ashbury scene might still have flowered as it did if Kesey had never left La Honda and the Warlocks had broken up after their third gig at Magoo’s. The fact is, hundreds of sources of intense energy, bold musical statements, creative thinking and wild flights of imagination were germinating in the city. Drugs were certainly a major catalyst, but they proliferated independent of the Dead/Pranksters. And the dozens of bands that sprang up in the garages, basements and living rooms of drafty old Haight-Ashbury Victorians and nondescript apartments and row houses around town drew their inspiration, as the Dead did, from all over—the Beatles, the Byrds, Dylan, the Stones, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Chicago blues cats, the Yardbirds, Ravi Shankar, Nashville country pickers, Miles and Coltrane, Mongo Santamaria and a thousand other musicians, famous and obscure, whom the city’s young players listened to on records and the radio and in clubs of every variety.

And of course there was a lot more to the scene than just the music, though the bands and dances became the primary galvanizing force. Over a period of just a few months, the Haight became the center of a loose movement of adventurous and eclectic visual artists—poster designers, light show makers, painters, filmmakers and lithographers, some of whom became nearly as celebrated as the musicians. All of the artists shared a playful spirit of adventure and a willingness (or compulsion) to experiment. They drew from art nouveau, Hindu and Buddhist art, contemporary op and pop painters, Native American crafts, nineteenth-century woodcuts—everything was fair game, and each of the artists developed a distinctive style, much as each of the bands on the scene developed a unique musical signature.

Not surprisingly, the name “Grateful Dead” lent itself to interesting iconic possibilities, “because we had such an evocative name,” Garcia said in 1987. “You can throw anything at it. ‘Grateful Dead’ is so huge and wide open that anything works. That’s one of the reasons the artists loved it… . Because the artists came to the shows, they’d get all excited and come over and say, ‘Look, here’s the latest Grateful Dead poster. What do you think?’ They liked to blow our minds, too. It got to be feedback on so many different levels with everyone trying to blow each other’s minds. And it works! When everyone’s putting all their energy into it full-time, pretty soon everyone’s mind is blown.”

With Danny Rifkin joining Rock Scully in actively working with the Dead—though there was little money in it at this point—there was talk about the Dead moving into 710 Ashbury, the rooming house that Danny managed and where Rock had a room, and various members crashed there for a week or so after they arrived back in town following the L.A. sojourn. But instead of immediately plunging into the world of the Haight, the Dead decided to take a scenic detour and headed into the country, where Rosie McGee and Owsley’s girlfriend, Melissa Cargill, succeeded in renting a giant house for the group in the wilds of Novato, in northern Marin County, on a plot of land known as Rancho Olompali.

“It was a kind of Spanish-style, pseudo-adobe structure with at least two stories, and a whole bunch of rooms,” Rosie McGee says of the house, which had been used as a home for retarded children before the Dead took it over. “The grounds were famous—there was the pool and several buildings; a building off in the back that some people stayed in.”

“The Dead used to have some pretty good parties out in their place in the country, in Olompali,” said Charlatans founder George Hunter. “Two or three hundred people would come, and of course, most of them probably took LSD. This was around the time that a lot of new ground was being broken, socially, and it seemed like a third to a half of the people at these parties would be naked, hanging around the pool. It was a great place. It was a sort of ranch estate that had a nice big house that looked kind of like Tara in Gone With the Wind… . In between the house and the pool the Dead would set up their equipment and play from time to time. Usually there’d be members of other bands there, too, like the Airplane and Quicksilver, and there’d be little jams with people who wanted to play. I remember the Dead would be playing and Neal Cassady would be doing this strange little dance—it was almost like break dancing; very fluid… . Those parties—I’m not sure how many of them there were—were always on a nice afternoon. Everybody would play all day in the sunshine—just doing everything—and then when the sun would start to go down and it got cold, people would pack it in. By the time it was dark most people were gone, but there were always enough people who were either around to begin with or who wanted to stay, that the party would continue inside. In fact, with the number of people hanging out there all the time, it was pretty much a party all the time anyway. I don’t know if it was twenty-four hours a day, but every time I was there it was going.”

“Novato was completely comfortable, wide open, high as you wanted to get, run around naked if you wanted to, fall in the pool, completely open scenes,” Garcia said in 1971. “Everything was just super-groovy. It was a model of how things could really be good… . It was good times—unself-conscious and totally free.”

If this all sounds like some sort of freak utopia, that’s probably not too far off the mark. The spring and summer of 1966 were in some ways the apex of the whole San Francisco scene—the true “Summer of Love” a year before the media latched on to that tag; a time when the Bay Area’s freak community was joyously coalescing, discovering its breadth and diversity, and people were turning each other on in a thousand different ways: with music, art, books, dope, endless conversations… .

Everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before LSD was made illegal—in California, legislators had already been whipped into an anti-drug frenzy by a rising tide of hysterical press associated with the Acid Tests—so in a sense this period was the last window of opportunity for people to trip without the paranoia associated with the knowledge that possessing acid could lead to jail time. And for the Dead, trying to eke out a living on the still growing local band circuit, and playing an increasing number of conventional dance concerts—as opposed to Acid Tests—meant that they could no longer get as high as they wanted and then either play or not play. People started coming to dance to the Dead because they were the Dead, and as Owsley puts it, “In the early days, we were almost always well lubricated [for shows]; till after the Acid Test period, when they started getting working gigs. Then there was a greater reluctance to get too screwed up because there was a certain level of professionalism that was required.”

But out in the bucolic wilds of Olompali it was another matter altogether. Garcia and the others gobbled acid regularly in that beautiful, unpressured setting, psychically far removed from the sensory whirlwind that the Pranksters had created at the Acid Tests, and physically from the bustling, citified swirl of the Haight-Ashbury. Garcia said that some of his most profound LSD trips occurred during this magical period, which, though far from the end of his psychedelic days (he tripped occasionally for the rest of his life), marked the end of his serious exploratory phase.

“Psychedelics were probably the single most significant experience in my life,” Garcia said. “Otherwise I think I would be going along believing that this visible reality is all that there is. Psychedelics didn’t give me any answers. What I have is a lot of questions. One thing I’m certain of—the mind is an incredible thing and there are levels of organizations of consciousness that are way beyond what people are fooling with in day-to-day reality.”

And how did psychedelics affect his music?

“I can’t answer that. There was a me before psychedelics, and a me after psychedelics; that’s the best I can say. I can’t say that it affected the music specifically; it affected the whole me. The problem of playing music is essentially of muscular development and that is something you have to put in the hours to achieve no matter what. There isn’t something that strikes you and suddenly you can play music.

“I think that psychedelics was part of music for me insofar as I was a person who was looking for something and psychedelics and music are both part of what I was looking for. They fit together, although one didn’t cause the other.”

Although mid-1966 probably represents the apex of the Dead’s experimentation with psychedelics, the music the group played during this period wasn’t nearly as twisted, weird and obviously chemically inspired as what they would unleash a year later, when, though their own psychedelic intake was down, they’d been playing together longer and the cumulative effect of their psychedelic consumption had become manifest in their original music. In 1966 the Dead were still essentially a cover band, and in terms of their song choices, what they played wasn’t tremendously different from what was being churned out by other bands around town, except that the Dead always retained some of the jug band’s feel and repertoire. (In fact, the band’s first single release, in June 1966—a pressing of just 150 copies on a local independent label, Scorpio Records—featured electrified versions of two songs they’d played with the jug band: “Don’t Ease Me In” and “Stealin’.”) Everybody, it seemed, was playing blues-based rock ’n’ roll of one kind or another. Some bands took their blues approach from British bands like the Stones, the Yardbirds, the Animals and Them; others looked directly at the Chicago blues artists the Brits had copied, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells and others.

Garcia noted, “As a band, the Grateful Dead has never thought of itself as being a psychedelic band. We’ve always thought of ourselves as a rock ’n’ roll band. What we were playing back then [the mid-’60s] was basically a harder, rhythm and blues-oriented rock ’n’ roll; especially Pigpen’s stuff. We were going for a sort of Chess Records school of R&B—Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Those are the records we stole a lot of our tunes from. We didn’t have that Midwestern authority—we weren’t like the Butterfield band, but we were a funky blues band.”

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played fairly often in San Francisco in 1966 and 1967, and their influence on many of the Haight-Ashbury groups was considerable—it’s fair to say that they set a standard for musicianship that other bands aspired to (and few could match). This Chicago group was the real deal: Butterfield blew harp as well as James Cotton, the rhythm section of bassist Jerome Arnold, drummer Sam Lay and pianist Mark Naftalin was as good as any in Chicago, and the group boasted two excellent guitarists: Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, who’d come up playing in Chicago’s highly competitive blues circuit, where imitating Otis Rush and Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin wasn’t enough: “It had to be the real thing; it had to be right,” Bloomfield said.

John Kahn, who played with Garcia beginning in 1970 and also played extensively with Bloomfield, said, “Jerry told me that when he was first playing in San Francisco, Bloomfield was the one guitarist who really impressed him, because of the way he could endlessly come up with different ways of playing around a melody. I think Jerry would say he was influenced by Bloomfield a little, though Jerry had stronger country influences that shaped his tone. But they both had their own special kind of tone and they both played American roots music and were completely influenced by all different strains of American music.” In a 1968 interview, Bloomfield said of Garcia’s playing, “He sounds amazingly like he’s trying to sound like me, but I don’t think he is. I think he came that way himself.”

In terms of their approach to playing, the Dead were as influenced by jazz musicians as they were by the classic electric blues bands. Phil Lesh had a lot to do with educating the other bandmembers, including Garcia, about jazz, though the Chateau had been a jazz hotbed, so Garcia had already heard plenty of jazz independent of Phil. Danya Veltfort remembers Garcia sitting around Phoebe Graubard’s apartment in the summer of 1961 listening to Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain and Coltrane’s Soul Trane over and over, though he was playing old-timey guitar at the time. Garcia also attended the Monterey Jazz Festival that autumn and saw Coltrane there. Miles and Coltrane were still the dominant figures in jazz five years later, and both were still evolving in fascinating directions when the Warlocks were starting off. By the early ’60s, too, Ornette Coleman was making noise—literally and figuratively—in Los Angeles, pushing the limits of what was considered jazz with his daringly dissonant free improvisations that shocked and outraged the jazz establishment.

“We felt at that time, when we were listening to Coltrane, that we were hardly fit to grovel at his feet,” Bob Weir said. “But still, we were trying to get there; our aims were pretty much the same.”

One would be hard pressed to point to elements in the Dead’s music in mid- to late 1966 that specifically echoed Miles or Coltrane or Ornette, but the group was definitely inspired by the questing spirit of their jazz contemporaries: the great jazz groups’ willingness to abandon form and structure in search of wondrous new avenues of self-expression; the fluid and intricate dynamics of their highly intuitive ensemble playing; and their refusal to make commercial compromises with their work. The musical influences were more readily apparent in 1968 and 1969 and later, as the Dead became more proficient and took their jams farther “out,” in the jazz sense.

Garcia noted, “I’ve been influenced a lot by Coltrane, but I never copped his licks or sat down, listened to records and tried to play his stuff. I’ve been impressed with that thing of flow, and of making statements that to my ears sound like paragraphs—he’ll play along stylistically with a certain kind of tone, in a certain kind of syntax, for X amount of time. Then he’ll, like, change the subject, then play along with this other personality coming out, which really impresses me. It’s like other personalities stepping out, or else his personality is changing, or his attitude’s changing. But it changes in a holistic way, where the tone of his axe and everything changes.

“Perceptually, an idea that’s been very important to me in playing has been the whole ‘odyssey’ idea—journeys, voyages and adventures along the way.”

In the early and mid-’60s Coltrane was a master of the introspective musical odyssey, a shamanic conjurer whose playing breathed fire one moment, floated in the ether the next, but always seemed to bubble up from some deep spiritual wellsping. During the Beat era, jazz was considered a transportational medium: it opened up your head and took you places. And from the beginning, that’s also what the Dead’s music was designed to do. The band’s early music might not have had the compositional depth or improvisational sophistication of Miles’s or Coltrane’s groups (to say the least), but the conversational relationship between the instruments in the Dead—the way they engaged each other and seemed to always be simultaneously providing both melody and rhythm without explicitly defining either—clearly owed much to the jazz world.

“We’re trying to think away from the standard routine of these members comp, this member leads,” Garcia explained to Ralph Gleason in 1967. “We’re trying to think of ensemble stuff. Not like Dixieland ensemble stuff; something else which we don’t yet know anything about. The way Bill [Kreutzmann] plays is he plays a little with everybody. So if I’m playing a line, he knows enough about my playing and thinking that he can usually anticipate the way I’ll think a line. And he’s a great rhythmic reinforcement for any line that I can play, no matter how it relates to the rest of the time going on. He also plays beautifully with Phil, the bass player… . And Phil’s way of approaching the bass is utterly different than any other bass players, ’cause he doesn’t listen to any bass players. He listens to his mind!

“The problems we’re having with all this [are] because all of us still think so musically straight, really, that it’s difficult to get used to not hearing the heavy two and four [beat]. It’s difficult to think rhythmically without having it there all the time, but we’re starting to develop that sense better.

“There’s not that feeling of the big rhythm going [in our music] because we do a lot of tricks within a bar and the tricks we do are like eliminating the beat entirely and just all of us not playing it. Like we’re starting to use the space, rather than the time or whatever.

“We still feel that our function is as a dance band… . We like to play with dancers. We like to see [them] and nothing improves your time like having somebody dance. It pulls the whole thing together, and it’s also a nice little feedback thing.”

It helped that in 1966 and ’67 particularly, the people who came to dance to the Dead were often close friends of the band, or, at the very least, kindred spirits with a shared sense of adventure and purpose. If there’s one thing that nearly everyone who went through that time in the San Francisco underground agrees on, it’s that the ballrooms were magical places where people could freak freely with friends and strangers alike and groove to an incredible range of bands, all of whom seemed to be getting better every week.

“The real magic time was ’66, because the Fillmore and the Avalon were both going and the scene was still pretty much all local,” Steve Brown remembers. “Everybody knew what we had going musically and were enjoying the drugs that were around and still legal, and we were identifying ourselves by clothing and appearance and having events that were our own things. It was a very sweet period that felt like it would keep going like that and be cool and be a new thing—a whole new culture that we’d grow up into and that would remain our own thing. We didn’t look to promote it and nobody really felt like it was a crusade of any sort. We were just enjoying it ourselves.”

“Going to the Fillmore and the Avalon and all those places was probably the most fun I ever had in my life,” Rosie McGee says. “Considering that I personally probably knew a couple of hundred people at the Fillmore on a given night, the shows seemed more like parties than concerts, and there was always a wonderful sense of community, and great music obviously. Every part of it was wonderful; there was nothing bad about it. I loved to dance. We all did. And we never wanted the nights to end. It was one week after another, after another, after another. You look at the posters and the playbills from that period and you see who was playing. You’d go one week and hear Otis Redding. Another week somebody else great would be around. And then of course we all went and saw all the local groups, too. It was amazing that we were able to do anything else in between. But some of us had to earn a living.”

Dick Latvala, who became the keeper of the Dead’s tape vault in the late ’80s (and who is the namesake of the “Dick’s Picks” series of historic Dead CDs), says, “I went to shows every night. In ’66 I didn’t do anything but go to shows… . Because I thought, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do—take acid and go see this music.’ And it wasn’t just the Grateful Dead, of course. It was the Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and Quicksilver, too. Okay, Moby Grape was pretty good—sometimes. But basically, there were these four groups that were just devastatingly unique. It was music that was unique, exploratory, something you’d literally never heard before—that no one had ever heard before, including the people playing it a lot of times.

“And it was fuckin’ awesome to be in a room of people who were tripped out. The fact that you could be really high on acid and be in a room with a whole bunch of other people was amazing! It was a real intimate experience, and everything I was looking for.”

“The best thing about it,” Garcia commented in 1992, “was that the audience all danced. Being there was being part of the experience; you didn’t feel that performer-audience [dichotomy]… . We were part of that world. We were not performers. We were playing for our family, in a sense. It kind of had that feel, that kind of informality. The times when someone came in and gave a show it seemed freakish. It was like, ‘Well, what’s he doing up there?’”

“We’d all go to each other’s gigs and we were all very supportive of each other,” says David Freiberg, who was a founding member of Quicksilver Messenger Service. “You’d look down from the stage at the Fillmore or the Avalon and it wasn’t at all unusual to see Garcia and Weir down there, smiling up at you, along with some of your other friends, and then a bunch of people you didn’t know, but who seemed like they could be your friends.

“There was no real demarcation between the people who were in bands and the people in the audience, at least as far as I was concerned,” Freiberg adds. “We weren’t viewed as any big deal particularly. You’d walk around the Haight and people would smile at you and they definitely respected you, but we were their peers. At the same time, there was a little hierarchy. Owsley liked to say, ‘It’s the bands, man,’ and that gave you a certain carte blanche. You never had to pay for acid or pot generally; it would just find its way to you. But after everything went to hell after the Summer of Love, it got more compartmentalized.”

In 1966 it was Pigpen, not Garcia, who was viewed as the leader of the band by most people; certainly he had the most commanding stage presence. Though never a great singer technically, Pigpen had a way of putting a song across to an audience that made him sound believable. When he really threw himself into Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” or Otis Redding’s “Pain in My Heart” (which seriously tested Pigpen’s vocal chops), or got into a groove on the venerable “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” his singing seemed so effortless and unpretentious that he made you forget that he was just a white kid from the Peninsula singing songs by his idols. He wasn’t really trying to sound like anybody; he was just being Pig—down and dirty when a song required some menace or a lascivious edge; funny and self-mocking in his raps during the group’s endless versions of Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour”; and whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his heartfelt testifyin’ on the uptempo R&B numbers. He was scary-looking, but he always had a twinkle in his eye that made him somehow not too threatening. You rooted for Pigpen (or the character he played onstage), and hoped that the pain he sang about in his blues would, by the show’s end, be replaced by the joyous exhilaration that always came through on showstoppers like “Midnight Hour” or, beginning in 1967, “Turn On Your Love Light.”

“Pigpen was the only guy in the band who had any talent when we were starting out,” Garcia said. “He was genuinely talented. He had no discipline, but he had reams of talent… . He was the guy who really sold the band, not me or Weir. Back then, Weir was almost completely spaced; he was just barely there. And I was aggressively crazy. I could talk to anybody until hell froze over, but I wasn’t really what made the band work. Pigpen is what made the band work.”

Still, Sue Swanson noted, “It was always Jerry’s band. But Pigpen was the only one who was really a showman. He’d get out there and work the audience and the band would be behind him… . But by no means were they a backup band for him or did he ever really lead them.”

Indeed, it was always a struggle to get Pigpen to rehearse, and Garcia said that performing “meant nothing to [Pigpen]; it wasn’t what he liked. We had to browbeat him into being a performer.” But Pigpen liked to get a crowd going and he liked the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle—not having a regular job, sleeping late, getting high (alcohol was always his vice, not drugs), girls waiting by the back door at gigs, and so on.

Over the course of a few months in mid-1966, most of the original tenants of 710 Ashbury moved out and were replaced, one by one, by members of the Dead or their friends. By year’s end Garcia, Pigpen and Weir lived there (Lesh and Kreutzmann lived up the hill a couple of blocks away on Belvedere Street), as did Rock Scully and his girlfriend Tangerine, Danny Rifkin, the two-man Dead equipment crew—Laird Grant and Bob Matthews—and Jim and Annie Courson, who had been brought in by Rock and Danny to run the house. The household was run communally, with everyone pooling their finances, and the young women in the scene, including Sue Swanson and Pigpen’s girlfriend, Veronica Barnard, taking care of most of the domestic responsibilities.

“The men were doing the things that brought in the money,” comments Rosie McGee, who lived with Phil but spent a lot of time hanging out at 710. “They were the creative ones and the breadwinners, although some of the women also earned money. But the gist of it was the women provided the comfort, which included keeping the home together, doing the laundry, getting the food together, cleaning. It was very male-dominated. Over time, if individual women had their shit together and manifested something, they definitely were respected. But as a group, the rest of the women were regarded as ‘the chicks.’ Later on it became ‘the old ladies.’ That was like the worst thing you could say: ‘Oh yeah, well, the old ladies are here today,’” she adds with a laugh.

It didn’t take long for 710 to become one of the most vital spots in the Haight, a constantly buzzing nerve center where musicians, artists, dope dealers and innumerable friends of the folks living there hung out at all hours of the day and night. The sixty-six-year-old Victorian didn’t offer the same kind of wide-open spaces that the spring and summer living experiments in Marin County had, and of course the group couldn’t actually play amplified music at 710 (the Dead rented a rehearsal space in a heliport in Sausalito, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge). But the trade-off was that the Dead were now at the hub of the evolving Haight culture, and they could both witness and be a part of everything that was going down. And by the fall of 1966 the scene was growing rapidly, while still being manageable for the most part.

“Our place got to be a center of energy and people were in there organizing stuff,” Garcia said. “The Diggers [a communal group in the Haight dedicated to providing free food and clothing for anyone in need] would hang out there. The people that were trying to start various spiritual movements would be in and out; our friends trying to get various benefits on for various trips would be in and out. There would be a lot of motion, a lot of energy exchanged, and it was all real high in those days because at the time the Haight-Ashbury was a community… . It was just a very small neighborhood affair [and] we were all working for each other’s benefit.”

In the Haight, the principal movers and shakers included Ron and Jay Thelin, who ran the Psychedelic Shop; Emmett Grogan, who spearheaded the Diggers; Michael Bowen, a painter and a self-described Psychedelic Ranger; and Allen Cohen, who started an underground paper called the Oracle, which evolved into a stunningly beautiful source of art and writing about the community and psychedelic culture. There were “scenes” of various sizes surrounding each of these people, as well as all the major bands in the Haight, but there was a remarkable unanimity of purpose among all the different groups—stay high, have fun, be kind to your “brothers and sisters”—and everyone came together at the dances and free concerts in the park.

* * *

At the end of September, Kesey and the Merry Pranksters ended their Mexican adventure and drove Furthur back to the Bay Area. “It was just a very strange time,” Mountain Girl says. “George [Walker] had gotten hepatitis, and Page [Browning] was sick, too, so Cassady drove a lot of it. And people were pretty depressed—it was depressing coming back to America. We didn’t know what we were going to do. I had Sunshine with me, and I didn’t have a plan or even an idea of what I was going to do next.”

Mountain Girl had given birth to Sunshine Kesey in Mexico in early May, right on the heels of her “marriage” to George Walker there: “That was Ken’s plot,” she says. “He talked to his Mexican attorney who told him I would not be able to get a birth certificate for the baby unless I could show a marriage certificate, so a couple of weeks before I had the baby, in the middle of April, we got married at the registry office. They were laughing and laughing because I was so pregnant.”

A lot had happened in San Francisco during the six months M.G. was with the Pranksters in Mexico. The Haight scene, which was just sprouting buds when she left in winter, was in full bloom that fall; the streets were teeming with freaks and glowing with new colors; more colors. “There was lots of energy and there was more interest in the Grateful Dead,” M.G. says. “Suddenly they were the stars and we weren’t. And we were kind of miffed, actually. But also it had gone from being interactive, like at the Acid Tests—the whole room is doing something together—to entertainer-audience. We were shocked—we didn’t know how to fit into that; we couldn’t fit into that. That helped our scene break up; plus, later, Ken had to go to court a lot.”

Even though Kesey was still on the lam, he moved fairly openly, but carefully, in San Francisco that October—a bust waiting to happen. On October 3 he showed up late at night at a strangely subdued Acid Test called the Whatever It Is Festival put on by Stewart Brand at San Francisco State. The Dead dutifully supplied some of the music for the concert portion of the evening, and a few members of the group hung around to hear Kesey’s ramblings in the wee hours of the morning.

And Kesey was there among the revelers for a while at the Love Pageant Rally, held in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park on October 6 to celebrate the burgeoning Haight culture and to protest the new state law—which went into effect that day—making the possession and manufacture of LSD illegal. The Citizens for a Love Pageant Rally (led by Michael Bowen and Oracle editor Allen Cohen) had petitioned the Recreation and Parks Department for a permit for the gathering by saying, “Our party will be a celebration of community awareness and joy in communion with an international fellowship of those interested in the exploration of consciousness.” But the invitations the rally organizers later sent to Mayor John Shelley and other city officials addressed the drug issue: “Opposition to an unjust law creates futility for citizens who are its victims and increases the hostility between the governed and the governors. In the case of LSD prohibition, the state has entered directly into the sacrosanct, personal psyches of its citizens.” The Grateful Dead performed on a makeshift stage near the corner of Masonic and Oak Streets for several hundred dancing people—many of them tripping—and Kesey roamed through the crowd without attracting much notice.

Kesey stuck around San Francisco long enough to help plan one last big public event, the Acid Test Graduation, scheduled for Halloween night, appropriately enough. And he even managed to talk Bill Graham, who had been distrustful of Kesey and the Pranksters, into producing the event at Winterland, the 5,000-seat home of the Ice Follies, just a block up Geary Boulevard from the Fillmore Auditorium. The Grateful Dead were scheduled to play another gig at California Hall that night, but Kesey being Kesey, and the magnitude of the Graduation being readily apparent to every freak in the scene, the Pranksters prevailed and the Dead were released from their obligation. Now, defining what that event was supposed to be was the tricky part. It wasn’t exactly designed to be an Acid Test—in fact, Kesey talked publicly about taking the whole scene “beyond” LSD, though he claimed not to know exactly what that meant. “Leary’s supposed to be coming out and he’s supposed to know pieces of it. And Jerry Garcia with his music knows pieces of it,” Kesey said cryptically.

Kesey did an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle and even appeared on camera with a reporter from the local ABC-TV affiliate, KGO, hyping the event, but he refused to be goaded into actually renouncing LSD. And he was defiant about his outlaw status, saying, “I intend to stay in the country as a fugitive, and as salt in [FBI director] J. Edgar Hoover’s wounds.”

A few days later the law finally caught up with Kesey, and he was arrested by a station wagon full of off-duty FBI agents just south of San Francisco off the Bayshore Freeway. It seemed certain that Kesey would stay locked up this time; after all, he was now facing three felony charges: the two pot busts and one for unlawful flight when he skipped town and went to Mexico. Incredibly, though, his lawyers convinced the judge that Kesey should be allowed to remain free on bail because he was planning this event—the Graduation—where he would tell the assembled acidheads that LSD was not the answer. In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which contains vivid, Day-Glo-colored descriptions of all of these incidents, Tom Wolfe paraphrased Kesey’s lawyer, Paul Robertson: “Mr. Kesey has a very public-spirited plan… . He has returned voluntarily from exile in his safe harbor, to risk certain arrest and imprisonment, in order to call a mass meeting of all LSD takers, past, present and potential, for the purpose of telling them to move beyond the pestilent habit of taking LSD.”

Out on bail again, Kesey continued planning the Graduation. But the repentant image he presented to the media and the judge didn’t prevent freaks from believing a very different scenario was planned for the Halloween celebration. A few days before the event, Bill Graham heard through the grapevine that Kesey and Owsley were planning to dose everyone who came to Winterland for the Acid Test Graduation. After calling Chet Helms and talking to others who knew Kesey better than he, Graham decided the rumors were probably true and backed out of the show the day before Halloween, forcing the Pranksters to scramble for a new place to stage their event.

The Grateful Dead dropped out of the Graduation ceremony, too, leaving a bizarre new multimedia group called the Anonymous Artists of America (or “Triple-A”) to provide the entertainment for the assembled tripsters. Interestingly enough, the Anonymous Artists included none other than Sara Ruppenthal, who was living up on Skyline Boulevard in a commune known as Rancho Diablo with daughter Heather and various members of the troupe. “The reputation of the Dead is that they never sold themselves out,” Sara comments. “Michael Moore had made the poster for the Acid Test Graduation announcing that the bands would be the Grateful Dead and the Triple-A. But the Dead backed out at the last moment because they were potentially getting a record contract and they were advised not to be associated with drugs, and since the Acid Test Graduation was potentially disreputable, it might harm their chances of getting signed. This was Triple-A’s first gig and we were left to be the musical entertainment for this event. Half the people in our band had never played music before!”

The Dead played at the Dance of Death Ball at California Hall on Halloween, as originally planned. And the Acid Test Graduation took place in a dark, funky warehouse on Sixth Street, near downtown San Francisco, where some of the Pranksters had been staying since their return. In the end it was mainly friends and fellow travelers, not the hoped-for multitude they would’ve turned on with at Winterland. Not thousands but dozens of the right people, their people—“The Few and the Faithful” as Wolfe called them—pouring into the place, which the Pranksters had magically transformed with paint and props and a giant orange parachute billowing from the ceiling.

People tripped and danced and screamed and carried on as if it might be the last time this group would get the chance to be this high, this uninhibited, this free together. There were heavy moments, weird moments, scary moments, deep, dark, soul-searching moments, too. And sadness. And more dancing. And introspection. And eventually, inexorably, the dawn. With morning, too, a sense of finality. This was the last Acid Test. The Pranksters dispersed shortly after. Kesey took Furthur back home to Oregon, a few of the inner circle following close behind. Others scattered to points east and south, and a handful, including Mountain Girl, melted into the San Francisco scene.