Come Join the Party Every Day - Garcia: An American Life (2000)

Garcia: An American Life (2000)


Come Join the Party Every Day

y the fall of 1966, various L.A. and New York record business types had been sniffing around the Haight for a while, hoping to cash in on the rapidly developing scene, which some truly believed might be the American answer to the British Invasion. The Jefferson Airplane’s first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, hadn’t quite lived up to RCA Records’ commercial expectations, but in between that record and the sessions for their second album, which took place in Los Angeles in November 1966, the Airplane had brought in Great Society lead singer Grace Slick to replace the departing Signe Anderson, and the chemistry between Slick and singers-writers Marty Balin and Paul Kantner instantly took the group to a new level, both live and in the studio. It’s a sign of how much respect the Airplane had for Garcia that they asked him to join them down in L.A. when the group was cutting tracks for their second album, Surrealistic Pillow, with producer Rick Jarrard and engineer David Hassinger. Garcia played acoustic guitar on four tracks—“My Best Friend,” “Today,” “Plastic Fantastic Lover” and “Coming Back to Me”—and served as an intermediary of sorts between the group, Hassinger and Jarrard. In addition, Garcia had a strong hand in rewriting the arrangement for “Somebody to Love” (written by Darby Slick for the Great Society), which became the Airplane’s first hit single.

“The Airplane thought it would be helpful to have somebody there who could communicate to their producer who they could communicate to,” Garcia said. “And since they all knew me and I understood their music and understood what they were doing pretty much at the time, it would be far-out. I went down there and hung out and was a sort of go-between.”

Though he’s not credited specifically for his contributions, which included the album’s title, Garcia is listed on the record—as “Musical and Spiritual Adviser.” Of course it was meant mainly tongue-in-cheek, but that credit was the first exposure most people outside of California had to the name “Jerry Garcia.” Surrealistic Pillow, released in February 1967, was an immensely popular album, particularly in counterculture circles (it was the obvious product of heads), so Garcia’s association with it boosted the mystique that was already starting to surround him.

Not surprisingly, as one of the top bands in the Haight, the Grateful Dead attracted considerable interest from record companies. Joe Smith, who was then an A&R man for Burbank-based Warner Bros. Records, came up to San Francisco and, at the urging of Tom Donahue, went to see the band at the Avalon Ballroom. Smith was already becoming known for his good musical intuition, but he’d never encountered anything quite like the Grateful Dead—Warners was a straight, mainstream label with a roster boasting names like Dean Martin, Petula Clark and Frank Sinatra. Smith showed up at the Avalon wearing a suit, and, as he said in Gene Sculatti and Davin Seay’s San Francisco Nights, “There we were, walking up the steps of this startling place and there were these kids lying around painting each other’s bodies and all of these lights and smells everywhere. Somebody wanted to dance with my wife. I told her, ‘Don’t come with me to meet the band. You must understand.’ The Grateful Dead. Even the name was intimidating. What did it mean? No one knew.”

The band had reservations about signing a deal with an L.A. record label—“They lived in terror of being ripped off,” Smith said—but a few weeks after their first encounter, the Dead decided to accept the Warner Bros. offer of $3,500 (to be matched with a bonus if the record sold more than 15,000 copies, which it did, easily). Smith flew to San Francisco and met Scully and Rifkin at Tom Donahue’s Telegraph Hill apartment to get the contract signed. Donahue remembered, “Joe walks out on the porch and Rock and Danny say to me, ‘Listen, man, we gotta take acid with this cat. Then he’ll really understand what it is we’re doing.’”

“They told me I couldn’t really understand their music until I dropped some acid,” Smith said. “I informed them that under no circumstances would I do that.” He didn’t. And the band signed on the dotted line anyway.

There’s no question that Scully and Rifkin were a new breed of manager; after all, they had virtually no experience, and they were completely distrustful of the straight show-business world. Actually, being a “manager” for the Grateful Dead was almost a contradiction in terms. But every band had to find that person or combination of people who had a “business head,” and in the beginning it was that unlikely pair.

“The managers don’t do things the old cigar-chewing-manager way,” Garcia noted in early 1967. “When our managers go someplace, they go just the way they are around the house. They have long hair, wear outlandish clothes and beads, and they talk like people on Haight Street do, because that’s the way they are. That’s the way we all are, and we’re not sacrificing any of ourselves to do business. When we go into the business part of things—when we talk to lawyers, the vice presidents of Warner Bros.—we talk to them the way we talk to our friends. We’re being out front. We’re trying to change the whole atmosphere of music, the business part as well as just the way it is, just by dealing with it on a more humanistic level, because it’s a valuable commodity—it’s an art.”

Between October 1 and December 31, 1966, the Dead played the Fillmore Auditorium sixteen times, the Avalon five times, the Matrix four times, and they landed a few other gigs at odd places like the North Face Ski Shop in Berkeley, Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek and the Old Cheese Factory in San Francisco. They became headliners that fall, second only to the Airplane as a popular draw (though the Dead begged Bill Graham to let the group open for the great R&B singer Otis Redding at the Fillmore in mid-December). Additionally, the band played occasionally for free in the Panhandle: in those days it was easy to load their equipment into Laird Grant’s truck, drive a couple of blocks and play for a while using a generator for power. Between money the band earned through gigs and cash that passed through 710 from low-level pot and LSD sales, the Dead were able to live comfortably, though not lavishly, and support a few of their friends in the process. In that way, the Dead scene was a microcosm of the larger Haight economy, which was driven mainly by rock ’n’ roll and dope dealing, but also supported craftspeople and hippie business entrepreneurs as the area thrived.

Asked in the spring of 1967 what would happen if the Dead somehow became successful (how unlikely that seemed then), twenty-four-year-old Jerry replied, “Then we’ll see if there’s a better way to become successful and wealthy! A way that’s more rewarding to us. A way to spend our money so that it brings about more enjoyment for more people. More food certainly. A lot of what we make now is just money to live on for us and our friends and anybody else who doesn’t have anything. I don’t need anything. I don’t really want anything. I’ve got instruments, I know I can eat, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

That fall of 1966 Garcia and Mountain Girl began spending more time together, at 710 and out in the world, and at some point what had long been just a close friendship developed into mutual affection. “Actually, I thought Jerry was really special from when I first met him [in 1964] because he played the banjo so well and I loved the banjo,” she says. “I was knocked out by him. I was a little disappointed by Mother McCree’s because Jerry wasn’t really the leader; everybody took a turn. Then, in the Warlocks, it seemed like Weir and especially Pigpen were more out front and Jerry was in the background; he didn’t push his way out there. But I wasn’t that interested in amplified music at that time. I liked folk music and classical music and I loved the banjo, too. By the time we’d gone through the Acid Tests, though, I loved the Grateful Dead, and as time went on, Jerry got better and better and the same kind of special thing that I saw in his banjo playing was obvious in his [electric] guitar playing and he just had a really nice stage personality; really ‘up’ and smiling a lot. Always very positive.”

Still, Jerry nearly got back together with Sara that December. As she recalls, “When Heather turned three [on December 8, 1966] I invited Jerry to my parents’ home for a celebratory dinner. It felt good having our little family together, and we talked about giving it a try again. He invited me to come visit him at [710] Ashbury and see if it would work for Heather and me to move in there with him. I did go, but I didn’t feel comfortable there, and I couldn’t imagine a place for Heather and me in that life. There was a lot going on, no privacy, too chaotic for me. It didn’t exactly feel ‘family-friendly’ to me.”

Nineteen sixty-six ended gloriously with Bill Graham’s first New Year’s Eve concert at the Fillmore, an acid-soaked revel that found the Airplane, the Dead and Quicksilver trading sets until dawn. There was incredible optimism in the Haight as 1966 turned to 1967: the bands were getting better and more popular; the steady influx of freaks from other parts of the country brought new energy into the scene but still seemed manageable; and increasingly the neighborhood felt like an oasis far away from straight society—a vision of what many felt was a better world in every aspect.

“The utopian sentiments of these hippies was not to be put down lightly,” Warren Hinckle wrote in perhaps the finest contemporary article about the rise of Haight-Ashbury, in Ramparts magazine in mid-1967. “Hippies have a clear vision of the ideal community—a psychedelic community, to be sure—where everyone is turned on and beautiful and loving and happy and floating free. But it is a vision that, despite the Alice in Wonderland phraseology usually breathlessly employed to describe it, necessarily embodies a radical political philosophy: communal life, drastic restriction of private property, rejection of violence, creativity before consumption, freedom before authority, de-emphasis of government and traditional forms of leadership.”

From the outset, the Dead refused to get involved with overtly political activities, though not surprisingly they were often asked to appear at various marches and rallies. There’s no question that as individuals, Garcia and the other members vehemently opposed the Vietnam War and supported the goals of the civil rights movement, to mention two of the hot-button issues of the day, but many freaks believed that protesting and trying to reform what they viewed as a corrupt, morally bankrupt political system was, in effect, buying into that system. Basically, the apolitical freaks in Haight-Ashbury wanted to create a world where people could get high (or not; most weren’t doctrinaire about it), live and work together, support each other and police themselves, without conforming to what they viewed as tired and judgmental societal “norms.”

“The politics of hip was that we were setting up a new world, as it were, that was going to run parallel to the old world but have as little to do with it as possible,” said Country Joe and the Fish guitarist Barry Melton (who’s now a lawyer) in the film Berkeley in the Sixties. “We just weren’t going to deal with straight people. And to us, the politicos—a lot of the leaders of the antiwar movement—were straight people, because they were still concerned with government. They were going to go march on Washington. We didn’t even want to know that Washington was there! We thought that eventually the whole world was just going to stop this nonsense and start loving each other as soon as they all got turned on. It’s amazing that these movements [that] coexisted at the same time were in stark contrast in certain respects, but as the 1960s progressed, drew closer together and began taking on aspects of the other.”

“What we’re thinking about is a peaceful planet,” Garcia told a reporter in an infamous 1967 CBS documentary called The Hippie Temptation. “We’re not thinking about anything else. We’re not thinking about any kind of power; we’re not thinking about any of those kind of struggles. We’re not thinking about revolution or war or any of that. That’s not what we want. Nobody wants to get hurt. Nobody wants to hurt anybody. We would all like to be able to live an uncluttered life; a simple life, a good life. And think about moving the whole human race ahead a step, or a few steps.”

And in another 1967 interview, Garcia said, “We’re trying to make music in such a way that it doesn’t have a message for anybody. We don’t have anything to tell anybody. We don’t want to change anybody. We want people to have the chance to feel a little better. That’s the absolute most we want to do with our music. The music that we make is an act of love, an act of joy. We really like it a lot. If it says something, it says it on its own terms at the moment we’re playing it, and it doesn’t have anything to do with— We’re not telling people to go get stoned, or drop out. We’re just playing and they can take that any way they want.”

On the cool but sunny Saturday afternoon of January 14, 1967, the freaks of Haight-Ashbury and North Beach and Berkeley and Marin and everywhere got together on a gorgeous patch of green in the heart of Golden Gate Park known as the Polo Fields. This was the Human Be-In, “A Gathering of the Tribes,” and it drew more than 20,000 people in an unprecedented show of numbers by the emerging counterculture. The Be-In was really an extension of the energy that had gone into the Love Pageant Rally back in October, with Michael Bowen and Allen Cohen again leading the way. This time around though, there was an effort to broaden the scope of the event and to include Beat poets and writers, more bands, and even some of Berkeley’s radical left firebrands. Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lenore Kandel, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure read poetry and led chants and prayers. Millbrook vet Richard Alpert and activist Jerry Rubin spoke. Timothy Leary, a yellow flower tucked behind each ear, urged the assembled to “Turn on, tune in, drop out… . Turn on to the scene; tune in to what’s happening; and drop out—of high school, college, grad school, junior executive, senior executive—and follow me, the hard way.” (Rock Scully joked years later that the Grateful Dead’s ethos in that era was “Plug in, freak out, fall apart.”)

But “The few speakers were hardly intelligible over the microphone, the gathering being more interested in the great light show of nature and themselves,” wrote the Chronicle’s Ralph Gleason in a poignant and amazingly sympathetic article in Monday’s paper. “The rock bands—the Quicksilver, the Grateful Dead, the Airplane—came over well and the Dead’s set was remarkably exciting, causing people to rise up wherever they were and begin dancing. Dizzy Gillespie, playing while a young girl danced over on one side, asked who the Dead were and commented on how they were swinging.”

The Hell’s Angels cared for lost children (!) and helped provide security. People threw Frisbees, watched their dogs run free, danced, sang, tripped in the surrounding pine and eucalyptus groves, pounded on drums, played flutes, strummed guitars, clinked cymbals and clonked cowbells. Incense and pot smoke rose into air already colored by balloons, kites, flags and streamers. Acid was everywhere, but there were no bad trips. “As the sun set, and the bands played and the people glowed,” Gleason wrote, “Buddha’s voice [actually, it was Ginsberg] came over the sound system, asking everyone to stand up and turn towards the sun and watch the sunset. Later, he asked everyone to help clean up the debris and they did.

“And so it ended; the first of the great gatherings. No fights. No drunks. No troubles. Two policemen on horseback and 20,000 people. The perfect sunshine, the beautiful birds in the air, a parachutist descending as the Grateful Dead ended a song… .

“Saturday’s gathering was an affirmation, not a protest. A statement of life, not death, and a promise of good, not evil… . This is truly something new and not the least of it is that it is an asking for a new dimension to peace, not just an end to shooting, for the reality of love and a great Nest for all humans.”

All in all it was probably the Haight scene’s finest hour.

“I’d never seen so many people in my life,” Garcia said a few weeks after the event. “It was really fantastic. I almost didn’t believe it. It was a totally underground movement. It was all the people into dope of any sort, and like 20,000 people came out in the park and everyone had a good time. There was no violence. No hassling.”

However, many years later Garcia recalled one aspect of the Be-In that was not sunshine and roses for him: “There was a whole contingent of people from over in Berkeley, guys like Jerry Rubin… . And I remember standing out in the crowd and I heard people like Allen Ginsberg got up—he ‘ommed’ and played little finger cymbals and that felt very good out in the crowd. I had taken some LSD; I was feeling really good. A lot of people were there and were real happy. Then all of a sudden this voice came over the loudspeaker—it turned out to be Jerry Rubin—and he was exhorting the crowd. And all of a sudden the kind of images that went into my mind were Hitler, you know, every angry voice I’d ever heard popped into my head. So I felt, well, of all the things I would like to avoid people having to feel, that’s one of the things I’d like to avoid. I’d like to avoid transmitting that message to people—that angry voice.”

That said, the Grateful Dead opened their short set that afternoon with one of the most powerful songs ever written about the perils of nuclear war, “Morning Dew,” by the Canadian folksinger Bonnie Dobson. The song’s setting is the world after a nuclear holocaust, and it takes the form of a conversation between the last man and last woman left alive:

I thought I heard a baby cry this morning

Thought I heard a baby cry today

You didn’t hear no baby cry this morning

You didn’t hear no baby cry today

Far from being some blatant political screed, however, “Morning Dew” is more evocative and elliptical, a mood piece that’s really its own world. It instantly became one of the Dead’s most popular tunes, and it remained so until Garcia’s death. And in some ways the song exemplifies the kind of ballads Garcia and Robert Hunter would later write—melodically beautiful, even exultant, but lyrically bittersweet and mournful.

Less than a week after the Human Be-In, the Dead, their managers and a few friends, including Rosie McGee and Mountain Girl (who had just moved into 710 with Jerry), drove down to Los Angeles to record the Dead’s first album for Warner Bros. Records. Dave Hassinger, who’d engineered classic Rolling Stones hits like “Satisfaction,” “It’s All Over Now,” “Lady Jane” and “Paint It, Black,” as well as records by the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Yardbirds, Elvis Presley and the Airplane, was brought in to produce the sessions, which took place over four days at RCA’s Studio A in Hollywood—the same studio where Garcia had helped the Airplane make Surrealistic Pillow.

“We went in and did the album very, very fast—less than a week,” Hassinger recalled. “At that time I didn’t know them, and looking back I wish we could have had more time and done some things a little differently. But it was my understanding that these were songs that they’d really played a lot and they wanted to essentially get them down the way they played them live. I’d made two or three trips up to the Bay Area and seen them at the Fillmore, and I thought they were dynamite. What I was after on the album was to capture as much of the energy as I could.”

A month after the sessions, but before the record had been released, Garcia characterized the album as “honest. It sounds just like us. It even has mistakes on it. But it also has a certain amount of excitement on it. It sounds like we felt good when we were making it. It sounds like one of our good sets.”

But by the early ’70s Garcia’s evaluation of the group’s maiden effort had shifted a bit: “At that time we had no real record consciousness,” Garcia said. “We were completely naive about it… . So we went down there and, what was it we had? Dexamyl? Some sort of diet-watcher’s speed, and pot and stuff like that. So in three nights we played some hyperactive music. That’s what’s embarrassing about that record now: the tempo was way too fast.”

In terms of the song selection, the record reflected “simply what we were doing onstage,” Garcia said. “But in reality, the way we played was not really too much the way that record was. Usually we played tunes that lasted a long time because we like to play a lot. And when you’re playing for people who are dancing and getting high—you can dance easy to a half-hour tune and you can even wonder why it ended so soon. So for us the whole thing was weird ’cause we went down there and turned out songs real fast—less than three minutes, which is real short.” (In fact, five of the nine songs on the record were under two and a half minutes; very unusual for the Grateful Dead.)

Rushed tempos aside, the album nicely captures some of the breadth of the Dead’s uptempo ballroom repertoire, with a solid mixture of blues- and folk-derived tunes, including “Morning Dew” (shortened slightly for the record); radical rearrangements of the ’20s jug band blues “New Minglewood Blues,” “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Viola Lee Blues”; the Blue Ridge Mountains chestnut “Cold Rain and Snow”; Bay Area folk/blues singer Jesse Fuller’s early ’60s number “Beat It On Down the Line”; and the late-’40s blues standard “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” (which was Pigpen’s lone lead vocal on the album). Additionally, the album featured two frenetic rock ’n’ roll originals: “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion),” written by the group under the fanciful pseudonym McGannahan Skjellyfetti (derived from a novel by pacifist author-artist Kenneth Patchen); and “Cream Puff War,” with words and music by Garcia.

“The Golden Road” is a fine bit of aural fluff dominated by fast, ringing electric guitars and an overdubbed acoustic picked by Garcia, a swirling Pigpen organ line and Garcia’s bright lead vocal, which almost sounds like he’s smiling as sings:

See that girl barefootin’ along

Whistlin’ and singin’ she’s a-carryin’ on

Got laughin’ in her eyes, dancin’ in her feet

She’s a neon light diamond

She can live on the street.

Then the band joins in on the chorus:

Hey, hey, come right away

Come join the party every day.

“‘The Golden Road’ was our effort at nailing down some of that [early Haight] feeling, I guess,” Garcia said. “That was sort of our group writing experience before Hunter was with us. We kept it simple. But what could you say [about the scene]? ‘We took a bunch of acid and had a lot of fun’?”

Garcia’s “Cream Puff War” is much darker both musically and lyrically. It sketches a portrait of a relationship gone bad (presumably not his) in a manner that’s somewhat reminiscent of bitter Dylan tunes like “Positively 4th Street” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” though not nearly as cleverly. Jerry once said he became a lyric writer “only by default. I felt my lyric writing was woefully inadequate.” And about “Cream Puff War” specifically, he said in the mid-’80s, “That’s one of those tunes that’s so old it’s totally embarrassing. I’d just as soon everybody forgot about it.” He tried to: a few months after the first record came out, Garcia dropped both “Cream Puff War” and “The Golden Road,” and he never played either again (much to the chagrin of Deadheads).

Of the album’s nine songs, only two gave the band a chance to stretch out much, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Viola Lee Blues.” In concert, “Schoolgirl” was always exciting because it contained a solo passage where the band quickened the tempo for a while before falling back to the song’s midtempo shuffle. On the album, the song faded during the uptempo section; still, it was an effective showcase for the band’s considerable blues chops. “Viola Lee Blues” had a similar construction, but rather than suddenly changing speeds, it contained a long middle jam that built slowly and deliberately, almost like a raga, with bandmembers expertly constructing an ascending line that over the course of a few minutes rose to a feverish crescendo of clanging guitars, screaming organ and sheer cacophonous noise.

Live, the group sometimes kept the jam in “Viola Lee Blues” at the climax for upwards of half a minute—an extraordinarily long time for something that loud and furious—before the tension was released by dropping back to the tune’s original gait. Though powerful by any standard, the album version of “Viola Lee Blues” is still tamer than what the band usually unleashed in the ballrooms, where writhing and jerking dancers frequently added to the mounting din with their own ecstatic screams and shouts as the music and earsplitting feedback and human wails joined to create a deafening tidal wave of sound that always seemed to lift the dance hall off the ground. In late 1966 and early 1967, “Viola Lee Blues” was the song that best showed the raging beast inside of the Grateful Dead, the chaotic and unpredictable edge that had been somewhat subsumed since the Acid Tests. Not surprisingly, it was the trippers’ favorite song.

“We’ve always liked the long form,” Garcia said. “For us, taking an idea and just annihilating it worked great in that context, because the dancers loved it. There they were, high on whatever, and they had the energy to dance for hours. So you could take [a song] and [do whatever you wanted to it] and you weren’t violating the dancers’ space and you weren’t failing to entertain them. And they also had the option of stopping whenever they wanted to and going someplace else, and so the whole thing had a sense of free-flow about it. I’ve thought about this: There’s no situation that I’ve been able to come up with that would have allowed the Grateful Dead to do what we used to do; the kind of range we wanted to cover. You couldn’t have done it in a conventional bar, you couldn’t have done it at a conventional concert.”

If the album offered few hints about the direction the Dead’s original material would take over the next year, it at least served as a strong showcase for the Dead’s instrumental prowess. Hassinger and engineer Dick Bogert did an excellent job of capturing the intricacies of Phil Lesh’s dynamic and tuneful bass work and Bill Kreutzmann’s fluid, high-energy drumming, with its subtle cymbal splashes and rapid-fire cymbal-snare combinations that clearly owed more to Elvin Jones than Charlie Watts. But it is Garcia’s guitar that is most prominent in the mix on most tunes, and even on this first major outing the breadth of his playing is readily apparent, as he moves easily from blues to heavily accented country picking, sometimes even within the same solo.

Since the Dead never decided to be a blues band or a country band or a straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll band, or any particular style of group, Garcia had the freedom to take his inspiration from anything that caught his fancy, whether it was techniques he’d enjoyed as a banjo player, or B. B. King, or George Harrison, or sarod master Ali Akbar Khan, or Bakersfield country guitarists like Don Rich (from Buck Owens’s Buckaroos) and Roy Nichols (from Merle Haggard’s Strangers), or even the “hot” jazz of the great Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his violinist partner, Stephane Grappelli. Garcia and the other members of the band reveled in their eclecticism and their personal eccentricities as players, with the result that they each developed a unique instrumental voice in their ceaseless exploration of different kinds of music.

The first Dead album, called simply The Grateful Dead, was released in mid-March of 1967, and it was an immediate smash hit—in Northern California, if almost nowhere else. Warner Bros. dutifully released a single of “The Golden Road” backed by “Cream Puff War,” but there’s little evidence that the record got much airplay on many AM radio stations outside the Bay Area, and the proliferation of progressive, “free-form” format FM radio stations was still a few months away in major cities—KMPX, the pioneering San Francisco FM rock station founded by Tom Donahue, started broadcasting in June.

Still, the album was a big deal in San Francisco, and it symbolized the rising fortunes of the cream of the local bands. Garcia appeared on the front and back covers of the album smiling benignly and dressed in an indigo paisley velour shirt, his long black hair crowned by an American flag top hat. In the credits he was listed as Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia, a Prankster moniker concocted by Kesey in late 1965, which became an embarrassing albatross around Garcia’s neck almost immediately: “That’s bullshit,” he said of the tag in the early ’70s. Garcia had no interest in being known as the “captain” of anything, let alone people’s trips.

“Jerry was kind of like the patriarch, although that’s not quite the right word,” Rosie McGee says. “I remember very early on going to his house and it was like he was holding court, even back then. I got the impression that, well, I couldn’t imagine him going to hang out at somebody else’s house. People came to his house instead; certainly that was true in the Haight. People gathered around him naturally, and I think it was because of his intelligence and his imagination. Even back then he had charisma. But he was also always very self-deprecating: ‘I’m just a guy who plays guitar.’”

A charmingly innocent description of Garcia, delivered in classic fanzine style, appeared in a spring 1967 edition of the Olompali Sunday Times, a humble but spirited free mimeographed newsletter put out by the Dead’s fan club, The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion, headed by Sue Swanson and Connie Bonner: “Jer—talented, talented … has a lot to say … digs girls … very open … loves orange juice … tells the best stories … warm … hates dishonesty (they all do) … owns a pedal steel guitar … Leo.” (In the same article we learn that Pigpen has a bright red bathrobe, Weir’s nickname is “Mr. Bob Weir Trouble,” Bill “sleeps a lot … eats a lot … digs jazz drummers … has a shiny new Mustang …” and Phil “has a quick mind … doesn’t bleach his hair.”)

In late March the Dead played six shows at a short-lived San Francisco nightclub called the Rock Garden. The series is notable for two completely unrelated reasons: it marked the first time Garcia’s mother had gone to see her son play since his folk days; and sharing the bill with the Dead for those shows was the jazzy Charles Lloyd Quartet, who unquestionably influenced the Dead’s musical direction.

It was Jerry’s brother, Tiff, who cajoled their mother to go see the Grateful Dead. “I’d say, ‘Mom, you gotta hear this. Will you listen?” Tiff remembers. “But she was very stubborn and only liked to listen to certain things. She liked easy-listening music. She saw Jerry a couple of times when he was with Sara down in Palo Alto, but she didn’t want to know about the rock ’n’ roll. And then of course there was the whole drug thing and ‘Captain Trips’ and all that. She was a nurse so she knew a bit about drugs. It didn’t surprise her. She wasn’t shocked or anything. She might not have liked it, but she was always proud of him. Then I took her to this place called the Rock Garden, in the outer Mission. The Dead were between gigs and I helped them get work there because I had helped this guy rebuild the club. So my mom went and saw them and she liked them. In fact she went a couple of times. But because of the experience my father went through, the music business wasn’t the best thing you could do for a career in her eyes. She was from the era when a lot of people viewed all musicians as criminals and lowlifes who couldn’t fit into society.”

As for the attitude of the other members of the Garcia clan, Jerry’s aunt Leonor says, “It was terrible during that time because they were calling him ‘Captain Trips’ and we were hiding that from my parents—we didn’t want them to know that he was into drugs and all that. That sort of thing really shocked my mother. For a long time Jerry completely ignored everyone in the family. He didn’t want any part of the family. I think it was because he was into drugs and he knew we didn’t approve. I was even ashamed to admit he was my nephew.”

The New York-based Charles Lloyd Quartet was a significant force in the San Francisco scene because they managed to make free-ranging improvisational jazz that was accessible to rock fans. Lloyd’s band, which, besides the talented reedsman, included pianist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Cecil McBee, was one of the first jazz groups to be invited to play the Fillmore, and Lloyd jammed with the Dead at the Human Be-In, adding breathy flute to a long workout on “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.” It was Garcia’s idea to book Lloyd’s group at the Rock Garden, and he was such a fan of the group that when he and Phil Lesh appeared on Tom Donahue’s KMPX radio program as guest deejays in April 1967, one of the songs he chose to play was Lloyd’s trippy “Dream Weaver,” a potent dose of acidy jazz from late 1966 that presaged some of the free-floating but intense places the Dead’s music would go in the last part of 1967 and early 1968. “Dream Weaver” is a sort of proto-“Dark Star,” complete with passages of spellbinding dissonance and gently cascading melody streams.

“I think we probably influenced them a bit to start opening up their improvisations,” Lloyd says of the Dead. “When we were at the Rock Garden, we traded sets and they’d all be hanging around in the wings when we played, really listening. Jazz has always been a music of freedom and inspiration and wonder and consolation, and the Dead definitely got something from that.”

By the spring of 1967 Mountain Girl was well settled in 710 and she and Jerry were unquestionably a couple. “It was a happy house, it really was,” she says. “We had a great time. Tangerine was the only girlfriend living there at first. Veronica [Pigpen’s girlfriend] would come by a lot. She was very sharp-tongued and hilariously funny. The fan club had an office downstairs. It was a lot of mouths to feed. I collected the money from everybody—fifteen dollars a week, except I don’t think Pigpen ever paid, and I was mad at him for that. Then I’d go down to the Chinese grocery store down the street and buy pork chops and brown rice. I was not a good cook. I knew how to make Prankster stew—anything over brown rice, usually just brown rice and veggies. We went through lots of frozen orange juice, too.”

There was a constant stream of visitors to 710 day and night, as each bandmember had his own intimates and acquaintances, “and then all the other people associated with the scene had people they brought around—Owsley and Hank Harrison had their own circles,” M.G. notes. “Rock was the ultimate conduit for all sorts of weird people, like millionaires and people with foreign connections.” Visitors from the Palo Alto days frequently stopped by, and Neal Cassady had his own little space in the attic, where he’d stay for a few days every month or so in the course of his travels.

“As far as I could tell [Cassady] never slept,” wrote John Barlow, a childhood friend of Weir’s (and his songwriting partner beginning in the early ’70s) who first encountered the Beat hero at 710. “He tossed back hearts of Mexican Dexedrine by the shot-sized bottle, grinned, cackled and jammed on into the night. Despite such behavior, he seemed, at forty-one, a paragon of robust health. With a face out of a recruiting poster (leaving aside a certain glint in the eyes) and a torso, usually raw, by Michelangelo, he didn’t even seem quite mortal.

“Neal and Bobby were perfectly contrapuntal. As Cassady rattled incessantly, Bobby had fallen mostly mute, stilled perhaps by macrobiotics, perhaps a less than passing grade in the Acid Tests, or, more likely, some combination of every strange thing that had caused him to start thinking much faster than anyone could talk.”

“Weir had a whole cabinet in the kitchen for his weird macrobiotic things that he was eating,” M.G. remembers. “I’d run into the macrobiotic thing before and I just sneered at him; I thought it was absurd. You get skinny and pale on this diet; it has zero nutritional content. He was not an untroubled person. He definitely brought emotional baggage with him from school experiences, his whole scene with his parents, and the feeling that he wasn’t as big a dude as the rest of the guys: they pushed him around quite a bit. But he always took it with pretty good grace. He was always extremely gracious.

“Phil was hilariously funny in those days. With a little bit of LSD and a long night, Phil could keep you laughing until the point where you thought your face was going to fall off. He had a terrible, wicked, needly sense of humor. He was lots and lots of fun, and though he didn’t live at 710 when I was there, he and Rosie were around most of the time it seemed.

“Jerry was sort of the indestructible, fast-moving guy. He talked a blue streak—talk, talk, talk, talk—always spinning ideas and concepts, philosophies and possibilities. If he had a genius, it was for recognizing possibilities, and he had this limitless enthusiasm. He’d get all enthusiastic about ephemeral stuff and get everyone all charged up in an instant. And he was a great supporter of people’s ideas. There was a lot of sitting around bullshitting, shooting the breeze, getting enthusiastic about things and then dropping them just as fast—sending out so-and-so to research something; discussions about buying a boat and taking the show onto the waters; or buying a bus of our own and doing something with that. There were a million ideas about what we were going to do and it was really exciting to be around that, but what actually transpired was they rehearsed a lot and they played a lot and they stayed home a lot—the touring thing didn’t really come on until later. The band’s work ethic at that time was really strong. They rehearsed all the time and that’s how they got so good.”

On the last day of May the band flew to New York for its first shows away from the West Coast, with Warner Bros. footing the bill for the trip. The Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish had already played New York by this point, so the ground had been broken, so to speak. Amazingly, though, none of the Dead had been to New York before this trip; Garcia’s bluegrass quest had taken him only as far east as Pennsylvania. As Laird Grant, who helped haul and set up the Dead’s equipment, noted, “For California boys like us it was strange to be in New York. It looked like all the old gangster movies I’d ever seen. The place looked just as grimy as it did on black-and-white TV.” Of course the Dead weren’t lodging on Park Avenue, either. Rather, they stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, the notorious bastion of junkies, poets, artists, musicians and bohemian drifters of every stripe. “It was very strange, charmingly seedy,” Mountain Girl remembers. “I’d never slept overnight in a big city. I couldn’t believe it. Here we were, these acid-soaked, highly sensitive woodsbunnies from California, and I could hear every toilet flush and every siren passing.”

Appropriately enough, on the Dead’s first full day in New York the group played a free concert in Tompkins Square Park, in the East Village, immediately endearing themselves to the area’s sizable freak population. All through the second half of 1966 and the first half of ’67 there had been caravans of people traveling back and forth between New York and San Francisco, so actually there was already a contingent of folks in New York who’d seen the Dead in San Francisco and knew what the Haight scene was all about by the time the Dead arrived in the East. Mostly, though, Tompkins Square Park was filled with people who either didn’t know the Dead at all or had perhaps heard something about them through the underground grapevine. And then there were the simply curious: “During the concert I was looking off to the side, and, sitting down under a tree drinking pink lemonade, with his Cadillac nearby, and his white chauffeur and his white butler, was Charles Mingus,” Laird Grant says. “Phil went over and talked to him after the show. It was cool.”

Though there were no bands in New York that were truly comparable to the Dead, Rosie McGee says, “Everything we were doing in San Francisco, they’d been doing in New York for a while longer. It was very different, of course, but they’d been having events in people’s lofts and dances and really weird happenings, and the music scene had gone on through the folk years into rock ’n’ roll like it did in California. But it was much more entrenched and serious and gritty in its own way. We were the Wild West people to them. If you compared us to the L.A. crowd, we were the gritty ones. But then we moved into New York and we were kind of the lightweights, or that’s how it felt to me, anyway. We were treated that way, I thought. But maybe not so much musician to musician.”

During their brief New York stay the Dead played a few nights on the cramped stage of the Cafe Au Go-Go, downstairs from where Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention were playing at the same time; at the trendy, chrome-walled Cheetah Club; in the gym at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (Long Island); and at another free concert, this one in Central Park. And though all the gigs went well, there was nothing about the two-week jaunt that indicated what a phenomenon the Dead would become in New York in the years to come.

“We were very insular on the road,” Mountain Girl says. “We were considered very exotic almost everywhere we went. I would wear wild shit on the street. In New York, my diaper bag was made out of American flag bunting and I had some guy who attacked me and tried to rip it off my arm. I had it chock-full of baby diapers and baby bottles and here’s this guy screaming some gibberish about desecrating the flag. ‘You people should all be put in jail!’ ‘Really, for what, asshole?’ That’s the way it was on the street—we experienced a lot of naked hatred just for being different. I loved being different. For me it was the final expression of things I’d been feeling since high school—all that repression and pressure to conform.”

Things were much more comfortable for the Dead at home, though the scene they returned to in the middle of June 1967 was starting to get a bit weird. The Summer of Love was in full swing, thousands of young people from all over the world were descending on the Haight each week and the hippie utopia was clearly beginning to fray around the edges.