Read A Long Strange Trip Online

Authors: Dennis Mcnally

Tags: #Genre.Biographies and Autobiographies, #Music, #Nonfiction

A Long Strange Trip

Table of Contents

Title Page





1 - Introduction: Power. The Stage as Alembic

2 - Children of the American Decades

3 - Roots

4 - A Fine High Lonesome Madness

5 - Interlude: A Meeting of Minds (COMPANY MEETINGS, 1984)

6 - Something New (12/31/63–10/64)

7 - The Warlocks

8 - A Very Loud Bar Band

9 - Interlude: Albert Hofmann’s Discovery

10 - The Bus Came By

11 - Hollywood and Home Again (2/6/66–5/1/66)

12 - Psychedelic Indians (5/1/66–9/29/66)

13 - The Hippest City Hall Ever (9/30/66–10/31/66)

14 - The San Francisco Scene (11/1/66–1/29/67)

15 - Before the Fall (1/30/67–5/31/67)

16 - The Prodigals (6/1/67–9/15/67)

17 - Interlude: The Crew

18 - Dark Anthem (9/16/67–12/31/67)

19 - Interlude: Purifying the Elements (SETTING THE STAGE)

20 - Independence and Its Price (1/1/68–6/30/68)

21 - Interlude: The Promoters

22 - Forward into the Fog (7/68–2/15/69)

23 - Interlude: The Circus Is in Town (THE FIRST SET BEGINS)

24 - No Turn Left Unstoned (2/19/69–6/20/69)

25 - Interlude: “When the Music Plays the Band” (THE DEAD TALK ABOUT PLAYING MUSIC)

26 - If My Words Were Gold (6/20/69–8/15/69)

27 - Interlude: “Eastbound and Down” (END OF SET ONE)

28 - Bethel to Sears Point (8/16/69–12/4/69)

29 - Trouble All Around (12/5/69–3/70)

30 - Interlude/Intermission: “Waits Backstage While I Sing to You” (1980s)

31 - Might as Well Work (3/70–7/70)

32 - An American Beauty

33 - Interlude/Intermission II: Uncle John’s Children

34 - Dreams and All (1/71–7/71)

35 - Dealing Solo Aces and the New Guy (7/71–3/72)

36 - Interlude: The Home Front: Money and Management

37 - Bozos Abroad

38 - Megadead (1973)

39 - Interlude: Into the Zone (SECOND SET BEGINS)

40 - The Wall (1/74–10/20/74)

41 - The Hiatus (10/21/74–6/76)

42 - The Monster Revives (6/76–8/78)

43 - Dark Moon over Gizeh (9/78)

44 - Interlude: The Rhythm Devils (DRUM BREAK)

45 - Shakedown (10/78–10/80)

46 - Interlude: Beyond the Zone

47 - After Heaven (11/80–7/86)

48 - A Suitable Touch of Grey (8/86–12/89)

49 - Interlude: “Noble but Lame”

50 - A Deadicated Life (1/90–9/92)

51 - Interlude: “Can’t Stop for Nothin’” (ENCORE/NEW YEAR’S EVE)

52 - Interlude: Packed and Gone (LOAD-OUT)

53 - “I Guess It Doesn’t Matter, Anyway” (10/92–4/96)

54 - Finale: Metaphysics and Other Humorous Subjects





Copyright Page

A Long Strange Trip is dedicated to the memories of Jerry Garcia and Dick Latvala

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.


Look, there are two curves in the air: the air
That man’s fate breathes: there is the rise and fall of
the Christian culture-complex, that broke its dawn-cloud
Fifteen centuries ago, and now past noon
Drifts to decline; and there’s the yet vaster curve, but
mostly in the future, of the age that began at Kitty-hawk
Within one’s lifetime.—The first of these curves passing
its noon and the second orient
All in one’s little lifetime make it seem pivotal.
Truly the time is marked by insane splendors and ag
onies. But watch when the two curves cross: you
Not far away down the hawk’s nightmare future: you
will see monsters.


That’s why the Lord gave us three ears.
An invisible one for what is not said.



As I came of age in the 1960s, I defined two fundamental intellectual orientations in my life. The first, born of modest participation in and deep sympathy for the civil rights and antiwar movements, and in the antimaterialist aspects of “hippie,” was an affinity for elements of culture outside the mainstream. The second, by instinct and the blessing of having wonderful teachers, was a profound respect for the study of history. So when I arrived at graduate school in 1971 and discovered that it was more a professional training center than a hall of scholars, I chose a topic of study that would maintain my identification with that first orientation: a biography of Jack Kerouac, my intellectual forefather.

Six months after I began in 1972 what became
Desolate Angel: Jack
Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America
(Random House, 1979), a friend took me to my first Grateful Dead concert, introduced me to the psychedelic experience, and changed my life. A few months later, it occurred to me that I wanted to write a two-volume history of post–World War II American bohemia, volume one via the life of Kerouac and volume two through the lives of the Grateful Dead. It was my great good fortune (and intuitive correctness about the fundamental connections between the two phenomena) that Jerry Garcia shared my vision. I sent him a copy of
Desolate Angel
on publication, and eventually we met. Shortly after, he said, “Why don’t you do us?” At one of our first meetings, we chatted in his dressing room, which was decorated with two pictures, one of his late friend and musical cohort, Pigpen, and one of Jack Kerouac.

At one of our first interviews, he commented, “For the sake of history, or whatever, as a member of the Grateful Dead, and as a person who’s consciously involved in some kind of historical process, right, it’s very important to me that somehow some essence of what we’re doing is accurately . . . that it conforms to my bias”—he laughed—“. . . that some representation of us is undertaken . . . your sensitivity with Kerouac and Cassady and the resonance of me having known Cassady and so forth, that resonance tells me that your work at the second level—I mean you weren’t there when it was happening, but your sensitivity and selectivity and so forth, on the second level away from it was accurate enough it hit my recognitions, and the fact that you’re interested in us—I mean that eminently qualifies you, as far as I’m concerned.”

That conversation was in 1981. In 1984, the Grateful Dead Productions company receptionist complained at a meeting that reporters were annoying her because no one was dealing with them, and Garcia remarked, “Get McNally to do it. He knows that shit.” So from then until the end of the road for the band in 1995, I was the band’s publicist, adding a new layer of knowledge, intimacy, and detail to my study. Among many other things, the Dead was a spiritual experience, a musical phenomenon, and a business, and it is my hope that I have included all these facets in my portrait. It is for that reason that there are two sorts of chapters in
A Long Strange Trip
. It is largely a linear narrative that spans the early 1940s (the childhoods of Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh) to 1996, when we scattered Garcia’s ashes. In between these chapters, you will find “interlude” chapters that describe a hypothetical year in the 1980s and ’90s, the era in which the band was an established success, the time that I witnessed directly, and within that year a hypothetical or perhaps more ideally archetypal concert. These interlude chapters describe subtopics in the music business as well as life on the road as the Grateful Dead—and the Dead Heads—experienced it.

Being the biographer (as well as the publicist) of the Dead was not a job, it was an adventure. But that was true for all the participants—the band, the employees, the audience. It was, to quote Phil Lesh, “definitely long, definitely strange—and definitely a trip.” Together we all joined in on a quest, and I’d follow that path anytime. In Robert Hunter’s words,

Midnight on a carousel ride
Reaching for the gold ring down inside

Never could reach
It just slips away but I try


This sort of project is of necessity collaborative; my love and thanks to: Chris Byrnes (who started me), John and Gerry Hurley and Steve Buccieri (first companions), Danny Hupert, Maria Maloney, and Maya Maloney Hupert (younger brother and sister, plus), Lisa Biasi and Sandy Melloy (ace legwomen), Stu (ace legman) and Robin Nixon, Paul Grushkin (who helped introduce me to San Francisco, Joe Moss (keeper of the wheels), Jan Simmons (a gem of a sister), Quilley Powers (transcribing demon & savior), Michael Vosse (good buddy), Michael Bailey (ditto), Marty and Yvonne Martinez (Jersey siblings), Barry Alterman and June Omura (life is a dance), Phil, Arden, Sam, and Max Coturri, Jeff Briss and Dorothy Fullerton, Tom, Maggie, and Anthony Pinatelli, Felina Tambakos, Jon Korchin, Bernice Millman, the late Gertrude McNally, Alex Krutsky and Maggie McNally (just plain lovely family).

My thanks to the Grateful Dead family, most especially the late Bobby Petersen (start-up), Sue Stephens (guidance), Harry Popick (sonic advice), Ram Rod and Frances Shurtliff (senses of humor), Eileen Law (heart & soul), Cassidy Law (and unto the second generation), Mary Knudsen (critical support), Sue Swanson, Connie Bonner, Danny Rifkin, Alan Trist, Cameron Sears, Hal Kant, Bill Belmont, Wavy Gravy, Willy Legate and Carolyn Garcia (examples), Robert Hunter (mind), Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, and Jerry Garcia (for making it interesting). Although the whole band read the manuscript, Mickey Hart and Robert Hunter were exceptionally giving of time and knowledge—many thanks.

During the writing, Joel Selvin generously shared his research files, and Nicholas Meriwether proved a first-rate fact-checker. Jeremy Weir Alderson gave me access to a superlative unpublished interview he conducted with Garcia. Blair Jackson and Regan McMahon were the cosmic readers—I’m responsible for the mistakes, but they, especially, know how many aren’t here. David Gans also contributed an extremely valuable reading. Susana Millman was a fabulous photo editor for a visually challenged writer.

One day, I’m very happy to say, Stacey Kreutzmann said, “You need Sarah Lazin as your agent.” And Sarah, bless her, brought me to an equally superb editor, Gerry Howard. My gratitude to them.

One cannot travel in the Dead’s trail without friends; Sandy Rosen, Barbara Lewit, and Lou Tambakos were the very special road crew—not possible without.

Nine bows to the imps of synchronicity who sent me to Season Ray and Susana Millman—I don’t know why I’m lucky, but I’m glad.

San Francisco, 9/2001


Introduction: Power. The Stage as Alembic


Shortly before every Grateful Dead concert, there is a luminous, suspended moment. The doors are still closed. The band has not yet arrived. Bathed in the subliminal hum of the stage’s electric potential, you smell the ozone of 133,000 burning watts and realize that the elegantly arranged castle of equipment around you is alive— not just stuff, but a sentient alchemical sculpture. You are surrounded by an enormous electronic beast that can link the group consciousness of six musicians and an audience of thousands to transmute notes, thoughts, and volts, fusing boogie dancing, high-tech doodah, and the act of performance into a subtle, profoundly human ritual of celebration. This stage is a giant alembic, the fabled alchemical chamber where the magical transformation took place. It is a portal to the mysterious world beyond daily life.

This monster lives. The equipment cases that define the rear stage are its skeleton, extruded daily as it is assembled for its labors. It breathes through the pulsating speaker diaphragms, the interconnecting cables are its nerves, and it hears through a $30,000 harmonic analyzer originally designed by NASA to evaluate the aerodynamic strength of metals. The ears and the brain, a forty-eight-channel sound mixing board, are positioned in a booth eighty-five feet away in the center of the hall. From there, the stage seems a smooth, powerful monolith, its base draped in black, the undecorated equipment atop it set in a symmetric arc. Backstage, the seams are more evident.

From the top of the center-rear stage stairs, you stand behind and between the two glistening drum sets that anchor the setup. At far left front-of-stage sit Brent Mydland’s Hammond B-3 organ, a Yamaha synthesizer, and his own small mixing board. Next to Mydland’s corner, moving toward the center, is guitarist Jerry Garcia’s equipment cabinet, essentially a frame that holds a sound effects rack, a preamplifier, a McIntosh 2300 amplifier, and four JBL speakers. A floor strip with two foot pedals and seven switches, labeled “Mutron, Oct, Boss, Wah, Dist, Phase, Delay,” sits in front of Garcia’s vocal microphone. It is secured to the worn Afshar-style stage carpet with gaffer’s tape, the unique product of a small New Hampshire company, which is the secret ingredient that binds together all live rock and roll. Some seven hundred pounds of Sonar drums and Zildjian cymbals make up each of the two trap sets played by Mickey Hart on the left and Bill Kreutzmann on the right. An exotic array of other percussion instruments is set up behind them. The front row, the “amp line,” continues to the right with rhythm guitarist Bob Weir’s Godzilla 1000 amplifier and a cabinet holding eight Gauss ten-inch speakers. Phil Lesh’s Godzilla and a sound processor bass monitor, essentially a small computer, define the right side. A mixing board for the monitors, the floor speakers facing the musicians which allow them to hear themselves, fills the stage’s right front corner. Both sides of the stage are walled off by the boxes that carry the ninety steel-jacketed NASA surplus cables (“snakes”) and twenty-seven Crest power amplifiers that energize the system.

An aisle behind the amp line gives access to each cluster of instruments and equipment, and the space behind the lane is defined by each crew member’s tool case, surrounded by a fort of empty cases. Production manager Robbie Taylor’s case stands at the top of the stairs. The left-hand drum set is backed by Ram Rod Shurtliff, crew chief since 1967, chatting with basketball star and NBC basketball analyst Bill Walton as he lays out some of Hart’s “instruments”—an infant’s windup toy, whistles, a kazoo. The left rear corner of the stage is the redoubt of Steve Parish, stage manager and squire to the two guitarists, just now catching a hasty nap on the crew bus. The other drum roadie, Billy Grillo, sits changing drumheads behind Kreutzmann’s setup. The far right rear is the territory of Bill “Kidd” Candelario, who cares for the keyboards and bass.

Above, 144 state-of-the-art Meyer Sound Lab (MSL) loudspeakers hang five-deep from the ceiling. Still higher is a giant pentagonal truss holding two hundred lights. Though they absorb far more power than all of the stage gear and sound equipment, the Dead’s lights are still only a fraction of the normal design for a rock band; Van Halen, for instance, carries fifteen hundred lights. Scrib (as in scribbler), the band’s publicist and biographer, half listens as Taylor gleefully harasses the local union steward and reflects on his, Scrib’s, conversation with Taylor during the previous night’s drive. Taylor had interpreted his muttered “House lights”—the last command before a show begins—as a demand to resume an interview. Taylor replied, “How’d you know that ‘House lights’ means the beginning?”

“I just want to see what I’m rolling,” said Scrib, “but getting back to what we were talking about, I was chewing on what you said about the crew last time. They come on so cynical, but if anything weird ever threatened Garcia, they’d probably attempt something silly and heroic, y’know, just because they’d have to.”

“Yeah,” Taylor had agreed. “And you know how embarrassed he’d be?”

Which is why this concert is more than entertainment, why the star syndrome doesn’t exactly apply here, why the Grateful Dead isn’t really a rock band and is only tangentially part of the American music industry. Garcia is indeed charismatic, but not the least remarkable of his contributions to the group is his general refusal to run it. “You can call me boss,” he once said, chuckling, “just don’t ask me to make any decisions.” That is why the fans, the colorful, exuberant Dead Heads gathered outside, are members of a cult that at its best serves Dionysus rather than individual performers, and why the police, veterans of these parking lot festivals, understand the benign nature of their guests and are smiling at them.

A few days earlier the gig had been at a music theater out in the country. The endless sleepy commute, a forty-five-minute spin on an unfamiliar road from a generic RamadaMarriottSheraton, through endless geometrically identical cornfields, to a resort nowhere in particular, induced a feeling of absolute random disassociation. Conversation was desperately required, and centered on Lesh’s newly purchased book about the anthropic principle, which posited the universe as a mind.

Obeying an unspoken protocol, Scrib had left the front seats to the band and retreated to the back of the van—limousines are thought too conspicuous—to consider the band’s personalities in archetypal terms. Garcia is a powerful bohemian visionary, a shaman of a sort, and his personal style has largely defined the band’s social and musical structure. Yet his role is nothing like that suggested by the automatic attention paid to a virtuoso rock guitarist or the guru figure the media have fabricated in his name. The band’s candidate for Handsome Rock Star is Weir, the eternal Younger Brother. But on a day-to-day basis, the psychic pivot to the Dead is Phil Lesh, the most aggressive purist, the anti-philistine Artist. It is he who most often and most loudly demands that they dance as closely as possible to the edge of the nearest available precipice. Intellectual, kinetic, intense, he was once nicknamed Reddy Kilowatt in recognition of his high mental and physical velocity. Twenty years later his mind is still exceedingly agile, although on this day he was content to let Garcia dominate the rap.

“Why would the universe go through the trouble of evolving consciousness?” inquired Garcia. “If it wanted life that would succeed, just to create the most effective living thing, it could have stopped at bacteria. Or it could have stopped at vertebrates or sharks. But consciousness goes a quantum step further than just life. It might be that consciousness is the whole reason there is a universe. There might not be a universe apart from consciousness.” Garcia lit another Pall Mall. “And who knows what it’s like elsewhere in the universe? Local realities change enough, locally, that those Hindu guys can walk through huge, blazing fires and not get burned. It’s got to be that consciousness modulates reality. Besides, the truth can’t only be here, or you could stare at your toes and figure it all out.”

“Yeah, but that’s just solipsism, man, useless,” interjected Lesh. “All you do is climb up your own verbal asshole.”

“The real black hole,” snickered Kreutzmann as Scrib reached for his pen while trying to imagine the members of Led Zeppelin in a rapt discussion of teleology and human consciousness.

Today the vans arrive at the usual 6 P.M. as Taylor finishes with the steward and sends Scrib to the crew bus to inform Parish that the band is onstage. Blond and sophisticated, tour manager Jon McIntire emerges from the lead van and heads for the stage. Wise to his rhythm guitarist’s fondness for preshow tinkering, he tells Taylor, “Let’s get the doors open. Weir might want to
something.” Not all band arrivals have been so orderly. Once in the early 1970s, Weir and Ram Rod’s wife, Frances, equipped with a guitar, identification, and sincerity, were unable to persuade a guard at one venue of their legitimacy. Ever polite, Weir waited until the gentleman no longer stood in front of the gate, then drove his rented car through it to the backstage area. Taylor turns to the promoter’s security chief, whose shaven head and earring suggest a fierceness that is fortunately never displayed, and signals for the doors to be opened.

By 7 P.M. the crew members have taken their places onstage as most of the musicians digest dinner in a common dressing room. The drummers drill away on rubber practice pads and Weir works at his own exercise/étude, “Sage and Spirit.” Garcia warms up in the opposite corner, his small, grubby hands bulging with muscle as they run endless scales up and down his custom Irwin guitar. Lesh sits onstage talking with his wife, Jill. A few minutes before showtime, a security guard shepherds Dan Healy and Candace Brightman, directors of sound and lights respectively, to their enclosure out in the audience. The anticipatory roar goes up several decibels as the crowd spots sound engineer Harry Popick taking his position at the onstage monitor soundboard.

McIntire finds his various charges and announces, “Time, guys.” Weir has still not traversed the étude to his satisfaction, and calms his anxiety with a shot of brandy. Mydland gulps glycerin to coat his vocal cords and gets the usual reaction; the final backstage signal of an oncoming Dead concert is the sound of retching. Straggling out more or less in line, the musicians drift onto the stage.

Taylor leans over and murmurs into his headset, “House lights.”

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