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I can still see the scene as clear as day. I was standing in the pouring
rain — freezing my butt off — in the center of a mud-soaked,
football-sized field. Surrounding me were several thousand people who
were — to coin a phrase — boogying. On a stage so far away that I
could barely make them out, a four-piece English rock group called The
Edgar Broughton Band was playing a bastardized version of “Hootchie
Kootchie Man.”

The boogiers didn’t seem to care that the music was terrible. They were
waiting for the star of the show, Bob Dylan, to appear. Ditto for me.
Yet, as much as I loved Dylan, I was harboring a growing sense of
anxiety. It wasn’t simply the physical discomfort. No, it was the
anxiety that comes with the knowledge that one is about to close a
chapter of one’s life.

It was the summer of 1969, and I was in my early-twenties. Somehow I
knew instinctively that I was about to take my leave of the world of
rock ‘n’ roll fandom once and for all.

So what, you ask, was I doing in a beat-up Chevy station wagon being
driven by a 250 lb., cigar-chomping, out-of-work Pentecostal preacher on
the way to hear the Grateful Dead/Dylan concert nearly twenty years
later?

Maybe it was the free tickets (I was a music critic for the L.A.
Times
at the time). Maybe it was just some idiotic nostalgic whim.
Whatever the case, the moment I stepped out of the car and into the
parking lot of the Anaheim Convention Center, I knew I’d screwed up.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like Woodstock all over again. A
welter of tie-dye abused my sensitive cortex. Holy mother of stinking
Beelzebub! There they were! Hippies! Millions of the slimy
buggers! Where the hell had they been hiding all these years?

I’m not just talking longhaired, pot smokers, folks. I’m talking
hardcore misfits: glassy-eyed guys with dirt-encrusted beards and the
expressions of retarded simians. Old, pony-tailed geezers who looked
like they’d been living in garbage cans in Haight-Ashbury for the past
20 years. Blank-faced, hairy-armpitted girls who reeked of body odor and
Patchouli. Bone-skinny lowlifes in filthy jeans, David Crosby fringe and
the faces of holocaust victims who’d no doubt slunk in from Bakersfield
or Modesto. Geeks, freaks, creeps and sub-humans of every conceivable
variety.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you (drum roll, please) … the
Deadheads.

A flood of horrible acid-tinged memories washed over me. The thought of
having to spend an entire afternoon in the midst of these repellent
fossils from the Love Generation nauseated me beyond belief. I felt the
beginnings of a massive anxiety attack coming on. Fortunately, my
companion — the ever-jubilant Reverend Otis — saw the state I was in.

“Just go with the flow,” he said hollowly, lighting up his first joint
of the day.

I nodded dumbly, and uneasily made my way through the writhing mass of
tie-dyed human refuse.

Hold on just a sec. I’d better stop and give this little Proustian
pilgrimage into my rock ‘n’ roll past some perspective.

Over ten years have passed since the scene I’m describing … that is,
the Dead/Dylan concert — the last in a long tour which Dylan and the
Grateful Dead did — which is captured (for those who enjoy torture) on
a CD aptly entitled “Dylan And The Dead.” Since that time, Jerry Garcia
– leader of the Grateful Dead — has gone to the great beyond. Bob
Dylan is still touring (or so I’m told), so I guess he’s probably got
some pretty heavy alimony payments to deal with (why the hell else would
a guy who’s almost 60 want to keep on with what is surely one of the
most godawful lifestyles in the world?)

Since the first scene in this little home movie (which took place at the
Isle of Wight in 1969 — a concert that came to take on
near-Woodstockian proportions in history (Lord knows why. I was there
and it sucked!) — I myself had a ten year run as a rock musician (well,
country musician to be more exact, though I did play in my share
of blues bands) and another ten as pop music critic, who wrote for all
the usual rags. (What the hell, it paid the bills.)

I openly admit that out of that twenty-year period I remained a fairly
staunch Bob Dylan fan (long after his songwriting talents had sunk into
the sunset). Today, I wouldn’t walk around the corner to hear Zimmy –
and, sadly, a lot of the tunes I once thought of as “great” now sound
terribly pedestrian, if not embarrassingly bad.

As for the Dead, my feelings have never veered an inch. I hated them
from the first moment I ever heard them, and still count them as
possibly the worst band in the entire history of (so-called) rock ‘n’
roll. I openly admit to celebrating (make that wildly
celebrating) every year on the anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death.
Moreover, I was absolutely appalled to find that even after his
bandmates promised the world that Jerry’s demise would put an end to
Dead concerts forever, that the band continues to tour to this very day!
(God help us.) But hell — if you were making millions, you’d do the
same thing, so you can’t really blame them.

I remember the first time I wrote a review of a Dead concert (which I
walked out of after enduring as much as was humanly possible). I
explained to my readership — in what I thought were quite reasonable
terms — why I so abhorred the group. Quite simply, the Dead had always
represented everything wrong — everything pointless, useless, stupid
and decadent — in American culture. It was bad enough, I wrote, that
they’d been at the cultural forefront of the Love Generation — without
a doubt, one of the most patently self-indulgent periods in history. But
the fact that they continued to exist — that they could draw stadiums
full of blissed-out, whacked out Deadheads (many of whom were, at that
point in time, the offspring of the band’s original followers) was, I
stated positively frightening. Notwithstanding, of course, that they
were unable to play their instruments, or to sing (the
requisite, one would hope, for any “band” of musicians).

I still have a copy of that review. I framed it actually. It was the
first review for which I actually received death threats from my
readership.

Alright. Fast forward light years ahead to the Dead/Dylan gig at the
Anaheim stadium. Even though Dylan had lessened his hold on me by that
point in time, I still was interested enough to check this thing out
(though I must admit that Reverend Otis, who was a stone-cold Dylan
freak) helped convince me by offering to make the trek to Anaheim. What
the heck, I figured. The idea of seeing Dylan onstage with a band as
hideous as the Grateful Dead might at least prove mildly amusing. Thus I
agreed to make the trek (armed, of course with my free reviewers passes,
though I had no intention of writing anything whatsoever).

How wrong I was. During the Dead’s opening set (that is, before Dylan
took the stage), I spent two sweat-drenched hours wandering around the
stadium — the only enjoyable part of which was ogling the bouncing
bosoms of the more nubile young lasses who were strutting their assorted
wares around the place.

At some point in time (my memory of this day is very hazy, and whenever
I recall it, I feel like I’m beginning to get a bad acid flashback),
Dylan (wearing some kind of weird parka) takes the stage. I abandon my
girl-watching and take my seat next to the Reverend Otis, who is by now
totally out of it.

The group starts to play. It is impossible to hear Dylan, the band is so
loud. I sit, trying to plug my nostrils from the marijuana, which is so
thick that one would have needed a gas mask to keep it out of one’s
lungs. Finally, I’m forced to don my pair of super-strength, $9.95
earplugs. It’s that painful. They don’t much help; rather the whole
thing becomes a sea (a black sea) of sound — nonsensical and without
form or content.

Surrounding us are a mass of flailing, twisting, boogying Deadheads –
all of whom are doing approximations of the famed Idiot Dance (sometimes
known as the White Boy Spaz-Out).

A Charles Manson look-alike leaps up the steps, stops a foot or so from
me, and proceeds to flail away, babbling wildly to himself. Twirling and
jerking like some crazed dervish, he’s lost to the world. Arms akimbo,
he crashes into people around him, as they leap to safety with looks of
abject terror on heir faces.

But what about the music, you ask. Musicyou say? Well, even with
my earplugs firmly in place there was no possible way to squelch the
hideous stuff. The Dead had always played at a ridiculous volume (which
is why today three of the band members are virtually deaf). From what I
could hear (and I was trying my hardest not to), I was amazed to
find that they still couldn’t play. Not only was the whole band out of
tune, but I specifically remember recalling that afternoon that Jerry
Garcia had to be — note for note — the hands-down worst
guitarist on the face of the planet. The group’s two drummers were the
epitome of sloppiness. Bassist Phil Lesh still didn’t know the meaning
of the word “groove.” And any group that needs two drummers … well,
you know you’re in trouble from the word go. As for poor Zimmy, he might
as well not have been there. He was just this tiny hooded figure onstage
in a parka, amidst a bunch of bearded, tie-died non-musicians.

I tried to pass the time by asking myself “meaningful” questions …
questions of great sociological import. What, I pondered, could possibly
be the magic — the tremendous pull — that the Dead had over their
fans? In order to satisfy my curiosity, I removed my earplugs, and asked
several of the blissed-out crowd what it was about the Dead’s music that
so attracted them to it.

“Unnnnnh, I dunno … it just, like — it makes me feel good,” a glassy
eyed guy in a “We Love Jerry,” t-shirt replied eloquently.

“Just look!” chirped a blonde with long, flowing tresses and a demonic
smile. She gestured at the throng of writhing Deadheads.

“It’s beautiful … don’t you think? It’s like … they’re all one!”

Ah yes, there it was. Your old, tried-and-true hippie gobbledygook,
(which today is still being parroted by your average New Ager. Both of
whom have much in common with your average Moonie. Or perhaps your
average Nazi).

I smiled weakly and returned to my seat. As the music droned on, my head
began to pound. Soon I began to feel — for lack of a better term –
spaced-out. Kind of like I’d just ingested several hundred mikes of
pure, blue Owsley acid. I knew I had to do something, so I made my way
down to the concession area where I downed several cups of steaming
black coffee.

When I returned, I found the Reverend Otis staring — a strange, twisted
smile on his face — at nothing in particular. It was clear to me that
the poor bugger and I were not occupying the same planet.

A bare-chested guy covered with tattoos and approximately three teeth in
his head crashed into me, causing me to spill hot coffee all over
myself.

That was it.

“We’ve gotta get out of here!” I cried, shaking Reverend Otis violently.
He turned and stared at me blankly.

“But,” he turned to me, an idiotic smile on his face, “Dylan’s singing
‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ man.”

Screw Dylan!” I yelped, jerking him up by the arm. “Our brain cells are
being destroyed at this very moment! We’ve got to save ourselves before
we become … like them!”

As we made our way through the crowd, a furious commotion erupted to my
right. A completely naked man was being dragged, kicking and drooling,
off the field.

He looked beautiful.


Two days later, still loggy-headed, I sat in my kitchen, reading reviews
of the “concert.” To a man, all of the local rock critics had praised
it. I could feel the beginnings of a serious depression coming on.

But what really put me under the table was a letter in the paper by some
moron named Douglas Benton, who referred to himself as a movie producer
and a “Lifetime Deadhead.”

“I always leave their shows feeling that a deep vital current in me,
flowing from its roots is revived and refreshed,” Benton wrote. “It’s a
spiritual, fulfilling tribal experience, and I feel once again we are
all one. And for all you conservatives, look at it this way. It’s free
market capitalism at its purest, as well as the traditional values of
caring, sharing and tolerance.”

I found Benton’s sentiments rather amusing in light of two other items
that appeared in the paper. The first stated that Dead leader Jerry
Garcia had just signed a million-dollar deal to do commercials for Guess
Jeans. The second item was even more telling. It related an incident
wherein the Dead’s entourage (no, they weren’t still using the Hell’s
Angels — that ended after the Angels murdered an innocent bystander at
Altamont) were beating people up in the parking lot for selling
“unofficial” Dead T-shirts. So much for free market capitalism, not to
mention “sharing and caring.”

You see, the thing that’s always irked me most about the “we’re all one”
mythology (which I’m afraid we’re doomed to hear generation after
generation) is that it is just that: pure mythology. This holds true
whether you’re talking about the Dead or about the New Age. It’s true,
in fact, for any utopian ideology. Strip away the veneer and there’s
always somebody pulling the strings.

Even now that old Jerry’s in the ground, the Dead (who are touring
again) continue to make millions (this is not counting the loot that
pours into the Dead’s coffers from the ever-hideous Jerry Garcia ties
… available in your local department store).

Amazingly, today’s audience at a typical Dead concert includes not just
the offspring of the original Deadheads but their offspring as
well! Truly an Orwellian nightmare, wouldn’t you say?

I think it may have been on that afternoon following the Dylan/Dead gig
that forever ended my life as rock ‘n’ roll fan. On that day, if I
recall correctly, I poured myself another cup of coffee, turned up the
Beethoven concerto on the stereo (kind of a musical enema) and decided
that I had to find some other way to make a living. The following week I
resigned from my position as a music critic for the L.A. Times.

I have not been to a rock concert since that day. Occasionally, I’ll go
hear some live jazz, but only occasionally (even jazzers today
play too loud). In fact, music — except for my daily one hour practice
regimen — which consists primarily of scales (presently I’m working on
my whole-step half-step scales) — plays little part in my life.

Just so you don’t think I’m an old fuddy-duddy, I still love “the real
stuff” (that means anything from Albert Collins to Miles Davis to
Beethoven to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys). But in limited doses.
Very limited doses. I dunno, maybe I just OD’d from ten years on
the road (I lost the hearing in one ear during those years) and
another ten of listening to people who couldn’t tune their instruments
(not to mention to ten fairly “blitzed out” years as a “fan”). Thirty
years of one’s life listening to and playing (so-called) music, is, I
think, enough.

Who knows? Maybe I’m just getting old. Or maybe the Big Guy upstairs has
finally opened me up to the place where my brain requires the nutrition
that comes from that odd (and all too rare) thing called “quiet.”

Sssshhhhhhh.

If you really try, you can almost hear it.


The Tongue Update: The preceding piece is excerpted from S.L.
Goldman’s latest collection of columns, aptly entitled: Poison
Penmanship, Vol II: With Malice For All.

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