Chapter 8: Poised for Flight, Wings Spread Bright
Page 132, lower-middle; life in the Haight:
"Everybody has a picture of what it was to be a hippie hanging out in the Haight and going to the ballrooms," says William Wynans, an artist who came to San Francisco in 1967. "That’s pretty easy to picture. But being a hippie in the morning was very different. You wake up in this scuzzball flat. You’ve got a mattress on the floor and a sleeping bag. The walls haven’t been painted in years or they’re painted the color of Calamine lotion gone bad, with green trim. There’s no furniture. It’s cold, drafty, foggy outside, no heater, and you’re still wasted from the night before. Maybe there’s some food in the fridge and maybe there isn’t. Maybe you paid your electric bills, or maybe you didn’t. Slowly you pull yourself together, maybe go to a cafe and get some coffee if you’ve got some money.
"Most of us didn’t have telephones, because we couldn’t afford the bill," he continues. "Five or six people would rent a flat, and if you wanted to go over and visit someone, you had to go over there. So everyone would hitchhike everywhere, all over town; all the longhairs, all the freaks. And if you were a freak who had a car, you always picked people up. You might drive out of your way to drop them off. It was just a thing to do. It’s Saturday afternoon — let’s go hitch somewhere: go to Marin, go to Mt. Tamalpais, go down the coast. We used to roll up 20 joints in the morning, put them in a little silver case and then drive around and pick up hitchhikers. We’d smoke a joint with each one, drop them where they were going, and then go up to a high hill and do a drawing or take some pictures. We called it tripping around — 'Hey, you want to trip around?' In the city we’d go from park to park: Golden Gate Park, out to the beach, to Land’s End, up by the Legion of Honor museum. And everywhere you’d go you’d run into other freaks.
"There was also a lot of just sitting on the cars up and down Haight Street on a sunny day. For most of the summer, the sun goes straight down Haight Street in the late afternoon, and it gave these great shadows and reflections off the store windows and it was really kind of mystical. It made it a completely different experience walking one way or the other way. You’d just cruise up and down the street, maybe see some people you know, and you’d sit on a car in the sunshine and drink Green Death [Rainier Ale] or Red Mountain [wine], or smoke a joint.
"Late in the afternoon you might cruise down to Hippie Hill [in Golden Gate Park adjoining the Haight], and there would be five or six conga players down in the flat, a few people dancing, a couple of people playing Frisbee. There might be a couple of hundred people sitting on the hillside, some of them tripping, a lot of people smoking dope. You’d kind of keep an eye on the back of the hill because the mounted police would show up there and look ominous. They didn’t bust many people, but they were around.
"Then, at night, people would go to dances or parties or hang around listening to records. You'd eventually crash, and then you'd go out and do the same kinds of things the next day," Wynans says.
Page 135, top; Hunter's odyssey to the West Coast:
"That was the white lightning trip," he said. "I had to go 'on the road' — it was the thing to do, and I had never really done it properly before. So I walked out of New Mexico, heading for Denver. Unfortunately, I turned in the wrong direction and eventually hit the Rio Grande, and walked across it. I walked to Taos — literally wore out my boots. I hitchhiked out of Taos, catching a lift from a carny truck. The guy driving it and I have a conversation, and he eventually offers me a job with the carnival, and when we make it to Denver, he drops me off at this motel and says, 'We muster at 8 a.m. tomorrow.' I remember finding a bottle of Tokay in the room — what a godsend. Well, the next day I couldn't find [the carnival people] but I found a folk festival going on in this place. I walked in, looking crazed, unkempt, and said loudly, 'I hear Denver is lonely for heroes. Here I am.'"
After bumming around Denver for two weeks, sleeping on floors of various people he encountered, Hunter spotted the Dead's first album in a supermarket, of all places, and decided it was time to continue the journey back to San Francisco. He hitched west the first week of July, arriving in the Haight on July 9 — "Phil picked me up somewhere, and he drove me over to Ashbury Street." He stayed at 710 only a short a time, then moved to various other addresses around town. "I was in and around the area without specifically landing in the Haight that much," he said. Still, the (re)connection had been made and later that summer Hunter's partnership with the Grateful Dead began in earnest.
The first two weeks of August, the Dead traveled east again, playing a handful of gigs in Toronto with the Jefferson Airplane as part of a package called "Bill Graham Presents the San Francisco Scene in Toronto." "We all stayed for about a week at a very old, staid place called the Royal York, a really attractive, elegant place that drew an older, very sophisticated clientele," said the Airplane's drummer, Spencer Dryden. "I don't think the poor Canadians knew what they were getting into when they gave us these rooms, all on one floor. They weren't really ready for these freaks from America, especially during that period. It was really just beginning there, with weirdness beginning to creep up from the Midwest and over the border. And then we showed up!
"Now, the Dead and the Airplane were really two different sides of what was happening in San Francisco. The Dead were much freer; they had that family thing. There were always children around, there were always dogs everywhere, and people tended to not wear shoes. This is only a slight exaggeration. They really looked the part — if you wanted the definition of the word 'hippie' you'd point to them. Well, some of the Grateful Dead feeling must've rubbed off on our band, because when we found ourselves on the same floor with them and all in connecting rooms, we decided to basically just open up the whole floor. You could start in Jack Casady's room and open the door connecting to Jerry and Mountain Girl's room, connecting to Kantner's, connecting to Phil's, connecting to Jorma's, connecting to Kreutzmann's and on down to the crew's rooms. It was completely wild, and what was even wilder is that, to a room, each was a completely different environment. One kind of incense would be in one room, another in the next. The Dead would put up tapestries on the walls, Persian carpets on the floors, posters were brought out, hookahs. The Dead traveled with literally trunks filled with all this stuff — candles, you name it.
"Graham got it all into the country for us. The borders were a little looser then, but the real thing of it was that traveling with this absolute circus completely confounded the customs people. This was a large group of people with tons of boxes of all sizes and shapes. People dressed like you couldn't believe — Day-Glo, strange makeup. The Dead took trunks everywhere, and we all really got into decorating the rooms as differently as we could. We simply carried our home with us."
Following the Toronto shows, the Dead and Airplane parted ways, with the Dead moving on to Montreal (where they even played at the Expo '67 World's Fair), and then to their first three shows in the Midwest — in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan — before heading back to California.
Page 135, upper-middle; more on "New Potato Caboose":
"It's a very long thing and it doesn't have a form, in that it doesn't have a verse-chorus form," Garcia said of the song in an interview around this time. "It has two or three recurring elements, but it doesn't have a recurring pattern; it just changes continually, off of itself and through itself in lots of different ways — rhythmically, the tonality of it, and the chord relationships. There's lots of surprises in it, a lot of fast, difficult transitions. And there are transitions that musically are real awkward. They're not the kind of thing that flows at all, but we're trying to make this happen by taking something that's jarring and making it unjarring. Making it so that it happens without anybody losing their mind when it happens! And just to see if we can do it. As it is, it's a little stilted, 'cause it's all so utterly odd. But it has its points and I think that's one direction that we'll be able to move successfully in."
Page 135, bottom; more on the writing of "Dark Star":
Hunter has acknowledged that the first line of the chorus — "Shall we go, you and I, while we can" — was likely influenced by
a similar line in poet T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which opens with the invitation, "Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky." "I was very impressed with T.S. Eliot around the time I was writing 'Dark Star,'" he said. "Beyond that, that's just my kind of imagery, the sorts of things I see, the sort of things that occur to me to say. ... I don't have any idea what the 'transitive nightfall of diamonds' means. It sounded good at the time. It brings something up that you can see. I find that very, very precise images yield up a song that gives itself too easily, just much too quickly, and then it's over and done with. I like a level of ambiguity in what I write. It keeps a listener coming back."
Page 139, lower-middle; drugs in the Haight:
"Over time, there were quite a few casualties," Mountain Girl says. "There are definitely people who shouldn't play around with the edges of reality like that. Anybody with a history of mental illness should stay away from acid; anybody that's manic. Anybody who has an organic mental condition, or borderline schizophrenia should really stay away from it, because they don't have good control of their inner and outer realities. One of the things that used to happen was guys would get out of the Navy or the Army and show up in San Francisco and take something and that sometimes got pretty weird. It became like a street debriefing for them. There were quite a few causalities among that group. But we saw a lot more problems with other drugs, like speed, than we did with psychedelics. Most of the people we knew had generally positive experiences with psychedelics."
Page 140, bottom; Rosie McGee's 710 bust story:
"I was not living at the house at the time; I was living up the hill with Phil, but I got my mail there. So I came down to the house, which was also the band office at the time, and as I was coming up the stairs, I saw Sue Swanson motioning me away — 'Don't come in, don't come in!' — but it was too late and they came out on the stairs and pulled me into the house and arrested me. The bust was happening inside at that moment. They put everybody in the tiny little kitchen while they were waiting for the wagon to come. I was pretty nervous because I had a giant ball of hash in my purse, which I had over my shoulder but under a poncho. So we were sitting in the kitchen and they had one cop watching us in the doorway, though his back was to us — I mean, we weren't going anywhere! Meanwhile they're searching the house upstairs. Sue Swanson asks me if I want some ice cream, so she goes in the freezer and ladles out these bowls of vanilla ice cream. So while the cop wasn't looking, I took the ball of hash, crumbled it in my hand, put it in my vanilla ice cream and ate it; I ate the whole thing, because I didn't want it to be found on me."
By the time a paddy wagon arrived to take the arrested down to the Hall of Justice, a large crowd had gathered outside the house and they cheered as Pigpen and the others were led out, grinning and raising their arms in mock triumph. "As we were driving downtown," Rosie says, picking up her saga, "I started coming on to the hash, and I got very, very, very loaded; this was a lot of hash. I remember Sue Swanson propping me up on one side and Veronica propping me up on the other as we sat on the booking bench, because I was threatening to slide onto the floor into a puddle. Miraculously, I made it through the night, we got out early the next morning, and they dropped the charges on me because I wasn't actually there when the bust happened. But I literally couldn't speak for three days, and I was stoned for about two weeks."
Page 141, top; more on the post-bust press conference:
Danny Rifkin read a statement that had been drafted anonymously by his friend Harry Shearer (who went on to a successful career in comedy):
"The arrests were made under a law that classifies smoking marijuana, along with murder, rape and armed robbery, as a felony. Yet almost anyone who has ever studied marijuana seriously and objectively has agreed that marijuana is the least harmful chemical used for pleasure and life enhancement. ...
"The law contains an even greater evil. It encourages the most outrageously discriminatory type of law enforcement. If the lawyers, doctors, advertising men, teachers and political officeholders who used marijuana were arrested today, the law might well be off the books before Thanksgiving. ...
"The law creates a mythical danger and calls it a felony. ... The result is a series of lies and myths that prop each other up. The people who enforce the law use it almost exclusively against individuals who threaten their ideas of the way people should look and act.
"Behind all the myths is the reality. The Grateful Dead are people engaged in a constructive, creative effort in the musical field, and this house is where we work as well as our residence. Because the police fear and misinterpret us, our effort is now interrupted as we deal with the consequences of a harassing arrest."
Large portions of the group's statement were printed in the San Francisco newspapers and shown on Bay Area television, giving the Dead the most concentrated public exposure they'd ever gotten locally, for better or worse. And the story became a national one by virtue of an article about the bust that appeared prominently in the first issue of a new San Francisco-based rock 'n' roll magazine called Rolling Stone. The story, by editor Jann Wenner, was completely sympathetic to the Dead, whom he called "one of the most beautiful bands in the world," and was accompanied by a lively collection of photos of the band and managers defiantly cavorting on the front steps of 710 after the press conference. "Dig Jerry," Wenner wrote of one of the photos. "He's Big Man on Campus. Who else has a shirt like that [a busy paisley number]? Jerry said that if they put out a warrant for his arrest — which so far they haven't — he would beat them to it and go down to the Hall of Justice and voluntarily surrender, carrying a white flag."
Page 144, lower-middle; changes in Garcia's playing:
Guitarist Henry Kaiser observes, "The whole sound changes after the first album because they get louder and they start using different equipment and Jerry starts to find a unique-sounding voice when he moves to the [Gibson] SG and the Twin Reverb amp, and then, later, onto the Strat. He finds a way to really control the sound. I think it also changed because he changed the material he was improvising with. As they started writing their own songs more, that took him in some different directions. But I also think that he was a guy who was always intent on trying to learn and play patterns that he didn't know. He was always trying to do something new. Even later in life, in the last decade, if you talked to him backstage and he was noodling on the guitar, which he often was, he was always practicing some kind of odd, different patterns."
Page 145, top; recording the Dead in New York:
Brooks Arthur, a leading New York engineer who was also a co-owner of Century Sound, recalled that the Dead's arrival at his studio "was my first experience with what I can only call pre-Woodstock Woodstock. I'd worked with Neil Diamond, I'd worked with Van Morrison, and I'd never seen anything like the Dead before. The Dead moved in there lock, stock and barrel — guitars, drums and family and children and friends and roadies and breastfeeding ladies and people sitting on the floor. It was flowers, peace symbols, beads, bells; the whole thing. Pot was everywhere. There was so much pot the accountants upstairs used to get high from the smoke going up through the air conditioning system.
"Although I was helping Dave Hassinger, I didn't really hang out too much with the group," Arthur says. "What I remember most about those sessions was that everything took forever to do. I think Dave and I spent 48 hours just on the drum sound, getting the cymbals right, getting the imaging right for those guys. That was their m.o.; that was their style. Normally I could get an orchestra recorded, I could get two albums done in the time it took to get a drum sound for the Dead. But I understood their logic. It was a different room for them and they wanted to get a certain sound that was a departure from their old sound, so they took time with their bass and drum sounds. Which microphone sounded better with this cymbal? What does it sound like when we stuff the kick drum, or unstuff the kick drum, or pop a hole in the head of the kick drum? You try a microphone in-phase, out of phase. Then you take a long coffee break, get high, then there's lunch.
"Actually the way the Dead worked then was more the way people did it in the mid- and late '70s. I'd seen this a little bit working with the Lovin' Spoonful, who really cared about how their sounds went down to tape, but the Dead took it to a new extreme for me. This was also my first experience of a studio lockout — where the room was booked by only one group for a couple of weeks. I actually had to go and book time for myself at other studios around town to complete my own work while the Dead were there."
Page 145, middle; more on Dave Hassinger's departure:
Hassinger says, "I remember one time during the making of the record that I went into American Recording [in L.A.] and they had ordered so many instruments and so much equipment from Studio Instrument Rentals that you literally could not get into the studio! The whole album was that way. It was like pulling teeth until I finally couldn't take it anymore. When I came back to L.A., the head of Warner Bros. asked me, 'Have you had enough yet?' and I said, 'Yeaaah!'"
Bob Weir is fond of saying that he drove Hassinger to the brink by asking the producer to come up with sound of "heavy air" on the record, but Hassinger dismisses that: "That did come up, but that was earlier. That might have even been in Haight-Ashbury. I just looked at him when he said it. But he said it in such a serious way, I didn't really know how to react. Actually, a little later we did seriously look into trying to get into a certain quality of sound like I suppose he was talking about. We were going to take all the equipment out to the desert east of L.A. and record out there, but it never happened."
Hassinger insists that it was a combination of struggling over the harmonies on songs like "New Potato Caboose" and a strange little Bob Weir number called "Born Cross-Eyed" and getting into arguments with the Dead's managers that actually led to his departure. "With that band," he said, "if you argued with anyone in the entourage, you were taking on the group — at least that's how they saw it. So that was the first big fracture. Basically, we just couldn't see eye to eye. ...
"One of the thing you have to remember," Hassinger said, "is that I was very straight, and it wasn't too easy for me to deal with people during that era. I knew I was dealing with people who were probably heavy into acid, and I knew that a lot of times our conversations weren't going to make a lot of sense. I always felt that it was hard to do real constructive work with musicians on acid, but I guess there were some great records made that way."
Despite the unhappy ending of his association with the Dead, Hassinger felt that "they were a fantastic group and I enjoyed working with them." He particularly liked Garcia, who "was a very forceful personality" and "just a super guy." One problem, Hassinger believed, was that there was no clear group leader, so "they were all in on the decisions. Personally I preferred to communicate with Jerry because I got along with him very well. Actually I got along with them all pretty well except for Phil Lesh. He and I didn't hit it off too well. He's very, very opinionated. He would be worrying about the sound of his bass to the point where it got almost ridiculous, I thought."
"Phil is a perfectionist and he always has really strong ideas about what's right and how he wants something to be or how he wants it to happen," comments Rosie McGee, who was with Phil in New York for the album sessions. "Sometimes, if he knows what he wants but he doesn't know how to get there, to him it's not unreasonable if it's going to take 300 hours, and fuck everybody else. It's unreasonable, but he doesn't care.
"The other thing about Phil is that he was also very seriously irreverent and he really did not have any patience for pomposity or pretension. He loved to goad people. If they couldn't take it, he'd do it even more. It wasn't meant to be mean or malicious, but it was definitely there, and if you got him going he wouldn't stop. Hassinger was fair game, definitely. Anybody who was terminally straight, it was all over for them."
The news of the split between Hassinger and the band made it back to Joe Smith at Warner Bros. in Burbank, and at the end of December he fired off a letter to Danny Rifkin that read, in part:
"The recording in New York turned out to be very difficult. Lack of preparation, direction and cooperation from the very beginning have made this album the most unreasonable project with which we have ever involved ourselves.
"Your group has many problems, it would appear, and I would believe that Hassinger has no further interest or desire to work with them under conditions similar to this last fiasco. It's apparent that no one in your organization has enough influence over Phil Lesh to evoke anything resembling normal behavior. You are now branded an undesirable group in almost every recording studio in Los Angeles. I haven't got all the New York reports in as yet, but the guys ran through engineers like a steamroller.
"It all adds up to a lack of professionalism. The Grateful Dead is not one of the top acts in the business as yet. With their attitudes and their inability to take care of business when it is time do so would lead us to believe that they never will be truly important. No matter how talented your group is, they're going to have to put something of themselves into the business before they get anywhere."
The letter also urged the band to finish the album during three days of sessions the label had set up for them in early January '68, but by this time the Dead had a new vision of what their record should sound like, and it wasn't about to be completed in three days.
Page 146, middle; artist Bill Walker on his cover painting for Anthem of the Sun:
"The way the faces came about was by going to a concert and getting psychedelicized and focusing on a band member and relating to the imagery like an energy field. It was at a time when I could listen to music and actually see the music sort of roll through the room, to the point where I'd actually step over it, or grab it, or get knocked over by it." The painting took several months to complete, and at one point it looked as though Walker's work might be for naught:
"I remember going to a band rehearsal at an old theater near Potrero Hill right when I was ready to start painting on [my pencil outline]," he said. "In the middle of rehearsal they got into a big hassle over something to do with management or money problems. Everyone was really pissed off, and Phil came over to me and said, 'Well, I guess that's it.' They'd decided to break up! Eventually, of course, it all cooled out and they started playing again, so I kept going."
Phil said of Walker's trippy mandala, "It was so perfect for that album and so perfect for what we were doing then and who we were then."
Page 148, top; more on the writing of "China Cat Sunflower":
Hunter said that the germ of the song came to him in Mexico, on Lake Chapala: "I don't think any of the words came, exactly; the rhythms came. I had a cat sitting on my belly, and I was in a rather hypersensitive state, and I followed this cat out to — I believe it was Neptune — and there were rainbows across Neptune, and cats marching across the rainbow. This cat took me all these cat places; there's some essence of that in the song." Stylistically, Hunter said "it was originally inspired by Dame Edith Sitwell, who had a way with words — I liked the idea of quick, clicky assonance and alliteration like 'See me dance the polka, said Mr. Wag like a bear, with my top hat and my whiskers, that tra-la-la trapped affair." I suppose I [also] owe a debt to [Lewis Carroll's] "Jabberwocky." In his book of lyrics, Box of Rain, Hunter wrote of "China Cat": "Nobody ever asked me the meaning of this song. People seem to know exactly what I'm talking about. It's good that a few things in the world are clear to all of us."
Page 148, middle; more on "The Eleven":
Garcia once explained the band's approach to improvising within long phrases: "Rhythmically, our policy is that the one is where you think it is. It's kind of a zen concept, but it really works well for us. It makes it possible to get into a phrase where I can change into little phrase spurts, spitting out little groups of notes ... and then turn that into a new pulse. Then I'm inside of a whole irregularly rotating tempo in relation to what the rest of the band is playing, when they're playing, say, the original common time. It produces this ambiguity, but all I have to do is make a statement that says, 'end paragraph, and one ...,' and they all know where it is.
"We all have that kind of privilege — it's partly something we've allowed each other, and partly something we've gained confidence to be able to do just by spending a lot of time playing together. When we started working on 'The Eleven' back in the '60s, we'd spend hours and hours and hours every day just playing groups of eleven, to get used to that phrase. Then we started working things out in seven, and from seven we started working out things that were like two bars of seven, three bars of seven, four bars of seven — patterns, phrases and licks that were those lengths, and play them over and over and over again."
Page 151, upper-middle; on a trip that never happened:
The March 9, 1968, issue of Rolling Stone carried an intriguing story that claimed the Dead were planning to play a concert on Paradise Island in the Bahamas in late March, and then sail to Europe for concerts in France, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Holland and England. "There are also plans, but less definite ones, to return to San Francisco the long way around and play Japan and Australia," the article said. Evidently, though, the trip was partially contingent on the band's finishing their third album before they left: "We've already spent $60,000 of Warner Bros.' money and they want to see something for it," Rock Scully told the magazine. Eventually, the planning for the trip fell apart and as Scully said years later, "We never did quite figure out how we would've paid for that trip, so we went back East instead. It sounded like a good idea at the time, though, and we promised ourselves that we would get to Europe some day, which we did, of course."
Page 151, bottom; the fall of the Haight scene:
"There was no way the Haight could have survived for too long," the painter and light show artist William Wynans observes. "It existed in its own artificial bubble. It was not what was happening in the mainstream of the country. I think a lot of us thought that everybody was doing this, which of course was not the case at all. As it turns out it was only a very tiny fraction of a small percent of our age group! In a sense the hippie movement was fairly elitist; not by intention, but in reality. You had to have taken certain drugs to get there, in a sense; you had to like a certain kind of music; you had to dress a certain way, and you had to drop out from regular society and pretty much not do a regular job. So all those things eliminate higher and higher percentages of people.
"It was a utopian world — totally unrealistic — but so beautiful," Wynans continues. "It was realizing who you were individually and collectively in a totally free way without any rules — although of course there always evolved rules. Eventually what happened was the same thing that happens in any society, any collection of human beings: You get a hierarchy, you get patterns of behavior, you get vested interests, petty problems and all the things that a utopian vision can pave over for so long. At a certain point the reality of the seven deadly sins overcomes people’s paternal and fraternal feeling and real life sets in.
"Part of our Western culture talks about paradise, and paradise is always wonderful, but you also always get expelled from it.
Part of it was just youth, and everyone grew up and ultimately had to come to deal with the material world. People ran out of money and had to get jobs, and once you’re in that world, you’re no longer in paradise; it’s a different mind-set. The Grateful Dead were fortunate enough to be able to make enough money to do pretty much exactly what they pleased. But the majority of their peers at some point had to make a compromise to earn some bucks, and it became increasingly difficult for people to maintain that free lifestyle."