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Crank Up That Old Victrola

February 28, 2015

“Turn on channel six, the President comes on the news
Says, ‘I get no satisfaction, that’s why I sing the blues.’
His wife says, ‘Don’t get crazy, Lord, you know just what to do,
Crank up that old Victrola, put on them rockin’ shoes.'”

– Bob Weir, from One More Saturday Night

Bill Graham, the legendary San Francisco impresario, once said something about the therapeutic value of a Grateful Dead show. Indeed, for some, these shows were on par or better than church or synagogue service. Graham talked about the wonders of a Grateful Dead show and how some would even trade them for a trip to the doctor’s office. Survey your friends who enjoy the Grateful Dead’s music and maybe you’ll hear the same. There really is nothing like a Grateful Dead show. Nothing at all. There is absolutely no way someone could have gone to one of the shows and left without a smile on their face. The shows were a sure respite from anything that troubled you when you entered.

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Jerry Garcia drew the stage of Berkeley’s Greek Theater and put it in a letter he wrote to a woman in 1982. Faced with high medical costs, she put the letter up for auction earlier this year.

With Jerry Garcia’s passing twenty years ago, we’re left with parts and pieces of the pleasure we once held. The remaining four members still play music, although with the ravages of time, now nearly as often as they once did. Bob Weir, who started playing with Jerry when he was sixteen years old, is now sixty-seven. Phil Lesh, another founding member, is seventy-four. I’ve been out to see Phil and Bob play over the years and always enjoy myself. Still, it’s not the same without Jerry. It can’t be and that’s alright. And of course we have lots and lots of good music from the band’s thirty years of concerts, many taped by fans in a dedicated taping section and others directly from the band’s soundboard.

Bruce with Lillian Thiesen Spring 1979 001

My Grandma traveled to California from Chicago in the late 1970s and visited me. My friends decorated the apartment door with original art and with the art from the Grateful Dead’s Europe 1972 album, which was one of the very first Grateful Dead albums that made me a lifelong listener.

The boys will get together in Chicago in July to play one last time. Three shows are scheduled in an arena built for 60,000 people. As soon as this was announced, my sons and others told me that without question, I “needed to be there.” I’m not one for such events and the nudges were meant for me to set all that aside and for once, just lay my money down and join the crowd.

I’ve listened to the Grateful Dead since high school. Thousands of hours.

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Here is my “box of 600.” It is an ugly piece of furniture that houses the 600 CDs from the musicians that I’ve listened to the most or have had the most impact on me. Open the doors and there’s lots of magic. The top two center shelves are for Dylan’s music. The three below it are for the Grateful Dead. Boxes of cassettes are out in the garage, likely deteriorated. The two LPs here are the Grateful Dead albums that first captured my imagination, “Europe ’72” and “Mars Hotel.”

Memories can sustain us. Discovering the joy of the Dead’s music was part of the carefree lives my buddies and I had when we were young. We shared the LPs, cassette and 8-track tapes. We listened in our parents’ basements, at weekend parties and in our cars. We turned up the FM radio when they played. We gathered gas money, piled into the car and drove in from the suburbs to Chicago to see them play. To this day, I remember these times with JG, G, JK and M. There were others too, of course. But these four seemed to have the biggest smiles when the band found a groove.

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A photo I took of Bob Weir, with Jerry Garcia in the background. Chicago, circa late 1970s.

A little grumpy about the Dead choosing Chicago to play the July shows, when Phil, Bob and Mickey Hart all live down the road from me, I nonetheless signed myself up for the ticket rush. I am very disciplined with money spent on events like this and knew that agreeing to go along this time was going to be a significant deviation. Nonetheless, I wanted in.

Bruce and Grant circa late 1980s 001

The two guys showed up at Grateful Dead shows during the 1980s. We had a lot of fun at Dead shows with these inexpensive masks. We bought them at the Rite-Aid on our way to a Jerry Garcia Halloween Show in Oakland. After a few years, the masks’ material cracked and fell apart.

The first step was a mail-order. This is the way that the band sold tickets before the Internet. We’d send money orders with free-form requests and self-addressed envelopes to San Rafael, California and just like that, tickets would arrive at your door. No surprise, there were more mail-order requests for the July shows than were set aside for this method. Within a week or two, I received my money back and a letter telling me that I was out of luck.

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My rejection letter for the July shows.

The next step was an Internet “VIP” ticket order that opened at 8:00 PST yesterday. I called G early in the morning to tell him that I was pulling back and wouldn’t take part in this. Joining big and expensive events like this, whether The Grateful Dead or my favorite baseball teams, makes me uneasy. It’s as if dignity must be checked at the door. I lost interest this time when the tickets to the three shows was now going to cost the same as four months of health insurance.

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Extra tickets from Alpine Valley shows in 1989. I don’t remember why we had extras. We tried hard to sell them before the show, but evidently were not successful.

This is a bit confusing for me. The Grateful Dead’s music is a touchstone for me. It relaxes my mind. I never expected their concerts to be an example of the things in this country that I am alienated from.

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A beautiful spring day at Stanford with The Grateful Dead in the mid 1980s.

I can also count on G, no matter what the circumstances. This happens when you’ve known someone since the age of nine. Ever since we were kids in high school, we’ve enjoyed the Grateful Dead’s music together. Our shared experience lets us communicate with simple mentions of something we recently listened to and we know the feeling that the other had. The music becomes its own language of sorts. When we text from one to the other with “Scarlet 1977,” “Playing in The Band 1978,” “Wharf Rat 1979,” “Morning Dew 1973” or such we both know the story. It is usually more than enough for the recipient to know that all is good. No reason to ask anything else. So, a opportunity for one more show with him helps me overcome my disdain for the big, over-celebrated, over-done and expensive events.

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Things were much easier back then. This is the inside of the Europe ’72 album jacket, where the Grateful Dead invited folks to stay in touch by sending them your name and address to their San Rafael office. Some of the tickets from my early shows are also shown here.

Within an hour of my declaration that I was finished with all of this, I pushed myself to see things differently. Just as I did when I sent in the mail-order. I called G, who was intent on getting tickets one way or another. I went to a computer in advance of the opening of the ticket sales and we both did all that we could to buy the tickets. Both reported the same error codes and screen freezes to each other. One of the messages that came up frequently for me was something called a”503 error code.” What this means, I have no idea. The servers were overloaded. After a few minutes, I received an insulting email from the Grateful Dead website telling me what I already knew. No matter how many times we tried to give them our hard-earned money, we were again out of luck.

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“Guru Meditation.” “Varnish cache server.” I have no idea what this means.

And so it was. After too much of this, I wished him the best. I went back to a busy work day and moved on with my dignity in check and money in my wallet.

After a morning coffee reading Livy’s Roman history and listening to Mozart, I started playing Jerry’s music. I’ve listened for more than four hours now and don’t see any reason to stop now. In fact, I just turned it up, as I am hearing a lovely recording of him play J.J. Cale’s After Midnight with an instrumental interlude of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby. Jerry played this show exactly thirty-five years ago, February 28, 1980. It is a perfect example of how he could make other musicians’ songs his own and draw us in for the ride.

As I am wrapping up this blog post, I received a text message from G, ever enterprising, diligent and determined with this summer 2015 adventure that we will share.

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51 Comments
  1. You’re in! How awesome!! Enjoy the show and the memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After all that effort, the show better be worth it! But judging by how big of a fan you are, I’m sure it will be. Great pics, by the way.

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    • That’s the odd thing, Carrie. I know that the music will be sound; they are masters at their craft. However, the whole bigness of it all guarantees that the shows themselves won’t be as they should. Their style of music and play require a smaller hall. Nonetheless, let’s hear what we can.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. halmasonberg permalink

    Have an amazing journey! It doesn’t look like I’m gonna make it and my feelings about the whole thing are quite mixed. Very strange to NOT be a part of it. I’m counting on you for a full update! 🙂

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  4. Yay! I’m glad this has such a happy ending, not only because I know you’ll have a groovy time, but also because it was a bummer to realize that 1980 was 35 years ago.

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  5. Attended the shows where “Without a Net” was recorded. Great version of Sat Night on that album. World is not the same without Jerry in it. Still have not recovered.

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    • I haven’t listened to “Without a Net” for a long time. I just took care of that by putting on Bird Song. Jerry never missed on that one. I too miss Jerry.

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  6. What a happy ending! You guys will have a blast! And it’ll all be worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A beautiful picture of you with your grandmother.

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    • Thanks, Shimon. I had just moved to California and it was nice that my Grandma visited. It was odd to see her away from Chicago. I still remember the morning before she arrived and all the fuss that my roommates and friends made about organizing and cleaning and of course, the decorations.

      Like

  8. Do you like that, Barbara? Do you have plans to make the trek for the shows?

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  9. I hope your grandmother appreciated the artwork! Enjoy the concert!

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    • I don’t recall any comments about the art work, but do recall that she was pretty happy. That was her nature when with her grand children. And of course, who wouldn’t be happy to take a break from Chicago in the glorious Northern California wine country (before it was WINE COUNTRY)?

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  10. I’m very glad that your friend’s perseverance paid off and you guys are attending this final concert (or are you going to attend all three?). You’re who belong at these last shows. The Dead were never my thing (hey, I left San Francisco for New York), so someone like me attending would be a fraud. Through the years I have encountered a number of Dead Heads. The vast majority were like you: pretty cool. But yeah, an arena in Chicago that seats 60,000 just seems so 21st century and corporate. I would think that the remaining members of the Dead would have played a series of fond farewell shows in the Bay Area instead, but what do I know? I’m just happy that you’re going to be a part of it. Hey, if you take requests, do a follow-up blog post.

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    • There were a lot of curiosity seekers, event goers and “johnny come latelys” at the shows in the ten years of the full band’s time together and something was lost, both on stage and in the audience. This July event will resemble more of that scene than their first 20 years. It’s a different world and it’s impossible to escape that hard fact. I will buck up and make the most of it.

      I’ve never considered myself a Dead Head, no matter how much I’ve listened to the music. As a group, I like them very much, but I never grabbed the identity.

      Like

  11. The Dead are one of those bands that never clicked for me even though a few friends tried hard to get me into them. But I appreciate the passion and dedication of the fans. I imagine that a big stadium show won’t be as intimate as seeing them indoors in a smaller venue but it still would be such a great last gathering of the tribe. Enjoy and treasure each moment.

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    • Yep, Jerol. A large gathering of the tribe. Nothing intimate about this one.

      This time, we will have corporate banners alongside the skull and lightning flags. Expensive food and drinks. No hummus or peanut butter.

      Like

  12. What a great story, and fantastic photos! My sister had that exact Adidas tee shirt. 🙂 The Grateful Dead fans sure are determined. Have a great time at the show

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    • If I recall, the t-shirt was my brother’s. I received it directly or perhaps, just as a practical matter when he left it behind when he went to college. It served me well in Northern California.

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  13. I agree that it’s a great photo of you and your grandmother. Too fun to be a fan of the band all these years. I’ve lived with a ginormous Dead fan, but never been one myself. I think it’s absolutely great that you will be going, and I’m glad G is stubborn and determined. He must have figured out how to use the Guru Meditation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • G set that Guru Meditation on its heels and came up with his tickets. I don’t recall all of the details about my grandma’s visit, but remember it being just another easy day in the life of a kid living in Northern California without too much pressure or distractions to a real good time. Once the place was swept, cleaned, vacuumed, organized and made presentable and after she arrived, everyone went on with their business of a worry-free day. I think I went on a country drive with her, my cousin and her husband, who were hosting her (from Chicago).

      Liked by 1 person

  14. OH, how I love this post! I smiled the entire time. Memories, music, good (long-time) friends, ‘the way it used to be,’ persistence, and disappointment and yet hope. What a story! And I’ve lived the same tune, and read the same book, as you. I’m not a Dead Head, but some of the music from the ’60s and ’70s s still gives me chills when I listen to it. I’ve attended three of Paul McCartney’s concerts in the past 6 years (two at “the Boston Garden” and one in Fenway Park). Even though the venues were big, he found a way to personalize them, and I embarrassed my daughter (who insisted on being my ‘chaperone’) grandly as I stood and shouted and screamed and sang out loud. As I’m reading your post and commenting, I’m listening to Beethoven’s Symphony # 7 on KDFC (yes, I can listen to it here in NE from the web) and loving that we can sink into classical while also rock with the greatest. I hope your Chicago adventure goes beyond your expectations!

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    • Pamela, It’s great that you can listen to KFDC all the way back there. It is a is a touch of home, but is it not also a window to homesickness?

      Such a devoted Paul McCartney fan! I can only imagine his concerts. Packed and big. The hall full of singers like you and their children wondering what happened to their parents when they saw the “cute Beatle” walk on stage. My youngest gets the allure. Every now and again, he and I will crank Side 2 of Abbey Road or songs from McCartney’s first solo album (“cherry bowl”) or songs from Ram, one of which finds its way to the masthead of my little blog. Some of McCartney’s stuff never fails.

      Great image of you and your chaperon.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Pamela, I’ve never considered myself a Dead Head, no matter how much I listen. Just as I when I run, I’ve never considered myself a runner. I just run. Or when I ride a bike, not a biker. I just went to the shows, listened to their music and spent lots of time and money on it. Just as with running and biking, my overall investment didn’t seem to rise to the Dead Head level. In fact, no matter how much I enjoy their company, I never wanted the identity or cared to be a paid-up member of the tribe.

      Like

      • Wellll, here’s a question then. You write – are you a writer? 🙂
        Hope your answer is a YES. I find that we writers have a difficult time saying that we’re writers. Like we have to be famous or well-published to earn the tribute.
        You may not be a Dead Head or a runner or a biker, but you are a really good writer. 🙂

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  15. “dignity must be checked at the door.” Sounds like my experience with Burning Man tickets Bruce— except you prevailed. There has to be a better way. –Curt

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  16. What an great post with a FABULOUS ending! I am so excited for you.
    And am going to hope that the concert will be worth every bit of hype and bigness!
    WOWOWOWOW!!

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    • Ha! Going to such an expensive and high profile event is not normal for me. This is a big stretch for me. I’ll have to find the quietness of the present moment. And I will.

      Like

  17. Ah….the joy of just being able to…carry on! Well done….

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  18. I’m glad you’re going. We only regret the things we do not do. I hung with a band for many years … riding around endlessly in vans and had some of my best days with them. What I would give to see them one more time … but alas, that last show can never happen with them. I push all my friends to always make their music real, to see every band they love … even if it won’t be perfect, even if the details are inconvenient. Because an imperfect show is still a show … and always beats the show you missed.

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    • Jackie, As much as I agree with everything you say here, I still am uneasy about the “bigness” of this deal. It seems more like an event, than a show. The shows were pulling up before curtain time and hanging with the Dead Heads in an easy manner. If you had an extra ticket, it was up to you to do the right thing. Face value or even less. If you didn’t have a ticket, you could expect the same in return. Anyway, that’s all a thing of the past. We are here now.

      Like

  19. Congratulations!

    Like

  20. I’m older than you are and write about my memories. As a Danish poet said, “Memory seems as nothing, however it is the most secret fountain.”

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Remember, “They’re not the best at what they do, they are the only ones that do what they do.”
    I too got locked out of tickets, which has never happened to me before, ever. Some how I feel that the place will not be filled with the true Deadheads but people needing to be seen as a Deadhead. Me, I’m resigned to listening or watching streaming and dancing with the ‘real’ heads. Remember, they were never like ELP, a band that had a stage show.
    I am happy to have grown up when I did knowing the wisdom of Hunter,Garcia, Weir and Barlow. It will never again come around. It made me who I am today and also the person I never became.
    Here I am 50 years after they began and their energy still courses through my brain like heroin.

    Click your heels three times and say ‘there is nothing like a Grateful Dead Concert’
    Have fun. Thr rest of us will be there in Sage and Spirit

    Like

  22. Some regrets in life and one is that I wasn’t a Dead Head. Thanks for the memories!

    Like

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