Archive for the ‘Grateful Dead’ Category

Grateful Dead


We all smoked a lot of weed at college, and some us did quite a bit of acid.

But despite being students who liked to get high, I only met one other person who liked the Grateful Dead. She knew far more about them than me as well.

I only had a handful of studio albums. She had live tapes, and she’d even seen them multiple times over some drug-drenched American summer before she’d come up to university.

At 19, she was the first girl I ever slept with – though I never told her that at the time.

We’d met at a house party and we were both taking pills.

It was a warm night in the summer of 1992.

I saw her the minute she walked into the front room and I thought she was the most alive looking person I’d ever seen.

When she’d walked in, I’d been watching the very trashed host painting a mural on the wall of this shabby front room in a shared student house.

A few months later, the host turned out to be the second girl I ever slept with. She was also the first I that I ever regretted.

I can still see her, pissing crouched over a bin in my second year basement room. I remember the orchid tattoo above her pussy and the name she had for it. (“I call them both Olivia.”)

It felt sickly. The opposite of alive.

The mural was supposed to be celebrating how me and the other guitarist from my college band had stolen a large metal weathervane from the roof of a factory in the town during another party a couple of weeks beforehand.

For reasons best summed up as “a student thing”, this weathervane – a golden chicken – had become something of a cult object to some of the people we knew, and its liberation had meant a lot to them.

My friend had been the one with the hacksaw and taking most of the risk.

I was effectively just the look-out.

And given the amount of homemade opium tea we’d consumed over that evening, the caption below the picture of me on the wall described me as “the hallucinating watchman.”

The mural didn’t really do any of this justice.

Towards the end of the night, I couldn’t believe that I was sitting round a bonfire (made from the garden fence) with the most alive person in the world and that of all the bands in the world it was this one that we had in common.

We both went home alone that night and I remember the long walk in the early hours of a summer morning, still with the speedy end of the drugs inside me.

I remember playing the vinyl of Wake of the Flood (given to me a month before by a friend, who’d been given it by his uncle, and who didn’t like it) as the sun came up into my room.

In a very unfocused – but still very clear – way I thought about the girl’s look of aliveness when she first came through that door, and I played Eyes of the World on repeat.

It’s one of the Dead two songs that always make me think of her.

The other is Sugar Magnolia.

“I mean, obviously Sugar Mag makes you think of me…”

That’s what she said when I told her about this years later when we were all grown-ups and once we’d started talking again.

It was the summer after that, in July 1993 that four of us decided we’d do the classic “road trip” summer holiday in the US.

We flew into New York and ended up buying a very cheap station wagon with no air-conditioning and no mod-cons in Philadelphia. The plan was to drive it to LA.

The biggest problem was that we had no money, and between Ohio and Nevada we had no friends of friends’ parents to stay with.

There was a lot of shop-lifting wonder bread and cheese slices for food, and we adopted Magnum and Colt 45 malt liquors as our drinks of choice – due to a very simple equation of alcohol volume vs. available funds.

There were no strong craft beers in the States in those days, and even if there had been we wouldn’t have been able to afford them. The money was set aside for “must do” events, like taking acid at Graceland.

We were also saving our money to score weed, and this combination of no cash and a desire to get us high led us closer to the Dead the further west we headed.

We met “Grasshopper” and “Guitar Man’ in Bowling Green Kentucky who talked as if they were connected to some kind of Grateful Dead family (in retrospect, they clearly weren’t) and helped us out with a quarter of just about OK grass.

They also gave us a list of addresses to copy – addresses of other people who might help us out as we kept heading westwards towards that next guaranteed bed for the night, somewhere in Reno, Nevada (which sounded far more exotic than it turned out to be).

We copied these details in pencil into the inside covers of the copy of Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter which I’d bought for 25c on a book stall in Washington Square.

I had the vague idea of touring the Manson sites when we made it to California, but this never happened.

It was one of those addresses that took us to Arkansas where we stayed for a few days at a camp, near a crystal mine, somewhere near Hope Springs, with ‘Florida Bob’ and Pam.

He was an older guy, and she was much younger, which seemed like quite a thing with all the hippie types we met.

Bob and Pam were tolerated by the scary local rednecks who owned the mine because they’d promised to send them acid in the mail.

We were tolerated because they seemed genuinely impressed that we’d be drinking warm Magnum at 11:00 in the morning in an Arkansas summer, and because I told them I’d been to school with the son of Pink Floyd’s drummer.

Turned out that rednecks who like acid also love the Floyd, and without the internet they had no way of knowing whether or not this was true.

Similarly, I didn’t even know if Nick Mason had any sons, but I had a very impressive English accent which seemed to make it plausible.

When we finally made it to California, the Dead were playing two nights at the Shoreline, and we were basically broke.

Pam had told us about Miracle tickets, and on the first night one of us got one.

When he went in, the rest of us mooched about the Dead Lot and drank malt liquor in the car.

The radio played all of Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead. It was the first time I’d ever heard it.

I didn’t have faith in miracles, so the next night I made my one friend with a credit card actually buy me a ticket and I went in on my own.

The security guard who gave me a casual frisk called me “Joshua”.

I assumed it was down to a general Old Testament look to my long hair and beard after the best part of two months on the road.

I thought the band were amazing.

Some guys from Portland shared their bong with me, and even though the tape on might actually be the worst Dead show I’ve ever heard, it was inspirational.

They opened with Touch of Grey.

They played Friend of the Devil and they played Sugar Magnolia.

They covered All Along the Watchtower and Lucy in the Sky. It was everything I wanted it to be.

The most alive girl in the world is still a friend.

We found ourselves sleeping together again some time just before I met my wife in the late-2000s. That’s when I told her about Sugar Magnolia.

It all meant a lot to me.

High: Thanks to those ‘kind brothers’ from Portland, very.

 Drinking: With no money, and no ID, maybe only a couple of passed bottles during the day.

Thinking: I can’t believe I’m getting to do this.