Friday, June 16, 2017

Five Years of Mass Dead

I'll be back soon from my little summer holiday, but here is something fun




DEADHEADS; A CONCERT BECOMES A LOVE-IN AS FANS; SHOW THEY'RE STILL GRATEFUL FOR THE DEAD
[THIRD Edition]
Boston Globe (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Boston, Mass.
Author:Stocker, Carol
Date:Apr 5, 1986
Start Page:7
Section:LIVING
Document Text
PROVIDENCE -- The plaza outside the Providence Civic Center before showtime is a bizarre bazaar. Camp followers selling Grateful Dead T-shirts and bumper stickers share the sidewalk with food vendors as the sweet smells of marijuana and hot dogs with onions mingle in the night air.
Edgy policemen mounted on horses tower over the frolicking crowd like knights from an opposing force. The tide of litter is ankle deep and rising.
The Deadheads, fans of the Grateful Dead, have convened for an audience with their heroes, and the streets of parochial Providence are lined with cars bearing license plates from California, New York, Alabama, Pennsylvania and, of course, Massachusetts.
It has been six years since this band, which came together during the mid-' 60s flowering of Haight-Ashbury, has put out an album, and they've never appeared on MTV. But wherever the Dead tour, they sell out.
Like the few other surviving bands from the '60s, the Grateful Dead hits the road with a history and a hard-to-define mystique. But unlike the Stones or the Kinks, the Dead have always had mixed success with records, have always been primarily a band for live concerts.
After 20 years, theirs has become the most ritualized schedule in the business: every spring, the Providence Civic Center and maybe Portand and Hartford, where the tour is concluding tonight; every fall, the Worcester Centrum and New Hampshire and New Haven.
The band doesn't play Boston anymore because they can't stand the Garden, where, according to guitarist Jerry Garcia, "even the rats wear leather jackets." So every spring and fall, part of the ritual of the Boston faithful is to head out on Route 95, bumper stickers proclaiming their destination, honking their horns and occasionally flashing the peace sign at fellow pilgrims.
The devotion of Deadheads is legendary and, since every show is spontaneous and different, one concert is seldom enough to satisfy them.
John Eschelman, 34, from Pennsylvania, and Jimmy, a 29-year-old Dorchester resident, have planned their spring vacations around the tour. Barbara Lewit, 34, of Berkeley has flown in and rented a car to follow the tour. This is her 290th concert.
Who are these people?
There are many Deadhead stereotypes: middle-age insurance adjusters looking for '60s nostalgia; wannabe kids dressing up as hippies for a night; burnouts caught in a "lost generation" time warp, unable to adapt to the '80s.
There are some ofthese stereotypes here. There are also a lot of people here who just like the music.
Like Chad Gifford, a clean-cut, basketball-tall Brown University freshmanfrom Cambridge, whose professional goal, to "earn a lot of money," is suitably '80s. He finds many of the middle-aged hippie Deadheads who follow the tour "pathetic." But he loves the band. "They're the only rock group doing improvisation."
The bulk of today's Deadheads are college and high school age, 18 to 25, just as the band's followers were in the beginning. But there's been an accumulation over time and a lot of fans are well into their 30s. Some bring their teen-age children, second- generation Deadheads.
For the staunchest, a Dead concert is areligious experience. One couple got married during intermission at one of the Portland concerts last week while their friends stood in a circle, reciting lyrics from the band's songs.
A big part of the show is the atmosphere of sharing that surrounds it. Spare food and spare tickets are passed around. The feeling of mellow fraternity is surprisingly reminiscent of the Fenway Park bleachers on a sunny day.
To young fans, this '60s-style sense of all-inclusive community is as beguiling as the music. "You met someone five minutes ago and they're your best friend!" beams 16-year-old Kelly Gill of Eastham.
"It's been going on since the '60s, just with fewer people," says 17- year-old Michael Jacques as he blows translucent soap bubbles into the air. "It" is "when you walk down the street and you smile at someone and they smile back and people want to love each other, not hate each other."
"There's a feeling of trust between fans. Last fall my friend just wandered around after the show until he found someone who had taped the concert," recalls Jimmy. "The guy didn't know us, but he let us have the tapes overnight to copy."
The band itself, which developed much of its improvisational style playing on LSD during Ken Kesey's experimental public concerts called "Acid Tests," is now on a relative fitness kick, according to its publicist, Dennis McNally. He ticks off regimens of jogging and pumping iron. "They're in it for the long haul."
The preoccupation with health is less evident among the fans. Beer and marijuana are a given at the tailgate picnics in nearby parking lots. Ecstasy is the new drug on the scene. LSD is the old one, and surprisingly common.
"If you're young and you want to take acid, you'd want to take it in a place that felt like the '60s," reasoned a 40-year-old Boston fan, matter-of- factly.
"Don't take any brownies from a stranger," warns Jimmy.
Dress is the gypsy regalia of the '60s revisited: army jackets, long Indian print skirts, dirty red bandanas. Peace signs are knitted into caps, drawn on jeans. But they seem more the symbol of an era than a political idea.
"We're for peace -- but we're not antiwar . . . are we?" 17-year- old Diane Branch says, turning uncertainly to T-shirt vender Gretchen Brown, 30, for confirmation.
"You have to decide that for yourself," Brown answers with a rueful smile.
Branch, who wears a commemorative T-shirt with the message "20 Grateful Years 1965-1985," has never been to a Grateful Dead concert. "I came because the Dead's from the '60s."
"We wish we were here then," adds her 15-year-old companion, who has a peace sign painted on her cheek like a fashionable beauty mark.
Many Deadheads wear symbols specific to their band. Some tie dyed T-shirts spout fragments of lyrics: Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world . . . There's a brisk florist business at the edges of the crowd in red roses. Many women wear the flowers in their hair.
One has transformed her face into a macabre skull with heavy black and white greasepaint, looking a little like a theatrical antinuclear demonstrator. Her blouse is partly unbuttoned to display the skeletal black and white rib cage painted down her chest.
Inside the Civic Center, 1,300 skeletons are shaking to the workingman's boogie and the country-ish ballads of the Dead.
Heads are bobbing, shoulders are swaying to the music in an April Fool's Day Dance of the Deadheads.
Chairs are stacked out of the way to make more room for dancing.
Chairs are for piling on coats.
Chairs are for when someone feels faint, and if you sit down, a solicitous neighbor will ask if you're all right.
The body of the audience is young; the bodies on the stage are middle-aged with graying manes, drumming out the rhythms of romantic rebellion. They are the grandfather storytellers evoking such legends as "Cowboy Neal at the Wheel" at a convocation of young braves around the light show campfire.
Not all the music looks to the past. A long drum solo leads into one of the bands' "space jams," using electronic sythesizers and feedback to create deep, abstract whale-like vibrations under an ocean of distortion. Balloons bob sporadically to the surface of the crowd, which bats them softly into the air like porpoises doing their beachball tricks at Marineland.
Eventually, the experimental musical wanderings assume the sounds of a trumpeting elephant dodging jet planes on a landing strip. When the band finally swings into a recognizable song, the crowd coalesces again with relief as it is gathered up again into the palm of the familar.
I need a miracle ev-er-y-day! The Deadheads chant with lead singer Bob Weir.
hey! hey! hey!
I need a miracle ev-er-y-day!
yea! yea! yea!
When the band leaves the stage after three hours, hundreds of lighters are held aloft in the audience like devotional candles, augmented with a sparkler or two.
The crowd tries to linger, to hold onto the evocation but, perhaps as in the '60s, it's too fragile to survive outside the confines of a concert.
Determined ushers clear people from the aisles and shove the civic center doors shut after them. Outside in the chilly night, the realities of the outside world intrude quickly. Stern-faced police sweep the plaza clear of people, and many members of the audience return to their parking spots to find their cars have been towed.
A crowd has gathered at one end of a parking lot.
"What is it?"
"I don't know. But it's something wonderful, I bet."
It isn't. At the center, several policemen with nightsticks are subduing a disorderly man said to be tripping on LSD. The red streaks running down the man's face and arms are not bodypaint.
Across the street, 25-year-old Pauline of Attleboro is still aglow from three days of concerts and partying. She relates how only that morning she had met Bob Weir from the band, and, at her boyfriend's request he had bestowed a kiss upon her.
But now her boyfriend is barely conscious and in an ugly mood to boot. And he wants the car keys. And she doesn't want to give them to him.
They go back and forth, but she is still smiling and wearing her homemade crown of red silk roses, still holding onto the magic she feels.
Nearby a group is playing with a Frisbee, and over by the freeway, someone is shooting off fireworks. Ephemeral soap bubbles dance in the street lights and then suddenly vanish.