For You, The Stars
Chapter Three: Big Sister’s Clothes
Both Simone and I went back to New York around Christmas, so we made plans to get together a few times while we were there. One night I had her over to my parents’ place for dinner. My father baited her with stupid questions about her plans to teach English at a community college. I noticed that I was self conscious about her Queens accent, and I kept worrying that she’d come out with one her strange family words, like calling a toilet a “toidy.”
My mom was nice to her, though, and the dinner turned out pretty well. We went out drinking that night and then I put her on a subway back to her parents’ place in Forest hills. Two nights later I met her and a few of her close friends at the Pizzeria Uno where they all used to work on their summer vacations back when they were still in college.
We sat in a booth, me and the three girls, and got to know each other over beer, pizza, and beer. We got roaring drunk and I remember having a private conversation with one of her friends - I think she was telling tales on Simone out of school. My impression was that her friends liked me.
Simone was staying on the east coast through New Year’s but I had plans to return just before the end of the month to catch the Dead’s New Year’s run at the Kaiser in Oakland.
It was not like I had literally moved out to California to see Dead shows but it was definitely a factor. I hadn’t really known the Dead’s music in high school. Sure, I had the triple-LP Europe ‘72 album, but I’d bought that just before leaving home for boarding school along with a few other records I knew mainly by their classic covers. I listened to it a few times, but the long improvised suites on the last record eluded me.
The “disco Dead” record, Shakedown Street had come out my first year away at school and I still have a vivid memory of hearing the chorus of “Fire on the Mountain” playing from someone else’s room down the hall.
I also had some undifferentiated primordial memories of a few of the Dead’s FM radio “hits” from around the time I was in kindergarten, things like “Friend of the Devil.” I know when I finally “got it” at a show in the fall of ‘84 the song “Uncle John’s Band” seemed oddly familiar, but that may have been the acid talking.
The main thing that kept me from taking the Dead seriously in high school, though, was the kids who were way into them. With the name and the iconography they seemed more like a heavy metal band than the folk-rock-blues-grass band they really were, and the kids who were into them the most were the burnouts who were also into Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zep. They listened to unlistenable bootleg tapes on boomboxes and made the whole concept of the Dead unappealing.
In fact, my first year of college I was in a friend’s room and I noticed that he had a large Grateful Dead banner on one wall. I honestly asked him if it was an ironic statement and he looekd at me strangely, as if to say of course not.
Then there was the transitional period where it seemed like nearly all my stoner friends were playing the Dead constantly and if you asked them to change the music they just put another record or another bootleg tape on. That was the “this stuff all sounds alike to me” phase.
Then came the mushrooms and the acid, and the going to a live show, and then the going to a live show on acid and it all started to make sense to me. I saw two Dead shows in 1984 and then I saw, like, 18 in 1985, culminating in New Year’s shows at the end of the year. That was my first taste of San Francisco.
Most of the Gomers were a year ahead of me and had thus already graduated by then. They had moved en masse out to SF and they invited me out for the shows. The weather was beautiful, the city was like a jewel, and the whole Dead scene was turned up a notch, like visiting the real city of Amber when up to know you’ve just seen the shadows that resemble it.
I was in Ground Zero for Dead culture, as it were, and I got sucked in. I had traveled up and down the east coast to catch as many shows as possible, occasionally venturing west as far as Wisconsin or Colorado, but based in the Bay Area it was possible in those days to see the Dead at the Marin Vet’s, the Greek Theatre and BCT in Berkeley, the Kaiser and the Coliseum in Oakland, the Civic Center in San Francisco, and the Frost Amphitheatre at Stanford. Then there were the Jerry Band shows. It was Deadhead mecca.
Hopper (another Gomer) and I drove out to the west coast once we graduated. Well, we got most of the way there. We started in the south, where he lived, and drove through Chattanooga to Chicago, ate some deep dish pizza, and then carried on the Minnesota, where we stopped to see Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and the Dead. There was no pot at all at those shows as far as we could tell, but the t-shirt art was good, things like stealies with a famous silhouette of Dylan in the circle instead of the familiar 13-pointed lightning bolt, with the legend “It’s all right ma, I’m only dead.”
We made it to Mount Rushmore and through the Black Hills of North Dakota before I fell asleep at the wheel in Wyoming and drove Hopper’s new Honda civic off the road while Jerry sang “Dark Star crashes” in a voice like Elmer Fudd from the Greek shows in the summer of ‘84. We flew the rest of the way to San Francisco once we realized the unibody repairs were going to take too long.
A week in Gillette, Wyoming with nothing to do for excitement besides drop by the Dairy Queen convinced us it wasn’t worth waiting around for the work to get done. I had my head shaved by a local barber as a weird sort of act of atonement.
Once settled in the first Gomer place in Diamond Heights, we geared up for a road trip down to Ventura for summer Dead shows before finding out en route that Jerry had collapsed in a diabetic coma. He had recovered by December and the Dead played two major runs that month, a first set around mid-December and then a four-show end of yeasr run, my second chance to see the famous New Year’s event.
In ‘87 the Dead were back to their heavy touring schedule, and then they put out an album with a hit single, and then toured with Dylan again, this time backing him on his tunes. By now I felt like I had the routine down, and once again we had tickets for New Year’s. I made sure there was an extra for Cecilia.