For You, The Stars
Chapter Six: The Memphis Blues Again
In March we decided on the spur of the moment to try to make it to the Dead’s Mardi Gras show at the Kaiser. We didn’t have tickets but we had enough faith in serendipity that we figured something would come up. A couple of my gomer friends were going to be there and we had plans for where to meet before the show and during the set break in case either of us managed to snag better seats.
On the BART ride over to Oakland, Cecilia worked her pretty girl mystique on a middle aged hippie sitting across the car from us and he ended up giving her his extra ticket. We got off at the Lake Merritt station near Laney College and walked over to the Kaiser. The traveling bazaar was in full swing in the little park across from the auditorium.
A few minutes patrolling the street between the park and the venue made me realize that there was too much competition for extras, and I had a brainstorm. Cecilia and I headed back toward BART in hopes of intercepting someone before they fully arrived. She did the asking for tickets since we figured people were more likely to sell their extras to her, even if they could see she was with someone. In the end a youngish woman in overalls sold me her extra for face and we were all set.
We doubled back to the show, got in line, and scored and ate some blotter acid all in a jumble. By the time we got inside the first set had already started. The shrieking lead guitar sounds signaled “Hell in a Bucket.”
We couldn’t find any decent seats so we went down to floor and found ourselves weaving around the loosely packed crowd during the long bluesy “Sugaree.” This was only Cecilia’s third or fourth Dead show and I had been schooling her with my best cassette tapes. She recognized the doomed femme fatale storyline of “Sugaree” and knew to anticipate not one, not two, but three towering jams.
The next few songs passed by in a blur, as we continued moving from place to place on the floor like vagabonds. We were both of us short people, so we usually couldn’t see that well. If we got in front of the soundboard it started getting packed so tight that it made kind of claustrophobic. We ended up hovering around the middle of the audience and when the band starting the cascading intro to “Stuck Inside of Mobile with Memphis Blues Again” I took my girl by the hand and led her into the cleared walkway that surrounded the soundboard.
We half-danced, half-marched around the large square, making it around three or four times before finally one of the ushers kindly told us that enough was enough. The purple and green lights shone on her face as we laughed at the silliness of it all and enjoyed the pure playfulness of skipping together through a crowd with such majestic music accompanying our steps.
“She just smoked my eyelids/ and punched my cigarette” I growled in her face. The buzz on the floor was so animated that we hardly noticed the short breaks between songs. The dragged-out reggae lullaby “Row Jimmy” started up. I was by now feeling the acid and I started yelling something about a certain guitar lick that showed up halfway through the song and how great this one was and how I first heard it at Alpine Valley and did she remember the echoey version from the Bob Fried memorial show in 1975 and was she enjoying the tape I’d given her with Blues for Allah on one side and From the Mars Hotel on the other?
I pointed up at the back corner of the seats, where they thinned out to rows of five, then three, then one. “Let’s go up there,” I said. “You can site on my lap and we can fuck.”
“I don’t know…” said Cecilia. Usually pretty game for adventure, she was feeling a bit paranoid about trying something like that in public. “Let’s go up there and see how it feels, at least,” I said.
We went to the back of the floor and into the hallways, then we stomped up the weirdly twisting ramp that was guaranteed to disorient anyone wandering up to the second landing. The sonics were echoey and strange and people were hooting and laughing and shouting and gibbering all around us. We came out on the aisle, Phil side, and started heading straight up to the back.
No one paid any attention to us and I was thinking that my plan might actually work. By now the band was playing a typically first-set-ending “Let it Grow.” We made it all the way to the top and sure enough the back row of just a few seats was empty, as was the next few rows in front of it. From up there the crowd on the floor looked like a seething jumble of souls from some medieval festival or a strangely celebratory take on the sufferers in a Heironymous Bosch painting.
I sat on a seat in the back row and Cecilia sat in my lap, hitching up her little skirt. I could feel her warmth against my crotch. I kissed the back of her neck and her hair tickled my nose. I put my hands on her breasts but she moved them down to her bare tummy. She said something to me but I couldn’t hear it over the thundering bass and the climbing braid of guitars.
I could sense she was too self-conscious and to be honest I felt like even though the nearby crowd was mesmerized by the tiny figures, it was all-too-possible that a spinning hippie chick or wiggly dude would turn and see us if we got too nasty in public. So I decided not to push my luck. Cecilia stay in my lap through the false ending of the song though, rocking and sliding a bit like a lap dancer, but in an almost joking playful way. We got up and danced to the end of the set before going off to meet my friends at the rendezvous.