Howard F. Weiner

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Deadhead Born This Morning

Philly Spectrum 4-6-82

I sought The Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.” A rarely-played jewel, The Dead only played the Dew when they had IT going on.  A cyclone of psychedelic sound was unleashed in the jam between “Truckin” and “The Other One.” I hollered and yodeled approval; the band was ripping. Now I had mental telepathy working: The Dew, Jerry. For the love of God, please play the Dew. Weir sang, “Cowboy Neal at the wheel, the bus to never ever land; Coming, coming, coming around; coming around, coming around; coming around.” The time had come.

A fractioned second of silence framed the moment. Jerry struck the magic Dew chord.

            Oh, the humanity! I grabbed Scott by the waist and proudly hoisted him over my head like he was the Stanley Cup Trophy. A young lady standing in front of me let out two primal, erotic screams. Pandemonium in Philly! Folks were crying, hugging, kissing, and squeezing each other.
Jerry’s solitary voice emerged: “Walk me out in the morning dew my honey; walk me out in the morning dew today.” The tempo was dirge-like, almost still. Jerry appeared egoless, just standing there in black t-shirt and jeans. He poured his soul into each syllable, seemingly stopping time, freezing the moment, connecting with the raw emotion of the masses: “I thought I heard a baby cry this morning; I thought I heard a baby cry today!”  
            Jerry compressed a screaming tirade of notes into his solo, punctuated by a resounding blast from Phil’s bass. Jerry’s solitary voice returned, more solemn than before, repetitiously crying, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” Silence filled the arena. Deadheads prepared for takeoff.
Garcia began his sermon deliberately, plucking strings with surgeon-like precision. He was immobile nobility—his bearded mug intense, his brain boiling. Each note radiating from his fret board did so with intimacy. Each note was crucial. The band followed in a trance, adding layers and waves of aural sensation. As the foundation solidified, the velocity and volume of Jerry’s playing spiraled until the steam valve blew. Each musician was engaged in the spectacular display—they scaled the pyramid of transcendence together.  The wall of sound crashed down. Jerry mournfully wailed, “I guess it doesn’t matter, anyway ay ay ayyyyy!”
Overwhelmed by the Dew, I didn’t care what was next. I let out a lunatic’s laugh as the band burst into “Sugar Magnolia.” Sweat poured as Deadheads bounced off the Spectrum floor like it was a trampoline. This was the exclamation point for a historic set. The boys delivered my wish list: Shakedown Street, Terrapin Station, Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia. It was the only time in Grateful Dead history that those four songs appeared together in the same show. Just once in 2,314 concerts. Was it a coincidence, or was my presence part of the equation? 
Much like the sports fan who goes to his favorite pub week after week and roots for his favorite football team, and wears the same dingy sweatshirt, and sits in the same wobbly stool, and orders the same pint of beer from the same bartender until his team wins the Super Bowl or flops and he realizes the folly of his ways, I believed my presence in Philly inspired the band.
Returning home, we felt sensational. There was something heroic about it all. I was an active participant in the musical process. I knew I’d soon land a bootleg tape of the show and, if I listened close enough, I might even hear myself howling. Musical recordings are breathing snapshots of life and emotion that pass through time and endure in a way that no other art form can.
Cruising along the Palisades Parkway, fifteen minutes from my twin mattress, Seymour suddenly lost control of the wheel. His pillbox Honda hit an ice patch and went spinning like a sock in a dryer.  When the whirling ceased, we were ensconced in a snow drift, a few feet from the towering pines that might have mangled the car. A tragedy was narrowly averted. Miraculously, there wasn’t a scratch on the car or anybody in it. I pried the door ajar, looked up at the star-cluttered sky and pumped my fist into the night. Standing knee deep in snow while waiting for help to arrive, I cut loose with a “Yee-haw, yippie yah-hoo, Jerry is God-od-od-od.” My crazed voice echoed through the valley.
Thirty minutes later, a tow truck yanked the tiny vehicle from its snowy trap. Three teens were on the road again. Scott and Seymour were subdued and shaken. I'd found my calling, and seeking more days like this would dominate my foreseeable future. I was dropped off at my parents’ house, but there was no going home. My heart and soul were on the road with the Grateful Dead.
Tangled Up in Tunes Ballad of a Dylanhead is available in paperback or on kindle www.tangledupintunes.com

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