THE DEAD MAKE IT REAL IN JERSEY CITY
My car had a busted muffler, so my friend Nadine Robinson and I had no way to get to the Dead concert in Jersey City except the Hudson Tubes. Hustling press tickets was one thing - Dead freaks hustle tickets the way other crazy people play chess or collect stamps - but it wouldn't have seemed right, somehow, to taxi to a Dead concert in New Jersey and charge it to Newsday. I'm sure Jerry Garcia would pass off such scruples as the old New York Movesymp moralism - if you can rip off a cab, you rip off a cab, right? - but we took a deep breath and went by tube anyway.
At Journal Square we had trouble finding the bus to Roosevelt Stadium, and we felt a little out-of-place - I in the Dead T-shirt Warners gave me once, Nadine in one of her basement special dresses. We were rescued, though, by a neat young woman with a McGovern button who offered us a ride to the concert. Her name was Anita and she worked for Golden Books. This was her third Dead concert and she was very excited.
There was the predictable hassle at the gate - our names weren't on the list, somebody from some congressman's office wanted six tickets, and so forth - but we got in eventually, which was also predictable. Fortune favors Dead freaks, especially when they work for newspapers. The music was already underway, but there was no rush because there never is. That's not the way the Dead affect people. Nadine and I pushed and excused our way through the crush up front to claim our seats, which were relinquished cheerfully by a couple who immediately occupied the aisle.
The Dead were tuning up and jollity prevailed. The ushers made only token attempts to discourage aisle-milling, and everywhere three and four and five fans crowded into two and three seats. New marijuana lore: For an effortless direct hit, the informed dope fiend places the lighted end of the joint in his (more often her) mouth and blows smoke directly into some lucky fellow fiend's lungs. Wine futures: Boone's Farm continues solid. The guy in front of me extended his greetings on the basis of our Dead T-shirts, which were similar. He also had a Dead patch on his jeans. A young woman behind me extended greetings on the basis of our Dead T-shirts, which were identical. Someone had given her hers in Vermont.
We were seated well to the front and side, so that one bank of tie-dyed amplifiers half-hid Jerry Garcia. Pigpen was nowhere to be seen, but Keith Godchaux, the new man, whose piano would continue to cause tuning delays until intermission, was ensconced on the far side of the stage. Garcia played a lick and Bob Weir stepped to the mike and suddenly just about everyone on the field was boogieing on top of his folding chair. It was a new Chuck Berry song, perfected for the Dead - "Promised Land" - the tale of how the po' boy overcomes his tribulations to travel from Norfolk, Va., to Los Angeles, and places a long distance call at the end of his wanderings.
Nadine had been skeptical. Jerry Garcia had suggested in an interview that the downfall of the Haight began when Chester Anderson, a New Yorker, started distributing handbills detailing the underbelly of the hippie scene. A gang rape was Garcia's example, that had really bummed him out, but his bumout couldn't have compared to Nadine's contempt for this sexist creep with his know-nothing vibes. Yet there she was, boogieing on her chair, and as Garcia took one searing, soaring solo after another she said: "You know, he really convinces you. He really makes it real."
The only thing Dead freaks have in common is this passion for making it real. The dope and the music are means to that end, means to feeling the love that our children's children may feel in their everyday life, if they're very lucky. You can check out your fellow celebrants and wonder: "Will you still love me tomorrow?" But tonight's the night, and tonight it's true. In the service of that perception, maybe it's permissible to ignore the seamier contradictions of life in these United States as a matter of principle.
It was hot and humid and we hadn't slept much. Between songs, Nadine would sit down and swear to remain there, even though the air gets a little fetid when you sit surrounded by dancing, sweating bodies. To hell with it, she didn't have to see, she'd just listen. But then Keith Godchaux, who has emerged full-grown as one of the premier pianists in the music, would do something incredible, or his wife Donna, who looks more like a waitress in a truck stop than a chick singer, would come out for "Playing in the Band," or Garcia would sing "Sugaree," and Nadine would get on up again.
Eventually, though, perhaps half an hour into the second set, we felt so wasted that we moved toward the rear. For a while we sat far from the stage in the lower grandstand, and discovered an unsuspected peace there - the same celebration, only cooled out, rested. We missed Pigpen and his blues, though, the music was a little too rockabilly, not enough ground to it, and soon we left. No regrets, no complaints - the celebration was over for us, that was all. Walking around the stadium toward the bus stop, I spotted a Toyota with New York plates and Nadine urged me to run after it. Together with a stockbroker and his girlfriend we rode back to New York City. He told us he'd seen them better and that he was sorry Pigpen had been sick. But he had had a good time, too.
(by Robert Christgau, from Newsday, 30 July 1972)