I went to see the Grateful Dead concert at Levi’s Stadium in San Jose this Sunday, June 8, 2015. I got a ride with a friend Dan Pulcrano, but he wanted to push up to the very front, so most of the time I was alone, getting into my head.
I enjoyed the concert as a scene, although the music didn’t transport me as much as some concerts by others do. For my taste, the Dead don’t rock hard enough. Not funky and bluesy enough. And they’ve never had a really strong vocalist. My idea of a great live band is Rancid, or of course the Rolling Stones, or the Breeders—I saw a Breeders reunion concert in Santa Cruz last year that fully hypnotized me. But there were definitely some fine moments with the Dead. And they closed with a heartbreaking rendition of “Fare Thee Well”
Just being in such a giant crowd was very cool. 70,000 people, okay? Everyone I happened to talk to was really nice to me. This one tier of bleachers, the sun was going down behind it, and all the people in the top row were fringed with gold, melting into light.
A big part of the show is the people there, of course. This guy above had skintight gold lame pants. I spent a lot of the time sitting on a piece of foam I’d brought, next to a speaker tower. The woman in the picture and her boyfriend had come down from Oregon.
The speakers were curved a little bit. Kind of alien and futuristic.
This striped-pants woman is just about perfect in terms of hi-fash deadhead concert goer. Forgoing the tie dye. So California.
Here’s another woman, at night, with the moon in the background. She let me have a little of her popcorn. The moonmaid, I called her to myself. Slender, iconic, cosmic.
One of the first guys I saw, out by the gates, was a wonderfully weathered dude with an antediluvian cap. I liked how he was standing there with the unlit cigarette. Part of his look, not that he cared much about his look. When I see guys like this, I always have an instant connection. We recognize each other.
They did well with the lights. The searchlights seemed very good. I still don’t know why electronic light-show purveyors don’t use continuous-valued cellular automata! The electronic effects tend to be too non-chaotic, too controlled. But they did really get going during the drums.
Another guy I haven’t mentioned yet, I saw him right after I came into the stadium, this guy maybe even older than me, a really weathered old Deadhead in a t-shirt with a fuzzy image of skull, this guy catches my eye like he’s my long lost brother and says “Hi” and gives me a high-five, only it’s a high four as all but the bottom joint of his fourth finger is missing. He was the coolest guy I saw there, like a prophet welcoming me to a last supper but a limp somewhat worn prophet, a guy like a piece of driftwood or sea wrack found on a Santa Cruz beach. Unfortunately I didn’t get his picture.
[Photo from Fort Mason, SF]
Later, during a space jam, they kept showing the image of a hand missing most of the fourth finger—upon the giant digital screens on either side of the state, the hand in red, like a hand in ink that had slapped a piece of paper. An image solarized and made into a red silhouette, on the lower screens on the sides of the stage.
Seeing that hand up there, I started thinking that the old guy with two joints of his ring finger missing—maybe was in some way a mascot or secret force of the band. It felt cosmic and synchronistic that I was seeing that hand up there, they’d displayed it there as a cryptic message to those fortunate ones who’d done high four with the sea wrack dude. As most of you know, I haven’t been drinking or getting high for some years now—but I’m still tripping in my head just the same. Just like anyone else. None of us humans is even remotely “straight” or “normal.” And the Dead shows celebrate that.
[Photo from Fort Mason, SF]
The next day when I was discussing my missing finger revelation with someone, the guy told me that Jerry Garcia had had part of his fourth finger missing, so that was Jerry’s hand on the big display screen. So maybe my greeter was in fact Jerry in resurrected-Jesus format—or, likelier, he’d self-mutilated himself to look that way. Which is entirely within the realm of possibility for a devout deadhead. Like those guys who wear crowns of thorns and drag giant crosses up tiny cobblestone streets.
[Photo from Darwin Ranch, WYO]
Plenty of time to strange thoughts during the long numbers, nothing to do but be there and live through that interval of time, with my mind rising into the empyrean. The occasional planes going directly overhead were good too. Why not tell it like it is and admit that fully 20% of airplanes seen low over our urban centers are alien UFOs?
So here I am at the show, wondering about that cryptic phrase, “Steal your face.” The title of a live album, the informal name for the blue/lightingslash/red/skull logo, and line in their song, “He’s Gone.” When they did that song on Sunday, it felt like they were singing about Jerry. Such strange lyrics:
Rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb,
you know better but I know him.
Like I told you, what I said,
Steal your face right off your head.
Now he’s gone, now he’s gone…
Like a steam locomotive, rollin’ down the track
He’s gone, gone, nothin’s gonna bring him back…
Some Wikipedia research reveals that “He’s Gone” was really about drummer Mickey Hart’s father, Lenny Hart, who embezzled about $150K from the Dead and dropped out of sight. So “steal your face” is being used fairly literally in the sense of being a thief. And I’d been thinking of it terms of the cosmic cycle of life and death eventually “stealing” my fleshy face off my head and leaving—a grinning skull, as suggested by the album cover image below.
“In the land of the night, the ship of the sun is drawn by the grateful dead.”