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On the Grateful Dead, Dropping Acid, and Other Stuff

I never understood the whole Grateful Dead thing.

It isn’t like I didn’t try. I went to a big shindig up in Louisville in ’90. The weirdos were as dedicated as ever. The parking lot was a freaking circus. I dosed to get in the mood and then joined a drum circle. It was the highlight of an otherwise uneventful evening.

I would’ve packed it off on my being too old if there hadn’t been some people there old enough to be my great-great grandfather. The place looked like a Volkswagen mini-bus convention. But I also saw a $35,000 Jaguar XK-E with a $10,000 Grateful Dead custom paint job. There was a cute waif walking around nude selling t-shirts. Most of these folks were trying to make enough money to get to the next show. I drank Corona like water and it passed through me without effect due to the powerful nature of the acid tweak.

I’ll have to hand it to those DeadHeads. They handle the best damned paper I’ve ever blazed on. Maybe the dudes in the Jag were manufacturing it, because it was farm-fresh.

Anyhow, we were finally all herded into the racetrack to enjoy the show. I walked past all of these people who were showering in the horse stalls. Nothing was set up to provide privacy, so you could pretty much inspect all of the flesh that you wanted. None of these folks were doing anything ‘immoral’, they were just very, shall I say, comfortable around one another. For some reason, it all seemed extremely cool with me. Once again, I’ll credit the acid.

But I never felt like it was what I’d always imagined it would be like. And the show was lackluster. These fuckers stood up there and just played around aimlessly for three hours. “What a life,” I thought. “I wonder if these guys know what year it is.” There was an entire entourage in attendance who were roped off and recording the event with ADAT gear and some pretty expensive microphones which they’d taken great pains in setting up in stereo pairs.

When I enquired as to who they were with, they looked blankly at me and said, “We’re just taping the show, dude.”

“Damn,” I thought, “these fellows are hauling this gear around to make bootleg recordings right in front of the band?”

This was during the period that Napster and Metallica were going at it over illegal downloading. The Dead, on the other hand, didn’t seem to give a shit. They welcomed this activity and gave the recordists the sweet spot in front of the stage. It didn’t seem to be hurting their attendance numbers. I later learned that these guys would actually sell the recordings to the Dead disciples for a buck apiece. Some of these people had hundreds of shows on cassette.

“Aw dude,” one of the guys told me, “they never play a song the same way twice.”

“Wow!” I feigned interest. “How do you know it’s the same tune, then?”

“..Do what dude..? ” the guy looed at me with a blank stare. The blotter had me unbelieveably edgy and the wires in my head began to overload.

“Wok-ka-wok-ka-wok-ka..” I warbled with my eyes bulging out of my head. I popped my teeth together several times and suddenly felt like I looked like Jim Carey. I walked away like The Penguin in the old Batman television series.

Halfway through the performance, I decided to leave the track and go back into the parking lot. “Man, are you sure?” the gatekeeper asked incredulously, “I won’t be able to let you back in.”

“It’s cool,” I told him, “there’s nothing more here for me to learn.” and out I went. The parking lot was completely dead, and I was grateful. I reached into a nearby cooler and helped myself to a beer. I sat in one of the Volkswagen vans and listened to an old Joni Mitchell eight track tape. I turned it up until I drowned out Jerry’s noodling.

Once again, life was good.

Acid is a weird drug. I remember taking it for the first time in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee. It gave a remarkably grainy feeling. I felt like a robot. We went to the arcade and played Tank and I got so excited I squealed like a little girl. It made us temporarily conscious and we all scurried away like Hyenas, laughing uncontrolably.

The junk actually put me in touch with myself. You can’t possibly understand what that means unless you’ve done the stuff. There are two sorts: the synthetic, lab-coat shit and the Mother Nature brand. The real thing can’t be touched by the labratory compounds.

A few of us brewed some Psilosibin mushroom tea one partly cloudy day in 1976 when I was convalescing down in Birmingham, Alabama. I got in a shouting match with The Lord that day. I tried to write, but I kept losing my pencil. I went boiling down the stairs to where the others were listening to Cheech and Chong’s The Wedding Album.

“Is it thundering?” one of the guys asked as he looked around.

“It was me,” I replied, “I was breaking the sound barrier.”

We spent the next five minutes rolling around on the floor, laughing. (This is where ROFL got started.)

I went back upstairs carrying another glass of the precious Cool-Aid, and with yet another pencil clutched firmly in my prehensile tail. I sat in the sunshine which was ripping through the window. As I smoked a cigarette, I wondered why the light didn’t shatter the glass. “It travels so bloody fast,” I reasoned, “it should decimate everything in its path.”

I looked down and noticed that I didn’t have a shadow. “It is pouring directly through me,” I thought. “I must gather worthy mass. Everything about me is unreal, all of my opinions are someone’s else. As an individual I am worthless.”

I sat cross-legged on the bed and began to write. I had half a page written when I began seeing different people looking up at me out from under each new line. I saw Elizabeth Taylor and John Lennon among others. I found myself talking to someone who wasn’t there, and it was as if I was reciting lines from a movie. I thought of something else to write and looked down at my paper. It was blank. I glanced about and my pencil was gone. I lit another cigarette because I couldn’t determine how much time had passed since the last one. I sat back in the floor and looked outside. The trees were filled with green chipmonkeys and they were screaming bloody murder. “This is ridiculous. The strangeness in the tea is obviously causing these things to appear. Chipmonkeys do not occur naturally in Alabama.” I lay down on my back and looked at the window sill. Suddenly my pencil appeared and I wrote, ‘houses are just made for people to die in’ on the bottom of the sill to where it could only be seen if one was lying as I was. It is probably still there today.

“There, I’ve figured out one of the Rosicrucians coveted secrets and it didn’t cost me a penny,” I said, lighting another Benson and Hedges Menthol 100 and feeling like Albert Einstein.

The door opened and my sister stepped in wearing a bikini. “Who are you talking to?”

“No one who cares to listen. What’s up?”

“We’re gonna go lay out next to the pool and chill. You want to come?”

“The sun doesn’t see me today,” I told her. I noticed that the smoke was radiating out of my body and there was no need for me to exhale any longer.

“Uh.. alright. Does this thing look okay on me?” she asked. “I haven’t worn it in forever.”

I looked at her. “I think you’d look better if you just took it off.” I said.

“Oh-KAYyee..”, she replied, backing out of the room and closing the door. The severity of my honesty must’ve scared her.You must admit that I can be persuasive. A couple of years later she decided that she was a lesbian.

Whatever.

That’s the thing. Acid doesn’t care. It forces one to realise that the Emperor truly has no clothes.

And it helped me to realise that the Grateful Dead was nothing but a half-assed stoner band when you took away all of the hype.

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About Johnny Nowhere

Johnny Nowhere is a songwriter/composer and owner of Hell Paving Company, music publisher. Johnny doesn't really exist outside of the music industry and Facebook. He is simply a figment of my imagination.

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