Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Tag: bill graham (Page 1 of 6)

A Mexican, A Jew, And Jerry Garcia Walk Into A Bar…

Men shouldn’t wear white pants. Jeans, slacks, sweats; whatever.


Holy shit, Garcia’s not smoking.


People often forget that Santana is 5’3″ at best.


Oof, fruit plate.


Wait. I think that’s a health salad. This is Marin County in 1978, and that was ground zero for health salad.


When the Nazis orphan you at the age of five, you’re allowed to be pissed off the rest of your life.

Summer Jam Girl Summer

They won it at the movies. Woodstock and Altamont had movies, and they were goodies. One was perfect for the midnight show, and the other had a guy getting stabbed. Not movie-stabbed. Stabbed-stabbed. Both films were drenched in import: this is culture now. Maaaaan. (Obviously, Gimme Shelter‘s soundtrack was better than Woodstock‘s.) They complemented each other: Apollo and Dionysus, miracles and nightmares, you know how it goes. Hog Farm versus the Hells Angels, that sort of jazz.

It is because of these films that the two festivals achieved their lasting hold on the cultural ur-mind–maintained brand awareness,  if you’d like–and have grown the cottage industries around their decaying, but still mineral-rich, corpses. Like mushrooms. Books and movies and screenplays and high-gloss coffee table books featuring high-gloss coffee table pictures of naked white teens in a lake.

(AN ASIDE: The naked white teens were not frolicking in the lake; they were bathing in it. They were bathing in the lake because there were no sanitation facilities onsite. I haven’t been able to get Woodstock out of my head. Or that goddamned World Party song, but that’s my problem. This Woodstock bullshit is some sticking-around kind of bullshit, though. It vexes me! All of them should have been imprisoned without trial. The second the Thruway opened up, every cop in the world should have pounced on Michael Lang and all the other irresponsible idiots and beat ’em silly. Then: jail. No  hearings, no judge, no lawyers at all, just straight to jail. Not even jail. Beyond jail. Superjail. One of those sci-fi jails where even if you escape, you’re on an asteroid or within a chrono-bubble 45 million years in the past.

You have become a crotchety old fuck.

I was always like this. And how did you get into an aside WITHIN a parenthetical? Can I not have any privacy around here?

Why do you want the producers of the Woodstock festival to go to, as you called it, superjail?

Y’know what: I was wrong.

Thank you.

Everyone should have gone to jail. All the way up to Governor Rockefeller, who absolutely should have called out the National Guard. It is situations like these why one has a National Guard in the first place. Checkpoints on the highway entrance ramps. Nice and simple. Very friendly. Granny and Gramps are waved through. The businessman on his way to work is given a respectful nod. The VW Microbus with Florida plates is stopped, and everyone inside is machine-gunned to death. This did not occur.

You’re saying the National Guard should have murdered young people in order to keep the highways open?

Do you know what the business of America is?


Business. The business of America is business.

That’s chilling and boring at the same time.

Right. America. And we gotta keep them trucks a-rollin’. Imagine, if you would, that the boys are thirsty in Atlanta. You, however, have access to beer in Texarkana. Coors Banquet beer, specifically, which any man sane and true knows is not pasteurized or homogenized or meddled with in any way, and must therefore get drunk up real quick!

This is Smokey & the Bandit. You’re just describing the film. Or the song. Either one. Whatever. You were going to write about the other festivals.

Oh, yeah.)

Woodstock owes all of its fame to Woodstock; likewise Altamont with Gimme Shelter. No one is think-piecing about the US Festival’s anniversary. Many more teens attended the ’82 and ’83 shows than either ’69 event, and a bunch of people got stabbed. But there was no serious motion picture, and so: poof. Gone. The Jams–Summer, California, Texxas–are now but whispers and patchy Wikipedia pages. Each one has a link to an article calling it “the forgotten Woodstock.”

Summer Jam ’73 (known in the vulgate as Watkins Glen) did not intend to be Woodstock, but it was a little bit. The producers of Summer Jam were going to sell tickets! And they did, 150,00 of them, and then 600,000 kids showed up.

Here, Enthusiasts, we see the fatal weakness of fields: they are entirely indefensible positions. This is the Hudson Valley with easy hills and clustered woods that anyone, especially a young, fit, music-loving teen, could traverse with no effort, and Watkins Glen is not so far from several highways. The teens will borrow their mom’s Ford Galaxie, and–

I write to you now from aback; I have been taken there. Watkins Glen is not along the Hudson River at all, but instead way-the-fuck out by the Finger Lakes. Oh, that is the frightening part of New York’s region known as Upstate. I do not like that area. It is is hostile to miracles, and devilish in its dealing. The Jew is not apportioned out his daily kindess there, ‘cept for thereby he bricks himself up with his fellow and calls it a college.


Anyway, like I said: it was a field. You know who else was in a field? Custer. Thus: 150,00 tickets sold, and 600,00 kids choogled. New York passed all sorts of laws regarding this sort of bullshit, and Watkins Glen never had any rockyroll bands again until The Phishes had one of their weekend-long drug binges there. All summers end, even Summer Jams.*

The Dead, The Band, and the post-necessary Allmans; each playing their full sets, plus an evening-ending all-star jam. For ten bucks! And recall that there were no other entertainment options in 1973. You could go to Vietnam, I guess, but most kids just went to the Summer Jam; many of these kids got there early. Around 150,000 of them. As Bill Graham tells in his posthumous autobiography/oral history, this was a disaster waiting to explode.

“The teens! They”ll stab each other!”

It wasn’t 1969 anymore. It was 1973. If you didn’t keep the teens entertained, they would stab each other. There weren’t enough concessions, and sanitation overwhelmed. The taco guy had run completely out of tacos. And the show wasn’t until tomorrow!

Bill Graham stood on the new stage and looked out. 150,000 youths of America, plus some foreign spies and cops, various time-travelers and aliens. The stabbing would start soon.

The stabbing will start soon, and then Robbie Robertson starts whining.

“Bill, how are we gonna do soundcheck?”

“Now. Please. You’re gonna do soundcheck now.”

“There’s people here, man.”

“They’re your fans, Robbie. They got here a day early because they love you so much. That’s dedication.”

“Bill, soundcheck is a sacred act.”

“Nothing you do in a hockey arena can be sacred! Get up there and sing your Civil War songs!”

And so The Band did, laying on the crowd about a half-hour’s worth of their loose-limbed tall-tales, and the crowd did thus go “Yeah!” and “Fuck, yeah” and “The Band! Woo!” and did not stab one another, not even a little.

Bill Graham rushed to the three trailers that contained the Allman Brothers Band. He knocked on the door of Gregg; he knocked on the door of Dickie; he knocked on the other door. The band assembled, warily. Bill Graham told them about the stabbing. Gregg responded by asking if knew anyone looking to make a large drug deal; Dickie quit the band; the other guys were happy to be there, but they were surly about it.

The Allman Brothers Band performed a certain number of songs. As this is not a Without Research post, I am not bound by the ethos’ tenets. I did look up the Allmans’ setlist. Having not been spoon-fed the answer within the top half of a google page, I abandoned the project. Those southern-fried boogie boys performed a certain number of songs.

It was not enough.

Bill Graham knew now who he must seek. When one needed vast swathes of time eaten up by the band, there was only one to call.


And the Grateful Dead did look up from their grabass, and did sit up from their tootski. Titties remained honked. It came to be known that the band was aware of the situation.

“The situation, uh, has become known to us,” said Bobby. Bill Graham smiled at him, and then addressed Garcia. He told the guitarist of the stabbing. Garcia was displeased; he didn’t like when people stabbed one another.

“I don’t like when people stab one another,” Garcia said.

“We’re on the same page about this topic. Good.”

Phil piped up.

“Hundred bucks, cash, each of us”

And thus Bill Graham did scurry about, but it was worth it, as the money got the band to play the Wharf Rat Jam.

TOMORROW: The US Festival


Oh, yeah.


*Go read Corry over at Lost Live Dead about the connection between racetracks and rockyroll. Or read it again. I’ve read it three times, and I might go back for more.

Huey, Screwy, And Jewy

“Bob, c’mon. We shouldn’t be fighting.”

“Huh. I wonder how an empty chair can sound so much like Hewis Lewis.”

“Huey isn’t short for Hewis, Bob.

“Oh, and now the chair is correcting me! Wow! What a smart, handsome. Hollywood-calling-back chair that must be!”

“SHUT! UP! GOYIM! I’m trying to hawk some merchandise here!”

“Sorry, Bill.”

“Sorry, Uncle Bobo.”

Bill Graham vs. Billy Graham

Walked across Europe to get away from the Nazis.
Would walk across hot coals to suck the dick of the most powerful man in the room.

Chose his own name out of the phone book punk-rock style.
Took the name his parents gave him like a weakling.

Helped introduce the world to the Grateful Dead.
Advocated dropping nukes on Vietnam.

Really, really, really not Jewish. Like, aggressively so.

What do I care if someone’s a fageleh? Luzzem fucking geyn, everyone should be happy. What does it bother me? WHERE ARE MY LIGHTS?
Homos go to hell. 

Presented jazz, pop, rock, metal, funk, blues, soul, gospel, and whatever else would draw a crowd.
Really only talked about one thing.

Appeared in Apocalypse Now.
Did not appear in Apocalypse Now.

Took out full-page ad in the New York Times protesting Reagan laying a wreath on a Nazi soldier’s grave, received death threats and someone blew up his office.
Took out a full-page ad in 14 North Carolina newspapers protesting the passage of same-sex marriage, received donations and an invitation to the White House.


A Thanksgiving Story From Bill Graham

“Fifteen! Fifteen, and that’s my final offer. You’re bleeding me here. You’re cutting into my flesh and sapping me of my blood. Do you understand that? Fifteen. Take it or leave it.”

“And free garlic bread.”

“No garlic bread, no deal! After everything I’ve done for you, after all the pizzas my organization has ordered from you, you gonif? How dare you! Garlic bread or Bill Graham is out!”

“Good! And make sure there are napkins in the bag. You always fuck us on the napkins and we have to wipe our mouths with unsold Klaus Nomi tee-shirts. That was a bad booking, but Bowie asked for a favor. When Bowie asks, you give. Why are you still on the phone and not making my food? Leave me alone, I have an anecdote to tell!


“This was ’76, the spring. Cartermania was about to take hold. We’re still doing shows at Winterland, and I’m there just about to plotz. Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Wishbone Ash, and Styx. It’s just caca. I’d rather be locked in an airplane bathroom with Ron Delsener than listen to another second of it.

“Phone rings. It’s Robbie Robertson. Robbie is one of the great geniuses of rock and roll, I mean that, and I pray I’m never in the same room with the son of a bitch again. He wants to talk. Where are you, I say? Malibu. I get in the convertible and I’m in Malibu by dawn.

“He’s up. What you have to understand is that no one in rock and roll slept during the latter half of the 70’s. Everyone stayed up for three days doing coke, passed out for twenty hours, and did it again. This was not seen as bad for you at the time.

“Robbie’s yakked out of his mind, in his underwear, playing a guitar on the floor of the living room. You can see the Pacific behind him. It was very glamorous until he shot at me. I wrestle the pistol away from him, and he apologized, blaming it on his Native American heritage. He says to me, ‘Bill, The Band’s breaking up.’

“This is shocking to me. The Band was the real thing, man. They were there when Dylan went electric. There was no one like The Band. Everybody else sounded like plastic; they sounded like wood. I always did very well presenting them in my venues. Shocking.

“He then accuses me of being an undercover Mountie trying to extradite him back to Toronto for crimes against the bourgeoisie.

“Robbie, I say, why are you committing crimes against the bourgeoisie?

“The conversation became less reasonable from there. At dusk, he got to the point. The Band would perform one last show at Winterland; I would produce. One thing, he says. There’s always ‘one thing.’ Every conversation I’ve had in this business, same ending: ‘One more thing, Bill.’ Sometimes I wanna tell people right when I start talking to them: Say the one thing first. The thing you’re saving for the end? Lead with that, so I can yell at you quicker. One thing, Bill, he says. We’re broke. No money at all.

“Robbie is holding a rock of cocaine the size of a matzoh ball, and I can see the Pacific Ocean over his shoulder. He’s broke. No money at all. One thing, Bill. The bullshit I gotta put up with. Sol Hurok, the great impresario, he had this office in Midtown. Magnificent. Leather and wood and quiet and nice. The bar cart with the expensive crystal, just so. Nice. His phone doesn’t ring. His secretary’s phone rings, and she puts it through. When people come to see him, they dress their best. It’s all dignified. Me? I gotta drive 400 miles to get lied to by a guitarist in his underwear.

“Robbie, I say. No problem. I got it. We’re gonna do this right.

“I chipped a kreplach-sized chunk of coke off the matzoh ball, got back in the convertible, and went home, where I immediately raised the price of hot dogs by a nickel.

“Everything I do, everything. Clean Winterland up. Sets from the San Francisco Ballet Company. I got a whole concept. We do dinner. It’s Thanksgiving, so we do turkey for everyone. Come in, and the floor is covered with tables. Sit down. There’s a vegetarian option. When everyone’s done eating, we have an orchestra play dance music. Take the tables away when people get up. And now all the tables are gone and it’s a concert. Then, The Band. That night had to be magic.

“I also needed to get enough coke to kill all of Hannibal’s elephants.

“Oh, and now: it’s a movie. Marty Scorsese is going to direct. I’d seen Mean Streets and loved it, just loved it. Marty comes in to Winterland and he’s already talking. The girl that brought him up says he was already yammering when he got out of the car. I can’t understand a word. Maybe he mentioned Cocteau. Kept asking me for Rolling Stones stories, but then he’d keep talking. Did that thing with his hands a lot, the director thing, you know, you make the frame. Runs around the place for two hours, never shuts up, leaves. I later receive a baked ziti in the mail.

“Now the arguments start. Robbie’s making phone calls with my money, so he’s flying in half the world first class. Clapton? Sure. Clapton, you fly him first class. But not the fucking tuba player. Tuba player’s lucky he’s not on a bus. Marty Scorsese is a maniac. He wants to attach a camera crane to the Ceiling. Marty, I tell him, Winterland’s ceiling only stays on out of habit. You can’t suspend things from it or we’ll all die.

“All the stars are coming out. Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. We got everyone from The Band’s past, all the people that influenced them. We got Ronnie Hawkins; they used to be his backup band. Van Morrison is semi-retired at the time and living in a castle an hour south of Dublin. I went there personally and lured Van back to the stage with the promise of cocaine and jumpsuits. On that trip, I discovered U2, but that’s a different story.

“Before I left, I told one of the staff at Winterland to get the coke. Had to be good stuff. Guy’s name was Brian, and if it wasn’t written on his underwear, he would forget it. Man walked around in a fog. Best electrician in the city, but he got lost in the bathroom sometimes. So I wrote down what I needed. I figured a quarter-pound would do, but I wrote it 1/4 pound and the dumb fuck bought 14 pounds of coke. I’ve accidentally become the third or fourth largest drug dealer in San Francisco.

“Robbie and Marty Scorsese are now breaking into my house at night to jabber at me about how the lighting needs to be warm. And then to demonstrate warmth, they set my comforter on fire. Everything about this is becoming less and less fun.

“Bob Dylan keeps sending telegrams. He’ll do it. He won’t do it. He’s a Hindu now. He’ll do it, but we’ve got to move the whole show to New Delhi. He caught something in New Delhi. He’s not a Hindu anymore. He won’t do it. He’ll do it. It’s a whole mishegos with the man. Never easy, but it’s Dylan. Always worth it.

“Show day. The fans come in. They’re sharp, man. Some of these people are true hippies, farmers and wackadoos that live in cabins, but they’re dressed to the nines. Everyone’s polite, quiet, nice. I feel like Sol Hurok for a second. Then I see Neil Young sprinting naked around the balcony. My Sol Hurok moment is over.

“My stars are in the back. I took a dressing room and turned it into the Nose Room. There’s little toy noses stuck to the wall and a couple couches and a big glass table. Big bowl full of drinking straws cut in half. I was going for a theme. My staff has tackled Neil Young and they throw him in the Nose Room, which is starting to look like the stateroom scene from that Marx Brothers’ movie, but instead of Margaret Dumont, it’s Ringo Starr.

“Everything’s running smooth. Dr. John comes out and does his voodoo-shmoodoo, and Neil Diamond for some reason, and the crowd is getting off and all the rock stars are happy. I’ve lost $40,000, but already have a plan to bilk it out of the Jefferson Airplane. My secretary comes running up. Apparently, word has gotten out about how much coke is in the building, and numerous criminal organizations are on their way to steal it. Hells Angels, Yakuza, Mafia, Black Panthers: the worst representatives of every ethnicity.

“I hate to leave the music, because I do it all for the music, but I run out of Winterland to head off the gangs. I met each of them on the street, talked to ’em man to man. These guys know who I am. This is my town, too. I got juice here. Talk to all the bosses. Tell ’em, Guys, this is a peaceful happening. It’s a party, it’s a celebration, it’s nothing but good vibes in there. This is rock and roll history, dammit! I look ’em right in their eyes and tell ’em they aren’t getting in. Then I tell ’em that the coke isn’t here, anyway.

“They wanna know where it is.

“I give ’em the address to Robbie Robertson’s beach house in Malibu.

“You know the rest. Dylan wound up playing, everybody boogied, Marty made his movie. I wasn’t in the movie. Robbie was probably mad about his house, but fuck him. The next night, we presented Ted Nugent. Wanna understand show biz? One night it’s The Last Waltz, the next it’s Ted Nugent.

“Go downstairs and see if my food is here. If the kid doesn’t have my garlic bread, send him away.”

Don’t Ever Talk To Me Or My Son Ever Again

Fun fact: the Russian rock show that Bill Graham was telling stories about yesterday? It really happened. Look:

And read.

Steve Wozniak really did pay for it, too, at least the first half-a-million. (The subsequent cash infusions were just Bill Graham embellishing the story.)

Funner fact: If the Woz wants a shoulder-pocket, then the Woz gets a fucking shoulder-pocket.

Back In The U.S.S.R.

You look like Chico Marx.

“Shut up, putz. This is how you open up the conversation? With insults and little jokes? I’ll throw your ass out of here, buster.”

I’m in my own house.

“You think this matters to Bill Graham? I’ve thrown people out of their own houses before. I knew they would cause trouble at the show that night, so I swung by their pads in the afternoon and 86’ed ’em. Never saw it coming. Most thanked me for the professional manner in which I tossed them out a window.”

Why would they thank you?

“I opened the window first. Most promoters wouldn’t do that. John Scher used to buy orphans just so he could hurl them through plate-glass. A real schmendrick, that guy. Not Bill Graham. I go the extra mile The crowd needs? I provide. The artist wants? I get. Carlos Santana needs cocaine in Moscow during the Cold War? I get.

“Phone rings. This is ’86. That schmuck with the splotch, whatshisname, he’s in charge over there. Gorbachev! Gorby, right, Gorby. This guy’s no Kruschev. Wants to open up the Soviet Union a little bit. Not too much. Just a bit. Economy’s terrible and the kids are getting ansty. Figures a rock concert might mellow them out. There’s no bread in the country, so he’ll import a circus.

“I pick up. It’s Gorby. I scream at him in Yiddish for ten minutes and hang up.

“Phone rings again. Gorby again. Now I got him on the ropes! Little nudnik thought he was talking to some moron like Reagan, may he rot in Hell that bastard. Who’s this asshole ever negotiated with? I could get 80% of the door and all the tee-shirt revenue from him with my dick tied behind my back, never mind broadcast fees. Putz.

“At this point, I still do not know why he’s calling.

“He tells me about his idea. Rock concert in Moscow. My mind starts racing. Bill Graham presents The Wall behind the Iron Curtain! Bill Graham presents Bruce Springsteen in Red Square! The Stones. Baruch hashem, the Stones. I might just end the Cold War myself through the power of my promoting.

“Then he tells me about his budget. I end up begging Steve Wozniak for half-a-mil and hiring the Doobie Brothers, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne. I didn’t have to pay Jackson because of a favor he owed me about a thing I didn’t tell anyone about.

“We fly in. I got 40, 50 people with me. Lights, production, lawyers, a couple CIA guys I knew through the Dead. Every one of us is wearing at least a dozen pairs of Levi’s, and we peel them off throughout the day in exchange for drinks and Communist blowjobs. Go to the stadium. Dynamo, it’s called. DEE-nah-mo. Place looks like if concrete could take a shit. Gloomiest fuckin’ stadium you’ve ever seen. We ask to see the power supply: it’s a babushka holding an extension cord. We’re gonna have to bring in everything.

“When I get back, I ask Steve Wozniak for another half-a-mil.

“He says yes, but only under one condition.

“What, Steve? Anything, I say.

“I wanna meet the Doobie Brothers, he tells me.

“So I stare at the phone for about a minute wondering if I’m being fucked with. I’ve met the Doobie Brothers a million times. Never that fun. Who am I to judge? Woz wants an audience with the Doobies, then he gets one.

“The show! We’re going to Moscow! I got two passenger planes and a cargo plane for the equipment. Carlos Santana talks to a stewardess about Jesus for the entire flight. The Doobies are drunk and crawling under seats to bite ankles. That one with the hair like a girl and a mustache does it hard, too. Bonnie Raitt has talked one of the pilots into letting her fly. Jackson Browne has accidentally been loaded into the cargo plane. Rock and roll, baby.

“Upon landing, all of the equipment and Jackson Browne are confiscated by the Red Army and held for ransom. I call Woz and ask him if he’d like to meet Santana. He wires me another half-a-mil.

“You thought the stadium was bad before; it’s worse now. Soldiers everywhere, but they’re not in uniform. Track suits and army boots and AK47’s. I start to wonder if maybe a week before I had a psychotic break. Maybe I’m in the booby hatch imagining all this. Because it can’t be happening. It can’t be real. The one thing–the ONE THING–Bill Graham had INSISTED on was that there be no soldiers. How can the kids groove and get loose with all that heat? I’m screaming at the top of my lungs.

“I want to see Fedesov. He’s the big megilla. He’s the macher. Supreme Soviet, this guy. It’s July, and he’s wearing a giant overcoat. I never saw a hat this fuzzy. He’s not used to being yelled at. Well, they called me, motherfucker. ‘Please, Bill Graham, come help our shitty country with no lettuce.’ I didn’t call them.

“I’m serious about that. Didn’t see a piece of lettuce the entire trip.

“So I’m screaming at Fedesov really letting him have it, and the translator’s frozen in fear. You don’t talk to a Supreme Soviet like this!

“But this guy’s tough. He smiles. Says in English,

“Is no soldiers. Is security.

“I start screaming again. Ten full minutes. I WILL PUT MY ACTS BACK ON MY PLANES AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF YOUR NO-LETTUCE-HAVING SHITHOLE, that sort of thing. I’m giving him the full shpritz.

“He says, no can do. Is security.

“This is gonna kill my show. Guys with rifles all around. Something bad’s gonna happen. What if the kids get rambunctious? The Doobies get the party started. Drunken anklebiters that they are, they can turn any floor into a dance floor. It’s a dangerous situation. I play my hole card, which was seeing if Steve Wozniak wanted to meet Bonnie Raitt.

“It turns out he did, and I bribed Fedesov with half of the half-million. I kept the rest in overhead and assorted fees.

“The soldiers marched out of the stadium, and the kids came in. Jackson Browne, who had been bought back from the Russians, played his songs about California. Bonnie Raitt came out and did her thing in a pair of remarkable trousers. These little Commies had never seen pants like this before. Everybody danced to the Doobies, and then Santana closed. There was no politics, no mishegos, nothing. These kids lost their mind for Santana. Rapture. That’s what it was. The whole place was in rapture. This was something new. They’d never heard anything like it, and Santana felt it and so did the band and everyone backstage. It was a magical moment.

“Santana came offstage, demanded cocaine, and threw his sweaty do-rag at me. The magical moment was over.

“Shocking as this may sound, it wasn’t easy to find rock star-grade cocaine in Moscow in 1986. The Doobies and I had to break into a hospital. I got the cocaine for Santana, but all the Doobies were arrested.

“I call Steve Wozniak and ask him if he wants to meet the Grateful Dead.

“He tells me that he’s met them.

“I ask if he wants to meet them again.

“He sends me a half-million dollars, I get the Doobies out of jail, and we fly home. Three years later, the Soviet Union would collapse. Funny story: Fedesov was executed.”

For what?

“Caught him taking bribes.”


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