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

You Better Head Back To Tennessee, Comrade

A commenter named Jason over at takes a break from accusing David “24 Hours Of” LeMieuxns of things to post this:

Dead show in Soviet Era Moscow???

I can’t find it in the show list, and want to fact check my story.

In 1977 I took a quarter off from school (Berkeley) and accompanied my father on a State-Department sponsored visit to Dirty-War-era Argentina. Our host was the Cultural Attache, which, he explained, was usually translated in South America as “La Cia.” He winked.

He told me that a previous posting had been in Moscow, and he had been part of a team that got the Dead to do a concert there (or maybe it was in then-Leningrad), and that in terms of subverting the dominant paradigm (my words not his!) it had been a smashing success.

I would have thought it was on the 1972 tour, but I don’t see it on the list. Is my story false? Surely no one will accuse me of having been duped by a CIA agent!

Jason, I only wish you had brought this to my attention, rather than squander your energies in the comment section, which is like a mall for poor people that is also on fire. Answers will not be found there, unless you are asking the question “Whose first show was also coincidentally the BEST SHOW EVAR?”

TotD knows the truth.

You are no dupe.

The Grateful Dead played Moscow on 6/2,3/72 at the Rossiya Theatre. Setlists were classified, and the entire Taper’s Section was executed during the setbreak, but now–at last–the true story can be told of The Boys behind the Iron Curtain.

The whole adventure can be properly classified as “another one of CIA’s dumbfuck ideas,” but no one got killed on purpose (except the tapers, but they should have known what was going to happen) which makes it palatable. The term “Cold War” tends to elide the fact that America and Russia talked constantly at all levels of government: summits and proxy wars and cultural exchange. The Dead show was part of the last category, although a proxy war did break out just a little; also, Mickey called what he did to Commie chicks “summiting” and you don’t want me to explain it.

The State Department (and the CIA) had sent some college bands over, and classical musicians, but the goal was to foment a little love for America, and you weren’t going to do that with a piccolo player: you needed rock and roll. Our men in Moscow met with their Commie counterparts to sell the show:

“Who is Grateful Dead, Jenkins? Like Beatles?”

“Kinda, Yuri. Kinda like them, sorta.”

“Is nice boys?”

“Boys. They are boys. And Mrs. Donna Jean.”

“Show me picture.”


“They’re very stylish, Yuri.”

“They’re weird-looking.”

“No. No. No. And they’re a little bit communists.”


“Well, you know: Cowboy Communism.”

“I do not know what this is.”

“They believe in sharing, but also shoot at people who stop by the house uninvited.”

“This is not Communism. Look at them. Hairy Mexican. Pretty boy. Mess. Mess. Mess. Pretty Lady. That one in hat is dead, I think.”

“Only mostly dead.”

“No! This cannot come into Worker’s Paradise. Will be counter-revolutionary.”

“They have dancing bears.”

“Serious? Why did you not say this first? What dates they have available?”

After the European tour concluded in London, the buses containing the Bozos and the Bolos turned East and made their way across the European continent. They drove through Poland, where Billy told many jokes, and Czechoslovakia, which no one knew how to spell. The road to Moscow (the worst of the Hope/Crosby comedies, by the way) led through Belarus, whcih no one knew anything about, and Albania; when the Dead got to Albania, they asked many questions, such as, “Wha?” and “Are they kidding?” and “Is this entire country wearing their crazypants?” and “Did someone just steal the Bolo bus?”

Limping, crowded, into the Soviet Union, the Dead were taken to their hotel; Phil found it unsatisfactory, and Billy–crazed from the trip–tossed a Lada through the lobby window. It was explained to Phil that there were no good hotels in the entire country; Billy was distracted news of how favorable the exchange rate for tuggers was; further incidents were avoided.

The shows were reportedly good: Sam Cutler dosed the concession stand borscht, and the little Communist children boogied all night long. A young Vladimir Putin was in attendance the second night; he declared the group “decadent filth” and ordered Ned Lagin murdered.

The KGB was notably tolerant towards the group, especially after Bear found all of their hidden microphones and upgrade them for free. After that, instead of bugs, an agent just sat in the hotel room taking notes. The Dead felt that was more upfront, at least, and naturally dosed all the agents.

On the morning of the Fourth, the buses were declared the property of the People, and the Dead were tranquilized like zoo animals and shipped back to America. To this day, none of them are quite sure the whole weekend happened, but Mickey’s still got the t-shirt.


  1. Robin Russell

    Were the Rossiya Theatre shows responsible for Garcia’s promotion to Major?

  2. PaulCHebert

    If you want to read about the actual musicians that the State Department sent to Moscow and elsewhere, this book is straight-up awesome.

    • Robin Russell

      Mr Armstrong was the Real Ambassador.

    • Thoughts On The Dead

      Somebody should put up obscure AUDs from the period on the Archive and label them as the Moscow shows, and then we’ll all go over and leave our memories about it.

  3. Corry342

    I spend a lot of time–too much actually–divining the truth value of second hand stories from old hippies. I have to say, you would be surprised how often you used to bump into some bearded weirdo who would tell you some impossible-to-imagine story, and you would think “oh c’mon,” and years or decades later it would turn out to be not so far from the truth.

    So here’s the thing–I actually believe this story. The only thing I don’t believe is that the band in question was the Grateful Dead. I think it was some other Woodstock survivor. My money’s on Canned Heat. I could look it up (I have the autobiography of Canned Heat’s drummer, an interesting book if you have no life), but even I draw the line.

    So, here’s what I think–little teenage Jason goes to Argentina, and gets told this story by La CIA, who over the years has transposed some forgettable 60s era band on its last legs to the still-relevant Grateful Dead. Because if he told Jason “hey I saw “Iron Butterfly>Canned Heat>Roger McGuinn>Edgar Winter,” so what, but, well, the Dead. Far out man. Even if it’s mostly made up.

    Actually, come to think of it, that’s pretty much the premise of this blog. Does that suggest a CIA genesis? Just asking.

    • Thoughts On The Dead

      I sincerely wish you hadn’t written the last paragraph. You now know too much, which is the first time that can be stated about anyone involved with this site.

  4. Hh

    Hipiza,is hippies in Russian, apparently it was a bid deal in Russia. A Moscow program would play nation wide 25-60 minute programs for taping. A 73 deep purple program was especially popular. Cliff Richards,B.b. King, boney m, Elton John All played Moscow or Leningrad in the 70,s. Funny thing about communists they fall in love listen to music just like real people.

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