Excerpt from Phil Lesh's memoir
The following is an excerpt from Phil Lesh's memoir "Searching for the
My Life With the Grateful Dead,"
out this month from Little, Brown.
Bassist Lesh studied classical, jazz and avant-garde music before
co-founding the Grateful Dead in 1965 and continues to perform with
surviving Dead members and his own band, Phil Lesh and Friends.
This excerpt finds the Dead in Germany and France, in the midst of
its Europe '72 tour.
In Hamburg, I'm confronted with some almighty weirdness: my
We're checking out the hall where we're to play: the Hamburg Musikhalle,
home of the NDR Symphony Orchestra and the Hamburg Philharmonic; one of
those bands is rehearsing excerpts from "Carmen" in the hall. I decide
to cruise around outside the auditorium. I'm in the foyer, reading a
plaque about favorite son Johannes Brahms returning in triumph to his
hometown, and M.G. (Carolyn Adams, a.k.a. Mountain Girl) comes rushing
down the balcony stairs -- "Phil! Come here!
You've got to see this!" What? What?
I follow her up to the balcony, where
Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and a couple of roadies are standing open-
mouthed and pointing toward the stage. At first all I see is the forest,
not the trees -- an orchestra playing -- but then Jer says, "The
cellist!" I look down at the solo cellist -- and he is me. Same face,
same hair (only shorter), same build; when they break and he stands up
-- the same gait, the same posture -- I was flabbergasted. I had read,
of course, that everyone has a double somewhere, but I'd always thought
of that as a folk legend -- until I saw mine. I decide that I must come
face to face with him somehow -- so I run downstairs to the backstage
Having left my bell-bottoms and paisley period behind, I'm now dressed
like an American cowboy -- boots, jeans, checked shirt, Levi's jacket --
everything but the hat. You can imagine the thoughts running through the
minds of this man's colleagues, their heads snapping around in double
takes as I pass through them.
Backstage, another entire orchestra is rehearsing in a huge room; the
other musicians are dispersing. I never found this guy, but oh, how I
wanted to shake his hand and find out his name. Could it have been
On to Paris, where it seems that the revolutionary spirit of 1968 had
not entirely disappeared from the streets; an individual complaining
loudly and at length that we had no right to come there and not play
free "for the people" confronted our crew during the load-out.
Not only that, but he followed us back to our hotel (the Grand Hotel,
not exactly the place that a "people's band'' could afford to stay) and
continued his harangue from the plaza in front of the main entrance.
Now this person was clothed in a very nice lavender jacket, and happened
at one point to tempt fortune by standing directly under the window of
the room occupied by roadies Rex Jackson and Sonny Heard.
Someone suggested that the color brown would make a fine old contrast
with the jacket; and presto! Out the window and over the head of our
fine French friend went the warm remnants of Rex's room- service
chocolate ice cream. The howls of outrage could have been heard in
Berlin, but we were soon to learn that there would be a price to pay for
our little moment of euphoria.
Our next scheduled gig was at the university in Lille, just south of the
Belgian border. Imagine our consternation when we discovered that
someone had insinuated dirt into the fuel tank of our equipment truck as
it sat trustingly on the streets of Paris; when it was time for the gig
there we were, but our gear -- amps, guitars, drums, PA -- was still
several hours behind us in a quickly rented backup vehicle.
We held a quick council of war to decide our course of action. Should we
just not show up? Should we send Rock (Scully, one of the band's
managers) to take the heat? As usual it was Jerry who insisted that we
do the right thing; some of us (but not him) must go there and try to
So, picture this if you will: a smallish venue filled with students; the
promoters, students themselves, freaking up the wall, their investment
totally blown; the band, crew, and management on the stage trying to
explain in one and a half languages (English and Franglais); the mood of
the students growing ever more restive and ugly; the only refuge a small
dressing room at the back of the stage.
As the protests grew more and more intense (the students, predictably,
had briefly turned to arguing among themselves), we slipped one by one
into the relative safety of the backstage shelter, and as the door began
to cave in under the onslaught, we decided to opt for discretion over
valor, and leave.
Unfortunately, the only window was one story from the ground; luckily,
there was a drainpipe next to it, and a truck conveniently parked at the
end of the pipe, so down we went -- shimmy down the pipe, jump to the
truck, crawl to the ground, sprint for the bus -- all the time laughing
hysterically at the sheer absurdity of it all. Bobby's defiant shout
rang through the air: "We'll be back, and we'll play for free!" For
free! Lavender Velvet was going to get his wish, though he probably
It was a brisk spring Saturday when we finally pulled into the center of
Lille to keep our promise of a free concert: on a sparkling afternoon in
the central park of the town, we played to workers carrying lunch pails,
baguettes, and carafes of vin ordinaire, mothers with their babies in
perambulators; and, of course, hundreds of students, many more than
could have been crammed into the tiny hall where we'd originally been
scheduled to play.
Clouds came and went; at one point it rained, so we covered the gear,
retreated into the trucks, and waited it out. Sure enough, the sky
cleared rapidly, and the audience was still there, so on we played in
the glorious spring light. The landscape, the flowers, and the people
seemed to radiate a simple joy in just being.
Afterward the student promoters embraced us tearfully -- they hadn't
believed up until the moment we pulled into town that we would actually
make good our promise. It was one of our finest "music for the people"
moments, if I do say so myself.
ba ba booie writes:
When is this book coming out?
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