Rock Scully and David Dalton on “The Band That Changed History”

Rock Scully and David Dalton on December 17, 2014

Last night, longtime Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully lost his battle with lung cancer. He was 73. In August of 2005, Relix documented the ten year anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death. In that issue, Scully and David Dalton penned this piece about the early days of the Dead.

It was 1965 and Zeit Gus, the Time Troll, was very pleased with his accomplishments so far: the Pill, The Beatles, mini-skirts, hair, pot, transistors, LSD, FM radio, the Twist, and leopard-skin pill-box hats. But… his scaly project needed… something. Something that would push the stinking carcass of Western Civilization right over the edge. At that very moment he happened to be flapping his leathery wings over 710 Ashbury—and, YES!—he gloated, this might be the very thing to derail the great mindless freight train of the air-conditioned Amerikan nightmare. I mean, who would suspect that a bunch of bumbling, hairy, dope-smoking hippies could change the course of history?

I know, you probably think this is another hair-brained theory, cooked up by a couple of acid casualties (well, not hair-brained, anyway), but not so! Using the scientific method, we will provide irrefutable evidence for our hypothesis.

I first met the Dead at the Big Beat Club in Palo Alto. The occasion was one of Kesey’s famous Acid Tests. After drinking a Dixie cup of glowing Kool Aid, I tried making a cold, professional assessment of the group—while I still could.

Okay, there’s the lead singer, a paunchy Hell’s Angel type with dirty hair down to his tits and greasy leather vest covered with mojo pins (Pig Pen); there’s a Mexican guitar player with pyramid hair, a receding chin and a missing finger (Jerry Garcia); the bass player has a full Prince Valiant page boy do and glasses (Phil Lesh); there’s the startled long-haired child who could be a girl (Bob Weir); and then there’s a surly, juvenile delinquent on drums (Bill Kreutzmann).

A sorrier-looking bunch you never saw. Just frightening, actually. You know they’re never going to amount to anything. Just another local band getting gigs on Friday and Saturday night, playing dances in high school gymnasiums. They just don’t fit into any known concept of a rock ‘n’ roll band. And even putting the thorny dilemma of their look aside (what look?), what is the connection between these guys? They seem to be from entirely different movies. It is such a freaky mix. The kind of random sample of unregenerate human types you’d find in a police lineup, say, or a Greyhound terminal waiting room. I actually feel sorry for them. Plus the Dead are not hip and they’re never going to be; they are just too goofy—there is no way they are ever going to radiate that razor-blade cool of, say, the early Stones. Eventually, of course, these guys would become enlightened cosmonauts, the tribal elders of the Haight, but this was still the early days.

Before 1965, change arrived with glacial slowness. This is a time when people still have black and white TVs, AC is hard to get—and so are the girls! Your toaster looks like a space ship and your oven is an Oldsmobile. This is the slow time. In comparison, the late ‘60s happened at the speed of light.

We are all young and ready to go crazy, and there never was a better time for it than in mid-‘60s San Francisco. Everything erupting all at once. In a matter of six months— with the coming of acid and electric music—our lives are transformed utterly. And that’s the weird thing about metamorphosis—not many people had tried it, but soon everybody in the world wanted to try it, and the Dead were the shaggy shamans of the Lysergic Church of the Intergalactic Space Dogs. Leary was telling the multitudes, “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” the Dead’s mantra was, “Plug in, freak out, fall down.”

We are running on pure high-octane optimism and Owsley acid. The band (except for Pig Pen—booze) [most people know this but maybe we just want to spell it out?] usually plays on acid, too. What would be the point of being straight at an Acid Test? Like everybody else involved with the Acid Tests we believe LSD is a cosmic truth serum, but after a couple of dozen trips we soon learn that acid is not infallible (especially about stuff like gravity), and, as interesting as playing music on acid is, there are some serious drawbacks. Sets can go on interminably or end abruptly after a few minutes. It doesn’t take me long to spot the signs. In Garcia’s face I see a sudden, silent intercortical scream building at the back of the eyes and through the telekenetic mind-link I can hear it’s alien cry: Aaaaaaaaaagh!!! I know it’s happened. They’ve arrived. Things. Tiny monkies, gibbering guitar picks, Barbies with the faces of Mexican santos, bats flying up through the floor and getting tangled in their hair.

The music takes a sudden lurch. It gets all loose and wobbly. Billy may be banging away furiously, sweating, trying to keep on time, Pig may be hitting those chords—but it’s hopeless. They’ve become a phantom band. The beats are there, but Jerry isn’t. You can see his hands melting before his eyes, his fingers dribbling down his guitar into waxy puddles. At a certain point Jerry stops playing altogether. He holds his hands out in front of him as if folding an invisible newspaper, awestruck by the fact that he has fingers.

Right then I call for a break. Scully lecture #1.

“This is not a rehearsal, guys. You cannot wander off stage in search of a plumed serpent. You cannot just quit after five minutes and lie down on the godforsaken stage.”

“Fuck, Rock, lighten up. It’s only an Acid Test, man.”

“It’s not just an Acid Test, it’s a gig. We’re selling tickets, you guys! People paying. Must play.”

“We’re at a gig?” Smartass Weir.

Oh, yeah, I was going to tell you how the Dead changed history, wasn’t I? Well, first we needed some help, serious help, extraterrestrial help, as a matter of fact. One day we were all in Griffith Park in L.A. and all of us—as a single multiphrenic organism—began to feel something strange. It couldn’t be the drugs because as we know acid cleanses the mind, makes you see things more clearly. At first we suspect it’s the power lines, but… Owsley has a better theory.

“Listen, he says. “Our solar system and all the surrounding galaxies are undergoing stress on a grand scale as the universe itself has to pass through the eye of a needle. That squeeze you feel is real. But it’s not from power lines, it’s from space! We’re approaching total compaction. We’re in the intergalactic grip of the Cosmic Squeeze!”

Well, yeah, Bear, maybe… But it is something. Something galactic and… imminent. But right now the solar wind is blowing, our hands are turning kirillian blue and an aureole of orange mist is forming around the dome of the observatory.

We are—could it be any clearer—in an alien presence. We can feel it. It’s the force field of a spacecraft, drawing us in, extracting our thoughts. Good luck…

“Fuck, you know I saw a flying saucer this morning,” Rosie says, as if reading our minds.

“You did?”

“Yeah, hovering over Griffith Observatory.”

Seems the mother ship has telepathically communicated that the extraterrestrials are here because of the powerlines. A sort of reverse cause-and-effect thing, but with aliens who can figure? We are all so high it’s an easy head to get into. We spend the whole afternoon on the lookout for alien spacecraft. We have now convinced ourselves that they have landed in our vicinity. Our combined energy has called them in. Definitely. They have come to see us.

At one point we’re all sitting, huddled under a scraggly tree trying to get out of the sun and suddenly here comes Rosie running down the hill screaming hysterically.

“They’re here!”

“It’s about time,” says Jerry. “Are they holding?”

“They’re on that ridge up there and—God, it’s so horrible. . . .”

“What, Rosie?” Phil asks, hugging her. “What is it?”

“You’ll see,” she says ominously.

We scramble up to the top of the hill and peer over. There they are—a bemused middle-aged couple walking their dog. He in madras bermudas and baseball cap, she in a print dress and cardigan sweater, a pair of fiendish world-demolishing aliens taking their habitual late-afternoon stroll in the park.

Rosie bursts into tears. “They look just like our parents!”

Perhaps it’s just co-incidence—as if there is such a thing—or was it that Close Encounter of the Weird Kind that led to the next development in the neocortical evolution of mankind? You tell me.

1966. This is the summer the ‘60s started rolling. Up until now it was all Pop, but suddenly all up and down the coast it is one big endless party. What is it? Something is growing out there. There are people living in tepees up in Shasta and down in Big Sur the Psychedelic Rangers are growing fields of pot. We hear about them from all those girls who dropped out of high school in ‘65 and ran down to hang with them. Girl and Tangerine and Martha Wax, and down in Carmel they are holding big harvest parties with congas and bongos and red mountain wine and all-night pot smoking and dancing around bonfires after the first rains. The seeds of things to come, dress rehearsal for the Summer of Love. The undressed rehearsal.

Even we had no idea people were gonna get that loose. None of us had been in that situation before: everybody’s high on mescaline and grass and LSD. There are tepees pitched on the hill, tribal drums are beating through the woods, live music playing on the lawn… and greased watermelons in the pool!

Now that we had received the message from the alien life forms, we felt obliged to pass it on to other earthlings. What message? Planet Earth needs more freaks! Of course.

It is at this moment—take note ye Deadbase scribes!—that the First Great Psychedelic Age begins. The Haight is getting bigger, but until the January ‘67 Be-In nobody realizes just how much bigger. On that day the submerged kingdom of Metaluna materializes out of the blue: 50,000 pot-smoking, headband-wearing acid heads—and that’s the cops’ estimate. An entire medium-sized town composed entirely of freaks! It’s the gathering of the tribes, all right. All the cannabis farmers and Martian Incas have come out of their paisley caves and into the light.

The hippie thing is getting soooo big that antennae begin twitching in glass and steel skyscrapers in L.A. Corporate dogs are sent out to sniff around. Talent scouts, sharks in sharkskin suits, getting on planes and showing up at the ballrooms. At this point the Jefferson Airplane are the only Haight-Ashbury band with a record contract and they’re a special case since on the surface they don’t appear to be that much different from the other folk-rock groups the big labels have been signing. But the Dead, let’s face it, are a horse of different color entirely—the 800,000 Technicolor polymorphing entity, actually.

Gene Anthony comes by and takes those pictures on the front porch of 710 Ashbury that end up in Time magazine, the Summer of Love issue. And there we are on the cover of a big old magazine: Garcia in his Captain Trips hat, and Phil in his Student Prince cap with the feather in it, and Pig in his chauffeur-on-acid outfit with the paisley waistcoat, and there’s me (Rock) at the bottom with Rifkin. I’m the lowly manager down the steps with the dog! And who’s the star of this shoot? Why Curly-Headed Jim of course! Just a pot smuggler from Texas, but he’s got the longest hair!

O, man, what have we wrought?! Tour buses driving by 710 every day like it was the Hippie White House or some damned thing. The route is called the Hippie Hop and is billed as “the only foreign tour within the continental limits of the United States.” Even the bus drivers have become sociologists, tonelessly listing the pastimes of Hippie City: “Marijuana is a household staple among hippies. Panhandling the main source of income. Recreational activities, besides drug taking, are parading and demonstrating, soul searching, and malingering.” And then there’s that great kid running along beside the buses holding up a mirror to the tourists.

Early summer brings executives from Burbank who make several trips to San Francisco to see us play. They are as straight as TV. Aftershave and ties and jackets. “See! Close encounters with middle class corporate America!” They all have the same uniform, pseudo golf apparel. The spooky southern California leisurewear that is affected by most of the industry at the time: V-neck velour sweaters with high collars (and golf slacks in bright yellow or orange & black). Very slick and all topped off with the de rigueur Jay Sebring haircut, which is a type of razor cut but so immaculate it looks sprayed into place like a Ken doll. They all looked made in Japan. Joe Smith, the head of Warner, is a clone of our producer Dave Hassinger, minus a few hairs. A little older, a little salt and pepper on the sides, but still the same cheery, ultra-tanned face. A mandatory number of hours must be spent by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They think they’re movie stars, but basically they are indistinguishable from your average narc.

And then, Madre de Dios!, before we know it, blazered six o’clock news anchors and quizzical foreign correspondents have invaded the Haight. Every major newspaper in the United States is beating a path to our door with the burning questions of the day: “Why are you smiling so much?” “What do the beads mean?” “Where did you get your head band?”

“Hey, Jerry, guess who’s interviewing in the Haight right now, right outside 710 in fact? Eric fuckin’ Severeid. He’s right outside with his crew, man.” Jerry goes to the window and peeks outside. He sees the set up and shrinks back like Dracula before a clump of garlic.

“Nah, man, please don’t make me do this. All those dopey questions. No way am I going out there. Isn’t this what managers are supposed to do, Rock?”

Goddamn. Jerry is absolutely right. The first question they ask is “Do you use drugs?” Duh! Next: “Why do you use drugs?” Oh, maaaan! Clearly there was more work to be done. Time for the Dead to hit the road, missionaries of the Plaid Iguana Cult. Clearly, the sacramental nature of our mission needs to be spelled out in a manner that will be understood even by white-shoe news anchors.

So what, in the end, were the major contributions of the Grateful Dead to civilization? You have to ask? Okay, endless noodling jams (in stereo, no less!), the proliferation of ‘shroom dealers, tie-dye, bongs, patchouli, tape trading, and, of course, not forgetting ecology, world peace and “free” concerts. Where do you think the whole Green Movement came from, man? Organic food, lemon grass and Echinacea tea. Eating junk food on acid can be problematic—your autonomic nervous system and your digestive enzymes start shouting at you, “What the hell is this shit?”

But, the major contribution was, like, y’know, man, the vibrating, Tantric, mind-blowing, non-Euclidean brain warp. Dig, the pre-Dead U.S.A. was a world of straights (and in black & white). And look at it now! You practically have to send out a search party to find a genuinely straight person—even our presidents get high, fer chrissakes. Maybe it’s all gone too far. Some TV commercials are so goddamn psychedelic I can’t figure out what they’re trying to sell us.

If there ever is a Haight-Ashbury theme park—and I’m betting there will be—it’ll have 710 Ashbury as its epicenter. Deadland! It will always be 1967, the streets filled with Hell’s Angels, hippie chicks, patchouli, communes and anti-war demonstrations. Everywhere, like little Latin Santa Clauses, there’ll be Jerry Garcia impersonators in black T-shirts and motorcycle boots, smoking big fat joints and dispensing Cheech and Chong-like koans. And outside the gates of Deadland will reside the lysergic apostates, the evil empire of the UnDead: the uncool, unhip, unhigh ones of the straight world.

Rock Scully was the manager of the Grateful Dead for twenty years. He was also involved in the management of the Jerry Garcia Band and is the founder of Ice Nine Publishing. His first show was TK.

David Dalton, a founding editor of Rolling Stone, is the author of 12 books, including one that was included in the Beatles last U.K. album, Motherfuckers: The Rise of Acid Fascism in America; El Sid: Saint Vicious, and the novel, Been Here and Gone. His first show was TK.

Together they wrote Living with the Dead, published by Cooper Square Press.