Friday, June 15, 2012

It was 20 years ago today....


In June 1992, just a few months before my 21st birthday, I flew home from Germany on my first leave after more than 18 grueling months serving as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army Infantry.

After one long continuous grind from Ft. Benning, GA for Infantry and Airborne training to over a year with the 502nd Infantry, U.S. Army Berlin Brigade, including combat assignment on the northern Iraqi border in '91, I was ready for a break.

The occasion was my brother Sandon's graduation from Archmere, but making sure to get the most out of a precious few weeks of stateside leave we caught three Grateful Dead concerts from June 14-20, two at Giants Stadium and the last at RFK Stadium in D.C. *

*[The Grateful Dead played a different show every night, making up their setlist just before going on or playing whatever they felt like as the show unfolded. They gave 3000 performances in 30 years and not one is the same.]

The second show of this little mini-tour was Monday June 15, 1992 at Giants Stadium.

Back in Germany that same day was the first Berlin Air Show since the 1930's.  When I got back to Berlin my platoon cohorts raved about how spectacular it was.  Frankly, they could have told me that a UFO had been unveiled and I wouldn't, to this day, trade it for the experiences I had and the memories I still have of that day.

My brother and I went to the show with an impromptu, loosely-gathered crew from back home, with Sandon's best friend from Archmere (now one of mine too), Chris Imburgia, leading the charge up to beautiful scenic East Rutherford, New Jersey.

It was a wild scene at Giants Stadium, before even getting to the stadium gates.  Let's just say the Dead following, which to my eye came from almost every walk of life - Range Rover to pickup to VW hippie bus, really really really knew how to blow it out.  Just a massive parking lot free market free-for-all of vending, tailgating, music-playing and party extravaganza extraordinaire unleashed and gone the next day.

Teh Heads were known to get a little out of hand, as you might have heard, causing the Dead's permanent ban by the late 80's at a series of well known concert venues.

Here's Giants Stadium before the show:

And after:

What can I tell ya, the band's concert schedule was a year-round multi-tour national traveling freak show.  It was a party unlike anything much else going then and certainly nothing comes close now.


Steve Miller Band opened for the Dead on that tour.  New respect for the Space Wrangler's blues chops and Norton Buffalo's scorching harp riffs after a pretty rockin' warm up set.

Our seats were somewhere in the ozone layer section, so towards the end of Steve Miller we (along with a streaming hoard of freaks) basically vaulted over the lower seating section wall 15-feet down onto the field. We ended up in the 20th or so row for the whole show.  Not bad.  Today you'd probably end up on a terror watch-list for such a bold act of defiance.

Of course, like every Dead show, there could be 100,000 people there in constant motion and you turn around in the most random spot and there's your best friend you hadn't seen in 5 happened to me with my still-best friend back to childhood, Tim DiSabatino.

This, of course, is long before anyone, much less everyone, had little cell phones or even email - Al Gore wasn't Vice-President for another 7 months and his Internet was unheard of.  If you were trying to meet someone by some pre-planned time and location amidst the disorienting chaos, good luck!  If you wanted to call someone, find a pay phone.  If you wanted to get a call from someone, be sitting by your phone plugged into the wall at your house. It was great!!

The Grateful Dead played pretty damn well, after 27 years of almost non-stop touring.  Jerry Garcia was delivering solidly, no matter his accelerating physical decline and increasingly-tenuous presence as the band's spiritual leader.

They opened with Hell in a Bucket ("I may be goin' to hell in a bucket, babe, but at least I'm enjoyin' the ride.").  They closed with Knockin' on Heaven's Door.  Nice ontological symmetry.

The Dead were hardly all hippy flowers and sunshine rainbows or other such vapid tripe as a clueless media always ascribed to them.  Hell in a Bucket (click to listen) is one pretty cynical ripper that belies that myth:

You analyze me, pretend to despise me,
You laugh when I stumble and fall.
There may come a day I will dance on your grave
If unable to dance, I'll still crawl cross it
Unable to dance, I'll crawl.

In the early part of the second set the band played a new song which I was hearing for the first time So Many Roads.  Rare at that late stage of the band's life, Garcia shattered the vocals with climactic soul in the song's closing verse.  I sincerely get goosebumps every single time I listen to the recordings.

...From the land of the midnight sun
where the ice blue roses grow
along those roads of gold and silver snow
Howlin' wide or moanin' low
So many roads I've known
So many roads to ease my soul

As they unfolded a great rendition of a standard from an album of the same name cut just before the "Disco Dead" scare of the mid-1970's, Terrapin Station (click to listen), there came a moment when the band brought the song to such a standstill that even with nearly 60,000 people in a massive stadium you could practically hear a pin drop.

Steve Miller joined in with the band during Garcia's ballad, lyrics by the legendary Robert Hunter, Standing on the Moon (Jerry botched a few lines, typically).

 Standing on the moon
I see the battle rage below
Standing on the moon
I see the soldiers come and go
There's a metal flag beside me
Someone planted long ago
Old Glory standing stiffly
Crimson, white and indigo

One of the closer songs was the epic Throwing Stones ("And the politicians throwin’ stones").

The whole show was, to me, a conscious introduction to the knee-rattling bass bombs of Phil Lesh, who's still droppin' them at 72, with Bob Weir, in their band Furthur.

That Summer '92 mini-tour.  Phew.  Even a stone sober Army grunt I was overpowered by palpable human energy that was incredibly positive and joyous.  But it was just as much the expression of the unique and individual spirits of all kinds gathering around a journey of music, not just some retro rock concert.

It's kind of crazy to think that many years have passed, and how much has changed since...but much worse is how much hasn't, at least for the better.

Set 1:

Hell In A Bucket
The Same Thing
Tennessee Jed
When I Paint My Masterpiece
Bird Song

Set 2:

Box Of Rain
Saint Of Circumstance
So Many Roads ->
Terrapin Station
Drums ->Space ->
I Need A Miracle ->@
Standing On The Moon ->@
Throwing Stones ->
Not Fade Away@

Encore:  Knockin' On Heaven's Door

@ = w/ Steve Miller

...good times.

Throwing Stones

Picture a bright blue ball, just spinning, spinnin free,
Dizzy with eternity.
Paint it with a skin of sky,
Brush in some clouds and sea,
Call it home for you and me.
A peaceful place or so it looks from space,
A closer look reveals the human race.
Full of hope, full of grace is the human face,
But afraid we may lay our home to waste.

There's a fear down here we can't forget.
Hasn't got a name just yet.
Always awake, always around,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Now watch as the ball revolves and the nighttime falls.
Again the hunt begins, again the bloodwind calls.
  By and by, the morning sun will rise,
But the darkness never goes from some men's eyes.

It strolls the sidewalks and it rolls the streets,
Staking turf, dividing up meat.
Nightmare spook, piece of heat, It's you and me.
You and me.

Click flash blade in ghetto night,
Rudies looking for a fight.
Rat cat alley, roll them bones.
Need that cash to feed that jones.
And the politicians throwin' stones,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Commissars and pin-stripe bosses roll the dice.
Any way they fall, guess who gets to pay the price.
Money green or proletarian gray,
Selling guns instead of food today.

So the kids they dance and shake their bones,
And the politicians throwin' stones,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Heartless powers try to tell ushwhat to think.
If the spirit's sleeping, then the flesh is ink
History's page will be neatly carved in stone. 
The future's here. We are it. We are on our own.

If the game is lost, then we're all the same.
No one left to place or take the blame.
We can leave this place and empty stone
Or that shinin' ball we used to call our home.

So the kids they dance and shake their bones,
And the politicians throwin' stones,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Shipping powders back and forth
Singing black goes south and white comes north.
In a whole world full of petty wars
Singing I got mine and you got yours.

And the current fashion sets the pace,
Lose your step, fall out of grace.
And the radical, he rants with rage,
Singing someone's got to turn the page.

And the rich man in his summer home,
Singing just leave well enough alone.
But his pants are down, his cover's blown...

And the politicians throwin' stones,
  So the kids they dance and shake their bones,
And it's all too clear we're on our own.
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Picture a bright blue ball,
Just spinnin', spinnin, free.
Dizzying....the possibilities.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.


tom said...

Had to dig through my ticket stub collection to be sure, but I was at those 3 shows as well (among many others...)

Tyler Nixon said...

Dude, I remember! You were the guy with the tie-dye, right?!? LOL

My brother, some friends and I will be seeing the band (Lesh/Weir as Furthur) in July around these parts, how about you?