Hoop legends met the real Deadheads
Monday, December 03, 2007
When legends meet, it's the stuff of epics, or at least of really
good stories, and so with the vibes of the recent Grateful Dead
symposium at the University of Massachusetts still lingering in the
air, we turn to Bill Walton.
There was a time when you could make a case for Walton being the
greatest basketball player alive. During his salad days at UCLA, his
team won two national championships and a mind-bending 88 games in a
row. He was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1974 and went on
to win an NBA championship there.
Although he was 7 ferocious feet of talent and athleticism, there was
always something about Walton that made him the un-jock.
Maybe it was the big red beard or his tendency to speak his mind, no
matter the subject. Or maybe it was the tie-dye shirts.
Walton was in full tie-dye when he walked gingerly into student
ballroom at UMass in Amherst a few weeks ago. The beard is gone, his
hair is gray and his knees are a little gimpy from all those years of
pounding the hardwood.
Even if he wasn't such a tall drink of water, his appearance would
have been a show-stopper because, in addition to being a pro
basketball Hall of Famer, Bill Walton is perhaps the world's biggest Deadhead.
Walton immediately took over the room. He gave UMass its props,
calling distinguished alumnus Julius "Dr. J." Erving the most
exciting player he ever faced.
Walton mentioned some other people who have been major influences in
his life. The list included the late Grateful Dead frontman Jerry
Garcia and Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird. Then he told the
following story, which I will recount to the best of my ability.
Walton, who had been hobbled for a few years by injury, got traded to
the Celtics in 1985, a move that he said saved not only his
basketball career but his life. He found himself on one of the
greatest teams ever assembled, a group that included future Hall of
Famers Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
Walton was virtually part of the band's extended family by then. (He
claims to have attended an astonishing 600 Grateful Dead concerts).
The Dead was scheduled to play at the Worcester Centrum and some of
the crew were hanging around Boston Garden watching him practice.
Bird and McHale sized up the situation and came over to ask who all
these guys with the long hair and tie-dye shirts were. Walton
explained that the Grateful Dead was in town and asked if they wanted
to go hear them play. To his surprise, Bird and McHale said yes.
Soon, the whole team was in on it. Walton explained to the Dead folks
that the Celtics wanted to come to the concert but did not want to be
in the public eye. The crew proceeded to build a wooden amphitheater
at the edge of the stage especially for the Celtics.
On the night of the concert, the entire team, except for Danny Ainge,
whose wife wouldn't let him go, met at Bird's house. They took a
caravan of stretch limos to Worcester, mingled with the band for a
few minutes, and went to take their seats in the dark.
The Grateful Dead came on stage to deafening applause and did some
last-second equipment testing. Garcia stepped into a cone of light
projected down from the ceiling, tapped the mike and tested his
guitar pedal. Then he looked over to where the Celtics were sitting,
made eye contact with Bird and distinctly mouthed these words.
"Larry, this is what we do."
The band then ripped into a Grateful Dead concert. Several hours
later, the Celtics staggered out, their eyes like saucers.
The next day, the band returned the favor and came to the Garden to
hang out during practice.
Diminutive drummer Mickey Hart played one-on-one with the 6 foot, 11
inch McHale. Garcia, in black leather jacket and sunglasses, stood
leaning against a wall with his arms folded, coolness personified.
Bird, who had a pre-game ritual of dribbling the basketball around
the edge of the court, spotted Garcia. On his third time around,
Larry whipped a left-handed, behind-the-back pass that smashed off
the wall about 6 inches from Garcia's head. Jerry never moved a
muscle. No one will ever know what went on behind those shades.
Hart, however, did react. Leaping onto Bird's back, he screamed,
"Don't you ever do that again!"
Walton has lots of other stories. It's part of the deal when you hang
out with legends.
Fred Contrada is a staff writer with The Republican. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Unbroken Chain: The Grateful Dead in Music, Culture, Memory
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 11/16-11/18/07
By Doug Collette
November 28, 2007
Jerry Garcia would chuckle to think of a multi-day event hosted by a
major American university designed to dissect Grateful Dead culture
and history. No doubt too as the weekend long series of events
progressed, he would become more than bemused by the proceedings.
Unbroken Chain at UMass Amherst was as efficiently organized as it
could be. The only obvious delay occurred in a wait for former
basketball star Bill Walton to show up to tell stories about the
Grateful Dead expedition to Egypt and taking his Boston Celtics
teammates to see the band. Snafus behind the scenesarchivists were
overheard to have had some technical difficulties!---would seem to
have had no negative effect, except perhaps in the long run should
the event become a regular occurrence.
Judging from this year's inaugural run, it should be an annual event.
Wisely located in the campus center at the heart of UMass Amherst, an
attendee could stay in the hotel at the facility two floors above
most of the events and a five minute walk across campus from the
location of the concerts; Friday night The American Beauty Project
led by former Dylan and current Phil Lesh guitarist Larry Campbell,
reminded us what great material comprised Workingman's Dead and
American Beauty, as well as the charm the band itself brought to those songs.
The most provocative and enlightening portions of the three-day
Unbroken Chain program arose from the most focused topics. Dan Healy
and Bob Braloves's discussion of live sound engineering might stand
as a metaphor for the Dead ethos: deceptively structured, rife with
detail, all arising from the desire to provide the best possible
sound for both band and audience. It was a free spirited conversation.
As was, not surprisingly, a discussion of Dead lyrics, most of which
logically focused on the verbal and philosophical gifts of Robert
Hunter. To have a self-admitted 20 year old admit to not know much of
the topics(s) at hand but nevertheless having her curiosity piqued is
testament to the resonance of his work. David Gans (of "Grateful Dead
Hour" radio fame and editor of "Conversations with the Dead") chaired
a similar panel discussion on rock criticism, which, again not
unpredictably, bogged down in near argument about the extent to which
Garcia's demons affected the group and its overall enterprise in later years.
Just as Unbroken Chain's attendees mirrored the audience at a
Grateful Dead showsome tie-dyed, some not, some comfortable in their
devotion and some defensive--so did the symposium develop a rhythm of
its own as well as something of an improvisational air. In the time
devoted to the band's archival process, for instance, structure broke
down as David Lemieux' presentation turned into something of a press
The commencement of the symposium found Rebecca Adams, who took a
college class of hers on Dead tour in 1989, display the outline of
her carefully-researched book on the band's community; as with
PowerPoint's later on covering merchandising, business operations and
the band's very improvisational techniques (the scientific dissection
of which lost the magic of the music itself despite those PhD's
passion), the mystique of scholarship and academia at large came into
question: some phenomena don't fit neatly into a category.
The presence of Dead historian/publicist Dennis McNally provided an
element of continuity in ways both large and small. The man's whimsy
reaffirmed his erudite demeanor, as his keynote speech and
contributions to various panels maintained a sense of proportion, not
mention an implicit recognition of the legitimacy of this event and
the Grateful Dead experience itself.
Likewise, just as the most influential of rock and roll bands
approached the world from their own unique perspective so did
Unbroken Chain use the Grateful Dead as a prism to perceive society
from new angles. There might've been few epiphanies during the course
of the weekend, but the overall effect was to become further
enlightened, not just about the Grateful Dead and their
unconventional inclusive philosophy, but the larger evolutionary
process of music, culture and memory.
Only in Jerusalem:
He lived for the Dead
Nov 29, 2007
By JERRY STEVENSON
I was one of those late bloomers in finding my love for the famous
San Francisco rock band, the Grateful Dead. It was 1980 and I was 38
and I had opened my store, Mr. T, a couple of years earlier in
Jerusalem. I suppose I liked mainstream rock and roll, but I loved
classical music more. Mozart, Schubert and Handel filled my days.
Zeppelin and Springsteen were there too, but a Verdi opera was always
on the tape machine in the store... and then along came Stu.
It was just before Pessah. On our tape machine, we were playing, by
chance, the Dead. Stu heard it as he walked along the Ben-Yehuda
pedestrian mall and came into the store.
When I told him I knew nothing about the Sixties group, he spent the
next 27 years filling me in. He adored and worshiped the Grateful
Dead. He was a classic "Deadhead" and had traveled with them during
their early years. He married his wife on the road, had a few kids
along the way and followed the band's famous guitarist, Jerry Garcia,
Stu was a homeless alcoholic living on the fringes of society. After
divorcing his wife and leaving his kids behind, he had made his way
to Israel along with hundreds of bootleg Grateful Dead concerts on tape.
In the many years I was his friend, he lived in doorways on Jaffa
Road, shacks in Rehavia, rooftops near the Western Wall, bus benches
on King George Avenue, abandoned buildings near the old central bus
station, Independence Park and a few psychiatric hospitals. He drank
whatever kind of booze was around, from cheap wine to revolting vodka.
Over the years, I tried to help him numerous times, but it was
useless. He never listened to my advice, but did accept the sleeping
bags, blankets, jackets, money, radios and the like that I gave him.
But everything was stolen from him, including his most precious
possession, the bootleg tapes he had brought from America.
With Stu's influence, we wound up listening to the Dead every 45
minutes at Mr. T. Stu became the store's greeter. He was there when
the celebrities visited and he was there when the down-and-out wandered in.
Even though Stu was 10 years younger then me, he looked 30 years
older. As the years passed, he lost most of his teeth. He was always
dirty and smelled of booze and urine. His hair was a tangled, matted
disaster. I'd give him a new shirt and he'd wear it for three weeks
straight, never taking it off until I gave him a new one.
Most of my employees couldn't stand being near the guy. Tourists
would walk in, take one look at him and walk out. But many others
came in just to talk to him and be entertained - definitely a novel
Stu's presence made the Mr. T store in downtown Jerusalem the
Grateful Dead mecca of the Middle East. For close to 30 years,
Deadheads from all over the world would gather there and Stu would greet them.
Two weeks before I closed the store, Stu died in his sleep. He was 55
and his liver was like a sieve.
As I write this I'm listening to the Dead, and yes, it has been a
"long strange trip," and yes, I will miss Stu. He certainly made
going to work and opening the store every day a fun adventure. Thank
you Stu, for giving me a "real good time."
The writer has worked as a producer and writer for the Israel
Broadcasting Authority. For over 30 years he was the owner of Mr. T.