Thirty years ago, those quintessential Americans the Grateful Dead
rocked out at the Pyramids in Egypt. Max Bell recalls the Acid Test
in the desert
Max Bell The Observer
September 14 2008
It's mid-September 1978 and there are unusual occurrences in the
desert. The Grateful Dead are in Egypt, playing three concerts before
a thousand people a night at the Sound & Light Theatre, Giza, at the
foot of the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, with special guest, the
local musician Hamza el Din.
The band is joined by a charter-load of American Dead Heads, but the
majority of the audiences will be bemused Bedouins and their herds of
little Jaal goats. One of a sprinkling of press, I'm covering the
event for the NME, having flown out of a still punk-obsessed London.
In Giza I interview Jerry Garcia in his suite at the Mena House
hotel. Later we chat, sitting on the Sphinx. That tape emerges as
oscillating white noise. During a third conversation, on
16 September, in the twilight before a total lunar eclipse, Garcia
tells me that 'the Dead are trying to uphold a different kind of
idealism. It ain't the Sixties sort, more a delicate state of anarchy
in the USA, and anarchy in Egypt. Coming here is a dream we've had
for a long time - and the Pranksters are here, too, which is great.
This might be the ultimate Acid Test.'
Garcia's observation is enforced by the presence of arch-Prankster
Ken Kesey, his cohorts George Walker and Mike Hagen, and Paul
Krassner, the editor of counterculture magazine The Realist. Just to
keep everyone occupied while the Dead are doing their peculiar thing,
Kesey has brought along a stash of Stanley 'Bear' Owsley's liquid
LSD, which he administers with a dropper to the eyeball 'for
immediate effect... a rare special occasions batch. Only person who
is missing is Neal Cassady - but he's here in spirit, and he's going nuts.'
After the eclipse show, off-duty promoter Bill Graham hires many
camels and we decamp to a shanty nightclub called Sahara City for a
feast of sheep's eyes. The Dead's Bob Weir and Mickey Hart race white
stallions. Their colleague Phil Lesh and his lady, Debra Kashmir, get
the cold Tuborgs in. Bats and owls swoop through the moonlight. The
Grateful Dead's Pyramid prank is over. As Garcia says, 'Yeah, that
was the strangest trip we've ever done. Heh heh. Damn fine chaos.'