Jacob Lawrence, "The Party," 1935
Jacob Lawrence, The Party (1935)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

January 24, 2003:

Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA, late 1970s. Your college friends, who are wonderful people but white as white can be, have taken you to see the Grateful Dead.

It's a tough sell. These days you're listening to the Sex Pistols, and the Damned, and Devo; and the L.A. bands X and the Blasters and the Bangs; and local punks the Reactors, and the Sins, and the pop band the Dangers. You've never too much bought-in to psychedelic music; and the motto of your radio show is Better dead than mellow.

But you like your friends, and they're so fetching-keen to share their enthusiasm that in the end you're charmed and, putting on your most polite face, you agree to go.

Fabulous hall, not too big, 2500 seats maybe. Legendary: the Rolling Stones played their first-ever U.S. show here. Good sound, and of course a tremendous audience, worshipful and stoned and there to par-tay.

The band have a good night, but not a great one, say your connoisseur hosts. You're polite, but, you have trouble finding the goodness. To your ear the jams are sloppy, aimless, undisciplined: the worst of Cream's de-focusing impact on pop. The covers are cute: Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" is unexpected but hardly riveting. The rockers plod and drag: Berry's "The Promised Land" at half-tempo, like a march instead of a dance, with aimless guitar noodles where Berry's jet-fuel solos belong. It's ok, but this is surely the one band in the world most overrated by its fans.

Exit into a dirt and gravel parking lot. Furry-headed hippie boy, late-twenties, red-rimmed eyes, staggers supported by two dazed-looking pals. He's on acid, and reds, and pot, and speed, and beer, and he's howling to all, and the moon, about what a great show it was.

"That was the best show I've ever seen," he howls, gravelly voice sounding like his bootscrapes on the gravelly ground. Pounds his two buds hard on the back, laughing. Throws his fists into the air, triumphally: "The best show I've ever seen," laughing and staggering.

Trips on a bootlace, falls headlong into the dirt. Dazed for a heartbeat, then, face-down on the ground, begins brushing the parking lot tenderly with both palms, amazed.

"This is the best dirt I've ever seen," he says, awestruck. "The best dirt I've ever seen."

His sidekicks nod. It's the best dirt they've ever seen, too.

There's a party at your friends' afterwards. Cocaine and pot and beer, and endless hours of high-quality board tapes from previous shows.

After graduation they get married and become stockbrokers. Wonderful people, but white as white can be.