A long strange trip

Event poster

Dennis McNally in London

We've been spoilt over the last few months, first there was Dave Grisman showing up at the premier of Grateful Dawg, then the Ratdog tour and now long time Dead publicist Dennis McNally shows up in London to read from his recently published biography of the Dead. Well considering it's been 12 years since the dead shows at Wembley it's about time the Dead remembered about Europe!

Anyway the reading was in the unlikely setting of the upstairs room at the Garage in Highbury. Waiting for the doors to open I met some old friends like Bill Pannifer and Bill Giles as well as Bob Colover who I found out was at the Hollywood show in 1970 and took some 8mm film of the Dead there. (Sadly silent and not much of it - stills can be seen on Dave Laangs festival site). Also no sooner had I mentioned Robin Tarry's name than he walked in to the room!! There was quite a low turn out but the bad weather may have affected that - apparently some tube lines had had to stop running.

McNally came on around 8:30 looking more like a accountant after work than a member of the Dead family. He was wearing an open neck shirt and trousers, a jacket hung on the back of a chair in the dressing room and I bet there was a tie somewhere!! He apologised for the way he was dressed and said he would have worn a tye-dye but for appointments he had that afternoon.

He began with some explanation about the book; he said he had long wanted to write two volumes about the San Francisco Bohemian scene. Part one covered the 50's and was about Jack Kerouac and part two covered the sixties and seventies and was about the Dead. Sadly it had taken longer than expected so we got the 80's and 90's thrown in for free!!

He told some anecdotes about the Dead, about how he met Jerry and how Jerry suggested him for the job as publicist. He also explained why the Dead didn't tour Europe very often. Apparently the roadies didn't want to have to do all the paperwork involved in the Customs carnet. And unfortunately for us the way the Dead organisation was structured meant that no one could tell them to do it!! He told us how he had said to them wouldn't you rather be doing the show in Paris or London but the answer was no. In 1990 one of the crew only left his hotel room to go to the shows.

More like an accountant!

A Long strange trip He told us about the Alpine shows, how only 100 people turned up without tickets much to the bands relief and to the annoyance of the Sheriffs department. He said it was a measure of how much Jerry's death had hurt the band that it had taken them seven years to get to this point.

After a while he announced that he was taking a break and that they were going to play some music from Stepping out. During the interval I bought 2 copies of the book but before I could get them signed he was back on stage. The second part was a reading from the book. He read chapter 39 - go read it it'll save me typing it out.

Autographed copy

Between the second and third set I sat and talked to the guy who had organised the reading. While we were talking McNally came and asked if he should go back on but I said "No not yet - that would mean fading out Dark Star!" He said good point and I got him to sign my two copies of the book = one for me and one for CJ.

The third part was a Q&A during which I asked 3 questions.

ME: We had the great fortune recently to meet Dave Grisman at a screening of the movie Grateful Dawg and it was intimated that for the last few years of his life Garcia felt trapped in the GD and found enjoyment playing in the Garcia Grisman band.

McNally replied that he was sure there was some truth in that, the Dead was his job and playing with Grisman was how he got his kicks - no audience, no pressure. At some point during the evening he mentioned the 95 tour that would be their last. He listed the disasters that befell them (pages 610-612) and mentioned the incident at Deer Creek and said if anything killed Jerry it was that!!

ME: Did the band find Deadheads Scary?

McNally: Hell no, remember they were Deadheads too!

ME: Is there any truth in the rumour that GDP were planning to release the Veneta video?

McNally said that it was going to come out soon. He said that they were fixing it in the mix - trying to fix the tuning on the instruments that had been affected by the 110-degree heat.

Other people asked questions, obviously I can't remember them all but I'll have a go. I was interested to note that most were about the present and future and not so many about the past.

Asked what Jerry was like McNally told the story of how Garcia had agreed to give his wife away at their wedding and while getting ready he was really nervous. The maid of honour said surely you're not nervous you play in front of 50,000 people to which Jerry replied "yes but I have my guitar". He also cited a 1981 interview with Paul Morley for the NME where Morley who was a punk started off by saying something like "you're fat and irrelevant and I don't like you" and how Garcia had simply smiled and talked to him for 45 minutes.

Someone asked about Dick Latvala and McNally said he was the only one who could get Phil to shut up. He struggled for 2 years trying to get a show out and Phil would say something like "You can't put that out I drop a note in the last bar" But what about the preceding 712 bars that are perfect? "No it can't go out". McNally said it was a measure of Dick's character that he didn't give up and eventually won over. That's why, McNally said they are still called and will always be called Dick's Picks.

Flyer for the evening
Onequestion was asked by a guy who was so drunk that he stumbled over his words - finally getting his question out but I doubt he heard the answer because he keeled over into a table (wonder if he is related to the guy at the Astoria!)

Someone asked if Bob had enjoyed the European tour. McNally said he had and had told Bob he should come back soon, get more publicity out and bring McNally next time!! Asked if the Other Ones would come over he wouldn't say anything.

So all in all an enjoyable evening, I sped off in the car with Stepping out in the CD player and a Deadhead sticker on the back - what a long strange year it's been for a European Deadhead.

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Photo of McNally taken by Bill Pannifer