Bill Graham Memorial Concert

Originally published in newsgroup gen.opinions 1991, one of many stories from my Taxi Diaries indexed as "Muskat Muses."

Dear Network,

Well, I haven't been writing very frequently because I have had to be driving so damn many hours. There are so many idiot drivers about, and since I easily direct most of my frustrations and feelings towards them quite explicitly, I return home, wasted and empty headed, nothing to say.

Hey, see me and my kids on the front page of this morning's (Monday) SF Comicle? There we are at the Bill Graham Memorial Concert in Golden Gate Park, and an intimate affair it was with 350,000 others. It is possible to line our position up with the end of the sound board and see the empty space whose perimiter was maintained and protected from 5:45 am until Baez's "Amazing Grace," was completed, right on the leading edge of the fog, closing out an awesome day.

You see, I missed Woodstock. I asked for permission to attend, promising a quick return, but they wouldn't let me out of the Ft. Dix Stockade under ANY circumstances. When this concert was announced, (Dead, CSNY, Carlos, + more) I resolved to be there early enough to seize space for decent viewing.

At 2 AM Sunday morning, three hours prior to park "opening" (definition, legal parking), four hours prior to Polo Field opening and eight and a half hours before the first chords would let loose, I was ready. I had reconed the Polo Field in my cab right after midnight. Determining neither joints, brandy or sex would convince BGP gate guard into letting me in early where I could wander, I turned the taxi in, and returned with my own car to park and wait.

Cops were still ticketing and towing as I parked among a dozen other cars RIGHT NEXT to the tunnel entrance and waited. At 3 AM, the cops came by announcing through their loud speakers, "Party Hardy!" This meant we could park and camp. For my first camping experience in years, I rolled a joint and set up a tarp and sleeping bag under the stars.

And on branches and rocks in a creeping, low-laying fog; between competing stereos playing different Dead. I had no sooner fallen into some familiar resting zone when some youthful indulgee peaked. Then another. Didn't these folks know they were hours early? Years late? A woman wandered amid growing numbers of eerie tail gate parties loudly making certain we all were aware that we were in a zoo. I shared some brandy with three guys who drove down from Portland. Obtaining the promise of being woken when the gates were opened, I tried sleeping in my car.

By 5:45 guards were no longer able to hold back the throngs at the tunnel and hundreds more lining the entire southern hill overlooking The Field. With a collective yell and gasp, the tunnel was pierced and several thousand desended the hill. The sound was like a tidal wave waking me from some place that was not quite sleep and shaking the car like a small tremor. I got my stuff together and joined them.

The spot I choose was audience left, about fifty feet from the sound boards and about twice that much from the stage. I was in a direct line to Rock Med which was the meeting place at 11:30 and 12:30 if my daughters had not found me. It was still dark. About 10 balloon clusters, each holding twenty to thirty multied hued, pastel balloons hung the inside the Polo Field. In the fog, slightly illuminated by stage lights, they seemed live, brought to constant motion by ocean breezes. They were beautiful. Later, unfortunately, they were cut loose.

At 8:30, my neighbors agreed to watch my space and stuff and I went out to find a cab and phone so I could tell the 17 year-old which Rock Med tent to locate (there were two) and precisely where I was in relation to it, the stage and sound boards. She was to arrive at 10:00 with her 7 year- old sister and friends and since my relations with each mother are far from perfect, or normal, I left little to chance.

Except 350,000 people. On the way back, I stopped at the Rock Med tent, found a friend, told him the daughters would be there and pointed to where I had planted a twelve foot tall upside down broom with a multi-colored wind sock. I returned to my space and waited anxiously for 10:00 to arrive. At 10:15 I took my last walk and by 10:30 I was hoping that where ever they were, they enjoyed the show. I was now contemplating the various greetings I'd hear from a couple of mothers.

At 10:43 am, in the middle of all these people, my daughters confidently walked right up to me. The eldest said that upon entering the Polo Fields, they walked in a 180 degree line until they found me. They received no message and had no idea where I would be found. The 7 year old kept asking when the Dead would come on. We kept her busy with coloring books, crayons and reading material. We had coolers, sandwiches and drink and bad vibed anyone who had any inlking of spending more then fifteen seconds in "our space." Few did. That's how I know you can see us!

When Crosby, Stills Nash and Young opened their set with "Teach Your Children," which I have always loved, I hugged both girls and cryed. The 7 year-old stayed on my shoulders for most of the Dead's set and we even managed a quick foray to within twenty feet of center stage where we found other friends. Tracy Chapman was a fabiously pleasant surprise. No Dylan and No Airplane! Carlos was great. Fogerty and the Dead made some believe CCR was onstage. Baez was a beautiful closing.

There was only one person missing. But his aura hung over the event, floated down with carnations dropped by a DC-3 and soared up with the vibes from the musicians, friends, family, the music and the crowd that had come to honor him and our culture. The Finger backacha Bill. Rest In Peace!


From another piece about Bill Graham.

I don't care to sort out my feelings about Bill Graham. Like many, it was a love/hate relationship from the beginning. Thugs telling me I couldn't dance at the Fillmore East, ever escalating ticket prices ("It's the bands, it's the bands!") . But he brought us the best, they were safe and they began on time and he endured. Why is it that our rock heros go down on either aircraft or drugs?

Two days after his discharge from the hospital, for a gall bladder operation, Graham hosted Noam Chomsky, on behalf of the Marin Inter Faith Task Force for Peace & Justice, at his Marin Mountaintop, Masada. (At the time, the US was supplying massive military equipment to El Salvador and combatting the constitutionally elected government of Nicaragua) Bill could barely move around the place, holding his stomach with one hand and a piece of his incredible home with the other. Mostly, he sat in a variety of chairs and held court, whether or not he wanted to. He could have arranged a last minute switch or postponement. He went through with it. Gamely and not without minor heroics.

I told him a story I have often told other people. In 1965 I was in Los Angeles, faced with few choices. 1) Returning east to assist my parents in a move south and deal with the draft - not mutually exclusive concepts and 2) going north to San Francisco to check out the music and beat scene experimenting with acid along the way.

I choose the first door and got on the wrong bus for a while. Several years later however I was to follow the San Francisco Mime Troup home and would eventually co-produce a couple of benefits for the troup and become circumstancially involved. IF, I had come north in '65, it is not inconceivable I would have quickly found the Mime Troup, our politics, theatrics and public expression of forbidden words having been a mutual attraction. Their manager at that time was Bill Graham. He was about to produce his first concert - "The Appeal," a benefit for the SF Mime Troupe. A few others would lead to The Acid Tests and the rest is history.

He listened patiently to the story and looking past me to a signed photo of Janis on the wall, said, "Shit, that's fate!"

Yes, it is.

Short Stories

Home Page