Do not speak ill of the dead – the Grateful Dead, that is

by Phil Reisman of The Lohud Journal


 

If you were part of the rock ‘n roll scene of the 1960s and ’70s — I mean really part of the wild, hedonistic, self-destructive action — it’s probably no small miracle that you are alive today.

But I discovered the secret of survival after talking to Richard Loren. During the crazy years Loren didn’t merely feed his head, as Grace Slick intoned in the Jefferson Airplane hit, “White Rabbit,” he fed his stomach as well.

“What really saved me, to tell you the truth, is my Italian heritage,” he said Monday. “Why? Because I loved food. And I wasn’t going to take drugs to replace my dinners. No matter what I’m doing, I want to be hungry and I want to eat.”

He took drugs, he freely admits, but in moderation. Some drugs he stayed away from altogether. Plus, he didn’t stay up all night. Wasting away and burning out wasn’t on his to-do list.

Jim Morrison of the Doors was another story. After a 1967 concert in Rochester, Morrison went to a post-performance party and got drunk to the point where he was found barking and growling like a dog under a kitchen table.

The rock Adonis was shepherded back to a hotel room where he promptly urinated in a wastebasket. Then he went to sleep.

We know this because Loren was the designated caretaker who put him to bed.

Loren said that Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were like “shooting stars.”

“They blow it out, right? They made their statement and they got off the stage of life,” he said. “I can’t picture any of those guys going on and on.”

Neither could Morrison, who told Loren that he never wanted to grow old. True to his word, he died at age 27.

Loren witnessed the rock world from a rare perspective. He was a booking agent and then a band manager, but he was not just any run-of-the-mill manager. He managed the Grateful Dead, an immensely difficult job he did exceedingly well, which probably qualifies him to run a major corporation, or at the very least, a traveling circus.

It was Loren, after all, who coordinated one of the most ambitious, not to mention historic, venues of all time — the pyramids of Egypt, where the Dead performed three outdoor concerts in 1978. Ironing out the logistics of transporting the band’s complex sound system to the Middle East was a huge achievement in itself.

It is just one of many inside stories Loren relates in a self-published book, “High Notes: A Rock Memoir, Working With Rock Legends, Jefferson Airplane Through the Doors to the Grateful Dead.” Saturday, he will make the book available to ticket holders at a concert of Phil Lesh & Friends, who are appearing at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester.

The “Cap” was the site of 13 Dead concerts in the early ’70s.

Loren did not set out to write a tell-all book. He does not speak ill of the Dead, or anyone else.

“I took the high road because I’ve read memoirs and I don’t like to hear personalities getting destroyed after the fact,” he said from his home in Maine. ” I just found that I had some entertaining stories to tell, and I decided to tell them.”

Mostly he found the good in almost everyone he encountered, including the aforementioned Morrison and even Bill Graham, the legendary rock promoter. Loren had to watch Graham like a hawk because Graham, as he relates in his book, was “padding expenses, undercounting the gate and trying to pull off a bunch of other unethical practices.” (He reserves his greatest disdain for a man not named who managed, or mismanaged, the Chambers Brothers, a short-lived, but great, band that had one classic hit, “Time Has Come Today.”)

Loren’s book is like a psychedelic strobe light. Familiar names are briefly illuminated in anecdotal flashes of insight. But if there is a hero in the book, it’s Jerry Garcia, whom Loren revered as an artist and mentor.

Garcia, who died in 1995 at the age of 53, was a consummate musician, a jamming maestro and the Dead’s heart soul.

His addiction to heroin spanned 20 years. Loren writes of his friend’s painful decline: “He didn’t die of a sudden overdose: heroin just slowly ate away at him like sweet, suffocating poison.”

Loren is a survivor and an affable one at that. He tells a story of going on a quixotic drug pilgrimage to Lebanon in search of a mysterious, but powerful, weed called zed habab.

Fortunately for him, along the way he met somebody who warned him about the dangers of his trip. He was told he would only end up in jail.

The man said, “For you my friend, zed habab is just another word for suicide.”

From Lohud: The Journal News: http://ow.ly/EOk3f