Peter Hill

The Albury Wodonga Superfiction 1993

Collaboration Peter Hill and J.J. Voss (Photographer)


The Grateful Dead - Excerpt from THE ART FAIR MURDERS

It was the 10th of August 1995 and Jacko was getting set to drive his taxi down for The Edinburgh InternationalFestival. He wanted to do a bit of research for chapter eight of his novel. Edinburgh was positively tropical compared to Aberdeen and he was going to enjoy himself.
First up he would call in on Betty's and have a crack with Zoran.
Catch up on the latest instalment from Alpha Centauri.
But when he got there Zoran was nowhere to be seen.This had never happened before. Zoran was always there.

It only took a couple of minutes to stride along to his house and the first thing he noticed was the cats circling about outside the door. Three on the ground beside the potted geraniums and two on the window ledge.

He peered through the grimy window pane and could see Zoran slumped in the big armchair next to the fire. He also thought he could hear music coming from the tapedeck.
Jacko was one of three people who knew there was a spare key under the geraniums and using that knowledge was quickly inside.

- Whit's the matter Zoran? Jacko asked

It took the big bear of a man a minute to come round and focus on his grief.

- It's Jerry... Jerry's deed...

- Jerry? Whit Jerry? Ah dinnae ken any Jerry.

- Garcia. Jerry Garcia. He died a few hours ago. I gotta e-mail from Chinacat in Oakland.

Zoran was a Dead Head. No, Zoran was the Hydra of Dead Heads. It was the only music he ever listened to. There was no time to listen to anything else. In Zoran's house the music never stopped, especially when he was writing.

Funny thing was when Zoran first heard them, living in a bed-sit off Byres Road in the late sixties, he thought they were dead boring. He was a Captain Beefheart man then but would also bend an ear to the early Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe, The Mothers of Invention, and the Incredible String Band.

Then his tastes became more esoteric and for a period he would listen to nothing but Love which he claimed was the most underrated band of the century. Arthur Lee was magic.
While his friends in Glasgow, most of whom were highly intelligent but had dropped out in the face of Vietnam, had grown their hair longer than their sisters' and taken to hitch-hiking around the world - while they were listening to Leonard Cohen and the VelvetUnderground, Bob Dylan and the Doors, Zoran burrowed beneath the underground until he came upon The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Dave Van Ronk, Leon Redbone, The Third Ear Band, Ivor Cutler, Glen Phillips, and then, one glorious afternoon, Robert Hunter. Hunter wrote the lyrics for the Grateful Dead but also sang wonderfully out of key on solo albums such as "Tales of the Great Rum Runners". .

Zoran was mesmerised by one particular track "Box of Rain" and it was while listening to it over and over again that he spent a wonderful wet weekend reading Tom Wolfe' s Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and demolishing a bottle of tequila and three cans of Carlsberg. In it he found a textual joy-ride that surfed across generations. There was Ken Kesey with his bus marked FUURTHER. There was the driver of the bus, Neil Cassady who had been Jack Kerouac's sidekick two decades earlier. And there was the resident band, The Warlocks, lead by a very young Jerry Garcia who looked like the local pizza delivery boy but sang and played with the passion and devotion of a master chef.Their first incarnation had been as Mother MacRee's Famous Jug Band.

Like musical alchemists the Warlocks turned star dust into gold dust and emerged as The Grateful Dead. Zoran bought every album available and would fret impatiently waiting for the next studio release date. But the Dead, as they became known, were a live band, and their legendary six hour sets spawned a tribe of followers called The Deadheads who would trav el across continents and attend every concert in every city. The Dead encouraged their followers to record those concerts and disseminate their music around the family. Suddenly it was OK to bootleg. There were als o bizarre yet compassionate projects set up to cure blindness in the Third World. In short, the Grateful Dead made Utopia seem by comparison like a dull suburb in Scottsdale.

Now the Deadheads were on the net. Talking to each other. From Cebu in the Phillipines to Appeldorm in the Netherlands word of Jerry's demise spread in seconds. There were several dedicated bulletin boards servicing the needs of these Net-heads - Terrapin Station, Sugar Magnolia, Darkstar Systems, and Cumberland Mines. Zoran used them all.

Jacko looked despairingly around Zoran's downstairs living room.
First he checked the Mac. On the screen was the fatal message, neatly presented within the framework of international computer graphics - boxes, images, text. It read:

Grateful Dead for Net Heads
Enhanced by Mike Standefer for Netscape 1.1
Last update August 10th, 1995




Then Jacko saw the legendary tapes. Four columns of boxes went from floor to ceiling. Each box had two drawers, and sixteen cassettes fitted snugly into each drawer. All were of The Grateful Dead i n Concert. Six consectutive nights at the Filmore, Four at the Rainbow in London, two at the Pyramids in Egypt, three at the Melkweg in Amsterdam. He had them all. Jacko estimated there must be over five thousand hours of live music. No wonder Zoran needed a computer to keep track of it al l. Key in "Keep on Trucking" and the Mac threw up a thousand choices. Zoran had even named two of his cats Rosebud and Tiger after Jerry's favourite guitars.

- Tell me Zoran, Jacko asked gently, one arm round the big man's shoulders, just what was it do you think that made Jerry so brilliant?

- Och, so many things, he replied wearily. There was an empty bottle of Scotch in the hearth and "Cats Below the Stars" danced magically, joyfully, out of the speakers. The ashtray was full of roaches and there was a far-away look in Zoran's eyes. Four hundred light years would be a reasonable approximation .

-Jerry had this great three finger banjo style, Zoran began. When they were kids his brother chopped off one of his fingers with an the story goes. In the end this gave him an independance of style which he expanded by doing little things like acc enting the off-beats or playing in 4/4 while the band played on in 7/4.

Aye, I see, said Jacko softly, not having a fucking clue what the big man was on about. Raving, by the sound of it. His own musical tastes were formed around the summer of '77, almost a decade after the Woodstock Generation - he was, depressingly, a member of the dole queue generation. He grew up with the Sex Pistols, The Cure, The Smiths, UB40 and his all-time hero Elvis Costello

- You know, Zoran continued, addressing the mug of coffee Jacko had poured him from the pot, a single tear splashing into the Nescafe - Captain Trips never played the same song the same way twice. In October '89 they played "Dark Star" for the first time in five years, and within weeks the Berlin Wall was coming down. Cannie be a coincidence.

-Look Zoran, ah've got tae go to Edinburgh, for the Festival. You gonna be alright? I mean you're a bit of a mess.

-The music never stops Jacko. Remeber that. I've got a lot of e-mails to reply to - Chinacat was the first but there will be many more coming in later. We are all grieving globally on the net. I am with my friends, my family. So travel south and trav el safely. And watch oot fur thae zen calvanists - Edinburgh's full o' them at this time o' year.

Jacko looked askance. The big fellow was beginning to sound a bit like Gandalf before he took that hieder into the Crack of Doom.

You look after yourself then Zoran. It's a nice day outside, you should get along to Betty's for some purvey.

Farewell old friend - the Athens of the North is calling you.

You're right, ah better go . I will only be a few weeks before it turns back intae the Reykjavik of the South, as old wottsis name said. Cheerie-by!

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