EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: A Long Strange Trip Backstage
When I first began working in the mailroom of a record distributor back in the early ’70s, one of the perks of the job was going backstage either before or after a concert. Documented in films such as Spinal Tap and One Trick Pony, the infamous music business “meet and greet” was a staple at virtually every concert. Usually, it was simply a casual opportunity to say hi to the musicians, tell them how much you like them or their latest album, and then finish it off by posing for a photo, and over the decades I grew weary of what had eventually become just another orchestrated event.
I can recall my baptismal “behind the curtain” invitation in September 1973 to a Grateful Dead show at Philadelphia’s Spectrum, a large hockey arena and a major concert venue of the day. My wife and I had spent all week hanging out with their advance man, legendary promoter Augie Bloom, helping him contact local members of their fan club, driving him to radio stations, and smoking the best weed we’d ever tasted. On the night of the show he led us through the hallways deep inside the venue and then left us in a room overflowing with food and drink, warning us not to sip anything liquid unless it came from a bottle we’d opened ourselves.
That particular evening we never got a chance to chat with the band as they were busy with a crowd that could have easily come out of Hollywood central casting. Groupies, bikers, DJs, wives, girlfriends, a few kids, smarmy record label execs, retailers, wholesalers, hipsters, artists, local scene makers, and bored beefy security men who ignored the smells and snorting going on all around them. I suppose that sounds as if it was a great party, but on this particular night I witnessed an incident that has always troubled me.
One member of the band was absolutely strung out, with his eyes rolling back into his head. He was being held up on his feet by his wife, who attempted to get him to walk back and forth in preparation for soon going out onstage. When he became loud and rude, shoving his wife away from him, some of the roadies stepped in and we left to find our way out. Whatever thoughts of rock and roll idolatry I’d had quickly dissipated. Despite making great music, minus the stage lights and flower power publicity they were just a bunch of dysfunctional freaks like the rest of us.
The lights came down just as we got to our seats. With the smoke around us rising up to form one giant mushroom cloud, the band took the stage. The dude who was barely able to stand up just a few minutes earlier played his ass off for the next several hours. Looking back, I suppose it was my first introduction to the principle of “the show must go on,” and so it did.
I have a box in my closet stuffed with pictures of me taken backstage while standing next to lots of different musicians, almost all of them having no clue who I was or why I was there. A fast intro, a shake of the hand, maybe a quick chat, and then turn, pose, smile, snap, and move on. One of my favorites is of me and a few people from my office posing with The Rolling Stones. They preferred to do group shots rather than with individuals, and I recall that our brief intro came right after a group of Pepsi executives and was followed by employees of the local Budweiser brewery. As they say, it’s only rock and roll.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed here and at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.