Archeological Dig Uncovers Live Dead — A Tale of Two Cities

You know that dream you had where your favorite band is playing in your back yard?  Here it is on film. 

With a week’s notice, the Grateful Dead were flown to France to play their first-ever non-North American gig. ‘Course, the thing got cancelled as soon as they landed. Rained out. Not so bad.

As is their natural bent for finding the hippest crew in any countryside, they end up staying in the chateau of enterprising French composer, Michel Magne, who was nominated for an Academy Award at age 30, turned this 200 year old castle into a home and recording studio, and went on to score nearly 100 French films. 

 

In keeping with the band’s pattern of cutting paths thru uncharted territory, they were the first to stay there and record music (you’re watching some of it), and were followed the next year by a young European composer named Elton John who dubbed the place the Honky Chateau, and the rest is recorded history. Pink Floyd got Obscured By Clouds here. T Rex laid down their definitive The Slider.  Cat Stevens cut Catch Bull at Four, and Bowie framed his Pin Ups

 
And not for nuthin', but — Vincent van Gogh painted out his final days with Dr. Gachet (as depicted by Vincent and sung by Don, turn left) at a similar converted castle retreat just a couple minutes down the narrow winding road from here, and is buried in nearby Auvers.  There's no other painter in history more like the Grateful Dead — brilliant flowing blending bending colors, impressionistic and improvised, a flow created on the fly, incredibly prodigious, full of minuscule gadooble dribbles but ultimately creating a mesmerizing masterpiece. 
 
And Jerry and the boys knew the vibrating history.  “It was this chateau that Chopin once lived — really old, just delightful, out in the country near the town of Auvers, where Vincent Van Gogh is buried.” 
 
And after 4 daze and 4 nights the rains finally stopped, and lo, it was good.  The hairy beasts emerged from their cave of stacked stone in the town of Heroville on the Summer Solstice to play to the local druids and born-again pagans. 
 
Miraculously caught on camera by the French equivalent of BBC-2 in 1971, this footage was aired on their alternative “Pop2” show on July 24th and Nov. 27th, and has not been seen since.  The Dead have talked about this gift-of-a-gig a few times, but never mentioned the cameras.  I bet they're as happy as we are right now.  
 
As Garcia remembered it, "We were there with nothing to do: France, a 16-track recording studio upstairs, all our gear, ready to play, and nothing to do.  So, we decided to play at the chateau itself, out in the back, in the grass, with a swimming pool, just play into the hills.  We didn't even play to hippies, we played to a handful of townspeople in Auvers.  We played and the people came — the chief of police, the fire department, just everybody. It was an event and everybody just had a hell of a time; got drunk, fell in the pool. It was great."
 
As Lesh put it, “There were no Dead Heads — it was just boogie down . . . a little acid being passed around, not too much, just right . . . the classic garden party with the G.D. and LSD.  Talk about a piece of San Francisco transplanted into the heart of France!” 
 
You can still see the moisture of the rain in their breath when they sing.  Of course they dripped some Morning Dew, and it actually made it into the final cut of the second broadcast. 
 
 
The Tale of the Tape
 
This is the closest footage you’ll ever find of the Dead playing on grass.  I mean, a lawn. 
 
Even the most Deadicated Heads didn’t know this footage existed.  The gig was just one more party, one more Kesey’s, one more cup of coffee for the road — albeit at a castle in Europe.  Pyramids, French chateaus, amphitheaters carved into the Rockies . . . these guys always found the wildest places to play. 
 
Not only did we not know about it, the Dead didn’t know about the gig until a week before.  As scholar and official biographer Dennis McNally recounts it in his epic GD history “A Long Strange Trip,” Weir stopped by where Jerry and Jon McIntire were talking. They just “looked at him with an odd expression until he asked, ‘What?’ Garcia asked him, ‘You bored?  You bored yet?  How’d you like to go to France this weekend?’” 
 
This rich French fashion designer who’s catch-phrase was “Hippie Deluxe” wanted to be France's Minister of Youth and decided to throw a mini rock festival near this funky chateau where they could all stay.  So, boom-bitty-do, off the boys flew — all expenses paid, to this fashion politician's vanity farm party.  And of course the gods rained on his charade, so the boys hit the wine cellar for a week.  Needless to say, the designer was out of the fashion biz in a matter of months. 
 
Which is really surprising, because there’s no better band you could possibly use to market high fashion than the Grateful Dead. 
 
With the festival press and extra lay-over time, the alternate (read: barely funded) 2nd government TV channel knew this famous American rock band who played Woodstock was holed up in their neck of the woods, not far from gay Paris.  So they came out when the boys decided to play this one-off for the locals for the helluvit.  Nobody even remembers the cameras being there.  And nobody knew anything about an airing.  French network #2?  C’mon. It only took about 40 years of archeological digital digging to uncover these buried royal treasures, and then whoosh them like a torrent to the surface. 
 
What a gem, what a gift, what a time capsule cracked open to the internet air. 
 
The first episode was broadcast in color; the second in b&w.  Reason unknown as of this writing. 
 
Episode 1 (aired July 24, 1971, in color):  Black Peter, Hard To Handle, Sugar Magnolia, and Deal (plus interview with Garcia that's overdubbed in French)
 
Episode 2 (aired Nov 27, 1971, in B&W):  Morning Dew, Sing Me Back Home (by Merle Haggard), and China Cat—> I Know You Rider.  
 
Both full Pop2 episodes are downloadable from Trader’s Den, and Hunger City, where this is being referred to as "the torrent of the year.” 
 
The most detailed account of this one-week, one-gig 1st trip to Europe is in Phil's friend Hank Harrison's first "The Grateful Dead" book, the 1973 paperback out of England, where he devotes 7 pages to it in the Epilogue.  Phil himself paints an appropriately impressionistic version across three pages in his own "Searching for The Sound."
 
Funny Film Image
 
There was another famous house party concert around a swimming pool about this time — Celebration at Big Sur — which was a true hippie-fest in northern California.  All through these years, Hollywood was making movies with faux hip party scenes — trying most hopelessly to capture what they could never grasp. Think: Peter Sellers’ The Party, or Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark
 
And here’s this great Prankster twist — this actual acid-filled party, spiked by bone-fide live Dead, actually looks like those Hollywood movie parties!  All the guests are way too straight, aren’t really dancing, don’t really get it, and it’s set in a way-too-expensive location for the scene with manicured lawns and castle walls. 
 
It was just set for a movie.  And the boys stepped in on cue and played their song.  In fact, about 20 of them.  They jammed one long continuous set on that glorious Summer Solstice night, and it looked sumpthin like this . . . 
 
Truckin, Hard To Handle, Deal, China Cat—> I Know You Rider, Morning Dew, Long Black Limousine (the last of the 5 times they ever played it), Playin’ in The Band, Big Boss Man, Black Peter, Bertha, Casey Jones, Cryptical—> Drums—> Other One—> Wharf Rat, Sugar Magnolia, Sing Me Back Home, Johnny B. Goode    [courtesy Deadbase]

 

Guest's picture

This is GREAT stuff!
Where do you FIND this shit?
You never cease to amaze ... brings back fond mems for me.
I seemed to have misplaced my Jerry doll that used to stand watch on my dresser. That's what happens when you move. I'm sure he's in a better box somewhere, aww. I believe that he's channeling the chords to "Bertha" out to me every time I play that song — one of my favorites. But there are so many!

Thanks again, Jer.
And to you, my bro Bri

John Cassady

Guest's picture

Awesome, it is always wonderful to see images that were captured on film rather than video tape.

There is a primal urgency that comes through here that is inspiring. The intensity of the performance might cause one to to think that they were playing for a larger crowd than those few bodies present.

One of my favorite cd's was recorded two months earlier "Ladies and Gentlemen the Grateful Dead", the last Fillmore East shows, it presents the band as mostly a quartet. They knew they needed a new keyboard player but they could not stop to wait for him. The sense that they were really going further kept them flying higher.

Overall, it is the intimacy of the moment that shines through.

Alvis in Northampton

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