The year was 1975. While a student at Bucknell I had a little business on the side. It was called “Last Rush” and the slogan was “Use the right tool for the job.” I made hundreds of “tubular items” and sold them to head shops and to people via mail order. I would advertise in High Times and Rolling Stone (it was affordable back then). Just for fun, I made a special Jerry Garcia item (see pic). I wish that I had a better picture of this; (my originals went the way of my baseball cards). I hand-carved most of it and have a scar on my left index finger for proof. The paints were acrylic with pasted dayglow. The eyes were painted on the inside with the clear butyrate tubing providing the glasses. The bowl was made of Brazilian rosewood (available from the docks of NYC if you paid under the table). The coating was made from butyrate dust dissolved in acetone, ethyl acetate, and MEK. It was a trophy, pristine, never used and it became a sort of an idol of the guitar god. It just so happened that I had tickets to Garcia and Saunders (The Legion of Mary) playing in Upper Darby, PA. So I had an idea. I was sure that I could meet Garcia if I could give him (OK it was a BONG!) the bong as a gift. How naive can you get? So, I drove down in a van with my friends. That is a story in itself. But before, the trip I had made some phone calls to the Tower Theater and told them that I had this “artistic” gift for Garcia. And, it worked out that I actually made it semi-back-stage. But then things got too good to be true. I ran into a roadblock whom I have affectionately named Roadzilla.
This roadie, who I later found out was Steve Parish (Garcia’s friend and head roadie) brushed me off with cold and dismissive eyes, In his New York tones he told me, “Jerry said that he doesn’t want to see anyone tonight.” I begged . . . but no dice. Then he gave me an unconcerned shoulder shrug and said: “OK, I’ll give it to him.” Right! I was young and naive, but I wasn’t stupid. “Hey, no thanks!” I walked out to the main hall — me, an insignificant small fry, to a guitar god and his minions. I was bummed beyond belief and if it even mattered, I felt deflated and degraded. The next day, while still licking my wounds, a friend who had an extra ticket to see Garcia again (now in Scranton PA) gave it to me. I was fine to go but had no aspirations again of meeting Garcia. My bitter pill produced a healthy skepticism of all life. I offered to drive and the bong was still in the trunk of my car, but I had no intention of giving it to anyone.
The concert hall was at the most beautiful theater I had ever seen. It was at the Scranton Masonic Temple (check out this link to Jerry’s Broken Down Palaces). I even recorded a tape of the concert.
The environment of that place was special, as it was so comfortable and laid back. My friend said to me, “Charlie, go out and get the bong, give it to him here, this is the perfect place.” He had to tell me a few times until I reluctantly left the theater with my ticket stub. Security was lax in the ’70s; I just took the 3ft bong and wrapped it in my blue denim jacket and walked back into the theater.
Garcia was warming up with Merl Saunders and John Kahn in his second band, The Legion of Mary. While they were tuning up, I just walked up to the stage and shouted out “Jerry, Hey Jerry.” The theater was so quiet and Garcia curiously turned around and saw something in my hands. The dayglow paint was shining via the UV lights on stage. He squinted, looked at me and said, “What’ve you got there?” I just said, “Here” and gave it to him. He picked it up, looked at it and said, “Bizarre.” I swear that was his exact word. It’s the only word he said to me. He turned and placed the bong on his guitar amp head.
Well, I was still enormously pissed over the whole thing.”It’s Done.” I turned around and went back to my seat. When I got there, my friend said, “You idiot! he turned around to talk to you! Why did you walk away?” So O well, “Bizzare” will just have to do.
I’ll never forget that night. As the stage lights would brighten, the bong would glow. But, toward the end of the set, a roadie picked it up. Yep, you know it. It was Roadzilla who tried to talk me out of the bong the night before. I hope he choked over it.
Still, I wish that I still had a better picture of that bong.
The better pictures showed the eyes behind Jerry’s tear-drop glasses, his missing middle finger, and had anamorphic art on the base.
I had read an article on “Mathematical Games” in a 1975 Scientific American where Renaissance artists would paint on a canvas and place a mirrored cylinder in the middle of the painting. See the cover pic.
A tube was a perfect medium for this art form. I put a Mylar coating around the bass of the bong and drew on the stand (which, I might add was a clear, butyrate flat meter cover that we still make). See the example below. The Scientific American article showed how to graphic plot the design. I plotted the points and then started engraving.
But, the object of my base design was the Ouroboros (a serpent eating its tail) that was an early symbol of The Dead (below right). The Ouroborus is also of benzine fame, and I was acquainted with it at the time through organic chemistry studies. Garcia spoke of it often, even talking to Hugh Hefner (below) pm “Playboy After Dark” Garcia patterned the Dead’s jams as ouroboroi. In the Gif, you see him wagging his fingers. He’s describing to Hefner how a Dead jam moves around and feeds on itself.
By the way, the Roadzilla rolled his eyes and told me that the serpent symbol was just “hearsay.” He was wrong about that, but that does not make him more of a jerk. By the way, Roadzilla, aka Steve Parish has a biography Home Before Daylight on life with the Dead. It’s a great read. Get it on Amazon; just don’t buy a new copy!
As for me, it was my rite of passage. By realizing that I was so small and insignificant, life got a bit easier.