DROSS TO GOLD
by Ken Babbs
In the spring of '69
the band's studio was in a warehouse
they called alembic.
alembic: the cup wherein
the dross is changed to gold.
goldentressed backup singers
lived upstairs in the loft.
the band practised below.
the grateful dead offices were
in the city and whenever a high mucky-muck
ventured across the golden gate
and passed through the portals of alembic
it was a portentious event indeed.
the band had hired a new manager at the time but he was of all things, a minister!
and he was by god gonna
elevate these boys
to the supreme heights.
dross to gold.
so there they were, running through a sassy r and b song, pigpen singing,
phil walks the beat.
billy brushes the cymbals.
bobby strokes the chords.
and it's coming together,
when just then in walks,
nay, strides purposefully, their
new manager, to deposit
his brief case of office
at the feet of the band,
ending the song with a resounding thud.
it's happening, boys, he announces.
the very thing needed
in order for you to
jump to the higher rung
and grasp once and for all
you so rightfully crave.
can the shit and give us the news,
jerry said. i can tell it's not
going to be good, or you wouldn't
be baring your surplice so obvious.
the new tour schedule is in,
their manager said, and for the most part,
it's an easy swing,
but there's one leg that's going to
be tough. you have to play
new york city this friday night
and austin texas the next night.
that's impossible, jackson hollered.
no way we can load out and load in
that quick, ramrod said.
we'd need a miracle, bobby said.
it'll never happen, billy said.
you a flatout numbskull, pigpen said.
boys, the lord will give you strength.
strength we got, what about
sleep? phil asked.
you'll have to makedo. this was the
only way i could set up these gigs.
don't forget you hired me just for
yeah, but not to kill us, jer said.
and they all joined the chorus:
no no no we won't do it no more,
we're tired of getting killed on the floor.
sorry boys, the contracts are signed,
either play these dates or
you'll never play another
hall on this planet. i'll help you
every way i can.
you gonna lug that equipment?
you gonna play your
ass off on these gigs? phil said.
no no no, my job is
to stay home, scheduling you
even deeper into the ecstay of success, and
with the blessing of the lord to support you...
take that lord shit and shove it, billy
said, hitting the bass drum for emphasis.
i wanna hear you sing some gospel, pigpen
said, how you gonna make us rich and all.
you know i can't sing, i can't dance,
i can't play an instrument, but
i am one lordlovely businessman
and that's what you've hired me for.
alright, alright, jerry said. you're
gonna help us any way you can, right?
of course i will.
then get us some speed.
speed? wringing his hands. speed?
yeah, and not just any nogood kitchen speed, either.
but i know nothing of such matters.
time to learn, jerry said. I want
some obitral. yeah, it's gotta be
obitral, simple as that.
i'm a man of the cloth,
I can't stoop to such ...
do what you have to do, jackson
interrupted. i'm with jerry.
me too, ramrod said. get enough
for us all.
i'll take one small hit, bobby said,
but you have to score or your name
isn't reverend. it's camel dung, billy said.
heathen camel dung at that, phil said.
you be so low that snail shit on the
bottom of the ocean is gonna look
to you like shooting stars
in the sky, pigpen sang.
boys, boys, stop it.
you're not being fair. i've been
working round the clock to put
thy house in order and it's a mess,
believe me, a real mess, and what do i get
in return? opprobrium at every juncture.
why are you treating me this way?
because it's your birthday, jerry said,
and the band laid in on a rollicking version of the old song as mickey brought forth a cake, brimming with burning candles
and up in the loft the angelic voices of the goldentressed backup singers joined in: happy birthday to you,
happy birthday to you.
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