Flashback: Doug Menuez recalls photographing the Grateful Dead’s 1984 New Year’s Eve show in San Francisco

Back in 1984, early in his career as a documentary photographer, Doug Menuez received a gem of an assignment from Time magazine: to capture the scene at the Grateful Dead‘s New Year’s Eve concert in San Francisco. Below, he shares his memories from the shoot, as well as some of his favorite images.

 

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

The Grateful Dead on stage in San Francisco, New Year’s Eve, 1984. Photo by Doug Menuez.

 

“A few months back, as the Grateful Dead played their farewell shows, someone called me looking for pictures of what is now called the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, after the late, legendary impresario who did so much to influence American rock & roll with his Fillmore East and West and other ventures before he died in a tragic helicopter crash. He was a huge part of the Dead story, too.

I dug into my archive and found my first assignment for Time magazine, which happened to be of the Grateful Dead playing New Year’s Eve at the Civic Auditorium, hosted by the very much alive Bill Graham playing Father Christmas. At midnight, Bill descended from the ceiling riding a giant lightning bolt to the stage. Very trippy, of course.  At the time, I was a total Chicago Blues fanatic and not a Dead fan, let alone Deadhead, but I definitely appreciated their place in music history. I believe they played a three-night gig, and I was there for most of it, but the pictures I found recently are all from New Year’s Eve.

It was the Deadheads who ended up being the focus of that shoot, although years later Bobby Weir and his wife and my family became close, and I did end up doing an interesting nude portrait of Bobby and family in my old studio in Sausalito. It turned out that my place had once been a Dead rehearsal hall and recording studio. But that’s another story.

 

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Bobby Weir. Photo by Doug Menuez.

 

Hanging out backstage all those years ago in San Francisco was difficult, as there was a sad event related to a recent car crash and death of someone close to Jerry Garcia. The vibe was very down, so I gravitated to the front of the house, where a new generation of Deadheads were getting high and dancing around the stage. This was in the days before you were only allowed to shoot three songs and then were kicked out. There was minimal security, and if you were on assignment for Time, you had free range—so I ranged.

Bill Graham was in good form, playing volleyball and interacting with the kids and older Dead fans, who were very welcoming of the new Deadheads. It was tribal. Yet I was a bit perplexed by why these young kids thought this music and getting dressed up like hippies was cool. This wasn’t the 60s or even the 70s; it was the early 80s, and Madonna was ascendant. Okay, maybe this was the anti–pop culture crowd, but still, they were not inventing their own style, merely copying their elders. So I had to slowly absorb the whole scene to start to capture the appeal of this rolling family celebration.

The energy was great, everyone was so happy to be there, and eventually I got into the spirit of it and sort of bounced around the auditorium, moving from the ground, to the side of the stage, to the rafters with the lighting techs, to the front hallways where people without tickets were allowed to dance or hang out. It all reminded me of a high school dance—even the contact high I was getting. By the end of the night, I was definitely a fan, if not a true Deadhead.

 

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead playing a solo with the band on New Year’ls Eve at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium, circa 1981. ©Doug Menuez

Jerry Garcia. Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

At midnight, Bill Graham rode a lightning bolt onto the stage. Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

The Grateful Dead perform at San Francisco Civic Auditorium December 31, circa 1984, with deadheads and Bill Graham.

Photo by Doug Menuez.

 

4 Comments

  1. Lisa Kunst
    Posted 09/22/2015 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Hi Doug. Thanks for sharing!

  2. markscalise
    Posted 12/18/2015 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Great shots, but this was actually 1984, not 1983. :)

    • Posted 12/18/2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for clarifying, Mark!

    • Posted 05/17/2016 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      I thought 83-84 had BG sitting on a huge globe/sittin on top of ghe world float that split apart in a lightning bolt crack as it rolled from the back of the fkoor to the stage. I gound myself following that through the crowd! Or maybe Ineas hallucinating!

      And bagels and eggs for breakfast on the way out😎


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