An email from Al – UPDATED

Note: I am going through my archive in between my regular daily tasks, and I will post three more of Al’s songs from the Reptiles days ASAP.

I mentioned earlier that my most recent contacts with Al Feldstein were emails he’d send after hearing “Tales from the Golden Road,” the talk show I co-host with Gary Lambert on the Sirius XM Grateful Dead Channel. Here’s what he sent us on April 6:

Am listening to the replay currently. Another good show. Unfortunately, I listen on Monday so I cannot call in. I have a few comments on this edition:

-PATIENCE-The girl who called in saying you guys were patient…. I was thinking the same thing. I could not put up with it. God knows how bad the guys who DON’T get on are!

-VINCE WELNICK-I was not a fan of his playing, but he is obviously a controversial figure. If you haven’t had him as a topic, it would be a good one.

-CLOSE ENCOUNTERS-Have you done a show on fans meeting the band?? I myself probably had two dozen brief meeting with band members, one in particular very memorable (a 100 minute one on one meeting with Garcia… it probably would have gone all day if I hadn’t BLOWN him off to go back to work!!)

-EYE CONTACT-One of the callers today talked about being close enough to have eye contact with the band. We have all experienced this, etc. One interesting thing was said to be my Kreutzmann:

During an 80’s Greek run we went out to breakfast Sunday at a coffee shop in Berkeley and Kreutzmann was in there eating with some folks. One of the people I was with knew some of Billy’s friends and we ended up joining them. One of us said that the previous night’s show was really good and he said, “You guys looked like you were having a good time.” I asked him if he meant the audience generally or us specifically. He said us specifically. I asked if he really recognized many people in the audience. He said “we know ALL of you guys”. I laughed and said, okay you were kidding. He said no, many of the Bay Area regulars that have been to 100+ shows are recognizable to all of them, which shocked the hell out of me. I still think he was ribbing me somewhat, but not totally.

I think this missive bears out the assessments of his style we’ve seen in the comments on my first post: He had attitude to burn, but it was backed with soul and substance.

I feel like a gigantic thread has been yanked out of the tapestry of my life; the whole damn thing is knotted and wrinkled today. We had our ups and downs, musically, but we were deeply connected and I really hate the fact that I’ll never hear from him again.

UPDATE: I found a followup in which Al expanded on his mention of “blowing off” Garcia:

This is a good one. So unreal that I have never told it in its full version. I did mention that I met him, etc., to some people, but not the details.

First, I had a couple of previous mini-encounters with him, the longest about a 10 minute conversation in Berkeley one day in late 71/early 72. We were both waiting outside Keystone Berkeley (me to buy a ticket to my first Garcia/Merl show, him probably to sound check or something). That conversation was totally sarcastic on both sides “are these guys any good”??…. ”I wouldn’t waste MY money on ‘em” and so on. I introduced myself, he introduced himself! I told him I KNEW who HE was, etc…. I have maybe had 3 or 4 other “meetings” that involved a hello, a nod, etc.

Anyway, THE CONVERSATION took place at the 7-Eleven store on Miller Avenue in Mill Valley. I would date it between Spring of 79 and summer of 1980. I was the District Manager for 7-Eleven at the time, and was standing next to the front counter doing some paperwork. The clerk was in the head and there was one customer in the store staring at the beer cooler. Jerry walks in to buy cigs and a candy bar ( I am sure this rarely happened that he walked in ANYWHERE alone in later years) and I tell him the clerk will be back in a second. He says no problem, he’s in no hurry. Then he looks at me and says, “do I know you”? I say “sorta… you have seen me at a zillion shows over the years, plus we have spoken a couple of times”. Then he drops the BOMB: He says “your name is Al, right”. I was absolutely stunned. Here is a guy who not only presumably has a lot on his mind, but met me ONCE for a few minutes EIGHT YEARS EARLIER. And I always thought he couldn’t even remember if he played Deal last night!!

Anyway, he buys his stuff and we walk outside and both light up smokes and he initiates a conversation with me. We spent the next 90 minutes or so essentially interviewing each other and going off on tangents. My 45 minutes was probably equally divided with ridiculous stuff that any idiot would ask and some decent questions about song selection, touring, improv, guitars, etc. The conversation ranged from the Dead to other music to guitar playing to sports to movies to politics, the hostages, Bill Graham, the bay area.

The most hilarious part of this meeting occurred in the last half hour. Both of our Bic lighters crapped out and we went to my car to use the car cigarette lighter (I am proud to say that after 40 years of smoking I stopped 6 months ago today!). I open the doors and he looks like he wants to set a spell, so I clean off the passenger seat which is stacked, of course, with Dead tapes, for him to sit down. I lift a handful and go ”Dead tapes”. He laughs. I then show him a few and ask him if he remembers any of these or any other shows. He says nah, only maybe the really unusually bad ones, the last ones and ones where very weird things happened.

Eventually, like an idiot, I excuse MYSELF because I WAS at work. I got the impression he had absolutely nothing to do (like Jay and Silent Bob in Clerks) and would have stayed there all day speaking to me. Not a wise decision to abort it probably. Who knows, maybe he would have invited me over to jam or something. Anyway, I wish I had a tape of this….. I can probably remember about 20% of what was said.

And the followup about his having quit smoking six months earlier:

On the smoking:

My nephew has become a big actor (his name is Jonah Hill…real name Feldstein). At Thanksgiving 2007 he asks me if I still smoke. I say yes. He says he will pay for me to go to a hypnotist that Ben Affleck sent him to that made him stop for my next birthday. In September I tell him my birthday is coming up. The rest is history.

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3 Responses to “An email from Al – UPDATED”

  1. Larry Stein says:

    Al never told me that Garcia story. That’s hysterical!

  2. Tom Hinshaw says:

    That’s “so Al” — a phrase I have used a lot lately, thinking about him. To Al a big celebrity — particularly one like Jerry that everybody in this crowd revered — was a regular human that Al treated with dignity and respect. I am not surprised that Al would not mention it or tell the story over and over again.

  3. Deb Coleman says:

    Yes,Tom, it was “so Al”. Although I didn’t know him as intimately as you all did.

    Anyway, that is a great Al story. Thanks very much for sharing it.

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