Welcome to Dead Notes #11. Forty-two years ago, in the early days of March of 1973, Pigpen and a photographer friend sauntered into the band’s rehearsal space at Stinson Beach Community Center with the hope to have his ‘final’ picture taken with the group. They instead, as friends often do, razed him about his request and a heartbroken Pigpen left empty handed. Days later on March 8th, Pigpen was found dead in his apartment from internal bleeding following years of alcohol abuse. Distraught, yet wanting to honor their fallen friend, Bob Weir and Robert Hunter (who famously said ‘If there is one thing I learned from Pigpen, I think I am going to get drunk and have a real good time’) threw a party of bacchanalian excess at Weir’s new Mill Valley home. Folklore says it was an orgy outside and informal wake / riot inside, as hundreds of fans, family and band members descended upon the property. When Pigpen was finally laid to rest, with his tattered leather jacket and cowboy hat, it was under a stone that read ‘Pigpen was and is now forever one of the Grateful Dead’. A despondent Garcia almost folded the group that week, declaring ‘That’s not Pigpen in that coffin. That’s the Grateful Dead.’ Instead he and the band responded to his ill-timed passing by creating new life as they began to flesh out a series of new songs that further synthesized their unique blend of jazz, rock and folk.
A few weeks later the band skid into a languid “He’s Gone“, deep in the second set, at Buffalo’s War Memorial Auditorium. Originally written about Mickey Hart’s father, the band’s former crooked manager, the song quickly became an elegy for lost brethren — beginning with Pigpen. As Jerry croons in unison with Phil’s goofy harmonies — Bobby and Billy set a steady rhythmic pulse shuffling the band into a long, rambling jam that careens into the life-on-the-road-of-