Greatest Stories Ever Told - "I Need A Miracle"
By David Dodd
I distinctly remember, when we heard that the Grateful Dead would be the musical guests on Saturday Night Live, back in 1978, discussing with my roommates what we could expect in the way of song selection for the show. Would they do a selection of “greatest hits” (“Truckin’,” “Uncle John’s Band…”) or would they go for surprises? I predicted they would play their latest attempt at a top-40-friendly song, “I Need a Miracle,” from the just-released “Shakedown Street” LP. And yes, they did play a greatest hit—“Casey Jones,” but they also played “I Need a Miracle.”
Seemed like a future “greatest hit” to me! It had a big, catchy hook, and a memorable refrain. It had hyperbole. It was rock and roll.
That album, “Shakedown Street,” produced a few tunes with staying power in the ongoing live repertoire, most notably, of course, the title track, which turned into something really special. But the over-the-top lyrics of “I Need a Miracle,” along with what became a link to an ongoing tradition, has its own long-term appeal. And it, too, stayed in permanent rotation through the duration of their career, with the longest hiatus in performance being a 43-show gap from late summer 1982 to early summer 1983, for a total of 271 performances.
So: here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time. With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems.
When I built the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics website, I actually did not even bother to annotate “I Need a Miracle.” It doesn’t have much in the way of the kind of literary or historical references that are the bread and butter of annotations. Really, the lyrics seem to me to be something Barlow might have written to one-up the image of women in other Dead songs, notably in “Sugar Magnolia.” Or it may have been an attempt to get away with the kind of sexism that doomed “Money Money” from the get-go.
“Miracle” seems light-hearted and self-aware—the character singing the song (and I do think it’s a character singing, not the persona of Weir, or of Barlow…) seems to be making fun of himself. “I need a woman ’bout twice my weight…a ton of fun who packs a gun with all her other freight.” I mean—what? And “It takes dynamite to get me up….too much of everything is just enough.” A nice turn of phrase. The miraculous is synonymous with the excessive, the transcendent with the hyperbolic and overblown.
“I Need a Miracle” signs by Deadheads.
But, despite the sense of the lyrics on the face of it, what “Miracle” did was to put something into Grateful Dead culture, just by way of introducing the word: miracle. I wonder who the first Deadhead was who thought of making a sign saying “I need a miracle,” and putting a finger in the air outside a show, asking for a ticket. But it soon became commonplace, and “miracle” became code for a last-minute, sometimes free ticket. I had the pleasure of giving out a miracle ticket a few times, and I have also received them, and it does feel miraculous, from both ends—giving and receiving.
Beyond that, though, and bigger, is how the word “miracle,” in common use, gave us a way of thinking (and sometimes talking) about what went on onstage. Being open to something miraculous occurring in performance had always been a part of the Dead’s playing. The X Factor, as it was sometimes called, was present when the music was playing the band. The idea of “needing a miracle every day” seems at first borderline ridiculous, but over time, maybe it seems less so, and even something to be expected. Certainly, from my own experience, the Dead delivered a miracle more often than not. And I became more open to finding the miraculous in daily life.
After not being able to get tickets for the MSG show in OCT, we took off headed to PA for Peach. Peach music fest was my girlfriend Kate's first taste of the family and atmosphere and we were grateful to be able to afford Saturday only GA lawn tickets. While dancing in the lawn to Willie Nelson a kind man named Bill (not that Bill) came up to us with a smile and a miracle to perform. He asked "Why are you at Peach" to which I responded "For what's about to happen next" in anticipation for Bob & Bill; furthermore, I mentioned it was her first experience and I wanted to show her what it is and all about. He handed us VIP passes, wrist bands, and stubs. Proceeded with a smile and asked if we'd come join him and his friends in VIP for Billy and the kids w/ Weir. We went down and had a blast. It was the gift that keeps on giving. We know someday we'll perform a miracle for somebody and share the experience. I told my girlfriend not to ever expect that next time, but I guarantee the experience has made her a life long fan. I wish I could find this guy(Bill) and give him a big ol' hug.
Unlike the show at UCLA on 30Dec78 when I purchased a ticket in advance, I drove to UCLA from Ventura on a chilly November evening looking to buy a ticket - I knew the unwritten rule with fellow Deadheads - NEVER sell an extra ticket over cover.
And yes, the general admission open floor ticket was sold to me for UNDER face value and the show was such a barn burner and I was soooooo slightly (?!) out of it after the Johnny B. Goode encore that when I walked out of Pauley Pavilion into the very cold night air......I realized I forgot where my car was parked. I had to retrace my steps from where I drove onto campus from Sunset Blvd. all the way to where I thought my car was parked.
Hey, I think we have found the SOURCE of the miracle ticket mystique here. Thanks for that post, Steve. Amazing.
I guess I started giving away tickets in 1972 when I was waiting in line at Winterland to buy a ticket for a Neil Young concert. A person came up to me and asked if I wanted a free ticket. Being very suspicious I started question the guy and he just handed it to me and said, "Don't worry it's real, go in!" And I did.
The next time I was going to a concert and had an extra ticket I just walked up to someone who was obviously wanting to get in to a sold out show and handed it to him and said, "don't worry, it's real, go in!"
It felt good!
Move on to 1980 and the last night of the 15 night run at The Warfield and I had an extra third row ticket for the show and decided I was going to scalp it (bad boy, Steven!) I got to the show a little late and the side walk was clear except for one guy with a backpack and guitar walking away from the box office, obviously bummed out. I asked if he wanted a ticket and he said yes, but he didn't have much money, so I told him not to worry and we walked up to the door, but they wouldn't let him in with his back pack and guitar. I had been a BGP Blue Coat for a few years until late 1979 and knew the head Blue Coat that night and asked him if my friend could leave his stuff with the Blue Coat's backpacks, etc. and he very kindly said, yes. So we went in and got to our seats just as the house lights went down and the band came out. The guy pulled out a baggie of some strange vegetation and asked if I wanted some shrooms...I had never done shrooms and he said they were like a light Acid trip (I had only done Acid twice before and never at a show.) So I took what he gave me and ate some rank tasting crap...30 or so minutes later I started really enjoying the concert, and never saw that guy again!
The funny thing about that show was that I always saw a lot of people I knew at all concerts I went to especially Grateful Dead concerts, but that night I didn't see one single person I knew! Over the next few weeks people would call me and ask what was wrong with me at the show. They told me that they came up to me and that I just looked at them and walked away...
Move on to 1983 when I started working for the Grateful Dead and managing Grateful Dead Ticket Sales. After a few years I would get handed a few tickets to give out to people and I did. This grew and grew until I started going to GD shows outside of California and checking for counterfeit tickets outside in the parking lots. A friend gave me a T-Shirt that read "No, I Don't Have An Extra Ticket!" When ever I wore that shirt I usually had a few dozen tickets in my pocket and would give them to people who had the guts to ask. Sometimes I would walk up behind someone with their finger up and slip a ticket in their hand and literally vanish into the crowd so they couldn't see me, but I could see them... That was fun!
Some years after the Grateful Dead were a distant memory (at least live concerts) I sat down and tried to figure out approximately how many free tickets I gave away to GD shows over the 13 years I worked for them...my best guess was around 15,000...(yes, 15 thousand!) I never did scalp any tickets...
March ‘81 after seeing the Mon, Tues, Thus shows at MSG & the Gaarden shows, that Friday night I drove by myself to Utica after working all day at a ski area in Vermont. Really didn’t think about tickets when I was at the previous three shows and just assumed I would find one. I went to the Utica show in ’79 and remember not being impressed by the city or the area the Auditorium was in, but it was only a 160 mile drive, (very close for a Vermont DeadHead), I didn’t get there until after dark, maybe an hour before the show was to start. I still had enough time to get a ticket, just cashed my reduced pay check and was willing to buy whatever I could find. The Utica Memorial Auditorium was one of the smallest East Coast venue’s right at 5,700, which is less than a third that MSG holds; it also was a Friday night so there were a lot of “Miracle” seekers. That never meant to any of us at this time on tour to be a free ticket, that meaning probably started “In The Dark” era. So after a few rounds through the parking lots, no luck, I staked a spot at the bottom of an off-ramp, at a traffic light. You get to the people with tickets before they get to the show was always my way of landing a ticket to a tight show. As more and more people streamed in without tickets, I would ask, “Any Extras” and then “Do you Have Tickets Yourselves” and it was mostly a “No” answer to both questions. So this was going to be a very difficult night to get in. I don’t think I even saw someone score a ticket, no extras at all, some time you are just a fraction late or have something better to offer, but not tonight and not a scalper in sight. Many times these scalper guys that didn’t go to the shows, but where just sent there to make $ were vilified, well some nights your wished they were there. You could hear the roar when the lights when down and after one more lap to check out the lines to get in, realizing that the lines weren’t moving anymore, everyone who had tickets was in and there was a shit load of people shut out. The Utica Memorial Auditorium’s floor is below grade and it has a 1 level concourse that surrounds the entire bowl with the outside walls having large floor to ceiling windows with transoms that were opened to help ventilate the concourse. I ended up standing on a small ledge about a foot off the ground and I could look down an entry portal and see the stage and hear the music!!. I was straight behind the soundboard and probably no farther away from the stage than the back of the floor at MSG, (Utica was a very small venue), and the sound was not worse than some of the audience tapes I had collected to-date. So at this point I was content, just hang back and listen to the show. I had been outside at one other show, 10/25 Radio City, when I didn’t really try to get a ticket, I had spend my cash on the 3 shows I was going to see later in the week and just wanted to check out the scene. As expected, what tickets were available were very pricy, $100 so I just milled about for awhile until I saw someone open one of the side doors, thought I would give it a shot, but was nabbed a few steps inside, shown the door and I rapidly exited, no sense getting beat-up. Back to Utica, it was at least a few songs in, I heard the opening roar of “Shakedown” while I was still walking around the building and I think they were into the first slow song of the night, “They Love Each Other” and the crowd had died down and you could really hear the band. It is totally dark by now, the people left out of the show was in excess of 2,000, some getting rowdy, starting fires in trash cans while others seem content, drinking beer and getting stoned on the lawn near where I stood. I was thinking that I might just stay until the break, head home early cause I needed to work @ 8:00 AM at the ski shop, and there was another show Saturday night in Hartford, when out of the corner of my I saw 4 or 5 guys running towards the large plate glass window next to me with a full size couch over the heads. First thing I thought “Where the hell did they get a couch?” and the next was “O-shit, they’re going to bust in”. Sure enough they threw it will enough force to break the window, they was a stunned moment, they all looked at each other, the music was now blaring through the opening and like in a Western movie, with everyone poised on a hilltop reading to charge, they all ran the opening at one. Well as they were running towards the opening, an equal number of cops / security guards were running down the concourse towards the broken window and now there must have been a hundred people also streaming towards the opening and I’m still standing on the ledge about 3 feet from the clash that is about to occur. Never thought of dashing into the building, but in the cops eyes I was guilty by association and the liberally sprayed the entire area with mace. Choking and with burning eyes I ran away from the mayhem. I found some water / ice in an abandoned styrofoam cooler and tried to flush out my eyes. You could barely hear the music now and patrol cars were swarming to the lawn near the broken window. Seeing that this had the potential to be a full scale riot, I booked it to the outer parking lots, found by Mom’s Citation and headed home. This would not be the only night I was shut out, didn’t get in the next night in Hartford as well. Much shorter story; didn’t get off work until about 6:00 and knew I wasn’t going make it before the show started. Talked to one friend who was going early and would leave me a ticket at the local bar we went to after previous Hartford shows, but when I got there right around the break I found a note taped to the window at the main entry, “Sorry Smitty, no tickets”. That would be the last show I was shut out for and I ended up being to go to person if someone or someone’s friends needed a “Miracle” ticket.
Robin--what a great weekend that was! I loved that particular DSO show.
I now know the Dead were playing show after scorching show during the Summer of '74 - 6/18 comes to mind - and, unfortunately, I wasn't in attendance at a one. There was, however, an act that was going down I did see: Eric Clapton. I'd been a passionate fan for some years and would have traded my eye-teeth to have seen him. So along comes 461 Ocean Blvd. and it's all different from what he'd been doing. It was way up in the middle of the air that he was coming to our fair town and, of course, I/we had to be there. I can remember as if it were yesterday milling about outside the venue and scoring for next-to-nothing fourth row-ish seats for a song. The band just cooked - Jamie Oldaker, Carl Radle and Dick Sims comprised the rhythmn section. EC and fellow Strat player Mr. Terry tore it up! They played one of those long Blues Power into a ssscreeching halt Have You Ever Loved A Women that I shall not soon forget. The Blues can really move you if you're of the right mind. I wasn't to see the Dead for the first time for another four years - to have seen one of the '74 shows would have made it a perfect Summer!!!
Happy Ground Hog Day!!!
At the Grateful Dead symposium, Unbroken Chain, at U Mass Amherst in 2007, many of the students had no idea what the Grateful Dead scene was all about. On the first night, a young journalism student was miracled the cash to buy a DSO ticket. I hope she spent the money wisely, it was a fantastic show.
I like the connections being drawn between Miracles and synchronicity. There was a fair bit of it about on that weekend at Amherst.
Foxboro '86, I drove a group from Albany...long drive. None of us had tickets. No one had an extra. Our group split up into individual attempts to get in. I met a young woman who was also looking for a ticket. We circled the entire stadium, came to the employee parking lot in the back...it was open and we slipped into the lot. Even though we were the only ones in tie dye, we were able to walk into the employee entrance in the back. We found ourselves backstage, where there were a thousand balloons and a big helium tank. A security guard came up to us and asked what we were doing back there. i responded, "We're here to blow up the balloons." He actually accepted that statement and walked away. We ran across the stage and jumped into the audience. I saw that young woman dancing at a later point in the show, then never again. Great show. i was the only one of our group who made it in that day.
A bunch of us were at the MSG run in 94. We had tickets for the first night, but that was it. I can remember spending all day and night on Friday looking for tickets for the next show. Had never been shut out, and was certainly thinking this was going to be the first. During the day, there was someone with a video camera walking around and spent some time with us as we were looking for tickets. As it came closer to show time, we all split up, really pushing for tickets. As show time came and went I was still empty handed. As it became clear it was not going to happen, I went to the McDonalds to make some calls, and in front of me I overheard a conversation where the guy was calling his buddy to see if he was going to show. Could this be it? As soon as he got off, I asked if he might have an extra. He was reluctant, but as the show had already started, he agreed to make a quick deal. Ecstatic, I ran into the arena and found a great spot to spend the show, completely unaware as to whether any of my friends made it in. The first set was mediocre, and short, even though I came in late.
The second set started off with a blistering Scarlet>Fire. The 22 minute Fire On The Mountain was a definite highlight of the tour, if not the year. As the set continued, and I made friends with those in my area, we were having a great time as Drums>Space wrapped up, and the boys jumped into I Need A Miracle. Really feeling the luck of being in the show, and while not a free miracle, getting a miracle ticket, I was dancing with my eyes closed when I felt a bunch of pats on the back and tugs and pulls. I looked up and all my friends and I were up on the screens with our fingers up in the air and huge smiles on our faces. I couldn't believe it, and only wished that everyone had made it in, and was enjoying this show, and this moment, as much as I was. There were not too many other highlights of the show to speak of, but I was definitely pumped overall, and from not being shut out.
As I made my way out of MSG and back to our meeting spot, I was greeted with hooting and hollering from all my friends. We had all made it in, and rejoiced about being up on the screens. I will always remember that day and night when I hear I Need A Miracle. I actually emailed David Lemieux several years ago to see if that video still exists, and unfortunately, the answer was that video was rarely saved from the indoor shows. Maybe there will be another miracle, and it will turn up some day, somehow. Stranger things have happened...