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 It doesn’t have much in the way of the kind of literary or historical references that are the bread and butter of annotations.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.
The best Miracle tix I ever gave out were for the Grateful Dead's final show, in Chicago. I had 20th row seats for both Saturday and Sunday and, having seen how poorly Jerry was playing, and just having gotten back from vacation, I went to their hotel in the hopes of an autograph from Jerry. He left the hotel alone, later than the rest of the band. We shared an elevator ride to the ground floor and talked about art, the Art Institute and our favorite paintings and artists. The elevator opened and I asked him to sign my "Bear's Choice" album previously signed by Bobby and Phil. He did, after asking whether I was "a pro." When I assured him I was not, he signed it, I said "have a good show" and he went off to do his final concert ever. With that, I went to Soldier Field and found a couple that I thought would enjoy a couple Miracle tickets. I don't know who they were, but I'm glad they got them. A great, and sad, day all around.
I was glad to see the other comments here about the shift from paying for that miracle ticket to expecting a freebie. It always bothered me that some people felt entitled to a handout.
I attended one show in DC back in the early '80s and actually had an extra ticket due to a friend not being able to make it. A guy with his finger in the air (but no sign) was asking everyone that passed if they had an extra ticket. I stopped, said yes, for face value. He then gave me the "Duuuude, I don't have any money" line. I said "So you're looking for a handout rather than a miracle?" Got a few laughs from the people around us as he walked away. As I got closer to the entrance I passed another person with finger in air and miracle sign. I noticed he also had some homemade tie-dye shirts with him. Again I mentioned having one and wanting to sell it for face value. The guy was ecstatic, started pulling out bills, some change, and was asking if I'd take a shirt or two towards the amount. I took a $5 bill and a shirt and said "A beer and a cool shirt will work for me, enjoy the show" and handed him the ticket. What a great feel-good vibe for both of us as we walked in.
I hate to be a complainer but I think this should be known to everyone out there thinking about buying something from Dead.net. On October 29th, 2012, I ordered 3 road trips from the website. ( Road Trips 1.1, 1.4, & 2.4) and my order was cancelled today and I was given no reason at all. It might be a different situation if these were sold out but you can still go on the website (right now) and "purchase" any of these three road trips. I understand supply and demand and all of that but how can they get away with this? 3 months?!?!? I know it wont happen but I wish we could go on strike and not order anything from this website at all, whether it be stickers, CD's, buttons, shirts, anything! They shouldn't be able to get away with this. I would maybe understand if it was a week later but 3 months and then all of a sudden...oh...by the way...your order is cancelled...have a nice day. Well, fuck that. Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing and, unfortunately, Im worried this is only the beginning.
SEND ME MY ORDERS OR DONT POST THAT THEY ARE IN STOCK AND WILL SHIP WITHIN 2-3 DAYS!!!
I associated the whole miracle thing as much or more with Garcia's cover of Bruce Cockburn's "Waiting for a Miracle."
The only time i ever did not have tickets was in Worcester Ma. April 87. For what ever reason the box office did not have those few that they save back and thats when I paid $80 for a ticket from a scalper. I saw him and they were $60 bucks and thought I could do better and next time I saw him (15 mins later) I balked and he said "I'm going around that corner and they will $100. Paid than man and then told him I hope he gets robbed"
Never would I go to a show without tickets unless it was in my back yard and I would go hang out but never would I go driving miles
Stop me if you've heard this one already.... :D
The first year at Deer Creek proved to be a very tough ticket to get, at least in my circles, as it had sold out quickly. We went there anyway because some of our crew had tix, and we were all going on to Alpine after that. When we got there I think they were even denying access to the parking lot for the ticketless if I remember right, so we were forced to park alongside a cornfield outside the venue along with a bunch of other unlucky individuals and started our search. I don't think we had been there more than half an hour when some guy, who appeared to be attached with the venue, shows up with a handful of tickets and says, "I'll sell you all tickets as long as you move your cars".
The only other time I ever showed up to a venue ticketless was the second night in New Haven '83, but that's another story....
Our family has been going to the Strawberry Music Festival for many years. Last year, my 19-year-old son had a friend who needed a ticket, and we were unable to get one for him, but he made it to the festival anyway - my son said that someone "miracled" him a ticket. I said, "Do you know where that term comes from?" He didn't, so I got to educate him a little. I do a similar thing with my gay friends who think that "We are everywhere" started with the gay community. And you know those bumper stickers that say "Hugs not Drugs?" Yep, we started that too, but our Deadhead message was worded a bit less judgmentally: "Hugs are better than drugs."
I forgot the best part.
On the tickets were the words "Complimentary".
A true miracle ticket from the band.
Kudos to David D for steppin up to the plate for us lonely deadheads here in cyberspace.
Thanks again to Blair for the last few years of blogs to allow use deadies to vent and pontificate about the greatest group in history.
I Need A Miracle ( or how I was gifted with at ticket at Frost amphitheater at Stanford in Palo Alto, CA in 1983.)
Heard that the boys were doin' a show at Stanford, since we were over the hill in Santa Cruz it was a quick trip, we piled in the car and hit a liquor store in Palo Alto then arrived late for the ending of the first set. Milled around, held a boombox for a fencejumper who wimpped out at the last minute, then as the boys return for the second set we are strollin' by the main gate area when my friend and I are accosted by a guy who states "Hey ! Wanna go in to the show ?, Here. Take these tickets. Now you can't sell them or trade them. So just head on in to the show." "Uh. Okay."
So the next day I hitch a ride over the hill and arrive about a half hour before the show starts.
I wander around checkin' out the scene and as the boys begin to jam, I begin my circuit of the amphitheater.
As I return to the main gate area, I notice a guy by the ticket booth, that is in a roped off area, and he comes out of the ropes near me so I ask, "Hey, got any miracles ?", and he's like, all gruff and mean soundin', "What ?" "How Many ?", and I'm, like, "Just one for me, dude", he then proceeds to pull a stack of about 50 tickets from his pocket and gives me one. Some others are near enough to notice and he gives away three more. Then he puts them away and wanders off lookin' like he's lookin' for the miracle"
Great show Double Encore and the announcement that the Dead would be playin' in Watsonville in Sept.
Many other miracle stories in my travels with the Dead but that was the first.
now that's just rude, to scalp your miracle ticket!
Indeed, even before the In the Dark era, which changed things a good deal, there were quite a few shows that were in such high demand and sold out so quickly (the Greek, the Frost, NYE, and assorted tour venues) that there were hordes of people who would regard the ability to buy a non-counterfeit ticket at full retail as a miracle. Always seemed that way to me, and it was always at such shows that I first saw people parading around with miracle signs. But it changed for sure.