Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: March 9-10, 1981 (Listen Now)

Little bit harder, just a little bit more, a little bit further than you gone before.

By The Deadhead Cyclist

For Week


The 1968 Otis Redding tune, Hard To Handle, famously covered by the Grateful Dead in the late ’60s and early ’70s (and twice in 1981 with Etta James on lead vocals), featured the lyric, “Actions speak louder than words.” This contention is supported by researchers and scholars, dating back to Charles Darwin’s 1872 work of evolutionary theory, “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” Conventional wisdom suggests that Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) accounts for as much as 70-percent of human communication.

There is little question that among all forms of NVC one is more universally recognized than all others: displaying one’s middle finger, AKA “giving the finger,” “flipping someone off,” “flipping the bird,” or simply, “the finger.” The meaning of this obscene gesture is so widely recognized that any need for definition is rendered moot, making the middle finger arguably the most valuable player on the NVC team.

For that reason and others, losing that particular finger would be a significant loss for anyone, but it was doubly tragic when five-year-old Jerry Garcia lost a significant portion of the middle finger on his right hand in a wood chopping accident, the ax being wielded by his older brother, Tiff. Never mind that virtually any other result of this boyhood mishap might have prevented him from becoming THE Jerry Garcia; the failure of doctors to reattach the partially severed portion of the lad’s “fuck you” finger left little Jerry with a permanent non-verbal speech impediment.

But that five-year-old boy wound up becoming THE Jerry Garcia, and like all successful individuals, he learned to compensate for his liability. Jerry may not have had a middle finger on his right hand to hold up in protest of the things he opposed, but that didn’t stop him from remaining true to his values and expressing them in his own inimitable way. One example of this is conveyed in an interview for the documentary film, Long Strange Trip, when Jerry speaks to the issue of leadership. In effect, he holds up a middle finger to the corrupting potential of being in a leadership position. 

“…I had a lot of doubts about the Grateful Dead. I thought, maybe this is really a bad thing to be doing…Because we were always aware of the power. If I started to think about controlling that power it would be perilously close to fascism. And so I did a lot of things to sabotage it. It’s like, ‘Fuck that, you know? I’m not going to go along with this. I won’t be part of this.’… You don’t want to be the king, you know? You don’t want to be the president. You don’t fuckin’ want that. I mean…nobody should have that.”

If only some of our current political leaders engaged in that kind of thinking about power and leadership, right?

I feel as strongly about holding up a middle finger to the aging process as Jerry felt about the controlling power of leadership. For me this plays out in my commitment to youthful living in my 60s, mostly through my passions for cycling and baseball. In fact, if my moniker was truly accurate, it would be Deadhead Cyclist Ballplayer. But that just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Deadhead Cyclist, does it? Still, within the theme of enjoying life beyond age 60 to the fullest, my exploits on four basepaths have been as significant a part of my anti-aging persona as those on two wheels. Indeed, they work synergistically.

It is always possible, no matter our age or the obstacles we find in our path, to reach down inside ourselves and find something we didn’t know we had. Do so, and you’re “bound to cover just a little more ground.”

This all came together recently, while riding the trails at Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, while playing in an MSBL (Men’s Senior Baseball League) tournament for the Inland Angels. During this same week in 1981, the Grateful Dead played two epic shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden on March 9th and 10th, the second of which featured The Wheel as the first song out of the Drums/Space jam in the second set. Each year, when I travel to Nevada for baseball and mountain biking during the first two weeks of March, I look forward to listening to these two great shows, and in my book they’re tied for T.W.I.G.D.H.

While I’ve played organized baseball of one sort or another each year since the age of seven, I’ve taken my baseball exploits to a new level since turning 60, exceeding 100 games two years ago, and maintaining that pace ever since. In this particular tournament, the Angels found ourselves having advanced to the second round of the playoff bracket when I received a text from manager Ted Poleto at 9:40 PM the night prior to the semifinal playoff game: 

Just FYI u r prob going to throw tomorrow. 

My first thought was, “Dammit! Why didn’t I turn my phone off for the night?” The last thing I needed was the pressure of pitching the semifinal game keeping me awake all night. It would have been better for me to receive my pitching assignment in the morning and, indeed, I slept poorly that night in anticipation of pitching such an important game.

Things went very well in the top of the first inning, and I walked out to the mound for the bottom of the inning with a three-run lead. But my emotions were running high (read: I was nervous as hell), and I gave all three runs back to our opponent, the Mudcats, pitching horribly. All things considered, we were lucky to get out of that first inning tied at 3-3.

As I returned to the dugout for the top of the second inning with my head down, the support of my teammates, coupled with the lyrics of The Wheel from the 3/10/81 show I had listened to the day before guided me forward.

Won’t you try just a little bit harder,

Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

Inspired by the lyrics, I walked out to the mound for the second inning with a renewed sense of confidence and commitment and put up a “goose egg” (baseball vernacular for an inning during which 0 runs scored). And the “goose eggs” kept on coming, inning by inning, until we came out on top, 9-3.

As we sat in the dugout waiting for our opponent in the championship game to arrive, my elation at winning the first game was rudely interrupted. Manager Ted sat down next to me and delivered an unexpected message: “I want you to start the second game and pitch until you can’t go any more.” 

Begrudgingly, I agreed to give it a try. I had never before pitched two games in one day, but once again I recalled the sentiment from The Wheel:

Little bit harder, just a little bit more,

A little bit further than you gone before.

Never before had the adage, “one at a time,” been more applicable. After taking on this challenge one inning at a time, the Angels eventually took a 5-1 lead into the dugout in the fifth inning. It was at that point when I began to believe that I might actually be in the midst of going more than “a little bit further” by pulling off two complete game victories in one day.

Sitting on the bench during the top of the ninth inning, I watched my teammates add an “insurance run” to our then 6-2 lead to make the score 7-2. At that moment, a deep wave of fatigue washed over me. I had very little left after playing six games in three days and pitching two games on the final day, but I gave myself a mental slap in the face, fought through the exhaustion, and walked out to the mound needing just three outs to complete the greatest feat of my baseball career. 

My friend, pitching coach and catcher, Bill Dettmann, had been there for me all day, and I knew I could rely on him to get me through just one more inning. Now in his 70s, Bill is as good an example of holding up a middle finger to the aging process as anyone I know, and crouching down behind the plate some two-hundred and fifty times in one day is certainly as noteworthy a feat as throwing the same number of pitches.

The first batter of the final inning hit a ground ball to our shortstop, Tony Noto, who expertly flipped the ball to first base for the all-important first out of the inning. With just two outs to go, the feeling of anticipation on the field was palpable as the second batter dug in. Two pitches later, a popup was hit in the infield, which I easily caught for the second out. “Just a little bit more,” I told myself, as my final victim of the day approached. Two pitches later, I caught another popup for the fifty-first out of the day, completing a perfect, one-two-three ninth inning.

In reflecting on this achievement, I realized that it is always possible, no matter our age or the obstacles we find in our path, to reach down inside and find something we didn’t know we had. Do so, and you’re “bound to cover just a little more ground.” But you must first believe that in spite of age or any other factor you can go “a little bit further than you’ve gone before.” And you may have to wield your middle finger from time to time.

Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: March 9-10, 1981 (Listen Now)

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