For me, watching someone draw their last breath was no small thing.
It was my first tour with SHOWCO and only our third venue in October, 1976. This was my trial run. I was to co-drive with Ron W. to see if I had what it took to drive Rock n Roll. Also, The Who wanted no issues with time and distance for this leg of their two year "By the Numbers Tour". They insisted on co-drivers in all the trucks.
Much of that tour comes back to me in smaller bits and pieces than the rest of my memories of my time with SHOWCO. I was fresh faced, naive, and had not yet become jaded and numb. The sensory overload I was experiencing came too fast and was too intense. This immersion into the business side of the Rock industry was the grandest thing in my little world to that point. That first tour went by in a blur.
We landed at Oakland Coliseum for a two show outdoor gig. Part of Bill Graham's "Day on the Green" series. Only two bands played. The Who headlined with the Grateful Dead pulling duty as the front band. The two shows were enjoyed by 94.000 people on Saturday and 110,000 people on Sunday. The gross for the two days was was over 1 million bucks ($4.8 million in 2021 dollars). Of course they had to split it with The Dead, Bill Graham, blah blah blah. Still an impressive turnout and payday for sure.
So here I was in Rock n Roll heaven, starry eyed and in a state of constant befuddlement. My first dose of Reality occurred after the second show on Sunday, October 10th.
Ron had me get our truck ready to back in for load out. I was outside the 12 foot chain link fence behind the stage finishing up the safety check for the second time. Many folks were milling around so I leaned up against our White Freightliner to spark up a smoke and attempt to look as cool as I felt. No one from the milling hordes even took notice of me, my hip aviator sunglasses or SHOWCO Tee shirt. I wasn't crushed, but I remember a twinge of disappointment.
I watched the people filing out and was struck by how odd the group was. There were folks wearing suits, folks wearing tye-dyed shirts and ratty bell bottoms. Mixed in with this erratic group of people coming and going, four huge security guys passed through the gate carrying what I assumed was a rowdy fan. I quickly realized he was not being rowdy anymore. He was not moving. He just hung from their massive mitts like a sack of grain with four legs. Right on their heels, his hippie friend followed. He was hysterical and screaming about how his lover was going to die from an overdose and why isn't anyone doing something for him.
The security guys gently set Mr. OD down next to the fence and went back into the backstage area. I was shocked by their "this was nothing unusual, same shit, different day, it's part of the job dude" calm demeanor. In the meantime the sidekick was wailing, "Someone call an ambulance, he's dying..... I told him not to hit up .............. Please someone help him!"
He was out of his mind with worry.
The flow of milling people continued to pass in and out of the back stage gate with barely a glance at the life and death emergency unfolding next to the gate. I continued to smoke my cigarette and watch wide eyed as the hysterical buddy cradled Mr OD's head; all the while wailing and moaning. I was frozen in place by the whole episode. This was not something I expected to see, ever. I had no clue about what I could do. So I did nothing and became but a witness to humanity carrying on in its classic selfish ways while one of their own was expiring in front of them.
Ron showed up. His all business attitude brought me out of my shock and forced me to focus on the job at hand. He had no time for the drama unfolding near by. In a fog of sorts I went through the motions and backed the trailer in for load out.
Focusing on my job interrupted my preoccupation with the OD just outside the fence. But while the stage hands and roadies were wheeling the sound equipment on the trailer that preoccupation turned into a kind of morbid fascination and I went out to check on the couple, one possibly dying and the other frantic with worry.
The two of them were still outside the gate and no ambulance or medic of any kind had made an appearance. The concerned hippie sat cross legged, his back against the chain link fence and cradled Mr. OD's head in his lap. He was leaning down and speaking softly. I could not hear what he was saying. I walked closer and the hippie suddenly looked up at me with red eyes and tears streaming down his face. "He's dying you know. And no one cares." He bent down again and continued to whisper in Mr. OD"s ear.
I said nothing as I stared at this unnoticed tragedy unfolding to its apparently forgone conclusion. I briefly looked down the lane that led to the parking lot. There was an ambulance coming. I turned back to the couple. Before I could say anything, I saw MR OD's chest heave and then he went limp. I knew he was dead in that moment. The hippie looked up at me. We did not exchange any words but his grief passed onto me as we stared at each other. I backed up and went back through the gate to my truck. I would never forget what I witnessed that bright October day behind the stage at the Oakland Coliseum.