There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Jerry Garcia occasionally played with Tom Constanten in 1970, after TC left the Dead and was doing music for the play “Tarot.” There is, however, no specific proof, nothing very firm – even though Garcia is mentioned in several places in connection with Tarot, the evidence tends to evaporate when inspected closely, leaving Garcia still in the shadows, his precise involvement murky.
So this post is meant to gather the evidence we have in one convenient spot, to see what conclusions can be reached.
First, a bit of context from Tom Constanten:
In 1970, “Joe McCord, aka Rubber Duck, had been doing gigs around the Bay Area, and I wound up in the “backup” band to his mime show. The “Rubber Duck Company.” Sometimes I was the entire band. A student of Étienne Decroux, he was developing a mime play at the time, based on the characters in the Tarot. The “ride” then moved to New York, and I went along…”
From TC’s book Between Rock & Hard Places:
“I found myself rehearsing what was to become Tarot with musicians like Peter Rowan, Richard Greene, and Mickey Hart. There were even a few gigs around the Bay Area, playing behind the show’s driving force, mime Joe McCord… Ron Wilson and David Garthwaite (brother of Terry) managed to find time off from the Joy of Cooking to join us a few times. Don Buchla even sat in with us, with his ‘Buchla box’ synthesizer, one night at Mandrake’s in Berkeley. By late fall, 1970, the show was ready to take to New York – there was a commitment from the Chelsea Theater Center in Brooklyn to mount it…
The musicians that went East to do Tarot included Gary ‘Chicken’ Hirsch, of Country Joe & the Fish fame…Paul Dresher, guitarist/flutist/sitarist/and musican extraordinaire - it's been a delight to watch his career unfold since; Wes Steele, bassist…Jim Byers, a Michael Lorimer guitar student; the peripatetic violinist, Art Fayer; and myself on keyboards. The troupe was known as the Rubber Duck Company, so naturally enough we were the Rubber Band…
Village Voice reviewer Carman Moore came to see Tarot during the run in Brooklyn (with Berio, whom I remember faintly applauding) and described the mix as ‘magical’… The run at the Chelsea Theater Center was for a fixed duration, but there was some interest generated in moving the show to Manhattan. What that meant to us what a series of showcase performances (for potential backers), and a few reprises of the mime/music show [including] at the Village Gate… Just when it looked like we were all set to move the show into the Circle in the Square on Bleecker Street…one of the major backers suddenly and inexplicably pulled out. The remaining producer, Richard Fields…got United Artists Records to make up the difference as part of an ‘original cast album’ deal.” (p.84-5)
The band changed their name to Touchstone, and recorded the Tarot album in 1971:
TC does not mention any Garcia involvement with Tarot; but he’s not writing about every detail. (In fact, any precise details about the performances are scanty in his book; the narrative is vague on dates and mixes the story with reminiscences of various people he met. He does tend to mention the musicians he played with, though.)
The evidence connecting Garcia and Tarot follows:
1. An ad for Mandrake’s in Berkeley lists the Rubber Duck Mime Band & Jerry Garcia as playing on June 2-3, 1970.
(Other scholars, though, have concluded that these were NRPS shows.)
The Rubber Duck Company (with Constanten) also opened for the Grateful Dead at the Euphoria Ballroom on July 14 & 16.
It’s ironic that while Constanten wrote about other guests sitting in at Mandrake’s, including Don Buchla, he didn’t mention Garcia! But besides TC, Garcia would also have known the Rubber Band drummer Gary “Chicken” Hirsch, who had been with Country Joe & the Fish – and he was quite familiar with Rubber Duck himself:
2. In the comments to the JGMF post, Joe McCord (aka “Rubber Duck”) wrote: “I worked with Jerry for quite a while… Jerry did play with us on many occasions. I personally toured with the Dead as their opening act. Jerry, & Mickey Hart, & Tom Constanten, joined with my band to fill it out. Jerry also played with my play "TAROT" first in Berkeley, & later in the Academy of Music, Brooklyn & the Circle In The Square in New York… Jerry played both pedal & guitar with me. I also opened for them at the Hollywood Bowl… Played with Jerry & Mickey in The Boston Tea Party & Cafe Au GoGo in New York, as well.”
His memories are somewhat non-specific. But as it happens, one person on dead.net who attended an October ’69 Boston Tea Party show wrote: “I remember that between sets there was a mime/music improv that involved a mime (I do not know who he was) with Jerry, Mickey and TC doing improv music behind him. It was different, strange and weirdly engaging.”
(The Dead played the Café au Go Go the same week, so perhaps McCord was on tour with them.)
The Rubber Duck Co. had been billed as a Dead opener as far back as the August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog shows. (However, there's some debate about whether it was replaced by the band Phoenix.)
McCord was probably also the mime who opened for the Dead at the 11/23/70 Anderson Theatre show. (At least, there’s no better candidate!) It’s difficult to locate him at other shows since he would not have been billed.
Constanten wrote, “I found myself rehearsing what was to become Tarot with musicians like Peter Rowan, Richard Greene, and Mickey Hart” – this confirms that Hart, at least, was working with the Rubber Duck band at this point (while he was still playing with the Dead), and McCord agrees on this point. Greene & Rowan were then in the band Seatrain; McCord also remembered more vaguely, “I collaborated with Sea Train with Richard Greene & Peter Rowan.”
Both Greene & Rowan would later be in Old & In The Way, however I don’t think Garcia was friends with Rowan yet – the Rowans had been in New York and didn’t move to the area until fall 1970. However, if Hart was also involved, it seems likely Garcia would have joined in these rehearsals if invited.
3. Paul Dresher first played with the Rubber Duck Company at the Euphoria Ballroom shows in July 1970. He was interviewed by 21st Century Music in 2000 about his history, and revealed more of the origin of the band:
"I was replacing Jerry Garcia, actually, in this band... The band was called The Rubber Duck Company. They used to open for The Grateful Dead... We were having a show produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music... So I moved to Brooklyn to do the show, and lived in total, abject poverty. But I was having fun… So we did the show for five or six weeks at the Brooklyn Academy. The band was made up of a lot of people who had been successful in bands like Joy of Cooking, Country Joe and the Fish, and Sea Train... Tom Constanten was the keyboard player and leader of the band… Tom left the Dead in 1970, and then formed The Rubber Duck Company to do this music-theater piece. How the new band began was that Tom, Mickey Hart, and Jerry Garcia would improvise with this mime – between Grateful Dead sets or as an opening set. And the mime, Joe McCord, had a street-theater piece... So this new band was being formed for Joe’s theater piece, and it was really time for Tom to leave the Dead, because he was really not fitting, and the Dead wanted to rock more... So Tom was the composer for Rubber Duck when I got in the band, but I started writing some of the music for the show, too... There’s an album. There’s a vinyl LP out there, which is actually in the Grateful Dead history books as a weird offshoot of their activities."
(For more, see the Appendix.)
So this confirms a lot of Joe McCord's account. It also appears that Garcia may have been the regular guitar player for the Rubber Duck band's appearances up until Dresher joined in July 1970. So here's one point where Constanten fails us, not mentioning the early improv sets at all; but since Dresher, McCord, and a Boston witness all recall them, we know they happened.
4. In March 1971, Circus magazine printed an interview with Garcia from November 1970. They wrote: “Recently Jerry has been playing music for a play called Tarot presented by the Chelsea Theatre Company in Brooklyn.” (In another paragraph, it’s said he’s “helping with the music” for the play.)
The play isn’t mentioned in the actual interview, so we don’t know how they knew about it, whether by sighting or rumor, or maybe a Garcia comment that didn’t make print.
There is a difficulty here – as far as I know, Tarot didn’t start showing until December. (The Chelsea Theater Center apparently ran it from December 12-20, and I don’t know of showings before that.) By then, Garcia was back in California!
Nonetheless, since Garcia was in New York through much of November, he would certainly have had the chance to meet with Constanten (who’d moved there in October or November). Constanten wrote that there were Tarot rehearsals & auditions after he arrived in New York. There may have been rehearsals Garcia could attend, or earlier showings I don’t know about.
Of course the Dead had plenty of their own shows to play. But if the chance was available, there seems no reason Garcia wouldn’t sit in, if Constanten invited him. Garcia was always insatiable for more opportunities to play. (Recall that Garcia and the New Riders, between a Nov 23 show in NYC and a Nov 27 show in Chicago, played a Nov 25 show at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco! There was also a “Garcia & Friends” show advertised at the Matrix on October 26, in-between the Dead’s St Louis & Stony Brook shows.) And we do have, at least, an almost certain sighting of Joe McCord at the Dead's 11/23/70 show.
There is one most likely source for the Circus article's claim:
5. Garcia is listed as a guest in the Tarot program from December 1970 -
“Electric Lead Guitar and Pedal Steel – Jerry Garcia (when he can)”
The front page of the program even lists him prominently as one of the composers!
Of course, Garcia’s being listed on the program doesn’t actually prove that he ever sat in. Maybe he showed up at some point in November and made a vague promise to drop in later, never fulfilled… Paul Dresher failed to mention ever actually playing with Garcia at a Tarot show. But even if Garcia never showed or contributed anything, the Tarot company knew that mentioning his name might sell a few more tickets!
Carman Moore’s review of Tarot in the Village Voice said, “The playing was not terribly tight... When Jerry Garcia joins the band, this assessment may have to change.” So at least one reviewer took Garcia to be joining the show at some future date. I get the feeling Garcia’s name was being dangled as a promotional gimmick – it’s unlikely he would fly back to New York just to play for a musical! At least, he was never spotted.
6. Outtakes said to be from the Tarot sessions including Garcia, Lesh & Hart have circulated for some time. I’ve been skeptical that Garcia was involved in these at all – yet Michael Parrish wrote: “The Tarot sessions including Garcia, Lesh, Hart, and Richard Greene [were] taped off of KSAN in 1970, when TC visited their studios. He was the one who rattled off the names of the players, although I did not record his interview. What circulates now includes some other tracks of questionable provenance that may have included Touchstone, the group with which TC recorded the Tarot album.”
We have two sets of music online – first, the long-familiar “Tarot Outtakes” which are filler tracks here:
Most of the tracks are strictly classical pieces done by a string section, with no band involvement. I would guess this is some other set of music entirely that slipped into our tapes. There are only three band outtakes: the first two “Tarot outtake” tracks – one instrumental with a full band, and one piece with harpsichord/electric guitar/bass – and another isolated outtake (track 17) that’s also classical in style, with a range of instruments (flute, piano & band). Lastly, track 33 is a long avant-garde collage of sounds, a string section & piano bangings, which sounds like Constanten’s work. If these were all included in TC’s broadcast, he may have been playing a variety of selections, not all of them from the Tarot project.
There’s also another set labeled “Tarot Music” which supposedly features “Garcia, Lesh, Constanten, Hart, & Greene.”
This has four brief instrumentals with acoustic guitar, pedal steel, piano & violin (and very limited bass & drum). They’re in a very different style from the other Tarot outtakes and don’t sound like the same musicians at all.
As a comparison, here are a couple tracks from the actual Tarot album, which was recorded in 1971 with the regular Touchstone band. (This was all I could find for now.)
The Chariot Space Voyage / The Star - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwinoOp_wQI (at the start, this sounds pretty similar to the first outtakes)
The Moon / The Old Fool’s Reel - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6qRrQtUxVQ
The Rubber Band, as you can see in the program credits, already featured “classic guitar,” violin, and electric guitar, flute & pedal steel (played by Paul Dresher). There doesn’t seem to be any need to credit any other guest players on our outtakes. And yet, Constanten does list a 1970 demo session with Richard Greene in his TCBase; and he did apparently also name Garcia, Lesh & Hart when he broadcast some tapes on KSAN. That said, there’s no telling just which tracks he was referring to. If the broadcast was in 1970, it would date from an early phase of Tarot (which evolved as a play later on in New York).
There is also the issue that Tarot music was very “composed,” and wouldn’t seem to lend itself to Garcia’s free-flowing jamming style – if any jams at all. This is not so much a concern earlier in 1970 – I can imagine Garcia, Constanten, Hart & co. having a jam session on the Mandrake’s stage, like they’d done at the Boston Tea Party – but by the time Tarot was being recorded or presented onstage, Garcia would seem to be limited to strict sideman parts with little scope for improv. How eager would he be for that role?
Constanten’s TCBase provides some useful info:
It lists undated performances by the Rubber Duck Company at Mandrake’s in Berkeley in 1970. (Multiple bandmembers are listed – two guitarists, drummers & violinists, and three bassists. There was an ever-changing band membership, so they were all lumped together in this list, along with some guest players. Note that David Garthwaite & Ron Wilson, sitting in from the Joy of Cooking, are included – Joe McCord also remembered their involvement.)
TC also lists a “Tarot Demo Session” at Pacific High Recorders that year, including “Harlequin” and “Maiden Waltz” with Richard Greene on violin. Another Tarot Demo Session is listed as taking place in Albany, California that year.
The Tarot musical is listed as starting at Brooklyn’s Chelsea Theater Center in December.
Garcia’s name is not listed anywhere in these Rubber Duck entries. Whether it’s because Constanten omitted him, or felt his involvement was too minimal to mention, it’s hard to say.
After the Brooklyn run ended, Tarot performances resumed at Manhattan’s Circle in the Square theater in March ’71, extending into April.
Blair Jackson wrote in an article on TC: “I had the good fortune to see Tarot performed twice at the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre (both nights before Dead shows at Manhattan Center) [April 4-6], and can attest to the magical spell it cast on audiences with its eclectic music – played by T.C., former Country Joe & the Fish drummer Chicken Hirsch, multi-instrumentalist Paul Dresher (now a big name in avant-garde circles), violinist Art Fayer, and guitarist Jim Byers – and enchanting, dreamlike flow.” (Golden Road, Summer 1984, p.24)
Note that Garcia still hadn't shown up...
When Constanten sat in with the Dead on 4/28/71, he was recording the Tarot album at Electric Lady Studios in New York. He later recalled, “I was in New York finishing the recording of Tarot. I didn’t even go to the Fillmore East with the idea of playing. I just went to visit Pigpen and the others. I was backstage at the Fillmore East and the next thing I knew I was sitting down at the keyboard.” (from the Sandy Troy interview, One More Saturday Night p.162)
That was the last time he played with Garcia.
The Tarot album was meant to be a double-album, but was cut down to a single. The Touchstone band headed back to California later that year (with some changes in personnel) with high hopes of recording another album, or playing more music. As Constanten reports in his book, their plans ended in disappointment.
From the Pooterland interview, TC concludes the Touchstone story:
“Touchstone moved to Los Angeles after the NYC Tarot run. Michael Butler, whose show Hair was running (and raking it in) in six cities at the time, was contemplating taking Tarot on. When that project ran into problems, he came up with a concept for a musical version of Frankenstein, and signed me to do the music. Aside from preparing for that, Touchstone did a few shows as an instrumental band in California. United Artists Records was cool to instrumental bands, though, so they didn’t promote the album a whole lot. The fact that the show didn’t catch fire during the New York run didn’t help. So the second album our contract mentioned (and we had material for) evaporated into the fog on the Hollywood hills.”
Joe McCord seems to have had some hard feelings about how it turned out. Commenting on one of the youtube clips, McCord wrote, “Touchstone’s first name was the RUBBER BAND. Tom Constanten sabotaged TAROT, on the orders of the Church Of Scientology.” Then Chicken Hirsch replied: “What the fuck Duck. Tom busted his ass for the project. I was there and I didn't see no sabotage.”
The point of this is not to bring up old disputes, but it reminds us that if the guys who were in the band disagree on what happened, how much can we figure out by relying on the few scraps available on the internet?
This is what we’re left with, for now:
1. An ad for shows with Garcia & the Rubber Duck band. Scholars dispute that they took place, but I think they did.
2. Joe McCord says Garcia played with the Rubber Duck band quite a bit. Constanten doesn’t say a word about it.
3. Paul Dresher confirms that Garcia was the original guitarist for the Rubber Duck band, and that it started out as a Dead opening act & expanded from there. But he does not mention Garcia participating in the Tarot play.
4. The Tarot program lists Garcia as a possible guest player. But he was in California when the play was actually running. (Contemporary news references to his involvement still give no details as to how he contributed; they seem to be just taken from the program.)
5. Constanten apparently did mention Garcia as a player in some outtakes or demos he played on the radio. But we don’t know which outtakes they are; it’s impossible to identify him.
Hopefully, more precise information will come to light in the future! But it looks like, despite Garcia’s presence in so many of our sources, his actual collaboration in Tarot may have been small.
My current theory is that the Rubber Duck Company started or entered the Dead orbit sometime in summer or fall 1969, as Garcia, Constanten & Hart would improvise & back mime McCord as an opener for their sets. By mid-1970, the Rubber Duck outfit was performing independently, and Garcia would sometimes participate in their shows. Once another guitarist joined, he dropped out. While in New York in November 1970, he met McCord again, may have played a little with the Rubber Band, and may have agreed to guest in the Tarot play when he could; and his name was happily added to their program. However, most likely he never appeared.
* * *
An excerpt from Paul Dresher's interview in the May 2000 issue of 21st Century Music.
DRESHER: I applied to Cal Arts the year it opened, and I got into Cal Arts the same time that I got into a very "big" band - a band that was doing stuff. I was replacing Jerry Garcia, actually, in this band.
ALBURGER: What was the band's name?
DRESHER: The band was called The Rubber Duck Company. They used to open for The Grateful Dead... So that was a big opportunity. I had to decide whether to go to Cal Arts, or take this gig with the band and move to New York. We were having a show produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
ALBURGER: And you were 19.
DRESHER: Yes. So I moved to Brooklyn to do the show, and lived in total, abject poverty. But I was having fun… So we did the show for five or six weeks at the Brooklyn Academy. The band was made up of a lot of people who had been successful in bands like Joy of Cooking, Country Joe and the Fish, and Sea Train.
ALBURGER: Anyone we would have heard of?
DRESHER: Tom Constanten was the keyboard player and leader of the band… Of course, Tom has a very, very unusual musical history.
ALBURGER: He does, indeed, and he has some Mills associations, too.
DRESHER: Yes. Before he joined The Grateful Dead, he had been at Darmstadt for four years, and studied with Henri Pousseur and Boulez and Berio. In fact, Berio came to one of our shows in New York in 1970.
ALBURGER: And Tom had a connection with Steve Reich.
DRESHER: Yes, and he had a connection to that whole music community at Mills.
ALBURGER: And the other Grateful Dead member –
DRESHER: Phil Lesh. So Tom had been in Europe, and Phil got into the Grateful Dead, and Phil said to Tom, “You have to come be in this band.” Tom was always the odd man out, because his musical world was really not dance music. Tom’s world was the serious contemporary classical-music world. In fact, much of that unusual music in the Dead’s second album, Anthem of the Sun – all the prepared-piano passages and all the weird electronics – is Tom.
ALBURGER: And of course, Tom didn’t stay for the long haul.
DRESHER: Tom left the band in 1970, and then formed The Rubber Duck Company to do this music-theater piece. How the new band began was that Tom, Mickey Hart, and Jerry Garcia would improvise with this mime – between Grateful Dead sets or as an opening set. And the mime, Joe McCord, had a street-theater piece.
ALBURGER: Was he part of the San Francisco Mime Troupe?
DRESHER: No, this was very different. So this new band was being formed for Joe’s theater piece, and it was really time for Tom to leave the Dead, because he was really not fitting, and the Dead wanted to rock more, they were getting less psychedelic. Well, they always stayed psychedelic, but… So Tom was the composer for Rubber Duck when I got in the band, but I started writing some of the music for the show, too. So that was my entry into the commercial-music world.
ALBURGER: The name of the show was?
DRESHER: Tarot, based on the tarot cards. There’s an album. There’s a vinyl LP out there, which is actually in the Grateful Dead history books as a weird offshoot of their activities.
ALBURGER: So you’re part of that weird offshoot of the Grateful Dead output.
DRESHER: Well, I was, at a very early age. And I do have to admit that Jerry Garcia was my inspiration for a number of years.
ALBURGER: As a guitarist.
DRESHER: And for what the Dead did, in terms of where they would go sonically. As much as people like to disparage the Dead, magic things happened. Things happened on stage that were clearly unlike anything that had ever happened in rock and roll, before or since: the feedback, just dealing with the ambience of the moment, making transitions and going places that were very special. That’s part of why people love that band. Performances were very unpredictable. Even before the death of Jerry, I hadn’t seen the Dead for a number of years. But I’ve seen the Dead be completely boring and awful, and then I’ve seen moments that were astonishing. Sometimes in the same set! That was part of the whole Grateful Dead experience.
ALBURGER: You’d hang around long enough, and you’d see the face of God. But sometimes it was a long hangout.
DRESHER: Sometimes it was really boring…
ALBURGER: Jumping ahead, there you were in New York doing Tarot, and that wasn’t going anywhere for you.
DRESHER: Spiritually, it was completely empty. Plus, we did an instrumental record. Well, nobody did an instrumental pop music record back in 1970… It was pretty fringe pop. Pop culture never accepted it. Rubber Duck was not commercially successful. We had Tarot, which was successful as an Off-Broadway show. We did the soundtrack album. It was an instrumental piece. It was all instrumental; no story on the LP. United Artists signed it, and the person who signed us immediately got fired. So we were orphaned, and we got passed off to someone else in the company. Even before the record came out, our A&R contact out of L.A. didn’t have a clue who we were and had no interest in this weird thing. We couldn’t even get them to answer our phone calls.
ALBURGER: You got buried.
DRESHER: Yes, buried. And that was a very, very, very good education about how that world worked; what were the values of the people I was dealing with.
ALBURGER: Did any of that provide experience for running your own ensemble?
DRESHER: Well, I’ve always naturally been inclined towards being the bandleader. When the band came back to the Bay Area, we really changed. We lost the drummer. Tom and I and the bass player came back, and auditioned drummers, and in fact, met the drummer I work with now. We added another guitar player (we had a violin in the band originally) and started gigging around in clubs. We were an instrumental band playing in dance clubs, playing in 17/8 time signatures and 10/4, and it wasn’t going to make it. But the record came out, and we did some dates, and we quickly realized, “This is not happening,” and we just wanted to play the music, and we just wanted to jam. We started doing these extended jams that were sort of half Grateful Dead, half Mahavishnu Orchestra. Pretty soon it dissipated into just having fun. It wasn’t about making any money. That was right when I was hanging out at Mills College. That’s when I really hooked up with a whole different group of people, and I realized instantly, “These are people who are doing music for the same reasons I’m doing it.” …
* * *
Here are two reviews of the “Tarot” musical. One person who saw it has told me “it was not for the straight crowd”…
STAGE: A MUSICAL BY THE RUBBER DUCK
‘Tarot’ Features Songs by Yolande Bevan
Mime Is an Ingredient of Brooklyn Staging
By Clive Barnes
Pretentiousness is rioting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where last night the Chelsea Theater Center ill-advisedly opened a musical called “Tarot.”
“Tarot” has been conceived by The Rubber Duck. The Rubber Duck is a man and The Rubber Duck is the name by which he wishes to be known in his professional capacity. You might imagine that anyone who wished to be called The Rubber Duck – even in a professional capacity – was in a certain amount of difficulty.
“Tarot” is a musical composed by Tom Constanten, Chicken Hirsch of Country Joe and the Fish and, among others, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Most of the singing is by Yolande Bevan, and musically this is a moderately distinguished show. Close your eyes, forget The Rubber Duck and his ludicrous staging, and just go with the music and you may have a decent time. An original cast album would doubtless prove a mild pleasure. But the show itself is tedious, pompous, inefficient and amateurish.
The musical is based on the fortune-telling game of Tarot – a card game which I once learned about while exploring T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” but I now completely forget. This musical succeeded in bringing nothing back to me. Indeed I didn’t understand what was happening from the beginning to the end, and truth to tell after the first ten minutes I did not care.
There are no words; it is a mime or dance musical. It has been staged by Mr. Duck and Robert Kalfin. Its chief merits are that one or two of the performers are virtuosos of the soap bubble. One of them can even put smoke in a soap bubble. It is quite lovely and – the music apart – the nearest point the whole evening came to approaching any even evanescent artistic statement.
As mimes or dancers the performers seemed innocent of anything so vulgar as technique. Messrs. Duck and Kalfin will not I suspect make a very favorable name for themselves as choreographers. Their corporate idea of movement, dance, mime and all points East appeared to be enthusiastic but puerile. Occasionally one could see what they were trying to do, and on such occasions it would have been inhuman not to have sympathized. But it is not in everyone to produce an evening of even modest theater, and the will should not always be confused with the way.
This is a lame Rubber Duck of a show – Mr. Duck incidentally parades through it trying to look a morceau like Marceau and failing dismally – so don’t let us talk about it any more. Bubbles, bubbles, toils and troubles – but the music was fine.
Much more important was a note in the program. It read: “Pending funds being made available, as of the printing of this program the Chelsea Theater Center of Brooklyn will be forced to suspend operations for the current season after the final performance of ‘Tarot’ on Dec. 20, 1970.” Now this should not be allowed to happen. [ … ]
It is the solitary professional drama company in New York City based outside of Manhattan and it has a handsome, resident home. It simply must not be allowed to die. Why do all the New York arts have to be in Manhattan? Even when the Chelsea Theater fails – as it does with “Tarot” – it fails interestingly. And when it succeeds a whole forest grows in Brooklyn.
(New York Times, 12/12/70)
READING A FUTURE FORM
By Carman Moore
[ Part of a longer article on the new “rock musical.” ]
…With the Incredible String Band’s “U”…the pure fantastical-mystical impulses of the rock community got up on stage and led the way into the area of abstract intermedia explored over the last decade by the avant-garde classical people and Happeners. This last week I twice witnessed a link in that chain of abstraction – once under the influence and once out from under at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It is still running and is called “Tarot” by its author-star Rubber Duck and composer-pianist Tom Constanten, once of the Grateful Dead.
Clive Barnes also saw it – I know not in what condition – but he heaped fire and brimstone upon this little, gentle mime-plus-music account of how some medieval figures with names like the Fool, the Philosopher, Perfection, the White and Black Magicians (guess who represented villainy), Death (she’s a woman), and the Tree of Life work the Fool’s (mankind) birth, education, death, and re-absorption into Nature. I mention Mr. Barnes only to note how mixed-media can never be the same to both the music-centered and the visual-centered attendant. Let me opine that stoned, the mix in “Tarot” is magical, although either way the narrative progresion is inscrutable without the score card and/or religious training in occult mysteries. “Tarot’s” linear inscutability may point to the fact that music dominates the mix. I like music, but I felt that a major problem of the piece is that it fails to touch the life of the viewer very often. Sure, we are all sort of Fools thrown into this world, set upon by some bad times, and tossed between our own good and evil impulses, but what about race, Vietnam, money, and alienation? What do I care about the Devil and the death of a Fool in an Existential world?
Much, however, is beautiful about “Tarot.” In beauty and performer commitment it far outsrips “U” and is more consistently interesting than “Tommy.” Especially fresh here is the fact that rock musicians using all kinds of music, most of it instrumental, guide the listener through a wider set of emotional changes than I have witnessed popular music to do in a long time. The playing was not terribly tight, although drummer Chicken Hirsch, once of Country Joe, seemed on top of everything, and Yolanda Bavan sang solidly on the second night. When Jerry Garcia joins the band, this assessment may have to change. There are no individually important pieces. Nonetheless the music does take your head on a real transport.
Dramatically I was knocked out by several scenes – the visitation of a gorgeous lady called Perfection to earth, the Philosopher’s erotic encounter with the Tree of Life, the good and bad musicians’ vying for the ear of the Fool, and the snarling performance of the Devil’s woman as she exhorts her old man to kill the Fool. Otherwise, I guess I’d like my Tarot cards to inform me a little about your and my life here upon Earth (no matter how gently, allegorically, and beautifully) – advise us how to deal with Nixon.
They will be setting up in Manhattan soon. With a re-address to the piece I think a stunning rock adventure would come to fruition. Broadway shows, after all, will prune and re-write for a year in San Francisco before coming to Manhattan proper, so why not a piece so potentially lovely as “Tarot.” At any rate, rock is probably going to be mixing it up until a special new art form reaches the masterpiece-capability stage. If “Tarot” does not, another piece will.
(Village Voice, 12/17/70)