…that Mormon Sunday School teacher and would-be FBI agent Richard McCoy Jr. boarded United Airlines Flight 855 under the alias ‘James Johnson’. By threatening to blow the plane up mid-flight, he struck a deal with the airline to have half a million dollars and a parachute ready for him at San Francisco airport. After landing there, collecting his loot and releasing the passengers, the plane returned to the skies and he jumped from it at 16,000 feet over Utah, landed safely and hitch-hiked home. He and most of the money were found two days later and he received a 45-year prison sentence. He escaped from jail two years later but when the FBI caught up with him again, they shot him dead.
At the same time as McCoy’s hijacking exploits, the Grateful Dead’s road crew were suspending parachutes from the ceiling of the Empire Pool in Wembley, in an attempt to improve its dire acoustics prior to the band taking the stage for the first concert of their first European tour….
OK, I know this is bordering on monomaniacal fixation, but I’m just going to post one song from each concert, on the fortieth anniversary of its original occurrence, and then I’ll move on. Having aready posted the April 7th concert’s finale (here), I’m picking Wharf Rat this time; with its story of a failed life and its plaintive cry of ‘I’ll get up and fly away’, it seems to chime with McCoy’s story.
Played here as the final song in the second set’s segue, after Truckin’ and The Other One (with a diversion into El Paso), Garcia’s guitar has become slightly out of tune after 45 minutes’ constant use but his voice delivers the sorry tale of August West with great sincerity. The music conveys the frustration of the ‘blind and dirty’ old man’s life beautifully, right up to the final note.