It Was 40 Years Ago Today…

…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.


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9 thoughts on “It Was 40 Years Ago Today…

  1. What an extraordinary story! The song rather passed me by in comparison, I’m afraid. But then, I started pottering about making coffee and what-have-you after about minute three. I clearly don’t have the requisite attention span for a Deadhead! I like the sarky ‘cops having room to dance’ quip at the end though – that got my attention!

  2. Thanks for reading/listening folks.

    tfd: must…resist….evil….Facebook……

    gf: I actually picked Wharf Rat from this show before I looked up what the news was 40 years ago, so the parachute/failed life connections were purely co-incidental (or maybe it’s just another example of Dead synchronicity…). I seem to remember hijacking as being the way to get a flight to Cuba back in those days, rather than as a means of extorting money.

    tf: yes, all the tour concerts sound bright and fresh and almost all are full of energy. I do like finding out that people have ‘fave Dead tracks’.

    bish: I know I’m not going to turn you on the the band but I very much appreciate that you keep giving them a go (and listening (sort of) until the end). I confess, it’s more that I’m prepared to do with eighties synth acts….
    The cop comment is from Sam Cutler, who tour managed the Stones in the USA when they ended up at Altamont and who takes quite a bit of blame for involving the Hell’s Angels in that debacle. He became the Dead’s tour manager soon after.

  3. A great song and a great version …. presumably the McCoy story is also the inspiration behind ‘Bag Full Of Money’ on Roger McGuinn’s eponymous first solo album (from 1973) …..

  4. Pingback: The Story So Far « What Another Man Spills

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