Almost ready
Wednesday, December 6, New York City.

Tonight's rehearsal is on the West Side, in the 20s, in a huge studio with a stage. (A relief: last night's space was a closet.) Verlaine and Jay Dee are pretty much chain smokers, so I feel right at home. Nicotine clouds rise through the studio.

The set list is taking form. Verlaine is urging a version of "Land," a masterpiece from Patti's first album, but Patti keeps saying, "Maybe for the end of the tour, for Philadelphia," and never gets around to rehearsing it. After all, "Land" was basically an improvisational tune wrapped around Fats Domino and Chris Kenner's "Land of 1000 Dances," and it's been 16 years since Patti has tackled vocal improvisation to a backbeat. (In the '70s, she performed speaking-in-tongues trance raps, inventing some of her most enduring poems on the spot.)

The Dylan tour -- at Bob's request -- has come months before Patti had envisioned doing a rock tour. Tonight is only the second night of rehearsal with Verlaine. It's clear to me the band has not prepared enough for a tour that will receive as much attention as this one. Nine songs are almost ready: "Dancing Barefoot," "Because the Night," Dylan's "Wicked Messenger," "Ghost Dance," and, with Verlaine, "Southern Cross," "People Have the Power," Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," "Rock N Roll Nigger," and "Walkin' Blind," a song Oliver and Patti wrote for the movie soundtrack of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking.

They're rehearsing Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," a tune Jerry Garcia used to do. Lenny jumps in and starts trading licks with Tom. Patti lets them improvise. They're wailing, their music accomplishing everything the Grateful Dead's accomplished; disassembling the senses and putting 'em back together.

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