This interview took place in a back room at One Pass Studios in San Francisco, where Garcia was working on the edit of the "Throwing Stones" video with Len Dell'Amico. This was the heyday of In the Dark's popularity, following on Garcia's recuperation from his near-fatal diabetic coma a year earlier, and the band's much-delayed overnight success was the background of the conversation.
The previous evening, the documentary Sgt. Pepper: It Was
Twenty Years Ago Today, a retrospective about the Beatles
album and the era it represented, had aired; the program had included a clip
of Garcia in 1987 explaining "We would all like to be able
to live an uncluttered life—a simple life, a good life—and,
like, think about moving the whole human race ahead a step. or
a few steps."
On this occasion, Garcia was in a cheerful mood and willing
to chat at length about just about anything, starting with the
"Throwing Stones" video, and the Dead's relatively recent
explorations of that medium.
Portions of this interview appeared in the December 18,
1987 (#271) issue of BAM
magazine Copyright 1987, 1998 by Mary Eisenhart. All
Wanna talk about the [Throwing Stones] video, as long as
we're in the neighborhood?
Jerry Garcia: Sure, anything you like.
Getting into video at all is something of a departure for
Not really. It's kind of a cousin to what we've always done.
It's a cousin to audio. I mean, that is to say, it's part of the
electronic world, so it's only different in that it end up on
a cathode tube, not on a loudspeaker. But audio is a component
of video, so there's always been that anyway, and although we've
never expressed a visual side apart from the Grateful Dead movie,
I don't find it that remote, you know what I mean? It's a departure
of sorts, but it's like a first cousin.
A lot of the techniques overlap?
Yeah, it's never felt quite that remote to me. If anything,
I've been optimistic about it. I've tended to think it was easier
and more available and simpler to deal with than it actually is.
Is that because of the problems of editing digitally, or.
Yeah, but the most complex video editing problems are nothing,
in terms of the amount of time they take, compared to film. Film
is a much more time-exhaustive medium. So with video, you can
do the kind of stuff you saw us doing today, just things like
colorizing images, changing the density of images, that's the
kind of stuff that you normally.
In film you need a lab to do that, which means you need two
weeks to see it. So I mean, there you go—the relationship
between fifteen minutes and two weeks is extraordinary. That's
one of the things that's fun about video, and in fact the source
material of the video that we're working on right now is 16 millimeter
film, so we're actually using film as the visual vehicle, and
then we're using the video to modulate it, to change it, and to
edit it. It's not much different from making movies on some levels,
except it's much faster. The immediacy is the part that makes
it like audio.
Do you see doing a full-length project like the movie with
all these new tools?
Would it be a concert-type thing necessarily?
I don't think so. I don't see us doing that much more concert
stuff, except—we would do concerts the way we use a video
screen at the shows. That is to say, we would pull them down routinely,
so that every show would, say, have a video tape—you'd be
able to get a videotape of every show with digital soundtrack
included. . .
There's certainly a market for that.
Yeah, we think so. We're planning along those lines, but we
wouldn't do them—they would be the way we do our shows. In
other words, whatever happened, that's what you'd get. The discretion,
in terms of the images, would be with the online director, who
would be Len [Dell'Amico] or someone like him, who would be making
the editing decisions in the now, as it's going on, and we wouldn't
spend time on post-production. So all this stuff would come off
exactly the way it occurred, and we wouldn't fool with it.
So in that sense it would be a by-product, rather than a product.
But we have lots of notions along the lines of doing things
that are formal works. Like the So Far video is a formal
work. The albums are formal works. That's what we're getting together,
we're working on something on purpose. . .
They've got a structure, they've got a theme. . .
That's right. And they're characterized by "it takes us
a long time to do them." For one reason or another. It's
part of what we do, and in an effort to keep ourselves amused,
the oftener we change the sort of thing we're doing, the more
amused we are, you know.
Do you see that Sirens of Titan [to which Garcia
owned film rights at the time] might have more viability in the
video medium than in film?
I have all the patience in the world about Sirens. For
me it's not a Grateful Dead project, it's a Me project. My real
interest in Sirens of Titan is preventing it from being
made into a bad movie. So everybody who I meet in the movies,
every contact I make—as I get closer and closer to the center
of the cyclone, I turn more and more people on to the script,
and onto the idea, and Tom and I work on it regularly. Tom Davis
is the guy who co-wrote the script with me, and we both are very
much in love with the project.
But I'm not in any hurry. I don't care how long it takes to
see the screen, just as long as when it does go to the screen,
it really goes well. That's my interest there, that I'm
maintaining as much control over it as I can from my point of
view, in terms of ownership of the screen rights and so forth,
to make sure that it doesn't fall into the hands of a hack. That's
the thing I fear most.
What did you think of the treatment that Slaughterhouse-Five
I don't think that Slaughterhouse-Five was successful
movie material. In fact, Vonnegut's books mostly I don't feel
are movie material.
They're very structurally strange.
They are, and you have to have read them all.
And they're all elliptical in your own head.
That's right, and they work that way—and the tone of them
is a lot of what makes them, that wry...the voice, the author's
voice. Which is something that you can't put on the screen. You
can put style on the screen in place of it.
But Sirens of Titan is the one that goes—and also
Mother Night, which I think would be a wonderful movie—it's
a simple enough, and a direct enough A-B-C-D, linear, Act One,
Act Two, Act Three kind of dramatic structure—it would work
as a play, it would work as a movie. Sirens has that format
also, only it's tremendously convoluted, you know, and that's
the fun of it.
87 subplots and characters winding in and out. . .
Not in our version. Our version keeps all the major characters,
but—if you read it through carefully, there's really not so
many subplots. It really is very simple in a way.
A convergence of plots.
That's right. There's really three basic characters that are
having things happen to them. Three main characters.
Which is to say Malachi,
Rumfoord, and Bea. It's like a triangle, a complex, convoluted
love story. And it's really that simple.
So our task has been to take the essential dramatic relationships,
make it playable for actors, so that it's free from the Big Picture
emphasis of the book. The book is all kind of long shots, you
know? But the ideas and the funny stuff and the human part of
There's also some extremely lovely, touching moments in the
book. It's one of the few Vonnegut books that's really sweet,
in parts of it, and it has some really lovely stuff in it. It's
the range of it that gets me off, the thing that it goes from
that black comedy kind of, and the Why Me plot, all that stuff,
the ironic twists and so forth, and that stuff which is just fun,
to the really sweet, the tender things that I—
I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff.
To the total bottom falling out of everything. . .
Yeah, I love that. It's wonderful stuff. But it took some work
for us to start to really understand the simplicity of it. And
it really does—our screenplay
really works good, so like I say, we're. . .when I was in New
York I met with Jonathan Demme, who's a really nice. . .
He did the Talking Heads movie.
Yeah, he's a good director. He was very excited about it, because
he's done a Kurt Vonnegut project before. I also found out he
was a Deadhead.
Well, I think so.
But like I say, I'm not trying to—I'm not flogging it.
I have a lot of faith in it, and it's one of those things where
I'm real ready to wait around. I don't care how long it takes.
Why that book of all the ones Vonnegut ever wrote?
Well, it's very simple. For me, when I read it, it was a movie
in my head. All the others are novels in my head. This one, when
I read it—every time I read it—boom!—it plays like
a movie in my head. If it wasn't a movie I never would've taken
For me, the ideas come the way they come. Sometimes I have
ideas about plumbing, you know what I mean?
I mean, just because you're a musician doesn't mean all your
ideas are about music. So every once in a while I get an idea
about plumbing, I get an idea about city government, and they
come the way they come.
In this case, Sirens of Titan, when I read it, it's
a movie. It plays like a movie, so it's a movie idea. If I didn't
see it as a movie I'd have no faith in doing it. I feel it's a
movie; I feel enough confidence in my own vision of the movie
of Sirens of Titan that I feel I could direct it, no problem.
I see it. It's that simple. If I didn't see it, I never would
have taken it on. It plays in my head—I see the blocking,
I see the action, I see the camera moves. I see—it just plays.
And that's one of those things—I didn't ask for that, that's
just the way it hit me back when I first read it in '61 or something.
It's been that way every time I've read it since then, and it's
just. . . There are a couple of other things I've read too that
are movies for me.
Another notable one, which is much more difficult to read,
but also played as a movie for me, was The Odyssey, A Modern
Sequel, Nikos Kazantzakis's continuation of The Odyssey.
It's an amazing book.
It's a continuation of Odysseus's life up to his death, after
he got home. And it's all written in Homeric style. It's like
Kazantzakis, who's Greek—it's a tribute to his own—and
his writing's wonderful, and for me it's just total sensual, visual
And I think it would make an incredible movie, but it has an
awful title and I know nobody will ever do it. It's because
most people, when they open it up and see that it's in meter,
and it's this thick, you know, it's like, oh... Most people can't
read it. But if you can get past that, and just read it as though
it were a novel, it's just amazing.
That's another notable one that—it plays for me. But somebody
would have to give me. . .I couldn't make the movie for less than
forty million, fifty million (grins), sixty million, something
like that. In order to really do that one right, that's like big-time.
Next venture capitalist I see, I'll be sure and tell them.
Tell them if they're looking for someplace to lose money, I've
got lots of plans!
Given all the raw material you have to work with, in terms
of Hunter being a very prolific lyricist, how do you decide what
I don't decide. I take his stuff, he'll give me maybe ten songs
at a time. I'll take them and read through them, and look at them
and look at them and look at them, and sometimes I'll sit down
at the piano and fool around a little. And one of 'em will start
talking back to me, or maybe two of them, or three, sometimes.
All of a sudden a line or two will start resonating, you know?
And I'll start—I'll have it going around like doggerel, like
skip-rope stuff (singsong "yadda-da-dum, da-dum"),
and pretty soon I'll start to hear something that fits it, that
works with it in some way. Hunter and I—our best collaborations
are when we work together. That is to say, when I feed him a melody,
and I say, "Okay Hunter, I've got this melody, and these
changes that go like this." Because he has a tendency to
write in very dense rhythmic and metrical stuff that's hard to
break out of the meter. And so they lend themselves to a sort
of folk song structure.
When I work with him, I make him do things that are more irregular,
and I give him phrases that he wouldn't normally come up with.
We both agree that that's our best way to work, but I'm such a
lazy sucker that I rarely get around to. . .
So as far as his songs, the ones he gives me and that I eventually
turn into music, they find me, and it really has to do with an
emotional quality, which I can't describe. It's not mechanistic,
you know what I mean?
An emotional quality of the words?
It's an emotional quality of the words, or something about
the way a word sounds, or something about the meter, or something
about something in it. Sometimes I don't even know what it is.
Sometimes the sense of the words doesn't occur to me until years
later. There's just something about them that I feel, "Yeah,
this song speaks to me."
I don't know why, it's the same reason why you like some music
and you don't like others. There's something about it that you
like. Ultimately I don't find it's in my best interests to try
and analyze it, since it's fundamentally emotional. You know what
I mean? So as far as which ones find their way—the ones that
speak to me on some emotional level that I don't know what—it's
a non-verbal level. That's it usually. It's rarely the sense of
it. Sometimes it's the sound of the words.
He puts a lot of work into it—this is a vowel, and it
goes here. . .
We've had to learn that, just because we've found the difficulty
you have when you write a song and you don't consider what's open
and what's closed.
I mean, you can't hold a consonant when you're singing. So
closures, and using vowels, and what kind of vowels you want them
to be, and stuff like that, have a lot to do with whether—it's
the craft of songwriting.
That's one of those things that we needed at least an album
to learn that stuff. And now we've got it down to "Okay,
you need to breathe sometimes." "You can hold vowels
better than you can consonants," that's another one. Percussive
sounds are better if they're consonant sounds, and so forth. All
that stuff you start to experience, shows you that.
When Hunter and I first started, neither of us had written
anything but a couple of little ditties. Hunter was a writer,
legitimately, but I was certainly no composer. We've lucked out
and gotten some really nice songs. I mean, I have the experience
of singing those songs over the years, so I know how really nice
they are. It's hard to sing a song that doesn't mean something
to you, and it's hard to have a song keep meaning something to
you when you repeat it a lot of times. It's a testament to the
power of a lot of those songs that I can still sing them and they
still mean something to me.
Do you have any favorites at this point?
They rotate. I don't have any specific favorites. There are
a few songs that I always really love—"Stella Blue"
is a song I'll always really love. There are others. There's lots
of them, actually. More of them than not, really, because they've
already gone through the editing process—just the fact that
they exist is a huge amount of pre-editing in there. Like I say,
the only ones that find their way into existence are ones that
speak to me on some level anyway.
Musical Darwinism prevails.
That's right, exactly. They're surviving because they're fit.
Hunter's version of "Touch of Grey" is really
That shows you the difference between Hunter and I as composers.
Hunter can write a melody and stuff like that, but his forte is
lyrics. He can write a serviceable melody to hang his lyrics on,
and sometimes he comes up with something really nice. Like "Must
Have Been The Roses" is largely his melody, and I thought
it was really lovely the way it worked. And so I used it pretty
much the way it is, with only a few little changes.
But other things I changed so they have absolutely no relationship
to his original—"Touch of Grey" is a good example.
Luckily we have enough respect for each other so that—I rarely
change his lyrics without consulting him, although I've gotten
more comfortable with changing a word or a phrase here and there
than I used to be—I would never touch anything. And any changes
that I wanted I would work with him, and we would make the changes.
Some things we worked on for years, before they ever came out
to be performable songs. One of the ones that I thought really
ended up working well on that level was "Ruben and Cherise,"
which is one of my favorite of our songs together. That's a song
that was not a matter of inspiration. That's one of those songs
where we worked on it year after year. We'd bring it out—"Let's
try this again—no, it still doesn't—ah, forget it."
The whole process took about seven or eight years. We worked
on it intermittently for that time before it actually turned into
the form it has, which is a neat one. It has some very original
stuff in it. And a great lyric. But the changes that that song
went through, compared to the inception of it, both lyrically
and musically, are just—
But it's odd that it still retains a few of the very first
ideas that it had, although not because they stuck around, just
because they mutated and found themselves back in the song later
on. It's odd how that process went. I had a chance recently to
dig into some old tapes where we were first starting to work on
that tune, and seeing what it was, what made me start.
The thing that made me start was this notion I had about musical
hunks that would get smaller and smaller as they progressed. "Ruben
and Cherise" basically works that same way. For some reason
we were able to preserve that original idea. It goes from a thing
that's like four beats to three beats to two beats, in the verses.
But it's almost totally invisible—it still fits into 4/4 time,
so you don't go, "Oh, that's a bar of 5/4." It's very
smooth, so you don't notice—it all is in the vocal phrasing.
And it's one of those things that I'd completely forgotten about,
but it was the original architecture of the tune. Everything else
changed around it, but for some reason that little part of it
stayed all the way through to the end.
Is the fact that your version and his version of that song
are so lyrically different just a product of the fact that it
took ten years to get into final form? Because your version argues
a diametrically opposed point to his version.
Yeah, probably. Well, Hunter, a lot of times, after the song
is done, he rewrites it, and says, "Okay, that's your version,
now here's my version." And he chooses to take the opposite
tack. Sometimes he rethinks what he's done and decides, "Well,
this would've been a better ending." But usually he doesn't
insist that I use it. Like he's got a verse that he's been wanting
to do for "Friend of the Devil" for a million years.
I refuse to do it.
Not for any reason. Just to be an asshole. Not for any good
reason. (grins). It's gotten to be that kind of thing. But maybe
I'll blow his mind someday and do it.
Hunter has the right to be able to make those decisions downstream.
And change them. Like he's got his version of "Lady with
a Fan" and "Terrapin" and all that. He's got one
version—he's got several versions of it, but one version at
least has a beautiful conclusion, where everything comes together
finally in the end. I prefer the open—you don't know what
happened, we don't know what happened, it's not...
It's like the storyteller makes no choice—and neither do
we. And neither do you, and neither does anybody else. I prefer
that. I prefer to be hanging.
I've always been really fond—in folk music, I've always
been fond of the fragment. The song that has one verse. And you
don't know anything about the characters, you don't know what
they're doing, but they're doing something important. I love that.
I'm really a sucker for that kind of song. There's a couple of
songs in my acoustic set now, I get a chance to do the originals
of some of the songs that Hunter and I later warped into alternate
reality. There's a song that I do that—I think it's
a Civil War song, although I'm not really sure. Its lyrics sound
as though they date from about that period of time. But it's a
fragment—it tells very little about what's happening. There's
only three verses in it, but by the third verse—
What's it called?
It's called "Two Soldiers." You haven't heard me
do it out here.
I've loved the song for a long time—but I didn't learn
it to do until we went to the East Coast.
What happens in it?
Well, this tune starts off with a Boston boy and a friend sitting
around a campfire, and the Boston boy is saying, "I'll do
what you want me to, provided you write to my mother, if I—if
something happens to me." So we don't know what the other
guy wanted him to do, and then he talks about his mother a little,
like a good 19th-century boy. He talks about his mother a little,
and then they go off to the battle. And then there's a great verse
of battle stuff that has incredible lines in it. And the battle
is over, and at the end of the battle the people who are dead,
left on the hill after the battle, are the boy with the curly
hair, the Boston boy, and the person he was talking to. So there's
nobody to write to mother, and it ends.
There's so little to it that you just barely understand what
happened. Undoubtedly it was originally 20 verses. But it's got
a beautiful melody and it's just real evocative. It's the kind
of thing I'm a real sucker for. It's just a beautiful tune.
"Sugaree" is kind of like that for me.
Yeah, "Sugaree" is kind of like that. I like for
a song to work that way. All my favorite stuff is like that. They're
like little. . .
But that's own my personal bias, and Hunter's really aware
of it. So he knows how to really—I mean, if I want him to
do something that's mysterious, he knows just what I like. And
he writes me really well. When he does something that's
my point of view autobiographically—like "Mission in
the Rain" is a song that he wrote that's me.
It's like it scratches that itch—any desire I have to write
a song from my own point of view, Hunter does it as well as I
could do it. So I go with his version. It's a lucky combination
that works very well.
It seems to me that the vast majority of the first 22 years
of Grateful Dead songs have been situated in their own universe,
that's everywhere and everyplace and nowhere and no place.
And it seems to me on the other hand that In the Dark
is very much a creature of the 80s.
Well, we're starting to find that place right here. That place
that used to not have any strict location—I think if you take
In the Dark and put it in some other decade, it speaks
to that decade just as clearly. And it's equally nonspecific.
I mean, if you really listen to it carefully it doesn't say anything
that pins it to the 80s.
It's stuff that pins it to this world, though. That may be
the difference—we're finding that living this long of a time
in this world and surviving it, there's some things that you start
to be prepared to talk about.
Why do you suppose after 22 years of relative obscurity.
. .(Garcia cracks up) . . . the commercial fame god has
smiled on you?
I don't know. I thought it was going to happen on the first
Well, I liked it...
Yeah, me too. It's just one of those things. I hadn't been
thinking about it really. I guess if you wait around long enough
eventually that stuff either comes to you or something. Or else
maybe just the slow-rising amount of Deadheads over the years
has finally turned into a substantial enough figure now to make
it look like we're successful.
The album sales, on the other hand—Reckoning
and Dead Set never did anything like this.
No, no. Of course not.
Do you think having videos made a difference on record sales?
Maybe. Some. You're asking someone who knows as little...I
mean, I've been in the music business (laughs), the industry,
as we call it, for all this time, and the closest I've come to
hits is the Jefferson Airplane and that kind of stuff. I don't
believe it's something you can know for sure—we didn't do
anything different, other than our approach to making the record
was a little different, but that doesn't account for the success.
I think that we--a particularly lucky moment in terms of accessibility
The next material we put out may be too weird or something.
It may be that our next record won't find a public. But we are
excited about making records again, so it's one of those things
where now we're sort of anxious to make another record, to see
whether or not—is this a roll? Are we on a roll now?
We're not uncomfortable with it, and we've already been through
enough of the music business where I'm not really worried that
commercial success is going to in some way—we're already past
saving, you know what I mean? It's too late for us.
All your bad habits are entrenched.
That's right, yeah. So we're going with what we have. Our strong
suit is what we do, and our audience. And the live show is still
our main thing. So the advance of age makes it so our pace just
necessarily has to slow down some. Otherwise we'll kill ourselves.
There's nothing more difficult than being the Grateful Dead,
I gotta tell ya. And even when you're—these last shows that
we did in Oakland, even though it was only about a month since
our last Grateful Dead shows, they were—it was hard work,
and when those three days were over, we were all pretty tired.
So it's one of those things where we have to—our problem
is pacing ourselves and still reaching a large enough number of
our audience. Because we don't want to burn the audience. And
we don't want to be excluding anybody. So it's gotten to be an
interesting kind of success problem. Just where to play, what
kind of places, what kind of conditions to play in. All of the
The alternate media are becoming important and viable alternatives
to playing live. Records, videos, that kind of thing. They're
going to start to count for something. Because there's only a
limited amount of us-time available to us.
Do you plan to cut down on touring?
Yeah, I think we have to. If we want our shows to be—if
we want the quality of the shows to be good, and we want the energy
to be high, and if we want to be in good enough physical shape
to do them, and not exhaust ourselves on the road, and not get
stale, we have to pace.
This last year has been pretty good for pace, not really too
bad—apart from the Dylan shows, those were work, and also,
that large starts to get meaningless. So we are pretty convinced
we don't want to play huge stadiums unless we can play them well.
We don't want to play them often, certainly. So that restricts
us to the Oakland Coliseum kind of places, which are still large
And we already have trouble—I mean, we could probably sell
out the Spectrum in Philadelphia for a month. So we're going to
run into a problem somewhere.
Supply and demand.
Yeah. So we have to figure out some creative solutions to this
stuff, and we want the Deadheads—we need their help.
In what way?
Well, in whatever way. Anything that has to do with figuring
out ways to solve these problems. We want them to be conscious
that we're working on them, and that things don't always go in
our favor, since now we're in a world that we don't control. The
world of the big stadiums and that stuff--we don't control them
You essentially retired once because you couldn't deal with
Absolutely. That's right.
Did you learn anything from that experience?
Not really. No. (laughs)
Only that it's possible to grow to that place where you finally
are just breaking even, and we can't operate that way. It's essential
that we're—economically, we're not at a problem. If it came
to it, if our records were successful, we could subsidize our
Which is the way most people do it—they make money on
the records, and take their losses on the tours.
That's true. Exactly. Right. With us it's been just the other
It's been more fun for us.
Well, it's been more fun for us too. But we're definitely mortal.
What would really be helpful would be for there to be half a dozen
other Grateful Deads playing.
Have you ever checked out any of the Grateful Dead clone
Yeah, but I don't think that's where it's at, exactly. Really,
it's people who have to invent their own version of what the Grateful
Dead is, starting now. Not doing what we've done, but digging
the way we've done it, and doing what they're going to do—continuing
this notion. But somebody else has to see that—it isn't going
to work just by following our footsteps. It's gonna work by taking
off perpendicular to every direction we've gone off in.
There are probably people out there doing it. Doing their version
of it, and it's certainly heartening when you get good musicians
who seem concerned about their audiences, and who really love
to play. The more of that you see, the better it makes me feel
about the future of music. And the future of adventure in America,
or whatever it is that Deadheads represent at their best. All
Do you see that in any of the young bands you look at?
Bits and pieces here and there. Any time people go out and
have a great time, and feel uplifted by the music, there's some
of that in there. And really, that would be enough, as far as
There was an interview where somebody said to REM, it seems
like what you do is not unlike the Grateful Dead, and they said
fine with us, we want to take care of our audience and stay honest.
That's right. That's it, man. It's heartening to hear that
kind of stuff from anybody.
You go to an REM concert, and their crowd is very much like
we all were 20 years ago.
Sure. I think there's a lot of people out there that are doing
stuff that . . .
There's a lot of music that I like personally, and there's
some soulful people there. The rock and roll survivors are all
maybe—I'm a big Peter Gabriel fan, I like Stevie Winwood's
stuff—still good, still great. Los Lobos is one of my favorite
There's all kinds of—there's lots more. When I was in New
York I went to see Suzanne Vega.
Isn't she great?
I love her. I offered to produce her next record. I'd love
to do it, and I really have huge respect for her. I found her
so real that I. . . She's very there.
I thought she was a wonderful performer. She is terrific, really
really good. It's that thing of commitment to what you're doing,
commitment to your music, and the thing of something real there.
That means a lot to me. I just--
Whenever I run into these people, people who are getting into
the music business, starting to build their careers and stuff
like that, I feel protective of them.
'Cause it's a jungle out there. . .
It is, and it's like there's a certain amount of stuff that
we've learned over the years, just personally surviving, and I
feel like, God, if I could just spend 15 or 20 minutes with this
person, I would really feel good about that I at least was able
to share something of what's involved in getting through. I really
don't think there's much more to it than that, really.
But there's time for all that too. I'm not trying to clock
scores in this lifetime, it's just that things are better now
than they were like five, ten years ago. Music has gotten a lot
better. There's a lot of people who are committed to—soulfully.
Music, once you're in that thing where it gets to be so facile,
where it's all technique and no substance. It looked like it was
going to hang there for a good long time, but luckily it didn't
last very long, because ultimately it's really boring. People
are not that interested in it.
The mystery, still, in the music world, is how do you—nobody
can predict a hit. That's still fundamentally mysterious.
I wouldn't have expected "Touch of Grey" to be
No. Me neither.
It stands to reason that you've got the 40-year-olds like
me, but how do you account for the fact that you've also got the
15-year-olds? A whole bunch of kids that are just discovering
rock and roll, period, are getting into being Deadheads. How do
you account for that?
I just think that there's a certain kind of kid for whom we
say something. And it's been that same person in each generation.
Back when we started it was the people who were our age, and we've
been picking them up younger and younger every decade.
And there's a lot of that stuff with people bringing their
kids, kids bringing their parents, people bringing their grandparents—
I mean, it's gotten to be really stretched out now. It was never
my intention to say, this is the demographics of our audience.
I was delighted the first time that people didn't leave.
Everything above and beyond that is pure gravy. So when anybody
likes it for any reason, great.
And as far as why or what or the sociology involved or what's
happening, or anything, I think. . .
On that show last night [Sgt. Pepper: It Was 20 Years Ago
Today], that BBC show that was on there, somebody, I'm not
sure who it was, maybe it was Peter Coyote or one of those guys,
says, we won. It's over, and we won. They don't know it, the Reagan
era is, they don't know. . .
They're dying off, and we're still here.
They're dying off. The point is, it happened, there was a revolution,
and we won.
And he's right, and a large part of this is the expression
of, yeah, we did win, here it is. You want proof, here's the proof.
We've always basically had that feeling, and the audience is finding
something that scratches a lot of itches. The thing of just having
fun, having adventures, having something to follow around, having
something to bounce off of, having something that's the background
music for your life, which is always great no matter how close
you are to it, or how far away you are from it.
All of those functions get fulfilled, and hopefully the whole
little society that's out there now, the new Grateful Dead marketplace
out there, and all that stuff, these all represent alternates,
and they're all part of the—these are all the extensions off
of the American idea. The American experiment.
Everything you've done from Day One is stuff you're not
supposed to be able to get away with.
Yeah, right. And we're here to say that you can get away with
it, and that in fact this is the place you can get away
with it at. This is the place.
And if it works here it can work someplace else.
That's right. If it works here it can work anywhere.
I mean, we're buying into that. We're basically Americans,
and we like America, we like the thing about being able to express
outrageous amounts of freedom, and all of those things, and knowing
that there's all kinds of stuff that goes along with it, that
there are no—you don't get something for nothing, things are
still—there's still cause and effect relationships, life has
its ups and downs and all the rest of that stuff, but even so,
it's mostly out the other end, you know, it's mostly free space.
Do you think the Grateful Dead had something to do with
the fact that we won? Just by insisting on that little piece of
I don't know. It may turn out that way. It depends on what
happens in the future.
It may turn out that way. It may turn out that just the thing
of holding out, and being ridiculously—of refusing to lie
down. It may be that that. ..
But we're not the only ones. I mean, everybody we know, like
Coyote said, it's not a matter of fashion, long hair, short hair,
what you do for a living, or any of those things, it's what you
believe. What things did you cling to as the polar beliefs in
your life. What's the important stuff to you.
For us, it was never a question of—there never was a debate.
It was over from the very beginning. For us, the very first acid
trips, the very first excursions into psychedelia was—whatever
there is, there's more than we've been allowed to believe. Whatever
there is. We don't know what it is, we can't describe it, we just
suspect its existence, but we know, beyond the shadow of
a doubt, that there's more than anybody ever let on. We know
This is not the Leave It To Beaver boilerplate.
That's right. You can't lie about that. Once you've had that
experience, or an experience like it, there's no going back. I
mean, you can go back if you insist upon really blinding yourself,
and refusing to look at what your eyes have seen, but for me there
never was any going back. That was it. Once opened, I haven't
been able to shut 'em, you know?
And for me there's still more material than 20 lifetimes that
I can use up. I mean, I'm way out the top end, you know what I
mean? This lifetime has led me so far past my own expectations
on every level that it would be so mean-spirited of me to criticize
any level of life at this point.
I think there are a lot of people who are similarly convinced,
and they don't need any convincing or anything like that, and
they're going along with what's there, because they know that
force only leads to force, you can't fight things by fighting
them, some things you can win by just surviving.
An old friend of mine once said, yeah, the revolution is over,
it was over the first day, the rest of it is a cleanup operation.
All this is a cleanup operation. It may go on for another fifty
years, but I believe that the battle is over. The victory is won.
It's done. It's over.
But I also—this is not something that I can say unqualified
for everybody in the world. This is one of those things that everybody
has to see with their own eyes. You can't experience enlightenment
for somebody. Everybody has to view it how they will.
I don't believe that psychedelics are absolutely necessary,
but I think they're surely helpful, at some point in your life
when you really feel that there's got to be more than this drab,
dull bullshit. They were helpful.
I think it's too bad that everybody's decided to turn on drugs,
I don't think drugs are the problem. Crime is the problem. Cops
are the problem. Money's the problem. But drugs are just drugs.
Some of them are better for you than others.
As far as life and death is concerned, and drug-taking and
all that stuff, they ran a little thing last night of all the
people who've died in rock and roll in that BBC show, and it's
like—the ones I knew were not suicides, they were just people
who fucked up. They didn't mean to die any more than somebody
in their car who puts their foot down and the car goes out of
control and they end-over-end and they're dead.
Death comes at you no matter what you do in this life, and
to equate drugs with death is a facile comparison. It's like equating—sure,
equate poison with death. (laughs) I mean, whatever kills
you kills you, and your death is authentic no matter how you die.
So I've always thought that was a cheap argument.
My feeling about all that stuff is on record. I'm on record.
So you're not joining the Just Say No crowd.
No. I think that's much too easy, and it doesn't address the
problems. The real problems are cultural. The problems of the
people who take drugs as a cultural trap—I think there's a
real problem there, the crack stuff, the hopelessness of the junkie.
The urban angst.
But hey, when you live in Watts, you need a little smack to
get by, you know what I mean? You need something soft and comfortable
in your life, 'cause you're not going to get it from what's around
you. And society isn't going to give it to you.
And as far as I'm concerned, it's like I say, drugs are not
the problem. Other stuff is the problem. If we had any nerve at
all, if we had any real balls as a society, or whatever you need,
whatever quality you need, real character, we would make an effort
to really address the wrongs in this society, righteously. Deal
with them, okay, what's really wrong here. The deep-seated racism—America
has its problems, no question, but if everybody's fearless enough,
we can deal with them.
It seems, though, judging by the fact that Reagan's in office,
that a lot of people are willing to go for the facile bullshit
They didn't want to believe that the '50s were over. And they
were really frightened by the '60s. And this is their last chance
to put up the thing—"ah, everything's okay, that was
just a little flurry. A little mania of some drug-taking freaks.
But that's like, you know, they're holding up a ruined edifice.
It's coming down. It's on its way down, and nothing they can do—it's
too late, really, to do anything about it. Those people are not
going to be here that much longer. Reagan can't live forever.
I mean, I don't blame them for being afraid. A lot of them
had to live through some real horrors, the Depression, the second
World War and so forth, and they deserve a rest. They deserve
to be able to spend their final years in non-anxiety, floating
comfortably in hypothetical America. And I wish them no ill, you
know what I mean?
But it's unfortunate that they're creating a kind of second
wave of young people who are buying into the same mythos. And
who are not seeing, historically, what happened—here was legitimate,
authentic, real stuff.
But I think when it happened, it was too widespread. It reached
everybody that cared, everybody that cared to look, everybody
got at least to try—everybody smoked a little pot.
Even Reagan's tame judge smoked pot.
That's right. Everybody did.
So it's one of those things where I feel it's just a matter
of time, just a matter of sitting it out and waiting for it. And
also people coming up with looking at some of this stuff creatively,
and dealing with the things that are real. De-politicizing the
whole AIDS thing. We've got some real problems. There's some awful
stuff in the world.
Get rid of the knee-jerk reactions.
Right. Exactly. Cut out the bullshit, get the politics out
of there, get the unfortunate old notions about human sexuality,
all the rest of that stuff. Clear the tables, dump it, let's get
rid of it. It's bad baggage.
Let's look at the problems. Let's be here now, let's deal with
the real stuff. It isn't that hard. It just means that Americans
have to not be fearful. It can happen. It will. This stuff will
be taken care of. It will be dealt with eventually, I think.
Is there anything in particular in the current scene that
you find most spooky-looking?
No. I see more light than I do darkness right now.
There is a trend towards understanding, in spite of the forces
of endarkenment. They don't have power that they once had. They
don't have the power to scare that they once had.
Stuff that's hidden and murky and ambiguous is scary because
you don't know what it does. Now that everybody knows the
government's crooked, everybody knows that this stuff is manipulative
and self-serving—hey, you know, it's just a matter of—America
has always had a long tradition of people really distrusting politicians
anyway, a nice healthy distrust of politicians. If that's in place,
we're okay. We'll get through all this stuff.
I was interviewing the president of Apple Computer, who
came from Corporate America and he says that to be successful
in this day and age, first of all you've got to do things by group,
you can't be the John Wayne company leader, you have to be willing
to make mistakes, and the whole company buys into the vision that
they're going to change the world by doing the coolest things
Right, that's it. I'm sure they've got their problems too,
but they've got the right idea.
They're saying, we're not going to do this just because
people always did it that way, it strikes us as being pretty lame.
Yeah, right. Why do the lame stuff? That's great. That's terrific.
There should be more of that stuff out, because that's the
stuff that makes America special. I mean, the different points
of view, the different ways to make things work.
I mean, part of us, we've had that problem of identifying ourselves
since we have to fulfill all the requirements of being a California
corporation. So we've had certain stuff that's false definitions
from the outside, that don't have anything to do with the way.
The whole thing is remembering, this is who we are. Remember
who we are? We are in reality a group of misfits, crazy people,
who have voluntarily come together to work this stuff out and
do the best we can and try to be as fair as we possibly can with
each other, and just struggle through life. And we want to do
it our way, we don't want to do it that way.
So it's just a matter of fictionalizing all the other stuff
and putting it in place, and then they get a corporation that
looks right to them.
Each guy gets the version he wants to see.
That's right. It's just a matter of playing the game. You can
do it. It can work.
It is work, that's the thing. We've discovered that
in order to manage ourselves successfully, we do have to take
some responsibility for it. So we have our meetings every week
and so forth, where we actually do take care of business and stuff
like that, and it's really against our nature. Everybody
really hates it. Any level of authoritarian stuff brings out the
weirdo in all of us. We all hate it.
But we do it, and it's working. It works out pretty good, we're
actually coming to terms with all this stuff. I feel real good
about our development on those levels.
Speaking of working with alien structures, are you indeed
going back with Arista?
Well, they've done so nicely with this last record. And their
whole thing is, their whole company has turned over completely
since seven years ago, and there's a whole different bunch of
guys there, and they seem to be much more on our side now than
they used to be.
So it's one of those things. Of the alternatives we have, they
seem to be—what I think we probably will do is something like
this, although I don't know, we haven't really discussed it except
loosely. We probably will do something like a one-record deal,
That doesn't lock you up for the next ten years of your
Exactly. Perhaps we could come up with something that's more
like an if-and-when kind of longer-term relationship. But we're
wide open. Right now we're wide open.
Are you going to re-release all the out-of-print stuff?
We're in the process of doing it. The stuff that we have control
over, yes. And Warner Bros. seems to be pretty much into re-releasing
all of their catalog. So there's the Warner Bros. stuff and the
stuff that we have control over, we're gradually re-releasing
it. Some stuff we don't have control over.
Arista, however, has just put out a boxed set of their catalog
of Grateful Dead CDs that are coming out for Christmas. It's quite
a nice package, and I think eventually all our stuff is coming
out on CDs. Almost all of it will certainly be out by the middle
of next summer.
'Cause you've got lots of new people coming along. . .
Right, and some of those songs they don't know where they're
Will things like Reflections, for instance, become
Yeah, sure, eventually we'll release all of that stuff. It
actually has some nice stuff on it. It has some good songs. That
was one of my favorite records.
Cats under the Stars is my favorite record of all time,
apart from In the Dark. In the Dark, I think, is
my all-time Grateful Dead favorite.
Cats Under the Stars is one of those records I worked
really hard on. I was really proud of—considering the limited
situation we were working in at the time, I was real proud of
the way it came out. The production values. It's a nice-sounding
It's very different from your other records. A very different
mood, a very different feel. What went into that?
I don't know. I can't--
Even Hunter's lyrics, it's not the side of Hunter you usually
see in Grateful Dead songs.
No. Well, that's one of the reasons why it's what it is.
Some of the things there—like "Gomorrah" is one
of those tunes. . .I found "Gomorrah" in a stack of
stuff that I got from Hunter, it must be sometime like 1969-70.
And I found this old yellowed piece of paper with that lyric of
"Gomorrah" on it.
And I read it and it was so dry, and so sparse.
It's just dry as a bone, it has no fancy stuff. There's not a
lick in it. It's just dry and hard like a diamond, and I read
it, and it cracked me up too, it's funny. It's like, (laughs)
this is something special.
So I sat down and started playing with it—I mean, I don't
even know whether Hunter remembered that he wrote it. It was so
long by the time it became along, it never caught my eye before,
it's just one of those things, it fell accidentally out of some
stuff as I was moving. It just fell on the floor and I picked
it up, and—Goddamn, I said, look at this, this is... .It
cracked me up, just the whole character of it, the ironic, you
Very interesting narrative voice in that.
It is. There was something about it that—it tickled me.
Just the—I can't even describe that, the tone of it is so—I
don't know what.
It's not your standard Bible story.
No. It's hard to say exactly what it is. But it's just a real
dry, hard, simple cautionary song.
And basically for me that album was kind of—that's its
theme. Its theme is don't look back. Don't look back, don't turn
around, don't check what's behind you, keep moving. . . (laughs).
That's what all that's about, for me that's all that same stuff.
For me it was good because the sound of it is so nice and fat,
Ronnie Tutt's drums are wonderful on it, and the rhythm and the
feel of the tunes rhythmically. It was really fun to produce,
it was really fun to work on.
Was it hard to get all the pieces together? "Cats Under
the Stars" is a really hard song even to sing along with.
Well, that was it. It's one of those songs that's written to
be a—I wanted a counterpoint rock and roll melody. And so
it's really counterpoint, really two melodies working against
The main little thing of it is really a counterpoint; it has
that guitar line, and it has little organ answers that fit into
it. That was the first development of it—it's one of those
things, but it's like a piece of experimental music that worked
really well for me. It works well enough that I can perform it
and it works as a tune.
Sometimes you get those kinds of things and you can't perform
them. But this is one that really worked well. As far as I know,
there's no other song—I've never heard anything like it. The
way it works and the reason it works and the structure of it and
everything, is one of those things that I was just happy to make
it happen, you know?
It took a long time—the record did not take an awful long—actually
we spent about six or eight weeks, but during the last couple
of weeks I was at the board for—I spent—this is when I
was really a crazy person. I spent 50 hours mixing. I got up to
go to the bathroom and eat once in a while, but I didn't sleep
for days. Finally at the end of it, when I was mixing the
last tunes and we were on a deadline, I couldn't mix for the hallucinations.
The board was just swimming.
When I finally finished I lay down and went to sleep for three
or four days, and when I got up I was amazed that it all actually
worked. It's one of those ones where we really—John Kahn and
I and Betty, we truly sweat blood for that record, it really cost
And the marketplace didn't go for it.
Yeah, well. Then my heart went out of recording for a long
time. I just [said], I'm never going to work that hard again for
anything. It's just not worth it.
Do you think it would be worth re-releasing as a CD?
If anybody wanted it.
It's got the best stereo imaging of almost anything I've ever
done. I really put a lot of time into lots of funny little things.
It's got lots of phase panning and a lot of things that are psychoacoustic
in nature, you know, where things are outside the mix. It's one
of those things that really came out the way I hoped it would,
and some guys, the Meyer speaker guys, have used some of the mixes
on it to illustrate the stereo imaging possibilities of their
The people who I care about appreciated it (laughs). That's
really all I wanted. I wanted my friends to say, hey man, that
was really neat! I still enjoy it. I can still listen to it, and
I'm not at all embarrassed, which is really rare for me.
It's very hard for me to listen to most of our records. Usually
I focus on what's wrong with them.
You hear the bad notes, and not the five minutes of pure
No. I tend not to hear the gold.
What did you like about "Terrapin" that caused
you to write something around it?
You mean the lyric?
I always like it when Hunter reaches into that—the dim
forest of legend, you know? The fire and the storyteller All that
stuff. Whenever he dips into that world, I'm a real sucker for
that. So when that comes out at me—
Somewhere there's a long exposition of how the whole Terrapin
thing came down, how we wrote it, and Hunter tells his side of
it, and I tell my side of it, and it really was one of those things
that was a lucky marriage of inspirations. It just happened just
at a time when I was composing the Terrapin melody, and I had
no lyric for it or anything.
Hunter came to me—he called me the very next day, actually,
it was that close in space and time, and he says, I have this
thing I've been working on. And I went over to his house, and
he had like seven pages of stuff, that included the Lady with
a Fan and all—none of them were perfected, but parts of them
all were there. Plus a few other things.
And then basically what happened was that I just broke down.
The reason I never finished it was that I just broke down, I didn't
have any more ideas. I had one other song that I was not that
happy with that I had set, that was part of his original set of
But he went on to set almost all of it at one point or another,
and I think probably in his live tapes he's got performances of
all of his version of it, and if you wanted to find out really
what he was getting at, lyrically. . .
He let me read it once.
Oh, there you go. Then you know all about it. That really is
a great piece.
Do you have any un-favorites? Songs you would gladly never
Oh, I don't think so. Well, the ones that we don't play, obviously.
The Cosmic Charlie Campaign will beg in vain.
I've always liked "Cosmic Charlie," but it's just
really a little too difficult. If I could figure out a way to
either just sing it or just play it—but playing it and singing
it is a bitch. Like the reasons we don't--people ask us, why don't
you do "St. Stephen" anymore?
The truth is that we did it to death when we did do it—when
we did it, we did it. In fact we had two periods of time when
we did it, we rearranged it later for three voices, with Donna.
And we did it, and people who missed it, that's too bad, you know?
We may never do it again. It's one of those things that doesn't
perform that well—we were able to make it work then because
we had the power of conviction. But I don't think that our present
sensibilities would let us do it, the way it was, anyway. We would
have to change it some.
The same is true with—let me see, what other ones don't
we do? Oh, like "Viola Lee Blues." "Viola Lee Blues"
is another tune where we did it. We did it to death. And when
we stopped doing it, we stopped doing it because, hey, we're done
What about "Dark Star"?
"Dark Star" we could bring back, but I—"Dark
Star" is so little, you know? I mean, "Dark Star"
is only like three or four lines.
Really, "Dark Star" is a little of everything we
do, all the time. So what happened to "Dark Star" was,
it went into everything. Everything's got a little "Dark
Star" in it.
I've never missed it, because what we were doing with it is
everywhere. I mean, our whole second half is Dark Star, you could
say. But I have nothing against "Dark Star," except
that like I say, really it's a minimal tune. There's really no
tune. There's just a couple of lines and that's it.
So it's hard for me to relate to what is it about "Dark
Star" that people like, apart from the part that we get weird
in it. Because that's what we did with it, we got weird in it,
we didn't dwell on the lyrical content, certainly.
Sometimes you'd throw 49 songs in the middle of it and come
back to it.
That's right. So "Dark Star" is an envelope for me,
not really a song.
But we may bring it back sometime. In fact, I won't say that
we won't bring back "St. Stephen," or "Cosmic
Charlie" for that matter.
But it's much more interesting to me now to think in terms
of well, let's write new songs. I mean, if I have a choice
between resurrecting old tunes and writing new songs, it's going
to be new songs. Because it's like—it's essential that we
stay interested. And there's only so much you can rub up against
your own past, and keep loving it. It's fragile; finally it breaks
down. Ultimately you can use it up.
So, I mean, ultimately it'd be great if we could come up with
a whole lot of new tunes. That would be the best thing in the
world that we can do. Every time we do come up with a few new
tunes it enlivens everything else. So that's what I'm looking
forward to, and that's the next priority in terms of what it is
that I'm doing in the Grateful Dead.
What about the fact that you're probably doing more cover
tunes now than you have since your bar-band days?
We're doing more of everything now than we did.
No particular reason, it just evolved that way?
No. And it's fun. That usually is a sign of boredom on the
road—hey, you guys, why don't we do (laughs)—let's do
something, whatever we can remember. That's usually where that
comes from, and any song is fun to do. If there's anything about
it that you ever liked, you can bring something out of it in a
performance. And we do songs that we liked, for one reason or
Nobody else in the rock world has fans like the Deadheads
in terms of the depth of the culture. Very few people, relatively
speaking, follow Bruce Springsteen around the country, go to lots
of shows, get into Bruce as a way of life. It's an anomaly if
somebody gets into Bruce as a way of life, and if a Deadhead does
it, well, that's what Deadheads do. What do you think the Deadheads
are finding? Why did it work with you guys and not with all these
Well, a lot of it is because it is us, it's not me.
For me it's easier to believe a group than it is a person.
It takes the weight off that one person, you know what I mean?
That's part of it, I think. That's certainly one of the things
that makes the Grateful Dead interesting, from my point of view,
is that it's a group of people. And the dynamics of the
group part is the part that I trust. For me that's real helpful.
How do you deal with the Jerry-Is-God people?
I ignore 'em. I know better, you know? (laughs)
I mean, no matter who you are, you know yourself for the asshole
that you are, you know yourself for the person who makes mistakes,
and that's capable of being really stupid. And doing stupid
things, you know what I mean?
On this earth, nobody is perfect, as far as I know. And—I'm
right there with everybody else, you know what I mean? (laughs)
I mean, you'd have to—I don't know who you'd have to be
to believe that kind of stuff about yourself, to believe that
you were somehow special. But it wouldn't work in my house, that's
all I can say. My kids would never let me get away with it. So
far it hasn't been a problem.
If I start believing that kind of stuff, everybody's going
to just turn around and walk away from me. (laughs)—Come on,
Garcia—you know. And my friends—nobody would let me get
away with it, not for a minute. That's the strength of having
Speaking of your kids, what's different in terms of the
possibilities that are open compared to those that were open to
you at the same age?
Well, it's kind of more and less. There's more for them in
some ways, and less for them in some ways. I think—you know,
that's a tough question. (laughs).
I'd have to ask my kids, really. I can't answer it for them.
I know that they have their own agendas and their own priorities,
and that the things that concern me and concern them don't overlap
But I think the thing that counts—that doesn't seem to
be the problem. There really isn't much of a problem. My kids
have a real good sense of humor. I think that's their forte. And
that's going to work for them almost better than anything else.
They're also bright, so I think that combination of being bright
and having a good sense of humor in this life is going to really
And as far as I'm concerned, they're away clean. If they have
problems, I'm not—they're not weighed down with them, from
my point of view. They only have the problems that every human
has. And they seem to handle what comes their way pretty well.
I try not to mess with them, and I've always made an effort
to stay out of their way so they had plenty of room to grow up.
I've never tried to drag them into things, or turn them on to
things, or impose my viewpoint on them, or any of that stuff,
and I've always wanted them to see their own way, to let their
own imaginations lead them around. And they seem to be doing okay
on those levels, and in fact they can functionally disregard me
pretty well, you know what I mean?(laughs) They're holding their
So it's like one of those things. In my world it's tough to
get away from that sort of egocentric thing. In my world there's
a lot of stuff about me in it. They've learned to take that with
a grain of salt. And they get a certain exposure to the rock 'n'
roll world, but they can come and go as they please. They don't
feel compelled in any particular way there. So I think they're
But you should ask them. If you can get 'em to talk, they're
pretty funny. They're a good interview.
David Gans did an interview with Justin Kreutzmann about
his video and stuff.
Justin's a great kid. If Kreutzmann had half the equilibrium
that Justin had, we'd be in great shape. (laughs)
But if he had half the equilibrium he wouldn't be the crazed
(laughs) That's true. He wouldn't be the crazed lovable fuckup
that we know.
Some people have wondered about your Levi's commercial,
since you're pretty much on record as saying the Grateful Dead
will never do a commercial.
It wasn't the Grateful Dead. I make that distinction. Other
people don't, but hey, that's their problem.
The reason I did it, really, was because I had some friends
that needed work. And you know, work for musicians comes. . .especially
for bluegrass musicians, country musicians. . .
It's a great way to starve.
Really. And I had a lot of them out there starving. And when
it's possible to something to be able to let some of those guys
do some work, hey, you know. . . .
Garcia: I don't talk to journalists, I talk to people.
I'm talking to you, I'm not talking to your readers. And it's
your problem whether they understand me or not. I don't care whether
Nah, it's their problem. I'm just going to write it down.
(laughs) Well, that's okay. There was a time when I was concerned
about trying to keep things distortion-free, but it really is—you
can't do it. And language—
It passes through so many filters by the time it gets to
a page anyway.
Even getting out of my mouth. Ever since the hospital, I don't
have quite the facility with language that I used to. I used to
be much quicker. And now I find myself hunting for words, and
things that I know that I know, but I don't—they're not readily
They're on a different sector of the disk.
That's right, so I have to poke around a little more. And I
feel I'm not quite as quick as I once was, so I verbally. . .
But just the fact that I do interviews is already—it's
not what I do. Playing music is what I do. And my playing is fine.
So I'm not worried about whether I'm communicating accurately.
As long as I can play, I'm okay.
Talk has always been cheap, and I can sit here and say anything,
really, and it's just not what I'm getting paid to do. So I consider
it like a freebie, so I feel less inhibited about just—I don't
Like I say, I have this knack of being sort of reflexively
able to answer any question. Whether it's true or not, or relevant
or not, is totally beside the point. But it's just one of those
things I can do—it's like a knack, you know what I mean? And
I've never been able to cash in on it, it hasn't helped me in
this life—except for doing interviews.
It's one of those things I didn't discover until I had to start
doing interviews. So it's another one of those things up and above
and beyond and outside of my realm of expectation. So it's like--I
don't care. . .(laughs) You know what I mean? It's another kind
I mean, I don't even talk like this.
It's not like talking functionally, do this, do that. .
Yes, or else riffing, you know what I mean. When you're with
musicians or friends or stuff and you're just playing with language.
And there's no point, it's not going anywhere. (laughs) It's not
And that's more what I'm used to. It's actually what I'm better
at than this. But this is one of those things that there's a need
for it somewhere. There was a time when I was concerned about,
gee, I hope I'm not misleading anybody, you know. It got to be
that kind of concern.
Also, it gets filtered through so many layers of editorial
process anyway. So much ambiguity can creep in that in a way you're
not responsible--you said it the best you could.
Right. And I figure, my communication is with you. And I figure
if you leave with some understanding of me above and beyond what
you already know about me, then we've had some successful communication.
If I have some sense of you, you know, then this doesn't represent
a waste of time.
And because my ability to meet people in a spontaneous way
has been curtailed by the insertion of—celebrityhood makes
it—I can't go into a bar, you know, "Heey, what the fuck's
happening?" You know what I mean. Fool with myself and get
in trouble and do all the things I used to be able to do.
Now it's more often I meet people—this is the way I meet
them. And in some situations it's controlled like this. But it
still works for me, it satisfies that desire to bump into somebody
that you don't know and just talk.
See what their world is.
How did you happen to cross paths with Joseph Campbell?
I met Joseph Campbell through Bobby. I don't know how Bobby
met him. All of a sudden he turned up one day at Bob's house,
you know? (laughs) You'll have to ask Weir how that happened.
I have no idea how Joseph Campbell fell into his life. But then
Mickey of course had lots to talk to Joseph about--
Being a mythic kind of guy. . .
That's right, and also Mickey is a sort of ethnomusician, and
that's up Joseph Campbell's alley. I was a Joseph Campbell fan
back in the early '60s when I read the Skeleton Key to Finnegan's
Wake. Which I was fascinated by, and Finnegan's Wake—I
was fascinated by James Joyce in the early '60s.
And so I--"JOSEPH CAMPBELL?" You know, ho-ly
cow. I'd known about him for some time, and also of course
his Heroes and all that stuff, his famous stuff.
Weir had no idea who he was, he was just this nice old guy.
. . That's how I met him, through Bob. Like I say, you'll have
to find out how Bob met him. But Bob has this kind of door to
many—I think he probably met him through Betsy Cohen, who
is one of our double-PhD crazy people friends that steers people
to us occasionally. And every once in a while somebody really
incredible pops through—"ooh, what happened?" Boom—there
they are in Grateful Dead reality, you know.
Joe Campbell was real fun for a while—he was one of those
guys it was great to do an interview with. That panel thing that
we did [Ritual & Rapture]—it was great because we could
defer to Joe. As soon as it got too dense--(snaps fingers) Joe!
And he would say, well, ah. . .He would step right in there and
talk about the invisible and the unutterable and the—you know,
the stuff that I don't like to talk about, frankly.
That's his turf.
That's his turf, right. It was perfect. It worked out
to be perfect, 'cause I'll take it all the way up to there, but
when it comes to actually talking about the mechanics of the invisible,
it takes a guy with 80 years on him.
So it was really a drag to have him die on us, you know, just
as we. . .
On the one hand, he was 83 and entitled, and on the other
hand. . .
On the other hand he was an ally that was really good.
We could've used him for another year or so. (laughs)
But--he was a fine man. I really feel privileged to have met
him, and to have experienced a little of the joy of life with
him. That, I think, is a tremendous gift for me, and I'm an old
admirer of his.
I was amazed because I was expecting one of these academics
who wrote a book 30 years ago and have been coasting ever since.
And then he was so--
Right. Far from it. Boy, what a live wire this guy is. This
guy's really snappin'.
Yeah, he was fun. He was fun.
That Place of Fine Arts thing was great.
Terrific. I loved it. I thought it was fun. It's the kind of
stuff I wish there was more of. And I wish there were more of
those kind of open forums in which you could, you know, drag out
some of this—some of the arcana.
Right, because there's all this knowledge walking around
in people's heads.
Oh, incredible. And that's also part of the thing of sharing
the psychedelic experience. The thing of, well, my experience
was, blah-blah-blah, this-this-this, you know what I mean? This
is valuable reportage that we really need, we need to know.
It's like mapping out the subconscious. "My experience
there was, well, I saw a phoenix-headed giraffe walking around"—you
know what I mean? It's just, you know, what about it, where do
these images come from, where do these ideas—where does this
stuff arise from? What are we really holding? Are there places?
Are there names for them? Or locations? What are they, states
of mind?states of being?
You know, all this stuff is part of the human experience, and
some large amount of it is being actively suppressed. So it's
like, that's not good, we'll never find out anything if we keep
doing like that. So the more things that have to do with opening
up and getting it out, getting the stories out, getting the experiences
out, that gives us a larger vision of what a human being is so
we can start to build on that.
I think we've gone a long way on a kind of the Judaeo-Christian
Graeco-Mediterranean model of what a human being must be. ..
We tried this out. . .
Right, here's Pythagoras's version of it, now, you know, let's
check it out from the point of view of the twentieth century experiential--let's
try it from this end. And we need a new measure. We need a new
start--okay, this is the basic human. The basic human contains
all of these contradictions, all of these possibilities,
let's build out from there.
Now let's talk about what we need for laws, how to govern behavior,
how to govern each other, how to talk to each other, how to communicate,
what structures we need—you know what I mean? Build out from
a better model of the basic human. And we're lacking the model.
We're lacking a good—we're lacking a modern version of what
it is to be human.
Somewhere along the line maybe somebody will start to do it,
but it's another one of those kinds of ideas I've had that's not
a musical idea, it's just some kind of sociological political
religio kind of idea.
-- [discussion on the subject of HyperCard, then a new product]
...The thing is it opens programming up to people like me
who only write English.
Yeah, well, I don't even write English. I mean, I'm a terrible
typist, but I'm a real great mouser.
I use—MacTablet is my favorite accessory. It's easier than
writing with a bar of soap. You can really—I use mostly draw
stuff. I mostly use it for graphics. Actually most of my computer
stuff has been graphics and animation and fooling around with
that kind of stuff. 3D stuff, and I'm fascinated by spatialities,
and that kind of thing.
I haven't had much use for the verbal side of the computer
world. But just anything actually—for me, it's something I
play around with. I don't use it in any kind of direct way. I
have a couple of music programs which I sometimes fool around
with, and they're fun for doing—just weird things, you know.
I would never use them seriously for music, though. I just—I
don't find an application there. For me music has to do with—it's
too caught up in my thing of having chops as a guitarist. I don't
really have a desire to cross that river, you know what I mean?
And so far the MIDI guitar thing with the computer is very
stiff. Not much fun. And eventually maybe that'll smooth out,
but meanwhile as an artist, as a draftsman, you know, I get a
lot of use out of the Macintosh for that kind of stuff, and it
really is wonderfully organic, considering what it is. I wish
it was in color, that's the only. . .
The II is in color.
The Mac II?
But it's a big sucker. SuperMac has a 19" Trinitron
monitor that's gorgeous.
Ooh! Right. Well, I may have to get one of those. I'm ready
for an update, actually, 'cause my Mac's pretty old. I'm ready
for an update.
[talking about Adobe Illustrator, then new...]
. . .and you can scan in photos and have a digitized image
on disk. . .
I've been having a hard—I need to update all that stuff.
The digitizer thing—I had one digitizer that was really
Yeah. Terrible. Oh, God, it was awful. It took forever
to put anything in there, and it used up all the capacity of a
disk. And you got one not-very-good-looking grey tone all out
of registration, and . . .you know, Jesus. What a pain in the
Well, I'd go for something. I'm ready for a whole complete
update. My stuff is all funky, it's. . .
Well, they've got 300 dpi scanners now.
And the other thing is that you can output things on PostScript
devices like typesetting machines and get the best resolution
the machine can do.
Wow. That's great.
There's 2100 dpi scanners.
Shit, that's pretty damn good.
That's good enough for any human eye.
Yeah, it sure is. (laughs)
There's just all these cool toys out there.
Yeah, I love it. I love that stuff.
The music industry's getting into it a whole lot. A lot
of studios aren't even using tape anymore.
Yeah, definitely. A lot of them are using that.
How do you feel about that?
I don't mind it. It's just another tool. I mean, tape is cumbersome.
I'd like to see tape be gotten rid of. It's cumbersome. Tape is
like our version of the Edison cylinder. We can do without it.
I'd like to see records gone too. Records are—
Since CDs came out they seem to be on their way out.
Yeah, they definitely will be. All of those things that basically—that
are physical in nature, are getting to be more and more pointless.
But so far digital audio is still—it doesn't represent
an industry standard. So it's quirky. So at this point, there
are places that have a lot of in-house digital stuff, especially
the Fairlights and the computers they use to program instrument
sounds and so forth, and the things called sequencers. They're
a great aid to arrangers and writers and they're especially handy
for things like doing one-man scores of movies.
That's where they're mostly used nowadays, in fact. That's
where they get the greatest use, because it's real cheap for one
person now to make the score of a movie, where you used to have
to hire orchestras, fundamentally, plus copyists and writers and
all the rest of the stuff that, now, one person can do it—n
arranger can do it all by himself. And that kind of stuff is where
it's finding its use.
But it works both ways—it produces non-surprise music because
it lacks the chemistry that you get when real musicians are playing
with each other, so it's never going to replace that, but on the
other hand it represents another—like, the language where
every musician has every instrument at their fingertips all the
So potentially there's like hypersymphony stuff that's going
to start popping up somewhere along the line, where you get three
or four guys playing these instruments and it's going to sound
like a world of music.
Like Phil's piece for four orchestras.
That's right. The whole—the orchestra is really just designed
to overcome the quietness of instruments, and really sort of the
ultimate musical organization is the quartet or the quintet, where
you have just a few voices playing, but it's not loud. The orchestra
is really designed to make the quartet loud. So it's replacing
the orchestra with electronic versions of it—it's what music
has been doing all along. Trying to get louder.
What do you think about this DAT protectionism stuff?
That's real bad. That's real stupid. It's the record companies
trying to make it so people can't make tapes. That's all. Their
theory is that the people are making tapes, and therefore they're
not buying records, but I don't think that's true. It has never
been very true. People make records and tapes. I mean,
people buy records and also make tapes.
Once you've bought the record you're entitled to make a
tape of it.
Absolutely. You bought it, it's yours. You can do whatever
you want with it. I don't have any problem with it.
The worst thing about it is the way they're proposing, the
notion that they have about how to protect, how to make non-copyable
copies, which is to filter out one frequency. Unfortunately the
frequency is right—is a musically valuable frequency, you
know what I mean? So it means that you've got a little notch in
your music at 8K, which contains a lot of musical information.
Is that on the first generation or the second generation?
That's on the first generation—well, it's on whatever copy
they're selling. Whatever they're selling.
The commercial product?
The commercial product would have a hole in it, essentially.
Well, that's nuts.
(laughs) Yeah. It's stupid. It's--
Who would buy something like that?
That's the point. They're assuming that people won't miss one
frequency. But--I mean, if we were in an audio studio I could
show you right now what it sounds like, and you'd hear it. You'd
hear it, no problem. It's really stupid.
People have been making tapes for 20 years, and record companies
are still there.
Yeah, that's right. No, they're being silly. They're just being
Not only that, but—it's just—it's a bad idea and it
shouldn't be encouraged.
Congress has been talking about it, though why it's their business
I'll never know. It's one of those things that fall under federal
copyright—it's copyright violations, so it falls under the
copyright acts, I believe is where really all this stuff comes
into it. 'Cause that's where the mechanical licensing and all
that fits in. It fits into the copyright laws.
So that's the body of legislation which covers this, which
is regular US Congress-type legislation, federal legislation.
You know, it's just a stupid--it's just stupid. I mean, it's
like taking all your records and putting a filter at 8K straight
across and dumping everything at 8K out. It's just (laughs)—I
don't know who thought it was a good idea, or why they thought
it was a good idea, or what—I can think of better ways to
do it that would be frequency-additive, I mean, you know, you
could put an ultra-low frequency that no loudspeaker on earth
could reproduce but that would be easily detectable by some detection
device and everything. The problem can be solved in more than
one way, is what I'm saying, even if they really insisted on it.
Personally, I think it's dumb. The whole protectionism thing
is--they're going too far.
Well, the computer industry's gone the same way, with standards
and with copy protection. They decided they needed industry standards,
and they also seem to have decided that copy protection's more
trouble than it's worth. After years of hiring expensive programmers
to write nasty protection schemes, finally the big guys like Lotus
and Microsoft decided. ..
Sure, they're getting ripped off, and people copy stuff
and pass it around.
Sure. So what?
Those guys are all still there.
Yeah. So what?
And Bill Gates already has more money than he'll ever know
what to do with.
Right. That's the point.
So it's gotten to the point where it's a legitimate cause
for complaint if the software's copy protected. To me this is
a good development, and the record companies ought to look at
Yeah, well, if the music companies have any sense at all, they'll
take a hint from the computer guys. I mean, what they're doing
is not even self-serving, it's just stupid. It isn't going to
do what they want, it isn't going to solve any problems, and all
it's going to do is make it so that people are paying good money
to get a bad product.
That's the worst of it. And the fact that they don't even seem
to care about that is appalling to me, but it's not surprising
either, because in all my years of dealing with record companies
I've never yet found record company guys who've actually been
to a pressing plant, who've actually dealt with the manufacturing
of their product, you know what I mean?
So the manufacturing of the product gets short shrift—it's
the thing that they are least concerned with. The marketing, yes.
Advertising, yes. Manufacture, no. So, you know, at this late
date to jump on the manufacture bandwagon and try to protect music.
The whole idea of music as product is a little problematical
That's right, it is. Once it goes on the radio, anybody can
copy it anyway. And radio is where it gets exposed, so, you know
what I mean. . .
It all comes around.
Absolutely. That's right. There's plenty for everybody. I don't
see the problem.
I don't know of any spectacular cases of people losing their
I don't think that the music business—hopefully—the
problem is that this is out in that protectionism world, so that
in the zeal to protect what they view as the capitalist system,
legislators, who don't know anything about the dynamics of the
music business might be tempted to put this kind of stuff into
I hope everybody who hears about it—everybody who hears
about it should write their congressman, or if they hear about
it coming up, to make their wishes known, that they don't want
this stuff in place, and this stuff is not—it's only a burn
for the consumer.
Copyright 1987, 1998 by Mary Eisenhart. All rights reserved.