Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mary Eisenhart Interview, 11/12/87, One Pass Studios, San Francisco, CA

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 rights reserved.
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 you guys.
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?
Yeah, yeah.
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 got?
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 it...
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.
Great credentials!
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 it on.
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.
Like what?
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 experience.
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 to write?
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 different.
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.
That's right.
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 record.
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 of material.
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 things that—
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 rooms.
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 anymore.
You essentially retired once because you couldn't deal with that stuff.
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 playing.
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 way around.
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 bands?
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 that stuff.
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 I'm concerned.
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 bands—U2.
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 a hit.
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 metaphysical turf.
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 that.
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.
That's true.
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 answers.
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 they can.
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, with Arista.
That doesn't lock you up for the next ten years of your life.
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 coming from.
Will things like Reflections, for instance, become available again?
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 record.
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 know—
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 each other.
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 a lot.
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 speakers.
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 gold.
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 lyrics.
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 play again?
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 with it.
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 another.
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 other people?
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 a group.
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 that much.
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 help.
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 own.
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 doing okay.
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 drummer. ..
(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 they do.
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 available.
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 care. (laughs)
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 of fun.
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 a conversation.
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.
Yeah, right.
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 terrible.
A Thunderscan!
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 ass.
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 time.
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 silly.
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. ..
Fuck it.
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 it.
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 anyway.
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 livelihood.
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 place.
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.

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