Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vic Garbarini, Musician, #36, 10/81 Interview

Jerry Garcia:
In Search of the X Factor

MUSICIAN: You guys have probably put out more live albums than
anyone I can think of - two double live releases this summer alone. Is
the mysterious "x factor" that sometimes transforms a Grateful
Dead concert impossible to capture in a studio situation?
GARCIA: I'm not sure if it can or can't be captured in the studio,
though I agree that so far we've failed to capture it there. But we've
never really been set up to perform in the studio. Our idea of
performance is what we do live, and making records is more of a
concession to the realities of the music business than a real
expression of our natural flow. Let's put it this way: if making
records was a thing you did as a hobby, it's possible we might have
turned to it at one point or another. But I really think live music is
where it's at for us.
 MUSICIAN: How about playing live in the studio?
GARCIA: Yeah, we've tried that, but it's difficult to do with the type
of band set-up we have, especially the technical problem of
recording two drummers at once. We can't baffle or isolate  them;
they have to be together, they have to communicate. So live in the
studio the microphone hears them as one big drum set, and that's not
something you can straighten out in the mix.
 MUSICIAN: But isn't there also a psychological reason having to do
with the role of the audience?
 GARClA: Very definitely. But that's something we have to talk
around; we can't talk about it directly. It's not an exact science, it's
more an intuitive thing, and you're right, it does have a lot to do
with interacting with the audience. But we don't manipulate them,
we don't go  out there and try to psyche them out or anything.
It's quite involuntary.
MUSICIAN: Can you feel when its happening?
GARCIA: There are times when both the audience and the band can feel
it happening, and then there are  times when we have to listen to the 
tapes afterwards to confirm our subjective impressions and see what really 
happened. That's the way we've been able to deduce the existence of this "x" 
chemistry. In any case, it doesn't have to do with our will.  .
MUSICIAN: Is there something you can consciously do to facilitate it? 
GARCIA: Well, in a way that's what we're all about: making 
effort to facilitate this phenomenon. But the most we can do is
be there for it to happen. It just isn't anything we can control
on any level we've been able to discover.
MUSICIAN: All right, if it isn't what you do, maybe it's who you
are: the chemistry between you; the internal dynamics of 
band; your value system; what you eat for breakfast . . .    
GARCIA: I'm sure that's a major part of it.          
MUSICIAN: Can you delineate some of the principles that you 
feel help maintain who you are?                
GARCIA: Actually, trying to pinpoint those principles is our 
real work - it's what we're all about. As far as I can tell, they 
have to do with maintaining a moment-to-moment approach
in both a macro- and micro-cosmic sense. It's hard to maintain 
that moment-to-moment freedom in large-scale activities 
because things like booking tours have to be planned well in 
advance. So it's in the smaller increments, the note-to-note 
things, that we get to cop a little freedom. You can see it in our 
songs, where there's an established form and structure, but 
the particulars are left open. In terms of the macrocosm - the 
big picture - we know the tune, but in terms of the note-to- 
note microcosm, we don't know exactly how we'll play on any
given night, what the variations might be. Even simple cowboy
tunes like "Me and My Uncle" and "El Paso" change minutely from
tour to tour. "Friend of the Devil" is another tune that's changed
enormously from its original concept. On _American Beauty_ it
had kind of a bluegrassy feel, and now we do it somewhere
between a ballad and a reggae tune. The song  has a whole
different personality as a result.
MUSICIAN: How much improvisational space is built into the 
longer, more exploratory pieces like "St. Stephen" and "Terrapin
GARCIA An awful depends on the piece. "Terrapin"  has
some sections that are extremely tight, that you could  actually
describe as being arranged; there are specific notes that each
of us have elected to play. The melody, Iyrics, and chord
changes are set, but the specific licks that anyone wants to
play are left open.
MUSICIAN: Would you say that this looseness, this willingness
to stay open and take risks is a crucial factor in creating a 
space for that special energy to enter?
GARCIA: Absolutely! It's even affected the way I write songs. 
In the past, when I had an idea for a song, I also had an idea for 
an arrangement. Since then I've sort of purged myself of that 
habit. There's simply no point in working out all those details, 
because when a song goes into the Dead, it's anybody's       
guess how it'll come out. So why disappoint myself?
MUSICIAN: Who or what gives the Dead its overall direction, then?
GARCIA: It's been some time since any of us have had  specific
directional ideas about the band . . . the Grateful Dead is in its
own hands now; it makes up its own mind, and we give it  its
head and let it go where it wants. We've gotten to be kind of 
confident about it at this point. It's become an evolving process
that unfolds in front of us.   
MUSICIAN: As a band you guys seem to have a dual personality;
on one hand there's the improvisational, exploratory material like
"Anthem" and "Dark Star", while on the  other there's this very
structured, tradition-bound sort  of music. It was generally the
earlier material that  was stretching boundaries, while the albums
from  _Workingman's Dead_ onwards have been more structured.
So I was wondering if that was because the relationship between
artist and audience was falling apart at that point, and that 60s
energy envelope you were tapping into was beginning to disintegrate,
forcing you to resort to simpler, more formalized material that
didn't depend on that energy field?
MUSICIAN: Darn. . . it was such a great little theory. 
GARCIA: Let me straighten that out right now. First of all, you're
right about the audience/artist communication thing  falling apart,
although that didn't happen to us. Let me give you a time frame that
might shed some light on all this: at the time we were recording and
performing the _Live Dead_ material onstage, we were in the studio
recording _Workingman's Dead_.We weren't having much success
getting that experimental  stuff down in the studio, so we thought
we'd strip it down to the bare bones and make a record of very
simple music and see if _that_ worked. Time was another factor.
We'd been spending a long time in the studio with those exploratory
albums, six to eight months apiece, and it was really eating up our
MUSICIAN: You didn't feel any aesthetic conflict?
GARCIA: No, not at all. Because those two poles have always
been part of our musical background. I was a bluegrass banjo
player into that Bakersfield country stuff while Phil was studying
Stockhausen and all those avant-gardists.
MUSICIAN: Is that where the...
GARCIA: . . . prepared piano stuff on "Anthem" comes from? Sure.
MUSICIAN: _Wait a minute, how did you know I was going to
ask that?!_
GARCIA: (Smiles)
MUSICIAN: Okay, never mind, but what happens when you reverse the
procedure and play _Workingman's Dead_ in concert? Can you still
get the same kineticism?
GARCIA: Yes, it turns out we can. For the last year or so we've been
doing some of those tunes, like "Uncle John's Band" and 
"Black Peter," and they fit in well in that they become poles of 
familiarity in a sea of weirdness. It's nice to come into this  homey
space and make a simple statement. It comes off very  beautifully
sometimes. And inevitably it draws some of the  weirdness into it.
What's happening with the Grateful Dead  musically is that these
poles are stretching towards each  other.
MUSICIAN: Which of your albums do you believe come  closest to
capturing the band's essence?
GARCIA: I'd pick the same things that everybody else would:  _Live
Dead_, _Workingman's Dead_, _American Beauty_, _Europe '72_. I'd
take _Terrapin Station_, too, the whole record. I'd also  definitely
recommend the two live sets that just came out.
MUSlClAN: How important is the acoustic approach to the  band?
GARCIA: Not very, because we only do it in special situations.  In
fact, there have only been two periods in our career when  we did
acoustic material: first in the early 70s, and then again  just lately.
MUSlClAN: Why did you come back to it?
GARCIA: It's something that's fun for us because of the  intimacy
involved; it brings us closer together, both physically  and
psychologically, and as a result we play with a lot of sensitivity. I
mean, I can just turn around like this and go (swats imaginary band
member) HEY, WAKE UP! Lotsa' fun...
MUSlClAN: Speaking ot direction: some people are wondering if you've
gone totally off the experimental approach, since  you haven't
released anything in that vein since _Terrapin  Station_ back in '77.
GARCIA: Yeah, but '77 isn't really so long ago in Grateful  Dead
terms, you know. That's just a few records ago! Ideas  around here
take a year or so just to find their way to the  surface, much less
achieve their expression, which can take  three or four years. We're
always looking at the bigger picture.  People have been hollering for
us to bring back "Dark Star"  and stuff like that for some time now,
and we will. But in our  own time.
MUSICIAN:You're not afraid of your old material?
GARCIA: Oh, absolutely not. It's partly that there's a new guy  who
hasn't been through all that with us, and we have to bring  him up
through all those steps slowly. It's not that he's a slow  learner, it's
because we originally spent months and months  rehearsing those
things that were in odd times.
MUSlClAN: Like "The Eleven"?
GARCIA: Right, that was tacked onto the "Dark Star"  sequence. It's
called "The Eleven" because that's the time it's  in. We rehearsed
that for months before we even performed it in public. Luckily
Brent's a much better musician now than we were then, so it
shouldn't take that long. But we've still got to find the rehearsal
time to put those songs together again.
MUSlClAN: Are you ever concerned that any of you will fall  into
cliched patterns, either as individuals or as a group?
GARCIA: No, because the musical personalities of the various
members have been so consistently surprising to me over the years
that I'm still completely unable to predict what they would play in
any given situation. In fact, I'd challenge  anyone to check out any
Grateful Dead album and listen to, say, what Phil plays, and look for
stylistic consistency. You won't find it. These guys are truly original
musical thinkers, especially Phil. Let me give you an example: Phil
played on four songs for a solo album of mine called _Reflections_.
Now, I  write pretty conventionally structured songs, so I asked Phil
to  play basically the same lines on each chorus so I could  anchor it
in the bass. But I didn't really see the beauty of what  he'd done 'til
later when I was running off copies of the tape at fast forward. The
bass was brought up to a nice, skipping tempo, right in that mellow,
mid-range guitar tone, and I was struck by the amazing beauty of his
bass line; there was this wonderful syncopation and beautiful
harmonic ideas that were barely perceptible at regular speed, but
when it's brought up to twice the speed. . . God, it just blew me out.
MUSlClAN: Considering all the improvisations you do, I'm surprised
you don't acknowledge jazz more as an influence on your playing. You
had to be listening to Coltrane, at least.
GARCIA: Oh, definitely Coltrane, for sure. But I never sat down and
stole ideas from him; it was more his sense of flow that I learned
from. That and the way his personality was always right there¿the
presence of the man just comes stomping out of those records. It's
not something I would've  been able to learn through any analytical
approach, it was one  of those things I just had to flash on. I also get
that from Django  Reinhardt's records. You can actually hear him
shift mood...  
MUSICIAN: The humor in his solo on "Somewhere Beyond  the Sea" is
GARCIA: Anger, too. You can hear him get mad and play some nasty,
mean little thing. It's incredible how clearly his personality comes
through. It's one of those things I've always been impressed with in
music. There's no way to steal that, but it's something you can model
your playing on. Not in the sense of copying someone else's
personality, but in the hopes that maybe I could learn how to let my
own personality come through.
MUSlClAN: So it's a question of imitating essence, not form.  
GARCIA: Right. My models for being onstage developed from  being in
the audience, because I've been a music fan longer than I've been a
musician. A very important model for me was  a bluegrass fiddle
player named Scotty Sternman, who was  just a house-a-fire crazed
fiddle player. He was a monster technically, played like the devil.
Anyway, he was a terribly  burnt-out alcohol case by the time I saw
him, but I remember hearing him take a simple fiddle tune and
stretch it into this  incredible 20-minute extravaganza in which you
heard just  _everything_ come out of that fiddle, and I was so moved
emotionally that he became one of my models...l mean, there I  was
standing in that audience with just tears rolling out of my  eyes¿it
was just so amazing. And it was the essence that counted, none of
the rest of it.
MUSlClAN: Looking back, were there any other groups or artists that
were pivotal influences on your concept of the  band?
GARCIA: There have been a couple of different things for a
couple of different people. For myself, I was very, very
impressed by the music of Robbie Robertson and the Band.
There isn't any real textural similarity between what we play;
I just admired their work very much.
MUSICIAN: Is there anybody on the current scene that you
feel a particular kinship or identification with? 
GARCIA: The Who. I think the Who are one of the few truly 
important architects of rock 'n' roll. Pete Townshend may be 
one of rock 'n' roll's rare authentic geniuses. And there's also
the fact that they're among our few surviving contemporaries. . . 
I'm just really glad they exist. 
MUSICIAN: I was talking with Ray Manzarek recently and he
remembered reading Kerouac describe this sax player in a 
bar who had "it" that night, and how badly Ray wanted to get
"it" too. . . whatever the hell it was.
GARCIA: Hey, that same passage was important to us! Very
definitely. Our association with Neil Cassidy was also 
tremendously helpful to us in that way.
MUSICIAN: And of course there was Kesey and the Acid 
Tests. That must also have been about going for the essence 
and not getting stuck in forms ...
GARCIA: Right, because the forms were the first thing to go in 
that situation. You see, the Acid Tests represented the freedom
to go out there and try this stuff and just blow. 
MUSICIAN: Did the acid simply amplify that impulse, or did it
open you to the possibility in the first place? 
GARCIA: Both. The Acid Test opened up possibilities to us 
because there were no strictures. In other words, people
weren't coming there to hear the Gratetul Dead, so we didn't
have the responsibilities to the audience in the normal sense.
Hell, they didn't know what to expect! Sometimes we'd get
onstage and only tune up. Or play about five notes, freak out,
and leave! That happened a couple of times; other times we'd
get hung up and play off in some weird zone.  All these things
were okay, the reality of the situation permitted everything.  
That's something that doesn't happen in regular musical circles - it
took a special situation to turn us on to that level of freedom.
MUSICIAN: Had you experimented with either acid or musical
"weirdness" before?
GARCIA: Yeah, we'd taken acid before, and while we were on
the bar circuit playing seven nights a week, five sets a night.
we'd use that fifth set when there was almost nobody there but
us and the bartenders to get weird. We joined the Acid Tests
partly to escape the rigors of that 45 on, 15 off structure that
the bars laid on us every night.
MUSICIAN: Did you have ideas about what all this might
open you up  to, or was it just "let's step through this doorway"?
GARCIA: Just that: let's step through this doorway. We didn't
have any expectations.
MUSICIAN: Do you feel any ambivalence about it now? Acid
had a down side for some people
GARCIA: No, I loved it. I'd do it again in a second because it
was such a totally positive experience for me, especially when
you consider that we were at the tail end of the beatnik thing, in
which an awful lot of my energy was spent sitting around and
waiting for something to happen. And finally, when something
_did_ happen, boy, I couldn't get _enough_ of it! When we fell in 
with the Acid Test, I was ready to pack up and hit the road. We all
went for it.
MUSICIAN: How did that evolve into the whole Haight-Ashbury scene?
GARCIA: What happened was that the Acid Test fell apart
when acid became illegal, and Kesey had to flee to Mexico.
We ended up down in L.A. hanging out with Owsley in Watts.
then moved back to San Francisco three or four months later.
MUSICIAN:Were psychedelics really the main catalysts in
initiating the Haight scene? 
GARCIA: I think it was a very, very important part of it. Every-
one at that time was looking hard for that special magic thing,
and it was like there were clues everywhere. Everybody I knew
at least had a copy of _The Doors Of Perception_, and wanted to
find out what was behind the veil. 
MUSICIAN: What closed that doorway?
MUSICIAN: Just cops? 
GARCIA: That's it, really, cops. . . It was also that this group
of people who were trying to meet each other finally came
together, shook hands, and split. It was all those kids that read
Kerouac in high school - the ones who were a little weird. The 
Haight-Ashbury was like that at first, and then it became a
magnet for every kid who was dissatisfied: a kind of central 
dream, or someplace to run to. It was a place for seekers, and 
San Francisco always had that tradition anyway. 
MUSICIAN: Sort of a school for consciousness. 
GARCIA: Yes, very much so, and in a good way. It was sweet. 
A special thing. 
MUSICIAN: Sometimes I think that whole scene was a 
chance for our generation to glimpse the goal, and now we've
got to find out how to get back there. 
GARCIA: Right, and many people have gone on to reinforce 
that with their own personal energy. It _is_ possible to pursue that
goal and feed the dog at the same time. It just takes a little 
extra effort. 
MUSICIAN: Can you talk about your relationship with the  Hell's
Angels? I played in a band backed by them in Berkeley  and it was, ambivalent experience.
GARCIA: Well, that's it. It is ambivalent. I've always liked them 
because they don't hide what they are, and I think all they require of
you is honesty - they just require that you don't  bullshit them - and 
if you're out front with them, I think you  don't have anything to worry
     The Angels are very conscious of their roots and history, so  the
fact that we played at Chocolate George's funeral way  back during
the Haight-Ashbury was really significant to them. They didn't have
many friends in those days, and so anybody who would come out for
one of their members was demon strating true friendship. And with
them, that really counts for  something.
MUSICIAN: What do you feel attracted Kesey to them in the first
place? The noble savage concept?
GARCIA: No, I think Ken saw them for what they are: a definite
force of their own which you can't hope to control. When they
come around, it's reality, and you go with it.
MUSICIAN: What about Altamont?
GARCIA: Horrible.
MUSICIAN: It sure was. But having been in the Bay area at the time, I
can understand how you might have thought it a  good idea to
recommend them as security people.
GARCIA: We didn't recommend them!!
MUSICIAN: I thought the Stones people said you suggested it?
GARCIA: Absolutely not!  No, we would never do that. The Angels
were planning on being there, and I guess the Stones crew thought
this might be a good way to deal with that fact.
MUSICIAN: The Angels aside, as soon as you entered that place you
could feel this incredible selfishness - the complete antithesis of
what went on at Monterey and Woodstock.
GARCIA: Yeah, that's what it was: an incredibly selfish scene.  Steve
Gaskin pinned it down best when he said that Altamont was "the
little bit of sadism in your sex life the Rolling Stones had been
singing about all those years, brought to its most ugly, razor-
toothed extreme." Kind of ironic, since they were the ones who
started that "Sympathy For The Devil" stuff.
MUSICIAN: You guys have avoided falling into the darker side of
things. Did that require constant vigilance on your part?
GARCIA: It did for me at any rate. During the psychedelic experience
the fear and awfulness inherent in making a big mistake with that
kind of energy was very apparent to me. For me, psychedelics
represented a series of teaching and cautionary tales, and a lot of
the message was  _"Boy, don't blow this!"_ Back in the Haight there
really were some Charlie Manson characters running around, really
weird people who believed they were Christ risen and whatever, and
who meant in the worst possible way to take the power. Some of
them saw that the Grateful Dead raised energy and they wanted to
control it. But we knew that the only kind of energy management
that counted was the liberating kind - the kind that frees  
people, not constrains them. So we were always determined to avoid those
fascistic, crowd control implications of rock. It's always been a
matter of personal honor to me not to manipulate the crowd.
MUSlClAN: Did that temptation present itself?
GARCIA: Yeah, sometimes we'd discover a little trick that would get
everybody on their feet right away, and we'd say  let's not do that - if
that's going to happen, then let's discover it new every time. Let's
not plan it.
MUSICIAN: Back in those days there was a real bond  between the
audience and musicians. Something changed  around '71, and it
became a spectacle, with the audiences  sucking up your energy and
the band falling into egotistical  superstar routines. It was
entertainment rather than communication, and something special
was lost. Were you aware of this change, or am I crazy?
GARCIA: Yeah, it was obvious, because in spite of all that talk about
community, we knew it couldn't happen among the musicians,
because each wanted to be the best and overshadow the others. A
truly cooperative spirit was not likely to happen.
MUSICIAN: Was it the record companies and the materialistic
orientation they represent that spoiled it?
GARCIA: I don't think so. To me, the record companies have never
been a malicious presence. . . they're more like a mindless
MUSICIAN: I didn't mean that it was intentional on their part. I  just
feel they represent a set of values and a means of organization that
are at odds with the goals of music. They created  an environment in
which the soul of music couldn't survive...  
GARCIA: Yeah, I agree it was the music business and entertainment
as a whole that killed it, because in entertainment there's always
this formula thinking that encourages you to repeat your successes.
All that posturing and stuff is what show business is all about, and
that's what a lot of rock became: show business. It's just human
weakness, and I guess it's perfectly valid for a rock star to get up
there and..  
MUSICIAN: But wasn't what happened in San Francisco a few years
earlier on a much higher plane of experience?  Audience and
performer were meeting and interacting in a  real way...
GARCIA: That's true, but that was something that just happened in
the Bay Area, you know. It never made it to the East Coast, and it
definitely didn't make it to England. And so those people were
coming from a much more rigorous model of what it meant to be a
rock 'n' roll star. That came from their  management and business
levels, as things were lined up for  them in advance and they were
given those models as the way to do things. When we met English
rock stars at the time, it was like meeting birds in gilded cages;
they really wished there was some way of breaking out of what they
were into, but they were trapped.
MUSICIAN: What happened to the energy field you'd established with
your audience when you went to, say, New York or London?
GARCIA: We found that we'd brought it along with us, and the people
who came to see us entered right into it. And that's what's made it
so amazing for us, because our audience, in  terms of genuineness,
has been pretty much the same as it was back in the 60s. And so has
our own experience.
MUSICIAN: Including your new generation of fans?
GARCIA: Sure. The 16-year-olds coming to see us now are no
different than they were in the Haight; they're looking for a  real
experience, not just a show.
MUSICIAN: Going back to the idea that there was an opening  for a
while to a different quality of experience that gave people a taste of
something other, it seeems - and I don't want to  sound mawkish - that
you guys are one of the guardians of that experience. On a good night,
anyway. It's as if you guys serve as a touchstone for some people.
GARCIA: Well, that's the way it's sort of working out, but it isn't 
something we decided or invented. In fact, it's inventing us, in  a
way. We're just agreeing that it should happen, and volunteering for
the part.
MUSICIAN: I wonder how many people really believe this is a bona
fide phenomenon you're talking about, and not just a  purely
subjective impression.
GARCIA: Deadheads already know, but they disqualify themselves
just by being Deadheads. We try to measure it all the  time, but it's
hard to communicate to people. But that's okay,  'cause it probably
isn't everybody's cup ot tea. But it ought to be there for those who
can dig it.
MUSICIAN: This conversation keeps bringing me back to  something I
heard in an interview a few months ago. It was the idea that maybe
music is looking for a musician to play it...  
GARCIA: There's more truth in that than you can know. It just 
chooses its channel and goes through. And you may be able to spoil it
in other situations, but you can't spoil it in the Grateful Dead.
MUSICIAN: But couldn't you destroy that matrix by egotistically
closing yourselves off from each other and the audience.  Lots of
other bands have.
GARCIA: Certainly, but luckily for us the music has always  been the
big thing for the Grateful Dead, and all that other  ego-oriented stuff
is secondary. I mean, we've had our hassles, who doesn't? But all of
those things have only added  more and more into the experience.
Nothing has made it smaller. It's been a fascinating process and...
MUSICIAN: ...a long, strange trip?
GARCIA: (Laughs) Yeah! And it still is. 

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