Jun 10, 2013

August 20, 1969: Band Interview


The Grateful Dead dropped into Seattle for a gig at the Aquatheatre last week. There's not a lot to be said about the gig. Conditions were terrible, the Dead weren't at their best, and the audience was largely responsive but uncomprehending.
The Dead's lack of interest in commercial hype, their rare appearances here, and the failure of their recordings to transmit their special qualities all have contributed to a lack of understanding of their music.
This is unfortunate, because, in my opinion anyway, the Dead are one of the most important bands in the US. From the beginning they have refused to recognize any limitations in their lives, their relationship with the audience, their music; they are exploring uncharted territory and bringing back maps. We can ignore the messages, and God knows the Dead don't make it easy to understand: but if we do ignore them, it will be our loss.
The last issue of Rolling Stone contains the best article yet about the Dead. I strongly urge anyone interested in music and how music is made to read it. The fragments of an interview that follow can only be supplementary to the Stone's fine article. We hope to publish in the near future an article which goes into the most neglected and most important aspect of the Dead: how their music works, how it differs from the current norm, and the new directions in which it points.
In the following transcription, the initials B and R refer to Burl Barer and Roger Downey, "interviewers"; G for Jerry Garcia, L for Phil Lesh, W for Bob Weir. D denotes contributions from an ever-shifting assembly of "Dead".


B: Say, if you were going to die sometime during your performance at the Aquatheatre this evening, you know, what would be...
G: The reason? ...your last recorded statements before you went over to the other side?
W: See you later.
G: Well, it's been fun.
L: Is this a threat?
G: What do you know that we don't know? You're playing on our paranoia, which is the most sensitive...
B: I'm sorry...
G: ...since our recent assassination attempt.
B: Some try to assassinate you? Or is that merely...
W: You should have been there.
G: It's in jest, of course...but it was in jest, too...chew on this a while, bub...drink hot lead...
L: Happens all the time...
B: Oh?
L: Yeh, you walk out of your door and there's some guy ready to throw down on you.
D: Right...
L: It's all in good fun, Wild West and all...
G: Besides, it ALWAYS seems like "this is it"...
D: Yeh, that boiling oil's the thing that gets to me though...
L: Well, I mean, if you're going to lay siege to somebody, then you got to expect to get boiled...
D: That's right.
L: ...in oil...
D: Right...
L: ...at least...
D: yeh...
L: ...conservatively...
B: well...
L: ...and be delighted it wasn't lead. Boiling lead's very stiff...right...difficult to explain...
B: That'd be pretty heavy.
G: What is it about dying?
B: Without having personally experienced the phenomenon, I can't exactly give you an objective viewpoint.
G: Far out.
L: I've heard a lot about it though.


B: What happened to the Wild West thing?
D: It fell into the sea.
G: I really don't know...the whole Wild West thing...it seems like somebody started it, thinking that just by starting it would automatically create enough interest to do it; but they started it a long time ago, like in April they started thinking about it I guess, and the first thing they started doing was organizing it...seemingly...but they didn't really have any support from anybody, and they were expecting everybody to do it for nothing...which is all well and good, but everybody who does stuff for nothing in San Francisco is used to just going and doing it and not making a big production of it. And then they were going to have one paid event, the Kezar Stadium stuff, and like the Third World people and all that got uptight because all of a sudden there was rip off rumors like the Monterey Festival..."yeah, they always say they're going to raise money for the community, but it always goes into somebody's pocket"...and the Musician's Union was up tight about it, because there was getting to be so much controversy and bullshit...
D: Threats of violence...
G: ...and finally they just fell apart because there wasn't any real support for it, you know, in any particular camp. It was like organizers got together to organize something, but they did it without any of the people who would actually have been doing it... Well, the people who were into that, a lot of the people had good intentions, and others of the people just didn't know where it was at, like...Barry Olivier is a guy who doesn't even live in San Francisco, has never really had anything to do with the San Francisco scene, and his whole trip has been putting on HIGHLY ORGANIZED folk music festivals over in Berkeley, which in any case was nothing like what the Wild West could have been.
B: Who was responsible for the choice of Barry Olivier as the organizer?
G: I really don't know, I don't know what responsibility there was because they never really let much word out about who it was that was doing it.
* * *
...but out of the ashes of that there seem to be a couple of things rising...none of which I want to talk about...because they're all in that stage of maybe something'll happen and maybe something won't...at this point it's hard to tell...and besides, anybody in San Francisco who's into music, or any of the arts, is pretty paranoid about business and organization trips, just because everybody has been so thoroughly fucked.


G: Woodstock was no disaster.
W: Well, Woodstock was absolutely no disaster. Everybody was going through a little bit of...
G: Heavy changes...
W: ...hardships, like it was...some people were thirsty, but you could get water, like it was raining all the time...
L: Well, how does it feel to be a blood cell, that's the way each one of those people must have felt.
W: And anybody that was going through any sort of deprivation was doing it because he wanted to, because he wanted to hear the music, and as soon as the music was over they just packed up and split. And there was no disaster.
G: Anybody who was there that could do anything had to do it sometime during the week-end, even if they were spectators, everybody at least pulled something out of the ditch, or gave something to somebody else, you just had to.
B: They were selling water at ten cents a glass...
ALL: No, bullshit, they weren't, etc.
G: The papers were talking about things like that because they were chickenshit to go in, so they talked about the outside of it. The regular news media didn't even get in.
Mostly people were really turned on because everybody was so cool...like flying over it in a helicopter you could see these huge camping areas right next to some farmer's cornfield, and you wouldn't see all the corn trampled or anything.
W: The parting words I heard at Woodstock were, "See you in Tokyo in 1970, sir...see you in Japan."
G: It's not Tokyo, it's Osaka. Osaka's having the World's Fair, and San Francisco's Osaka's Sister City, and it's going to be the only city in the world that's going to be represented there...
L: And they're going to have a whole Pavilion there that's going to be a rock'n'roll scene at night.
W: They're trying to expand that into another enormous Pop festival.
R: One thing, they're used to handling large crowds of people...
G: I mean that's what Japan is...
W: The pressure point of civilization.


B: Have you guys been to court recently?
G: No, not lately...
D: We avoid it if possible.
L: Some of our people go to court now and then...just to keep their hand in.
G: You can do it when you finally run out of stuff to do...let the warrants catch up.
D: Oh yes, warrants...
L: You carry 'em in your pocket.
D: So when the man stops you, you can show him my warrant...I'm official.


R: When people ask you the standard question about money, do you have a standard answer, like we're deeply in debt and trying to get out?
G: Yeh, that's essentially it.
W: Essentially.
L: Right.
G: That's the truth.
L: That's the truth, that's not the answer we give.
R: How do you think it happened?
W: You tell us?
G: Well, a variety of things, first of all, we've never made much money, period. Second of all, we spend money outrageously, you know, on equipment and one thing and another...
D: We support lots of people...
D: Right, right.
R: That last album was kind of frightening...
W: Oh, that wasn't HALF...
G: Yeh, that's only a few, that's only who was there...
W: ...Whoever didn't have something else important to do...
G: If we had a true collection of all the people who are in one way or another involved with us in one way or another, man, forget it...
W: We'd have another Woodstock.
G: Damn near.
R: Do record companies use the fact that musicians need an awful lot of money, for equipment and so forth, to tie the groups down?
G: Record companies aren't usually that devious, and since they're in kind of an open slave market, they don't have to indenture anybody, because any musician is indentured to the music business any fucking way, if he expects to make a living at it.
D: The basic contract that the record company hands you before you start haggling over all the terms and words and stuff does just that, "we'll give you all sorts of bread to buy equipment with, fellas, course...we're not really giving it to you..."
L: "You're giving it to us..."
G: "...it's really coming out of your royalties." You see, that's not made public, a lot of times advances and recording costs are coming right out of your royalties, and that's one of the facts that you never see publicized...little music business fact. So the reality of it is that musicians just don't make no fucking money. Unless they're in the category of being extremely big in the business.
The thing about it is, man, that if you're a musician...put yourself in this position: say you're in a band, music is the thing you like to do. All of a sudden you're in the music business, and you discover that, in addition to music, if you want it to go out as a total trip, you have to start thinking about publicity, about packaging, all that shit, and all of a sudden you're not playing for music, you don't have much time for it.
B: You're being an ad man.
G: Yeh, so like with us, we just stopped fucking with it, because we're not better at it than anybody else. And really all of it's bullshit anyway, so why bother?
It's a weird situation. But I was talking to John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers, who travels around the country a lot and talks to a lot of different musicians in a lot of different scenes, like country and western, all the folk musicians, and he says that he's heard, like in the last three or four months, lots and lots of musicians talking up getting together some kind of recording company that would be fair to musicians, that would be musician-owned.


D: It seems like the Union would...
G: The Union doesn't have anything to do with musicians.
D: The Union's run by the Union guys.
R: But if the Union has bagged out on what it originally started to do, why not start a new one?
G: Somebody tried it about ten years ago, a jazz musicians' union, but it just petered out after a while because it didn't have any real support, and the AFM is a colossally powerful organization. In a lot of the parts of the country it's like...
D: Goons.
G: Mafia, goons, it's a goon trip.
L: In Chicago for sure.
D: They'll come and commandeer your axe right on the gig.
L: ...break your arms...
D: ...take you in the alley and break your knuckles, too.
G: They dig that kind of shit.
D: That's 1969.
R: But, look, that's ten years ago and that's a jazz...
G: But it needs an enormous output of energy to get that kind of shit together, see what I mean, and like, I myself would rather play music.
W: If anybody [who] has a lot of energy and a lot of capabilities is interested in doing that...
D: Please do.
L: Fly to San Francisco, that's a good place to start.
D: We beg of you.
R: It would have to be somebody who was really into the organizational shit, but who...
G: Who has nothing to gain, man. It's weird for musicians, and it's getting weirder, because, if you play for money, the revolutionary side of things will bad-rap you for that. But nobody's ever willing to support the musicians, or the arts, ever, even so.


R: Has anybody ever said, to the revolutionaries, when they say "The music belongs to the people"...
G: What are you going to do for instruments?
R: ...that it doesn't, the music belongs to me, I'm the one who's playing it. And if I want to give it away...well, I DO give it away...
G: Well, there ought to be some sort of exchange, it seems to me worthwhile to support a cat who's doing something that's a trip, because trips are the things that keep you going, really, it's one of the necessities of life, and if people aren't willing to make some sort of energy exchange, in a symbolic form like money, or some other way, then they're not willing to have music, they're deciding to relinquish music as one of the necessities.
W: The musicians are putting out an enormous amount of energy just in order to get it out, and in order to keep it up they need energy coming in.
R: So this "music belongs to the people" trip...
G: The question is, who do the musicians belong to?
R: ...it's not so much the audience being exploited.
G: They're both being exploited, the audience and the musicians.
R: ...but one of them is the origin of all the energy the others are feeding on.
W: He's a transformer.
G: And to become a transformer, there's things you require, like discipline. It's work; there's dues you have to pay to become a musician. So it becomes an expense of the people who dig music. I don't think that costs very much, because musicians aren't really asking for a fuck of a lot.
R: When you think about the people musicians ARE supporting, like Columbia Records, when you think of how much of your energy has turned into like buildings and secretaries and PR men; it seems like you're dragging an awful lot of people along behind you.
G: We'd be dragging them along on another level anyway, that seems to be one of the things that goes along with it.
R: Well, if you've got the fire, a lot of people are going to come and sit around it, there's nothing you can do about that.
G: But everybody can learn how to feed it. I think that's what everybody should learn. The whole level of music should go up some, so that people can give it more...
W: But trying to talk the president of Columbia Records...
L: Or the leader of the Motherfuckers...
G: Yeh...
R: But if the Motherfuckers were to go after the president of Columbia...it isn't the musicians who're exploiting the audience...
G: Musicians don't care that much. It's work to fleece the masses, man.
L: An art in itself.

(from Helix magazine, August 28 1969)

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com

For an overview of the planned Wild West Festival, see:


  1. In general, the more Dead are involved in an interview, the more chaotic & jokey it is. Garcia still does most of the talking here, though Weir & Lesh also contribute. Garcia usually speaks on behalf of the group, giving careful 'straight' answers & explanations while the others joke around.

    I think the interview was most likely done on August 20; there are a few photos from the rained-out event that day. But the authors, clearly early Dead fanatics (given their high praise of the band), also went to the show on the 21st and have an interesting perspective:
    "There's not a lot to be said about the gig. Conditions were terrible, the Dead weren't at their best, and the audience was largely responsive but uncomprehending."

    The Rolling Stone article mentioned is Michael Lydon's excellent article in the August 23 issue (so it must have been fresh on the newsstands). Today it's most easily found in Rolling Stone's Garcia tribute book; and it has more than held up over time.

    The planned followup Helix article on the Dead's music sounds great - unfortunately, as far as I know, it was never written.

    Garcia also talked about assassination while on a plane ride in Lydon's article:
    "Maybe it'll happen today, the first rock & roll assassination. Favorite fantasy - sometime we'll land, and when we're all on the stairs, a fleet of black cars will rush the plane like killer beetles. Machine guns will pop from the roofs and mow us down. Paranoid, huh? But, fuck, in a way I wouldn't blame 'em."
    So when Garcia talks about being paranoid that year, he wasn't kidding...it's the same feeling we see represented at the end of Easy Rider (which had recently opened in theaters).

    McNally has a lengthy account of the Wild West Festival fiasco in his book, p.322-25. In short, unrealistic plans collided with skeptical activists, who cried that the festival was going to be a rip-off run by the establishment. The Light Artists Guild went on strike at a Dead show; there were quarrels between the producers of the festival (especially Bill Graham); as Garcia says, the whole idea had no community support; so finally it was canceled. "The San Francisco music community lay in ruins."
    Garcia here hints that "out of the ashes of that there seem to be a couple of things rising" that may or may not happen. He could be referring to a plan by the Dead, the Airplane, and Crosby Stills & Nash to have a free concert at Hyde Park in London (where Blind Faith & the Stones had recently played free shows). Rock Scully flew to London in September to arrange it - the plan fell through, but the seeds of Altamont were sown.

    When the Dead insist that Woodstock was "no disaster," clearly they're not referring to their own performance. At this point, just a few days afterward, no one's interested in how WELL anyone actually played, they're still marveling that it happened at all.
    Apparently there was an immediate media backlash about the hellish horrors of this drug-infested youth gathering. The New York Times ran an infamous editorial titled "Nightmare in the Catskills" - "The dreams of marijuana and rock music that drew 300,000 fans and hippies to the Catskills had little more sanity than the impulses that drive the lemmings to march to their deaths in the sea. They ended in a nightmare of mud and stagnation..." - as well as this insightful classic:

  2. (continued)

    The interviewers express alarm at the large "Dead family" on the back of Aoxomoxoa, but the Dead reply that it was just a few people who happened to be there, and the actual family's much bigger. (Seems to me the Dead just picked all the women & children who were handy!)

    The Dead admit they're deep in debt, spending money outrageously & supporting lots of people. Lydon's article stated: "Trying to combine their own music-lifestyle with the rock & roll business, they have missed living the best of either. Their dealings with the business world have been disastrous. Money slips through their fingers, bills pile up, instruments are repossessed and salaries aren't paid. The group is $60,000 in debt, and those debts have meant harm to dozens of innocent people... They have never gotten along with Warner Bros., reacting distrustfully to all attempts at guidance."
    We certainly see a lot of this distrust in the interview - a common theme of Dead interviews going back as far as '66. (Their '66 Mojo interview also had some complaints about the union's lack of helpfulness.)

    It ends with a discussion of "people's music" which ties right into Garcia's 1973 declaration to Cameron Crowe: "Fuck people's music!"
    His feelings on this didn't change in these years - for all the free concerts Garcia gave, he felt that musicians should get some support: "It's work; there's dues you have to pay to become a musician. So it becomes an expense of the people who dig music. I don't think that costs very much, because musicians aren't really asking for a fuck of a lot... It seems to me worthwhile to support a cat who's doing something..."

    The Motherfuckers referred to at the end were the New York activist group Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers, whose slogans were borrowed by Jefferson Airplane for the song "We Can Be Together."
    One thing the Motherfuckers believed in was free music - they'd cut fences at Woodstock so thousands more could attend for free, and for a time persuaded Bill Graham to give them free use of the Fillmore East for one night a week.

    The Dead would be at the center of another collision between a planned festival and the music-should-be-free crowds again the next year in the Festival Express. (Not to mention the ticketless hordes that crashed into many of their New York shows.)
    As Garcia sighs, "If you play for money, the revolutionary [groups] will bad-rap you for that... Nobody's ever willing to support the musicians."

  3. I have another hypothesis about the thing that was cooking after the WWF fiasco (and, as importantly, the Light Artists Guild strike), more local than London, but let me keep that one dry for a bit.

  4. Actually, now that I think about it, Garcia may be referring to the plans being made at the Family Dog to open it up for daytime jams, as discussed here:

    At a meeting at the Family Dog on August 19 (just the day before the Seattle show), Garcia was saying, "Nights? What about during the day? We got musicians running around looking for a place to jam – why not here?"
    This seems to have started happening immediately.
    (I haven't seen the relevant articles, though.)

    Also, note that Garcia & NRPS were playing at the Family Dog with the New Lost City Ramblers on August 13 (or thereabouts) - and here in this interview he mentions talking to John Cohen about the possibility of a musician-owned recording company.

  5. Yes, that's what I think he's talking about. The Common.