Aug 7, 2013

November 23, 1970: Jerry Garcia Interview

JERRY GARCIA, GUITAR

The Grateful Dead have been making music for over five years now, but it hasn't been until this past year that they've really hit big on the East Coast. Wherever they play here now, they're met by fanatic groups of Dead freaks, ready to follow the band for miles to hear them play. It almost seems as though East Coast freaks are ready to pack up en masse, and follow the Pied Piper music of the Dead to the greener valleys of California. For the Dead represent, better than any travel poster, what the East Coast head sees as the magic of the West.
Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist for the Dead, seems the compleat quissentential California man. With his dark bushy hair and beard, with his calm deep set eyes framed by wire rims, with his vibrant virile gentleness, he seems to represent to Easterners what they or their old man could be if only they could get out of the rat race long enough.
Jerry has been busy lately, playing with the Dead who have been touring the East Coast on and off for the past few months, helping with the music for a play called "Tarot" being presented in Brooklyn, New York by the Rubber Duck in the Chelsea Theatre Center, and getting some new music ready for the band.
I spoke with him for a few hours on the day the Dead did a controversial benefit, produced by the N.Y. chapter of the Hells Angels. As we talked, other members of the band, family and friends, wandered in and out of the room, listening, joking and sometimes joining in our rap.

Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist for the Grateful Dead, is a calm, highly intelligent man. He is not, as the Warner Brothers press release about the Dead says he is sometimes called, a guru. He is a man and a musician.
Recently Jerry has been playing music for a play called Tarot presented by the Chelsea Theatre Company in Brooklyn, New York, taking time out to play with the Dead who have been touring the East Coast on and off for the past few months.
The interview was in a hotel room in New York as other members of the band and family wandered in and out.

CIRCUS: What did you do before the Dead was born?
GARCIA: I don't remember ever doing anything except what we're doing now. I was just doing it before on different scales, different calibrations. When I first started playing I did Chuck Berry stuff. Then I went into the army and I saw people playing with their fingers, so I wanted to play with my fingers. I got into the blues, ragtime, folksy trip. I was doing a lot at once. Out of that period came Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Band with me, Weir (Bobby Weir, guitarist), and Pigpen (Ron McKuen, organist). [sic] Out of that came the Warlocks, the Dead before it became the Dead (minus Mickey Hart, drummer).
CIRCUS: You did a concert recently produced by the Hell's Angels. How did that come about?
GARCIA: Sam and John (members of the family) fell into an evening of raving with Sandy, president of the Angels in N.Y.C., and it just happened.
CIRCUS: Do you see a contradiction between what your music says and playing for the Angels?
GARCIA: I'm not into contradictions. I myself don't see a contradiction. The way I see it, everything is a contradiction if you want to look at it that way. Lots of things simultaneously exist but that doesn't mean they can't work together. When they can. Sometimes they can't but sometimes they can.
CIRCUS: Do you want to go into your opinions about politics today?
GARCIA: No. I'm not a politician so I can't give a political rap.
CIRCUS: But the impression you give here is political in a way.
GARCIA: That's only here on the East Coast. And it's only because here there are so many papers and radio stations. So people get into believing what they read or hear. I know it's different here because of the questions I'm asked.
CIRCUS: But you did the concert with the Angels and you did a benefit for the Panthers in December.
GARCIA: Yeah. We did the Panther thing. We met Huey Newton and he's a great guy, a far-out guy, really together. And the information we got about the Panthers we got from Huey. That's what we're responding to, that personal contact trip. Like, we might respond to Nixon, for example, but we've never had the opportunity to sit down and rap with him. The way we deal with stuff is like that, personal contact, not what it says in the papers.
CIRCUS: Are you concerned about the repression coming down?
GARCIA: I'm concerned with repression only when it comes to my door and represses me.
CIRCUS: In your music, do you construct the words to have a certain meaning?
GARCIA: The time to construct a theory of music is after it's all over. That way it's all cream. We can goof with it. Sometimes I set Hunter's (Bob Hunter, who writes most of the words to their music) words and sometimes he writes to the music. We're just doing it. It ain't dogma.
CIRCUS: A lot of people look at you as a very spiritual person.
GARCIA: We're just musicians, basically. We know lots of people into spiritualism and they tell us what's happening. That's one of the spheres we travel in but that's not to say that we're part of it. We're just traveling in it like we're traveling in New York. Because we're in a position where a lot of energy happens around us, anybody who's interested in energy and power and all of its attendant trips is just naturally drawn to our trip. So people who are into magic or the occult spot, in our music and its whole effect, something that is extraordinary, and also we're from California where everybody has an I Ching. It's just part of the way we live.
CIRCUS: How about drugs? You seem so much a part of that whole acid rock, San Francisco thing.
GARCIA: That whole acid rock trip is like some dumb fucking label that some newspaperman hit on in '65 or '66. The thing that you can't understand the music without drugs is ridiculous. I always get more turned on when some completely straight person gets into it cause that means that what we're doing is a little more inclusive. I'm not really interested in eliminating anybody or excluding anybody. Actually we've never been into dosing the stuff that gets into the audience. There's always somebody around who does but it's not us.
CIRCUS: There are so many myths around about the Dead. Is there any myth that you would like?
GARCIA: We would like a myth that we're all incredibly thorny and difficult people, and completely anti-social in every respect. It would make things a lot easier. So many people come up to talk with us. There's a lot of classic syndromes in rock. There's a lot of scenes. It's a groovy position to be in but you have to learn to discern one thing from another. When somebody comes to hit on you sometimes it's going to be good and sometimes it's going to be terrible. You have to pick up on it fast.
CIRCUS: It seems that lately you've been playing to bigger crowds and the vibes have been going down. Out in Brooklyn last week the crowd was almost violent. Is there anything you can do about that?
GARCIA: All we can do is not play and thus avoid presenting ourselves as an excuse for somebody having their little trip. We don't want to be background music for a riot. Otherwise all we can do is make adjustments, endless adjustments. It's getting trickier and trickier. Cause it's hard to tell who to like anymore. In a lot of those scenes I find myself liking the cops who are able to restrain themselves so admirably while some idiot is trying to break through them over music - but music is just the excuse for it. Making generalizations about people and their roles is just not the kind of thing you can do. Having a good concert has to do with everybody knowing how to deal with everybody in the crowd. It used to be a real high level where nobody would get hurt and you could let your kids run around. It can only get that way again if people start doing it that way. I think really the political thing has more energy now. The whole schism number.
CIRCUS: What would you like to do with your music, your records?
GARCIA: There is an infinite number of possibilities with records. There are lots of things I'd like to try that we haven't done yet. We're just slowly eliminating possibilities. We're doing a little bit in one idea and a little bit in another. We don't feel limited in what we can put on an album. We'd like our music to go all over everywhere and we'd like to just keep getting better. You get bored just playing the same way for a long time so you eventually change out of sheer boredom. Actually our music is very gig to gig. If we played bad last night, I'd feel really awful today.
CIRCUS: Are you still into that kind of super-hippie, California life-style that people picture you in?
GARCIA: Our life-style has changed from the hippie thing. People now consider us neo-rednecks. I don't think we ever were where people thought we were, but I don't know. The world we live in doesn't have any Grateful Dead in it. So I don't know what people think of the Grateful Dead. We've never seen the Grateful Dead. We've always been out of touch. That's one of the reasons we are where we are, because we were always getting somewhere weird of our own that wasn't necessarily right that anybody else should be going there. Whatever it is we're doing I wouldn't prescribe for anybody. It's not a thing for everybody to be doing or the world would go to ruins. There's a lot of things we're not doing and somebody else should be doing them. Whatever it is that we're doing is a special little thing and it's because of the faroutness of a place like California that things could get so specialized. It's just fortuitous circumstance and a long series of weird events that made it possible for us to come about at all.
CIRCUS: What about the rumors about you. Anything you'd like to say about them?
GARCIA: I would like to eliminate the rumor that we're all good guys. We're at least 50% bad guys at least 50% of the time.
CIRCUS: Finally, anything you'd like to say about the energy you create?
GARCIA: Yeah. We'd like for that energy to get higher. There's a more [words missing] level. A breakthrough thing into a kind of otherness. That's where we'd like it to be.

(by Marlese Ann James, from Circus, March 1971)

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com

3 comments:

  1. Garcia seems a bit testy here - he has noticed by now that east-coast interviewers keep asking him about the politics of the Dead. "That's only here on the East Coast... I know it's different here because of the questions I'm asked."
    In some comments, he seems eager to get away from the New York crowds - tired of all the people coming up to talk & get some of that Dead energy; sympathizing with the cops holding back the unruly "idiots" at shows.

    Lot of choice quotes, including some ideas he'd expand on in later interviews - he's already saying that the Dead's "music is very gig to gig. If we played bad last night, I'd feel really awful today."
    And, as he'd tell Rolling Stone the next year, "There is an infinite number of possibilities with records. There are lots of things I'd like to try that we haven't done yet... We don't feel limited in what we can put on an album. We'd like our music to go all over everywhere..."
    He wants Dead music to be more all-inclusive and reach more "straight" people, though his explanation for the changes in the Dead's music is simple: "You get bored just playing the same way for a long time so you eventually change out of sheer boredom."
    He also wants the energy at Dead shows to break through to a "higher" level. (I'm not sure if he felt they ever succeeded.) He misses the atmosphere of the early SF scene: "It used to be a real high level where nobody would get hurt and you could let your kids run around."
    His comment about the Dead's lifestyle is pretty interesting, as he presents it as this exclusive thing, only available to a few, and not everyone should try to join them. There's a bit of sad realism in there - 'we've opted out of the straight world, but the rest of you folks have to keep it going.'

    Other favorite quotes:
    "I'm concerned with repression only when it comes to my door and represses me."
    "The thing that you can't understand the music without drugs is ridiculous."
    "We've never been into dosing the stuff that gets into the audience. There's always somebody around who does but it's not us."
    "We don't want to be background music for a riot."
    "People now consider us neo-rednecks."
    "The world we live in doesn't have any Grateful Dead in it... We've never seen the Grateful Dead."
    "I would like to eliminate the rumor that we're all good guys."

    The chronology of this interview is not as straightforward as it seems. It took place the day of the Hell's Angels benefit, and refers to the Brooklyn concerts "last week" (which has to be the Rock Palace shows, where apparently the crowd was "almost violent").
    But it wasn't printed for several months, and there's been some awkward editing - in the interview, the Hell's Angels benefit is put in the past tense. (Also note the intro paragraphs that get repeated in edited form - some editor's attention perhaps drifted in a rewrite?)
    The intro mentions Garcia playing or helping with the Tarot play in Brooklyn - however, it's not mentioned in the actual interview; and as far as I've seen, the Tarot play opened in December, after the Dead had gone back home.
    There's also another baffling reference: "you did a benefit for the Panthers in December." Not sure if this is a typo or what, but the only Panther benefit I know the Dead did was in Oakland, March 5 '71 - long after this interview. Perhaps there was another benefit planned or discussed earlier in the press? The Dead had met Huey Newton in September 1970 on a plane ride to NYC.

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  2. More on the Black Panther benefit mystery:

    In the October 1970 Itkowitz interview, Garcia was asked about working with the Panthers:
    "We're doing a thing here at Madison Square Garden with Huey Newton, and I think maybe the Jefferson Airplane wants to do it too. It would be like a fund raising trip for the Panthers... There's a date, but I don't know when it is. We have a date. It's already together."

    It sounds to me like a benefit was planned at MSG in December, and didn't come off for whatever reason, so the Dead did the Oakland benefit a few months later instead. The Circus editors may not have caught that the planned benefit had been canceled.

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  3. This article was taken from a longer interview with Garcia, Lesh & Weir published in Charlie magazine:
    http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2014/01/november-23-1970-band-interview.html

    Comparing it with the longer version, it's clear that this is actually rather badly edited, and I'm not sure why someone felt the need to present a Garcia-only version of it.
    However, this does have a few comments from Garcia that are not in the longer version, so it's still a unique source for parts of the interview.

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