JERRY GARCIA AT 700 MPH
INCIDENTAL MUSIC AT THE CELEBRATION OF LIFE
[The interview takes place in the rear section of a 747. The plane is largely empty, and a few other members of the Grateful Dead sit in seats nearby.]
GARCIA: I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the Altamont movie – Gimme Shelter. The rest of the guys have seen it, and they didn’t dig it. I didn’t want to see it, really. It’s like doin’ a song about violence – amplifying and promoting those vibes. I think that anyone who’s puttin’ anything out into the media, into the mass conscious, has got a responsibility to try and put out good things, positive trips rather than negative trips.
REPORTER: Steve Gaskin says that.
GARCIA: Yeah, and I go along with him. The reason I go along with him is because I’ve been in a position to experience that phenomenon, the one that goes stimulus and feedback. Ever since we put out “Casey Jones,” on Workingman’s Dead, ten people come up to me every day and hit on me if I want some cocaine.
REPORTER: It amplifies pretty heavy.
GARCIA: Yeah, and I like to avoid that thing in every respect. I’ve only learned through error, because I’ve been an idiot on a certain level. Say that the movie was a good movie, and that the photography and the editing and the whole way it was put together was beautiful, and even the murder was ballet motion, a dance of death, whatever. In spite of that, the people who will see the movie are not all going to have the ability to view that thing on an aesthetic level, or to take the impact and go somewhere with it. It’s puttin’ down a paranoid possibility, one of the infinity of paranoid possibilities. I think Altamont was a valuable experience for everyone who was able to learn from it, and I think that everyone who was supposed to did. I don’t think it’s for everybody. I don’t think anything is for everybody.
REPORTER: “New Speedway Boogie” kind of dealt with it – it pulled out what there was to be pulled.
GARCIA: That’s what we hoped. Obviously, it was something very heavy for us to see what we had initiated by just, on a good day back in ’65, goin’ to the Panhandle and settin’ up and playin’ for free – we saw it turn into that. I mean, it wasn’t lost on us, man. Gaskin said that Altamont was the price that everybody paid for having that little bit of sadism to color their sexual scene. The Rolling Stones put out that little bit of leather. Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that, but I prefer that view. It’s because the environment I live in is a high-energy one, and everyone is really conscious of this shift – we’ve all had that experience, of saying the wrong thing (or the right thing, as the case may be) and all of a sudden…bam, it’s a whole different situation.
There’s no question that Altamont was a heavy trip. It was just really fuckin’ heavy. I’ve worked out the essence of the way it was that day, and it was so weird, man. I took some STP, and you just don’t know… Phil and I, we got off the helicopter and we came down through the crowd, and it was like Dante’s Inferno. It was spreading out in concentric waves. It was weird…fuck, it was weird. It wasn’t just the Angels. There were weird kinds of psychic violence happening around the edges that didn’t have anything to do with blows. Shit, I don’t know – spiritual panic or something. And then there were all these anonymous, borderline, violent street types, that aren’t necessarily heads – they may take dope, but that doesn’t mean they are heads – and there was a lot of, you know, the top forty world.
Long hair doesn’t work any more as a distinguishing characteristic…but it never did in the first place. What there was in the first place was a loosely-knit group of people who knew each other, one way or another, proximity or association, who were just getting’ shit on. Makin’ it a little easier for everybody, makin’ new connections, getting’ some energy happening. Intelligent people, not drug sluggers.
REPORTER: You know, that’s the key to it.
GARCIA: It really is man, like it really is.
REPORTER: It’s all getting so stupid, you know, illogical and irrelevant and –
GARCIA: Unimportant and –
GARCIA: Unimportant, Re-hashes, re-plays.
REPORTER: People lock in behind words and then you get Charles Manson, who says, “I’m God.” Which was one of the acid catchphrases, “to become God,” and once you’re God you can do fucking anything you want.
GARCIA: Sure, it’s just givin’ yourself license. There’s no way for anybody to distinguish between…like, Charlie Manson, there he is, and he’s got a flowered vest on, bell-bottom pants, long hair…and he looks just like a hippie. But when they cut his hair you could see who he was: a 20-year con. He’s been doin’ time all his fuckin’ life, and that’s the way his mentality works. Everything is keyed to that, that he’s an outlaw. Not in the sense of those of us who have become outlaws just because of the nature of the social set up, but an outlaw in the sense that the cat’s been put outside the law a long time ago, and he’s learned to live with those realities. And it’s easy to pick up on a fashion – like a rap here, a rap there, doesn’t change the essential makeup of the cat psychologically.
REPORTER: What have you been into lately?
GARCIA: Well, I’ve been in the city mostly, in a recording studio. A Grateful Dead record will be out in a week. American Beauty. It’s further developments of Workingman’s Dead, but a lot more homogenous. I just finished a record with Howard Wales, the organ player – very free, improvised music. Then I’ve been working with Crosby on his album, which is getting near to being completed, and before that I did a lot of work with Kantner and Grace on their Jefferson Starship Blows Against The Empire album. And the New Riders are going to be recording.
REPORTER: Everybody’s getting to be jamming together.
GARCIA: Well, yeah, it’s the time to be doin’ that. We’re making a little more time for ourselves to get into those other projects.
AIRPLANE: Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we ask all passengers –
REPORTER: Air turbulence…
GARCIA: Shit, I need this…
[Garcia and the reporter fasten their seat belts.]
REPORTER: What’s the New Riders’ record going to be like?
GARCIA: It’s about 50% underway. It’ll be all Marmaduke’s material, he’s the one who writes all the New Riders’ songs. And there’s more comin’ out. Steve Stills’ album will be out soon. Crosby describes it as bein’ like God on a good day, and that’s just what it’s like. It’s fuckin’ incredible. But there’s been this tendency to go indoors, whereas it used to be this energy would be goin’ towards gettin’ on free concerts outdoors, and big festivals. Now, it’s gettin’ to be such a hassle to play at a big concert, because there’s always this bad scene: “Is it going to be free? Is it a rip-off?” All that. I don’t like to play when I’m uptight.
[A stewardess approaches Garcia and the reporter.]
STEWARDESS: Would you like some…oh, I didn’t know you were…
[She holds a tray of coffee cups and a carafe of coffee.]
GARCIA: It’s cool…
GARCIA: Me, too.
STEWARDESS: I’ll just put this down…
[She pours the coffee.]
REPORTER: What were we talking about?
GARCIA: What everybody’s doin’? No, the way it is now compared to the way it used to be. And now you have to be ready to put yourself through a lot of changes and a lot of stresses if you want to be able to do big concerts, festivals and stuff like that.
Because we’re the Grateful Dead, we always get that thing – like, “Are you guys gonna make it free? You’re famous for making it free,” and all that. And I find myself in the role of arbitrator and politician, all the things I rejected years ago. I mean, I just don’t want to be that. And I would go so far as to not perform in public if it’s not cool. I like my music to be in a good place, and my head has to be in a good place for it to do that. So we’ve all been in the studio, mainly.
REPORTER: Free concerts used to be free because the people who would come were all your friends, and you can’t charge your friends money.
GARCIA: Yeah, and now they want it free out of principle. Anyway, there ain’t no such thing as free.
REPORTER: Right on, there’s no free lunch.
GARCIA: Yeah, there’s no free lunch. When we made music for free, we weren’t saying, “OK, now we’re going to get ourselves together and go make music for free.” We were sayin’, “What a great day it is, man. Let’s go play somewhere.” “Yeah, why don’t we go to the park?” “Too fuckin’ much, man.” “Hey, I know how we can score a free rent-a-truck.” “Too much.” Bam, bam, bam. Twenty minutes later, there we were, set up and playin’. And it was groovy, it was no hassle, and it was all good trips. All clear. It isn’t that way anymore.
REPORTER: The way it works now, there’s no difference between a free concert and a regular concert, except you don’t pay anything for the free one.
GARCIA: And you don’t make anything, so on a level of being a musician, where’s the reward? You don’t have a good time, and you also don’t get paid, so what the fuck’s the point?
REPORTER: I remember in ’65 or ’66, when there was a free concert you always figured you had to pay something. Not money, but something else…dope, food, or you’d just put out a lot of energy and go around and make sure everyone was cool.
GARCIA: You were givin’ yourself, and that’s really where it’s at. Either everybody takes care of everybody else, or nothin’ gets on. There never was a free concert. Money is only a symbol for energy exchange. If energy exchange could be worked out with some other analogue instead of money, I’d be all for it. But if it’s going to be strictly an energy rip-off trip, where the musicians get up there and sweat like hell for three hours, and everybody in the front row gets off, and it’s all for the purpose of illustrating some philosophical point, fuck it. It’s some kind of error. It’s all got to be paid for through the efforts of somebody’s labor or energy.
REPORTER: One way to do it is to make a movie and charge bread to see it, but…
GARCIA: Yeah, everybody complains that it’s a rip-off. You can’t win for losin’ on those levels, so you have to start relating on a different level. That’s why we’ve been in the studio so much lately. It’s unfortunate that the live thing is gettin’ so weird; I really love performing for people.
The roles change. A long time ago, our role was…we were sort of incidental music at the celebration of life. Which was super cool. Now, however, we’re in the position of being rock and roll stars, which is not anywhere near so cool and takes a lot more from you in the sense of…well, you get in a very wired place. You’re playing music, you’re up, you’re excited, you’re on, you leave the stage…and there’s a backstage full of drifting shadow forms and peculiar show-biz vampires. I’ve never been competent to deal with that to my own satisfaction. I always like to feel that any encounter between myself and another human being is going to be some free exchange of energy. I try not to hang anyone up. But there are a lot of scenes in rock and roll where people are looking to hang you up, and put you through weird trips and shit like that.
REPORTER: Show business.
GARCIA: Yeah, who needs it? I feel essentially functionless. I’m not a contributing member to society in any real way – I’m a musician. A long time ago, I decided not to play games but to play music, and I feel kind of outside of it all. But at the same time, I feel that what I’m doing is a service. I think music should be put in that category rather than in the business category. Like, people get high from music, and everybody should be able to get high. The rest of it has to do with dealing with the externals, like what’s there to work with. What there is to work with is a theater here, a multi-purpose room there, this PA, this approach to advertising and economics, all that shit.
But there’s another trip, ‘cause when we play at the Fillmore East, the place is set up as a theater. So instead of being the incidental music, or the house band, you’re there delivering something else. And you begin to think in terms of structuring your evening a certain way. That’s how we came up with the idea for the Evening with the Grateful Dead. I’d like it to go as many ways as possible, but it’s getting’ so fuckin’ weird that…it’s so weird when music lovers break down the door of a place.
REPORTER: It’s because the music becomes a symbol for something, and it really isn’t a symbol for anything except itself. Like, politics are really necessary sometimes, and I’m definitely not saying that rock and roll is going to save the world, but there’s a time and place for intelligent political action, and ripping off a concert that could be a celebration of the life energy (which, in itself, is a political action on the highest level), ain’t where it’s at; it doesn’t function politically, and it doesn’t function joyously either.
GARCIA: No, it doesn’t function either way, and that’s the tragedy.
REPORTER: So how do we handle that?
GARCIA: You just try to keep puttin’ out positive stuff. You just try to keep your own end of it as cool as possible, and keep your own head together, and hope that everything that’s goin’ through you ain’t goin’ through a dirty filter. I’m not the kind of guy that wants to stop somebody from trying to pervert power. I view the thing as part of the show, and the show is that thing about, Will people continually be suckers for illusory power? Will they continue to go for that bait, or will they wise up in the last few minutes of the game and save the world? And as lucid as it gets…like, when things are exceptionally clear over here, all of a sudden, bam, it’s ten times heavier over there. There’s Woodstock and Altamont, two poles of the same experience.
REPORTER: The old yin-yang.
GARCIA: Right so. And that situation occurs whenever you hit the high-energy button.
REPORTER: When you try to generate the white part, isolate it, you necessarily generate its opposite.
GARCIA: A lot of things that have been said about the Grateful Dead put us into the role of being good guys. I see our situation as being more like bad good guys, or maybe good bad guys. Whatever it is that’s goin’ on, we’ll say what it is, we’ll amplify it, we’ll show it to everybody, and then it’ll go out and it’s out of our hands. We’re kind of like the news, in a sense: keepin’ the channel clear. It doesn’t matter what goes through. It’s like you don’t make judgments, you don’t weigh one thing against another, but just let it fuckin’ flow and don’t hang it up anywhere.
It’s really mysterious. We’ve been at it for six years, now, and we’re suddenly getting successful. Just in the last year, we’re getting successful. It’s something that never happened to us before: we’re out of debt, our records are starting to make money…
REPORTER: There are a couple of specific questions I’d like to ask you. Like, who wrote the words to “Cumberland Blues?”
GARCIA: Hunter wrote all the lyrics on Workingman’s Dead. See, Hunter and I live together. He and his old lady live together in my house with me and my old lady and the kids. We’ve been very close for, shit, ten years. He’s an integral part of the whole Grateful Dead scene, and he’s been able to say the things that…whatever it is that we suddenly know. Like, things come to us in waves – all of a sudden there’s a quantum change, and we all know something new. It’s common knowledge, but Hunter is the one who can verbalize it.
REPORTER: Was “Anthem of the Sun” about Neal Cassady?
GARCIA: It turned out that way. Bobby’s part of the song, the part that has the triplet rhythm, duh duh dadada, duh duh dadada, with “Spanish lady come to me, she lay on me this rose,” we wrote that when we were up at Russian River. We had several pieces of songs layin’ around. Weir went down to the river and wrote those words, and there’s a line in there about, “Something exploded, left a bus stop in its place, a bus came by, I got on, Cowboy Neal at the wheel, the bus never ever left.” [sic]
That was written when Neal was still alive, running back and forth between San Francisco and Mexico. Neal, man! He was our inspiration. Oh, shit, Neal was the farthest out guy I have ever met. He was the most amazing human being of the century, and all in ways that have yet to be understood. He was the ultimate sound-film character, ‘cause he had it all covered. He had dialogue, he had the most incredible monologue that you could imagine: it was endless and twelfth dimensional. It had so many levels that it would just blow your mind to pieces. Plus he had a visual thing, like a combination juggler, dancer, contortionist, acrobat, sight-gag Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin trip. Everything, man – he was the Everything Show. One guy. And full speed ahead, just straight on. Incredible! Nothing was more incredible than getting high on acid and spending a day with Neal Cassady. Nothing. He would blow your mind so totally, and never ever lock you up, or put a rope around you, a border around you, or anything. But always as far out as you wanted to get.
So we were working on the song, and we heard that he was dead. And the song was already written, but my part of the song had, “He had to die,” and Weir had the words about Neal, and all of a sudden it was…but it’s been that way with a lot of things. A lot of our songs are about things, real people and real situations, but in very personal terms. And if they’re right on, they communicate on a lot of different levels other than that personal one.
[The tape recorder stops, and the reporter turns over the cassette.]
GARCIA: I’ve never met Bob Dylan, all I know is…well, media stuff.
REPORTER: Dylan has taken one of the standard outs on the superstar trip, which is to refuse, totally, to be a public figure.
GARCIA: It’s a drag to be a public figure. It’s something that should never happen to anyone. It’s just bad news. If you go for it, it fucks you up. If you don’t go for it…it fucks you up anyway.
REPORTER: The Dead do as well as anybody – maybe even better.
GARCIA: Well, we’ve been working on handling that thing ever since the acid tests, and our association with Kesey. It’s been part of the lesson that we’ve all paid a lot of brain cells to learn: not to fuck with it, to try to do it as righteously as possible. All the wise people we know tell us that, and try to keep us up to date in terms of are we fucking up or not. And we do as well with it as we can, but I don’t think that anyone can really handle it…when it gets to those extreme levels, I don’t think anyone can handle it the way it’s supposed to be handled. Not anyone I know of right now. It’s warpy, twisty.
REPORTER: Somebody’s got to learn how to deal with it, though.
GARCIA: Well, communication is very good in the music scene, and most musicians know each other. So anything weird that’s happening, somebody will try to get the news out. If some brother is fucked up, if somebody needs a rest or a vacation, everybody will say, “Hey, man, you’re doin’ too much cocaine, you need a fuckin’ break,” and the guy will go, “Oh, yeah,” snap, snap, bam. The consciousness is all there, it’s just that the energy is so extreme that it’s gonna require all that and more to really pull through. I think it can happen. And luckily, everybody is getting older, so there’s more wisdom.
REPORTER: Those that aren’t getting killed. Speaking of which, how do you feel, now, about putting out that cocaine vibe in “Casey Jones?”
GARCIA: I’m sorry I did it. We didn’t mean for people to go start taking a lot of cocaine when we put out that song. It’s clearly an anti-coke song. The words aren’t light, good-time words – it’s just the feeling of it.
REPORTER: I really like the song a lot, because it deals with a state of mind that I know very well – which doesn’t have anything to do with coke. But a lot of people picked up on the cocaine part, you know? Cocaine is so fucking fashionable these days.
GARCIA: Yeah, and that’s unfortunate. See, we were manipulating a couple of things consciously when we put that song together. First of all, there’s a whole tradition of cocaine songs, there’s a tradition of train songs, and there’s a tradition of Casey Jones songs. And we’ve been doing a thing, ever since Aoxomoxoa, of building on a tradition that’s already there. Like “Dupree’s Diamond Blues.”
REPORTER: The jug band rides on.
GARCIA: Exactly. It’s partly a way of redeveloping what’s been put into us, and it’s partly my way of expressing thanks to that whole tradition: to try and add a good song to it. So I think of it in terms of a good song, which is probably a little too academic for puttin’ out something that freaks are gonna buy and listen to. I like the song a lot, I think it’s a successful song, but I’ve gotten some relatively dire feedback from it.
But Hunter and I know that there’s no value to just showing one side of the picture. You have to illustrate what’s there. So the name of the new album is American Beauty, and it has some of the first things I’ve written, and that we’ve performed as a band, that in my opinion are genuinely beautiful.
The situation in the studio was very similar to Workingman’s Dead, where every bad thing that could happen while we were recording happened. It was just one diabolical bummer after another. Phil’s father died of cancer, my mother died in an automobile accident, one of Mickey’s old lady’s kids was killed on a bicycle – it was just like there was death happening, cascades of weird shit falling down around our ears. So there we were in the studio, creating this thing, pullin’ together, and because we managed to get off under those circumstances the music has a certain quality.
REPORTER: Somehow, this has been a rough six months or so. We’ve seen a lot of things not work that we thought were gonna work, and it kind of feels like we’re at the bottom of some spiritual curve, you know?
GARCIA: It’s a matter of being able to change with the time. Change is the nature of the universe, and the way people should be relating to it is just to flow. It seems to work, because despite how weird it’s gotten – and it’s gotten weird in every way you can think about, one time or another. We’ve been assaulted by every kind of bummer, we’ve had splits among ourselves – it’s still been a very slow, very gradual climb. I don’t know where it’s climbin’ to, but…
Initially, when we started the Grateful Dead, we didn’t have anything goin’ anyway. We were nowhere, but it was groovy. That “nowhere” state is a thing that everybody can revert to and be cool behind. So we’re not losin’ or gainin’ anything, we’re just goin’ through the changes. And the changes have brought us this far, and showed us this much, and they’re continuing to take us along. That’s the ride we’re on.
The only way I can describe it is that I consider this a very important time to be alive, and a big jackpot. Aside from that, everything is speculation. Who knows what’s goin’ on? In my version of the universe, it’s far out, things are far out, everything has…there’s more than meets the eye in every situation. Big things are happening on the globe, it’s an important time, you dig?
If we blow it this time, there’s not gonna be anyone left to blow it again. All the bummers of this era are coming to a head. All California, all America, has smog now. The death forces are all over. This is the time, man. It’s either got to pull out of this, shape up and get together (even marginally would make it, even a close one would make it), or else…it could so easily go into complete oblivion, poison environment, fuck up the earth, end of life. So I’m definitely pulling for the other way.
REPORTER: It’s the only game in town.
GARCIA: Gotta play it. For a while we were entertaining the notion of finding a big piece of land in Canada, and living up there, taking our whole scene up there and forgetting about the United States. But then the flash came down about there’s no place you can run to on the planet Earth. Kantner has a line that goes, “Wooden ships on the oil.” The sea isn’t clean – in the middle of the Pacific, there’s styrofoam cups and plastic Japanese fishing floats. There’s no getting rid of that stuff, because nothing eats it. So, realistically, there’s nowhere on the planet to go, except maybe to buy yourself a little time. But time for what? Time to die a little slower? It’s not so much you and me and cigarette butts and beer cans – that’s just little shit. It’s the big-time industrial shit that’s doin’ it, causing the really devastating poison.
REPORTER: That’s why a valid attack on pollution has to start with an analysis of the way the economy works, because the only reason the big companies put all that shit out is that it would cut into their profits too much if they did it right. Also, you know that what the technology has ruined, the technology can fix. It’s not gonna help to go back 200 years and pretend we’re living in a pre-industrial society.
GARCIA: I keep hopin’ that there’s hope, and things keep lookin’ better, but they also keep lookin’ worse. We had a good party on one of these planes – an early morning flight to New York. Nobody much on the plane, but sitting up about four rows in front of us, we spotted Huey Newton and David Hilliard. So we immediately got into it with them, and we spent the whole flight rapping with Huey Newton. Huey is a super good cat, really, wow! Shit, man, he was really impressive. There’s not a wrong vibe about the cat.
That’s the drag about the whole media trip, ‘cause that’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t find its way through the media filter. Huey and David were on their way to that reception for all the guys who were comin’ back from that tour with Eldridge Cleaver, through Red China and all that. They were having a press conference at JFK. They invited us to come, and me and Cutler and Marmaduke went down there. It was a real good party. There were all these people there from the various extreme scenes, like the Young Lords and the San Francisco Red Guards, the Panthers of course, people from the Chicago scene – all these famous radicals.
And it was a good scene, a family scene, with kids there, people rapping, real nice. And there were all these news people all around and they were reading books and their tape recorders were off, nobody was taking notes, the cameras were dead, none of the sun guns were on. All of a sudden a guy comes through the door, and he says, “The pigs have just ripped off blah blah blah!” Bam, immediately every camera comes to life, every tape recorder is on, and the one thing they copped of all the things that were happening in the period of time we were there was that adrenalin flash. The old bummer, the fucking adrenalin flash, and that’s what went out to America.
REPORTER: That’s what the media live on.
GARCIA: It’s a revolting chemical.
REPORTER: It’s terrible, it makes you shake…
GARCIA: It’s bad, man, it’s bad. Shit, no wonder everybody’s paranoid.
REPORTER: Most of the heavy political radicals I’ve met are kind, intelligent men and women who just want good things for the people, but whenever they get quoted all you read is, “Off the pigs, violent revolution, blood in the streets…” It’s such bullshit.
GARCIA: The best new development is that there’s a lot of good people, good minds and good heads, who are into media with the traditional sense of responsibility, but without the traditional bullshit. So there’s a possibility, finally, for people getting real news. It’s sort of the same position we’re trying to wheedle for ourselves in the music industry – so there’s as little between us and getting it on as there can be. We’re already well into what we’ve got, and we’ve got it solidly. And it’s more than we ever expected any of us to have – access to beautiful tools.
REPORTER: Access to tools is the key to everything, man. Videotape equipment, portable movie cameras…
GARCIA: That’s comin’ up, man. We’re all starting’ to talk about videotape cassettes, new worlds. I can see a time comin’ up, within the next five or six years, when it’s going to be all of us controlling all that shit.
REPORTER: Because we understand how to use it, the potential of it.
GARCIA: The thing about television is that it’s an electronic medium, and it doesn’t have to imitate the camera. It doesn’t even have to have a lens. You can control every parameter of it synthetically.
REPORTER: The implications of offset printing, too, and computers…
GARCIA: The saviors of mankind.
REPORTER: All that equipment can be used in such a spiritual, holy way.
GARCIA: That’s the place technology should go. It should trip out. Whenever there are times of stress, entertainment trips go way up. People need it; you gotta have something to get high with. And videotape can fit the bill. I can envision a time when everybody has a television set with a yes-no switch on it. And whenever anything of any importance comes up, the computers do a printout of the facts and information on the two sides of any question, and everybody instantaneously votes. Immediately, everything is reprogrammed to take that into consideration, and the whole world works beautifully.
(by Michael Goodwin, from Flash, #0, 1971)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com