JERRY GARCIA: A RARE INTERVIEW
Roy Carr in New York: the problems of making the Dead NOT happen.
Jerry Garcia is on the brink of becoming a much lauded and yet reluctant celebrity, and when I confronted him backstage at the Academy of Music in New York some days ago he admitted to a distinct paranoia of being interviewed. He feels people will take more stock of his spoken word than his ability as a musician.
I therefore tried humour in a bid to break the initial ice. "I have come," I intoned, "on a big silver bird, across the mighty ocean from the electric island of fog and rain."
He smiled - lowered his protective defence - invited my goodself up to his rather bleak second floor dressing room, and there, in the company of tour manager Sam Cutler and Hooteroller Howard Wales, we enjoyed a lengthy informal chat.
Speaking for both himself and the Grateful Dead, Garcia endeavoured to explain his predicament: "As far as the Dead are concerned things are getting better and better. But at the same time they're getting worse and worse in the same direction."
"Unfortunately," he continued with a slight tinge of despair in his enthusiastic voice, "what's starting to happen in America is that the Dead are turning into a star band, and that's not what we want. That's essentially what we are desperately trying to avoid. But it's happening, so now we're faced with the problem of seeing if we can make it not happen.
"In the direction of more success there are more weird trips involved, which don't in any way help my paranoia about being interviewed. Really, it's all stuff like that I want to try and avoid. You see, people look towards me as the leader for the simple reason that I talk a lot."
Garcia then offered a strange paradox. "If it is at all possible, we want to try and avoid becoming successful in the sense of being famous. The thing that we're trying to do is de-escalate that escalation thing."
The only way to maintain any kind of equilibrium is to avoid the pitfalls that beset other bands in their exposed position, says Garcia.
"If we, as a band, can get it together enough to be able to pull that kinda thing down to a reasonable pace, and pull ourselves out of the record competition popularity contest, then we'll be satisfied," he concluded with a grin.
Garcia feels that as an individual he isn't being forced into the over-kill syndrome that plagues the like of Eric Clapton or Alvin Lee. "It's something quite different," the victim murmured.
"It's like the fact that you're interviewing me. Not because you've never heard of me, but because you have heard of me." He elaborated: "I've only agreed to do this interview because you're into what we play, and because I like you as a person as opposed to the media that you represent.
"I don't know what that means to you, but there's no other way that I can relate to it. But at the same time, when all this gets out into print somebody's going to look at it and then I'm going to have to deal with what that was.
"You see, man, it's just a complex little energy swirl that you and I are creating right now. I often wonder about it, because I have to end up relating to what I said a month ago."
Then, without pausing for breath, Garcia burst out laughing as he added, "Luckily nobody takes it quite as seriously as I think...do they?" After deliberating on that particular question, Garcia conceded that for the reader it's interesting to read about but in the end it's the music that gets them off. "They'll read an interview once or twice, but hopefully they'll play an album a lot of times."
To the observer, the Grateful Dead are the definitive American rock band, the epitome of what could loosely be termed a self-reliant unit.
Garcia agrees in principle but states, "Whatever people think about the Grateful Dead is a huge misconception and we seem to spend all our energies patching up this misconception.
"We're only self-contained to a point, because we survive on the basis that there are a lot of people willing to support our trip by coming to our concerts and buying our albums."
Garcia then went on to give a brief run-down of the internal workings on the Grateful Dead's commune. "Our scene is that the band is like a locomotive. It's not solely the financial thing because everyone connected with us works on that as well. Within our scene there are people involved in diverse and very worthwhile jobs that help contribute and make the whole thing work smoothly.
"The result, is that it allows us to do what we do and hopefully everybody gets off in some way or another. But," he emphasised, "we're not people that make a lot of money and give it all away to other people. What the Dead has got is its very own little survival unit."
Though this method of close co-existence is geared to their own specific requirements, Garcia admits that he can't offer an opinion as to whether their modus operandi could apply to other bands.
"It's just like saying, will your shoes fit somebody else? I just don't know," was his conclusion.
He offered an example. "We have these guys who do a lot of work for us like running our p.a. and it just so happens that the head of that company is Bob Matthews who is also our recording engineer. They make professional equipment and fine instruments.
"It's experimental in that it's the first of anything and as they seem to be the only people moving in that direction we're naturally trying to work in a completely compatible environment with them."
When asked how he would describe the Grateful Dead, Garcia grinned and uttered one word, "Bums."
Explaining himself, he revealed, "The Dead's whole scene was past struggling, because when we originally came together we'd already given up, we didn't really care, that was our tradition. We said, F*** it, why struggle...why do anything. F*** it all... F*** everything."
It is because of this philosophy that Garcia feels that the Dead have at their own motivation managed to plod along and still maintain their sense of purpose.
With a wink, he added, "And the great thing is that we're still getting away with it." And with that statement, the very reluctant and very involuntary celebrity picked up his guitar and ambled on stage.
(by Roy Carr, from the New Musical Express, February 5, 1972)
Thanks to Uli Teute.