JERRY GARCIA IN THE TALK-IN
It's been a long time but at last you're over here. Why has it taken so long to get together? Every year you get rumours...
Well, that’s true. I think from our side of it it’s been a matter of holding off until I think we were basically unified about going somewhere. In the past it’s been a question of timing – for example we had a European tour kind of sketched out this time last year, but the timing was poor.
What happened was we’d been out on the road for two months and our plan was to then go to Europe, but we were so exhausted and we were on sort of a downhill...the way things work with our music is that we can only play certain material for so long and then we get bored with what we’re doing.
It’s important to us to be able to take a break for maybe a month or so, come back to it fresh, rehearse, get new material together – then the music has some vitality. But if we try and play the same material too continually it just starts getting lame, you know, and we start getting bored with it and so forth.
That’s like an up and down curve, and the last time we were just on the down end of the curve when it came time for a final decision – "are we going to go, are we not going to go? Oh, let’s not go because we just don’t feel right." It comes down to that we weren’t ready to, I don’t think we were ready to come – not in our own heads.
That may or may not be a good criterion, but that’s the way it works in our scene. If everybody feels like it, it happens, if not it doesn’t, and this year we’re just really ready...totally ready.
And “everybody” with the Dead is quite a lot of people.
Right, right, and all of them are ready too. Because everybody plays an important part, actually, on one level or another, and if any of those levels aren’t quite right for one reason or another, then we can’t really move forward.
It represents energy lost if we try to, you know what I mean, because we’ll have to go back and fix that thing eventually. So we always wait until it’s really time to do it. That’s what this is about.
Have you got a lot of new material that you’ll be doing then?
Well, we have material that’ll be new here, yeah – it’s not new to us, we’ve been playing it for a while, but our material starts to get life after we’ve been playing it for a while, but if we play it too long it loses life.
There’s a sort of a peak optimum, and right now we’re at one of those peaks. We’ve got a lot of brand new material, we have material that’ll be new to...that we’ve never recorded, in fact that’s why we’re recording these tours.
At Bickershaw you’ll be having a whole day, right? I heard you’d be doing a kind of history of the Dead.
Well, actually our show is kind of that, in a way, insofar as we try to start on a kind of easy-to-hear level – it works for several reasons that way.
For one thing it works that we remember how to play, each time, by starting with simple things, moving into more complex things, and then finally after having built a kind of platform, then we sort of jump off it.
But if we were to start the show jumping off it, most of the audience I don’t think would really be able to follow it, unless they were really Grateful Dead freaks.
So now we have this sort of continuum, which is good for us and it’s good for the audience because we have a kind of continuity – from off the street to outer space, so to speak.
And then back again?
Sometimes, but then sometimes we just hang out there. It’s not so organised. When we go on stage we don’t have a set worked out, we don’t know what we’re going to do, so it’s a combination of us being sensitive to the situation and to the audience, and what material might be appropriate to a given moment. We leave ourselves that kind of flexibility.
And obviously having a whole day to do it is an advantage...
Right, that’s why we insist on those long concerts as well, to provide ourselves with enough time to do what we know we can do good.
How does it work within three or four hours?
Four hours is good, four or five hours is usually really good. After that it depends.
Outdoors is a different thing, outdoors there’s just a tremendous amount more energy available, it seems; we’ve sometimes played outdoors for six or seven hours – really ridiculously long times, but there’s a different thing happening there, it’s easier for some reason.
How would you say the Dead have changed since the early days in San Francisco?
We’ve had a couple of major changes. I think our first major change from the early days was when we added a second drummer, and that kinda like represents the middle period so to speak.
You can hear pretty well what the result of that was on "Live Dead", in terms of performance, what that meant to our performance. Then, two drummers got to be a musical refinement for the sake of itself, which didn’t really contribute to the music, ultimately.
It was a good trip, but finally it didn’t really provide enough for two drummers to be doing full time, and be satisfied, so then Mickey went back to doing his Mickey stuff – he’s got a recording studio and things like that – and we went back to a five-man format.
But, we felt that we needed more music, just more music in the band, so in this last year we picked up Keith, who’s our piano player, and his wife Donna is an excellent singer so she’s been singing some with us too. So those are two changes that are brand new, and that’s made our music change again.
But I couldn’t really describe, objectively, what’s different about it because to me it seems like we’re playing the same music that we ever were, we’re just playing it better than we ever were.
Your attitudes, your approach, is the same.
Yeah, that’s right, it’s basically the same. We’ve gone through different directions in terms of material – the kinds of material that we write – but those just have to do with the kind of life that we experience, it’s just the regular changes that one goes through in the course of a lifetime.
I don’t see those as fundamental differences in our approach to music. It’s been pretty steady.
But would you say you’ve kept the same approach as you had maybe in the very early days?
I would say that we’re considerably more sophisticated and adventurous than we were then, although what we were doing then was far out for those times. I think what we do now is much farther out, and has much more potential.
Now, it’s a lot like we finally have an instrument that really works well, and now it’s just a matter of us seeing what it’ll do, see how it works.
Everybody is really on top of it musically – Bob has been writing a lot of good material, Pigpen’s been writing a lot of good songs, and the energy of the piano player and his wife has just been fantastic for us, made it feel really complete.
But you tend to get the impression from reading articles about San Francisco at that time – you know those articles that all had Grateful Dead-Jefferson Airplane in the same breath all the time...
...that there was a very special kind of community thing about the place and the music.
Right, but that community thing is much more together now than it ever was in those days. In those days I think it was a matter of like...I think what made it weird for us was that so much attention was focused in the media on the scene, and it was before that scene really was together. It was while the scene was sort of forming, but so much attention got focused on it at that formative stage that it exploded.
You know, like all kinds of people came to the Haight-Ashbury, and there was a tremendous reaction to that, and the whole thing closed down, and then the political thing came into being, and all these various changes came in, and I think that it was unfortunately misleading that early.
Misleading for who – for you?
For everybody. For you, and for me, yeah, and it just put too much energy into too fragile a situation so that the energy was more than the capacity to absorb it, and it just made it just very strange for everybody, but now with five years of maturity on everybody, five years, six years of experience, the thing is much more fruitful and real than it was back then – in my mind.
It’s less spectacular, and it doesn’t have that fresh – "ah, something new!" – it doesn’t have that early excitement, but it does have something that’s much more...together, that’s the only thing I can think of to describe it.
It’s like all that bit about “Swinging London”.
Yeah, there you go – same stuff. Who needs it? But that’s the double edged sword of Media – it can be like tremendously helpful and tremendously destructive, all completely unconsciously and unwilfully.
Do you think that it was that that was destructive to the San Francisco scene?
I think it was, just because it created more traffic than the scene could possibly cover. See, what we were doing at the time all had to do with having controllable numbers of people, in the sense of you could feed large numbers of people, but you could only feed so many.
You could feed 1,000, but you couldn’t feed 20,000, so as soon as there got to be more than traffic could bear, then it was like an ecological upset. So I think that had a lot to do with it certainly – just the fact that so much attention was focused on it before the thing was really ready to cope. And also because we were unable to convince the officials in San Francisco, for example, of what was going to happen, we were unable to make them believe that..."hey, listen – have you looked at Time magazine?", you know? You remember that summer, that famous summer of love? That spring we were saying that in the summer there would be more people in the city than the city could possibly hold, there’s going to be more freaks, and what we need is these facilities – we need free clinics, we need doctors here, we need food over here, and stuff like that.
But they weren’t hearing it, they weren’t able to see it coming, so we just had to stand there and watch this incredible, this fantastic over-flow occur.
And with more people came that certain percentage of violent types, and all that scene, and pretty soon Haight Street was like an armed camp – at weekends there would be thousands and thousands of people out on the street, and then there would be police at every corner, and finally the riot squad and the National Guard, and all this stuff, just moving in – just because it was mishandled.
By the city?
Yeah, and also by us. I mean had we been more perceptive at that time, when we were too young and foolish to be, we would have just not said anything to the Time magazine. [We should] have said, "oh, nothing’s happening here", and cooled it for a while. But that’s youthful folly, I suppose.
But now, a certain amount of what was really, like I said, what was exciting about the freshness and so forth, that part of it is pretty much over, the age of innocence is over, but now it’s gone past it, and it’s gone past the successive chaos and so forth, and now it’s settled into a really good working community of artists and people. It seems pretty satisfying for those of us who are involved in it.
What was good about the Haight-Ashbury scene was that new consciousness was being investigated, and information was being made known, and I think that’s still going on, but I think it’s generally more now than it was, there’s more substance there, less fantasy.
What was the effect of all that on you – did it make you withdraw?
It made us very clannish, and we had just a pure survival struggle for several years – economical and so forth, trying to keep going, which has been basically what we’ve been geared to doing.
It’s only been in this last year that all of a sudden there’s been more coming to us than we need. So we’ve been able to move energy around a little bit, we’ve been able to solve our own problems. But that was good, because that was what we needed, you know.
Because it made everything grow up, mature a lot faster.
What decided you to do a solo album?
Well, basically it was an economic thing because in Marin County, see – I’ve got an old lady, and kids and all that scene at home – and in Marin County there’s not too many houses, and I’ve gone through about three years of renting a beautiful place, and then somebody buys it and kicks me out, so I’ve been moving like every six months pretty regularly.
Finally, my old lady when she was out looking for places to rent found this really lovely house – on the West Coast in Marin, overlooking the ocean, fantastic place. So at that point we decided, let’s buy a house, rather than rent, and buying a house means coming up with a down payment, and then you pay like rent, but you’re eventually owning the place.
So we decided to do that, and the way to do it, for me, was to borrow 10,000 dollars from Warner Bros. Records.
And because it was my house, I thought it should be my record – I wouldn’t have felt right about if it had been a Grateful Dead record to pay for my house. It was sort of an extra-curricular activity. And also Ramrod, who’s our main equipment guy, and Kreutzman worked with me on the record, so I gave them each a percentage of it so they had the ability to buy their own place, buy some land or something.
It’s a matter of being able to move in and get solid, that’s what the record was about for me, really, to be respectable and so forth, which is laughable but...that’s why it ends with wheel and starts with deal – it’s wheeling and dealing to get a house. Basically that’s the truth of it.
But also there were things that I wanted to do in the recording studio, that I wanted to try, that I didn’t necessarily want to take up space on a Grateful Dead record to do.
It’s a matter of having something in your head and wanting to be able to manifest it, and recording costs are so prohibitive – 90 dollars an hour it's just ridiculous – that you can’t amuse yourself unless you’re really rich.
So again it’s the thing that Warner Brothers would be willing to pay to let me do that. So I was able to accomplish several things by doing that record, but basically I don’t think of it as being "Important" – you know what I mean? I think that it’s idiosyncratic – here’s this one thing – I don’t intend to follow it with a career as a solo performer or anything like that. I might do another one if I feel a need to say something or to experiment in some direction or another.
Can I talk a bit about the organisation of the Grateful Dead, because it seems quite unique among most rock bands. You’ve got what, about 40 people with you on this trip?
Well, we don’t always. This is almost our whole scene, that is to say almost the whole Grateful Dead family, Grateful Dead as a social institution, rather than Grateful Dead as a musical institution. In that world, the band represents the driving motor, so to speak, but the reason that we’re able to play is because everybody does what they can to make it right.
What we’ve been trying to do is liberate the music industry, or at least our little part of it, by gradually withdrawing from booking agents, gradually withdrawing from record companies, gradually withdrawing from that whole scene until finally we have control over the whole range of the things we’re doing.
We have control over our gigs, we have control over our records – all those things. And the way our organisation works is the way I described before – we don’t do anything if somebody doesn’t feel right about it, everybody has to feel right about it, and if somebody doesn’t then we work on another plan.
Are you going to set up your own label?
Well, we’re going to try to set up our own record company, but it’s not going to be a record company in the standard sense in that it’s not going to be designed for profit, it’s going to be designed to sell our records in a way compatible with the way we run our scene.
It would be like families here and there, who would be like distributing our records, selling them.
The records would be considerably cheaper than regular records in regular record stores – they might not ever be sold in record stores, they might be sold in health food stores and head shops.
We’re looking to totally break away from that thing, we’re not interested in competing with the rest of the record world, we’re not interested in playing that game at all.
What we want to do is put out records, control the quality of them so that they’re really good, on good vinyl and so forth, and so that they’re cheap. So our profit margin can be shortened.
All these things here are dreams, they’re not real yet, we’re just talking about them and putting together information, and trying to find out how possible it is and what we’re going to need to do to try it. But it’s a gamble – hopefully the way we would do it would be the way the underground newspapers are in America, and the way the health food industry now is in the United States.
That is entirely a head scene – the farmers are heads, the distributors are heads, the whole thing is incredibly healthy for the whole head economy, which is really a sub-economy in the United States, it doesn’t depend on the rest of the straight, American capitalist system.
We're interested in lending our support to that, because that is the world we live in, rather than be funnelled through record companies or...people who don't understand what we're doing, that's it, that represents an incredible drag on us.
So the future for the Dead is to be as completely self contained as possible?
Right, that's it exactly. Whether we'll get there or not is anybody's guess, but we're trying. And our feedback, you know, when we throw these ideas out to people - it looks like it's possible, it looks like it would be possible to make all that work, but it just has to do with whether the energy is there, whether people will do it.
It doesn't have to do with profit and all that stuff, traditional business motives, it has to do with something else entirely, and we haven't defined it - it's not that kind of stuff.
(by Steve Peacock, from Sounds, April 15, 1972)
Thanks to Simon Phillips.