Dec 31, 2013

October 1970: Jerry Garcia Interview


[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…
STEWARDESS: …coffee?
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, April 1971)

Thanks to

Dec 27, 2013

Spring 1971: Garcia Interview


“In the land of the night the ship of the sun is drawn by the grateful dead…”

Jerry Garcia, formerly of Mother McCree’s Jug Champions, is now the lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead. The Jug Champions were Garcia, Pigpen, and Bob Weir, trying to hold it together and get a few gigs. There wasn’t much demand for jug bands and when they were offered equipment to start a rock band, they agreed. The equipment belonged to a music store owner who became their bass player. Bill Kreutzman was picked up as their drummer and at the time he was the only one in the group with rock experience. Eventually they found a new bass player who had gone from classical music through jazz and into electronic compositions, reaching a point where he felt he had gone just about as far as he wanted to go. Phil Lesh had never played bass but with his background and his musical mind, he learned quickly.
Garcia’s first guitar was electric and he was playing in rock and roll bands until the folk music scene started happening. At that point, he became involved in white country and folk music. For three years he travelled through the South recording blue-grass bands and playing blue-grass banjo. The jug band revived his interest in guitar and he feels he is still learning.
Pigpen is the son of an early rhythm and blues D.J. who got heavily into blues early in his teens, playing harp and piano. He also has an amazing talent for low-down raunchy blues raps and getting across the joy and pain of blues to the audience.
Bob Weir’s background is primarily folk music. He went the whole coffee house route and now plays rhythm guitar.
And so the Warlocks had their first gig, and for about six months they were a straight rock and roll band playing in bars and doing rock standards. Somewhere along the line they started playing long weird numbers, trips only acid-heads could dig.
With the publication of Kesey’s first book a scene evolved at La Honda. Mutual friends got Kesey and the Warlocks together for the first of what became a series of parties. The Warlocks brought the instruments and the Pranksters had their tape recorders, tape loops and whatever, and the first Acid Test was under way.
And they were off – extending the limits, finding new places to go, doing away with old forms, trying to find something new, becoming aware of different relationships both musically and personally. The awareness of everyone being part of the same being, at different levels, and the knowledge that change is growth brought about a new rock band known as the Grateful Dead.
The Dead have combined diverse musical styles and backgrounds and come up with something unique, going past all forms except the ones they create. Their music, at one time electronically focused, is now more country-oriented. AMERICAN BEAUTY, their latest album, gives some idea of their various stylistic approaches to their music.
For a long time they had financial difficulties caused, in part, by management or mis-management, that resulted in their being incredibly debt-ridden. At first their friends tried to help, but bills kept piling up and they finally decided on a take-care-of-business manager whose attitude caused some of the family members to dislike and mistrust him. After a number of confrontations, he was let go. At that point, they found again that they had been ripped off.
Other hassles such as a bust in New Orleans caused more energy drain. Now things are much clearer and they have the time and money to go ahead with new ideas and new directions.
This interview took place at a house in San Rafael, partly hidden from the street by two large palm trees. We talked in a small room containing a bare wooden table, chairs and a couch, faded flower print wallpaper on the walls.
Garcia is warm and open, interested in making you feel comfortable and relaxed. He sees the essential humor of life and doesn’t try to keep a straight face. He is not only a rock superstar but also a human being trying to relate to what he sees and feels.

ORGAN: What did you do before the Grateful Dead formed?
GARCIA: Nothing. We all started nowhere, bums. I was doing coffee houses. We had a jug band together, me and Bob Weir and Pigpen, and we worked once or twice a year. I mean nobody fucking hires jug bands. And I gave guitar lessons at a music store. You know, just sort of holding things together. Music is my whole scene and that’s what I’ve been doing all along. I never had a regular job or anything like that.

ORGAN: What do you mean when you say that the Grateful Dead is a life experiment?
GARCIA: Well, I just see us as a lot of good-time pirates. I’d like to apologize in advance to anybody who believes we’re something really serious. The seriousness of it is not really part of what we live. The seriousness comes up as lightness and I think that’s the way it should be. The important thing is that everybody be comfortable. Live [line missing] able.

ORGAN: Do you see the group as any sort of guiding light?
GARCIA: Fuck no. We’re just musicians. On a good night our music will be clear and won’t scare anybody and won’t hurt anybody. But other times, we’re just subject to the same trips; we’re all human beings and we’re not 100% perfectly clear. Let’s put it that way.

ORGAN: Are you doing as many big concerts?
GARCIA: That’s part of a whole new thing that’s happening. The Grateful Dead has become incredibly popular and we can’t play a small hall anymore without having 3,000 people outside wanting to get in. Our classic situation for the last six months has been people breaking down the doors and just coming in. And, we haven’t been able to play small places because our expenses are high and then the prices at the door have to be high. It’s a whole upward adjustment that we have to go through. We have to play to 7,000 to 10,000 seats to be able to get people in at a reasonable price. Just to do it. It’s weird. Here’s what we’re wondering: do we really fucking want to do that? When it comes down to it, we’re just heads. We’re not interested in creating a lot of fucking trouble and being superstars and all that shit. We’re just playing, getting off, out to have a good time and giving it all a chance to happen. And all of a sudden there are all these problems making it more difficult to do, and it’s getting to be where it’s not fun. We have to play shows like military campaigns just to make sure that the equipment guys don’t have to be fighting thousands of people to save the shit. People do unnecessary and extreme things and that’s what kills rock and roll people, doing extreme things all the time. But we’re not into doing that so what we have to do is cut way back, cut way down and do it at reasonable prices in groovy situations where those that can see it can see it.

ORGAN: American Beauty seems to be a new direction for the Dead.
GARCIA: American Beauty is a whole bunch of different stylistic trips in terms of what the style is. Each song sort of suggests a different treatment stylistically, different instrumentation, different quality of voices. It was something to do on record and we didn’t need to be too cautious about it – we just did it. And, actually, I would like to have done that record again. We could have done a lot better but that’s the way it is each time.

ORGAN: How did you feel about Workingman’s Dead?
GARCIA: It could have been better. That’s my feeling about our music, that it could be better always. They were both done very quickly, about 10 days in the studio. That was our decision about those records: try to do them quickly and not to hang ourselves up, not to get too far into it. That approach has its good points, it has its bad points. I see doing anything in the recording world as being a degree between trying for perfection and just going ahead and doing it with the [lines missing]
their ears when the record comes out so it becomes a moot point, really.

ORGAN: Do you think you’ll continue to do story songs and country music for a while?
GARCIA: No, I don’t think we’ll stay with anything for a while. I think that the next record that we do will be the last of that and starting to go someplace else. I don’t know what we’ll do. Lately, in playing we’ve been trying to go back to good old rock and roll. We don’t predict it, it just happens.

ORGAN: What is the relationship between you and Bob Hunter?
GARCIA: We’ve been friends for years and we work well together. We work every variety of way. Sometimes he has things written out that I set to music. Sometimes I write music which he sets words to. Sometimes we work together. We work well because we have no difficulty in communication. We’re not on any kind of trip. It’s mostly getting it down and getting it good. The songs we do are only songs in so far as they have words, they have vocal parts and they have chord changes. But in terms of the selection of ideas and people playing, everybody does what they want to do each time. So each time the song sounds a little different, and in the space of say six months the material evolves into a whole different thing from what it originally was. With us a piece of material can have a long life. Some of the things we’ve been doing for like five or six years and they’re still going through changes. I’m not ambitious in so far as I don’t feel that there are great areas of unexplored music that I am not experiencing because of one thing or another. That’s not the way it is when you’re working in a group. In the Grateful Dead, you see, my idea of what music is is going to bump into what Phil’s idea of music is, Billy’s ideas and Bobby’s ideas, and what we are going to come up with is something that is none of our ideas but OUR idea. It’s another level entirely.

ORGAN: What’s your relationship to Owsley?
GARCIA: Well, Owsley is in jail and Owsley is our friend and that’s all he’s ever been really. And because he’s a difficult cat, we’re probably the only friends he has or among the few friends he has.

ORGAN: You did a benefit for him?
GARCIA: Yes, and we’ll probably do some more too because he can sure use the money now that he has a possibility of getting out. And he really doesn’t deserve to be in jail.

ORGAN: You recently did a Panther benefit?

ORGAN: I had the impression that the Dead didn’t do politically oriented benefits.
GARCIA: We don’t.

ORGAN: Do you feel strongly about the Panthers?
GARCIA: We like some of the things they do such as their Free Breakfast Program and things like that. But this benefit came about because we’re sort of friends with Huey Newton. We met him once in an airplane. He was flying to New York and we were flying to New York. We had a nice long rap. We liked the cat and were pretty impressed. We thought at the time that if there was ever anything we could do for him we’d try to do it. It was unfortunate that it had to come out at a Black Panther benefit and all that, but if that’s the format and you agree to do a favor, you do it. No matter what you think is righteous. And that’s what we did. And it did what it was supposed to do – it made them some bread. But it’s not our concern what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. It’s not what we’re doing.
I’m convinced more than ever that politics is bullshit, always was bullshit and will be bullshit. It’ll continue to be an empty, futile bullshit trip as long as people are willing to go for it. It doesn’t happen. It doesn’t get things done. It has no real relationship to the world in which we exist. It’s bullshit. If I were to say anything else I would be misleading somebody drastically.

ORGAN: Are you clear of the New Orleans bust?
GARCIA: No, there’s still a few loose threads insofar as various of us have to go back there at some time or another and say something to someone [lines missing]

GARCIA: Well, it was heavy enough in itself.
ORGAN: How did it happen?
GARCIA: After the show, I went to somebody’s house and hung around there for a long time and rapped and finally went back to the hotel, and when I got there they were already pretty much cleaning out everybody’s room. Everybody was gone, nobody was there and I just happened to be walking down the hall with my guitar. I saw a couple of guys in the room and they said, Hey you, come here, and shook me down. But apparently they walked in on everybody. Bob, how did they get us in New Orleans?

BOB WEIR: How did they get us in New Orleans? Well, they busted through the door and said everybody stay where you are, this is a bust. No, they didn’t say bust. They said this is an arrest. And everybody laughed and said sure. And they said to put your hands up on the wall and everybody thought it was a piece of shit.

ORGAN: How do you feel about drugs, particularly cocaine?
GARCIA: We talk about that a lot. And is cocaine a good thing or a bad thing in the sense of classically bad or evil? And that’s pretty true, but the thing is this. The thing about cocaine and what practically everybody I know does is that if there’s any around, you sniff it. That’s all. And if it isn’t, you don’t. When it comes down to what your will power is, in relation to the drug, that’s where it’s dangerous. Because if it’s there, you take it. I think it’s preferable to speed but way more expensive. I think it’s better than cups of coffee probably, but I don’t really know. I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody for sure. I can’t say it doesn’t have some subtle effect on your spiritual life. It might cost you several lifetimes.
My feeling about drugs is that everybody is free to do whatever they would do to themselves, no matter what they would do, and that anybody with a clear head who knows what can happen and what can’t happen and doesn’t expect too much can deal with drugs in a sane way. Anything you can do to enhance your survival, it’s O.K. with me.

ORGAN: What do you think of Cleaver putting down drugs?
GARCIA: Those guys have their reasons. I don’t feel myself to be in opposition to anybody. I’m not asking people to be a way. I would never say, Be this way; I can’t tolerate life without you being this way. It’s O.K. with me if people have contradictions and if there are huge schisms and subcultures. It’s like all games people play and they do these things to keep themselves amused whether they know it or not. And to have dope or not have dope is as ridiculous a question as to have long hair or not have long hair. It’s meaningless in the face of what’s really true. It’s not only meaningless but worthless because who the fuck am I. I’m only a dumb fucking musician.

ORGAN: But you were with Kesey, and at the acid tests.
GARCIA: Yeah, but that’s only me. That’s a certain amount of experience. That’s just something that I decided to do with my life. Nothing forced me to do it. It’s been a matter of choice and I would never suggest that anyone spend their life the way I spend mine, because I think everyone [line missing] capable of finding out how to do it for themselves, given the opportunity and the information. But I don’t have any judgments on any level.

ORGAN: Even when people put down dope as something that impairs you?
GARCIA: Well, it definitely does for certain things, I would imagine. You have to keep your concentration at a certain level. But it’s a question of how much popcorn at the movies in the sense of – if in order for you to believe what you’re doing, you must stay away from drugs, then do that. But if you consider yourself free to believe whatever you want, then I don’t think any amount of drugs is going to make you any different. All drugs do is show you more of yourself, and either you can dig it or you can’t. I don’t think you have to take drugs to be aware or know what’s going on, and I don’t think you have to not take them.

ORGAN: Do you think that Altamont had a very important effect on you?
GARCIA: Well, yeah, because that definitely indicated to us a change in direction. We behaved in accordance with how we behaved in a situation all along. One thing that never occurred to anybody is that there are a lot of people in the world who have never had any experience with violent people. They don’t know what it is to stay out of the way of violence; they don’t know what it is to survive in that difficult scene. It’s easy. It’s just a matter of removing yourself from the scene of violence. It’s not any heroism trip. Nothing like that.
The Altamont thing is something we were kind of pulled into because of an association we had with the way the whole rock and roll thing was going. There were whole worlds of karmic trips. Steve Gaskin said something to me which raps it better than I’ve ever heard, that Altamont was the price that the Rolling Stones paid for that little bit of sadism in your sex life they had been selling with rock and roll, that Paint It Black trip. Like that’s what they got for it. They got the Hells Angels and murder.
Altamont taught me a lot about what the word free means. That was the whole big trip, it was free, the Rolling Stones for free. And free doesn’t mean free, giveaway. It means that people are free to murder. And that was freedom. Everybody got a look at what freedom really is. In a situation like that certain people are free to kill others.
In my mind freedom is like a bullshit trip that we’ve all been sold that somehow makes it possible for you to conceptualize a life without responsibility. That kind of thing is not available on this planet. I believe that life is a complex network of interworking responsibilities. It all has to do with awareness and presence, in the sense of nowness, and everything works from that organic center. I don’t think it’s a question of rules or free or not free. Those are just situations and I don’t think they’re at the core of what life is. I haven’t found that to be so. Altamont was my big lesson. It couldn’t have been more graphic.

ORGAN: What is your relationship with the Angels?
GARCIA: Well, we get along with them and know them as individuals. That’s the way we’ve always dealt with them. The Angels don’t come out and say we, the Hells Angels, are sending an emissary to you, the Grateful Dead. It’s not like that. The Angels are pretty much into good times – parties and stuff like that. And really at Altamont the Angels were not the bad guys. They were the guys who were [line missing] order together. You can consider the Angels as being kind of the bizarro police in that drama. It was the guys who wanted to become like Angels that were doing the real violence.
On one hand there were the proto-Angels who wanted to become the Angels, and the way they showed this was by beating people over the head. And you can see the Angels as being sort of proto-cops. I see the whole thing as being an orderly happening in the universe, but incidentally, for my part and because the Grateful Dead was responsible for a lot of that shit…
Free – we were the ones that started playing free in the park. And that thing was an offshoot of our idea. It was one of our guys that went and talked to the Rolling Stones about doing a free thing and it was our energy in there somewhere and we saw where it could go. We saw that it could go someplace really bad if we didn’t cool it and we decided to cool it. We’ve definitely cooled it.

ORGAN: What do you think of televised concerts?
GARCIA: Well, that’s a thing that we would definitely like to get into more. It’s about the closest we can come to safely doing something free in this day and age – the post-Altamont era. Before that it was like cool to do something free because it wasn’t going to be any big thing. But now it’s been institutionalized and made into a product and sold and everything else. I’m not interested in leading people to danger. I’ve already done that and I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to find myself in that position again, ever. It’s not so much self-righteousness but I don’t want to be responsible for how people come out. So I would like to do things on television – as long as we can do things the way we want to, do spontaneous things with as little framework as possible. If we can continue to do things like that, then that’s the direction I’d like to go in.

ORGAN: Are you interested in other forms besides music?
GARCIA: I’m interested in a lot of different things. I’m interested in the arts, in what they call “the arts,” and all those things are changing, and I don’t like the word, but – yeah. All my friends are people who do things and I’m interested in people who do things and I’m interested in doing things. It’s like Dharma yoga, doing works in your lifetime, and everybody I know is in that bag. My whole universe kind of relates to that world, although I have friends who are into meditative trips, more laid back, less action trips. Our scene is definitely a go-ahead, get-it-on scene, and we have relationships with all the other groups similar in viewpoint.

ORGAN: Are you into the occult, particularly the I Ching?
GARCIA: It’s a kind of magic and it’s also a very wise book. It has something to do with time. We throw the Ching every time something heavy is happening. We respect all the famous forms of magic, and when a representative of one of those forms says something to us, we take it into account. We take into account all forms of magic. We take into account everything weird that’s happening just because we have found it to be so. Everything. If it’s in the form of wisdom, it’s usually saying something right at you. It’s a matter of being open and you have to dig why it’s appropriate.

ORGAN: What do you think of the current music scene?
GARCIA: Well, my basic feeling about music is that if it turns me on, I like it, it’s good. I like all kinds of different music. It depends on where my head is. There are some young musicians that I played with around here who I really thought a lot of. They aren’t really established – starting out, really. And there is going to continue to be better and better music and better and better musicians. There were some sessions that me and Phil and Billy did with young cats, 18 to 22, and they were just good, super-good singers and players. I feel really good about the music scene. Yeah, it keeps getting better and I’ve met guys that have impressed me a lot. Like The Band, just incredible.

ORGAN: What do you think of Dylan?
GARCIA: Well, at one time he was talking right to me. He was putting names to changes that I was going through, but he isn’t doing that for me now. I like him and I respect him and I think he really writes a great song, but I don’t feel any earth-shaking trip. I like Lennon’s new album, the solo album. But you see, I’ve never met any of these guys, I don’t know them. I can only talk about their music, and I think Lennon’s music is really beautiful. I really like listening to it in spite of its hard thing. There’s a lot of beauty – incredible delicate music. I can dig it. I just think of those guys as just being other guys. Lennon I feel sorry for. I’m sure he’s had some terrible trips laid on him just through the years as a Beatle. Just think of what it must be like to be John Lennon. There must be a million people hitting on you with weird shit. He’s probably had so little time to get into his own head. Now he’s got to do some violence, breaking away. I can dig it. I can certainly dig it.

(by Frank Fedele, from Organ, vol. 1 no. 8, June 1971)

Thanks to

Dec 25, 2013

Spring 1971: Phil Lesh Interview

Interview by Hank Harrison, spring 1971.

Harrison: In writing my book I’ve had trouble expressing the consciousness of the contemporary music. I certainly don’t want to use that well-worn and inept acid-rock, folk-rock cliché. I want to distinguish contemporary music from show biz. “There was a huge value difference between the concept of show biz and the concept of music, unrecorded music as played in San Francisco in the early days. The Trips Festival was music and it was ‘serious’ music.” But that’s a cliché, too.

Phil: But it was music that was seriously intended to get you high. It wasn’t serious in the sense of deadpan. In a sense it was both high farce, just like the Acid Tests, and it was music that actually changed people’s personalities. It was warping. There we were all together. Somehow the music would make us act in unison, but it was only one of the factors in that impulse. True, it was the loudest individual factor (aside from LSD). But only because you’ve really got to have something to relate to, especially when reality is hitting you right in the guts.

Harrison: It was pure music in those days. It was innocent. There was something for everyone within that nucleus of music. I don’t mean “Big Brother.” That’s another concept. I don’t mean “The Charlatans” or any other group around. I mean that the Grateful Dead specifically had a cerebral level, a rhythmic level, and a very funky Pig Pen level, with other levels all mixed in together so that there was something for everyone.

Phil: There is also an Owsley level and a Kesey level that still haunt us occasionally. But electricity is what really does it. It’s the Gutenberg Galaxy in the sense that electricity conveys the musical meaning as heavy as the music itself. Even now, rock records are starting to sound refined. Not only that, but the refinements are starting to sound musical. In other words, more global. All the toys of the technology are just starting to mature.

Harrison: Were the Beatles aware of the electronic technology at any point?

Phil: I think so. I thought so from the beginning. Take “Strawberry Fields” and “I Am the Walrus.” Their style and techniques got more sophisticated and it started sounding better and better. Mabe it was George Martin more than anything else? Or maybe they intuitively understood “AM car radio” stations mixing/combining/alternating to fit into Joe Mustang’s concept of music.

Harrison: What about the Rolling Stones?

Phil: Well, the Stones were into the SOUND of their music, I think, more than the Beatles were; they still are. And their music, too, has got more sophisticated; much more texture than there was before. They haven’t gone in the same direction as the Beatles. The Beatles went in a more conventional direction. Into conventional kind of voice leadings and that sort of thing. The Stones are into lapidary kinds of music – in other words, layers of music. But their music smells funny – a bit too commercial for me.

Harrison: You’re on one of the David Crosby albums, and I noticed David gave you a Martin D-24 for your very own. The tone of this $1200 Martin is unbelievable. So to me there are layers of music just within that one guitar that don’t exist on other “good” guitars. Now from the first strum, the tone of that Martin gave you a flash…I saw your eyes light up. Did you have this same experience with your first instruments?

Phil: Yes, I started out with a stringed instrument, the violin. It was the highest thing I could find. It always got me high, but I never learned to play very well. I was eight years old when I started playing the violin. I played it about six years and then gave it up for the trumpet.

Harrison: That’s a fantastic contrast in instruments. Was the trumpet more of an adolescent trip?

Phil: Right; most definitely. So I played the trumpet until I was about twenty and then I quit.

Hank: You played trumpet on “Born Cross-Eyed.” Just a little riff. I dug it; wish there had been more. But playing trumpet with a band is considerably different than composing. Where did you make the transition from playing to writing?

Phil: That is very subtle. It was part of the adolescent trip. It was part of the trip that led me to play trumpet. I just wanted to do more. Playing second violin was not enough. It was a pretty empty scene. I thought playing trumpet was “it.” What I learned from the guy who taught me trumpet was a whole lot about musicianship in general.

Hank: Who was that?

Phil: A guy named Bob Hanson. He taught in Berkeley – still does. His sons have come to see us at the gigs. Bob has three kids, and they were learning to play all the instruments they could. I’d have loved to have been one of those kids. He was kind of a father to me at the time. A real hail-fellow-well-met kind of guy. We would spend most of the time rapping and joking. My mother would bitch because we had more goof-offs than trumpet lessons, but I learned to be a professional from that guy.

Harrison: Was your mother at the lessons sometimes?

Phil: Well, we had a pretty small house.

Harrison: Oh, he’d come over to your house.

Phil: Yeah, he’d come by on his route. He was just a good old guy, a real good musician, and he got me so I could play in orchestras with him. There I was, playing trumpet instead of violin, which is considerably more of an exposed and responsible place. Playing bosser music with adults and professionals instead of violin in kid orchestras. Somehow, I could pick up the trumpet fast enough so that in two years I was playing symphonies, whereas before it took six years to play the violin and I couldn’t get far enough to play really well. Through all that, I got into an appreciation of musicianship which struck the long-forgotten chord which led me into music in the first place…

Harrison: What was that?

Phil: I got this huge hit from the Brahms Symphony when I was four years old.

Harrison: The first recollection of music was the Brahms Symphony?

Phil: Brahms’ First Symphony, conducted by Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic sometime in 1944. I heard it on the radio. My grandmother said, “Philip, come listen to the nice music on the radio.” I walked over and sat down next to my grandmother (who I dearly loved – anything to be next to my grandmother). And wooow! This fucking thing comes out of the radio and knocks my head off. I have never been the same since. But dig this irony: Six years later, when I was ten, my violin teacher took me to hear the same conductor performing the same symphony in San Francisco. It was a big evening for me; I got to go out to dinner with my violin teacher. Very reinforcing.

Harrison: When did you start to write jazz compositions?

Phil: About 1956 or so. Jazz was where it was at. The reason I switched high schools was because I could get harmony lessons elsewhere. They wouldn’t teach me anything about what I really wanted to know. You see, I spent the first two years at marching band at El Cerrito. It was marching band and social studies time. They didn’t have any harmony classes at El Cerrito and no ear training classes. They didn’t have any kind of classes except fucking blowing your horn on the band master’s chart. So I went to Berkeley. It was really a good flash for me because I was the new kid at school and one thing I could do was play trumpet. Another reason I left the school was I could play trumpet as good as the guy in the first chair, but the band master wouldn’t let me play and all the other bullshit. He thought it would be bad for my head, but all it did was put me very uptight.

Harrison: So you became Wagnerian for awhile?

Phil: True. Sad but true!

Harrison: Didn’t the same thing happen at San Mateo in the jazz band with Buddy Powers and Dick Crest?

Phil: Yes, but Buddy had all the wind and the chops to get all the really high stuff which that chair, in that band, really demanded. You had to have the endurance to stay up there all day, which I couldn’t do. But he moved on, so I got the chair anyway. Al Molino was in that band, too. Some of the nerviest guys I ever met – Pat Britt, Lenny Lasher.

Harrison: I remember you wrote two very pretty atonal charts in those days.

Phil: Actually, there were three, but the first never got through rehearsal. The other two I wrote were played at the concerts.

Harrison: The first one that was in rehearsal…what was that?

Phil: I don’t remember. Something I wrote the first year I was there. It was awful hard. The acoustic bass player had to tune down his bass for the first line and then he had to tune it back up again for the whole rest of it. All the brass players started out in the highest register of their instruments and each section of the band was in a different key. It was like blocks of granite sliding together. It was pretty weird for junior college.

Harrison: Yeah, but it was a very advanced junior college. Did you know that Garcia and Hunter went to that same San Mateo Junior College at the same time, and also Rod Albin?

Phil: No, I didn’t. But a lot of weird people went there. So Garcia probably would have.

Harrison: At that point it seems to me the music became secondary for the first time in your life. Trips started to become important. The good times.

Phil: Well, that came later on. After I had gone through the whole composition number. The experience of playing in big bands and writing compositions for big bands was one turning point. After that I was no longer interested in playing trumpet. I was interested in composing. I wasn’t interested in playing instruments any more in a band where I was a part. I was interested in playing the whole band. From there it got heavier and heavier. At that same time I was into Ives and all that.

Harrison: Also into all kinds of music – atonal jazz, Bartok, all-night sessions, Coltrane, Miles…remember?

Phil: At that time I was just raking it all in. That’s the time when you’re supposed to be learning. I had never known there was so much music, and all of it hung together so neatly.

Harrison: At that same time you had a job in the college library, right?

Phil: That’s right. My job was to judge the quality of incoming recordings. In other words, if they were scratched, I would send them back for duplicates. So I got to listen to all the new recordings. All the jazz and all the classical recordings.

Harrison: Two years later you worked at KPFA for Gert Chiarito, “Midnight Special,” as an engineer!

Phil: It was the same trip. You go where the information is, no matter what you have to endure or sacrifice. Luciano Berio was at Mills College at the time (1962). I had met Tom Constanten at Cal so we did our self-education number, since “formal” school was actually retarded. I got away from Berio and composed the thing that was in me for that level. Then I didn’t have anything more to say. That was in 1964. I wasn’t doing anything for awhile. Except getting high a lot.

Harrison: What were you doing in the Haight besides delivering mail and fitting Jackson Pollock puzzles together? Weren’t you composing anything?

Phil: Yeah, I was trying to compose some stuff. But that was about the time I got dried out. I came to the end of the road, and the opportunities for having what I had written performed were so limited, and the way I would have to channel my musical thinking was unpleasant to contemplate.

Harrison: You had the Mime Troupe for small compositions.

Phil: Right, but those small compositions didn’t get me off. The thing I had written in 1963 was a huge orchestral work called “Foci” for four orchestras. It required 123 players and four conductors. Needless to say, it will be difficult to perform it.

Harrison: What is your visual imagery like when you’re performing live before an audience?

Phil: Since I first began seeing music I saw music as notes on spaces, sometimes colored, paisley, sometimes fragmented, and sometimes whirling notes and treble clefs with little feet running around them; but I see the notes we’re playing all the time, at least the notes I’m playing as they are played. Sometimes the register is horizontal; sometimes waving like a flag. It seems like funny little cartoons sometimes, but I never see tangible seascapes or mountain sequences or pastoral roll-by or anything like that. I rarely have dreams of that kind either; they are almost always symbolic. It would be easier to define how high I am, what level of consciousness I’m at at any given time. If we’ve been on the road for thirty days we’re usually very tired. It is always a thrill to play music live; that’s what keeps us going with a smile. But what pisses me off is the crowd’s screaming for more like at the Roman Circus after we’ve laid the finest riff out there already. That New York crowd screams for an encore no matter what; then go berserk if we don’t take requests. That kinda fucks up the imagery.

Harrison: What about when you hear a tape back during mix-down?

Phil: In that case, I have time to associate things to thousands of other things. I can feed it back on infinite loops in the studio, but that’s where it gets weird because that’s where the powers of criticism come to play; that’s where the toys get really complex. So I’m free, but limited by the very thing that frees me. In that case the imagery is notes, symbols, and layers of music, plus anything else – classical forms, v.u. meter readings, etc. It’s much more intense during a performance, and the studio is usually informal except when we’re working against a deadline.

Harrison: How does your classical influence come into the Grateful Dead music?

Phil: It hardly comes in at all, Only indirectly. Only in certain kinds of instances.

Harrison: Is this the same with the jazz idiom?

Phil: I would say so. We’ve always tried to make the music as natural as possible in the sense that I, for instance, don’t try to bring any kind of classical “tricks” into the Grateful Dead.

Harrison: But vast classical and jazz informations are stored in your educational computer.

Phil: Oh, yeah. All the data is there, and I draw on it subconsciously all the time, no doubt.

Harrison: Just like Garcia touches on bluegrass and…whatever else.

Phil: True. But it’s all very subliminal at this time. It’s all like melted together into non-categories of stuff. I mean like there aren’t any direct Beethoven influences or that sort of thing.

Harrison: I was thinking more of things like Bartok and the atonal percussive pieces.

Phil: Well, I don’t consider that truly classical music. That’s sort of the precursor of what we’re doing. It’s like classical music is one extreme and what Bartok did is another, and we’re the synthesis of those two extremes.

Harrison: So, everything that happened in the 19th century was contra-Wagner. The Mahlers and the Stravinskys and so forth created a new energy force.

Phil: The four I consider to be the real creators of MODERN music are Ives, Debussy, Schoenberg, and Mahler. Metaphysically they all sound very much alike.

Harrison: When you say “alike” you confuse me, because I perceive great, vast and subtle differences among those composers.

Phil: I mean, to the casual listener who’s talking to someone while he’s listening, it all sounds alike. This is how the majority of music gets listened to. If people would listen carefully the gimmicks would die out. But people habitually categorize music into simple, harmonic textures and dismiss it at that. Ives and Scriabin were using a pantonality context which involves the extremes of noise and dissonance and the extremes of consonance. That was their spectrum. Now the four composers I mentioned were able to make a synthesis somewhere on that transitional line between the two kinds of thinking. That’s why they are valuable to me. I see them as precursors to what we are doing. In other words, we are attempting to create a music which involves the highest possible number of ways of playing all other music which has evolved in the world, even in the distant past, up to and including us. Those four guys together represent a plateau or hub of musical consciousness. Each of them was modern, but ancient at the same time. They were transcendental because they had resolved the time contradiction.

Harrison: And you, with a five-man crew, have only been able to skim the very beginning of the surface?

Phil: That’s absolutely correct, but it is only limited by our own inadequacies in our minds as to what we can do with our instruments; that is, of course, the instruments we are playing. Now consider Garcia – all of the shit he gets out of an electric guitar. They say that an electric guitar is a very limited instrument.

Harrison: But he hasn’t reached the bottom on that yet.

Phil: No, he certainly hasn’t.

Harrison: When he got into pedal steel that seemed to feed back to the electric guitar which fed back to the banjo, and that opened up new avenues. So, the guitar is only as limited as the cerebral cortex and the neural connections to the fingers. Garcia makes it look easy.

Phil: Yes, but I can’t emphasize the word ELECTRIC enough. When I first played an electric instrument, I played it for seven hours straight, and I couldn’t sleep that night. It got me so high that I knew something had to be happening. Something extremely different from acoustic. Then, of course, you start taking acid, and the phenomenon magnifies further, and you are hooked on ELECTRICITY. You start working with actual electronics and the amplifier without worrying about knobs or gauges. When we are playing I very rarely change anything but the knobs on my guitar. A slight volume change or switch between two distributions of sound. The rest of it is done with my hands. How I hit the string, how long I hold it, etc.!

Harrison: The next logical thing would be to talk about your new electric bass. It seems to me that that instrument is a conceptualization which evolved from your early dreams of music unlimited. A way of opening up more business, more possibilities?

Phil: Yes, but always with the basis of the struck string and its overtones. It is infinite because the higher you go the closer they get together, so eventually they become noise. In the sound of the struck string there exists a microcosm of the entire spectrum of possibilities. When it’s amplified, you can hear it all. That’s what the electronics do – they amplify the overtones to a degree never thought possible in an acoustic instrument.

Harrison: What about the giant Bach organs?

Phil: The overtones are mechanically limited and constructed and fed together like an electronic music machine. Like a Moog. Fed in together so you have your 16 foot stops with the pedal, and for each one of those 16 stops you have an 8-foot, a 4-foot, and a 2-foot, which are octaves of one another. So, depending on how the stops are arranged, any one or all five of those will sound when you hit one note on the pedal. With the struck string, they are all there; you only have to select or emphasize one with your finger, or electronically with a foot pedal or a computer! With the organ, your control is limited.

Harrison: So the new bass is quadriphonic, which will allow an array of effects across the stage out to the audience. And you can stagger these effects as you see fit?

Phil: Yes. I have a six-position switch which Ron Wickersham has designed. This switch has the percussive distributions that I want.

Harrison: Is it true that with this amount of control you can actually create standing illusions – throw your voice, as it were?

Phil: Hopefully. It is going to depend a lot on the response of the system because bass notes seem to come from everywhere. That is the nature of bass notes; i.e., notes below 250 cycles.

Harrison: Could that be because bass notes have always been played through monaural systems? They have never been played quadriphonically before in the history of music. So, this is going to be an exciting thing, to find out if you can localize those bass notes?

Phil: In a small room it definitely works. But the quadriphonic aspect is only half the trip of that bass. The other half is the regular system whereby the individual pickups, bass and treble, have a kind of tone control which gives you more flexibility. Most tone controls are simply a treble cut; they’re really hard to get going. It is very hard to find the right setting. You have to experiment endlessly.

Harrison: This new bass also has a second stage which is still under development, is that right?

Phil: Actually, one is the bass and the other is the little black box with the pedal controls, which has some extra toys in it. The bass also has regular pickups with modern, efficient tone controls that actually boost certain frequencies and in certain band widths. Then it has the quadriphonic or the individual string pickup option. This, then, approaches a bass synthesizer concept. The foot-pedal black box would have four channels. It would essentially be the same thing as all of my four Fender pre-amps. It would have four inputs, and it would distribute itself to the four inputs in which I would have volume, treble and bass controls and a bright switch for each channel – which means 1400 watts of MacIntosh tube power. Yowee! In other words, I can control each speaker with those four channels plus a vibrato which would have a speed control and an intensity control. That would make the music sound fuzzed and go anywhere from a woooowoooowoooo to a rhhhhrhhhhrhhhh. It would also have peak expander which expands the dynamics for “precise” control of all four channels.

Harrison: What is stage three?

Phil: This is the one that has to have the relays built into the neck.

Harrison: Oh…the computer!

Phil: Yes. The blackbox servo will ultimately feed to an analog computer which will feed to a digital computer which knows what note it has to sound when a given fret is pressed. It scans the note and, depending on how hard I press, it stops. If I press very hard, it will go fast to the top of what it can see or perceive from the string and stop there. If I press a little softer, it will go up slower. It will be a complete and ultimately controllable thing. When I kick that in, I will be able to scan the note and bring out any harmonic I need – all with my fingers. It will also play conventionally. I won’t have to play with any knobs. All with my left hand on the strings. That is the goal.

Harrison: Total efficiency of movement.

Phil: Exactly. The only control on that bass, hopefully, would be a master volume and a function switch which will indicate pickups, quadriphonic, or computer, or whatever. Of course, the individual pickups would have volume controls on them for balance, but there would be very few tone controls.

Harrison: Can you conceptualize writing music for that?

Phil: No! See, writing music has come to mean a whole different thing. THIS INSTRUMENT IS STILL AN ELECTRIC BASS. Even though it has more range than any bass instrument has ever had, it is still fundamentally a bass for use in a rock and roll band. Whereas if I wanted to get anything else out of it, I would have to start building in other tones like higher strings, or work with computers and octave-doublers. So then I could kick in an octave and I would get the note I was playing an octave higher. That would mean I would have to develop my technique to play bass lines down at the bottom and rhythm stuff in the middle, etc.

Harrison: That’s what I thought the treble cut was for…so you could play rhythm.

Phil: That is sort of what I’m after. Also, play bass and lead at the same time, in order to bring a more polyphonic concept into our band.

Harrison: Wow! Zen consciousness!

Phil: Almost. That is what the big “lady” has taught me. I call it a lady, you see…

Harrison: Well, what has it taught you?

Phil: That all and everything is possible.

(from Hank Harrison, The Dead Book, 1973, p.29-45)