On Tuesday 11 April, an American rock n' roll band, the Grateful Dead, played to a packed house at Newcastle City Hall. Two hours before the gig their lead guitarist Jerry Garcia talked to Muther Grumble about some of the things that have made the Dead and Garcia in particular such influential figureheads for the hippy music and social scene.
THE INTERVIEW IS UNEDITED.
Muther Grumble: Jerry, in your interview with Rolling Stone magazine, you compared music to the Void. Could we start out by talking about that?
Jerry Garcia: Ah haa ... well, I can't really ... See I don't really have my thoughts organised on any of this, and really any interview I do is, is ... er ... I approach it the same way I approach music basically, you know what I mean, it's improvisational. And I depend on what kind of feed I get, so ... for example, if someone asks me a question that has the potential for being very depthy then I have that room to move around in, so to speak. If the question is lame or shallow I'll try to make it a good question and then answer it.
It depends ... it depends on the situation but basically ... myself, I mean in my own personal head I try not to think too much about anything I'm doing because it's ... really, I'm geared towards doing things rather than towards thinking about them or talking about them, and that's kinda like the tradition that we work in ... it's basically ... get it on.
MG: And the same with the whole band?
Garcia: Right ... Exactly ... that's what sort of the Grateful Dead energy is. It's not really intellectual particularly.
MG: How much do you feel you should be involved with the society you're living in, that is, contributing to it?
Garcia: Well ... I don't ... there are certain kinds of social obligations which we observe at home, for example, if there's somebody who needs a benefit you know ... we've done benefits for the Black Panthers at various times ... we try not to approach things on that level if we can avoid it, because really the one thing we've really got to offer - it's not money, it's definitely not money, it's not even the capacity to earn money - it's the capacity to create good energy. And that's what our real value is ... if any. Socially it'd be groovy to tie that in on a level, well ... for example, let me give you the example that to me was most perfect. That was about two years ago we played in Cincinnati, Ohio and with us there helping out were the Hog Farm. Do you know about the Hog Farm? ... right ... What happened was we played the gig and it was incredibly high and everybody had a real good time ... the following day the Hog Farm people with the help of the local radio station, the FM station ... underground radio ... organised a lot cleaning thing. What they did was they went to a very poor part of town, found an empty lot that people had been dumping garbage in for years and in the space of one day they cleaned out all the garbage in there, still on the basis of that initial energy from the concert, you know ... the good thing ... they used the radio to describe to people what was going on, and say we need all the help we can get, we need a couple of trucks, you know and people came right through with it. At the end of the day they left a playground for the kids in the neighbourhood ...
MG: The Hog Farm do that a lot.
Garcia: Right ... so that's the thing of following through with that energy.
MG: There's a lot of spin off energy following the Dead?
Garcia: Right ... and that's the fix ... like our energy is not topical. It doesn't make a political statement, it doesn't make a statement concerning morals or anything like that, it's just good energy ... and good clean energy. And if after that energy has been, you know, flowing then it's a matter of somebody stepping in saying, look we've got this good energy, let's move with it, let's go ahead and do something.
MG: And you see that as your involvement in society?
Garcia: Exactly ... and that would be the best way we can relate, but as it is we do benefits etc.
MG: You mentioned the Panthers ... I was wondering how much of young people's involvement and affinity to black causes, how much of it do you think relates to their music?
Garcia: I think that if they were to ... unfortunately the black community isn't at all together in the United States, so there's millions of diverse opinions as to what should happen, how it should happen, so forth and so on. So there isn't anything there - for example the middle class white kid who has a social conscience to be able to really grab on to and help out ... really there isn't nothing really that solid. Now, the black scene is going away from the whole violent revolutionary trip and they're concentrating on basically accomplishing one or two things in the community, thus gaining community support. Which is really where it's all at anyway ... and away from the ego trip type of ... you know what I mean, where the leaders get to be the focus of the thing. That whole Eldridge Cleaver shakedown and all the rest of that stuff was very unfortunate, because it took away the focus from the causes and from the real difficulties and put it into a personality cult situation which is really not good. But since then the blacks, the people I know who have been Black Panthers, black revolutionaries, Marxists and so forth, have changed their viewpoint toward a more basic, humanistic accomplishment trip. That's like basically ... it looks to me like it's much healthier, because it has to do with really doing things you know, really feeding people and so forth, rather than talking and proselytising and that sort of thing.
MG: It's an obvious question, but how much do you think acid has influenced this sort of thing?
Garcia: I think it's influenced a lot, just because it's given people an opportunity to see greater ... to have a greater conception of the earth as a whole, for one ... and expanded consciousness is always good. More consciousness is just what everything needs. And the more consciousness there is, whether it's by reading or by talking or by hearing music, or by taking dope, or whatever it is, it's good. There can't be too much consciousness.
MG: Do you meditate or anything like that?
Garcia: I need to ... well, you know, for me, my basic, my Yoga is music and basically I relate to my physical centre and so on through music. What I do is basically a Yoga. It's a discipline. I think everybody should have a discipline, it can be inward, it can be outward, it doesn't matter. Whatever your constitution likes. It's just a matter of having something which you can relate to and say 'this is for me', 'this is me without anything else. This is as far as I have gone along this particular line.' If it's doing pushups or breathing or meditating. It's something you know. It's something there's no bullshitting about. It's basically real and it's ... like, having something to relate to that's basically real is always a good thing. Every person should have something like that.
MG: Could you tell us something about the hype that often precedes American bands coming over here. Beefheart says that ninety per cent of what we hear about him over here is untrue ...
Garcia: Well ... nobody puts anything out about us but us. So in terms of ... the only way I can relate to that is on the basis of what kind of feedback we get back. In other words, when people are talking to me as a member of the Grateful Dead, who do they think they are talking to? That's it. So if somebody says something to me I would say that we're about 85-90% pretty correct in terms of what goes out about us ... it's really a lot like the way we are, because what comes back to us from people relates to us very much like the way we are. People who relate to us are very much the way we are, so I think it's pretty straight, we've never had any kind of hype. We've never had any kind of public relations people or any of that bullshit. It's like what press we do get is on the basis of somebody being genuinely interested. And that usually is pretty clear.
MG: Do you use the I Ching?
Garcia: Oh sure.
MG: You use it a lot?
Garcia: Oh yeah, we depend upon the Ching.
MG: You depend upon it?
Garcia: Well, we don't depend upon it 100% but there are times when it's nice to know an older and more reliable kind of wisdom to draw from. And the I Ching is certainly that ... we use it pretty frequently.
MG: Do you do group things?
Garcia: Yeah. Just throw the I Ching - a different one of us will throw the coins for each line. That sort of thing.
MG: Could we talk about the music a bit?
MG: How do you feel you fit in with NRPS and the Dead? How does it compare? Does it give you greater freedom?
Garcia: Well, I'm not in the New Riders anymore. The New Riders now have a new pedal steel player so they're completely independent.
MG: That's good.
Garcia: Right ... that's the way I feel about it. I feel that way because I don't feel I'm that good a pedal steel player a), and b) it's just impossible for me to divide my attention consistently and expect to be really good at it.
MG: What about the solo album? How much did the sameness of your rhythms etc come through? What did you do to counteract this?
Garcia: Well, the solo album is just me being a band really. I played all the instruments and so forth and it's ... I can't really say what it is ... You'd have to tell me what it was like because for me it was fun. It was fun and really easy. I didn't go through a lot of changes about it and I spent maybe three weeks at it. And it was very easy and fun ... I wouldn't describe it as being serious, for example.
MG: What do you think of the result?
Garcia: I think the result is pretty good for how much time and work I put into it, which wasn't really a great deal. It flowed very nicely. I thought that being able to approach it on that level of me being the only performer made it really really easy in terms of getting a good sound on each instrument and getting the kind of flow I like to hear happening on various levels. And also it was interesting because I wasn't relating to it on the basis of being a guitarist, so I wasn't like ego involved with certain parts of the music since the whole thing was me. It made it possible for me to sort of have a central view and I learned a lot from making that record which was part of my intention. I'm not going to follow it up with a career or anything like that. Also one of the prime reasons for doing that was that I borrowed a lot of money from the record company in order to buy a house out in California, and I had no way of course to pay it back except to make a record. That's why the record is wheel and deal.
MG: What do you think of the house then?
Garcia: The house is beautiful you know. I've got an old lady and kids and all that and where we're from, out Marin County there's not many places to rent. I've been living out there for 4 years maybe, been renting places, then somebody would buy it and kick us out. That's been going on more or less continuously, so I thought if I could come up with a down payment on a house, then I could just keep on paying rent essentially, only eventually I'll own the house, or nobody'll be able to kick me out at any rate.
MG: Mountain Girl, your wife ... how much of the Tom Wolfe book (The Kool Aid Acid Test) was like real for you?
Garcia: Oh, very little of it. I think the Tom Wolfe book was way off centre. I think it was way off centre and also just incorrect.
MG: It was bound to lose a lot with him not actually being there.
Garcia: Right. He wasn't actually there while it was happening for one thing, and for another thing he's not a guy that gets high so he couldn't really understand what it was like. He could only sort of do his journalistic thing, and also the fact he was writing it from the viewpoint of a writer meant he was writing it about a writer, cause Kesey was a writer. That was his focus. But really in the scene itself, the real focus if it was any one person was certainly Neal Cassady. A most amazing person. And the most extroverted person was Ken Babbs who was like really the sort of leader. And Kesey was just the guy with the money.
I mean Kesey's a good guy ... he's very perceptive and has got a lot of stuff happening. I'm not putting Kesey down by any means, but in that scene I think really you had to be there you know. I don't think it translates to a book.
MG: Like acid?
Garcia: Right, exactly, that's what it was.
MG: How close were you to Kesey at the time?
Garcia: Pretty close. We were all pretty close ... I mean we're all still friends. Those of us who are still here. Neal of course is dead but everybody else ... we all see each other pretty regularly and we all do things together pretty regularly too. So that was the other thing - the book came to an end ... you close the book and that's the end but in reality that thing is still going on. Before the book too, I was sorry that book wasn't written by somebody who was there.
MG: Maybe somebody'll do it - like it's like reading a translation of a translation.
Garcia: Exactly ... it's just a few stages further removed ... although I think in some places it's a good book in its own.
MG: It had a very profound effect in terms of feedback.
Garcia: Right, it does because it had to, I think ... but really I think the fact that there was LSD around and there's other things around is the thing that makes it so the book does communicate some. You can feel the inner spaces with your own mind.
MG: Do the band still use LSD?
Garcia: Now and again. I mean we have it pretty continually but we don't use it in the same way that we did it in the old days ... I mean at the Acid Tests everybody got really high on acid. Now when we have LSD and we have it all the time ... I mean it's with us, we don't take enough to get superstoned but enough to just to sort of give you an edge. Really you don't play that well when you're really high ... but you learn a lot. So it's like there are times when it's groovy to get a real high and play because you learn a lot, but it's not necessarily groovy to perform that way or to play really well together.
MG: What about when all the audience is high?
Garcia: Right ... then it's like an equal thing happening, so now when we get high for a gig we get a little high, enough to get an edge. We smoke hash, of course, and pot.
MG: How do you get on with guys who aren't stoned when you play? Can you sit down and jam with someone who isn't high?
Garcia: Well ... some of the guys in the band don't get high. Pigpen doesn't get high and Bobby doesn't get high anymore either.
MG: And you still do it ...
Garcia: Sure, because the thing we do we've been doin' together for 6 or 7 years and it's definitely there ... it's there whether we're into it or not really.
MG: I read somewhere you'd like to play with the Band. Tell me something about that. The Band are really good in my estimation.
Garcia: Right ... really good. I love their music. I've hung out a little with Robbie Robertson, but I don't know whether anything'll come of all that except that we're friendly and we respect each other. That's the thing.
MG: Is there anything you can pinpoint that you like about them?
Garcia: Yeah, I like everything about them. I love their songs. Their songs are fantastic. Really well written and really together and their playing is so incredibly complementary towards each other. They're just a very good band, I think.
MG: What about England?
Garcia: I like England.
MG: English audiences?
Garcia: English audiences so far have been fantastic. It's just like home, really. It's a Grateful Dead audience rather than an English audience. And that's where we're most comfortable. It was surprising, because we heard so much about English audiences being incredibly reserved and not at all demonstrative and so forth ... all these things, but you know as soon as we played, as soon as things started warming up it was just like home.
MG: I guess you'll get that tonight. The whole place'll shake.
Garcia: Ah ... too much.
MG: How do you keep going for so long man, playing guitar, I mean. I know it's good and everything?Garcia: That's it ... I'm a music junkie.
(from Muther Grumble, issue 5, May 1972)