This interview was broadcast in several parts in 1975 on WVOI 95.9 FM, Tisbury, Massachusetts.
PETER SIMON INTRO: We're gonna be playing a lot of Grateful Dead music, some of the underground tapes that aren't available on record at all; but the main thing that we're gonna do tonight is listen to Jerry Garcia talk about himself and his music. I did an interview with him about three weeks ago, the tape of which I will now play to you all because it's very informative and I'm sure you'll dig it. So here's the first part of the interview.
SIMON: I'm honored to be in the presence of my musical guru, Jerry Garcia, and we're taping this interview in sort of a movie laboratory where they're working on a film. So why don't you talk about it for a second, the Dead film?
GARCIA: Well, what would you like to hear about it?
SIMON: Well, I'd like to know first of all when you think it might be done, 'cause there are a lot of people who are interested in seeing it as well as yourself.
GARCIA: Well, we hope to have it done and maybe out by around October, but it could go longer than that, it's comparatively difficult to deal with it, it's a lot of film and...y'know...it's just gonna take a long time. The big thing is it's gonna take a long time making it be anything besides a ten-hour movie. That's gonna be the hard part.
SIMON: Well, let's see, it consists of three consecutive Dead concerts, the last Dead concerts of the current series, right?
GARCIA: Well, actually, what it is, is that the last gig we played at Winterland, we played for five nights - so it's all five nights. Plus documentary stuff all surrounding it, concerned with the setting up of the equipment and all that sort of thing. The whole thing is [covered], really.
SIMON: So it's not gonna be just straight music?
GARCIA: Well, no, because...it'll include more of the rest of the scene, mostly the people. If you could describe the characters, the characters in it are basically the audience, the band, and our whole technical staff. That's really who's moving in the movie.
SIMON: Are you gonna try and like put the songs together like a typical Dead set?
GARCIA: Well yeah, it'll be something like that - it can't be a typical Dead set because we don't have - because the idea of having just four hours of concert is gonna be hopeless in a movie. So we have to make some concessions about that, but we might end up not doing that. It really has a lot to do with what we decide to do in terms of exhibiting it and the whole - right now we're finding out about distribution and all the rest of that kind of stuff, which turns out to be, just like in records, turns out to be the main bummer in film.
GARCIA: Yeah, distribution, because it represents that large middle structure in everything that goes on in America, which is the middleman, the famous middleman; and the distributors in movies are much more, I think, in that position than almost anything else in terms of their piece of whatever, you know, profit or whatever, however they're structured, and so we're - Part of this is to develop a way to distribute it that makes us feel that we haven't been just building another brick in the wall, y'know - that's always part of it, but this particularly since it's the new field, really, for us to be involved in, and we're into sort of approaching it with whatever purity we can muster initially, rather than having to do it later like we do with records.
SIMON: Do you think you'd put out a soundtrack?
GARCIA: For sure. Yeah, probably a triple set, something like that.
SIMON: Wow, far out. When you were playing and filming, did you put more juice into this particular five days than you did in like a normal concert in Nassau Coliseum?
GARCIA: Well, I would say it definitely had more juice for a variety of reasons - first of all, because it was our last concert - and so emotionally, it had a certain pitch to it, just on the basis of it being the last Dead concert for a while - had a sort of nostalgia thing to it. But as for the energy, you know, it goes both ways, I mean - some of the nights are the kind of nights I like, the kind that are sort of effortless and flowing, and some of 'em are ones with incredible jagged intensity that, y'know, is like another aspect of what we do. What we do and the way we do it is pretty much covered - so it's mostly a matter of constructing it into something that moves along smoothly and has the same effect as a concert. Hopefully it'll be able to get you off the way a concert does. Part of the idea of doing this film in the first place was - we've been trying to develop alternatives to performing live because it's the logistical difficulty and the economic difficulty involved in touring nowadays, the way we do it, y'know, it's really a trip. So this represents one possibility, y'know, the idea of filming a concert and seeing if really, authentically, y'know, whether any of the feeling or the good moments or the highness or whatever is able to be translated to this medium, that's really what it has to do with.
SIMON: It would be a great exploration and, if it's successful, it would be some breakthrough because, like, the movie Woodstock and stuff like that kind of just sort of skimmed the surface of what that event was. But going to a Dead concert from the paying customer's point of view can be a drag at times because of the way they tend to push a lot of people into one space, and they bum you out at the gate 'cause they check you to make sure you don't have any alcohol - it's kind of like these peripheral problems, but just to sit in a nice theater where it's all controlled - I mean, you can really get off on it.
GARCIA: Right, exactly. Plus it wouldn't have to be very expensive, it wouldn't be in the range that concert prices are these days, so it wouldn't have that level going for it, and - yeah, that's part of what we're trying to deal with too, because just where we've been having to play because of audience demand has been these intense control situations, big stadiums and stuff like that where there's millions of cops and all that, you know - it's the same problem that everybody has to deal with. So this is one of our tries on that level, y'know, on the level of idea, y'know - and just in terms of something to do, you know, as an artist or whatever, for me it represents a new level of interest and development that - it's gettin' me off, y'know, that's what it's doing - that's the way I feel about it, I enjoy films, I've been a film buff for a long time and all that. It's neat to be sort of forced into making a movie. (laughs)
SIMON: A lot of artists kind of branch out into moviemaking after exploring other media but just don't quite get to it - it seems like movies kind of, sort of have all things going for them, in a way.
GARCIA: Yeah, in a way, I mean in a way it represents, in terms of the amount of impact - emotional content that you can communicate to an audience, on that level, it's the ideal situation; people are receptive when they're watching movies; and the movies, I mean for me, movies have been incredible experiences, good ones, bad ones, y'know, moving, emotional - all different kinds. Not too often ones that just get you off and make you feel real good - that's like a rare movie.
SIMON: What movie comes to mind that did that to you?
GARCIA: None. (laughter) Maybe some Walt Disney movies, y'know, that's about as - I mean, I don't know, it's kind of hard to relate to - well, Children of Paradise is a good movie, it makes you feel good... I don't want to go into that.
SIMON: That's a tangent!
GARCIA: Right, for sure.
SIMON: Okay. So the movie is a [current] project and you're also doing an album now, another Dead album. How's that going at this point?
GARCIA: Well, it's going pretty well, it's - I would say that it's the most...musically adventurous album we've done in a pretty long time.
SIMON: In what sense?
GARCIA: Well, it's just that we're doing things that are really unconventional for us. Musically we're approaching ideas - we're evolving our own development, is what we're doing, we're consciously guiding it through a certain stream of possibilities, mostly having to do with new and unusual harmonic relationships that may - well, I don't know, quite frankly, some people might not like what we're doing. But it's another thing, you know. In a way, our development has been to synthesize various kinds of forms - like playing jazz, playing country & western, rhythm & blues and all that sort of thing, and then forming combinations of all these various genres and styles within what we're doing, within our instrumentation; and now we're sort of working on creating styles, you know what I mean?, rather than just being eclectic or just synthesizing other styles, so it's a little more difficult, and it's also considerably more experimental, I mean it's really questionable as to whether the things that work will be successful musically, but we're sort of into defining new spaces for ourselves, musically, to go to.
SIMON: Are you talking, like as opposed to the last two albums in the studio, which have been sort of like precise songs [Garcia: Yeah.] and this is more like the jam trip that you do?
GARCIA: Something like that, and even - yeah, and also incorporating songs but not in song sense, not in that kind of framework, but that's part of what we're trying to adjust, you know, is what are those relationships, what are those definitions; and for us, all those things represent, on some level at least, cliches in our own material, in our own musical habits, y'know; there are things that we've done and we've done 'em a lot, we've done 'em lots of different ways and - so, you know, it's a question of sort of restructuring, I mean, suppose none of the forms that we've been playing existed, what would we be playing instead? It's that kind of a question, you know. So it's experimental, I mean, that's really the right word for what we're doing, it's experimental.
SIMON: So do you like have songs written?
GARCIA: No. We're developing those ideas en masse - you know, I'm not, for example, doing like I normally do, which is run off for a week or so and Hunter and I, you know, knock out nine or ten songs a year, you know - wham, there they are, and those are songs and we learn them, and the arrangement grows depending on everybody's contribution - we're not doing that, what we're doing instead is just developing ideas, musical ideas, everyone more or less participating, you know, on the actual ideas, you know, no one person is responsible for it.
SIMON: Is this kind of an outgrowth of the fact that you aren't touring together, therefore you haven't been together in such a long time, so you might as well do something completely different?
GARCIA: Well, we've been together - we haven't been touring, certainly, but we've been, y'know, certainly dealing with each other on other levels, and doing other things. But yeah. It's also what we hope to be able to accomplish by not performing a lot, which is get away from our habits, get away from our old repertoire, and just, you know, cut ourselves loose from the past basically, shocking as that might sound, and develop, you know, new levels to go off of, really, to depart from. And this is the start of that; I could see this kind of developmental thing lasting for a long time, going on for a long time, and we would continue to work on things this way. And it'll be interesting, it's the first time we've ever done things that purely [ ? ] in the studio, rather than trying out - rather than learning a tune and then developing it a little live or in an onstage situation and then recording it, (that's not really what we do).
SIMON: What about the very early albums, like maybe the third album you did or the second, it had the long sides [...] - anything like that?
GARCIA: Uh - in a way, I don't think it'll be... I think we have enough knowledge and experience now to pull off some of the things we tried to do on those albums and didn't make. But it won't be...it won't have that - it won't be like that, it'll be different, it'll be its own - it'll be something now, you know, something that's happening now, rather than what was going on then - it's a little difficult to relate to it, because at that time our music was based on certain conceptions in the world and everything else that was going on around us, and our experimental tries at that time were of a certain nature, in other words, they were intended to have a certain effect, say, that was what we were hoping for - those things turned out to be delusions later, because everybody hears what they want to hear, really - and so our purposes in what we're doing are usually only interesting to us, you know, I mean, in terms of how greatly it affects the music and how well you notice, for example, some obscure little idea that we were trying to communicate. In those days we would spend a lot of time working on an idea that might not even be successful, just to try to do it, but we were also learning how to record. So, you know, we were into being - we were unconventional just because we were inexperienced, in terms of our approach to it. So now we have all this experience, but now we're trying to determine unconventionality, you know what I mean? It's a little tricky, it is - it's a little tricky, we've covered a lot of ground, so we've used up a lot of things, in terms of freshness, you know.
SIMON: Right, right. Wow, you're also doing a solo album and doing all - you just amaze me that you have so many projects at once.
GARCIA: Yeah, I know, it's incredible.
SIMON: I understand you're doing a solo album, you're also touring with Merl Saunders - how do you -
GARCIA: How do I find the time?
SIMON: - channel your energy in such productive ways?
GARCIA: Well, things tend to work - tend to overlap, generally speaking, like, the way I'm working - I wouldn't be able really to concentrate on sitting in front of a movie editing device for - I couldn't do that for eight hours a day, I can do it pretty easily for six, though, it's pretty interesting for that long, and I feel my attention is on it and I can do a good job keeping up with it. Then I would, y'know, like to play music, it would be nice to play music in a studio situation, like recording is something that also can hold your attention, if you're cooking, up to eight hours, maybe. But on the average it's more like six - just, I mean, if you're being honest, since we're working in a situation in which the pressure isn't on us particularly to stay there a specific number of hours, cause we've booked it in advance and so forth, it's more relaxed, so really it looks like it's more than it really is; and then if I'm on the road, I'm not doing anything during the day, I'm playing evenings; so during the day is a time when it's convenient to compose. I might sit around an hour a day, just play the guitar and practice, and maybe learn some things, and maybe some ideas will come out that are like songs, and that represents maybe two or three hours a day on the road, where nothing else is happening but television and a gig that night - usually a gig will take maybe four hours or five hours, in total time - actually playing maybe only two of those, or two and a half - really it looks like more, you know, it isn't really that much.
SIMON: But just viewing you from afar, you just seem to be one of the most productive musicians around.
GARCIA: Just because I'm crazed, I'm obsessed, you know.
SIMON: People have said that you're a musical junkie.
GARCIA: Yeah, that's as good a description as any, that's a good description.
SIMON: [With the] Grateful Dead, it seems that live Dead is the essence of what you did, and that recorded Dead kind of is a different thing, and most people thought, well, they're so different, how can they be the same group and yet be so different in the studio as live. Do you have any preference - whether you dig your music live better than - whatever it is?
GARCIA: Oh, I prefer playing live to playing in the studio, for sure - just as an experience it's definitely richer, y'know, because it's continuous - I mean, you play a note and you can see where it goes, you can see what the response is, what the reaction is, there's - y'know, it's reciprocated. In a studio, you can also do that, but you're doing it with the other musicians, and musicians are like - When you have a group of musicians in a studio, it's not unlike having a roomful of plumbers. I mean, what we might be interested in as musicians and what we're doing might not relate to anybody else, y'know. That's the difference - if there's a real big difference, that's the difference. And also, generally speaking, the studio, in terms of just energy, is a more relaxed, quiet sort of scene, it's not like a concert, and we're not into being artificially energetic - y'know, we're not into just getting ourselves excited in the studio and trying to be - trying to perform live in the studio, essentially - we have never tried to do that, so it's been appropriate in our case to do a lot of live records, just because that's what we do - even though the records I don't believe are successful - I don't think the records are a successful form to record our live performances because of the time thing alone, makes it sort of ridiculous.
SIMON: You mean the lack of enough time?
GARCIA: Yeah, the fact that a record really can only hold about 28 - no, no, closer to 23 minutes a side, at the outside, and that's not really appropriate, our records would have to be - for our records to be reflections of our live thing they would have to be four records, four-album sets, and that's impractical as can be. So we really are - the definition of what we do is we're a live band, for sure we're not anything but that, and recording has been sort of gratuitous - just because we play music, one of the forms that music can go out on is the record. But it's a distinct form, it's not a reflection of what we do, so we just treat it as though it is what it is - it's as though, if you're an artist, you might work in - you might prefer to work in lithographs, you know, but sometimes you do gouaches, y'know - and lithographs might be what get you off the most - but, y'know, if you have to do a gouache, you do a gouache, y'know, watercolor, whatever - it's that sort of thing.
SIMON: So then - what was the reason you decided not to play live anymore?
GARCIA: There's really a lot of reasons for it. There are kind of two levels, or maybe three levels of reasons. One of them has to do with just the economics of moving around the amount of stuff we have - that the amount of money that we would make at the gigs basically wasn't able to pay for moving us around and being able to develop everything and also to pay everybody - we had a huge organization with a colossal overhead on a weekly basis. And so past a certain point, we were really working to keep the thing going, rather than working to improve it or working because it was joyful.
And that brings up the next level, is that we're interested in doing stuff that's joyful or that's fun, you know, but then how do we reconcile that with economic survival? You know, how can we work and have a good time and also pay the bills? Y'know, so we don't have that together, we don't understand how to do that so far - and what we were doing was not it.
And also the thing of always playing large, y'know, venues and feeling that remoteness, and feeling as though we're creating an unpleasant situation for the audience to come into, which is not what we want to do, and we don't want people to be busted at our concerts, we don't want them to be, y'know, uncomfortable or any of those things, and that's been more the standard way they've been.
And plus, it's basically sort of dehumanizing to travel the way you have to travel in a rock & roll band. The quality of life on the road and everything is pretty slim.
But mostly, it has to do with economics - it also has to do with the thing of we've been doing it for ten years, we haven't spent any time away from it, y'know. That's a long time to do anything without really getting away from it for a while. So we just decided to stop it before it, y'know, just overwhelmed us, before it got to be really ridiculous, and try to consciously see what the next step is for us, what the thing for us to do is. We don't want to go into the success cul-de-sac, you know, we don't like that place, we don't want to - And it's not possible for us to really do something that would be totally altruistic like going and playing free everywhere, y'know - if it were possible for us to do that. Really, we need a subsidy is what we need, the government should subsidize us, y'know - we should be like a national resource.
SIMON: Better than the Pentagon.
GARCIA: Yeah, right. We can have a lot more fun besides. But that's - those are the kind of things - and just the thing of being - trying to fit in responsible consciousnesses with what's happening in the world, and trying to - feeling that it's really as much our responsibility as anything to create the right situation for what we're doing to be in, just on any level - that all is what it has to do with.
SIMON: Was it a hard decision to come to, like did you not want to admit it, or was it so painfully obvious that it was like a relief?
GARCIA: It wasn't painfully obvious, no, because there was a lot of different factions - there's always factions that want to keep on doing it because - well, because y'know, how am I going to make a living, you know, or whatever, y'know - there's always different, everybody has different reasons for wanting to do it or wanting to not do it or whatever. But it was time, that's all, it was just the time to stop.
SIMON: Well, you reunited recently at the Kezar thing, had a quick flash of sound for about thirty minutes, which was beautiful. Do you see getting back on the stage again eventually, and if so, in a different format?
GARCIA: Well, I can see getting back on the stage eventually - format is part of what we're trying to determine. And one - well, one possible fantasy that we've thought of, thinking about ourselves as a more or less permanent musical association, is the idea of eventually building a place that would be like a permanent performance place, that's designed around us and designed around our, y'know, specific ideas.
SIMON: People would have to come to you.
GARCIA: Yeah, right - well you know, at least for like two months of the year. Because in terms of our music getting finer and finer, it gets finer and finer if we play in the same room - if we keep playing in the same room we really understand it, and so the music gets really articulate, which is one of the directions it needs to go in, to be more clearly stated and more - greater subtlety and greater nuance, y'know, all that - and that has to do with understanding a room really well, and you can do that if you're playing it really often. So that's one possibility, and that would also be a facility for recording, and videotaping, or filming, or whatever, in the event that the idea of a canned concert works - if that works. But that would be one possible approach; it would also let us live, y'know, comparatively normal lives - we wouldn't have to tour. And then if we were going to tour, we could do it, y'know, selectively, certain times of the year or whatever. That all has to be defined, but that's one possible fantasy.
SIMON: That's a nice idea.
GARCIA: Yeah, it would work - it would be good for the music - that one is one that really would - that's what makes it the most valuable in terms of - you know, it's a good idea because it allows the music to develop.
SIMON: Next question relates to the vast cult-like following that you've amassed through the years and how you relate to deadheads. Do you feel like you're responsible to supply them with music or that their feelings affect you? And the second part of the question's about the incredible underground tape library that is traveling the country - whether you find that you get ripped off - do you feel ripped off by that, or is it groovy?
GARCIA: Not particularly, I don't feel ripped off by it, I think it's OK, if people like it, they can certainly keep doing it, y'know. I don't have any desire to control people's, y'know, what they're doing.
SIMON: Some artists get freaked that people would bother to tape their concerts, and they actually stop people from doing it all the time.
GARCIA: Yeah, we've - our guys have done that too, y'know, guys have freaked out, "Whoa, we can't have that going on," but I don't know, it doesn't really matter to me that much, too awfully much - and there's something to be said for being able to record an experience that you liked, you know, or being able to obtain a recording of it. Really, we have all that stuff - our own collection of tapes of just many, many performances. I would love to see all that stuff somehow put into a form that we could put it out and have it be real inexpensive so people could get at it if they want it - it's another thing. My responsibility toward the notes is over after I've played them - at that point I don't care where they go (laughs), they've left home, y'know.
SIMON: Well I for one, I have my own collection which is maybe 50 hours' worth of music -
GARCIA: God, amazing.
SIMON: And you know, I hook up with people in New York and people out here who have tapes and we share them, and so many people get off on you guys -
GARCIA: Well that's the thing, you know, if people get off, that's what's good - you know, it doesn't matter whether we make a profit on other people's getting off, that's not why we do it in the first place. That's the way I feel about it, pretty much. But it would be great if there were some way we could work it out, y'know, so we could survive and do what we want to do and not have to scuffle - basically we scuffle, we've been scuffling ever since we started, y'know, we get into a larger and larger scale of a scuffle, in terms of now we have this movie thing, record company, and so forth and so on - but they're all just large scuffles, y'know, rather than small scuffles.
SIMON: Do you pattern your music at all according to what you think the audience wants to hear?
GARCIA: No, we never do that. More - it has to come from us, y'know, it has to be genuine on that level - and that's one of the things that makes it difficult because, like I say, we've really used up a lot of ideas, y'know, we've gotten ourselves off on an idea and then murdered it, y'know, used it until it's gone, it's kind of like that. In a sense, we've just bankrupted our own material by using it so much, and so our idea is to, y'know, create new levels of places to get off. And the audience - I think our audience is more helpful than - they're not a hindrance on that level. I think that - when we do a show and it's like 40% new material - when that happens, which it rarely does, but when it happens, people welcome it, I think they welcome the changes, and I don't feel as though there are certain things I must do for the audience.
SIMON: Like Dark Star.
GARCIA: Yeah, I mean - you know, it's just, I don't think that - I think the audience is ready for whatever, rather than insist on hearing Casey Jones or - there's always people that are into that kind of stuff and, that's neat, you know, I'm glad that they are, on certain levels, some levels I'm not. Also, the whole thing is pretty mutable, I mean there's some songs you can keep doing over and over again, they still live, they still have something - you can really feel as though the song means something to you, you can do it and feel honest about it - some material just really lasts that way, some doesn't, so it's all those things. Nothing is real solid but the thing of being able to progress or kind of work on ideas, we always have felt free to do that - in fact, compelled.
SIMON: Well, one way that you do, I think, is the way you plan - if you plan the sets, that's another question, or whether - just the way that one song segues into another, like, it seems so spur-of-the-moment - is it?
GARCIA: Usually it is. Sometimes we - somebody will have an idea before, like during the break, and have an idea for a possible sequence of things that can relate, we might talk it over real fast, or sometimes there's little huddles onstage - so it's "hey, I've got a great idea, why don't we blah blah blah, you know, take this and go from that to that and unfold this and that." Sometimes we'll do it and sometimes we'll go along with the program and sometimes we'll depart from it entirely, sometimes we won't have any program at all, we'll just be spur-of-the-moment. It works every different way - God, we've been doing this so long, that you know, every conceivable possible permutation has been -
SIMON: Do you have like signals, so that people know, "well let's stop this and go into that," you know?
GARCIA: No, but we all are so well-acquainted with each other's playing and also with the ideas contained in the tunes, that I can play the most, the barest minimum of an idea from another tune that we do, and the band will understand and pick it up - even if I don't intend it, even if it's just accidental - that kind of thing happens a lot. And then a lot of it is miracles, y'know - and that's part of what creating new forms has to do with, it has to do with creating a situation in which miracles can happen, in which amazing coincidences can happen, that all of sudden you're into a new musical space. And that's the challenging part about coming up with structures that are loose and tight, they have an element of looseness to them which means they can expand in any direction and go anywhere from anywhere, or come from anywhere, but they also have enough form so that we can lock into something. So it really has to do with the element of what's knowable and known and what isn't known and what isn't knowable, and what can be invented on the spot, and there's a delicate balance in there, and since we're dealing with, y'know, several consciousnesses at the same time, everybody going through their individual changes, that there's times when everybody's up for it and everybody feels right about it, and the form provides openings, then y'know, miracles can happen, amazing miracles. And that's what we're in it for, that's one of the reasons we do it, you know, is for those moments of ah, unexpected joy, the most amazing stuff - and that's, y'know, that's something that you definitely have to think about how it works mechanically, just how does it work, we have to sort of explore that thing. And we've been exploring it for a long time, we don't really know anything about it.
SIMON: Simple twists of fate.
GARCIA: Yeah right, that's what it is - orchestrated twists of fate.
SIMON: I've noticed through the years your music changing a lot - you know, it started off as the San Francisco psychedelic sound and Pigpen was a big part of it, and then after he kind of left his body, you sort of went into an acoustical phase like with American Beauty - well, he was around for that, but you were obviously changing. And the last couple albums have been sort of a slicker studio sound, which I have enjoyed, but other people have kind of - some people are edgy about it. (Garcia laughs) When Pigpen departed, was that a big break in your sort of history as a group?
GARCIA: Well, yeah, sure, it's like - yeah, all of a sudden it's not the same group, y'know, it's a different group. And Pigpen had influenced a lot of what we were doing just by - because of who he was, and that - the music had to be able to include him. In a way, Pigpen - technically at any rate - Pigpen represented sort of like the low water mark, you know what I mean? (laughter) We couldn't go past that, because if we came up with anything that was too complicated for him, he couldn't play it, and so everything was structured to be able to at least [include] Pigpen, or else he wouldn't play, he'd lay out or stuff, and then y'know, there were the tunes that he sang and the rest of us got to just goof around, you know, and he could - he had that thing of being able to really carry an audience too, y'know, he was like really more of a showman and more out there than the rest of us - and so that element, y'know, we don't have that any more, what we have is a more group-like identity, probably. And, you know, it's definitely different, it's hard to say, it's not a question of better or worse, it's just different.
SIMON: Were you aware that he was like on the way out?
GARCIA: Oh yeah - well see, we were all prepared emotionally for it a full year and a half before, because that was when he first went into serious illness, and we all - there was a week or so where everybody gave blood for him and everything like that, and he was in real bad shape, and that was when it looked like he was gonna die, so we were all emotionally prepared for it during that two or three-week total emergency bummer, and then he recovered and slowly got himself back together, and was back in the band and we were working and everything, and then he just snuck away, y'know. It was really sort of - it was typical of him, typical of the kind of person he was.
SIMON: Did you try and influence him to a more like healthy existence?
GARCIA: Oh sure, but we failed. We failed just, y'know, because - he was an incompleted person, in a way, and we all knew it and he knew it and that was just the way it was, it wasn't the kind of thing where - you know, you can only do that so long and so hard and have effect. Actually, the thing of him getting that ill straightened him out way more than any talk from us, and he was in fact really working at getting himself together, he hadn't been drinking for a year and a half, at all, y'know, zero - but his body was just gone, it was just shot, it was beyond the point where it could repair itself, and that was the thing that finally did it - it wasn't as though he was on some kind of final bender and then killed himself, he was actually on the road to, y'know, a new persona, a new self.
SIMON: A new incarnation.
GARCIA: Yeah, it turned out, yes.
SIMON: What particular album that you've done like seems the most satisfying work, or song - anything that comes to mind?
GARCIA: Um... Well, it's kind of hard to say, you know - they don't - usually aren't like that - most of the time when we're working on an album, there's stuff going on in life, y'know, that more has your attention than working on the album, and working on the album is just like going to work, it's like having your job and you go in and you work on it, and you don't really know what's on it until much later, and sometimes you never know, sometimes you don't know until somebody says to you one day, "That album, y'know, says this and that and whatever, y'know" - sometimes you just don't know. So like for example, Workingman's Dead, which has turned out to be our most significant album on that level, on a certain level, y'know, was the album that we worked the least on - we spent, y'know, I think we spent 19 or 20 days or something like that, we finished the whole album - and while that was going on, that whole being busted in New Orleans was hanging over our heads, we were in the middle of this Lenny Hart weird hassle going on internally, all this other stuff was going on, and it was like - the record was like an afterthought, I mean it was really beside the point compared to what we were going through at the time; and with American Beauty, there was this rash of parent deaths where everybody's parents kacked in the space of about three or four weeks, or maybe two or three months, you know, [when] we were working on that record, it was really incredible, it was just like tragedy city, you know, everybody was getting - it was bad news every day, y'know - really, it was incredible, and we were working on this record, but y'know, the work gets - you're so distracted by what's going on in life that the work gets to be something - it has a mysterious life of its own, and you don't even notice until way later.
SIMON: I had no idea.
GARCIA: Yeah, it's odd, you know, it's - it seems like it's always something like that, y'know, something like that is happening in the middle of it.
SIMON: How do you feel about the last two records?
GARCIA: They were near-misses. Y'know, the first one [Wake of the Flood] we were extremely rushed to make - pull it in under the wire because of our whole deadline setup and the pressure of putting out our first record on our own label. We were rushed, we didn't really get to do the job on it I wanted - plus we were in a studio that was not really - it didn't really make it as a studio. [Record Plant, Sausalito] And then that's also true of the second one, of Mars Hotel, because there we were working at Columbia which is so straight it might as well be General Hospital, you know, it really is straight, and the vibes there were abominable, y'know, they were appalling, we were working with a real straight engineer, and he was - y'know, it was wrong for us, really. We had some good ideas and some nice music and stuff like that, but I think the execution and the spirit suffered because of the place we had to work. [CBS Studios, San Francisco]
SIMON: You couldn't have changed that in midstream?
GARCIA: Ohh, we could've, but we're not really that bright, y'know. And besides, the way - financially, the way those things are structured when you make a deal for the studio time, it doesn't - we don't have that kind of power, y'know, to make snap decisions, because, like if we're getting a cut rate, it's because we bought a month's worth of time, y'know what I mean, that kind of stuff. It's all part of the scuffle.
GARCIA: Yeah, right - and it's amazing how much it's limited what we do and how we do it, and still does. It represents - in the real world, it's the main limit. And y'know, sometimes we have it together to work around it or something, sometimes - most the time we don't. And we don't want to work with the big record company, the kind of people who have that kind of power, because we don't like those people.
SIMON: I noticed on your albums that any song that comes from you is also associated with Robert Hunter. How does that work? And have you ever tried to actually write words yourself?
GARCIA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I've tried. (laughter)
SIMON: Nothing that you would say would stand the test of time?
GARCIA: No, I don't - I have never developed the necessary discipline to really write gracefully. I'm a better editor than I am a writer, for sure. I do some writing, but I'm not at all serious about it, and I usually find that if I have an idea that wants to be expressed in words, that Hunter can express it better than I can - and also, he and I have such a good working relationship that if I have a suggestion of any sort, y'know, it works just very smoothly, we don't clash in terms of our egos, we both tend to focus on the work and neither of us focuses on ourselves, so it works out to be very comfortable. And y'know, I mean, my capacity as a person who chooses a lyric to sing is really about as much as I would want to have toward the responsibility [for] the content. I mean, the fact that those are the things - of Hunter's output, which is really pretty enormous, only a small part of it ever gets to be he & I songs, and those get to be - those are usually edited quite a lot from what they originally were, and we work together to make - to form something that's satisfying to both of us and that works out right, but y'know, we overlap - it's like the tip-of-the-iceberg kind of thing.
SIMON: Do you usually think of the melody and he adapts the lyrics, or - ?
GARCIA: It works both ways - sometimes I think of the changes, the melody, the phrasing, y'know, where there should be vowels and where there should be consonants, y'know - I can get down to as much musical detail without actually having words - and then he can, y'know, he has enough technique to be able to actually fill out those requirements. And sometimes he has a lyric and I'll read it and it'll just knock me out, I'll say, "This is amazing, I want to set it," and I'll take it and work on it - and sometimes we'll take bits and pieces of things, y'know, different ideas, stick 'em together, polish them - I mean, we work every different way. That also is not limited by some particular stylistic approach, it's just whatever works.
SIMON: His lyrics do have a certain feel to them, they're very unusual, they're kind of very surreal, and you can't always like grab them and say, "Oh yeah, I understand this song," it's like very amorphous in a way.
GARCIA: Well see, that's part of my editorial finger in there, that's the editorial hand of Garcia in there, and my feelings about it are that - well, personally, I have this hangup about songs, I'm fascinated by fragments - I'm fascinated by fragments because of my involvement in traditional music, there's a lot of things around that are fragments of songs, old traditional songs, and there'll be like this tantalizing glimpse of two or three verses of what was originally a thirty-verse extravaganza, y'know, and there'll be two or three remaining stanzas left in the tradition, that you read them or hear them and they're just utterly mysterious and evocative, for odd reasons, different times; so I have a tendency to want to not have a song be topical in the sense of an idea surrounding an idea, I like for a song to be speaking to the mysterious, y'know, just because that tends to make it so that you can - your own images can happen, your own images - it's a little like radio plays, your own images, you fill in what you want, y'know, on the basis of what you're hearing. I like songs that are more evocative than, say, thought-provoking or obvious.
SIMON: Protest songs.
GARCIA: Right, topical songs. We've written a few topical songs but they were just that [or "just bad"], that's the way they work out, is they end up being, y'know, topical because they're frozen to a certain time.
SIMON: Like which one?
GARCIA: Well like Speedway Boogie, for example, I think that's probably the most topical song we've ever written.
SIMON: What musicians have stood out in your mind as ones who definitely influenced you or that you look up to and think you have stuff to learn from them?
GARCIA: Oh, everyone, everybody, all music, I don't have - I'm not, y'know, particularly attached to any one idea or format or anything, I just appreciate whatever's good - and it's just whatever I hear, like endless numbers of anonymous musicians who I don't know on the radio and stuff like that have influenced me, you know - not to mention all the people that are well-known and whose names I do know and they've influenced me too, millions of 'em - I listen to everything.
SIMON: Well, your guitar playing is kind of unto its own, you know, there's nobody that I can think of who plays like you, but you - how did you learn that kind of whatever it is?
GARCIA: I can't really say, it hasn't been the product of - y'know, I haven't - I don't know, the only thing I can really relate to you in terms of the roots of my own playing has to do with a sound that I wish I would hear, y'know - something that I wanted to hear, or maybe a little snatch or moment of a guitar player, y'know, on some record, or y'know - just a little moment, and there's something about it that says, "That is a door to something." I can't really explain it, it's emotional, and it goes back to my earliest years, it really is that deep and it just is me really selecting out of the universe stuff that's part of that sound. It's a thing which, sometimes I hear it very clearly, sometimes I don't hear it at all, but it's produced my whole development.
SIMON: Did you pick up a guitar at an early age and start learning basic chords?
GARCIA: No, I didn't, unfortunately; I wish I had. I got my first guitar when I was 15, and it was an electric guitar, and I played it for six months, almost a year, without knowing how to tune it at all, I had it in some silly open tuning, something that sounded good to my ear, and I figured out all kinds of chords and things in it; I didn't know anybody that played guitar and I wasn't - I was too arrogant to take lessons. And finally somebody showed me the right way to tune it and I - but I blundered all along, you know, I didn't really get - I didn't really start playing or start working at the guitar until I was about 23.
SIMON: Oh, wow.
GARCIA: Y'know, all the rest of the time I just screwed around. And I worked on the banjo for a while, that's the thing that taught me about working, or about learning. I got serious about the banjo. And then after that, getting serious about the guitar, I'd already been through the step of getting serious, y'know, so that means that I knew how to learn, so I started learning how to play the guitar and working at it - but I'm still working at it, I'm still learning - I mean, it definitely - it's not a process that just finally you're through learning and you know how to play - it's never that way. And I feel I'm a person who doesn't have a great amount of talent, in a sense, I don't feel like I'm a gifted musician - I feel like what I've learned, I've had to really work at learning - it's been a hassle, basically. That's one of the reasons I play a lot, because it - I need to play a lot just to keep myself together, just to keep my chops together. But - I mean, I'm always trying to develop myself, I haven't arrived anyplace yet.
SIMON: Well, one thing that I get from your playing and your presence onstage and you as a person is the sense that what you play isn't you playing it as much as coming through you from a higher place, in a way. Can you relate to that?
GARCIA: Oh sure - yeah, I can definitely relate to that, and when I'm talking about playing, I'm talking about being ready for that - just like all those other things, when I talk about miracles and stuff like that, that's what I'm talking about, is being ready for that; and for me, it has to do with being technically ready, to be able to let it flow, if that's what it's gonna do; and when it's work is when it's me doing it, y'know, when I have to do it, if I don't feel like - if there isn't a flow, either I'm hanging it up, or it's just not happening, or whatever, then I have to work at it, which is a level of competence I like to have, y'know, I like to be able to at least rely on my own resources if that's what it comes down to; but I prefer to be ready to be able to play what, y'know, whatever's there, and it's not really - I can't say that there's a certain sense that I am transformed, y'know, and then all of a sudden, y'know, God is speaking through my strings - it isn't really like that. It's more like - if you're real lucky, you know, and practice a lot and play a lot and try to feel right, you know, and you're lucky, and everybody wants for it to happen, then there's the possibility that things - special things will happen. And when those things happen, everybody gets off on it, not just me. I can get off on it, on an evening that is like, for an audience, mediocre, because I'll get off on it because it feels good or the groove is nice or my hands are working well, y'know, I can get off on a lot of different levels, but really getting off, y'know, really -
* * *
Peter Simon also published the interview in the New Age Journal, May 1975. Here is the published version:
MAKING MUSICAL MIRACLES
AN INTERVIEW WITH JERRY GARCIA
Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist extraordinaire of "The Grateful Dead," is a man I've wanted to interview for quite a while now. Following the Dead closely for years (I'm a self-admitted Dead-Head for life), often times I've been totally transfixed by Garcia's soaring guitar and saint-like vibration on stage. I've often felt a musical purity coming from him that sets him apart from many of the rock superstars of the day.
The New Age Journal (and my radio program, "Good Vibrations" on Cape Cod) proved the perfect excuse to ask him all the questions that have persisted in my mind for so long. The interview took about two weeks to set-up (mostly due to time and space discrepancies), and we finally met at a film lab in Marin County that the group has rented to edit and produce a feature-length movie of their last five concerts. We conducted it in a friendly and good-natured atmosphere over the period of about an hour.
Garcia is an unusually open person, not caught in the superstar syndrome of feeling antagonized by "the press" or remaining somewhat aloof. When I told him where this interview would be published, he was quite pleased. He thought the New Age Journal was a "fine, right-on" publication, and was glad to be a part of it.
NAJ: To begin this interview, Jerry, I'd like to ask you about your current projects, You're at work on a Grateful Dead concert film, when might it be finished?
GARCIA: We hope to have it done and maybe out by around October, but it could go longer than that - there's a lot of film - and the big thing is it's going to take a long time making it into anything besides a ten-hour movie. That'll be the hard part.
NAJ: It consists of five consecutive Dead concerts, the last Dead concerts of the current series, right?
GARCIA: Yes, the last gig that we played at Winterland we played for five nights, so it's all five nights, plus documentary stuff all surrounding it and concerned with the setting-up-of-equipment and that sort of thing, the whole thing was covered, in fact. The characters in it are basically the audience, the band, and our whole technical staff; that's really who's moving in the movie.
We're finding out right now about distribution and all the rest of that stuff, which turns out to be, just like in records, the main bummer in film - because it represents that large middle structure in everything that goes on in America, which is the "middleman," the famous middleman. We want to develop a way to distribute it that makes us feel that we haven't been just building another brick in the wall; that's always part of it, but with this particularly, since it's a new field for us to be involved in, we're trying to approach it with whatever purity we can muster initially rather than having to do it later like with records.
NAJ: When you were playing and filming, did you put more juice into these particular five days than you would in a normal concert?
GARCIA: I would say it definitely had more juice for a variety of reasons, first of all because it was the last concert that [we] will be doing for awhile, it had a certain pitch to it, emotionally. As for the energy, it goes both ways - I mean some of the nights are the kind of nights I like, nights that are kind of effortless and flowing, and some of them are ones with incredible jagged intensity. Part of the idea of doing this film in the first place was we've been trying to develop alternatives to performing live because of the logistic and economic difficulty involved in touring nowadays. The way we do it is really a trip. This film represents one possible alternative - the idea of filming a concert and seeing, authentically whether any of the feeling or the good moments or the highness is able to be transmitted to this medium - that's really what it is all about. Hopefully, the film will be able to get you off the way a concert does.
NAJ: Well, it sounds like a great exploration into alternative concert media. Going to a Dead concert can be a drag for the paying customer because they check at the gate for alcohol or tape machines, and jam you into a little space. But just to sit in a theater where it's all controlled, you could really get off on it.
GARCIA: Right, plus it wouldn't have to be very expensive; it wouldn't be in the range that concert prices are these days, so it wouldn't have that level going against it. The inherent concert hassles are what we're trying to deal with too, because where we perform is a result of large demand resulting in intense control situations - big stadiums where there are millions of cops. It's the same problem that everybody has to deal with, so this is one of our tries on that level. On the level of ideas, and just in terms of something to do as an artist, it represents a new level of interest and development for me. I enjoy films. I've been a film buff for a long time and all that - it's neat to be kind of forced into making a movie.
NAJ: So besides this movie, your other current project is the making of another Dead album, how is that going?
GARCIA: It's going pretty well; I would say that it's the most musically adventurous album we've done in a pretty long time. We're working with new and unusual harmonic relationships that may, well, I don't know, quite frankly, some people may not like what we're doing right now. Our development has been to synthesize various forms, like playing jazz, playing country and western, playing rhythm and blues, and forming combinations of these genres and styles within what we're doing, within our instrumentation. Now, we're working on creating styles rather than just being eclectic or synthesizing other styles. Thus, it's a little bit more difficult, and considerably more experimental. It's still questionable as to whether the things will be successful musically, but we're sort of into defining new spaces for ourselves musically to go to.
NAJ: So do you have songs written?
GARCIA: No, we're developing those ideas en-masse. I'm not, for example, doing what I normally do which is run off for a week or so and Hunter and I knock out nine or ten songs a year, and blam, there they are, and those are the songs and we learn them, and the arrangement grows depending on everybody's contribution. We're not doing that now; we're just developing ideas, musical ideas, with everyone, more or less, participating on the actual ideas, no one person is responsible for them.
NAJ: What about the very early albums, maybe the third or second albums with long sides and no cuts, is this anything like that?
GARCIA: In a way. I think we have enough knowledge and experience now to pull off some of the things that we tried to do on those albums, that didn't make it, but it won't be like that, it will be something new. At that time, our music was based on certain conceptions of the world and our experimental tries were intended to have a certain "effect." Those things turn out to be delusions later, because everyone hears what they want to hear, really. We were also learning how to record, so we were unconventional just because we were inexperienced - now we have all this experience but we're trying to determine unconventionality. We've covered a lot of ground so we've used up a lot of fresh ideas.
NAJ: You're also doing a solo album and touring with Merl Saunders - in that you have so many projects at once, how do you channel your energy so productively?
GARCIA: Well, things tend to work and overlap, generally speaking. I wouldn't really be able to concentrate on sitting in front of a movie-editing device for eight hours a day; I can do it pretty easily for six though, I feel my attention is on it and I can do a good job keeping up with it. I like to play music in a studio situation - that can also hold attention for six or eight hours. If I'm on the road, I'm not doing anything during the day; I'm playing evenings. So during the day is a time which is convenient to compose. I might sit around an hour a day just playing the guitar and practicing and maybe learn something and maybe some ideas would come out that are like songs. That represents maybe two or three hours a day on the road where nothing else is happening but television and a gig that night, usually a gig will take maybe four or five hours, total time actually playing maybe two of those or two-and-a-half. It may look like more, but it isn't really that much.
NAJ: You seem to be one of the most productive musicians around, viewing you from afar.
GARCIA: That's just because I'm crazed. I'm obsessed.
NAJ: People see you as a musical junkie...
GARCIA: Yes, that's as good a description as any.
NAJ: As a performing band, the Grateful Dead sound much different live than on a studio disk. Do you have any preference?
GARCIA: I prefer playing live for sure, just as an experience, it's definitely richer, mainly because it's continuous. I mean, you play a note and you can see where it goes, you can see what the response is, what the reaction is. It's reciprocal. In a studio, you can also do that, but you're doing it with the other musicians. When you have a group of musicians in a studio, it's not unlike having a room full of plumbers. I mean, what we might be interested in as musicians and what we're doing might not relate to anybody else. That's the difference.
We're a live band, for sure; we're not anything but that, and recording has been sort of gratuitous. Because we play music, one of the forms that music can go out in is the record, but it's a distinct form and not necessarily a reflection of what we do, so we just treat it for what it is. If you're an artist, you might prefer to work in lithographs, even though sometimes you do a water color even though lithographs still might be what you get off on the most. But if you have to do a water color, you do it. It's that sort of thing.
NAJ: With that distinction in mind, what was the reason you decided not to play live anymore?
GARCIA: Well, there's really a lot of reasons for it. The amount of money that we make at the gigs basically hasn't been able to pay for moving us around and being able to develop everything and also to pay everybody; we had a huge organization with a colossal overhead on a weekly basis. So past a certain point, we were really working to keep the thing going, rather than working to improve it or working because it was joyful, which brings up the next level. We were interested in doing stuff that's joyful or fun, y'know, then how could we reconcile that with economic survival, how could we work and have a good time and also pay the bills. We didn't have that together.
Also, the thing of always playing large venues, and feeling the remoteness and feeling as though we're creating an unpleasant situation for the audience to come into, which is not what we want to do. We don't want people to be busted at our concerts, we don't want them to be uncomfortable or any of those things, and that's more or less the standard way they've been. Also, it's basically sort of de-humanizing to travel the way you have to travel in a rock-and-roll band, and the quality of life on the road is pretty slim. Mainly, however, it has to do with economics and the fact that we've been doing it for ten years, and we haven't spent any time away from it. That's a long time to do anything. So we've just decided to stop it before it overwhelms us.
Now we're trying to consciously see what the next step is for us. We don't want to go into the success cul-de-sac you know, we don't like that place. Yet, it's not possible for us to really do something that would be totally altruistic, like going and playing free everywhere. What we really need is a subsidy, the government should subsidize us and we should be like a national resource.
NAJ: It's better than putting green energy into making war... You reunited recently at the Kezar S.F. school program BENEFIT concert, and we all had a quick flash of sound for thirty minutes which was beautiful. Do you see getting back on the stage eventually and if so, in a different format?
GARCIA: I can see getting back on the stage eventually, format is part of what we're trying to determine. One possible fantasy that we've thought of is moving toward playing at a more or less permanent musical fixture with the possibility of eventually building a place that would be a like a permanent performance center that could be designed around us and our specific ideas.
NAJ: Ah yes, people would have to come to you...
GARCIA: Yeh, right. Well, at least for like two months of the year. Because our music gets finer and finer if we can keep playing in the same room, we can really get to understand it. Thus, the music gets really articulate, which is one of the directions in which it needs to go to be more clearly stated with greater subtlety and nuance. That has to do with understanding a room really well and you can only do that if you play in a room quite often. It's also conceivable that the room could be equipped with a facility for recording, video-taping and filming or whatever in the event that the idea of a "canned concert" could work. That would be one possible approach; it would also let us live comparatively normal lives; we wouldn't have to tour, but if we wanted to, we could do it with more selectivity, like certain times and places, or whatever. It sure would be good for the music.
NAJ: You must know by now that there's an incredible library of Dead tapes circulating the country through underground tape recorders. Do you feel ripped off by this phenomenon?
GARCIA: Not particularly. I think it's OK, if people like it, they can certainly keep doing it. I don't have any desire to control people as to what they are doing, or what they have...
There's something to be said for being able to record an experience that you've liked, or being able to obtain a recording of it. Actually, we have all that stuff too in our own collection of tapes. My responsibility to the notes is over after I've played them, at that point, I don't care where they go (laugh) they've left home, you know.
NAJ: Do you pattern your music at all upon what you think the audience wants to hear?
GARCIA: No, we never do that. It has to come from us, it has to be genuine on that level, and that's one of the things that makes it difficult because we've really used up a lot of ideas. In a sense, we've just bankrupted a lot of our own material by using it so much. When we do a show and it's 40% new material (when that rarely happens), people welcome the changes, and I don't feel as though there are certain things we must do for the audience. The whole thing is pretty mutable. There are some songs that you can keep doing over and over again and they still live. Some material just really lasts that way; some doesn't.
NAJ: Do you have signals on stage so that people know: "let's stop this riff and go into that now?"
GARCIA: No, but we all are so well acquainted with each other's playing and also with what the ideas contain and the tunes that I can play the barest minimum of an idea from another tune that we do and the band will understand it immediately, even if I don't intend it, and if it's even accidental. That kind of thing happens a lot. A lot of it is miracles and that's part of what creating new forms has to do with; it has to do with creating a situation where miracles can happen, in which amazing coincidences can happen, so that all of a sudden you're in a new musical space. That's the challenging part about coming up with structures that are loose-tight, you know what I mean? They have an element of looseness to them which means they can expand in any direction or go anywhere from anywhere, or come from anywhere, but they also have enough form so that we can lock back into something. It really has to do with the element of what's knowable and known and what isn't known and what isn't knowable and what can be invented on the spot. There's a delicate balance in there and since we're dealing with several consciousnesses at the same time, everybody going through their individual changes, that those times when everybody is up for it and everybody feels right about it and the form provides openings, then miracles can happen, amazing miracles. That's what we're in it for, that's one of the reasons that we do it is for those moments of ah...unexpected joy, just amazing stuff. We definitely think about how it works mechanically, we have to sort of explore that thing, and we've been exploring it for a long time and we don't really know anything about it. Orchestrated twists of fate.
NAJ: What particular album that you've done seems the most satisfying complete work or song?
GARCIA: It's kind of hard to say, because most of the time that we're working on an album, we're so distracted by what's going in life that the work has a mysterious life of its own, that we don't even notice until later. Sometimes you don't know 'till somebody says to you, "that album says this and that and whatever." For example, "Workingman's Dead" which has turned out to be our most "significant" album, was the album that we worked the least on - I think we spent about nineteen or twenty days and finished the whole album. And while that was going on, that whole "being-busted" scene in New Orleans was hanging over our heads. It was like the record was an afterthought. With "American Beauty," there was this rash of parent deaths where everybody's parents croaked in the space of about two or three months. We were working on that album and it was just incredible. It was just like tragedy-city - bad news every day, really.
NAJ: I noticed on your albums that any song that comes from you is also associated with Robert Hunter - have you ever tried to actually write words yourself?
GARCIA: Oh, yeh, I've tried (laugh), but I have never developed the necessary tools to really write gracefully. I'm a better editor than I am a writer, for sure. I usually find that if I have an idea that wants to be expressed in words, then Hunter can express it better than me. Also, he and I have such a good working relationship that if I have a suggestion of any sort, it works very smoothly. We don't clash in terms of our egos and we both tend to focus on our work rather than ourselves so it works out to be very comfortable. My capacity as a person who chooses a lyric to sing is really about as much as I would want to have toward the responsibility of the content. Only a small part of Hunter's output gets to be he-and-I songs and those are usually edited quite a lot from what they originally were.
NAJ: His lyrics do have a certain feel to them; they're rather amorphous and you can't always grab them and say "oh yeh, I understand this song..."
GARCIA: Well, see, that's part of my editorial finger in there, that's the editorial hand of Garcia in there. I have this hangup about songs; I'm fascinated by fragments because of my involvement in traditional music - there's lots of things around that are fragments of songs, and they'll be this tantalizing glimpse of two or three verses of what was originally a thirty-verse extravaganza, and there will be two or three remaining stanzas in the tradition and you read them or hear them and they're just utterly mysterious and evocative for odd reasons at different times. I have a tendency to not have a song be topical in the sense of an idea surrounding an idea. I like a song to be speaking to the mysterious, because that makes it possible for your own images to happen. It's a little like radio plays; you fill in what you want on the basis of what you're hearing.
NAJ: What musicians stand out in your mind as having influenced you?
GARCIA: Oh, every one, everything, all music. I'm not particularly attached to any one idea or format, or anything, I just appreciate whatever is good. It's whatever I hear, like endless numbers of anonymous musicians whom I don't know on the radio and stuff have influenced me, not to mention all the people that are well known whose names I do know. They've influenced me, too; I listen to everything.
NAJ: Your guitar playing is kind of unto its own, there's nobody that I can think of that plays like you - how did you learn that kind of whatever it is?
GARCIA: I can't really say. The only thing I can really relate it to in terms of the roots of my own playing has to do with a sound that I wish I would hear, maybe a little snatch of a guitar player on some record or just a moment...and there's something about it that says, "that is a door to something" - I can't really explain it, it's emotional and it goes back to my earliest years, it's that deep. It just is me really selecting out of the Universe stuff that's part of that sound. It's a thing that sometimes I hear very clearly and sometimes I don't hear at all, but it has produced my whole development.
NAJ: Did you pick up the guitar at an early age and start learning basic chords?
GARCIA: No, I didn't. Unfortunately I wish I had. I got my first guitar when I was fifteen. It was an electric guitar, and I played it for six months, almost a year without knowing how to tune it at all, I had it in some silly open tuning, so that it sounded good to my ear. I didn't really start playing or start working at the guitar until I was about twenty-three. All the rest of the time I just screwed around. I'm still working at it, I'm still learning. It's not a process where you're finally through learning and you know how to play. I feel that I'm a person that doesn't have a great amount of talent. What I've learned, I've had to really work at learning; it's been a hassle, basically. That's one of the reasons I play a lot: I need to play a lot just to keep myself together, just to keep my chops together.
NAJ: One thing that I get from your playing is the sense that what you play is coming through you from a higher place, can you relate to that?
GARCIA: Oh, sure, I can definitely relate to that, and when I'm talking about playing, I'm talking about being ready for that, just like when I talk about miracles and stuff. I'm talking about being ready for that and for me, it has to do with being technically ready, to be able to let it flow if that's what it's going to do. And when it's work, is when it's me doing it, when I have to do it. If there isn't a flow, either I'm hanging it up or it's just not happening, or whatever, then I have to work at it, which is a level of confidence I like to have. I like to be able to at least rely on my own resources if that's what it comes down to, but I prefer to be ready to be able to play whatever is there at the moment. I can't say that there's a certain sense when I am transformed, you know, in that all of a sudden God is speaking through my strings; it isn't really like that. It's more like if you're real lucky, and practice a lot and play a lot and try to feel right and everybody wants for it to happen, then there's a possibility that special things will happen and when those things happen, everybody gets off on it, not just me. I can get off on an evening that is, for an audience, mediocre. I'll get off on it because it feels good, or the group is nice or my hands are working well. I can get off on a lot of different levels, but really getting off is something that is inescapable - if the whole band gets off, then the audience gets off, if the audience gets off, the band gets off, and it becomes one continuous thing. I don't know any more about it than anybody in terms of what "it" is, how "it" happens, or if "it" is controllable. You're tempted naturally in that position to try and control it, to say "let's see now, for sure now, is this me or is this it." Any number of stances that you can take emotionally doesn't affect it, whatever that is, it enjoys greater purity than I can muster, certainly. I can almost put my head in any kind of weird place or be confused, or be distracted, or suffering or have a toothache or just not feel right, or any of those things, and if it wants to happen, it will happen, no matter what I do. It doesn't really have anything to do with me, I feel sort of removed...I don't want to feel as though I were responsible because it's not that kind of a thing. I believe that what we do and the level that we get to is a product of the desire of consciousness to get to that level and we've just accepted that structure, and said OK, if it's going to happen, we'll do it. This is also relevant to all the other parts of this discussion just insofar as that's the thing that we would like to be able to work on developing, but how? You know, how do you do that on earth?
NAJ: Do you have much ego identification with Jerry Garcia as a rock star or is music your main form of meditation?
GARCIA: Music is my yoga, if there is a yoga, that's it. Practicing and keeping my muscles together, that is like what I would relate to a physical yoga, a certain amount of hours every day. Life is my yoga, too, but I've been a spiritual dilettante off and on through the years, trying various things at various times, and I firmly believe that every avenue that leads to higher consciousness does lead to higher consciousness. If you think it does, it does. If you put energy into it on a daily basis, no matter what it is, I believe it will work. I believe that it's within the power of the mind and consciousness to do that.
NAJ: Do you feel interviews are a part of that machine?
GARCIA: Well, about every year or so, I have a new rap, and there are a few new ideas that I have. It's great to have that kind of a forum to be able to say, "Well, listen to this, you fools out there;" but I've prefaced interviews in the past by saying that I can't do really anything but lie, all talking is lying, and I'm lying now, and that's true, too. I mean, you can go and hear me play, that's me, that's what I have to say, that's the form my thoughts have taken, so I haven't put that much energy into really communicating verbally. It's all open to misinterpretation, just like the songs are, it's that way, so I tend to pull the roots out of my own ideas, just conversationally, that's one of my bad habits at an interview.
NAJ: I think you're pretty eloquent, I wouldn't worry about it. Thank you very much, Jerry, for granting me this short slice of your life, and God Bless You.
(by Peter Simon, from the New Age Journal, May 1975)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com
The date of broadcast is unknown - it was sometime shortly after the Kezar show, but still early in the Blues for Allah sessions.ReplyDelete
The broadcast was filled with Dead music, both from their albums and from excellent audience tapes of various recent shows (the 12/2/73 Playing jam is heard at length, for instance, but I couldn't tell how many other tracks were from the Boston '73 shows). Clearly by 1975, quite a few good-quality shows were available in tape-trading networks and, if you had the right DJ, on the radio. (The interviewer boasts of his "50 hours" of underground Dead music - "God, amazing," Garcia says.)
Since Garcia was his "musical guru," it's a very friendly interview. I suspect they had a good smoke before taping - sometimes the interviewer seems to be slurring his questions, tripping over his words. But as a fan, he asks good, basic questions, the kinds of things fans would want to know; Garcia's warmed up to him and responds to everything at length, more or less articulately, and the conversation goes on for an hour.
The end of the interview, unfortunately, seems to be lost.
This was a well-recorded interview that was easy to transcribe - quiet background, voices close to the mike, mostly in stereo - so there were very few words I couldn't catch.
The transcription was as faithful as I could manage. I omitted some false starts and repetitions as Garcia looked for the right words - and I also left out all of the interviewer's interjections as Garcia talked ("right, yeah, really, mm-hmm, I know" and so on). On the other hand, I kept in virtually all of Garcia's "you knows," probably more than most readers would like! But I wanted to keep his speech patterns and rhythms intact on the page, with very few full-sentence stops. (The way he talked was actually quite similar to his guitar playing, with a kind of flowing, looping, repetitive back-and-forth hunting-for-the-right-phrase quality.)
An article was published, which I read and annotated at http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2013/12/rn-peter-simon-1975-new-age-journal.html.ReplyDelete
I added the interview as printed in the New Age Journal. I agree with JGMF that the interview likely took place in the last week of March; but nothing in it is really date-specific, in fact most of the topics here apply to all of Garcia's time with the Dead.ReplyDelete
Simon did an excellent job of transcribing in the Journal; other than some editing for concision (and removing almost all the "y'knows"!) it's mostly word-for-word.
However, the printed version is considerably shorter, since a lot of sections were left out. So the tape is more complete - except at the end, where the Journal fills in the missing end of the interview. This is one of Garcia's best discussions of the mysterious "x factor" and his relation to it.
Actually almost everything he talks about here, he covers so fully I don't feel the need to add much comment.