Aug 13, 2021

April 1976: Jerry Garcia Interview

In 1974, I was the music critic for the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper. Being a regular writer for a major-city daily newspaper at the age of twenty-four was rewarding and gave a certain satisfaction to a young rock fan’s life. Getting paid to see and interview bands like the Grateful Dead, was, at times, so much fun, it almost seemed illegal. But someone had to do it, so…

Anyway, that summer of ‘74 the Grateful Dead were booked for two nights at Philadelphia’s Civic Center. My job was to do a preview story in the Sunday Bulletin on the band. Their publicist approved an interview with Bob Weir (Jerry Garcia, I was informed, “wasn’t talking to the press”), and provided me with ticket to see a show in Providence, Rhode Island, a couple of weeks before Philadelphia, and off I went.

The interview with Bob Weir before the concert was terrific. Weir, as most people know, is a friendly, witty man and gave me more than I needed for the story.

The show that night, at the Providence Civic Center, was a five hour extravaganza, leaving everyone, band and audience alike, drained and exhausted but in a state of euphoria. A few minutes after the last encore, I noticed Jerry Garcia, wearing a dark green t-shirt, Wranglers and Acme boots, leaning against a wall backstage, winding down. I went over to say hello and asked him about a new (at the time) song from Mars Hotel they had closed the show with.

Spotting the tape-recorder I was carrying, he said “I’m not doing interviews this year,” in the same tone of voice he might use to order an after-dinner wine. “I hate all my records,” he added as an afterthought. “The Grateful Dead don’t make good records.”

Was he satisfied with the performance they had just given?

“If I was ever satisfied,” he added totally seriously, “I’d quit playing.”

Two years later, in a New York hotel room, on appropriately April Fool’s Day, 1976 (he has always appreciated a good joke), Jerry Garcia has agreed to an in-depth interview. Following two years of low Grateful Dead activity (which were filled with rumors of retirement), Garcia is in town with a solo band featuring John Kahn, Ron Tutt and Keith and Donna Godchaux. Being into gadgets, he inspects with interest a new tape recorder I had just bought, and we begin…

I spoke with you briefly at the Providence Civic Center two years ago. You told me, “I’m not doing interviews this year,” and then you said, “I hate all my records. The Grateful Dead don’t make good records.

(Laughs) Yeah, that’s true.

You mean, that’s true that you said that or that’s true that they don’t?

Well, both of them are true. But it’s a matter of objectivity. It depends on which side of the coin you’re on. For example, if I buy somebody’s record – a Rolling Stones record or something – what I hear obviously is the finished record, the finished music and the whole thing that’s already happened. In other words, with a Grateful Dead record, part of what I’m dealing with is the dissonance between the original version, the original flash as a composer. When a song comes into my head, it comes with a complete sound to it, a complete arrangement, a complete format and a complete thing more often than not, which represents my relationship to a personal vision. So, for me, comparing the record to the vision, I always feel that it fails.

That doesn’t discourage you to the point of not wanting to make records?

It could. But it doesn’t, because there’s enough to making records or making music that there are enough other ways to get off. So I’m not that hung up on the relationship to the vision except that it produces sort of a feeling of disappointment. You want it to work a certain way and sometimes it doesn’t work as well as you want it to. Like I had a whole long thing I was working on as far as Blues For Allah was concerned that was a technical trip and it required a certain amount of developing hardware to go along with the idea, which is often the case with things I get involved with. Often I want to do something that you can only do by developing or interfacing a certain number of existing possibilities.

With Blues For Allah there was a thing I wanted to do that had to do with an envelope shaper and stuff like that didn’t come together the way I wanted it to. And so, when I listen to it, I think, “Well shit, it isn’t quite where I wanted it to be.” But in the long run, after, like, however many records – nineteen records or something like that – you feel that at least your percentages are getting closer and you’re able to score on other levels. Like on our earlier records, if I listen to them now, they are embarrassing for reasons like they’re out of tune.

And your recent records are never out of tune.
(laughs) Now they’re much more together on those levels than they used to be. We’re much more able to pull off the technical aspect without having to sacrifice feeling. In terms of Blues For Allah, the latest Grateful Dead record I can talk about in this frame, I think that’s the first record we’ve made in years where we really had fun. We laughed a lot and got good and crazy. We had an opportunity to get weirder than we normally get to getting. First of all because we didn’t have the pressure of having to go out and tour and travel and thus break the flow.

Why didn’t you have the pressure?

Because we decided not to perform.

You didn’t need the money?

Well, it wasn’t the question of needing the money or not. That was…well, say we didn’t need the money.

Most of your money comes from performing, obviously…

Well, yeah. Sure. That’s been our main thing. ‘Course, most of our overhead and expenses are also the result of that too. It’s a lot easier for us to survive on some levels by not touring just because our expenses aren’t so huge. And with me going out and Kingfish going out (with Bob Weir), we were able to pretty much keep ourselves together.

Anyway, a couple of years ago you weren’t doing interviews. Now you are. Why the switch?

I like to do ‘em when I feel like I have something new to say. Every couple of years my viewpoint changes, you know what I mean? So I have something to say. I have some substance. Also, at the end of a year of rapping – if I have only one rap (laughs), one good thing to say and I spend a year saying it – pretty soon I’m burned out and I can’t stand to listen to it any more. But the fact that I haven’t been out traveling a lot and I’m not road weary also has something to do with it.

In our brief conversation two years ago, you said – in response to whether you were satisfied with the show – “If I was ever satisfied, I’d quit playing.”

Yeah, I think I might, in the sense that part of it is the thing of trying, taking chances.

So why now, at this point in time, do you have something to say? Your solo album?

The solo album is one thing. I think the movie is the thing (The Grateful Dead Movie).

Tell me about the movie.

When we decided we weren’t going to perform anymore, our farewell show, so to speak, was five days at Winterland. It was after we got back from our second trip to Europe – October ‘74. About a month before the Winterland dates I got the idea that it would be neat to be able to film it, just because I didn’t know if we were going to perform again. Or if we were going to perform in that kind of situation again. And that five nights in a place would at least give us the possibility, numerically anyway, that we would have one or two really good nights. In about two or three weeks the whole production thing came together to make the movie.

At first we thought, let’s just make a record of the idea, and I wanted it to look good. I wanted it to be really well filmed but I didn’t really know a lot about film when the idea got under way, but when it was time for the show to start, we had about nine camera crews and a lot of good backup people, good lighting people and the whole thing was already on its way to happening. It was chaotic but well organized in spite of the relatively short preproduction time we had. After the five days were over – and during that time I involved myself mostly with the music, I didn’t really get into the film part – we had a couple of hundred thousand feet of film in the can. So then it was, what’s going to happen to this? Originally, we were thinking in terms of what about a canned concert. Would something like that work? Could we send out a filmed version of ourselves? Then, after getting involved and interested in the movie as a project, I started looking at the footage and the concert stuff and I felt that there was a movie there. A movie in a movie sense rather than a movie in a canned concert sense. Then there was the thing of putting all that together and that’s what I’ve been working on the last year and a half, ever since the filming was over, really.

So it’s coming out not as a concert film.

It’s coming out as a movie.

Is there a plot to the movie?

(laughs) No. I mean, it’s a movie for Grateful Dead freaks. I think you could enjoy it from a perfectly normal moviegoer standpoint. I think it’s a very fine movie, but I don’t want to get into waving a flag about it. I want to see what kind of response there is to it first. Now we’re in our last series of fine cut stages. And I’ve tried to structure it in the same sense that Grateful Dead sets are constructed, so that it goes a lot of places. The concert footage is tremendously beautiful.

To be shown in the proverbial theater near you?

So far, we haven’t ironed that out, but I think we’re gonna try, like we always do, to distribute it ourselves. At least the first flash, so that we’ll have some control over the kind of playback system there is in the theaters.

I’ve noticed your concerts don’t change as much from show to show as your albums do.

That’s true. That’s because albums get to be a certain time and space and the concert thing is a flow.

And you always know what to expect from a Grateful Dead concert.

In a way. But we’re trying to bust that too. That’s one of the reasons we dropped out.

Is this it for the Grateful Dead as a touring entity?

No. We’re gonna start playing again.

You have so many members of the Grateful Dead on your solo album (Reflections), it could almost be a Grateful Dead album.

A lot of the energy from that record is really a continuation of the Blues For Allah groove that we got into. We sort of continued the same energy because we were having a lot of fun doing it.

One of my favorite things that you’ve been involved with in the last few years is the Old And In The Way bluegrass album you did with Vassar Clements, David Grisman, and Peter Rowan.

That was a good band. It was satisfying and fun to be in.

Was the reason you only put out the one Old And In The Way album and didn’t do a whole lot of touring with that band, because of the fact that there’s only a certain amount of acceptance bluegrass can get?

That, and also we ran into a really weird problem in terms of dynamics which was that bluegrass music is like chamber music: it’s very quiet. And if the audience got at all enthusiastic during the tune and started clapping or something, it would drown out the band and we couldn’t hear each other.

What an album though. I didn’t know you were such a hot banjo player.

(laughs) Oh I was real hot when I was a kid. Now my reasons for playing banjo and my reasons for liking bluegrass music are completely different from when I started, ‘cause then I was really hot.

I think that Old And In The Way album may be the best bluegrass album ever recorded.

Wow. Thank you. I’m happy with it too, but the truth is, we had much better performances than were on that record.

That’s hard to imagine.

Oh yeah. We had performances that were heart-stopping. And perfect, you know, but there weren’t as many that were recorded that well.

That banjo solo you did on “Wild Horses” and Vassar’s violin solo on “Midnight Moonlight” …Jesus.

Well, that was really a thrilling band. And I think that was the nicest that Vassar’s played, too. When he was playing with Old And In The Way, he played the maximum of mind-blowing but beautifully tasty stuff, and the music had enough interesting kinds of new changes and new things happening – Pete’s good songs for example – so that Vassar had a chance to blow with a lot of range. More than he does normally. That was neat.

The Grateful Dead have been a strange band for my taste, in that, if I like a band a lot – and some of your stuff I’ve liked an awful lot – I normally like just about everything the band does. But with the Dead, some of the stuff you’ve done has just gone right by me, while other stuff just blows me away. And it’s the same way with your concerts. Say, you’re in the middle of a jam. I’ll be half asleep for a few minutes, and all of a sudden, you’ll do something for five or ten seconds on guitar that will make my hair stand on end.

See, I have that same kind of reaction to the Grateful Dead myself. The Grateful Dead is not anybody’s idea of how a band or music should be. It’s a combination of really divergent viewpoints. Everyone in the band is quite different from everyone else. And what happens musically is different from what any one person would do. For me, the band that I have right now, I’m real happy with. I haven’t been as happy with any little performing group since Old And In The Way in terms of feeling “this is really harmonious, this is what I want to hear.” This band that I have now is very consonant. The Grateful Dead had always had that thing of dissonance. It’s not always consonant. Sometimes it’s dissonant. Sometimes it’s really ugly sounding and just drives you crazy.

Do you spend a lot of time in San Francisco?

Yeah. I spend most of my time just working. I’m very taken with our scene. It’s very interesting.

Your records are getting softer. In fact, there’s only one uptempo song, “Might As Well,” on your new solo album.

That’s true. That’s probably the worst thing about it, the lack of balance of material.

You thought it was too quiet?


When I listened to it, I thought maybe you didn’t like to rock and roll as much anymore.

No, uh…it’s not that. All these things have to do with luck. And timing. For example, the way that solo record was recorded, really a lot of material was performed with the intention of using it on the record, but of the takes that I felt were acceptable, they tended to be more of those softer tunes. So I decided to go with those because I felt the feeling of the tracks was better, not because of wanting it to be that way.

Your guitar playing has remained fairly constant the last few years. The only real deviation was on this new album on the track “Comes A Time.” You used a mild fuzz.

I just used a small amplifier.

There were some real nice sustain on your playing. It sounded terrific.

Yeah. I do those things more on other people’s sessions than I do my own. I tend to be real off-handed about my guitar playing on my own records. In fact, on Grateful Dead records too.

What other records are you referring to?

Well, when I just go and do sessions with somebody more or less anonymous.

You don’t do sessions that often, do you?

Not anymore.

Who are the last few people you’ve done sessions for?

I did a whole spasm of local ones, like all those Merl Saunders (Live At Keystone, Fire Up) records. Tom Fogerty’s records. And the Airplane sessions. Stuff like that. I used to do more than I do now.

Kingfish and your band are both on similar – and sometimes identical – tours at the moments and sometimes even cross paths, but you never share a bill. Are the two bands’ identities so different that it would hinder playing together?

Well, it’s just that neither one of us wants to cash in on the Grateful Dead notoriety. And also the people that are in our respective bands have identities of their own to support. So rather than get everybody under the big Grateful Dead umbrella, it’s better if everybody can have their own little shot. Because, for example, it would be possible for Kingfish to go out and work without Weir. They’re a band without him as well as a band with him. There are those kinds of considerations, because when we start working on Grateful Dead stuff, which we’ll start doing pretty soon, those bands will have their own survival problems. Not so much my band, because Ron (Tutt) works with Elvis. John (Kahn) does studio stuff and he’s always got stuff going on.

Are both you and Kingfish ending up your tours at about the same time?

Yeah. The Grateful Dead has to start rehearsing.

Are you going to do a big summer tour like everybody else?

We’re going to approach it differently. We’re going to try and do small places. We’re going to do theaters. We’re not going to do any barns.

Why, at this point have the Grateful Dead decided to get back together?

We’re horny to play. We all miss Grateful Dead music. We want to be the Grateful Dead some more.

What kind of material will you be doing?

Probably some old stuff but more new stuff, and I think probably the biggest change will be that we have Mickey back in the band.

When you look back on your records – you still probably maintain that you hate all your records…

I don’t listen to ‘em. I can’t (laughs).

Are there any that you hate less than the others?

Well, I always like the one we’re working on, or the one that we’ve just finished. That’s the one I feel closest to. But after that, I have to disqualify myself. I can’t judge them against anything but an emotional situation that I’m in, in relation to the Grateful Dead. Either they recall to me what was going on at the time we recorded or something else. It’s more personal than anything else.

When you work on songs, can you tell which ones maybe become classics with your audience, like “Sugar Magnolia” or “Truckin’?”

Uh…not really. I can’t. ‘Cause often, the ones that get me don’t get anybody but me (laughs).

Which ones have gotten you that haven’t gotten many other people?

Well I don’t know, but there are some songs that I really loved…like I really loved “Row Jimmy Row.” That was one of my favorite songs of ones that I’ve written. I loved it. Nobody else really liked it very much – we always did it – but nobody liked it very much, at least in the same way I did.

“U.S. Blues” got real popular in the summer of ’74 and became a big number for your live shows…

Well that kind of figured to me. Some of ‘em, you can say, “Well, this’ll at least be hot, if nothing else.”

I like “Scarlet Begonias” a lot.

Yeah, that’s another song too. That’s a song I like. “Ship Of Fools” is a song I like an awful lot. But my relationship to them changes. Sometimes I really like a song after I’ve written it and I don’t like it at all a year later. And some of them, I’m sort of indifferent to, but we perform it and find they have a real long life. For me to sing a song, I really have to feel some relationship to it. I can’t just bullshit about it. Otherwise, it’s just empty and it’s no fun. There has to be something about it that I can relate to. Not even in a literal sense or a sense of content, but more a sense of sympathy with the singer of the song. It’s a hard relationship to describe, but some songs have a real long life and you can sing them honestly for a long period of time – years and years – and others last just a while and you don’t feel like you can sing them anymore.

When you write with Robert Hunter, you write the music and he writes the lyrics?

More often than not. But also it’s a little freer than that, too. I edit his work an awful lot and, for example, a tune like “U.S. Blues” really will start off with 300 possible verses. Then it’s a matter of carving them down to ones that are singable. Other songs are like stories. A lot of time I edit out the sense of Hunter’s songs.

So you’re the reason he seems so deranged.

Yeah (laughs). I’m an influence in that. And when I edit his stuff, he really treats it with skepticism, but we have a thing of trust between us now so that he usually laughs when I hack out the sense of the song. Dump it. We have a real easy relationship.

By the way, you have one of the strangest record company bios I’ve ever read. It was credited to Hunter.

I actually think that bio was written by Willy Legate.

Who is he?

Willy Legate is this guy who’s an old, old friend of me and Hunter’s and Phil’s and our whole scene, and he’s a lot of things. And one of those things he is, is sort of a bible scholar. And he’s a madman. We were exposed to him really a lot during a formative period of our intellectual life. And he’s still around in our scene.

He’s the guy who wrote “There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert” and he wrote the little blurb inside the Europe ’72 album about the bolos and the bozos. We also call on him to do various things. One time we asked the Deadheads to send us their thoughts, just to get some feedback from them. And they sent us lots and lots of letters and we gave ‘em all to Willy. And he ended up with, like, a two page condensation of all the letters, with every viewpoint, that was just tremendously amazing to read. It was just so packed with information.

Willy is someone who has a lot of different kinds of gifts. He also even wrote some lyrics to some of our early songs before we started recording, but we’ve subsequently stopped doing the tunes. But he’s another creative head in our scene that operated way back from the public.

What kinds of things do you care a lot about these days?

(Pauses) I think the thing I’m most into is the survival of the Grateful Dead. I think that’s my main trip now.

Was there ever a point when you didn’t care a whole lot about that?

Yeah, always.

So this is pretty new?

Yeah, pretty new.

How long has this been going on?

I would say about a year.

Why is that?

Well, I feel like I’ve had both trips, in the sense that I’ve been in the Grateful Dead for ten or twelve years and I’ve also been out of it, in the sense of going out in the world and travelling and doing things just under my own hook. And really, I’m not that taken with my own ideas. I don’t really have that much to say and I’m more interested in being involved in something that’s larger than me. And I really can’t talk to anybody else either (laughs). So sometime in the last year, I decided, yeah, that’s it, that’s definitely the farthest out thing I’ve ever been involved in, and it’s the thing that makes me feel best. And it seems to have the most ability to sort of neutrally put something good into the mainstream. It’s also fascinating in the sense of the progression. The year to year changes are fascinating.

I would say that’s the thing I’m most concerned about now. Everything else has gotten to be so weird. And I’ve never been attracted to the flow politically.


No. It just isn’t interesting to me.

Do you vote?

No. Vote for what? Even looking for decently believable input from that world is a scene. So I haven’t developed that much interest in the motions of the rest of the world. I’m mainly interested in improving the relationship between the band and the audience, and I’m into being onstage and playing.

How about causes, like the legalization of marijuana, that kind of stuff?

It’s all passing stuff. I don’t know. I don’t have anything to say about moral things. Or legal things. I think there’s a lot of confusion on those levels. Basically my framework politically or anything like that is, I’m into a completely free, wide open, total anarchy space. That’s what I want (laughs). Obviously I’m not going to be able to sell that to anybody (more laughter). Nobody’s going to dig that.

You can’t even give that away…

Exactly. So I don’t even bother. If I have a flag to wave, it’s a non-flag. But as a life problem, the Grateful Dead is an anarchy. That’s what it is, it doesn’t have any…stuff. It doesn’t have any goals. It doesn’t have any plans. It doesn’t have any leaders. Or real organization. And it works. It even works in the straight world. It doesn’t work too good. It doesn’t work like General Motors does, but it works OK. And it’s more fun.

I’m curious to see what effect your new-found attention for the Grateful Dead is going to have on your music.

It’ll be interesting. See, I’ve always been real ambivalent about it. It’s like one of those things that, I’ve always wanted to work out, but I never wanted to try and make it do that. And, in fact, everyone in the Grateful Dead has always had that basic attitude. So we’ll see what happens.
(by Steve Weitzman - originally published in The Music Gig magazine, August 1976, as "Jerry Garcia" - republished in Relix, August 1988, as "The Grateful Dead: A Look Back")

Aug 4, 2021

September 1974: Jerry Garcia Interview #2

Jerry Garcia, specifically, and the Grateful Dead, generally, are rock and roll misfits. The stuff of which anti heroes are made. Being on a stage, says Garcia, is an embarrassment, and it's "unfortunate" that the band is gaining in fame. 
Raised on beatnik literature (Kerouac, Ginsberg and all), Garcia, slumped on the floor of promoter Tom Salter's home, looks anything but a rock and roll star, which is fine by him, because he never, never wanted to be one, anyhow. 
"The most rewarding experience for me these days is to play in bars and not be Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. I enjoy playing to fifty people. The bigger the Dead get the harder it is to be light and spontaneous, and that's my biggest single dissatisfaction."  
"Y'see, my personal code of...uh, ethics, is all based in 'fifties artists' evaluations, which were pretty much characterised by a disdain for success, and I've always carried that." 
And while it's not economically feasible for a band to exist without income or prospects in London, for example, the prototype Grateful Dead didn't just survive, but in fact thrived on other folks' excess in sunny California, tenderloin of the Capitalist world. 
"We never even had to hustle to get by, and certainly never worked hard; hardly ever worked at all, in fact. And being on the street, in the real sense of the term, gives you a unique viewpont." 
And unlike virtually any other band begun with high-minded ideals, the Dead have mostly managed to retain that viewpoint throughout their chequered career. Despite the success that Garcia so abhors, the group still don't make any money as such. 
"We turn it over," says Garcia. "Our expenses are immensely high, because we're into doing it as good as we can, and as the resources and the desire of people to see the group grows, our plan has been to improve aesthetically the quality of the trip itself. Which is the reason for the PA." 
PA seems somehow too humble a description for the Dead's massive wall of sound, comprising 641 speakers and 48 amplifiers, dispensing 26,400 watts of rock and roll, controlled by 24 roadies, no less, the equipment weighing in at a conservative 40 tons. 
The same desire, to improve the quality of the product, led the Dead to set up their own record label, Grateful Dead Records. To be more precise, it was that, plus "the fact that we'd had a long, unexciting, uninteresting relationship with a record company, and hadn't got off on it at all. 
"We never related to the record company way of thinking and they never related to us. Consequently we figured that even fumbling around we could sell records better than they could." 
Has that proved to be the case? 
"Well, sales haven't dropped. And anyway, with the way the thing is structured, it's no longer necessary to sell huge quantities of albums, because there's no parent company taking huge chunks. 
"And since we're not interested in breaking big, we can still be comfortable if we only sell a few of each album." 
Garcia shrugs aside the opinion that, with their own distribution outlets, Grateful Dead Records and sister company Round Records are as independent as it's possible for a non-obscurantist rock label to get. 
"For us to be really independent would mean that we'd have to manufacture the records, and above and beyond that we were actually creating the vinyl. And, I mean, who wants that? That's outrageous... 
"Records are such an ecological disaster, anyhow. It's time somebody considered other ways of storing music that don't involve the use of polyvinyl chloride. 
"Socially speaking, the actual process of record pressing is as close to slave labour as you're ever likely to get. Totally mindless. People stand at these presses, with hot steaming vinyl squeezing out of tubes - it's really uncomfortable. Pressing is depressing! 
"I visited a plant recently, and I thought 'Do I really want to be putting these people through this?' And I really don't. There must be another way. It's hard to believe that we haven't progressed beyond the old Edison cylinder. Needle in a groove. It's pretty crude, really." 
This marked lack of progress, Garcia decrees, is rooted merely in the "overwhelming greed" of the music industry, which would sooner make a fast buck than strive for improving the product, any day of the week. 
"I've seen the way greed gets to people. Reality goes out of your life as you start to live in this comfortable dream, increasingly out of touch. Limousines and all, that kind of excess actually kills. What I have to do, what the Grateful Dead has to do, and what anybody who really cares about music right now has to do, is to try and invent alternative structures and forms which will allow music to fit in with life in a manner that doesn't devour the artist. 
"Any moves that the Grateful Dead makes in this direction are of course really minimal - they're minute, and conservative too, but all the same they stem from a certain kind of purity." 
What's "cool" about the Dead, to borrow Garcia's terminology, is that no project ever becomes real unless the entire band agrees. And as there's often disagreement within the band, not too many projects are realised. ("But things that we agree to,!...there's no stopping them. The dynamism is what makes it interesting.") 
Garcia's value-judgements seem almost strangely old fashioned at times. Where, for example, Keith Richard and Mick Jagger would scoff at the concept of responsibility to the audience (and have done so from the dock, on occasion), Garcia is acutely conscious of that responsibility. "My only ambitions are to play music and to be civil," he says with obvious sincerity. 
With the particular variety of socio-philosophising peculiar to Marin County veterans, Garcia is prepared to extend that line of conversation indefinitely. 
He meets "So you don't want to be Governor Of California?" with a good natured "F--- it!" and continues "I can scarcely govern myself." 
That statement sparks off a breathtaking stream of consciousness flow that works through such chestnuts as "everybody should police themselves," "people don't know about life or death" - that kind of thing.
All the same Garcia is sufficiently politically aware to want to disassociate himself with any of the usual causes-and-issues naivety. 
Any kind of fanaticism, Garcia reckons, however apparently well-meaning, is ultimately corrupt. "I think we've seen more than enough of the I've-got-followers-therefore-I'm-powerful mentality this century." 
This attitude towards over-enthusiastic disciples can extend as far as rock 'n' roll fans, and the Grateful Dead are very wary of being misrepresented, and certainly don't set out to mislead. 
Specific example? 
Well, take "Casey Jones," the "Workingman's Dead" favourite. Part of the chorus runs, you'll recall, "driving that train, high on cocaine." 
"Suddenly everybody was snorting cocaine, as though that was the underlying message of the song, which it wasn't at all. I mean those lyrics are dire. At best, they're pessimistic." 
Consequently, the Dead are now attempting to parallel Bob Dylan's move from unequivocal protest to street poet surrealism. 
"If we're going to have misinterpretations, let's have more than one, let's have lots of them!" 
Obviously, though, the Dead's reputation, however justifiably, is bound up with legendary tales of massive chemical intake. The band that orchestrated Ken Kesey's celebrated Acid Tests. 
Garcia says that stories are "exaggerated." 
"We wouldn't have survived," he says. "In everything you have to attain a balance. See, the Grateful Dead doesn't hold one particular philosophy about anything. Some people in the band don't take any drugs at all. 
"Others take all drugs. We don't share the same perspective on that one. I think drugs are now just a part of life. 
"It's not something that only musicians specifically get into... Obviously our reputation stems from the events with Kesey and Owsley, but LSD wasn't the reason for the Acid Tests, although it was one of the catalysts certainly - and it wasn't necessarily the thing that was good about the Tests. 
"It was a combination of degrees. It always is, I think. Whether you love something or not, whether you enjoy something or not... 
"Drugs aren't necessarily good or bad. They may or may not help you see what you want to see." 
It seems, I observe, that with drug usage apparently on the decline among rock musicians, more and more bands now turn to religion rather than opium as a crutch. Santana, McLoughlin, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Chick Corea et cetera. (Oh, and incidentally, those stories about the Dead having signed themselves over to the Divine Light Mission are 100 per cent fictional. "I've never heard anybody in the band say anything about Guru Mahara Ji that wasn't derogatory," Bob Weir said earlier.) 
"The band has investigated specific religions on occasion," says Garcia, without naming sects, although it's common knowledge that organist Tom Constanten left the band to devote more time to Scientology, "but I think we mostly feel that a large part of the reasons for the general obsolescence of so many things on this planet is down to the tendency of the vast majority of religious groups to exclude each other. 
"Now it seems there is a new, more open-ended spiritualism springing out of the old traditions, mostly sparked off by heads and people that have gone in there and studied the things. 
"That's encouraging, but I don't know... I guess music is my religion, in as much as it's my discipline. It's my yoga, it's the thing that I work at, and it's the thing that I measure my achievements against." 

But has music, however good, actually got the power to affect social change? 
"I don't think so. And yet in some ways I think it can do more than that. Music can give people a clean experience, that's free from all connotations. 
"Music isn't propagandist, it isn't political. It's free of the confusion of language, for example - it just cuts through all of that. 
"You can trust music, because it can't hurt you and it won't mislead you. If it's bad, you can just leave it alone. Walk out. 
"If the medium is the message, then I think that music is one of the mediums that has been the most consistent. Music is functional, and it deserves a functional role in society. 
"At its most trivial it helps you through the day, and that's important in itself, and at the heaviest and deepest level it can move you beautifully, awaken you to a recognition of the human spirit. 
"Music assumes that role so readily, it should be given more chances to do so. It's distasteful, the way that music is bought and sold." 
It goes without saying that the musician himself is the lowest rung of the showbiz hierarchical ladder, a situation that naturally distresses any thinking player. 
"Personal fame and fortune is the bait that's always used, and that approach is just redundant, because all you ever get is music that's 'professional' which you can't get off on. 
"And that's where the religious groups actually have an edge, because they're struggling to do something other than make a quick fortune. After a while it gets so you can recognise those aspirations." 
Are you saying that you can determine which music is divinely inspired and which financially oriented just by listening? 
", I guess maybe I couldn't, but when you're signed to a contract with say, Columbia Records that requires that you put out four albums a year or whatever, it means that you definitely have to do that. 
"And that in turn means that at some point in your life you're sitting down making music because you're professionally obliged to do so. Okay, so that's one way to do it, but I don't think it's how we reach our higher moments." 
Up until the formation of Grateful Dead Records, Garcia has always suffered that professional pressure, and, essentially, always will suffer it for as long as the group exists. 
Any professional rock musician lives in a controlled environment, and the bigger the group becomes the less chance the individual musician has to step outside that environment. 
If Jerry Garcia didn't feel like playing Alexandra Palace on Wednesday, September 12 [sic], it was still a virtual certainty that he'd do so, because it's another professional commitment, and just as demanding as the "three-albums-a-year" syndrome. 

So where does that leave this unique guitar stylist and reluctant guru to the post Haight/Ashbury generation? Wilt there come a point where the hatred of "stardom" results in the total abandonment of major gigs in favor of boogying in bars? 
"I'm forever at that point, merely because the alternative is so much easier. The Grateful Dead will always exist, regardless of the musicians involved in it, and it will just have to accept whatever changes come up." 
But could it still be the Grateful Dead without the Lesh-Weir-Garcia nucleus to hold the group together? 
"Hell, I don't think it's the Grateful Dead without Pigpen. It's different now. I don't have any special attachment to the Grateful Dead as a band, because it's something that we all invented. It's no big deal. It's just us. It's a useful vehicle and I've learnt a lot from it." 
Isn't there any sentimental reason for wanting to keep the band together? After all, you nurtured it from complete obscurity into financial stability. Surely that must count for something. 
"Yeah, it's been sorta like having a kid. Y'know you bring up a child, pour plenty of love and affection onto it, look after it, and ultimately the kid says 'well, thanks for everything. I'm leaving now. This is it.' 
"I'm always looking for new forms, and if the Grateful Dead at some point would prefer to cling on to old forms, I'll go someplace else." 
The question that has to be raised here, of course, is what exactly is the nature of the new forms we're discussing? The Dead's recent studio albums have revealed a singular lack of "new forms." In fact with the exception of "That's It For The Other One," a reworked theme from "Anthem Of The Sun" which cropped up on the live "Grateful Dead" double, and Weir's "Weather Report Suite" on "Wake Of The Flood," which was indirectly influenced by the Miles Davis/Gil Evans "Sketches Of Spain" collaboration of the late fifties, nothing even approximating a "new form" has passed this way. 
Garcia raises his hands and shrugs in mock desperation. 
"See, we're victims of the medium," he pleads, "a single album is really short, and our records, even our live records, have that song orientation that the stage act doesn't really have. And that's mostly because we'd feel strange about putting out albums that had just one track per side. 
"We're not the band that makes our albums - that's just a guise we adopt to get by in the studio. As soon as they invent a means of putting out five hours of music at a time at some realistic kind of price, we'll release all of our shows. 
"But for that reason I've always felt that the Grateful Dead is a pretty bad recording band. We don't put that much energy into developing as a recording unit. 
"It's difficult, you see, because as a live band our dynamic range goes far beyond what can be accurately got down on vinyl. We can play down to the level of a whisper, and we can play as loud as twenty jet planes. So, the expressiveness of our music is limited by recording. 
"Recording is always a compromise, and I don't enjoy it very much, and I think that the lack of enthusiasm is evident in the albums. 
"Right now I'm trying to develop as a studio musician because I feel it's something that I ought to be able to handle. But, quite honestly, I've never recorded a solo that's worth a shit. Not on a Grateful Dead record, anyhow."

(by Steve Lake, from Melody Maker, 14 September 1974)