Interview with Jerry Garcia
Jerry: I'll take off my glasses. They don't convey much humanity.
David: Jerry, how did you start playing music?
Jerry: My father was a professional musician, my mother was an amateur. I grew up in a musical household and took piano lessons as far back as I can remember. There was never a time in my life that music wasn't a part of.
The first time I decided that music was something I wanted to do, apart from just being surrounded by it, was when I was about fifteen. I developed this deep craving to play the electric guitar. I fell in love with rock `n roll, I wanted to make that sound so badly. So I got a pawn shop electric guitar and a little amplifier and I started without the benefit of anybody else around me who played the guitar or any books.
My step-father put it in an open tuning of some kind and I taught myself how to play by ear. I did that for about a year until I ran into a kid at school who knew three chords on the guitar and also the correct way to tune it. That's when I started to play around at it, then I picked things up. I never took lessons or anything.
David: Who particularly inspired you?
Jerry: Actually no particular musician inspired me, apart from maybe Chuck Berry. But all of the music from the fifties inspired me. I didn't really start to get serious about music until I was eighteen and I heard my first bluegrass music. I heard Earl Scruggs play five-string banjo and I thought, that's something I have to be able to do. I fell in love with the sound and I started earnestly trying to do exactly what I was hearing. That became the basis for everything else - that was my model.
Rebecca: Jumping ahead a few years. During the sixties you played a lot of acid-tests when you could fit all your equipment into a single truck. How do you compare those early days to now? Do you enjoy it as much?
Jerry: Well, in some ways it's better and in some ways it's not. The thing that was fun about those days was that nothing was expected of us. We didn't have to play. (laughter) We weren't required to perform. People came to acid-tests for the acid-test, not for us.
So there were times when we would play two or three tunes or even a couple of notes and just stop. We'd say, to hell with it, we don't feel like playing! It was great to have that kind of freedom because before that we were playing five sets a night, fifty minutes on, ten minutes off every hour. We were doing that six nights a week and then usually we'd have another afternoon gig and another night-time gig on Sunday. So we were playing a lot!
So all of a sudden you're at the acid-test and hey, you didn't even have to play. Also we weren't required to play anything even acceptable. We could play whatever we wanted. So it was a chance to be completely free-form on every level. As far as a way to break out from an intensely formal kind of experience it was just what we needed, because we were looking to break out.
Rebecca: And you're still able to maintain that free-form style to a certain extent even though you're now more restricted by scheduling and order?
Jerry: Well, also we're required to be competent, but the sense of accomplishment has improved a lot. Now when we play, the worst playing we do isn't too bad. So the lowest level has come way up, and statistically the odds have improved in our favor.
Rebecca: What do you think it is about the Grateful Dead that has allowed you such lasting popularity which has spanned generations?
Jerry: I wish I knew. (laughter)
Rebecca: Do you think you can define it?
Jerry: I don't know whether I want to particularly. Part of it's magic is that we've always avoided defining any part of it, and the effect seems to be that in not defining it, it becomes everything. I prefer that over anything that I might think of.
David: When you say everything, do you mean something different for everyone?
Jerry: Well, that's one way of saying it, yeah. But the other way of looking at it, from a purely musical point of view, is that it becomes a full-range experience. There's nothing that we won't try. It means everything is available to us. It also works from an audience point of view too. We're whatever the audience wants us to be, we're whatever they think we are.
Rebecca: Do you think there is a timeless quality about your music that appeals to people?
Jerry: I'd like to believe there's something like that, but I have no idea, really. There is a human drive to celebrate and we provide ritual celebration in a society that doesn't have much of it. It really should be part of religion. It happens to work for us because people have learned to trust the environment that it occurs in.
Rebecca: Do you feel at all disillusioned at the rate of social evolution? In the sixties, many people thought that massive social change was just around the corner?
Jerry: I never was that optimistic. I never thought that things were going to get magically better. I thought that we were experiencing a lucky vacation from the rest of consensual reality to try stuff out. We were privileged in a sense. I didn't have anything invested in the idea that the world was going to change. Our world certainly changed. (laughter) Our part of it did what it was supposed to do, and it's continuing to do it, continuing to evolve. It's a process. I believe that if you open the door to the process, it tells you how to do it and it works. It's a life strategy that I think anyone can employ.
David: How do you feel about the fact that many people have interpreted your music as the inspiration for a whole lifestyle - the Deadhead culture?
Jerry: Well, a little silly! (laughter) You always feel about your own work that it's never quite what it should be. There's always a dissonance between what you wish was happening and what is actually happening. That's the nature of creativity, that there's a certain level of disappointment in there.
So, on one level it's amusing that people make so much stuff out of this and on another level, I believe it's their right to do that, because in a way the music belongs to them. When we're done with it, we don't care what happens to it. If people choose to mythologize it, it certainly doesn't hurt us.
Rebecca: How do you feel about the fact that you enjoy such a divine-like status in the eyes of so many of your fans?
Jerry: These things are all illusions. Fame is an illusion. I know what I do and I know about how well I do it, and I know what I wish I could do. Those things don't enter my life, I don't buy into any of that stuff. I can't imagine who would. Look at David Koresh. If you start believing any of that kind of stuff about yourself, where does it leave you?
David: What about the subjective experience a lot of people talk about that there's a group-mind experience that occurs at your shows?
Jerry: That's been frequently reported to me. In fact, even more specifically of direct telepathic connection of some kind.
Rebecca: Do you experience that yourself?
Jerry: I can't say that I do, because I'm in a position of causality. So, I don't look at the audience and think, I'm making them do what I want them to do.
Rebecca: I'm thinking of it more as a spontaneous non-causal experience which is being mediated by something greater than either yourself or the audience.
Jerry: You might think of it as a kind of channeling. At the highest level, I'm letting something happen - I'm not causing it to happen. We all understand that mechanism in theGrateful Dead and we also know that fundamentally we're not responsible.
We're opening a door, but we're not responsible for what comes through it. So in that sense, I can't take credit for it. We're like a utility, like a conduit for life-energy, psychic energy - whatever it is. It's not up to us to define it or to describe it or to enclose it in any way.
Rebecca: It's rumored that the Grateful Dead can control the weather, can you shed any light on this? (laughter)
Jerry: (laughter) No. We do not control the weather.
Rebecca: You've heard those rumors though ?
Jerry: I've heard them, of course. Sometimes it seems as though we're controlling the weather.
Rebecca: But that is synchronicity?
Jerry: It's synchronicity, exactly.
Rebecca: So what is the relationship dynamic like between you and the audience when you're on stage?
Jerry: When things are working right, you gain levels - it's like bardos. The first level is simply your fundamental relationship to your instrument. When that starts to get comfortable the next level is your relationship to the other musicians. When you're hearing what you want to and things seem to be working the way you want it to, then it includes the audience. When it gets to that level, it's seamless. It's no longer an effort, it flows and it's wide open.
Sometimes however, when I feel that that's happening, that music is really boring. It's too perfect. What I like most is to be playing with total access, where anything that I try to play or want to happen, I can execute flawlessly - for me that's the high-water mark. But perfection is always boring.
Rebecca: I've heard that musicians using computer synthesizers are complaining that the sound produced is so perfect that it's uninteresting, and that manufacturers are now looking to program in human error.
Jerry: Right. I think the audience enjoys it more when it's a little more of a struggle.
David: What is it that you feel is missing in that case?
David: Tension between what and what?
Jerry: The tension between trying to create something and creating something, between succeeding and failing. Tension is a part of what makes music work - tension and release, or if you prefer, dissonance and resonance, or suspension and completion.
David: Joseph Campbell, the renowned mythologist, attended a number of your shows. What was his take?
Jerry: He loved it. For him it was the bliss he'd been looking for. "This is the antidote to the atom bomb," he said at one time.
David: He also described it as a modern-day shamanic ritual, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are about the association between music, consciousness and shamanism.
Jerry: If you can call drumming music, music has always been a part of it. It's one of the things that music can do - it can transport. That's what music should do at it's best - it should be a transforming experience. The finest, the highest, the best music has that quality of transporting you to other levels of consciousness.
David: Do you feel sometimes at your shows that you're guiding people or taking people on a journey through those levels?
Jerry: In a way, but I don't feel like I'm guiding anybody. I feel like I'm sort of stumbling along and a lot of people are watching me or stumbling with me or allowing me to stumble for them. I don't feel like, here we are, I'm the guide and come one you guys, follow me. I do that, but I don't feel that I'm particularly better at it than anybody else.
For example, here's something that used to happen all the time. The band would check into a hotel. We'd get our room-key and then we'd go to the elevator. Well, a lot of times we didn't have a clue where the elevator was. So, what used to happen was that everybody would follow me, thinking that I would know. I'd be walking around thinking why the fuck is everybody following me? (laughter) So, if nobody else does it, I'll start something - it's a knack.
David: A lot of people are looking for someone to follow.
Jerry: Yeah. I don't mind being that person, but it doesn't mean that I'm good at it or that I know where I'm going or anything else. It doesn't require competence, it only requires the gesture.
David: Is there any planning involved about choosing songs in a certain sequence to take people on a journey?
Jerry: Sometimes we plan, but more often than not we find that when we do, we change our plans. Sometimes we talk down a skeleton of the second set, to give ourselves some form - but it depends. The important thing is that it not be dull and that the experience of playing doesn't get boring. Being stale is death. So we do whatever we can to keep it spontaneous and amusing for us.
Rebecca: You play more live shows than any other band I know of. How do you manage to keep that spontaneity? Is this a natural talent you've always had or is it something you've had to work to achieve?
Jerry: Part of it is that we're just constitutionally unable to repeat anything exactly. Everyone in the band is so pathologically anti-authoritarian, that the idea of doing something exactly the same way is anathema - it will never happen. (laughter) So that's our strong suit - the fact that we aren't consistent. It used to be that sometimes we reached wonderful levels or else we played really horribly, terribly badly. Now we've got to be competent at our worst. (laughter)
Rebecca: How do you compare a Grateful Dead show to a rave? There seem to be strong similarities between them.
Jerry: Well, if we would let people get up out of the audience and add their two-cents worth then it would be kind of similar. The acid-test was like a rave, the same sort of idea.
David: Do you see the acid-tests or Grateful Dead shows as being an inspiration for the raves or do you think it goes back to something more ancient, more tribal?
Jerry: Back in the fifties there was a place in North Beach called The Place. They used to have blabber-mouth night and everybody could get up that wanted to and rave for ten minutes. I don't believe it's something new, but I think the modern version of it is a spill-off from the stand-up comedy explosion. Plus there's been a resurgence of poetry-readings and performance art.
David: I'm curious about how psychedelics influenced not only your music but your whole philosophy of life.
Jerry: Psychedelics were probably the single most significant experience in my life. Otherwise I think I would be going along believing that this visible reality here is all that there is. Psychedelics didn't give me any answers. What I have are a lot of questions. One thing I'm certain of; the mind is an incredible thing and there are levels of organizations of consciousness that are way beyond what people are fooling with in day to day reality.
David: How did psychedelics influence your music before and after?
Jerry: Phew! I can't answer that. There was a me before psychedelics and a me after psychedelics, that's the best I can say. I can't say that it affected the music specifically, it affected the whole me. The problem of playing music is essentially of muscular development and that is something you have to put in the hours to achieve no matter what. There isn't something that strikes you and suddenly you can play music.
David: You're talking about learning the technique, but what about the inspiration behind the technique?
Jerry: I think that psychedelics was part of music for me in so far as I'm a person who was looking for something and psychedelics and music are both part of what I was looking for. They fit together, although one didn't cause the other.
Rebecca: If you were made Clinton's drug-policy advisor, what would you do?
Jerry: I would advise him to make everything legal immediately.
Rebecca: Now when you say that, do you mean readily available to everybody, without restrictions?
Jerry: Yes, because the first thing to do is to take the criminality out of it. Take the profit out of it and the whole criminal structure will collapse. The next part is the health aspect, making drugs that are clean and in knowable, understandable doses. Why not spend research money on making drugs that are good for you, that are healthy? Is the problem that we don't like people changing their consciousness? I don't think that's a good enough reason not to have drugs.
The point is, humans love to change their consciousness and so there will always be drugs. You can either deal with this situation by acknowledging it, or you can pretend it's not real and outlaw it. If you're going to make laws about what human beings should and shouldn't do, you need to have a template.
Rebecca: Do you think that people in government have a knee-jerk reaction to drug use because they are afraid of unleashing the autonomous sensitivities that come with individuals exploring their own minds?
Jerry: I don't think they're doing it on purpose, it's just part of the traditional way to act. It's part of that questionable quality called `responsibility', of somebody thinking that somebody should behave themselves somewhere. The ideas about what that means are very narrow and sadly in need of rethinking.
Rebecca: So then you think that heroin, cocaine and crack addicts have a right to use these drugs if this is what they feel they need to do, in the same way that society allows for people to become alcoholics?
Jerry: Why not? What's the objection?
David: Well, the objection would be that it puts a strain on society. If addicts need medical care it has to come out of tax-payers money.
Jerry: I think addicts represent very little strain on society in terms of medical care. If society is worrying about taking care of people or not, it could start anywhere. Part of the whole rehabilitation of people is taking them out of the criminal spiral of having to get money to score their dope. If addicts have the drugs they need, it may be possible for them to get steady enough to start doing regular stuff like holding down a job.
Rebecca: Just such a system has been put successfully into effect in England, after they gave up on the war-on-drugs approach. People are overcoming their addictions and are treated with dignity. They're allowed to remain with their families and are able to hold down a job.
Jerry: Right. There's nothing that says you can't be productive if you're an addict. The problem is the illegality. It puts such a stress on the whole system. The war on drugs is a failure, but people won't admit it.
Rebecca: Isn't part of the drug problem also the social environment we've created for those less fortunate, the dog-eat-dog attitude of capitalist philosophy? Psychedelics are primarily used to expand one's experience of life, but many people use crack to deaden an otherwise painful existence.
Jerry: Perhaps. But if life is miserable, what's wrong with adding a buffer to it so that your experience of it is a little gentler?
Rebecca: Do you think that the legalization of drugs could soon be a reality?
Jerry: I have hope that something like that might happen someday, but I don't think it will, not realistically, not as long as there are the people in power who believe that they know how other people should behave.
Rebecca: What would you say to someone who described The Grateful Dead as simply a grand nostalgia trip?
Jerry: Well, that's certainly an opinion. I don't think anybody who comes to our shows would see that. First of all, there are kids at our shows. It's not nostalgia for them - it's happening now.
Rebecca: But they might be nostalgic for what they missed out on in the sixties.
Jerry: They might be, but I don't think that's the case. The Grateful Dead has evolved - it does things. It isn't a steady-state, it's not a remnant. Really the whole thing has been slowly growing all this time. It didn't level off at some point and then people started re-energizing it, it's been gradually picking up energy.
David: When you project into the future how do you see your music evolving?
Jerry: I have no idea. I was never able to predict it in the past, I certainly don't feel confident to predict it now.
David: Did you ever imagine it would get this far?
Jerry: Oh God no! It exceeded my best expectations fifteen, twenty years ago. We're way past the best I could come up with.(laughter)
David: How did you come up with the name the Grateful Dead?
Jerry: We called ourselves the Warlocks and we found out that some other band already had that name so we were trying to come up with a new one. I picked up a dictionary and literally the first thing I saw when I looked down at the page was The Grateful Dead. It was a little creepy, but I thought it was a striking combination of words.
Nobody in the band liked it, I didn't like it either, but it got around that that was one of the candidates for our new name and everybody else said, yeah that's great. It turned out to be tremendously lucky. It's just repellent enough to filter curious onlookers and just quirky enough that parents don't like it. (laughter)
David: What's your concept of God if you have one?
Jerry: I was raised a Catholic so it's very hard for me to get out of that way of thinking. Fundamentally I'm a Christian in that I believe that to love your enemy is a good idea somehow. Also, I feel that I'm enclosed within a Christian framework so huge that I don't believe it's possible to escape it, it's so much a part of the western point of view. So I admit it, and I also believe that real christianity is okay. I just don't like the exclusivity clause.
But as far as God goes, I think that there is a higher order of intelligence something along the lines of whatever it is that makes the DNA work. Whatever it is that keeps our bodies functioning and our cells changing, the organizing principle - whatever it is that created all these wonderful life-forms that we're surrounded by in its incredible detail.
There's definitely a huge vast wisdom of some kind at work here. Whether it's personal - whether there's a point of view in there, or whether we're the point of view, I think is up for discussion. I don't believe in a supernatural being.
Rebecca: What about your personal experience of what you may have described as God?
Jerry: I've been spoken to by a higher order of intelligence - I thought it was God. It was a very personal God in that it had exactly the same sense of humor that I have.(laughter) I interpret that as being the next level of consciousness, but maybe there's a hierarchical set of consciousnesses. My experience is that there is one smarter than me, that can talk to me, and there's also the biological one that I spoke about.
David: Do you feel that there's a divine plan at work in nature?
Jerry: I don't know about a plan. I don't know whether it cares to express itself that way or even if matters such as developmental constructs along time have any relevance to this particular God point of view. It may be a steady-state God that exists out beyond space-time beyond our experience, or around it, or contemporary with it, or it may function in the moment - I have no idea.
Rebecca: I understand that you became very ill a few years ago and came very close to death. I'm interested in how that experience affected your attitude to life.
Jerry: It's still working on me. I made a decision somewhere along the line to survive, but I didn't have a near-death experience in the classical sense. I came out of it feeling fragile, but I'm not afraid of death.
Rebecca: Were you afraid of death before?
Jerry: I can't say that I was actually. But it did make me want to focus more attention on the quality of life. So I feel like now I have to get serious about being healthful. If I'm going to be alive I want to feel well. I never had to think about it too much before, but finally mortality started to catch up with me.
David: You say that you didn't have a near-death experience, but did anything happen that gave you any unusual insights?
Jerry: Well, I had some very weird experiences. My main experience was one of furious activity and tremendous struggle in a sort of futuristic, space-ship vehicle with insectoid presences. After I came out of my coma, I had this image of myself as these little hunks of protoplasm that were stuck together kind of like stamps with perforations between them that you could snap off. (laughter)
They were run through with neoprene tubing, and there were these insects that looked like cockroaches which were like message-units that were kind of like my bloodstream. That was my image of my physical self and this particular feeling lasted a long time. It was really strange.
David: That sounds really similar to a DMT experience.
Jerry: It was DMT-like as far as the intensity was concerned, but it lasted a couple of days!
David: Did it affect what you think might happens after death?
Jerry: No. It just gave me a greater admiration for the incredible baroque possibilities of mentation. The mind is so incredibly weird. The whole process of going into coma was very interesting too. It was a slow onset - it took about a week - and during this time I started feeling like the vegetable kingdom was speaking to me.
It was communicating in comic dialect in iambic pentameter. So there were these Italian accents and German accents and it got to be this vast gabbling. Potatoes and radishes and trees were all speaking to me. (laughter) It was really strange. It finally just reached hysteria and that's when I passed out and woke up in the hospital.
David: Do you feel that psychedelics might be a way for the vegetable kingdom to communicate with humans?
Jerry: I like that thought, but I don't know if it's true. The thing is that there's no way to prove this stuff. I would love it if somebody would put the energy into studying the mind and psychedelics to the extent where we could start to talk about these things and somebody could even throw forth a few suggestions as to what might be happening. There's no body of information - we need more research. These are questions that we should be asking, this is the important stuff.
Rebecca: And when you came out of your coma, did you come out of it in stages?
Jerry: I was pretty scrambled. It was as though in my whole library of information, all the books had fallen off the shelves and all the pages had fallen out of the books. I would speak to people and know what I meant to say, but different words would come out. So I had to learn everything over again. I had to learn how to walk, play the guitar, everything.
Rebecca: Did you always have faith that you would access it again? It didn't scare you, the idea that you might have lost it forever?
Jerry: I didn't care. When your memory's gone, you don't care because you don't remember when you had one. (laughter)
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?
Jerry: It probably dies with the body. Why would it exist apart from the body?
David: People have had experiences of feeling like they're out of their body.
Jerry: That's true. But unfortunately the only ones who have gone past that are still dead.(laughter) I don't know what consciousness is apart from a physical being. I once slipped out of my body accidentally. I was at home watching television and I slid out through the soles of my feet. All of a sudden I was hovering up by the ceiling looking down at myself. So I know that I can disembody myself somehow from my physical self, but more than that I have no way of knowing.
Rebecca: So I take it you don't believe in reincarnation, in the recycling of consciousness?
Jerry: It may happen in a very large way. It may be that part of all the DNA-coding, the specific memory, returns. There's definitely information in my mind that did not come from this lifetime. Not only is there some, but there's tons of it! Enormous, vast reservoirs.
Dreams are kind of a clue. What are these organizing principles that make it so you experience these realities that are emotionally as real as this life is? You can feel grief or be frightened in a dream just as badly as you can in this life. And the psychedelic experience is similar in that it has the power to convince you of its authenticity. It's hard to ignore that once you have experienced it.
Rebecca: What does the term consciousness mean to you?
Jerry: I go along with the notion that the universe wants consciousness in it, that it's part of the evolutionary motion of the universe and that we represent the universe's consciousness. Why it wants it, I don't know, but it seems to want it.
Here's the reason I believe this. If the point of an organism is survival, why go any further than sharks or simple-minded predators that survive perfectly beautifully? Why continue throwing out possibilities? So my sense is that conceivably, there is some purpose or design. Why monkeys with big heads? Because that's the most convenient consciousness-carrier, perhaps.
Rebecca: Do you think that humans are evolving en masse to be more conscious?
Jerry: I do think there's a drive towards more consciousness. There are huge setbacks all the way along, but all the aberrations that we see, holy wars etc.. are metaphors for more consciousness. They are expressed as conflict because we haven't come up with enough good models to express it in other ways. We are it. We're the same stuff as stars and galaxies, so we're indivisibly part of it. We're the part that speaks, that plays music, that creates abstractions.
The atomic bomb is a good metaphor for consciousness. If you are able to describe a possible way that things work in this universe with enough rigor inside some kind of belief system, you're going to be the creator of fundamental change expressed as a huge eruption of energy.
You have to have the idea first about energy and mass. Once that idea is expressed perfectly enough then it's possible to create something that will do it physically. So the atomic bomb is a physical model of the mind gaining control of the material world. The question is are we able to do it without blowing ourselves to smithereens?
David: Are you talking about being able to organize reality the way we want, say with nano-technology?
Jerry: Yes, that would be a good example. If the universe's mind - meaning us - is able to say what it wants about itself, to describe itself well enough, it can make decisions about where it's going and what it's doing - consciously. That's like bringing the big mind and the little mind together.
David: Have you had any experiences where you felt you were in contact with extraterrestrials or multi-dimensionals - beings not of this world?
Jerry: I can't say not of this world. I believe that anything that I was ever in touch with was fundamentally a part of this world. I would even go further to say that the concept of extraterrestrial is not applicable in this universe. Everything in this universe is part of this universe.
David: Have you ever felt like you've been in communication with beings of a higher intelligence than humans?
Jerry: I've had direct communication with something which is higher than me! I don't know what it is, it may be another part of my mind. There's no way for me to filter it out because it's in my head. It's the thing that's able to take bits and pieces of things and give me large messages. To me, they are messages as clear as someone speaking in my ear, they're that well-expressed and they have all the detail that goes along with it.
Sometimes it comes in the form of an actual voice and sometimes it comes in the form of a hugeness, a huge presence that uses all of the available sensory material to express an idea. And when I get the idea it's like dah! Oh, I get it! And it's accompanied by that hollow mocking laughter. You stupid fuck! You finally got it uh? Geez it's about time.(laughter) For me, enlightenment works that way, but it's definitely a higher order of self-organization that communicates stuff.
My psychedelic experiences were sequential. They started at a place and they went through a series of progressive learning steps. When they stopped happening it was like, this is the end of the message - now you're just playing around. That was when psychedelics stopped having the relevance they originally had. It lasted for about a year I'd say.
David: What do you think a Grateful Dead show in Virtual Reality would be like?
Jerry: Deadheads would want to be part of the band I would imagine. I think it would be fun if they could be, because it would make them see the experience differently. But I think they would be disappointed if they saw our version of it.
Rebecca: Why do you think that?
Jerry: I don't know why. Remember, I don't know what the Grateful Dead are like, I've never seen the Grateful Dead, so I don't know what it is that the people in the audience experience which they value so highly.
Rebecca: You facilitate the potential for an experience. People have full-on religious experiences at your shows; they pass-out, speak in tongues and are even picked up by flying saucers. Are you aware of the impact you have on people's minds?
Jerry: Not like that. I've made an effort to not be aware of it because it's perilously close to fascism. If I started to think about controlling that power or somehow trying to fiddle around with it then it would become fascism.
Rebecca: Have you ever been tempted to dabble in the power?
Jerry: Oh yeah. For the first eighteen years or so, I had a lot of doubts about the Grateful Dead. I thought that maybe this is a bad thing to be doing, because I was aware of the power. So I did a lot of things to sabotage it, I thought fuck this! I won't be a part of this. I dragged my feet as much as possible but it still kept happening! So, in that way I was able to filter myself out of it and think well, it's not me. Phew! What a relief!
Rebecca: When you said before that you weren't responsible, you were saying it in a very modest way - I'm not responsible for the wonderful experiences people are having - but at the same time you're also shedding responsibility for the negative experiences.
Jerry: Absolutely. It's a cop-out. I don't want to be responsible. But this is also something I learned from my psychedelic experiences, you don't want to be the king, you don't want to be the president because then you're responsible for everybody!
Rebecca: Have you heard of the Spinners? They wear long dresses and do this whirling dervish dance at Dead shows.
Jerry: They're kind of like our Sufis. I think it's really neat that there's a place where they can be comfortable enough to do something with such abandon. It's nice to provide that. That's one of the things I'm really proud of the Grateful Dead for, because it's kind of like free turf.
Rebecca: It doesn't bother you that they use you as their religious focus?
Jerry: Well, I'll put up with it until they come to me with the cross and nails.(laughter)
Rebecca: What are your priorities now? Are they very different to what they were twenty years ago?
Jerry: Not very. Basically, I'm trying to stay out of trouble. I'm trying to play well. For me, playing music is a learning experience and it's satisfying to me to still be learning stuff. Also, my object is to have as much fun as I possibly can. That's a key ingredient.
Rebecca: Some people believe that this is a pivotal time in history. Do you feel there is a New Age or to use Terence McKenna's term, an Archaic Revival coming about?
Jerry: Sure, I'll go along with that - I love that stuff. I'm a Terence McKenna fan. I prefer to believe that we're winding up rather than winding down. And this idea of the 2012 when everything tops out, well, I would love to be here for it. I'll buy into that belief - I don't want to miss it! It's like the millennium. At this point it's a matter of personal pride. We have to survive. The band has to be able to play to at least the turn of the millennium.
Rebecca: What do you think that the future of the human race depends upon?
Jerry: Getting off this lame fucking trip, this egocentric bullshit. There's entirely too many monkeys on this mudball and that's going to be a real problem. People have to get smart. I've always thought that the thing to do is something really chaotic and crazy like head off into space. That's something that would keep everyone real busy and would also distribute more bodies out there.
Otherwise, we end up staying here and kill each other and damage thti planet. I've gotten into scuba diving, so I've developed a great affection foi the ocean. Ijust don't want to see it get worse than it is. I'd like to think we could get smart enough sometime soon to make things better than they are instead of worse.
Rebecca: When people say they're optimistic about the future, they usually mean the future of the human race. But you can be optimistic about life and perhaps pessimistic about the future of the human race.
Jerry: I think the earth doesn't have any real problems, in the long run. I think we're just another disturbance. I don't think even we can really fuck up the earth.
Rebecca: Do you think it's arrogant to think that we have the ability to save the earth? And even if it is, do you think it's a healthy attitude to develop anyway?
Jerry: It's arrogant, but I think we should develop it anyway.
David: How did you get involved in helping to save the rainforest?
Jerry: Well, I remember we started hearing about these things twenty-five to thirty years ago. The clock kept ticking by, and nothing was really happening. So we thought maybe we should call attention to this. Then there was the matter of finding out who the true players were, because there are a lot of bullshitters in the environmental movement. There are a lot of frauds.
You have to really go into it to find out who's really doing stuff and who has the right perspective. So for us it was about a two-year process of finding the players and then getting them to agree to work together so we could do something that would matter. I think everybody wants to do stuff about these problems. We didn't want to just call attention to how powerless everybody is. Instead, we wanted to do some things that were really hands-on, using direct action, and it's worked out quite well.
Rebecca: Can you tell us about any current projects that you're involved in?
Jerry: I'm involved in an interesting project with a little symphony orchestra down the peninsula called the Redwood Symphony. I'm getting about five or six musicians to write pieces for me and this orchestra. Danny Elfman is one. David Byrne seems to want to do one, and also my friends John Kahn, Bob Bralove, and David Grisman. The interesting part about it for me is that my oldest daughter plays first violin with this orchestra. So it'll be kind of fun to be involved in a project where she and I play together.
Rebecca: That sounds wonderful. What are some of the basic messages in your music?
Jerry: We've always avoided putting any kind of message in there. But, as life goes on, I find myself more comfortable with committing to emotional truths. I'm not an actor, so I can't get on stage and sing a song that doesn't have some emotional reality for me. Sometimes it's only something about the sound of the lyrics--it may not be the sense of it at all but there has to be something in there that's real for me. Robert Hunter's really good about writing into my beliefs. He understands the way I think, and he knows me well enough to know what I'11 do and what I won't do. He knows that I'm always going to be battling with my intelligence about whether I can sing this lyric or whether I'm going to feel like an idiot singing it. It has to resonate in some way.
Rebecca: I've been impressed throughout this interview by your modesty. How have you managed to remain so unaffected by your fame?
Jerry: If you were me you'd be modest, too. (laughter) Deadheads are very kind. When they enter my private life, they almost always say, "I just want to thank you for the music, I don't want to bother you." When I feel that I really don't want to know about it, I just tell them. I treat everybody who speaks to me with respect. I've never been hurt by anybody or threatened in any way, so I have no cause to be afraid of this kind of stuff. It just isn't part of my life most of the time.
Besides, I'm kind of like a good ol' celebrity. People think they know me. It's not like "Oh gosh! Look who it is." It's more like, "Hi, how ya doin' ?" I'm a comfortable celebrity. It's very hard to take the fame seriously, and I don't think anybody wants me to. What's it good for? The best thing about it is that you get to meet famous people and you get to play with wonderful musicians.
Rebecca: If you hadn't been a musician, what might you have been?
Jerry: I'd be an artist. I was an art student, and that was where I was going in my life before music sort of seduced me.
David: What inspired you to design a line of ties?
Jerry: I don't really have any control over them; they're just extracted from my artwork. I don't design ties, for God's sake! (laughter)
Rebecca: You mentioned earlier about how something that you could call "God" had the same sense of humor as you. Some people get extremely fractured as a result of intense psychic happenings, and I was wondering how you feel about the importance of humor when faced with such mind-blowing experiences?
Jerry: I think humor is incredibly important. It's fundamental. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and your place in the universe.
Rebecca: What do you think happens when you lose your sense of humor?
Jerry: Well, at the very least you won't have much fun.
(laughter) Humor characterizes consciousness. For me, life would be so empty
without humor. It would be unbearable. It would be like life without music.
Garcia Interview 2-about acoustic guitar playing
Garcia'This interview with Jerry Garcia's
love for acoustic guitars was conducted during the
spring of 1985. From the moment he walked into his living room, it was apparent
that Garcia was in physically bad shape. His prodigious body odor preceded him
by the roomís length, and his beard and dirty black t-shirt were dusted with
white powder. Fingers on both hands were blackened from their tips to the second
knuckle. (Just four days later, Garcia was arrested in San Franciscoís Golden
Gate Park for smoking heroin in his parked car, a habit which likely accounted
for the tar-stained fingers.) A few minutes into our conversation, Jerry toked
on a joint of sensemilla and then fished a large rock of cocaine from his
pocket. He chopped it into several rough rails, bent over, and snorted the whole
thing without missing a beat of our conversation. Despite the drugs, Garcia
proved to be both intense and articulate. He locked eyes throughout the
interview, spoke quickly and seldom looked away.
Just a decade later, Jerry Garcia was dead at age 53. His passing put an end to the Grateful Dead, but heís left us a tremendous legacy of bootleg concert tapes and commercial recordings. Some of his finest moments on acoustic guitar can be found on the Deadís early-í70s releases American Beauty and Workingmanís Dead, 1980ís Reckoning, and his early 1990s acoustic collaborations with mandolinist David Grisman, especially Garcia/Grisman and Not For Kids Only.
Guitar: Does your visualization of the fretboard change when you switch from the electric guitar to acoustic?
Jerry Garcia: Very much so. With the electric guitar, I have a holistic approach. On acoustic, I have a preference for the first position and open sounds. I would use a capo on acoustic guitar, but I would never do that on an electric guitar, where I deal with the whole neck as a harmonic medium. I donít see it in patterns or groupings ó all those have become continuous for me.
Guitar: In a 1978 interview, you mentioned that you were on the verge of making a breakthrough in your understanding of the fretboard.
Garcia: Yeah, Iím through that. Iíve found that there are endless numbers of overlapping patterns ó thatís all. Depending on what half-step or whole-step you start on, there are series of fingerings that you can either play across or up the fretboard, or any combination thereof. Itís just a matter of fluidity and breaking out of position playing. Now, I play for a preference in the tone that I get ó like playing high notes on low strings. Itís what sounds nice, not where I play it. I can play the same lick in the same octave in any of, say, three or four positions on the neck, and the tone is very different depending on the thickness of the strings.
Guitar: Do you know what youíre doing in theoretical terms?
Garcia: Yeah. There was a time when I could get by without knowing, but not anymore, not with the caliber of musicians I play with. And besides, for me itís not satisfying to bluff. I like to know because it makes it a lot easier to communicate what youíre doing ójust that alone is a good reason to know.
Guitar.com: What are your musical limitations?
Garcia: Iíve got nothing but limitations, Iím limited by everything ó my technique, background, education, the things Iíve heard. Iím limited by being a human being. In a way, a musician with a distinctive style is in fact a product of his limitations. This is assuming that almost everybody plays at the outside edge of their ability ó as good as they can do.
Guitar.com: Describe your approach to soloing?
Garcia: It keeps on changing. I still basically revolve around the melody and the way itís broken up into phrases as I perceive them. With most solos, I tend to play something that phrases the way the melody does; my phrases may be more dense or have different value, but theyíll occur in the same places in the song. So most of the time thereís some abstraction of the melody in there ó at least thatís what Iím thinking.
Guitar.com: What advice you give somebody wanting to find more freedom on the instrument?
Garcia: The best possible thing is to have one other person to play with. Then you just trade off choruses ó like one guy backs up for five choruses, and then the other guy backs up. Thatís really the best way to get a handle on it. Itís not the sort of thing where advice helps; itís really just a matter of time spent.
Guitar.com: Does listening to other musicians inspire you?
Garcia: All the time, but thereís nobody playing right now who knocks me out completely. Nothing makes me want to dash to my guitar. Everything sounds pretty derivative in music right now. Itís a little hard for me to listen to young guitarists. They are much more accomplished than they used to be, but that just means that the instrumentís book has expanded enormously in the last 10, 15 years. Thereís something to be said for a guy like John Lee Hooker, who can scare the pants off of you with one or two notes played with such immense authority and soulfulness. Iíd much rather hear something like that than a lot of facility.
Guitar.com: If you could go back in time, are there any musicians youíd like to jam with?
Garcia: Oh, yeah. Iíd follow around Django Reinhardt, the Gypsy guitarist. I have every single one of his records. Most of what he plays is hard to understand, no matter how much Iíve listened to it. Either heís got fingers a half a mile long or ó I just donít know how heís doing it. And he played all this with a messed-up left hand. His technique is awesome. Even as good as players are today, nobody has come up to the state that he was playing atóthat whole fullness of expression, the combination of having incredible speed and giving every note a specific personality. The other guy Iíd like to hear live is Charlie Christian, who had an incredible mind, just a relentless flow of ideas. He was the first guy who played through he changes the way horn players would. He had that sense of where everything goes harmonically. He had an incredible intensity and a hip tone. To my ears, his playing still sounds very modern.
Guitar.com: Are you fond of any of the country bluesmen?
Garcia: Robert Johnson was a primitive genius. There are others I feel are in a similar category: Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, especially when he was young, but he was always great. I have a personal preference for Mississippi John Hurt. His early records sound so smooth, theyíre just like magic.
Guitar.com: Youíve had an intense passion for bluegrass for many years.
Garcia: Oh, yeah, I loved it. It was one of those special moments too, right when all the classic bands were all still happening. I got interested in bluegrass in 1960, and by the time I was into rock and roll in 1965, it was over. The classic bands werenít together anymore ó Don Reno and Red Smiley split up, everything was different. Old and In the Way was a great bluegrass band; it was really fun. That was my chance to tie up my bluegrass karma. That was the band I would have wanted to play in back when I was playing bluegrass.
Guitar.com: Why did you switch from bluegrass to rock and roll?
Garcia: The music wasnít flexible enough. Bluegrass was just too stiff for me, although I loved the music ó I just went crazy on the banjo. But you couldnít stay high and play bluegrass. Rock and roll opened out for me ó same for everybody, I think.
Guitar.com: How would you describe your banjo style?
Garcia: I really couldnít describe it any more than I could describe my guitar playing. I still play once in a very great while. Iíve got several great old-time banjos. But Iím a burned-out banjo player ó I really went to the end of the rope, you know? Itís the bands that count. If I could play in a really great bluegrass band once or twice a week, I would definitely get my chops back together on banjo.
Guitar.com: Did much of your banjo technique transfer to guitar?
Garcia: It doesnít transfer. To me, itís apples and oranges. They both have strings, a bridge, and frets ó and thatís it. Other than that, they really are very different. I thought there might be come crossover when I took up pedal steel, but theyíre not the same either. The technique is very, very different. And the concept is also very different. So when youíre dealing with those instruments, it doesnít help to try to take on to the other.
Guitar.com: What about transferring techniques from electric guitar to acoustic?
Garcia: Itís a whole different ball of wax. The position and thickness of the guitar means that my arm, wrist, and hand have a whole different attitude. Electric guitar is real thin; my elbowís close to my body and my wrist is close to the guitar. With an acoustic guitar, itís all farther out.
Guitar.com: Do you hold the pick the same way for both instruments?
Garcia: Pretty much, yeah, but I move it around all the time while Iím playing. I donít have a way to hold the pick ó you know, an iron grasp. I constantly adjust it. I always strike the string with the pointy end. A lot of guys use the rounded shoulder of the pick because it makes it seem like you can play faster. But what you pick up in speed, you sacrifice in point. I like to have a lot of control over the attack of the note. By relaxing or tightening up your grip on the pick, you can get a lot of change in touch, coloration, and harmonic content. With acoustic guitar, thatís one of the ways you can really color your playing. I use a real thick pick, one with absolute zero flexibility. Itís like a stick.
Guitar.com: How do you add vibrato?
Garcia: I do a slightly different kind of vibrato because of the heavier strings. I tend to draw my vibrato from my whole hand and wrist, like a violin player. I donít do independent vibratos with my fingers very often.
Guitar.com: Do you bend strings on acoustic?
Garcia: Yeah, but I donít make an effort to. On an acoustic guitar, Iím more likely to bend a half-step. I have fairly strong hands, though. I always use relatively heavy strings and a high action.
Guitar.com: Do you play in open tunings?
Garcia: There are a few specialty things I do, but I never perform in an open tuning. Iíd do more if I had another guitar that I could tune up in an open tuning and leave it there ó I hate to retune the guitar onstage. Guitars settle into a tuning, and when you retune them, you lose that sense of settling in.
Guitar.com: How large is the repertoire of songs you only play on acoustic guitar?
Garcia: I donít know. I havenít played through it yet. I know an awful lot of songs because I was into the traditional music scene. But for me, repertoire isnít a static thing. There are a whole lot of songs that I plan on learning. When I go out on the road with [acoustic bassist] John Kahn, I always think of a few songs that would be fun to do. If I donít remember them, I go find a book that has them.
Guitar.com: Why has the Grateful dead limited its acoustic sets?
Garcia: I donít know. I think [Bob] Weir doesnít feel comfortable playing acoustic music. I personally would like to do it more often. Bob doesnít seem to like to do it very much, so we donít press it. If anybody feels even a little negative about something, we donít do it.
Guitar.com: How did the Grateful Deadís 1980 acoustic sets come about?
Garcia: I just thought it would be a good idea. We tried it, and it was fun. The technology came into place too. That was one of the reasons we didnít do it for so long ówe used to try it with microphones, and it really didnít work. Itís much easier now that they have made vast improvements in amplified acoustic instruments. The audience liked it a lot. The combination of drums, electric bass, and acoustic guitars is a really nice sound. In the Ď60s, there was a great-sounding band called Pentangle with those two good English fingerpickers, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. They had a tasty jazz drummer who played brushes, an excellent acoustic bass player, and a lady who sang in a sort of madrigal, English voice. It was a lovely band that sounded great onstage. We played a lot of shows with them, and I thought that combination of two acoustic guitars and a standard rhythm section had a lot of possibilities.
Guitar.com: How much preparation do you do for acoustic shows?
Garcia: Before I go on tour, I like to spend two or three days with John, just warming up my chops on the acoustic guitar. Weíve done it enough now where it only takes a few days to warm up, chops-wise. And then before a show, Iíll do some short-term warming up.
Guitar.com: Whatís your setup for acoustic gigs?
Garcia: I use an off-the-shelf Takamine. I donít know what the model is, but itís a dreadnought cutaway with three slider controls ó a high and low boost, and volume. I have it set up like an acoustic guitar, with significantly heavier strings and higher action. I just run it into the board. Usually I bring it up through a monitor system we take with us, and itís plenty loud. Sometimes I use a little Fender Twin Reverb onstage as a fail-safe ójust in case something goes wrong, I can still hear the guitar.
Guitar.com: Are you satisfied with your sound?
Garcia: Yeah. I get the nice qualities of tone ó the pretty features of an acoustic guitar. I donít think I would do these shows if it werenít for the technological advances made with the amplified acoustic guitar. Iíve never had any luck at all with acoustic guitar and microphone, because of the Frankenstein nature of the microphone as an electric ear. If you hold a microphone up to the soundhole of a big guitar like a D-28, it woofs and booms and does all these things that are non-musical in nature. Also, the difference in touch is too radical ó the way you have to dig in with an acoustic guitar and a microphone, as opposed to the way you play an electric guitar. If I were to try to do both all the time, my electric guitar chops would go way downhill.
Guitar.com: How much of a Grateful Dead show is improvisation?
Garcia: About 80 percent. Almost all of it, really ó all the stuff that isnít the words and the melody. I donít think I could last very long in a band that played things the same as on the record. That would be so dull for me. In fact, I donít think that I could do it.
Guitar.com: Do you play any music thatís never heard by fans?
Garcia: Yeah. I have a weird kind of music that I play mostly for myself. When Iím sitting around with the guitar and thereís nobody else around, I get carried away into these fascinating zones. Iíve never tried to record it, so I have no idea what it sounds like. Itís so formless that I couldnít play it with somebody. Sometimes itís just chord progressions or a whole bunch of real dense chords things that have leading tones but arenít songs ó itís just music. Sometimes I start with a little idea that has a counter-melody, and I start stretching it out. I do this on either electric or acoustic guitar.
Guitar.com: Do you come up with lines when you donít have an instrument in hand?
Garcia: Oh, absolutely. Thereís where ďTerrapinĒ came from. The end part, the big theme, just dropped into my head ó boom. Not only that, but it came fully orchestrated. Iíve had melodies drop into my head a lot, but theyíre usually not that long. Usually, though, I lose it. I get a great idea, and by the time I get somewhere where I can either solidify it with an instrument or write it down, itís gone. Song ideas always come to me at really strange times, Thereís always some musical continuum going on that I can sort of turn on and off like a radio, but usually itís just mind rot. Every once in a while a good idea comes through, but I never know when itís going to be.
Guitar.com: Can you psyche yourself into creative moods?
Garcia: I almost always have to; they donít come to me. If I donít sit down and work at stuff, I donít get song ideas. Iím not that creative or prolific: I write maybe three, four songs a year, if that, and I have to work at them. Sometimes Iíll work a couple of hours, and nothing will happen. Next day, Iíll do the same thing, and the next day. Maybe four or five days into it, Iíll get a little idea that sounds kind of nice. Then every once in a while, I get a stroke ó something far out. Usually once Iíve got the first idea, then maybe three or four songs will come out in the next two days.
Guitar.com: Why have you attracted such a loyal following over the years?
Garcia: It must be really hungry out there (laughs). I blame the general low quality of life. To tell you the truth, I donít know why the first person stayed for the first song, you know what I mean? I played for a long time and nobody cared about it at all. Having people hanging out and liking it is just tremendous good luck. Iím glad people like it, but I donít know how or why or what they like, particularly. Itís hard to appreciate from this side of it.
Guitar.com: How would you like to be remembered?
Garcia: As a pretty okay musician. I donít really expect to be rememberedóthatís way ahead of me. Iím still trying just to get good. If I get good, then I might say I hope people remember how good I am. The idea of being remembered would be embarrassing to me at this point. Itís like, remembering is dangerous.