Jerry Garcia Interview

November 12, 1987

Part 3 of 4

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By Mary Eisenhart

Speaking of working with alien structures, are you indeed going back with Arista?

Well, they've done so nicely with this last record. And their whole thing is, their whole company has turned over completely since seven years ago, and there's a whole different bunch of guys there, and they seem to be much more on our side now than they used to be.

So it's one of those things. Of the alternatives we have, they seem to be—what I think we probably will do is something like this, although I don't know, we haven't really discussed it except loosely. We probably will do something like a one-record deal, with Arista.

That doesn't lock you up for the next ten years of your life.

Exactly. Perhaps we could come up with something that's more like an if-and-when kind of longer-term relationship. But we're wide open. Right now we're wide open.

Are you going to re-release all the out-of-print stuff?

We're in the process of doing it. The stuff that we have control over, yes. And Warner Bros. seems to be pretty much into re-releasing all of their catalog. So there's the Warner Bros. stuff and the stuff that we have control over, we're gradually re-releasing it. Some stuff we don't have control over.

Arista, however, has just put out a boxed set of their catalog of Grateful Dead CDs that are coming out for Christmas. It's quite a nice package, and I think eventually all our stuff is coming out on CDs. Almost all of it will certainly be out by the middle of next summer.

'Cause you've got lots of new people coming along. . .

Right, and some of those songs they don't know where they're coming from.

Will things like Reflections, for instance, become available again?

Yeah, sure, eventually we'll release all of that stuff. It actually has some nice stuff on it. It has some good songs. That was one of my favorite records.

Cats under the Stars is my favorite record of all time, apart from In the Dark. In the Dark, I think, is my all-time Grateful Dead favorite.

Cats Under the Stars is one of those records I worked really hard on. I was really proud of—considering the limited situation we were working in at the time, I was real proud of the way it came out. The production values. It's a nice-sounding record.

It's very different from your other records. A very different mood, a very different feel. What went into that?

I don't know. I can't--

Even Hunter's lyrics, it's not the side of Hunter you usually see in Grateful Dead songs.

No. Well, that's one of the reasons why it's what it is.

Some of the things there—like "Gomorrah" is one of those tunes. . .I found "Gomorrah" in a stack of stuff that I got from Hunter, it must be sometime like 1969-70. And I found this old yellowed piece of paper with that lyric of "Gomorrah" on it.

And I read it and it was so dry, and so sparse. It's just dry as a bone, it has no fancy stuff. There's not a lick in it. It's just dry and hard like a diamond, and I read it, and it cracked me up too, it's funny. It's like, (laughs) this is something special.

So I sat down and started playing with it—I mean, I don't even know whether Hunter remembered that he wrote it. It was so long by the time it became along, it never caught my eye before, it's just one of those things, it fell accidentally out of some stuff as I was moving. It just fell on the floor and I picked it up, and—Goddamn, I said, look at this, this is... .It cracked me up, just the whole character of it, the ironic, you know—

Very interesting narrative voice in that.

It is. There was something about it that—it tickled me. Just the—I can't even describe that, the tone of it is so—I don't know what.

It's not your standard Bible story.

No. It's hard to say exactly what it is. But it's just a real dry, hard, simple cautionary song.

And basically for me that album was kind of—that's its theme. Its theme is don't look back. Don't look back, don't turn around, don't check what's behind you, keep moving. . . (laughs). That's what all that's about, for me that's all that same stuff.

For me it was good because the sound of it is so nice and fat, Ronnie Tutt's drums are wonderful on it, and the rhythm and the feel of the tunes rhythmically. It was really fun to produce, it was really fun to work on.

Was it hard to get all the pieces together? "Cats Under the Stars" is a really hard song even to sing along with.

Well, that was it. It's one of those songs that's written to be a—I wanted a counterpoint rock and roll melody. And so it's really counterpoint, really two melodies working against each other.

The main little thing of it is really a counterpoint; it has that guitar line, and it has little organ answers that fit into it. That was the first development of it—it's one of those things, but it's like a piece of experimental music that worked really well for me. It works well enough that I can perform it and it works as a tune.

Sometimes you get those kinds of things and you can't perform them. But this is one that really worked well. As far as I know, there's no other song—I've never heard anything like it. The way it works and the reason it works and the structure of it and everything, is one of those things that I was just happy to make it happen, you know?

It took a long time—the record did not take an awful long—actually we spent about six or eight weeks, but during the last couple of weeks I was at the board for—I spent—this is when I was really a crazy person. I spent 50 hours mixing. I got up to go to the bathroom and eat once in a while, but I didn't sleep for days. Finally at the end of it, when I was mixing the last tunes and we were on a deadline, I couldn't mix for the hallucinations. The board was just swimming.

When I finally finished I lay down and went to sleep for three or four days, and when I got up I was amazed that it all actually worked. It's one of those ones where we really—John Kahn and I and Betty, we truly sweat blood for that record, it really cost a lot.

And the marketplace didn't go for it.

Yeah, well. Then my heart went out of recording for a long time. I just [said], I'm never going to work that hard again for anything. It's just not worth it.

Do you think it would be worth re-releasing as a CD?

If anybody wanted it.

It's got the best stereo imaging of almost anything I've ever done. I really put a lot of time into lots of funny little things. It's got lots of phase panning and a lot of things that are psychoacoustic in nature, you know, where things are outside the mix. It's one of those things that really came out the way I hoped it would, and some guys, the Meyer speaker guys, have used some of the mixes on it to illustrate the stereo imaging possibilities of their speakers.

The people who I care about appreciated it (laughs). That's really all I wanted. I wanted my friends to say, hey man, that was really neat! I still enjoy it. I can still listen to it, and I'm not at all embarrassed, which is really rare for me.

It's very hard for me to listen to most of our records. Usually I focus on what's wrong with them.

You hear the bad notes, and not the five minutes of pure gold.

No. I tend not to hear the gold.

What did you like about "Terrapin" that caused you to write something around it?

You mean the lyric?

I always like it when Hunter reaches into that—the dim forest of legend, you know? The fire and the storyteller All that stuff. Whenever he dips into that world, I'm a real sucker for that. So when that comes out at me—

Somewhere there's a long exposition of how the whole Terrapin thing came down, how we wrote it, and Hunter tells his side of it, and I tell my side of it, and it really was one of those things that was a lucky marriage of inspirations. It just happened just at a time when I was composing the Terrapin melody, and I had no lyric for it or anything.

Hunter came to me—he called me the very next day, actually, it was that close in space and time, and he says, I have this thing I've been working on. And I went over to his house, and he had like seven pages of stuff, that included the Lady with a Fan and all—none of them were perfected, but parts of them all were there. Plus a few other things.

And then basically what happened was that I just broke down. The reason I never finished it was that I just broke down, I didn't have any more ideas. I had one other song that I was not that happy with that I had set, that was part of his original set of lyrics.

But he went on to set almost all of it at one point or another, and I think probably in his live tapes he's got performances of all of his version of it, and if you wanted to find out really what he was getting at, lyrically. . .

He let me read it once.

Oh, there you go. Then you know all about it. That really is a great piece.

Do you have any un-favorites? Songs you would gladly never play again?

Oh, I don't think so. Well, the ones that we don't play, obviously.

The Cosmic Charlie Campaign will beg in vain.

I've always liked "Cosmic Charlie," but it's just really a little too difficult. If I could figure out a way to either just sing it or just play it—but playing it and singing it is a bitch. Like the reasons we don't--people ask us, why don't you do "St. Stephen" anymore?

The truth is that we did it to death when we did do it—when we did it, we did it. In fact we had two periods of time when we did it, we rearranged it later for three voices, with Donna. And we did it, and people who missed it, that's too bad, you know?

We may never do it again. It's one of those things that doesn't perform that well—we were able to make it work then because we had the power of conviction. But I don't think that our present sensibilities would let us do it, the way it was, anyway. We would have to change it some.

The same is true with—let me see, what other ones don't we do? Oh, like "Viola Lee Blues." "Viola Lee Blues" is another tune where we did it. We did it to death. And when we stopped doing it, we stopped doing it because, hey, we're done with it.

What about "Dark Star"?

"Dark Star" we could bring back, but I—"Dark Star" is so little, you know? I mean, "Dark Star" is only like three or four lines.

Really, "Dark Star" is a little of everything we do, all the time. So what happened to "Dark Star" was, it went into everything. Everything's got a little "Dark Star" in it.

I've never missed it, because what we were doing with it is everywhere. I mean, our whole second half is Dark Star, you could say. But I have nothing against "Dark Star," except that like I say, really it's a minimal tune. There's really no tune. There's just a couple of lines and that's it.

So it's hard for me to relate to what is it about "Dark Star" that people like, apart from the part that we get weird in it. Because that's what we did with it, we got weird in it, we didn't dwell on the lyrical content, certainly.

Sometimes you'd throw 49 songs in the middle of it and come back to it.

That's right. So "Dark Star" is an envelope for me, not really a song.

But we may bring it back sometime. In fact, I won't say that we won't bring back "St. Stephen," or "Cosmic Charlie" for that matter.

But it's much more interesting to me now to think in terms of well, let's write new songs. I mean, if I have a choice between resurrecting old tunes and writing new songs, it's going to be new songs. Because it's like—it's essential that we stay interested. And there's only so much you can rub up against your own past, and keep loving it. It's fragile; finally it breaks down. Ultimately you can use it up.

So, I mean, ultimately it'd be great if we could come up with a whole lot of new tunes. That would be the best thing in the world that we can do. Every time we do come up with a few new tunes it enlivens everything else. So that's what I'm looking forward to, and that's the next priority in terms of what it is that I'm doing in the Grateful Dead.

What about the fact that you're probably doing more cover tunes now than you have since your bar-band days?

We're doing more of everything now than we did.

No particular reason, it just evolved that way?

No. And it's fun. That usually is a sign of boredom on the road—hey, you guys, why don't we do (laughs)—let's do something, whatever we can remember. That's usually where that comes from, and any song is fun to do. If there's anything about it that you ever liked, you can bring something out of it in a performance. And we do songs that we liked, for one reason or another.

Nobody else in the rock world has fans like the Deadheads in terms of the depth of the culture. Very few people, relatively speaking, follow Bruce Springsteen around the country, go to lots of shows, get into Bruce as a way of life. It's an anomaly if somebody gets into Bruce as a way of life, and if a Deadhead does it, well, that's what Deadheads do. What do you think the Deadheads are finding? Why did it work with you guys and not with all these other people?

Well, a lot of it is because it is us, it's not me.

For me it's easier to believe a group than it is a person. It takes the weight off that one person, you know what I mean? That's part of it, I think. That's certainly one of the things that makes the Grateful Dead interesting, from my point of view, is that it's a group of people. And the dynamics of the group part is the part that I trust. For me that's real helpful.

How do you deal with the Jerry-Is-God people?

I ignore 'em. I know better, you know? (laughs)

I mean, no matter who you are, you know yourself for the asshole that you are, you know yourself for the person who makes mistakes, and that's capable of being really stupid. And doing stupid things, you know what I mean?

On this earth, nobody is perfect, as far as I know. And—I'm right there with everybody else, you know what I mean? (laughs)

I mean, you'd have to—I don't know who you'd have to be to believe that kind of stuff about yourself, to believe that you were somehow special. But it wouldn't work in my house, that's all I can say. My kids would never let me get away with it. So far it hasn't been a problem.

If I start believing that kind of stuff, everybody's going to just turn around and walk away from me. (laughs)—Come on, Garcia—you know. And my friends—nobody would let me get away with it, not for a minute. That's the strength of having a group.

Speaking of your kids, what's different in terms of the possibilities that are open compared to those that were open to you at the same age?

Well, it's kind of more and less. There's more for them in some ways, and less for them in some ways. I think—you know, that's a tough question. (laughs).

I'd have to ask my kids, really. I can't answer it for them. I know that they have their own agendas and their own priorities, and that the things that concern me and concern them don't overlap that much.

But I think the thing that counts—that doesn't seem to be the problem. There really isn't much of a problem. My kids have a real good sense of humor. I think that's their forte. And that's going to work for them almost better than anything else. They're also bright, so I think that combination of being bright and having a good sense of humor in this life is going to really help.

And as far as I'm concerned, they're away clean. If they have problems, I'm not—they're not weighed down with them, from my point of view. They only have the problems that every human has. And they seem to handle what comes their way pretty well.

I try not to mess with them, and I've always made an effort to stay out of their way so they had plenty of room to grow up. I've never tried to drag them into things, or turn them on to things, or impose my viewpoint on them, or any of that stuff, and I've always wanted them to see their own way, to let their own imaginations lead them around. And they seem to be doing okay on those levels, and in fact they can functionally disregard me pretty well, you know what I mean?(laughs) They're holding their own.

So it's like one of those things. In my world it's tough to get away from that sort of egocentric thing. In my world there's a lot of stuff about me in it. They've learned to take that with a grain of salt. And they get a certain exposure to the rock 'n' roll world, but they can come and go as they please. They don't feel compelled in any particular way there. So I think they're doing okay.

But you should ask them. If you can get 'em to talk, they're pretty funny. They're a good interview.

David Gans did an interview with Justin Kreutzmann about his video and stuff.

Justin's a great kid. If Kreutzmann had half the equilibrium that Justin had, we'd be in great shape. (laughs)

But if he had half the equilibrium he wouldn't be the crazed drummer. ..

(laughs) That's true. He wouldn't be the crazed lovable fuckup that we know.

Some people have wondered about your Levi's commercial, since you're pretty much on record as saying the Grateful Dead will never do a commercial.

It wasn't the Grateful Dead. I make that distinction. Other people don't, but hey, that's their problem.

The reason I did it, really, was because I had some friends that needed work. And you know, work for musicians comes. . .especially for bluegrass musicians, country musicians. . .

It's a great way to starve.

Really. And I had a lot of them out there starving. And when it's possible to something to be able to let some of those guys do some work, hey, you know. . . .


Copyright 1987, 1998 by Mary Eisenhart. All rights reserved.