Interview with Jerry Garcia & Bob Weir April 16, 1991
Not a humble brag — an outright brag. In 1991, Interview magazine was planning an issue on “family” and thought it was a good idea to get something from the Grateful Dead. I was contacted by Dead former manager Jon McIntire, who told me “Jerry said he’d do the interview if Howard Rheingold was the interviewer.” Yes, I wish I’d asked Jerry why he said that. I interviewed Garcia and Weir at the Dead house in San Rafael:
Howard: Interview with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead.
Interviewer: Howard Rheingold.
Date: April 16, 1991.
For publication in Interview Magazine.
Interview is producing an issue on families, and so when they thought about the interview and thought about doing something on music, Grateful Dead is what they thought of.
Howard: So they aren’t particularly interested in anything that’s along the lines of regular stuff you read in typical interviews with the Grateful Dead.
What is there that can be said about family that you guys know that would be interesting and surprising to Interview readers?
Bob: Well, one thing about us, as families go, we have all the dynamics of a family. If you took a bunch of people and adopted them and raised them, you’d have nothing different than what we have and what we are.
Jerry: Yeah, essentially.
Bob: And we’re not related through blood, but we’re related through shared experience that has depth far beyond what most families have because we live a life that has a depth of experience that goes a lot deeper than most people ever get to.
We’ve also been together much longer than most families stay together.
Bob: We’ve lived together — on top of each other at times — for approaching 27 years now.
Jerry: Yeah, right in very close quarters.
Bob: That’s right. In emotional, intellectual or physical, but close quarters in all those variables.
Jerry: We’ve had people born and people die, and kind of all the things that blood families have, and probably, like Bob says, more intense in a way. Our family has the same thing that blood families have in that you don’t really choose who your family is. It’s like you get them, and that’s what you get.
I know that my relationship with the Grateful Dead family is way closer than anything I’ve got with any of my blood relatives, such as they are. I barely see them. In fact, my brother is a member of my family because he works in the Grateful Dead community more than the fact that he’s my blood brother. He’s part of that world. Otherwise, I’d never see him.
Howard: Well, something happens, like in any family that works. Although in a sense, there aren’t any families that work as well as this one does.
Jerry: It’s a family that works. I don’t know how hard other people work at it, but we work at it. We do work at it.
Howard: That’s an interesting question, because American families don’t work. There is an illusion that they do.
Jerry: Yeah, it used to be that probably the economics of the family was important. Like the family’s subsistence farm kind of deal, where you and your wife went out to the land somewhere and you knew that you weren’t going to be able to make it work unless you had five strong boys. So you had ten kids. That’d be the family. The strong boys would be out there doing the hard work, and the women would be doing women’s work, the canning and putting stuff up and so forth.
Howard: In fact, probably you’d have your brother and sister-in-law and a couple of nuclear families. The nuclear family really wasn’t happening.
Jerry: No, I don’t think so.
Howard: It was more extended than that.
Jerry: There was the extended family, because I think that was what you needed to survive.
Bob: That was in agrarian America, and there was a nuclear family that was happening in urban or suburban America.
Jerry: Right, industrial America.
Howard: Well, the industrial revolution took the father out of the home and put the kids in school. And then everyone had their own little scene.
Jerry: Right, and I think that was probably the breakup of the dynamics of the family as a sensible unit of civilization.
Bob: Well, it was a new form for the family, for sure.
Howard: It’s quintessentially American to transform your family and the Grateful Dead is quintessentially American in a certain way in that to become an American, you left the old ways behind, you became born again into this new thing that was always pushing further, and you made yourself. But there’s this kind of classic American vision of Thornton Wilder, turn-of-the-century family, Beaver Cleaver.
Jerry: Our Town, right.
Howard: Our Town, The Cleavers, and then 1960-something, everyone sort of left their family and started making other families.
Bob: I guess now there’s a popular resurgence between the coasts where the American model nuclear family is attempting a comeback. There was a working model. For some reason, it did work for most of the century, where you had the Cleaver family, for instance, as a model.
Jerry: Yeah, dad out working and mom at home.
Bob: Mom at home and all that kind of stuff, and the kids are raised up for 15 years.
Jerry: It probably actually didn’t last all that long at all, really.
Howard: Don’t you think the reason that we’re all so fascinated with the Cleavers is because we knew that was a-going-to-blow, where this is like the last frame of that illusion?
Jerry: Yeah, it was all they could do to keep those kids in.
Howard: Ward worried about the Beaver. The classic liar. Of course he’s worried about the Beaver, he’s about to move to San Francisco and blow his mind.
Jerry: That’s right, absolutely.
Bob: Everything — you know, you watch the show Ozzie and Harriet, it’s the same way. Everything’s going tick-tick-tick, and those kids in the Ozzie and Harriet family, there’s a classic illustration of what happened to the American nuclear family when the ’60s finally did roll around. Those happy little kids, you know, those smiling little cherubs went way weird.
Howard: So stepping back to look at what the Interview reader is going to read here, there’s sort of a paradox happening in that I think Grateful Dead to these people means this kind of strange, anachronistic and anarchistic scene, whereas in fact, America, in terms of family, is a strange, anachronistic, not-very-workable scene. So to get way back to what you said, what is it that you do to work on it that makes it work?
Bob: From what I can see, our family situation is more or less modeled after old style big families, like you would find in Mexico or in Spain or in Europe or something like that, where you have a paterfamilias. In our case, I would say the paterfamilias would probably be Neal Cassady.
Jerry: Yeah, right.
Bob: He’s gone now. There was this myth, this icon that’s come up that Jerry here is. But it doesn’t really work like that. Our group dynamics are we’re brothers, we’re all siblings, we’re all underlings to this guy, Neal Cassady.
Jerry: Right. Yeah.
Howard: That’s interesting.
Bob: You know, if anything, he was a father figure to me and for the rest of us.
Jerry: To all of us, yeah.
Bob: He wasn’t a sibling. He didn’t feel like a sibling.
Jerry: No, no, he was definitely a parent.
Bob: He had a guiding hand, though it was. . .
Jerry: Good and strange.
Bob: Good and strange.
Jerry: A laissez-faire parent, but a parent, nonetheless.
Jerry: A parent by illustration. He provided a model for something about how far you could take yourself. He also represented the individual outside of everything, in a way.
Do you want to hear about the annotated Neal Cassady rap at the Straight Theater when we were playing that time, taking everything that Neal says and researching what he’s referring to, and annotating what he refers to.
Bob: It was Rilke’s poetry.
Jerry: In the space of five minutes, there’s like 50 references — right, to Rilke’s poetry, or the Penguin edition of Jack Kerouac that he’s got in his pocket. And he’s got Penguin in his pocket, he says first thing.
Howard: Did he have something to do with you realizing that you were coming together into something?
Jerry: He helped solidify it, yeah. It’s hard to describe exactly how, because we all saw different aspects in Neal. He’d show different aspects of himself to everybody. He was able to refer to lots and lots of different things in one conversation. He had lots of levels going. Some of them you knew about, some of them you didn’t know about, but there was continuity there. Each time that you talked to him, he would pick up from where you left off last time you’d seen him, even if it had been months.
Bob: If there was something on your mind, if you had a problem or an observation or something, you know, you’d bring it to Dad, you’d bring it to Neal. If there was something on your mind, you’d bounce it off him. And it sure as hell would bounce.
Jerry: Yeah, yeah. So he filled the role of the person you go to for advice. You know, ask Dad.
Howard: So Dad is gone.
Bob: Dad’s not gone. In the fashion of families, those nuclear families, the old world style, not just old world, but like the big Asian families, you live more or less in your own adapted way, following in the guy’s footsteps.
Howard: How would Dad have done this?
Jerry: Right, right. Something like that. Filtered through all other experiences that have gone on over the years.
Bob: And slowly you become your own man.
Howard: You guys were pretty young when you met him, right?
Jerry: Oh, yeah. Early 20s.
Bob: I was in my teens back then.
Jerry: We were all malleable. He was the guy speaking to us from the pages of Kerouac.
Howard: That’s true for me as well. And for Kerouac, he was this kid who exemplified something happening.
Jerry: Right. He was a breeze, some kind of incredible super-American, mythos personality blasting through the highways of 1947 America.
Howard: Yes, and 1947 America blasted off.
Howard: And it blasted off so successfully that there’s an illusion that it didn’t happen.
Jerry: Right, right.
Howard: But people reading Interview Magazine think, well, these guys are a remnant of something that happened once. But what happened once actually turned everything inside out.
Jerry: That’s right.
Howard: We’re living in it.
Jerry: America is more a reflection — I mean, America owes more to that period of time than it realizes, I think.
Bob: Well, it’s still working, and it’s still working right well for us.
Bob: Basically, Neal was the hood ornament on the chrome Zephyr that came floating through American culture.
Howard: You guys have a road show part of the time and he was a road show.
Jerry: Yeah, he was a one-man road show.
Bob: We didn’t choose your family, we showed up there. We just got there, and we were made for the road.
Jerry: No, we partly chose him and he partly chose us.
Howard: Right. But you managed to keep it rolling.
Jerry: Well, that’s the thing. It’s that life itself drags you into it. Now, our kids express their own view of this whole — the whole family dynamics, you know what I mean?
Howard: And what’s that?
Jerry: Well, they’re used to thinking of themselves as people who are part of a large group. I mean, my kids think of Bob as a relative.
Bob: Yeah, I’m Uncle Bob.
Jerry: He’s not a friend of Dad’s or something like that.
Howard: It’s like the families before are on the other side of a membrane.
Howard: But you’re saying that the kids of this family, that membrane isn’t there.
Jerry: No, it’s not. To them, it’s normal. For them, this is normal. Our way of doing things and our way of relating and everything is normal.
Bob: They’re Neal’s grandchildren.
Jerry: Yeah, yeah. And they also express themselves in their own ways. They have inherited the tradition of self-invention.
Howard: Okay. Self-invention. The phrase ‘family values’ is one that has a particular meaning to one group of people. Obviously, you’re talking about a family value with self-invention.
Jerry: Yeah, it is.
Howard: What are some others?
Bob: Non-interference. We will not impose ourselves over each other, even in extreme situations.
Howard: Well, that’s an interesting question. It’s something that people think, well, families interfere with each other.
Bob: Dynamic benign neglect.
Jerry: Dynamic benign neglect, that’s exactly right. For us, it’s mainly been the thing of what works. Since we’ve been doing this, going a certain way, things pop up and if they work, you incorporate them, unconsciously almost. If they don’t work, you discard them, almost equally unconsciously. If something doesn’t work, it becomes obvious immediately. This just isn’t going to work.
Howard: How do you — if you’re not interfering, and you have to live in close quarters under intense circumstances…
Jerry: The world has to tell us. In other words, we don’t have an agenda or a battle plan or a map or a direction or anything. We’re just going along, and our world is telling us. So things come up from the outside, the outside world says, okay, you have do this, you have to go here and here and here, and these are your options. You can be here or you can be here. You can do this, or you can do this. You can go here, or you can go there. So each one of those things becomes a place of decision, and the way we make decisions is that we all get together and if somebody doesn’t feel right about it or it doesn’t seem to sit right, usually we’ll go with the no vote. If somebody’s not comfortable with it, we’ll figure it’s not going to be worth doing.
Bob: You’d have to drag somebody and that’s too much work.
Jerry: The only way things work around here is if everybody wants it to work. If everybody wants it to work, then it has a prayer. Even then, there’s no guarantee. But at least it has a prayer. If there’s anybody who’s going to drag their feet or is going to say, no, this is not going to be right, you don’t want to — it’s pointless to enter into something knowing that maybe it’s doomed from the start.
Bob: If you want to promote anything, all the work that you put into it is basically promoting the idea of it so that people will go for it. And if they don’t go for it, you can’t institute it. You can’t do it.
Howard: Now, that’s very Japanese. They have a concept called nemawashi, which is a phrase meaning the root washing. You wash the roots very carefully before you plant. So in Japanese organizations, before you have a meeting and you’ve got an idea that you want to get across, you go talk to everyone and list them. And then the meeting, you don’t do it American style where everyone gets up and advocates and conflicts and decides, you get up and formalize agreements.
Jerry: Yeah, our approach is Japanese.
Bob: Stuff is born in committee in this family. Ideas come from a little committee that forms; it may be that several of us are riding in the same car.
Jerry: Yeah, we’ll just start brainstorming.
Bob: Something will come up, and hey, we were thinking on the way over to the gig, and then you have a slightly larger committee, and then when you have enough of them together, you have something rolling, and then you bring it to a board meeting.
Howard: Because you are a business. You do have meetings, right?
Bob: Oh, yeah. Formal and informal.
Jerry: Well, yeah. The State insists that we be a business.
Jerry: So we’ve learned to act a business.
Bob: And like any family, the family gets together around the dinner table and kicks stuff around. We don’t all eat together and stuff like that, so it serves us well to have our board meetings where we get a lot of stuff covered philosophical as well as nuts and bolts.
If for instance, in a board meeting, if you have an idea, it better be a good idea, or you’re not going to get everybody’s attention. The meetings can be a lot of fun or they can be frustrating. We can stay in a board meeting for four or five hours and cover very few points, but still get a lot done or maybe a theme will come up, whether it has anything to do with anything we’re ever going to do, and is just fun for the moment.
Jerry: Yeah, sometimes general directionality comes up. We might be discussing something — say some problem has come up having to do with say ticket sales like we’re having trouble with somebody making counterfeit tickets or something like that, and that might lead us to a discussion of ticket prices, and then a discussion about market ethics, and then larger ethics, you know, the ethics of tribe to community, to what are we, a service organization? What are we providing here? And so forth and so on, and things branch out from that. It’s a kind of free flow, but it might lead us into areas that we might otherwise never bother defining.
Howard: Okay. Let me set up a little straw man here. I’m not saying that it’s true from the point of view of someone who comes and sees your shows that you are sort of a service organization. You are providing something. You’re providing music, of course, that’s the center of it. A lot of people do that, but you’re also providing a context for other people’s families.
Howard: I mean, there’s the Grateful Dead family, and there are Grateful Dead families. And you all meet at the moment when the music happens.
Jerry: We are part of a larger community, which is the community of Deadheads.
Bob: It’s a not a communal feudal scene. We are a service organization. A family like this a hundred years ago or, for instance say a family in Malaysia. If we were ranchers 200 years ago in old California, we’d be a service organization of sorts. We’d be providing beef, hides and tallow for a lot of people. And incidentally, there would be our individual families at this point because we’d have had a couple hundred years or so to split up the huge ranch into smaller ranches.
Jerry: You’re right.
Bob: …so we’re supporting our own families. And then beyond that, there are the people who work under us whom we’re responsible for. The nucleus of the family is responsible in the end for people that they never see. Like say, the t-shirt vendors or the people who follow us around and make their livings off of what we do. Still, we have to make controls with them so that they don’t get out of line, so that they don’t make it impossible for us to continue to travel and do what we do.
Jerry: Yeah, because we are not completely autonomous. At some point or another, our boundaries run into the boundaries of the exterior reality. Like we run into laws and other things that we don’t own or don’t have control over.
Bob: Or the weather. Or maybe with the old model, we would have had to make sure that the people who planted the corn or whatever kept our gardens going and stuff like that were adequately fed and sheltered and taken care of so they could continue to work happily for us, which in turn means that they’re working for the nuclear family.
Howard: And a lot of the people who show up who are increasingly part of a problem. The problem of communities in a lot of them, as you know, is pretty nailed down tight.
Howard: And when you come to town, it represents…
Howard: Like all those kids who want to get into chaos, and crack that stuff up, and they’re normally controlled. Here’s a context where they can get together even when they’re sick of their old family. They have a real hunger for, even if they don’t have a ticket to the show, they feel they can still can go hang out. And then there are the people for whom that represents a big threat.
Jerry: That’s true.
Howard: And they come into conflict. But at the center of it, don’t you think that there’s a real desire for something that’s hard to find?
Jerry: Well, take a marriage that doesn’t have enough stuff that speaks to the whole person. People may need something to celebrate. They need a context in which to celebrate things. They need something that fills the void that’s left by the bankruptcy of religion and so forth. Joe Campbell used to talk about this stuff. There’s a need for a ritual and for real joy and real bliss. Real fun.
Howard: There always have been small road shows that provide that, and they’re always regarded by the local authorities with a lot of suspicion.
Bob: Yeah, right.
Howard: And they always have, if you’re going to keep a show like that on the road, it can’t just be a business, it has to be kind of a family.
Jerry: Well, you have to take it more seriously than that. You have to address some of those areas of responsibility, so that becomes part of what our responsibility then starts to cover. So we have start communicating. We have been on the road enough and been doing this enough that we’re like an institution. If we come to town, we’re not people that blow in once and rob everybody blind and then gone forever. They know we’re going come back next year or we’re going to come back within six months, so we’ve become something more than that, in a way.
Bob: We’re well recognizable. They know how to deal with us.
Jerry: Yeah, right. With the recognition comes additional responsibility, because then we’re no longer a one-shot. We’re now part of the environment. We may only be part of the environment once every six months, but we are a part of it. And if there are a lot of Deadheads in town, we represent a sizable amount of influence there. Some towns we bring in enough money to keep the town from falling over. You know, we provide enough economic strength for that weekend or whatever it is that just pushes that community over what it needs because there are a lot of people contributing to the local economy.
Howard: That’s right. For instance Monterey just lost a billion dollars a year with Fort Ord.
Jerry: Our biggest problem down there probably was the Army.
Howard: The local merchants didn’t have a great need to have some money come into town.
Jerry: No, they had the Army there.
Howard: We have some assumptions here that maybe we should clarify, make more explicit for people reading this, which is that when you go to a show, there’s, what, seven guys on stage or six guys on stage. There are a lot of people involved.
Howard: There’s, what, a dozen, two dozen, three dozen people that are involved?
Jerry: At least three dozen.
Bob: I think there are 40 people.
Howard: 40 people. And of those 40 people, a lot of them go back, 10, 20 or more years. Is that right?
Jerry: Yeah, a good many of them have been there quite a long time, most of them at least 10 years.
Howard: So this a fairly large family of people who are tied-in.
Jerry: Right. Some of them are parts of other organizations. They are like cousins in the family. Like Bill Graham’s organization are like cousins to us in a way. They’ve worked with us enough where they know what we’re like. And they also have had to create positive relationships with people in our family.
Bob: And they have a family, too. And just like in that model of larger families on holidays and stuff like that or special occasions, we have little fiestas. where our family and their families, everybody will get together. Everybody will dress up have a little party.
Jerry: Yeah, a little blowout.
Howard: Do you have like a regular annual get-together?
Jerry: There are a couple of regular, more or less regular, annual things.
Howard: Is it like Thanksgiving and Christmas, or is it something else?
Jerry: Sometimes it happens on Thanksgiving, sometimes Christmas. The big one is New Year’s Eve. That’s the one that pulls in the most, because it’s when we’re working, but it’s also an awful lot of people use New Year’s Eve as their annual check-in to the whole Grateful Dead family thing. And that’s particularly family members. People who used to be in the business and who aren’t anymore, and ex-friends.
Howard: So when the show is over, you will expect to see a lot of people.
Bob: And the number of people that you really would like to visit with, you’re not going to get around to them.
Jerry: It’s like a ritual thing, more than like soulful getting down together. It’s just way too many people. But it’s one of those things that gives people strength. It provides people with a lot of strength, even if they just come and say hello, you know, once a year on New Year’s Eve to check-in and see what it’s doing. For some people, it’s important.
Howard: Yes. A lot of Deadheads, as you know, are fanatic about making it to New Year’s Eve because they’ve always made it to New Year’s Eve, and there are faces there that that’s the only time they see them.
Jerry: That’s right.
Howard: And then they go back to their lives. But there’s a family that they see for six or seven hours on New Year’s Eve.
Jerry: And they’re a part of that family.
Howard: …and there’s a really strong importance. Although a lot of the families are not related to one another, it does kind of melt into one thing.
Bob: Yeah, they do, and they also think of themselves as their own relatives in a way. They think of themselves as a group, even though they’re disparate; there are all different kinds of them. They think of themselves as Deadheads, which is an important part of their self-identification in their lives, regardless of whether they’re professionals, lawyers or doctors, brain surgeons, physicists. I mean, you know the kind. There’s a vast spread in the Deadhead world.
Howard: This may come as a surprise to people; probably comes as a surprise to the readers of this magazine, the diversity of people who are in this family in the extended sense.
Bob: You know, for the most part, the ones that catch your eye are the ones that are basically people who live on the road and follow us around. They’re a small percentage of the audience, but they’re quite visible. The ones who aren’t visible are the stockbrokers, lawyers, doctors, housewives. You know, the stockbrokers, their hair isn’t long and full of leaves and stuff like that, so they don’t catch your eye. They’re wearing the tie-dye, so they don’t stick out, but you don’t see them. The ones you see are the ones with the leaves in their hair, the matted hair and all that kind of stuff. But that’s only a few of them. Those are just the highly visible ones. In that audience, the bulk people don’t look like that every day.
Howard: But don’t you think that’s part of the whole semiotics, iconography, is that if you’ve got a little decal on your car that’s got a little wheel and roses, nobody except those people in that particular extended family know what the heck that’s about.
Jerry: That’s true.
Howard: And you identify yourself to one another in unusual circumstances, sort of like the Masons.
Bob: Like the old Christian symbol that you would draw with your foot in the dirt while you were talking to somebody. You’d draw that fish thing, that fish symbol, and if they noticed it, if they knew what they were looking at, then they knew that you were one of them.
Howard: I mean, I’m sure you’ve all had this experience; it’s completely unexpected people.
Howard: I went to buy a car, and the car salesman was a classic car salesman guy. What did he notice? Something offbeat. Tie-dyed sneakers.
Howard: He immediately knew that if he talked a little Grateful Dead talk, it would elevate this transaction to another level.
Jerry: Well, it gains a level of intimacy.
Jerry: And that’s an expression of larger families.
Howard: Intimacy and shared values.
Howard: Also, in a different sense, the amount of intensity that you’ve got to go to get your act together every time, is shared to some degree by everyone else who shows up. They are getting home intact. Okay, we’ve done it. It’s the Joseph Campbell; it’s your little tiny hero’s journey.
Jerry: That’s right. It’s your rite of passage.
Howard: …of everyday life. And it’s hard to find.
Jerry: That’s why I use the war stories metaphor. It’s part of the adventures that shape our character and give us stuff to talk about.
Howard: And where do you get adventures anymore?
Jerry: Almost no place.
Bob: I mean, we have a society that’s trying to make sure that nobody gets any adventures because adventures are dangerous and danger is bad. The rule is not written anywhere, it’s not etched in any — but, I mean, that’s the prevailing attitude of this entire society. Don’t have an adventure. That’s dangerous. Your parents were always trying to get you to be careful when you were a kid, and that’s all pervasive in this society. Certain kinds of people just can’t live life taking risks with adventure.
Jerry: No. Everybody needs adventure, and everybody needs something to enlarge his or her lives.
Howard: Well, some people think that’s what’s attractive to men about warfare. Where else do you find people where you absolutely know you can trust them because you have?
Jerry: We have to.
Howard: Everything is removed. You’re actually doing something dangerous when you get in your car, when you’re getting on an airplane, or having sex.
Jerry: All of life…
Howard: Everything is danger, but we pretend that it’s not.
Jerry: That’s right. That’s true.
Howard: But to willingly participate in an adventure that has danger that has to do with getting together with your fellows to celebrate has a certain fraternity to it, which I think irradiates in all directions.
Jerry: That’s true.
Bob: The international brotherhood of crazies, because the pervasive attitude is that it’s crazy to invite more danger into your life. And we don’t look at it like that. We’re just inviting adventure into our life, and adventure carries a little baggage.
Howard: That’s right. That works. Because there are all kinds of craziness that we’ve all seen, which have destructed and fallen apart along the way.
Jerry: Well, we’re hoping that it works. I mean, we’re involved in a society which is undergoing some really weird changes now. Right now, America is under the gun. It’s being tested and is being co-opted in a big way. And this whole thing of the war and all this stuff, I think that America is in danger of losing its adventurous spirit in the cause of some kind of illusion of safety, or substitute of law and order there.
Bob: Right. And I’d like to point out that over the years, we’ve lost a few. But if you look at our stats, we haven’t lost any more than any other large group. The people in our group, in our family, seem to be enjoying life a fair bit more than most other people. We have cultural depth. We get all kinds of stuff to chew on, to live on. Our lives are interesting.
Jerry: There’s a lot there to enlarge you. That’s part of the value of being in an extended family is that it enlarges you. It makes you bigger. It makes you more.
Bob: Everybody has something to bring to the table.
Jerry: That’s one of the big advantages. That, and having a sense of support.
Bob: The bulk of my input comes from my peers. I don’t get the stuff that I carry around in my head from TV, and especially I don’t get the stuff that I carry around in my heart from TV.
Bob: Or from what the President says, or what my pastor says. I get it from my brothers, from my family. And everybody in the family is so vastly different from the way I am that they’re just bound to bring different stuff under my nose.
Jerry: Yeah, that’s the other great thing is the thing of being able to see things through many points of view. That’s enlarging. I mean, it saves you from ultimately from the boredom of having one point of view, like being locked in a room with nothing but your own point of view, your own references.
Howard: Right, which does tend to happen to musicians on the road.
Jerry: It happens to a lot of people. Sure. You need to have many points of reference; many places to touch down and make contact with.
Bob: And so unlike I guess other bands on the road, rather than watching our television, when we come into a given town, we almost inevitably, almost invariably end up talking on television. People watch us on television. I guess because people in that medium have decided that we are interesting. So we may not get a lot from TV, but we do give some.
Howard: The only thing I can recall from anyone in the Grateful Dead on television that comes to mind at the moment is the transportation business remark. Do you remember that? Somebody — was it Nicky — was asked what do you and monks have in common, and he said, we’re both in the transportation business. And I guess music in general is the transportation business.
Jerry: We’d like to hope it is. At its best levels, it is. The nature of what we’re doing is something, which is by its very nature, is non-formulaic. There’s no way that you can make it happen by intention alone. It’s something that you have to sort of allow it to happen, and you have to allow for it to happen. You know what I mean? It’s not something you can force into existence. And the kind of music we’re doing is largely experimental; we don’t know how it’s going turn out. We don’t what it’s going to be like. We don’t know anything about it, except that we recognize it when it’s the way it ought to be, and we recognize it when it’s not the way it ought to be. You know what I mean?
Jerry: So apart from that, it’s an intuitive walk. It’s something you have to feel your way through. You can’t say, well, the last time we played, I did this and this and this and this, and everything worked out. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t repeat things because each time is different. The universe has changed. Everything has changed. And so each time you go out with this idea, you have to learn it all over again from the ground up because it’s a new time, it’s a new experience, and consequently, everything you know about it, you have to disallow. It’s new. So some things may work, but they definitely won’t work every time. Some things may work at various times.
Bob: Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t. Yet another of our family values, that you don’t know when it’s going to work.
Jerry: Yeah, and you can’t make it work. It’s not a matter of will.
Bob: But you show up, and you recognize it when it happens.
Jerry: Well, allow for the possibility that it could work. You allow for the possibility that it could have — something miraculous could happen.
Bob: That’s the whole faith in the process.
Jerry: Yeah. Which I think is real key.
Bob: Martin Buber says, if you have both will and grace. But showing up, and maybe it’ll happen and maybe it won’t. But grace isn’t enough. You’ve got to intend to be there when it’s happening.
Jerry: You need a certain amount of will there. Will alone is not enough to make it happen, but it’s definitely a requirement. It needs to be there. You need to be willing a certain amount of — for us, in the band, it’s a way for each thing that has to do with the individual and his relationship to his instrument and to the music is like a series of things that you go to and you get to the level now where the whole band is now at one level, and then there’s new levels you go to, and you have to go through each step each time.
Bob: Sometimes it takes will and sometimes it takes abandoning will.
Jerry: Right. Sometimes it takes innocence, sometimes it takes guile; sometimes you have to be clever.
Howard: Okay. So it’s the little family on the stage that people can see.
Jerry: The audience participates in this process with us, so they know it the way we know it. They know that it’s exploratory and you coax and you squirm and you wheedle and you fool around and do all this, and you try all these different things and things start coming together, and you can feel it coming and stuff like that, and then the closer you get, you go, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sometimes it never does quite focus down.
Bob: Sometimes it’s a huge amble, where you’re just on top, on the lid, and it’s not going anywhere, and sometimes you walk on the stage and from the first note, the afterburner kicks in and you can’t stop it.
Jerry: Right. Either way, it’s not about control. So then you can infer from that, that since it’s not about control, then the whole way of doing things validates itself. So the whole thing of incorporating like the way that we go about making music and doing what we’re doing becomes a model for let’s try doing it so that we do our business the same way, you know? So our meetings, in a way, hopefully reflect some of that process, and we carry that process over into other parts of your life because it’s a viable, workable way of doing things, although it doesn’t sit well in the Western concept because it lacks specific causality.
Howard: Well, the Western model for a meeting is you have an agenda and you come in and everyone says things. It sounds to me that what you’re saying in terms of the metaphor of what happens on stage extends to what happens in a meeting is that you listen for it. You don’t know what it really sounds like until you hear it.
Jerry: Right. Well, the agenda is a useful idea. It’s nice to have an agenda, because for us, an agenda is kind of like songs. So here’s our agenda. We can do this song and this song and this song. So we try this song a little bit, this item on the agenda. If it’s not happening, if we’re not getting anywhere, we’ll go to another item on the agenda.
Howard: …side 2 of Grateful Dead interview by Howard Rheingold, 4/16/91.
Howard: Gore Vidal said, the joker in the deck of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was the pursuit of happiness. And that that is what has kept America juicy.
Jerry: Yeah, I think that’s the key thing. I mean, to me, that’s the key thing, the pursuit of happiness. That’s the basic, ultimate freedom. The pursuit of happiness is an overview kind of thing. It’s not in the Bill of Rights. The pursuit of happiness is such a large of concept.
Howard: Basically what it’s saying is you can go and try and find whatever that is.
As long as you don’t bump into…
Jerry: As long as you don’t hurt anybody.
Howard: …one of these constraints, as opposed to the other point of view, which is this is what’s allowed. Essentially pursuit of happiness is saying, everything’s allowed until we come down on it. The manufacturing and packaging of homogeneous experience is what politics in America is about. Perception of reality is the code phrase for the Bush campaign. The packaging of experience, of homogeneous experience in the entertainment world, is what you guys as the wild card that represents — I mean, you’re not the only people who do it, but you’re the most visible and the most successful in the sense that — a lot of people have trouble going to a Dead show and not knowing what’s going to happen, and having someone say, well, they might just noodle like this all night, and it might never get anywhere.
Howard: And they say, well, why is this a big deal? Which is a weird question, because they’re saying, why don’t they say the same things thirteen-and-a -half minutes into the show, just like…
Jerry: Sting does.
Howard: I won’t name other entertainers, but any other entertainer, you go to a show, they’re doing the same show. It’s absolutely orchestrated.
Jerry: Well, what we’re doing is not entertainment. It’s entertaining, but it’s not entertainment.
Bob: The pursuit goes well beyond entertainment. It’s a spiritual quest for us.
Howard: It’s a spiritual quest for the people who come.
Howard: And what that has to do with family isn’t that which really defines. I believe Jesus said that you leave your family…
Jerry: Yeah, and join my family.
Howard: …and join my family. A lot of people interpret that to mean, well, that means I have to join the church. But another interpretation might be, let’s cut loose what you were given and find what you can seek.
Jerry: And invent it, right?
Jerry: And invent it, and invent it, again. Reinvent it. Rebirth it.
Howard: Well, here’s another thing in talking about entertainment and family that happens at Grateful Dead shows that’s a difference, which is, the audience is a big part of the show.
Howard: Everyone is there to blow everyone else’s mind. The way they dress, the way they make eye contact, the way they dance.
Jerry: Oh, it’s important. Yeah. People have a custodial feeling about the Grateful Dead.
Howard: And getting up and dancing. I mean, I’m sure you remember there was a point a long time ago at most rock and roll shows where people started sitting on the floor.
Jerry: That’s right.
Howard: I remember at the Avalon, people started sitting on the floor.
Jerry: Originally, we were a dance band. We played for people who were dancing. Our audience danced.
Bob: They didn’t clap when we came on.
Jerry: Yeah, right.
Howard: And dancing, it’s a family of the moment. This person who’s dancing next to me, I don’t know who they are or what their thing is, but we are together now.
Jerry: That’s right, that’s right.
Howard: There’s a big hunger for that because it’s removed to some degree.
Jerry: Absolutely. There is a big hunger for just the sheer joy of doing it.
Howard: Well, a lot of the family crew that puts this together really has to do with this kind of experience. It’s part technology and part methodology, but it’s to create this experience, and the experience is a place in which family celebrates. I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I’m trying to find what it is that we’re saying here that translates to the theme of family.
Jerry: Well, these are all things that are hard to express. The experience isn’t captured very conveniently by verbal stuff. That’s why it is what it is. That’s why it is an experience. That’s why we play it instead of sitting around and talking about it.
Bob: Yeah, basically our concerts are a family fishing trip. We go fishing and the audience sort of helps us along, and we catch what we catch.
Howard: There is that feeling at the end of the line where there’s something live there.
Jerry: Right. Sometimes it’s, throw it back!
Howard: That’s right.
Jerry: Throw it back! It’s ugly! We don’t want to look at it!
Howard: Or sometimes it’s a hoot.
Jerry: Yeah, big deal.
Bob: Sometimes it’s too big, sometimes it’s too little.
Jerry: Right. And sometimes it’s wonderful.
Howard: But there is this kind of electrical switch that goes on sometimes. When you’ve caught it, everyone knows it.
Jerry: Yeah. Well, it’s that thing of knowing unmistakably that there’s something phenomenal happening, and they’re a part of it intimately.
Howard: When you bring someone to a show for the first time…
Jerry: Well, that’s an experience.
Howard: …and something starts happening and everybody is tremendously excited when there’s no clue to exactly what that is.
Jerry: No, that’s the nature of it is that it doesn’t lend itself, that’s why it happens in that format. It requires something else to exist. It isn’t something you talk about, and it isn’t something that you can conjure up verbally very well. Some people are better at it than others, certainly. But the escape, you know, that feeling of something momentous.
Howard: The feeling of escape. And it’s not just that you buy a ticket…
Howard: …it’s that you help make the experience.
Bob: That’s right.
Jerry: It’s you have to be there.
Howard: You kick in.
Jerry: It informs the moment. Right. And all that stuff has to do with a lot of just the way we’ve developed. I mean, why it’s okay for people to tape the shows? Because even so, there’s no way you can bottle up the experience. You can take the notes home, but that experience is one you have to be there.
Howard: That’s right. And that tape to someone who was there who had an experience has a meaning that’s encoded in it that’s not the kind you can sell.
Jerry: No, it isn’t, it’s personal. It’s personal and it has that kind of thing going for it that it is what each person wants it to be. It doesn’t need for everybody to agree that’s it’s nature. Everybody can have their own version of what it’s nature is. They can invent their own mythology around it. They can do whatever they want with it as an idea, but the experience has its own value. It’s liberating in that sense. And everybody invents what it is.
Howard: I call it, make your own fun. As opposed to consume fun like a package of Spam. And when you go to a party that has a large Deadhead element in it, you will see that people will …
Jerry: Make their own fun.
Bob: They’re inventive.
Jerry: That’s right. They’re inventive. Exactly.
Howard: I don’t feel bad at a party like that when someone is playing the guitar to go get a glass from the kitchen and a spoon and start playing. I’m not a musician, but I’m part of the fun.
Jerry: And you know you’re part of the fun. Absolutely. You’re part of what’s inventing it and part of what’s experiencing it. People that are making it happen, as much as the musicians are. That is interesting.
Howard: Yes. Is there anything else that — I could continue drawing out of you? A question I have about someone who seems to me to be an invisible person in this interview who would have things to say, would be Mountain Girl.
Howard: Or, I don’t know. Who else? Who else would you say would have something to say?
Jerry: Well, Mountain Girl has not been that involved lately. I mean, she’s got a life of her own that she’s doing. But almost anyone here in the office, for example, would be a good interview. Eileen upstairs is a good example. She’s intimately involved with Deadheads. She is the voice of The Grateful Dead to Deadheads on a level of who they talk to, what human they speak to when they speak to The Grateful Dead. That’s who they speak to. She represents The Grateful Dead probably more realistically more than almost anybody else on a one-to-one. So her perception is very important. She knows more about that than I think almost anybody. Nobody ever interviews her. I think she has a special perception.
Bob: Aside from her, you might want to talk to anyone on the road crew. Because the road crew is a tribe back when we were the hunting party. We go out and bring home the game or whatever, and we are that element of the family. There’s that perspective. But actually Eileen’s is a really broad one.
Howard: Is she here now?
Jerry: Oh, I think you ought to talk with her, yeah, because she is that part of the family that talks to the larger family. She talks them constantly. She’s good. She runs the whole Deadheads thing.
Howard: Great. Well, it’s been fun for me. I appreciate it.
Jerry: I’m glad you consented to do it. I couldn’t think of anybody who’d be a better person to talk to about this kind of stuff.
Howard: Yeah, I love that. So, I got the idea, it was just jam on the idea of family and not do a regular interview and make it a little bit more fun than usual.
Jerry: They didn’t pick Howard. We picked Howard. And Dennis is the only conduit. I guess they just said, we would like to get a piece on families from you guys. Who would you like to interview you? Something like that.
Howard: Well, I was gratified to get the message. I got it from Jon McIntire. And I thought, well, gee, that’s great. I went back and I read that ancient book that Reich did, the interview with you? And you said, well, you should put secret messages in your books. And I do put secret messages in my books, and I thought, great! Jerry got the secret message.
Jerry: I read it all the time.
Howard: So, magic does work. Well, thanks.