Built To Last: A Conversation with Jerry Garcia
Do you get mail from Russian Deadheads?
Well I donât think Russians can get their letters out of the Soviet Union all that successfully, you know? ( laughs ) No, weâve always have a little trickle of stuff from behind the Iron Curtain, but itâs mostly been Czechoslovakia, Polandâthe more liberal, the easier-going of the Warsaw Pact nations.
Besides the Dylan And The Dead LP, you havenât released a live record in some time. Are there any plans for one soon?
We recorded the summer and weâre recording this autumn tour, so we may cough up a live album. That may be a good 25th anniversary project.
I heard that you recently transferred the tape archives to compact discâŚ
No, thatâs not trueâwhat weâre doing is weâre gradually transferring the stuff mostly to DAT (digital audio tape), not to compact disc. Weâre just getting into the digital domain, just so itâll last longer. But thatâs a project that could take a hundred years, you know? Weâre not doing it in any kind of methodical way. We certainly donât have the ability to say âGet it doneâ âwe know we canât assign that kind of work. Itâs one of those things you have to do in real timeâŚ itâs tedious and itâs time-consuming and itâs a total bummer. We may or may not do it. It may be that weâll just take certain stuff and convert it to DAT, I donât know. Again, itâs one of those things. Itâs a resource that in a way weâre not exactly sure what to do with. Weâve got it all. Itâs all sitting there, but none of us has the heart to go through and listen to it. I certainly donât. None of us has the time, either. Weâre all moving ahead, so the idea of going back and looking backâitâs for somebody else to do. Itâs not for us to do.
Have you considered maybe someday putting out an extensive anthology?
Yeah, we may anthologize stuff by slowly activating the things and putting out limited edition versions of them through our own merchandisingâCDs of various performancesâand see just what happens, you know? Weâve tossed it around for a long time, but we havenât really figured out exactly quire how to deal with it. Ideally, the thing we would do is record the shows, and after the show is over you can get a cassette of the show you just went to. We wouldnât have the tapers. Weâd cut all that loose, but we would still be able to provide music to anybody who wanted it from any given show. Thatâs kind of our idea, but then implementing that kind of an idea is totally out of the question. It canât be done. Thatâs one of the reasons why we still let the people tape and so forth. Itâs hard to figure out exactly how to approach this stuff when youâre dealing with the reality of it. I mean, where do you start? What year, say, or what performance specifically?
Well, how far back do you have recorded?
It does back to â66, â67 somewhere. Thereâs some stuff thatâs really old. Certainly not all of it is good by any meansâmost of it is terrible. There are some things that are pretty interesting. But it does go pretty far back.
Do you ever go back and listen to any of that stuff?
Nah. I canât do it. I only hear it in terms of what Iâalthough Iâm so far removed from most of it now, I donât have the trouble with it that I used to have. I hear whatâs wrong with it. I donât hear whatâs good about it, I hear whatâs wrong with it, and listen to it and say, âGod, thatâs terrible! Itâs so out of tune, anf the tempoâs all weird,â and itâs just horrible. For me, itâs kind of a pain. Itâs not something I can enjoy.
Can you give me an example of a recent performance that you felt was particularly strong?
No, not really. Well, Sunday night I kind of liked, down here at Shoreline was pretty neat. And the third night at the Greek Theater that we did not too long ago, that was a good night.
Thatâs interesting because I preferred the second night. Goes to show you how subjective it all isâŚ
Absolutely subjective. I mean, Iâm talking about it from my point of view. I have to do it, likeâ when I go out onstage, I think of it as kind of like being up to bat, you know, what your batting average is. So for me, I judge it from a batting average point of view. âHow many times did I try for something and have it work out kind of nice and invisibly?â And when that happens, nobody appreciates it but me. âCause it sounds like I mean it, it sounds like âHey, this guy is just playing competently, heâs not playing great.â But if you go from the point of view where it starts off from absolutely nothing and Iâm inventing it as I go along, if it works out rightâif the iâs are dotted and the tâs are crossed and itâs punctuated correctlyâlike a miracle. So from my point of view this stuff is miraculous, but nobody else is able to appreciate how really miraculous it is âcause nobody is inside me when Iâm playing.
How soon in the context of any given show can you gauge its success of failure?
I canât. Again, itâs one of those things that for me, itâs so emotionalâitâs just the way I feel. If Iâm not enjoying myself, the music may be great, but if Iâm not enjoying myself it really doesnât matter. For me, itâs hard to get over the emotional barrier. The experience as it is for me, thereâs all kinds of different ways it could conceivably go, and even at the very worst itâs still interesting. So if I think of it in terms of being approximately what I meant or not, itâs one of those things that thereâs no ground to stand on where you can say, âWell, this is absolutely better than this over here.â It just isnât that kind of thing. I donât know exactly what it is. Thereâs certain aesthetics where you can say âWell this is definitely in tune, this is definitely out of tine, this is in time, this is not in time, there figures are rushed, these figures are played too far back.â You can do that kind of stuff, a note-by-note analysis of whatâs going on, but it still doesnât say whether or notâI mean, to me the whole thing has to do with either intention or the gesture of music. Music is like listening to a language. Does it make sense to you as its going by? And something like that, there is no good gauge.