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Built To Last: A Conversation with Jerry Garcia

by Steve Peters on August 04, 2014

Do you get mail from Russian Deadheads?

Well I don’t think Russians can get their letters out of the Soviet Union all that successfully, you know? ( laughs ) No, we’ve always have a little trickle of stuff from behind the Iron Curtain, but it’s mostly been Czechoslovakia, Poland―the more liberal, the easier-going of the Warsaw Pact nations.

Besides the Dylan And The Dead LP, you haven’t released a live record in some time. Are there any plans for one soon?

We recorded the summer and we’re 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 disc…

No, that’s not true―what we’re doing is we’re gradually transferring the stuff mostly to DAT (digital audio tape), not to compact disc. We’re just getting into the digital domain, just so it’ll last longer. But that’s a project that could take a hundred years, you know? We’re not doing it in any kind of methodical way. We certainly don’t have the ability to say “Get it done” ―we know we can’t assign that kind of work. It’s one of those things you have to do in real time… it’s tedious and it’s time-consuming and it’s a total bummer. We may or may not do it. It may be that we’ll just take certain stuff and convert it to DAT, I don’t know. Again, it’s one of those things. It’s a resource that in a way we’re not exactly sure what to do with. We’ve got it all. It’s all sitting there, but none of us has the heart to go through and listen to it. I certainly don’t. None of us has the time, either. We’re all moving ahead, so the idea of going back and looking back―it’s for somebody else to do. It’s 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 merchandising―CDs of various performances―and see just what happens, you know? We’ve tossed it around for a long time, but we haven’t 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 wouldn’t have the tapers. We’d cut all that loose, but we would still be able to provide music to anybody who wanted it from any given show. That’s kind of our idea, but then implementing that kind of an idea is totally out of the question. It can’t be done. That’s one of the reasons why we still let the people tape and so forth. It’s hard to figure out exactly how to approach this stuff when you’re 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 ‘66, ’67 somewhere. There’s some stuff that’s really old. Certainly not all of it is good by any means―most 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 can’t do it. I only hear it in terms of what I―although I’m so far removed from most of it now, I don’t have the trouble with it that I used to have. I hear what’s wrong with it. I don’t hear what’s good about it, I hear what’s wrong with it, and listen to it and say, “God, that’s terrible! It’s so out of tune, anf the tempo’s all weird,” and it’s just horrible. For me, it’s kind of a pain. It’s 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.

That’s interesting because I preferred the second night. Goes to show you how subjective it all is…

Absolutely subjective. I mean, I’m talking about it from my point of view. I have to do it, like― 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. “How many times did I try for something and have it work out kind of nice and invisibly?” And when that happens, nobody appreciates it but me. ‘Cause it sounds like I mean it, it sounds like “Hey, this guy is just playing competently, he’s not playing great.” But if you go from the point of view where it starts off from absolutely nothing and I’m inventing it as I go along, if it works out right―if the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed and it’s punctuated correctly―like a miracle. So from my point of view this stuff is miraculous, but nobody else is able to appreciate how really miraculous it is ‘cause nobody is inside me when I’m playing.

How soon in the context of any given show can you gauge its success of failure?

I can’t. Again, it’s one of those things that for me, it’s so emotional―it’s just the way I feel. If I’m not enjoying myself, the music may be great, but if I’m not enjoying myself it really doesn’t matter. For me, it’s hard to get over the emotional barrier. The experience as it is for me, there’s all kinds of different ways it could conceivably go, and even at the very worst it’s still interesting. So if I think of it in terms of being approximately what I meant or not, it’s one of those things that there’s no ground to stand on where you can say, “Well, this is absolutely better than this over here.” It just isn’t that kind of thing. I don’t know exactly what it is. There’s certain aesthetics where you can say “Well 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.” You can do that kind of stuff, a note-by-note analysis of what’s going on, but it still doesn’t say whether or not―I 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.

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