Built To Last: A Conversation with Jerry Garcia
How in touch are you with the Deadheads themselves? Is there any interaction beyond getting onstage and playing?
Yeah, a certain amount. I don’t have meetings with Deadheads on a regular basis, but people do talk to me, and people write to us endlessly. People make known what their feelings are. And also there’s things like The Well, which is a computer network where lots of Deadhead discussion kind of stuff goes on, and you can always poke into it if you want to find out what people are saying. There also are people who are very concerned with what Deadheads say who are part of our scene who will report saying, “Hey, look, they’re saying this” or “they’re saying that.” But we operate on rumors and stuff just like everybody else does too, to a certain extent. But there is some dialogue on there.
A lot of people were happily surprised to hear you bring back “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” this past weekend. How did that come about?
I remembered the song! ( laughs )
It wasn’t spur-of-the moment obviously…
No, we rehearsed it. You pretty much have to rehearse something if you haven’t done it for a long time, at least go through it and say, “Here’s how it does.” And that’s one of those tunes―it’s a good tune. There’s no reason not to do it.
The same can be said for a lot of other songs you’ve dropped from your sets…
That’s true, but some of them are not very performable. Some of them are very difficult to perform, or at least weird to perform, and some of them just don’t work now. But some of them do. We’ll eventually find the ones that do and, you know…
Then there’s the people that come to every show hoping for that elusive “Dark Star” or “St. Stephen” …
Yeah, right. Well, eventually we’ll play ‘em.
Are the rigors of constant touring taking more of a toll on you as you get older?
No, it’s getting easier in some ways! And we also make every effort to make it as humane as possible, too. I mean we’ve already done our tough tours. We had those during the ‘70s. It’s pretty easy to survive it now.
Are you feeling healthy these days?
Yeah, pretty good.
Did you have to find substitutes to replace your previous habits?
Not really, no. It’s kind of like when you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough, really. For me, it was one of those things that was not that difficult. It was easier than I thought it was going to be. On the other hand, I have no idea how much drug-taking or any of that had to do with my subsequent breakdown. But it’s ironic that after I cleaned up, then I broke down! ( laughs ) That was weird. It was like “Hey, maybe I was better off on drugs! At least I wasn’t dying!” But I’m okay now.
I wanted to ask you what kind of music you’re currently listening to. Do you keep abreast of new things?
No, I don’t keep abreast but I do listen to new stuff. I’ve been listening to some interesting music from Martinique, which is a French-speaking island, and this stuff is recorded in France. It’s got some of that Afro-Cuban intensity, but some of that kind of Brazilian sophistication harmonically. It’s something in between those two worlds. It’s very engaging music, really pretty stuff, and also has a great drive. Other stuff, too―there’s some interesting African guitarists, a kind of finger-picking thing with African music that’s interesting. I keep up with the bluegrass world some, and I kind of listen to whatever’s going on. I spend a lot of time going back and listening to stuff, too. I always go back and listen to Art Tatum and Django Reinhardt, and Miles’ [Davis] stuff I listen to all the way through, his whole career. John Coltrane. Ornette Coleman. Mostly it’s one of those things where you stumble from one thing to another, and somebody says, “Hey, listen to this. This is really great.” Musicians turn you on to stuff.
The collaborations you did with Ornette on his last album were great. It was really a pleasure to hear you in that kind of setting…
Well, it’s a trios thing. Rob Wasserman is doing a trios album. His last one was Duets. Now he’s doing a trios one, and he wants me to do a thing with Edie Brickwell. I would love to do it. It would be interesting and fun to do. I like to stay open for things like that. I’m doing some stuff for Merl Saunders, and I did some stuff with Warren Zevon. You know, whenever these things come up, if the time is there―I owe Country Joe McDonald a record, too. I’m supposed to produce one of his records, and if I ever get the time I’d love to do it. I’d love to do more producing if I could. Time is the killer for me. There’s not enough time to do all the stuff I want to.
How do you relax when you have time off?
I go scuba-diving.
No, in Hawaii usually. That’s what I like to do.