Jerry Garcia: Portrait of an Artist as a Tripper
During the "Days Between" Jerry Garcia's birth on August 1 (1942) and his passing on August 9 (1995), we share this interview which originally ran in our August 2008 issue.
I met Jerry Garcia in a hotel room in Buffalo, New York on July 3rd, 1989. Right from the start, he was friendly, warm and open, like we were just a couple of guys chatting over some beers. The room was very plain â no flowers, no paraphernalia, no silver trays with notes from admirers. I canât say, though, what was in the adjoining room, which I knew was his as well, because at one point the connecting door opened and his girlfriend Menashe walked in. She too, was very friendly, and when I said I would be done soon, she told me not to worry, that she just needed something, but I should stay.
At one point I even mentioned that I had heard he had some Jewish ancestry, but he assured me it wasnât true. âWell, Iâll skip all the Jewish questions,â I said. âOh, go ahead,â he chuckled. It was clear that he wanted to talk and maybe that was only partly because of the subject. The rest of it may have been because, well, vegetating in a hotel room before a gig isnât the most fun. In fact, at one point he just out-and-out said, âTalk as long as you want. I donât have anything else to do.â It was all very relaxed. I finished up the interview and that was that.
Then about ten years later, I got a call from Dennis McNally, the Deadâs publicist. He was preparing to write A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead and had come across the transcript of the interview that Iâd sent him years before. âHow did you get this?â he asked. âWhat do you mean?â I questioned in return. âYouâre the one who set it up.â True, he said, but no one else had gotten Jerry to open up that way about his psychedelic experiences, and could he, he wanted to know, use a few quotes in his book. I gave my okay, and then said, âYou know, it was funny. It seemed like Jerry wanted me to stay, like he wanted the company, but I was just there as an interviewer, and I couldnât go beyond my role.â âTell me about it,â he answered, surprising me, âI felt that way for years.â
In retrospect, I think I know why Jerry was so forthcoming.
When I met him, I was working on a (still unpublished) book about LSD, for which I had already interviewed Albert Hofmann, who discovered it, Timothy Leary, and numerous other people, famous, infamous and unheard of, who had had memorable roles in psychedelic history. I think the project appealed to him, because as he put it, âThere are a lot of questions that it would be nice if somebody would address them in a serious way.â I told Jerry a little bit about what Iâd learned, the most important point being that the supposed dangers of acid were all hype. He asked me why I was writing about it at all. I told him that LSD had meant a lot to me and I was just being loyal to it. He said he thought that was a good thing. For him, he said, LSD had made it âeasier to not fitâ into society, and that instead of feeling damaged, as a result, he felt that, âIn fact, my life has turned out to be really amazing.â I think Jerry gave me the interview, because, in the end, he was loyal to it, too.
When was the last time you took psychedelics?
Some time in the last year, maybe mushrooms, because I think itâs milder, easier to handle. The nervous system stress is something that a younger body handles better.
Youâve slowed down to what? A couple of times a year?
Yeah, irregularly. Itâs not something I plan for. Itâs something that Iâm likely to do on impulse. But I always keep some psychedelics around. I like to have some DMT. I like DMT âcause it takes you a long way and itâs short. It doesnât take a day and youâre back to reality in like an hour, but in the meantime it sort of blows out the tubes. In terms of the psychedelic requirement â that you experience some kind of supernormal perception of some sort or even imagine that you do, whether itâs in the mind or whatever â if thatâs the criterion, then to me thereâs times when thatâs helpful. Itâs like a coffee break almost, you know what I mean?
Does legality make a difference?
To me it does. I donât think it does in the long run, but it does in the sense of the encroachment of the world at large, the interference of it with the flow of your experience whatever it may be. The modern world I find more frightful, thatâs why the high energy mass is a little bit hard to handle, because everything I hear is a siren or a helicopter or something. Itâs like immediate paranoia of some sort â sometimes high energy paranoia, full of lots of overlapping horror fantasies and sometimes itâs just interference. And that has to do with something to do with my connotation, thatâs my own personal stamp on what the world is like. I donât feel that itâs a kinder, gentler world.
Iâm hoping that people will get a better idea about LSD and psychedelics just from the collective sense of what it really means to people.
For me it was a profoundly life changing experience. It has a lot to do with where I am now and why Iâm here and why I do what I do and it all fits in and it was all happening as I was making the decisions to become who I am, you know what I mean? So it all steered me directly into this place.
Were there specific insights? Does it reduce to any kinds of things you can actually talk about?
Well, a couple of like cute one-liners, but basically they donât translate out here. They have to do with my personality and the voice thatâs speaking to me had the same sense of humor. It isnât like I canât talk about it. For example, there was one time when I thought that everybody on earth had been evacuated in flying saucers and the only people left were these sort of lifeless automatons that were walking around, and thereâs that kind of sound of that hollow mocking laughter, when you realize that youâre the butt of the universeâs big joke. Thereâs a certain sardonic quality to it that I recognize as my own personality.
Youâve talked about there being a scary side.
For me some of the scary ones were the most memorable. I had one where I thought I died multiple times. It got into this thing of death, kind of the last scene, the last scene of hundreds of lives and thousands of incarnations and insect deaths and these, like, kinds of life where I remember spending some long bout, like eons, as kind of sentient fields of wheat, that kind of stuff. Incredible things and these sort of long, pastoral extraterrestrial kind of cultures, kind of bringing in the sheaves sort of things.