Jerry Garcia: Portrait of an Artist as a Tripper
Let’s talk about music for a moment. Do you feel some songs are much more psychedelic than others?
No, I don’t. The audience does. There are schools of thought about this, but for me all music is psychedelic. Country and western music is psychedelic. The blues is psychedelic. Everything is psychedelic. All music.
Let’s go back to your first psychedelic experience – peyote. Who gave it to you?
I don’t even remember where I got it from, from a connection that had something to do with the old cabal in Berkeley and there were some people who were members of the Native American church who got it through legitimate channels from the Navahos, Hopis, whatever.
This was before you met Ken Kesey or anything?
Yeah, a long time before that. My friend Bob Hunter had his psychedelics in the federal program at Stanford where Kesey got turned on to it. So I had known about psychedelics and of course I had read The Doors of Perception and saw this show about LSD where they thought at the time that it was producing what they described as a temporary madness, a temporary schizophrenia. I remember being very impressed by this artist who was drawing. He was in this just incredible ecstasy and he was drawing strange things. I thought, “God, I’d love to get some of that,” even when I was a kid.
How was it?
I didn’t get off very good from my first peyote experiences because the taste was so hideously horrible. I got sick as a dog of course and I mean I really wasn’t prepared for it and it wasn’t that great. I mean I had been much weirder before, taking speed for five days and hallucinating madly at the end of it. I already knew that there was something.
Is there any experience that stands out as the highest?
The experience of the dying many deaths. It started to get more and more in kind of a feedback loop, this thing where I was suddenly in the last frames of my life, and then it was like, “Here’s that moment where I die.” I run up the stairs and there’s this demon with a spear who gets me right between the eyes. I run up the stairs there’s a woman with a knife who stabs me in the back. I run up the stairs and there’s this business partner who shoots me. Boom. And it was like playing the last frame of a movie over and over with subtle variations and that branched out into a million deaths of all sorts and descriptions. I don’t think I ever really recovered from it.
Well what does that mean? You mean you were transformed by it?
Yeah, I was a different person then again.
Well what do you make of reality now?
I think it’s mostly a joke pretty much. It’s hard to take it very seriously just because I know that just around the corner, metaphorically speaking, there’s a whole lot more. There’s a whole lot of other stuff. I don’t know what it is or why it’s there or why it’s so highly organized, but I know that this reality is basically tossing cards in a hat. In the face of all of the stuff there is in the mind.
Why shouldn’t LSD be considered as just another drug?
My feeling about it is that all drugs should be legal. I think heroin should be legal. I think that cocaine should be legal. I don’t mean legal exactly. If they want to take the narco dollar out of existence. If they want to make it so that that huge sum of money that people are spending that the economy is going, it’s leaving this country, the way to do it is to make it so that people pay what they’re actually the cost of. I mean, drugs are not expensive.
The thing is that you say it’s different. We all feel it’s different. But what is the difference?
I think the difference is that LSD is not strictly pleasurable. I think that you could take cocaine and pretty much never scare yourself or heroin for that matter. Apart from having an overdose and being uncomfortable for a while – say, for cocaine or dying with heroin – but you certainly die peacefully. LSD can scare you and that’s one of the things that makes it different.
The last thing I want to ask you about, this is sort of an odd question but it’s a simple one: Why are you giving me this interview?
I want to be able to say to people in this time, with the big “Just Say No” where everybody is so roundly against drugs, that, hey, not all drug experiences are negative. I would like for that minority voice to be heard. Some drug experiences are quite positive and can be life-enhancing and can be pleasant and can be not dangerous and don’t necessarily promote criminal activity.
One of the quotes that I read was that you realized there was more than we’d been allowed to believe.
Who allows us?
That’s what I wonder. Who is the guy, where does it say, even in the ten commandments, “Thou shalt not get high. Thou shalt not change your consciousness” ? Who says? The way I understood it, it was helpful to change your consciousness sometimes.