The Grateful Dead Revisited : A 1976 Interview with Jerry Garcia
I spoke with you briefly at the Providence Civic Center two years ago. You told me, “I’m not doing interviews this year,” and then you said, “I hate all my records. The Grateful Dead don’t make good records.
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s true.
You mean, that’s true that you said that or that’s true that they don’t?
Well, both of them are true. But it’s a matter of objectivity. It depends on which side of the coin you’re on. For example, if I buy somebody’s record—a Rolling Stones record or something—what I hear obviously is the finished record, the finished music and the whole thing that’s already happened. In other words, with a Grateful Dead record, part of what I’m dealing with is the dissonance between the original version, the original flash as a composer. When a song comes into my head, it comes with a complete sound to it, a complete arrangement, a complete format and a complete thing more often than not, which represents my relationship to a personal vision. So, for me, comparing the record to the vision, I always feel that it fails.
That doesn’t discourage you to the point of not wanting to make records?
It could. But it doesn’t, because there’s enough to making records or making music that there are enough other ways to get off. So I’m not that hung up on the relationship to the vision except that it produces sort of a feeling of disappointment. You want it to work a certain way and sometimes it doesn’t work as well as you want it to. Like I had a whole long thing I was working on as far as Blues For Allah was concerned that was a technical trip and it required a certain amount of developing hardware to go along with the idea, which is often the case with things I get involved with. Often I want to do something that you can only do by developing or interfacing a certain number of existing possibilities.
With Blues For Allah there was a thing I wanted to do that had to do with an envelope shaper and stuff like that didn’t come together the way I wanted it to. And so, when I listen to it, I think, “Well shit, it isn’t quite where I wanted it to be.” But in the long run, after, like, however many records—nineteen records or something like that—you feel that at least your percentages are getting closer and you’re able to score on other levels. Like on our earlier records, if I listen to them now, they are embarrassing for reasons like they’re out of tune.
And your recent records are never out of tune.
JG: (laughs) Now they’re much more together on those levels than they used to be. We’re much more able to pull off the technical aspect without having to sacrifice feeling. In terms of Blues For Allah, the latest Grateful Dead record I can talk about in this frame, I think that’s the first record we’ve made in years where we really had fun. We laughed a lot and got good and crazy. We had an opportunity to get weirder than we normally get to getting. First of all because we didn’t have the pressure of having to go out and tour and travel and thus break the flow.
Why didn’t you have the pressure?
Because we decided not to perform.
You didn’t need the money?
Well, it wasn’t the question of needing the money or not. That was…well, say we didn’t need the money.
Most of your money comes from performing, obviously…
Well, yeah. Sure. That’s been our main thing. ‘Course, most of our overhead and expenses are also the result of that too. It’s a lot easier for us to survive on some levels by not touring just because our expenses aren’t so huge. And with me going out and Kingfish going out (with Bob Weir), we were able to pretty much keep ourselves together.
Anyway, a couple of years ago you weren’t doing interviews. Now you are. Why the switch?
I like to do ‘em when I feel like I have something new to say. Every couple of years my viewpoint changes, you know what I mean? So I have something to say. I have some substance. Also, at the end of a year of rapping—if I have only one rap (laughs), one good thing to say and I spend a year saying it—pretty soon I’m burned out and I can’t stand to listen to it any more. But the fact that I haven’t been out traveling a lot and I’m not road weary also has something to do with it.
In our brief conversation two years ago, you said—in response to whether you were satisfied with the show—“If I was ever satisfied, I’d quit playing.”
Yeah, I think I might, in the sense that part of it is the thing of trying, taking chances.
So why now, at this point in time, do you have something to say? Your solo album?
The solo album is one thing. I think the movie is the thing ( The Grateful Dead Movie_).
Tell me about the movie.
JG: When we decided we weren’t going to perform anymore, our farewell show, so to speak, was five days at Winterland. It was after we got back from our second trip to Europe—October ’74. About a month before the Winterland dates I got the idea that it would be neat to be able to film it, just because I didn’t know if we were going to perform again. Or if we were going to perform in that kind of situation again. And that five nights in a place would at least give us the possibility, numerically anyway, that we would have one or two really good nights. In about two or three weeks the whole production thing came together to make the movie.
At first we thought, let’s just make a record of the idea, and I wanted it to look good. I wanted it to be really well filmed but I didn’t really know a lot about film when the idea got under way, but when it was time for the show to start, we had about nine camera crews and a lot of good backup people, good lighting people and the whole thing was already on its way to happening. It was chaotic but well organized in spite of the relatively short preproduction time we had. After the five days were over—and during that time I involved myself mostly with the music, I didn’t really get into the film part—we had a couple of hundred thousand feet of film in the can. So then it was, what’s going to happen to this? Originally, we were thinking in terms of what about a canned concert. Would something like that work? Could we send out a filmed version of ourselves? Then, after getting involved and interested in the movie as a project, I started looking at the footage and the concert stuff and I felt that there was a movie there. A movie in a movie sense rather than a movie in a canned concert sense. Then there was the thing of putting all that together and that’s what I’ve been working on the last year and a half, ever since the filming was over, really.
So it’s coming out not as a concert film.
It’s coming out as a movie.
Is there a plot to the movie?
(laughs) No. I mean, it’s a movie for Grateful Dead freaks. I think you could enjoy it from a perfectly normal moviegoer standpoint. I think it’s a very fine movie, but I don’t want to get into waving a flag about it. I want to see what kind of response there is to it first. Now we’re in our last series of fine cut stages. And I’ve tried to structure it in the same sense that Grateful Dead sets are constructed, so that it goes a lot of places. The concert footage is tremendously beautiful.
To be shown in the proverbial theater near you?
So far, we haven’t ironed that out, but I think we’re gonna try, like we always do, to distribute it ourselves. At least the first flash, so that we’ll have some control over the kind of playback system there is in the theaters.
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