The Grateful Dead Revisited : A 1976 Interview with Jerry Garcia
When you write with Robert Hunter, you write the music and he writes the lyrics?
More often than not. But also it’s a little freer than that, too. I edit his work an awful lot and, for example, a tune like “U.S. Blues” really will start off with 300 possible verses. Then it’s a matter of carving them down to ones that are singable. Other songs are like stories. A lot of time I edit out the sense of Hunter’s songs.
So you’re the reason he seems so deranged.
Yeah (laughs). I’m an influence in that. And when I edit his stuff, he really treats it with skepticism, but we have a thing of trust between us now so that he usually laughs when I hack out the sense of the song. Dump it. We have a real easy relationship.
By the way, you have one of the strangest record company bios I’ve ever read. It was credited to Hunter.
I actually think that bio was written by Willy Legate.
Who is he?
Willy Legate is this guy who’s an old, old friend of me and Hunter’s and Phil’s and out whole scene, and he’s a lot of things. And one of those things he is, is sort of a bible scholar. And he’s a madman. We were exposed to him really a lot during a formative period of our intellectual life. And he’s still around in our scene.
He’s the guy who wrote “There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert” and he wrote the little blurb inside the Europe ’72 album about the bolos and the bozos. We also call on him to do various things. One time we asked the Deadheads to send us their thoughts, just to get some feedback from them. And they sent us lots and lots of letters and we gave ‘em all to Willy. And he ended up with, like, a two page condensation of all the letters, with every viewpoint, that was just tremendously amazing to read. It was just so packed with information.
Willy is someone who has a lot of different kinds of gifts. He also even wrote some lyrics to some of our early songs before we started recording, but we’ve subsequently stopped doing the tunes. But he’s another creative head in our scene that operated way back from the public.
What kinds of things do you care a lot about these days?
(Pauses) I think the thing I’m most into is the survival of the Grateful Dead. I think that’s my main trip now.
Was there ever a point when you didn’t care a whole lot about that?
So this is pretty new?
Yeah, pretty new.
How long has this been going on?
I would say about a year.
Why is that?
Well, I feel like I’ve had both trips, in a sense that I’ve been in the Grateful Dead for ten or twelve years and I’ve also been out of it, in the sense of going out in the world and travelling and doing things just under my own hook. And really, I’m not that taken with my own ideas. I don’t really have that much to say and I’m more interested in being involved in something that’s larger than me. And I really can’t talk to anybody else either (laughs). So sometime in the last year, I decided, yeah, that’s it, that’s definitely the farthest out thing I’ve ever been involved in, and it’s the thing that makes me feel best. And it seems to have the most ability to sort of neutrally put something good into the mainstream. It’s also fascinating in the sense of the progression. The year to year changes are fascinating.I would say that’s the thing I’m most concerned about now. Everything else has gotten to be so weird. And I’ve never been attracted to the flow politically.
No. It just isn’t interesting to me.
Do you vote?
No. Vote for what? Even looking for decently believable input from that world is a scene. So I haven’t developed that much interest in the motions of the rest of the world. I’m mainly interested in improving the relationship between the band and the audience, and I’m into being onstage and playing.
How about causes, like the legalization of marijuana, that kind of stuff?
It’s all passing stuff. I don’t know. I don’t have anything to say about moral things. Or legal things. I think there’s a lot of confusion on those levels. Basically my framework politically or anything like that is, I’m into a completely free, wide open, total anarchy space. That’s what I want (laughs). Obviously I’m not going to be able to sell that to anybody (more laughter). Nobody’s going to dig that.
You can’t even give that away…
Exactly. So I don’t even bother. If I have a flag to wave, it’s a non-flag. But as a life problem, the Grateful Dead is an anarchy. That’s what it is, it doesn’t have any…stuff. It doesn’t have any goals. It doesn’t have any plans. It doesn’t have any leaders. Or real organization. And it works. It even works in the straight world. It doesn’t work too good. It doesn’t work like General Motors does, but it works OK. And it’s more fun.
I’m curious to see what effect your new-found attention for the Grateful Dead is going to have on your music.
It’ll be interesting. See, I’ve always been real ambivalent about it. It’s like one of those things that, I’ve always wanted to work out, but I never wanted to try and make it do that. And, in fact, everyone in the Grateful Dead has always had that basic attitude. So we’ll see what happens.
(Steve Weitzman is a freelance music critic who has written for Rolling Stone, Musician, Billboard and others.)
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