Jerry Speaks: Pranksters, Philosophers, Portals
David: How do you feel about the fact that many people have interpreted your music as the inspiration for a whole lifestyle—the Deadhead culture?
Jerry: Well, a little silly! (Laughter) You always feel about your own work that it’s never quite what it should be. There’s always a dissonance between what you wish was happening and what is actually happening. That’s the nature of creativity, that there’s a certain level of disappointment in there.
So, on one level it’s amusing that people make so much stuff out of this and on another level, I believe it’s their right to do that, because in a way the music belongs to them. When we’re done with it, we don’t care what happens to it. If people choose to mythologize it, it certainly doesn’t hurt us.
Rebecca: How do you feel about the fact that you enjoy such a divine-like status in the eyes of so many of your fans?
Jerry: These things are all illusions. Fame is an illusion. I know what I do and I know about how well I do it, and I know what I wish I could do. Those things don’t enter my life, I don’t buy into any of that stuff. I can’t imagine who would. Look at David Koresh. If you start believing any of that kind of stuff about yourself, where does it leave you?
David: What about the subjective experience a lot of people talk about that there’s a group-mind experience that occurs at your shows?
Jerry: That’s been frequently reported to me. In fact, even more specifically, of direct telepathic connection of some kind.
Rebecca: Do you experience that yourself?
Jerry: I can’t say that I do, because I’m in a position of causality. So, I don’t look at the audience and think, “I’m making them do what I want them to do.”
Rebecca: I’m thinking of it more as a spontaneous, non-causal experience which is being mediated by something greater than either yourself or the audience.
Jerry: You might think of it as a kind of channeling. At the highest level, I’m letting something happen—I’m not causing it to happen. We all understand that mechanism in the Grateful Dead and we also know that fundamentally we’re not responsible.
We’re opening a door, but we’re not responsible for what comes through it. So in a sense, I can’t take credit for it. We’re like a utility, like a conduit for life-energy, psychic energy—whatever it is. It’s not up to us to define it or to describe it or to enclose it in any way.
Rebecca: It’s rumored that the Grateful Dead can control the weather. Can you shed any light on this? (Laughter)
Jerry: (Laughter) No. We do not control the weather.
Rebecca: You’ve heard those rumors though?
Jerry: I’ve heard them, of course. Sometimes it seems as though we’re controlling the weather.
Rebecca: But that is synchronicity?
Jerry: It’s synchronicity, exactly.
Rebecca: So what is the relationship dynamic like between you and the audience when you’re on stage?
Jerry: When things are working right, you gain levels—it’s like bardos. The first level is simply your fundamental relationship to your instrument. When that starts to get comfortable, the next level is your relationship to the other musicians. When you’re hearing what you want to and things seem to be working the way you want them to, then it includes the audience. When it gets to that level, it’s seamless. It’s no longer an effort, it flows and it’s wide open.
Sometimes, however, when I feel that that’s happening, that music is really boring. It’s too perfect. What I like most is to be playing with total access, where anything that I try to play or want to happen, I can execute flawlessly—for me that’s the high-water mark. But perfection is always boring.
Rebecca: I’ve heard that musicians using computer synthesizers are complaining that the sound produced is so perfect that it’s uninteresting, and that manufacturers are now looking to program in human error.
Jerry: Right. I think the audience enjoys it more when it’s a little more of a struggle.
David: What is it that you feel is missing in that case?
David: Tension between what and what?
Jerry: The tension between trying to create something and creating something, between succeeding and failing. Tension is a part of what makes music work—tension and release, or if you prefer, dissonance and resonance, or suspension and completion.
David: Joseph Campbell, the renowned mythologist, attended a number of your shows.
Jerry: He loved it. For him, it was the bliss he’d been looking for. “This is the antidote to the atom bomb,” he said at one time.
David: He also described it as a modern-day shamanic ritual, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are about the association between music, consciousness and shamanism.
Jerry: If you can call drumming music, music has always been a part of it. It’s one of the things that music can do—it can transport. That’s what music should do at it’s best—it should be a transforming experience. The finest, the highest, the best music has that quality of transporting you to other levels of consciousness.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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