Jerry Speaks: Pranksters, Philosophers, Portals
Rebecca: Do you think that people in government have a knee-jerk reaction to drug use because they are afraid of unleashing the autonomous sensitivities that come with individuals exploring their own minds?
Jerry: I don’t think they’re doing it on purpose, it’s just part of the traditional way to act. It’s part of that questionable quality called “responsibility,” of somebody thinking that somebody should behave themselves somewhere. The ideas about what that means are very narrow and sadly in need of rethinking.
Rebecca: So even hardened addicts—and now, of course, I’m talking about heroin, cocaine and crack users—have a right to use these drugs if this is what they feel they need to do, in the same way that society allows for people to become alcoholics?
Jerry: Why not? What’s the objection?
David: Well, the objection would be that it puts a strain on society. If addicts need medical care, it has to come out of the tax-payers money.
Jerry: I think addicts represent so little in the way of medical care. If society is worrying about taking care of people or not, it could start anywhere. Part of the whole rehabilitation of people is taking them out of the criminal spiral of having to get money to score their dope. If addicts have the drugs they need, it may be possible for them to get steady enough to start doing regular stuff like holding down a job.
Rebecca: Just such a system has been put into effect in England, after they gave up on the war-on-drugs approach, and it’s proven to be a success. People are overcoming their addictions while maintaining their self-esteem. They’re allowed to remain with their families and are able to hold down regular jobs.
Jerry: Right. There’s nothing that says you can’t be productive if you’re an addict. The problem is the illegality. It puts such a stress on the whole system. The war on drugs is a failure, but people will never admit this.
Rebecca: Isn’t part of the drug problem also the social environment we’ve created for those less fortunate, the dog-eat-dog attitude of capitalist philosophy? Psychedelics are so different from a drug like crack. You use psychedelics to expand your experience of life, but many people use drugs to deaden an otherwise painful existence.
Jerry: Perhaps. But if life is miserable, what’s wrong with adding a buffer to it so that your experience of it is a little gentler?
Rebecca: Do you have hope that the legalization of drugs will come about?
Jerry: I have hope that something like that might happen some day, but I don’t think it will, not realistically, not as long as there are people in power who believe that they know how other people should behave.
Rebecca: What would you say to someone who described the Grateful Dead as simply a grand nostalgia trip?
Jerry: Well, that’s certainly an opinion. I don’t think anybody who comes to our shows would see that. First of all, there are kids at our shows. It’s not nostalgia for them—it’s happening now.
Rebecca: But they might be nostalgic for what they missed out on in the ‘60s.
Jerry: That might be, but I don’t think that’s the case. The Grateful Dead has evolved—it does things. It isn’t a steady-state, it’s not a remnant. Really, the whole thing has been slowly growing all this time. It didn’t level off at some point and then people started re-energizing it, it’s been gradually picking up energy.
David: When you project into the future, how do you see your music evolving?
Jerry: I have no idea. I was never able to predict it in the past, I certainly don’t feel confident to predict it now.
David: Did you ever imagine it would get this far?
Jerry: Oh God, no! It exceeded my best expectations 15, 20 years ago. We’re way past the best I could come up with. (Laughter)
David: How did you come up with the name the Grateful Dead?
Jerry: We called ourselves the Warlocks and we found out that some other band had that name so we were trying to come up with a new one. I picked up a dictionary and literally the first thing I saw when I looked down at the page was the Grateful Dead. It was a little creepy, but I thought it was a striking combination of words.
Nobody in the band liked it, I didn’t like it either, but it got around that that was one of the candidates for our new name and everybody else said, “Yeah, that’s great.” It turned out to be tremendously lucky. It’s just repellent enough to filter curious onlookers and just quirky enough that parents don’t like it. (Laughter)
David: What’s your concept of God, if you have one?
Jerry: I was raised a Catholic, so it’s very hard for me to get out of that way of thinking. Fundamentally, I’m a Christian in that I believe that to love your enemy is a good idea somehow. Also, I feel that I’m enclosed within a Christian framework so huge that I don’t believe it’s possible to escape it, it’s so much a part of the western point of view. So I admit it, and I also believe that real Christianity is okay. I just don’t like the exclusivity clause.
But as far as God goes, I think that there is a higher order of intelligence; something along the lines of whatever it is that makes the DNA work. Whatever it is that keeps our bodies functioning and our cells changing, the organizing principle—whatever it is that created all these wonderful life-forms that we’re surrounded by in its incredible detail.
There’s definitely a huge vast wisdom of some kind at work here. Whether it’s personal—whether there’s a point of view in there, or whether we’re the point of view, I think is up for discussion. I don’t believe in a supernatural being.
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Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
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