Jerry Speaks: Pranksters, Philosophers, Portals
Rebecca: Do you think it’s arrogant to think that we have the ability to save the earth, and even if it is, do you think it’s a healthy attitude to develop anyway?
Jerry: It’s arrogant but I think we should develop it anyway.
David: How did you get involved in helping to save the rainforest?
Jerry: Well, I remember we started hearing about these things 25, 30 years ago almost. So we thought maybe we should call attention to this. Then there was the matter of finding out who the true players were, because there are a lot of bullshitters in the environmental movement, there are a lot of frauds.
You have to really go into it to find out who’s really doing stuff and also who has the right perspective. So for us, it was about a two year process of finding the players and then getting them to agree to work together so we could do something that would matter. I think everybody wants to do stuff about these problems. We didn’t want to just call attention to how powerless everybody is, instead we wanted to do some things that were really hands on using direct action, and it’s worked out quite well.
Rebecca: Can you tell us about any current projects that you’re involved in?*
Jerry: I’m involved in an interesting project with a little symphony orchestra down the peninsula called The Redwood Symphony. I’m getting about five or six musicians to write pieces for me and this orchestra. Danny Elfman is one, David Byrne seems to want to do one. Bob Bralove, David Grisman…The interesting part about it for me is that my oldest daughter plays first violinist with this orchestra. So it’ll be kind of fun to be involved in a project where she and I play together.
Rebecca: That sounds wonderful. What are some of the basic messages in your music?
Jerry: We’ve always avoided putting any kind of message in there, (Laughter) but I find myself more comfortable with committing to emotional truths as life goes on. I’m not an actor so I can’t get on stage and sing a song that doesn’t have some emotional reality for me. Sometimes it’s only something about the sound of the lyrics, it may not be the sense of it at all, but there has to be something in there that’s real for me.
Hunter’s really good about writing into my beliefs—he understands the way I think and he knows me well enough to know what I’ll do and what I won’t do. He knows that I’m always going to be battling with my intelligence about whether I can sing this lyric or if I’m going to feel like an idiot singing it. It has to resonate in some way.
Rebecca: I’ve been impressed throughout this interview by your modesty. How have you managed to remain so unaffected by your fame?
Jerry: If you were me, you’d be modest, too. (Laughter) Deadheads are very kind. When they enter my private life, they almost always say, “I just want to thank you for the music, I don’t want to bother you.” When I feel that I really don’t want to know about it, I just tell them. I treat everybody who speaks to me with respect. I’ve never been hurt by anybody or threatened in any way so I have no cause to be afraid of this kind of stuff. It just isn’t part of my life most of the time.
Besides, I’m kind of like a good-ol’ celebrity. People think they know me. It’s not like, “Oh gosh! Look who it is!” It’s more like, “Hi, how ya doin’?” I’m a comfortable celebrity. It’s very hard to take the fame seriously and I don’t think anybody wants me to. What’s it good for? The best thing about it is that you get to meet famous people and you get to play with wonderful musicians.
Rebecca: If you hadn’t been a musician, what might you have been?
Jerry: I’d be an artist. I was an art student and that was where I was going in my life before music sort of seduced me.
David: What inspired you to design a line of ties?
Jerry: I don’t really have any control over them, they’re just extracted from my artwork. I don’t design ties, for God’s sake! (Laughter)
Rebecca: You mentioned earlier about how something that you could call God had the same sense of humor as you. Some people get extremely fractured as a result of intense psychic happenings and I was wondering how you feel about the importance of humor when faced with such mind-blowing experiences?
Jerry: I think humor is incredibly important. It’s fundamental. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and your place in the universe.
Rebecca: What do you think happens when you lose your sense of humor?
Jerry: Well, at the very least , you won’t have much fun. (Laughter) Humor characterizes consciousness. For me, life would be so empty without humor—it would be unbearable, it would be like life without music.
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