Phil Lesh Goes There and Back Again (Relix Revisited)
That was Furthur 1998; then, before the next tour, you got sick. You also had said that you didn’t like the artistic direction the Other Ones seemed to be taking.
Phil: Well, I thought that if it should continue, it should really have an identity of its own, rather than just recycling old Grateful Dead material. I thought everybody should get together and write new material and perform that – along with classic Grateful Dead material – which is, of course, what my band is going. And Bobby’s band, too.
Why didn’t it happen like that?
Phil: I got sick, and then other things sort of interfered, other business situations interior to the Grateful Dead.
How’d you find out you were sick?
Phil: I started puking up blood. It was the first day of school for my kids, and we were eating dinner on the deck. My wife was at a meeting, so I went to the hospital. They diagnosed me that I had what’s called varices in the esophagus, which is caused by backup pressure because the portal vein in the liver was completely clogged by scarring from hepatitis C. They said, “We don’t know how long this process is gonna take before you’re too sick to move but you’re going to need a liver.”
Was there a wait to get it?
Phil: Well, yes, of course. The wait is different in different areas. In major cities like San Francisco and L.A., there’re sometimes 300 people on the list. The sicker you are, the faster you get bumped to the top. Once you sign up for a liver transplant or an organ transplant, you’re on a list starting at a certain time and you sort of accumulate hours or days or months on the list at your particular hospital or transplant center. I was at Stanford and had eight weeks, nine weeks. But you can transfer this time over to another transplant center, so that’s what we did. After we checked everything out, we went down to Jacksonville [Florida, to the Mayo Clinic].
Were you scared?
Phil: Sure. At one point, the social worker – they have a social worker who’s part of the team – she said to my wife, “I’m the one who’s gonna have to take you through the body bag stage, if it doesn’t go right.”
Did you make yourself any promises or connect with a spirituality at that time?
Phil: Well, it kind of goes with the territory. You start realizing what’s important and what’s bullshit. Watching my kids play little league ball. A sunset. Leaves floating on the water. Little, silly things. It’s important to be around to be able to see and perceive these things.
Did it take a while to get back to playing music?
Phil: When I got back to California, it was another period of recuperation. Then I just wanted to start doing something so I got a hold of Trey [Anastasio] and Page [McConnell] and we put a gig together which was really cool, really fun. We pulled out some of the old classic Grateful Dead songs that hadn’t been done in a long time. That’s when I realized that this is one of the reasons I’m still here – to continue to reinterpret this music. There is no closure. There’s not gonna be any closure. The music demands to be reinterpreted and played continually, frequently, because that’s how we made it in the first place – to be played and to be developed continually.
How did you hook up with the Phish guys? Did you know them before?
Phil: No. I heard them play, some of their live tapes, because I was looking for some people to play this music – because the whole idea was rotating, musical chairs. I called them on the phone and said, “So, whaddya think? You wanna come out and do this for three days?” It was kind of an explosive comeback – not so much for me, but for that old music. “Viola Lee Blues” hadn’t been done in 40 years.
Did Trey and Page know most of the tunes?
Phil: Oh, yeah. They knew more than they would admit, let’s put it that way.
They’ve sort of wrestled with the idea of bearing the Grateful Dead mantle into the future. Did you talk about that with them?
Phil: A little bit. It’s a bit of a touchy subject with them, so I don’t really push it.
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