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The Relix Interview: Jerry Garcia (Part I)

Jeff Tamarkin | August 01, 2017
As we enter The Days Between, here is part one of a two-part interview with Jerry Garcia spanning two issues from 1980. The first part below originally appeared in the August 1980 issue of Relix. 

Jerry Garcia ambles into the hotel room overlooking New York's Central Park. He appears relaxed, although in four hours, he will be on stage at Nassau Coliseum for the second of a three night stand. But he doesn't seem overly concerned about that or anything else. Garcia appears happy, and if being a major rock star has ever gotten to his head, he doesn't show it. He's as cordial as can be. Does he mind if the photographer shoots a few pics? No, go right ahead. Does he want to do the interview anywhere special? Wherever we want. He's that kind of person, and as an interview subject is a delight, answering every question in detail, in an honest, forthright manner. He seems to enjoy talking about the Dead, himself, the Deadheads, and the group's mystique as much as the most avid Deadhead does. And for someone in the eye of the hurricane, he has a remarkably acute understanding of its workings. 

This is the first of two parts of the Relix interview with Jerry Garcia. In this half, he talks about the Deadheads--how he views them, how they've changed over the years, how they affect the band--and about his relationships with Robert Hunter, the Dead's record company, and drugs in the '80s. 

I’d like to start off with a general observation and hear any comment you have on it. That is, that most people, after experiencing the Grateful Dead, either love them or hate them. There is no in-between. Someone will either become a Deadhead after hearing or seeing the band, or shrug them off and say yechh! But they will rarely, if ever, have no opinion. 

Jerry Garcia: Well, that seems pretty cut and dry (laughs). I’m aware of that phenomenon, I guess. What happens is that someone turns their friends on to us in the same spirit or sense that they would turn their friends on to pot. They turn them on because they have a good experience and they have a good time. It used to be real frustrating. I’ve talked to fans about this who have said, ‘Jesus, I invited 20 of my friends to this and you guys played awful!' (laughs). That stuff used to happen to us all the time. We’ve gotten to be a lot more consistent. Now, those people can bring their friends and at the very worst, they’ll get a nice, professional show. But I’m aware of that mechanism. The thing is that it’s an ongoing process. Our audience now has a very large number of 15, 16 and 17 year-olds. They’re kids who are obviously not from our generation but are every bit as enthusiastic about what we did as any of our audiences have ever been. Our audience is larger now than it’s ever been. It’s more vital now than it’s ever been, and we’re happenin’.

Do you relate to an audience of 15 and 16 year-olds today the same way you related to the kids that came to see the band in the ‘60s, when you were a lot closer to that age yourselves?

JG: Sure, ‘cause they’re the same kind of people. They’re people that can dig what we’re doing. And it’s hard not to like someone who likes what you do.

How do you feel about the hard-core Dead fanatics who follow the band on a 25-city tour? Do you think that’s a healthy thing to do?

Well, it’s obviously very important to them. And more than that, it’s giving them an adventure. They have stories to tell. Like, "Remember that time we had to go all the way to Colorado and we had to hitchhike the last 400 miles because the VW broke down in Kansas." Or something like that. Y’know what I mean? That’s giving them a whole common group of experiences which they can talk about. For a lot of people, going to Grateful Dead concerts is like bumping into a bunch of old friends. There’s a vast network of Deadheads. They’re kind of like people who have come to know and recognize each other and it’s like support. Sometimes a person can find a ride across the country with a Deadhead, or stay over at somebody's house, or any of that. So, that seems to function pretty well for them.

Isn’t it possible, though, that some people might put so much of themselves into the Dead experience all the time, that they lost a part of themselves in the process?

JG: Oh, for sure. I know I have (laughs). So, I’m sure it’s possible. But our commitment to the idea is as deep as the most crazed Deadhead’s. So I don’t feel as though we’re burning anybody on that level. We continue to do what we’re doing.

This is somewhat related. It seems there are two basic types of Deadheads in a given audience. There’s the one who just goes to get high and dance around and have a good time, and the one who goes there to analyze, like by saying, "Well, that guitar solo wasn’t quite as good as the one he did in Boston in ’73, but…"

JG: Right, the scholarly approach. The students of Grateful Dead music.

If you were a member of the Grateful Dead audience, instead of the stage, which type do you think you’d be?

JG: I could go both ways. There was a time in my life when I was one of those guys who toted around a tape recorder. I used to follow bluegrass bands around and record them. I was of the analytical bent. I was a comparer- this show was better than that and blah, blah, blah. But that was sort of a different me. I understand, though, and sympathize. I understand both points of view. I understand the sheer joy of being there, even if the music is not the best possible performance. And also, there are those times when it gets lucky, it gets special. Those are worth waiting around for. Those are the glue that holds us together, our glue-on particle, the possibility that something exceptional will happen musically.

How have the audiences changed the most over the years?

JG: They’ve gotten bigger, that’s for sure. But for us, surprisingly, they haven’t changed too much. They respond similarly. The Grateful Dead audience is kind of like the Grateful Dead audience no matter what, and no matter where, either. That’s another interesting phenomena. European Grateful Dead audiences are not that much different than American Grateful Dead audiences.

Or Egyptian Grateful Dead audiences.

JG: Right! Or Egyptian Grateful Dead audiences. It’s an interesting thing.