Tales of the Living Dead
"There is a human drive to celebrate, and
we provide ritual celebration in a society that doesn't have much of it."
with Jerry Garcia
When you've had a street named after you, then you can congratulate
yourself on a certain notoriety. But when you've had an ice cream named
after you--well, that is the kind of recognition which dreams are made ~
After thirty years of playing with one of the most successful bands in
rock and roll history, Jerry Garcia finds himself at the age of fifty-one,
at the zenith of his popularity. The Grateful Dead the
sixties-gone-nineties rock band hers recorded over a hundred albums and
plays more live shows than almost anyone anywhere. And their concerts are
always sold out.
With its own magazine, Internet status, and booming merchandising
industry, the group is a musical phenomenon of mythical proportions. But
Jerry Garcia shrugs his shoulders with genuine innocence in the face of it
all. Is it the band that has spawned the semi-nomadic tribe whose members
roam the country like medieval minstrels, living on veggie burgers,
psychedelics, love, and of course, the promise of a ticket to the next
show ? Or is it that the aspirations and values of the sixties just refuse
to die, and the Grateful Dead is simply a conduit for their continued
Jerry Garcia began playing with the Warlocks in 1965, and in the
same year the Grateful Dead was formed. He developed his improvisational
style at the infamous "acid tests, " where the Grateful Dead was often the
house hand. The Jerry Garcia Band, formed in /975, is as popular as the
Dead. It has a more blues-oriented, gritty sound, but maintains Jerry's
distinctive psychedelic edge.
Garcia is almost supernatural status got an extra boost when he
journeyed into the jaws of Death and back, after falling into a diabetic
coma. He has reached a point in his career where, if he were half-asleep
and out of tune, the audience would still hang on every note with a
reverent sigh. Who is this man who has catalyzed peak experiences in young
and old for three decades. He describes himself as a "good 'ol'
celebrity," although at shows you're likely to see at least one
starry-eyed youth coddling a sign declaring that "Jerry is God. " Many
fans are convinced he is not from this planet.
The interview took place at the Grateful Dead's homey headquarters
in San Rafael, California With his full, white beard and wise-owl eyes,
Jerry Garcia looks ready to pass out the clay tablets, yet when he smiles,
the Old Testament prophet is transformed into a self-parodying garden
gnome, who has walked the yellow-brick road of success simply by doing
what he loves.
Jerry: I'll take off my glasses. They don't convey much
David: Jerry, how did you start playing music?
Jerry: My father was a professional musician, my mother
was an amateur. I grew up in a musical household and took piano lessons as
far back as I can remember. There was never a time in my life that music
wasn't a part of.
The first time I decided that music was something I wanted to
do, apart from just being surrounded by it, was when I was about fifteen.
I developed this deep craving to play the electric guitar. I fell in love
with rock `n roll, I wanted to make that sound so badly. So I got a pawn
shop electric guitar and a little amplifier and I started without the
benefit of anybody else around me who played the guitar or any books.
My step-father put it in an open tuning of some kind and I taught
myself how to play by ear. I did that for about a year until I ran into a
kid at school who knew three chords on the guitar and also the correct way
to tune it. That's when I started to play around at it, then I picked
things up. I never took lessons or anything.
David: Who particularly inspired you?
Jerry: Actually no particular musician inspired me, apart
Chuck Berry. But all of the music from the fifties inspired me. I
didn't really start to get serious about music until I was eighteen and I
heard my first bluegrass music. I heard
play five-string banjo and I thought, that's something I have to be able
to do. I fell in love with the sound and I started earnestly trying to do
exactly what I was hearing. That became the basis for everything else -
that was my model.
Rebecca: Jumping ahead a few years. During the sixties
you played a lot of acid-tests when you could fit all your equipment into
a single truck. How do you compare those early days to now? Do you enjoy
it as much?
Jerry: Well, in some ways it's better and in some ways
it's not. The thing that was fun about those days was that nothing was
expected of us. We didn't have to play. (laughter) We weren't
required to perform. People came to acid-tests for the acid-test, not
So there were times when we would play two or three tunes or even a
couple of notes and just stop. We'd say, to hell with it, we don't feel
like playing! It was great to have that kind of freedom because before
that we were playing five sets a night, fifty minutes on, ten minutes off
every hour. We were doing that six nights a week and then usually we'd
have another afternoon gig and another night-time gig on Sunday. So we
were playing a lot!
So all of a sudden you're at the acid-test and hey, you didn't even
have to play. Also we weren't required to play anything even acceptable.
We could play whatever we wanted. So it was a chance to be
completely free-form on every level. As far as a way to break out from an
intensely formal kind of experience it was just what we needed, because we
were looking to break out.
Rebecca: And you're still able to maintain that free-form
style to a certain extent even though you're now more restricted by
scheduling and order?
Jerry: Well, also we're required to be competent, but the
sense of accomplishment has improved a lot. Now when we play, the worst
playing we do isn't too bad. So the lowest level has come way up, and
statistically the odds have improved in our favor.
Rebecca: What do you think it is about the Grateful
Dead that has allowed you such lasting popularity which has spanned
Jerry: I wish I knew. (laughter)
Rebecca: Do you think you can define it?
Jerry: I don't know whether I want to
particularly. Part of it's magic is that we've always avoided defining any
part of it, and the effect seems to be that in not defining it, it becomes
everything. I prefer that over anything that I might think of.
David: When you say everything, do you mean something
different for everyone?
Jerry: Well, that's one way of saying it, yeah. But the
other way of looking at it, from a purely musical point of view, is that
it becomes a full-range experience. There's nothing that we won't try. It
means everything is available to us. It also works from an audience point
of view too. We're whatever the audience wants us to be, we're whatever
they think we are.
Rebecca: Do you think there is a timeless quality about
your music that appeals to people?
Jerry: I'd like to believe there's something like that,
but I have no idea, really. There is a human drive to celebrate and we
provide ritual celebration in a society that doesn't have much of it. It
really should be part of religion. It happens to work for us because
people have learned to trust the environment that it occurs in.
Rebecca: Do you feel at all disillusioned at the rate of
social evolution? In the sixties, many people thought that massive social
change was just around the corner?
Jerry: I never was that optimistic. I never thought that
things were going to get magically better. I thought that we were
experiencing a lucky vacation from the rest of consensual reality to try
stuff out. We were privileged in a sense. I didn't have anything invested
in the idea that the world was going to change. Our world certainly
changed. (laughter) Our part of it did what it was supposed to do,
and it's continuing to do it, continuing to evolve. It's a process. I
believe that if you open the door to the process, it tells you how to do
it and it works. It's a life strategy that I think anyone can employ.
David: How do you feel about the fact that many people
have interpreted your music as the inspiration for a whole lifestyle - the
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
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 theGrateful 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 that 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
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 it 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
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
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. What was his take?
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.
David: Do you feel sometimes at your shows that you're
guiding people or taking people on a journey through those levels?
Jerry: In a way, but I don't feel like I'm guiding
anybody. I feel like I'm sort of stumbling along and a lot of people are
watching me or stumbling with me or allowing me to stumble for them. I
don't feel like, here we are, I'm the guide and come one you guys, follow
me. I do that, but I don't feel that I'm particularly better at it than
For example, here's something that used to happen all the time. The
band would check into a hotel. We'd get our room-key and then we'd go to
the elevator. Well, a lot of times we didn't have a clue where the
elevator was. So, what used to happen was that everybody would follow me,
thinking that I would know. I'd be walking around thinking why the fuck is
everybody following me? (laughter) So, if nobody else does it, I'll
start something - it's a knack.
David: A lot of people are looking for someone to follow.
Jerry: Yeah. I don't mind being that person, but it
doesn't mean that I'm good at it or that I know where I'm going or
anything else. It doesn't require competence, it only requires the
David: Is there any planning involved about choosing
songs in a certain sequence to take people on a journey?
Jerry: Sometimes we plan, but more often than not we find
that when we do, we change our plans. Sometimes we talk down a skeleton of
the second set, to give ourselves some form - but it depends. The
important thing is that it not be dull and that the experience of playing
doesn't get boring. Being stale is death. So we do whatever we can to keep
it spontaneous and amusing for us.
Rebecca: You play more live shows than any other band I
know of. How do you manage to keep that spontaneity? Is this a natural
talent you've always had or is it something you've had to work to achieve?
Jerry: Part of it is that we're just constitutionally
unable to repeat anything exactly. Everyone in the band is so
pathologically anti-authoritarian, that the idea of doing something
exactly the same way is anathema - it will never happen. (laughter)
So that's our strong suit - the fact that we aren't consistent. It used to
be that sometimes we reached wonderful levels or else we played really
horribly, terribly badly. Now we've got to be competent at our worst.
Rebecca: How do you compare a Grateful Dead show
to a rave? There seem to be strong similarities between them.
Jerry: Well, if we would let people get up out of the
audience and add their two-cents worth then it would be kind of similar.
The acid-test was like a rave, the same sort of idea.
David: Do you see the acid-tests or Grateful Dead
shows as being an inspiration for the raves or do you think it goes back
to something more ancient, more tribal?
Jerry: Back in the fifties there was a place in North
Beach called The Place. They used to have blabber-mouth night and
everybody could get up that wanted to and rave for ten minutes. I don't
believe it's something new, but I think the modern version of it is a
spill-off from the stand-up comedy explosion. Plus there's been a
resurgence of poetry-readings and performance art.
David: I'm curious about how psychedelics influenced not
only your music but your whole philosophy of life.
Jerry: Psychedelics were probably the single most
significant experience in my life. Otherwise I think I would be going
along believing that this visible reality here is all that there is.
Psychedelics didn't give me any answers. What I have are a lot of
questions. One thing I'm certain of; the mind is an incredible thing and
there are levels of organizations of consciousness that are way beyond
what people are fooling with in day to day reality.
David: How did psychedelics influence your music before
Jerry: Phew! I can't answer that. There was a me before
psychedelics and a me after psychedelics, that's the best I can say. I
can't say that it affected the music specifically, it affected the whole
me. The problem of playing music is essentially of muscular
development and that is something you have to put in the hours to achieve
no matter what. There isn't something that strikes you and suddenly you
can play music.
David: You're talking about learning the technique, but
what about the inspiration behind the technique?
Jerry: I think that psychedelics was part of music for me
in so far as I'm a person who was looking for something and psychedelics
and music are both part of what I was looking for. They fit together,
although one didn't cause the other.
Rebecca: If you were made Clinton's drug-policy advisor,
what would you do?
Jerry: I would advise him to make everything legal
Rebecca: Now when you say that, do you mean readily
available to everybody, without restrictions?
Jerry: Yes, because the first thing to do is to take the
criminality out of it. Take the profit out of it and the whole criminal
structure will collapse. The next part is the health aspect, making drugs
that are clean and in knowable, understandable doses. Why not spend
research money on making drugs that are good for you, that are healthy? Is
the problem that we don't like people changing their consciousness? I
don't think that's a good enough reason not to have drugs.
The point is, humans love to change their consciousness and so there
will always be drugs. You can either deal with this situation by
acknowledging it, or you can pretend it's not real and outlaw it. If
you're going to make laws about what human beings should and shouldn't do,
you need to have a template.
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
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 then you think that heroin, cocaine and crack
addicts 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
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 tax-payers
Jerry: I think addicts represent very little strain on
society in terms 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 successfully
into effect in England, after they gave up on the war-on-drugs approach.
People are overcoming their addictions and are treated with dignity.
They're allowed to remain with their families and are able to hold down a
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 won't admit it.
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 primarily used to
expand one's experience of life, but many people use crack 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
Rebecca: Do you think that the legalization of drugs
could soon be a reality?
Jerry: I have hope that something like that might happen
someday, but I don't think it will, not realistically, not as long as
there are the people in power who believe that they know how other people
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 sixties.
Jerry: They 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
fifteen, twenty 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
Jerry: We called ourselves the Warlocks and we
found out that some other band already 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
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.
Rebecca: What about your personal experience of what you
may have described as God?
Jerry: I've been spoken to by a higher order of
intelligence - I thought it was God. It was a very personal God in that it
had exactly the same sense of humor that I have.(laughter) I
interpret that as being the next level of consciousness, but maybe there's
a hierarchical set of consciousnesses. My experience is that there is one
smarter than me, that can talk to me, and there's also the biological one
that I spoke about.
David: Do you feel that there's a divine plan at work in
Jerry: I don't know about a plan. I don't know whether it
cares to express itself that way or even if matters such as developmental
constructs along time have any relevance to this particular God point of
view. It may be a steady-state God that exists out beyond space-time
beyond our experience, or around it, or contemporary with it, or it may
function in the moment - I have no idea.
Rebecca: I understand that you became very ill a few
years ago and came very close to death. I'm interested in how that
experience affected your attitude to life.
Jerry: It's still working on me. I made a decision
somewhere along the line to survive, but I didn't have a near-death
experience in the classical sense. I came out of it feeling fragile, but
I'm not afraid of death.
Rebecca: Were you afraid of death before?
Jerry: I can't say that I was actually. But it did make
me want to focus more attention on the quality of life. So I feel like now
I have to get serious about being healthful. If I'm going to be alive I
want to feel well. I never had to think about it too much before, but
finally mortality started to catch up with me.
David: You say that you didn't have a near-death
experience, but did anything happen that gave you any unusual insights?
Jerry: Well, I had some very weird experiences. My
main experience was one of furious activity and tremendous struggle in a
sort of futuristic, space-ship vehicle with insectoid presences. After I
came out of my coma, I had this image of myself as these little hunks of
protoplasm that were stuck together kind of like stamps with perforations
between them that you could snap off. (laughter)
They were run through with neoprene tubing, and there were these
insects that looked like cockroaches which were like message-units that
were kind of like my bloodstream. That was my image of my physical self
and this particular feeling lasted a long time. It was really strange.
David: That sounds really similar to a
Jerry: It was DMT-like as far as the intensity was
concerned, but it lasted a couple of days!
David: Did it affect what you think might happens after
Jerry: No. It just gave me a greater admiration for the
incredible baroque possibilities of mentation. The mind is so incredibly
weird. The whole process of going into coma was very interesting too. It
was a slow onset - it took about a week - and during this time I started
feeling like the vegetable kingdom was speaking to me.
It was communicating in comic dialect in iambic pentameter. So there
were these Italian accents and German accents and it got to be this vast
gabbling. Potatoes and radishes and trees were all speaking to me.
(laughter) It was really strange. It finally just reached hysteria and
that's when I passed out and woke up in the hospital.
David: Do you feel that psychedelics might be a way for
the vegetable kingdom to communicate with humans?
Jerry: I like that thought, but I don't know if it's
true. The thing is that there's no way to prove this stuff. I would love
it if somebody would put the energy into studying the mind and
psychedelics to the extent where we could start to talk about these things
and somebody could even throw forth a few suggestions as to what might be
happening. There's no body of information - we need more research. These
are questions that we should be asking, this is the important stuff.
Rebecca: And when you came out of your coma, did you come
out of it in stages?
Jerry: I was pretty scrambled. It was as though in my
whole library of information, all the books had fallen off the shelves and
all the pages had fallen out of the books. I would speak to people and
know what I meant to say, but different words would come out. So I had to
learn everything over again. I had to learn how to walk, play the guitar,
Rebecca: Did you always have faith that you would access
it again? It didn't scare you, the idea that you might have lost it
Jerry: I didn't care. When your memory's gone, you don't
care because you don't remember when you had one. (laughter)
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after
Jerry: It probably dies with the body. Why would it exist
apart from the body?
David: People have had experiences of feeling like
they're out of their body.
Jerry: That's true. But unfortunately the only ones who
have gone past that are still dead.(laughter) I don't know what
consciousness is apart from a physical being. I once slipped out of my
body accidentally. I was at home watching television and I slid out
through the soles of my feet. All of a sudden I was hovering up by the
ceiling looking down at myself. So I know that I can disembody myself
somehow from my physical self, but more than that I have no way of
Rebecca: So I take it you don't believe in reincarnation,
in the recycling of consciousness?
Jerry: It may happen in a very large way. It may be that
part of all the DNA-coding, the
specific memory, returns. There's definitely information in my mind that
did not come from this lifetime. Not only is there some, but there's tons
of it! Enormous, vast reservoirs.
Dreams are kind of a clue. What are these organizing principles that
make it so you experience these realities that are emotionally as real as
this life is? You can feel grief or be frightened in a dream just as badly
as you can in this life. And the psychedelic experience is similar in that
it has the power to convince you of its authenticity. It's hard to ignore
that once you have experienced it.
Rebecca: What does the term consciousness mean to you?
Jerry: I go along with the notion that the universe wants
consciousness in it, that it's part of the evolutionary motion of the
universe and that we represent the universe's consciousness. Why it wants
it, I don't know, but it seems to want it.
Here's the reason I believe this. If the point of an organism is
survival, why go any further than sharks or simple-minded predators that
survive perfectly beautifully? Why continue throwing out possibilities? So
my sense is that conceivably, there is some purpose or design. Why monkeys
with big heads? Because that's the most convenient consciousness-carrier,
Rebecca: Do you think that humans are evolving en masse
to be more conscious?
Jerry: I do think there's a drive towards more
consciousness. There are huge setbacks all the way along, but all the
aberrations that we see, holy wars etc.. are metaphors for more
consciousness. They are expressed as conflict because we haven't come up
with enough good models to express it in other ways. We are it. We're the
same stuff as stars and galaxies, so we're indivisibly part of it. We're
the part that speaks, that plays music, that creates abstractions.
The atomic bomb is a good metaphor for consciousness. If you are able
to describe a possible way that things work in this universe with enough
rigor inside some kind of belief system, you're going to be the creator of
fundamental change expressed as a huge eruption of energy.
You have to have the idea first about energy and mass. Once that idea
is expressed perfectly enough then it's possible to create something that
will do it physically. So the atomic bomb is a physical model of the mind
gaining control of the material world. The question is are we able to do
it without blowing ourselves to smithereens?
David: Are you talking about being able to organize
reality the way we want, say with nano-technology?
Jerry: Yes, that would be a good example. If the
universe's mind - meaning us - is able to say what it wants about itself,
to describe itself well enough, it can make decisions about where it's
going and what it's doing - consciously. That's like bringing the
big mind and the little mind together.
David: Have you had any experiences where you felt you
were in contact with extraterrestrials or multi-dimensionals - beings not
of this world?
Jerry: I can't say not of this world. I believe that
anything that I was ever in touch with was fundamentally a part of this
world. I would even go further to say that the concept of extraterrestrial
is not applicable in this universe. Everything in this universe is part of
David: Have you ever felt like you've been in
communication with beings of a higher intelligence than humans?
Jerry: I've had direct communication with something which
is higher than me! I don't know what it is, it may be another part
of my mind. There's no way for me to filter it out because it's in my
head. It's the thing that's able to take bits and pieces of things and
give me large messages. To me, they are messages as clear as someone
speaking in my ear, they're that well-expressed and they have all the
detail that goes along with it.
Sometimes it comes in the form of an actual voice and sometimes it
comes in the form of a hugeness, a huge presence that uses all of the
available sensory material to express an idea. And when I get the idea
it's like dah! Oh, I get it! And it's accompanied by that hollow mocking
laughter. You stupid fuck! You finally got it uh? Geez it's about time.(laughter)
For me, enlightenment works that way, but it's definitely a higher order
of self-organization that communicates stuff.
My psychedelic experiences were sequential. They started at a place and
they went through a series of progressive learning steps. When they
stopped happening it was like, this is the end of the message - now you're
just playing around. That was when psychedelics stopped having the
relevance they originally had. It lasted for about a year I'd say.
David: What do you think a Grateful Dead show in
Virtual Reality would be like?
Jerry: Deadheads would want to be part of the band I
would imagine. I think it would be fun if they could be, because it would
make them see the experience differently. But I think they would be
disappointed if they saw our version of it.
Rebecca: Why do you think that?
Jerry: I don't know why. Remember, I don't know
what the Grateful Dead are like, I've never seen the Grateful
Dead, so I don't know what it is that the people in the audience
experience which they value so highly.
Rebecca: You facilitate the potential for an experience.
People have full-on religious experiences at your shows; they pass-out,
speak in tongues and are even picked up by flying saucers. Are you aware
of the impact you have on people's minds?
Jerry: Not like that. I've made an effort to not be aware
of it because it's perilously close to fascism. If I started to think
about controlling that power or somehow trying to fiddle around with it
then it would become fascism.
Rebecca: Have you ever been tempted to dabble in the
Jerry: Oh yeah. For the first eighteen years or so, I had
a lot of doubts about the Grateful Dead. I thought that maybe this
is a bad thing to be doing, because I was aware of the power. So I did a
lot of things to sabotage it, I thought fuck this! I won't be a part of
this. I dragged my feet as much as possible but it still kept happening!
So, in that way I was able to filter myself out of it and think well, it's
not me. Phew! What a relief!
Rebecca: When you said before that you weren't
responsible, you were saying it in a very modest way - I'm not responsible
for the wonderful experiences people are having - but at the same time
you're also shedding responsibility for the negative experiences.
Jerry: Absolutely. It's a cop-out. I don't want to be
responsible. But this is also something I learned from my psychedelic
experiences, you don't want to be the king, you don't want to be the
president because then you're responsible for everybody!
Rebecca: Have you heard of the Spinners? They wear long
dresses and do this whirling dervish dance at Dead shows.
Jerry: They're kind of like our Sufis. I think it's
really neat that there's a place where they can be comfortable enough to
do something with such abandon. It's nice to provide that. That's one of
the things I'm really proud of the Grateful Dead for, because it's
kind of like free turf.
Rebecca: It doesn't bother you that they use you as their
Jerry: Well, I'll put up with it until they come to me
with the cross and nails.(laughter)
Rebecca: What are your priorities now? Are they very
different to what they were twenty years ago?
Jerry: Not very. Basically, I'm trying to stay out of
trouble. I'm trying to play well. For me, playing music is a learning
experience and it's satisfying to me to still be learning stuff. Also, my
object is to have as much fun as I possibly can. That's a key ingredient.
Rebecca: Some people believe that this is a pivotal time
in history. Do you feel there is a New Age or to use
Terence McKenna's term, an
Archaic Revival coming about?
Jerry: Sure, I'll go along with that - I love that stuff.
I'm a Terence McKenna fan. I prefer to believe that we're winding up
rather than winding down. And this idea of the 2012 when everything tops
out, well, I would love to be here for it. I'll buy into that belief - I
don't want to miss it! It's like the millennium. At this point it's a
matter of personal pride. We have to survive. The band has to be able to
play to at least the turn of the millennium.
Rebecca: What do you think that the future of the human
race depends upon?
Jerry: Getting off this lame fucking trip, this
egocentric bullshit. There's entirely too many monkeys on this mudball and
that's going to be a real problem. People have to get smart. I've always
thought that the thing to do is something really chaotic and crazy like
head off into space. That's something that would keep everyone real busy
and would also distribute more bodies out there.
Otherwise, we end up staying here and kill each other and damage thti
planet. I've gotten into scuba diving, so I've developed a great affection
foi the ocean. Ijust don't want to see it get worse than it is. I'd like
to think we could get smart enough sometime soon to make things better
than they are instead of worse.
Rebecca: When people say they're optimistic about the
future, they usually mean the future of the human race. But you can be
optimistic about life and perhaps pessimistic about the future of the
Jerry: I think the earth doesn't have any real problems,
in the long run. I think we're just another disturbance. I don't think
even we can really fuck up the earth.
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
David: How did you get involved in helping to save the
Jerry: Well, I remember we started hearing about these
things twenty-five to thirty years ago. The clock kept ticking by, and
nothing was really happening. 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
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
Elfman is one.
David Byrne seems to want to do one, and also my friends John Kahn,
Bob Bralove, and David Grisman. The
interesting part about it for me is that my oldest daughter plays first
violin 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. But, as life goes on, I find myself more comfortable with
committing to emotional truths. 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.
really good about writing into my beliefs. He understands the way I think,
and he knows me well enough to know what I'11 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 whether 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
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
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!
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
Jerry: I think humor is incredibly important. It's
fundamental. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and your place in
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