Chapter 14: Beneath the Sweet Calm Face of the Sea
Page 260, middle; Leon Gast on the movie footage, and more:
"Some of my favorite stuff they didn't use," he says. "One night, I had [cameraman] Al Maysles in a dressing room backstage where there's a big table with a huge buffet. There are maybe four or five people in there and then a set ends. The door opens, Garcia comes in. He's pacing back and forth. A couple of minutes later the rest of the band comes in. He goes to Kreutzmann, 'You know it's hard enough playing leads and singing — at least you can stay on the fucking time,' screaming at him. Then he yells at Weir, really dressing him down.
There was that scene and a couple of others — one where Weir talks about, 'Do you know how difficult it's been playing next to this guy the last few years?'
"I spent three or four days and went through all the material, I made some notes, I looked at stuff. I mentioned the Garcia tantrum scene and Weir talking about Garcia, and I said, 'That's what the film is about,' and they said, 'Yes, it is,' but then they put on their own editorial team and they did it themselves. I dropped out of the project because they were going to cut the film their own way."
With Gast gone — though he stayed on good terms with the Dead and continued consulting with Garcia and Rakow on the Hell's Angels film a while longer — the job of editing the film under Garcia's watchful eye eventually fell to Susan Crutcher, who was originally hired as an assistant editor on the project, but ended up with a "supervising editor" credit.
"I had heard about this movie," she says. "It was about a band I’d heard of but never actually heard. I liked jazz and I had a big world music collection and my sister is an ethnomusicologist, so I was real interested in music and I thought it would be fun to work on a concert film. When I came on they had about 100,000 feet of film to sync up. That alone took five months.
"Once we started working on the film, Leon pretty much disappeared. I think he got the feeling that Jerry wanted to cut  the film, so that was the last we saw of him. Then there was a long period when they were trying to hire every famous editor in the universe, and nobody really wanted to do it — I don’t think there was any money to hire anybody anyway. So I sort of waited around for the smoke to clear and then finally stepped forth and said to Jerry and Rakow, whom I'd gotten to know pretty well, 'Well, how about me?' So I went out to Rakow’s house in Stinson and I showed them some of the work I’d done, including, ironically enough, a film about the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, run by Dr. David Smith, who was treating Jerry at the end of his life. Anyway, they seemed to like it and at one point Rakow said, 'Well, I think we have everyone we need to make this movie right here.' And that was just the three of us and Rakow’s wife Emily. Part of the deal was that I would train Emily as an assistant, which was fine. As it turned out, she was a crack assistant editor and we ended up working together for 15 years after that."
Crutcher disputes Gast's claim that there was footage of Garcia yelling at his band mates: "I think he's dreaming. I think he's hallucinating. He left the project before we even started editing. I looked at every bit of the footage, and if that scene had existed, we definitely would have used it in the movie; you better believe it! I was always trying to get more of the personal side of the band members in the film. It was hard because they were not used to being revealed, which was consistent with their stage presence. They wanted to make a movie about the music and they really wanted to make a movie about their audience, which we did. So I don't know what Leon's talking about.
"What Leon did for the project was really revolutionary, but his contribution was really for the moment of the show. What he did was he introduced the television concept of seven cameras [all shooting at once for complete coverage], which was quite new then. He was hip enough to know about SMPTE timecode, which was a video thing. So we were one of the first movies that ever tried to interface SMPTE timecode and film. It really was kind of the crest of the wave, and Leon should be given credit for that, for being brave enough and evolved enough to think about this as a video shoot."
Garcia installed Deborah as an assistant on the project for a brief period, but it didn't work out and she left well before the film was completed. "Susan put up an enormous resistance to Deborah's involvement," Emily Craig says. "But I think the whole point of the film in the first place is that Jerry was already in love with Deborah and wanted to do something that she could participate in. Deborah was already a film student and an aspiring filmmaker. So this was his way of sharing her interests. I think she and Rakow had a lot to do with the decision, but of course I also think he didn't want to be on the road anymore."
Page 261, middle; Garcia in the studio:
"As much as he loved to play live, Jerry always found a groove in the studio, too," comments Donna Godchaux MacKay. "The studio tapped his ability and desire to get the most out of what was laid down on tape; to extract the nugget. Since the studio dynamic was much different than what the essence of the Grateful Dead was all about, it was always a challenge! The 'pure' Grateful Dead experience was open-ended and always subject to change, but the studio required a certain amount of restraint, editing, and discipline. Jerry got off on all those things, and was good at them.
"Personally, I have really good memories about our times in the studio," she continues. "Jerry loved to sing and he loved working out vocal parts. The controlled atmosphere of a good headphone mix and no distractions made it much easier — even possible! — for us to sing in tune and actually hear something come out on tape that sounded really good. And our vocal sessions were so much fun! It was usually Jerry, Bobby, and me and I'm not kidding, it was like 'comedy central.' I don't know why, but as soon as we would put on the headphones and the music would start playing, we would dissolve into comedy routines and laughter. Then sometimes we would lapse into seriousness and actually get through a take. Working with Jerry in the studio was like taking time off. His sense of humor and relaxed attitude made it a real pleasure."
Page 265, middle; more on "Franklin's Tower":
"Franklin's Tower" is one of the few songs Hunter has ever actually "explained" — in 1996, in response to a fan's criticism of his lyrics as "meaningless," Hunter wrote an extensive exegesis of the tune, describing how his lyrics were inspired by a combination of the birth of his son, Leroy, that year, and the approaching U.S. bicentennial. He analyzed the song line by line to show the things that inspired his imagery, as well as his philosophical intent. For example, of the first verse —
In another time's forgotten space
your eyes looked from your mother's face
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
may the four winds blow you safely home
Roll away the dew
— he wrote: "Surface Intent: You have your mother's eyes, child, the very shape, color and intensity of the eyes that looked through her face long ago. Borne on the varied winds of chance and change, like a dandelion seed, you may find yourself deposited on barren soil. My wish for you is that the forces that brought you here may sweep you again and bear you to fertile ground.
"Deeper intent: [First two lines] — Relative immortality of the human species is realized through reproduction. Dominant traits inherited from an ancestor, the lyric suggests, share more than mere similarity with those of the forebear, but are an identity, endlessly reproducible. In other words, when someone says, 'You have your mother's eyes,' they are not speaking in simile nor would it be incorrect to say that 'your mother has your eyes,' if, in fact, possessiveness is the appropriate term in the context. ...
"Now the real stretch: 'Roll away the dew.' The line is appropriated from a fairly well known sea chantey whose chorus goes: 'Roll away the morning dew and sweet the winds shall blow.' As surely everyone knows by now, Bonnie Dobson's 'Morning Dew' (made famous by Garcia's singing of it) is set in the aftermath of nuclear war. The reason he can't 'walk me out in the morning dew, my honey,' is because of fallout, though Garcia has wisely dropped the verse containing this denouement, allowing the song a heightened romantic mystery, achieved through open-ended ambiguity. For generations now alive, the nuclear specter personifies the forces which most threaten our attempt at Jeffersonian democracy. With the song's sub-allusion to 'Roll Away the Stone,' an anthem of joyous Eastertide resurrection, a resultant combination message of dire necessity (as in the final: 'You've got to roll away the dew') and promise of renewal, in case resolution, is effected, are enjoined..."
It's a fair bet Garcia never intellectualized the lyrics to any of Hunter's songs to that degree (or caught the allusions to an e.e. cummings line in that song, or to an old Pepsodent "singing commercial" in one couplet of "Truckin'"). Garcia said,
"Songs are poetry, I guess, but it's how a song works that's most important, and that's not always a function of what the content is, but the whole thing — the texture of it, the sound of it, the way it trips off the tongue, all that stuff. Sometimes it doesn't have to mean anything and it can still evoke a great something."
Since he and Hunter rarely if ever discussed the meanings of songs, Garcia went through the same process of discovery with the lyrics as any Deadhead, and he admitted that he was often as baffled and confused as everyone else trying to get a handle on Hunter's more obscure lyric musings. "There are all these songs that I feel like I'm almost on to it, but I don't have it," he said with a laugh. "Some of them are definitely that way. But that doesn't stop me from trying 'em. ... That's part of my fun. If everything was black and white and written in stone it wouldn't be that interesting to me. Who needs it?"
Page 265, lower-middle; more on "Blues for Allah":
Needless to say, this piece proved to be quite a challenge for Hunter, who didn't have much in the music to work off of. The inspiration for the lyric direction of the song — and hence its title and the name of the album — Garcia said, came when "we were talking about King Faisal [of Saudi Arabia] in the studio, 'cause an article came up about him in Newsweek or something. And I remember being blown away when it said that Faisal owned a third of the world's wealth or something shocking like that. One guy?"
Hunter took the idea and broadened it into a loose anti-political song with a spiritual subtext:
The needle's eye is thin
The ships of state sail on mirage
and drown in sand
Out in no man's land
Where Allah does command
What good is spilling blood?
It will not grow a thing.
"Taste eternity" the swords sing
Blues for Allah
Page 266, middle; more on editing the movie:
"The film was so well shot and so beautifully experienced," Susan Crutcher says. "The guy who shot most of the dancing was actually a soundman, [Thomas Hurwitz] who is now a famous cinematographer. He’d been a camera assistant and there was an extra camera sitting around the first night and he said, 'Can I go out into the crowd and shoot some dancing?' Leon [Gast] said sure, and he shot some of the most incredible stuff. It has the feeling of someone experiencing something the first time, with an innocence and newness, and you can even feel his delight of having a camera and seeing through a camera. There were a lot of serendipitous things like that that contributed to the quality of the footage and how to convey the experience. So that was one thing I drew on as I was trying to learn about it. Then the other thing I drew from was Jerry, who was so good at articulating what he was thinking, and of course has such a tremendous musical knowledge. Cutting the film with him ended up being quite an education in music for me."
Page 269, upper-middle; Rakow saves the day, momentarily:
"Then, at the end of the deal," Rakow says, "I said, 'If I can get the foreign rights, what are they worth to you?' And [UA's] Al Teller said, 'I'll give you 200 grand for them.' So I went back to Atlantic and I said, 'You know, you guys haven't done very well with these foreign rights.' And they said, 'No shit!' I said, 'I'll buy them back for 50 grand.' So I bought them back for 50 grand cash and sold them to United Artists for $200,000. So we made 150 grand on that particular deal."
Page 269, bottom; changes in the JGB:
"Merl and I got dropped without as much as a fanfare or a warning," Fierro says. "I went to [road manager] Steve Parish and said, 'Hey man, when's our next gig?' Because I had written down in my itinerary that we were going to Europe with the Legion of Mary. And he's like, 'Didn't you hear? You got fired a month ago.' 'What?' 'Legion of Mary doesn't exist anymore.' I was so sad and disillusioned and it took me a few years to get over it, because I'd lost a real dear friend in Jerry. I didn't see him for maybe 15 years, until he played in Golden Gate Park with Zero [a band Fierro stills plays with]. Jerry and I sat in a room together and he says to me, 'Do you harbor resentment toward me?' I said, 'Whatever happened in the past, I always considered playing with you a plus in my life. And your love and your commitment to the music have always been very heavy. And I love you.' And that was that. He was very thankful that I didn't make him apologize. We dropped it after that and we became friends again, though I only saw him a few times after that."
Though Merl admits it hurt "to get thrown out of the group I started," he doesn't believe Garcia was the instigator of the change. "I think it was professional jealousy. And it had nothing to do with Jerry. It was the power that Jerry and I had together. It was a big force. And some people were threatened by it. Sometimes things happened and Jerry didn't even know about them. Sometimes something would happen and he'd know about it and just turn his head. In this case, I don't think he initiated it, but he let it happen." Merl declines to comment further, intimating that all will be revealed when he writes his own book.
Page 271, upper-middle; James Booker and the JGB:
Nicky Hopkins' last gig with the band was a New Year's Eve show at the Keystone Berkeley. About a week later, Garcia and Kahn recruited another famous pianist to fill his slot — the talented but troubled New Orleans session giant James Booker. He lasted just two nights before Garcia and Kahn decided they'd heard enough.
"Booker was my idea," Kahn said with an embarrassed chuckle. "I knew him from doing sessions in L.A. He came to my house in Mill Valley a couple of days before the gigs [at Sophie's in Palo Alto]. First he didn't show up until 5 in the morning. Me and Jerry were there and we're getting calls from his grandmother and his priest — Booker had gotten lost en route somehow; they'd lost track of him. Finally I got a call and it was Booker himself. He was calling from Dan's Greenhouse, a liquor store. He was in front of there at 5 in the morning with an overcoat and no socks and a hat bag; that was it — no clothes. He had about 30 eye patches and eight or nine wigs.
"The shows were really cool. But he wouldn't learn any of our songs. We tried to teach him songs and he refused. He was a little crazed, so we ended up doing mostly his songs. He did half a set of solo piano and it was great; you could hear a pin drop. And he played things like the "Minute Waltz"; it was incredible. He could still play great. He could switch between piano and organ really easily and it would sound amazing. But he was out of his mind. He was watching cars go by and was checking out license plates and talking about the CIA. He saw a Louisiana license plate and then John Kennedy's name somewhere and that freaked him out. He saw bad omens everywhere and he was getting really weird. I didn't know he was that crazy, so I might have had delusions that we'd stay together longer."
Page 274, top; still more on the making of the movie:
"I did a lot of the editing myself, because Jerry went out on the road a lot, both with his band and then with the Dead," Susan Crutcher says. "I tried to be true to the instruments. If Phil was doing something wonderful, I tried to be on him, or if Bob was doing something wonderful, I tried to be on him. But I was working with Jerry, and the other band members didn’t come around very much, and I can honestly say I felt Jerry was the focus of the band. It wasn’t something I knew intellectually, because I didn’t know much about them before I started. But it’s something I felt in the music. So if there’s an error in the point of view, if it sometimes feels like it’s too much on Jerry, that’s my error, not Jerry’s."
"I think that what we were doing with the movie was sometimes dangerously close to court portraiture," says Emily Craig, one of Crutcher's assistants. "It was a little indulgent on a lot of levels. And I think Jerry was a bit concerned about that."
And more on the animation for the Dead movie:
"How that came to be," Crutcher says, "was Jerry and I couldn’t agree on what song should come first in the film. We were having a helluva time. I liked this version of 'Uncle John’s Band' and he thought it was musically weak. The other contender was 'One More Saturday Night,' but I didn’t think a Bob song was the way to start. So we were getting nowhere and I remembered that I’d worked with Gary Gutierrez on some Sesame Street stuff and that he did paste-up animation, which is considerably cheaper than cel animation, and it has a certain kind of cool look. I’d also just seen Frank Film [an influential collage-animation short film] which was just dazzling, so I was thinking Frank Film but with Dead icons. So I suggested we open it with our own cartoon.
"So Jerry, Rakow and I went over to see Gary at his little sort of elves workshop, with all these Sesame Street characters hanging around from the ceiling. He and Jerry immediately hit it off and started talking about what it was going to be — starting in outer space with the Mars Hotel and all. Rakow was pretty skeptical, but eventually went along, so on a budget of what was supposed to be $9,000, Gary started to make what was going to be a one-and-a-half minute piece, which in its first cut ended up being nine minutes and then was trimmed down to about five. He was over budget and it took longer that it was supposed to, but so did everything on the film. In the course of it we found out we were born at exactly the same minute; we’re astral twins. We call each other on our birthday every year."
"The idea at the time was to have a couple of short bits that would be sort of like animated album covers and posters using the psychedelic art look that was in their visual iconography from their graphics," Gutierrez said. "Originally, they had almost no money to work with, but I sort of talked them into more. We ended up doing it for $25,000, which was still unbelievably low." But a lot on top of a budget that was already way out of hand and beyond the group's limited means.
Page 276, top; more on Rakow's departure:
"I got splattered with the mud as Rakow went through," Dave Parker says. "I had been the guy who was trying to keep their finances straight and keep them from getting ripped off — in fact that's how I came into their business [around "L'Affaire Lenny"]. And then here was this guy who gained the confidence of Garcia and basically took over, and I was kind of relegated to a sideline role. Then he walked with the money, which the majority of the band felt he was not entitled to. Garcia felt that he was. Garcia was basically on his side at first. Then he kind of changed. He was in between somewhere. He had been very tight with Rakow during that period and had a certain amount of gratitude toward him because he felt Rakow was the guy who made it possible for him and the band to do this thing of having their own label. The rest of the band was concerned about getting ripped off and there were some very heavy meetings where there was a lot of arguing about this, and there were a couple of meetings where Rakow showed up with his lawyer and there were some very tense exchanges. And this went on for months and months. During this whole process Garcia became more sympathetic to the way his fellow band members were looking at it, whereas before it had been asort of adversarial thing.
Page 278, top; the Steal Your Face debacle:
Near the end of June '76, the Dead released a double album of songs recorded during the October '74 Winterland "retirement" shows. The title, Steal Your Face, came from the song "He's Gone" — "Like I told you/What I said/Steal your face right off your head/Now he's gone" — and that choice (by Phil) was widely interpreted to be a reference to the Rakow scandal. Unfortunately the record was something of a disaster, roundly disliked by most hardcore Deadheads. It wasn't that the performances were bad — actually most of them were fairly good — it was that the album was constructed incoherently and had none of the natural flow of a Grateful Dead concert. It was as if someone had thrown all the songs into a hat and then pulled them out randomly, which is not the way the Grateful Dead operated at all. Their sets, while definitely eclectic, were built piece by piece according to what songs felt right to play at the moment. Garcia's choices would affect Weir's choices and vice versa. Steal Your Face consisted mainly of short songs that were usually played in the lighter first set, and it was devoid of any extended improvisation. Considering the material that was available from that five-night run, the song selection was mystifying to say the least.
The album was put together quickly by Phil and Owsley from tapes that both of them said were plagued with sound problems. According to Owsley, "Phil and I hated that stuff and didn't want to work on it, but Ron Rakow insisted that he had to have them mixed in nine days, which was inconceivable. We worked for 18 days and tried using delays, filters, tricks, to overcome the sound, but the job was next to impossible. I'm very fussy with quality and I thought the 'finished' work was garbage, but Rakow was demanding it."
Jerry pronounced the album "horrible," but noted, "[Phil] picked out what he liked for his own reasons. If anyone wants to have some concept of what Phil likes, that's a good album. And my feeling about it as a Grateful Dead project are — whenever anyone says, 'Hey man, I want to do this,' they can do it. We don't interfere with each other on that level.
"So none us liked it. I'm sure even Phil and Owsley didn't like it that much. But there it was. I think part of it was we were not working, and we didn't have anything else to deliver. This was the only tapedstuff that we had to deal with. So that's what we used. Their choice of stuff was not my choice of stuff."
United Artists was justifiably disappointed that the one Grateful Dead album they got to distribute was a turkey; they pressed and shipped many more than they eventually sold, and the discs quickly turned up discounted in record store cutout bins. Garcia emphatically pointed out that Steal Your Face had no connection with the Grateful Dead movie except that the material was derived from the same shows, or "the same time zone," as Garcia put it in the fall of '77. "I have no plans to release the film's soundtrack," he added. "It would just make things confusing, and I don't care to go back to that time again. I spent two and a half years in Winterland '74 [working on the film], and I've learned all there is to know about that."
Page 278, lower middle; more on Clive Davis:
"I thought Clive was the best person they could be with," Richard Loren says. "Arista was hot and Clive Davis is probably one of the best record company executives that ever was. Why? Because he never wanted to be a film producer. Because he liked being a record company executive. He liked being with artists and he was very well suited to his job. He seemed stable — he wasn't going to run off and do something else. He liked Jerry, and whether or not he really understood what the band was all about — and I can't say one way or the other — he believed in them and thought he could take them from being a band that sold a couple of hundred thousand albums to a million-selling band. I remember going to the Beverly Hills Hotel with Clive and Jerry and a few of the band members and he pitched himself to us, and it made perfect sense. I ended up being able to work very well with the people at Arista, and John Scher was able to work well with the people at Arista. Clive was OK."