Chapter 19: Dawn Is Breaking Everywhere
Page 359, top; more on "Black Muddy River":
Amazingly, the words for "Black Muddy River" actually predated Garcia's collapse by a few months. According to Len Dell'Amico, "Jerry and I were at Front Street working on So Far, mixing at the board, when Hunter showed up. He pulled out this piece of paper, 8 1/2 x 11, folded into quarters, from his shirt pocket, and handed it to Jerry and said, 'This is a new song.' Jerry opened it up: 'Oh, "Black Muddy River." I was like, 'Wow!' It was great to see that moment. In my mind it was like Michelangelo: Adam touching the hand of God. It was the hand-off." Then, after his recovery, Garcia set it to music.
Page 360, top; more on the recording of In the Dark:
The overdubbing sessions were drawn out over a few months, as schedules permitted, with Garcia and Cutler supervising the process at Club Front, except for Mickey's extensive percussion overdubs, which he recorded at his home studio in Petaluma, the Sonoma County town where he moved after leaving his Novato ranch.
"When you went up to Mickey's place for stuff, you were going into the deep end of sound exploration," says Bob Bralove, a technical wizard who came into the Dead's world that spring (after years with Stevie Wonder) to help on the album. "You'd go up there and Mickey would be searching for sonic inspiration and he either found it or he didn't, depending on how the fishing trip went. Jerry would go up there one day, and I'd go up there the next, so there was constantly someone in touch with what was happening in both studios in both places."
Garcia noted, "Mickey has a tendency to work in his own world, which is both his value and his liability, so it works best when he works with somebody. I like working with him because I like the energy and because he has so many ideas that are worth testing. Some of them are the kind of ideas that if you hear them spoken they won't mean much to you; you have to hear them realized to know what they actually mean."
"Working on the record was the first time I really engaged Jerry," Bralove says. "I was working on overdubs for both Mickey and Brent, and then some for Bobby, helping them get some new sounds, and Jerry and I ended up hanging out a lot, and I really got to see Jerry's audio playfulness as producer. When he mixed, he always used to talk about pairing people up. Depending on what the tune might be, he might view himself and Phil as a pair — they would occupy roughly the same space [in the mix] and have the same weight, and you would feel them as this pair through the song. Two other people might be another pair. It gave me a new fun way of looking at the band and listening to their music. It's always nice to have someone turn your head and say, 'Hey, look at it this way.' That record [In the Dark] gives you a good idea of how Jerry heard the Grateful Dead."
Page 360, bottom; more on the So Far video:
"There's no correspondence between the tarot cards and the 'Lady With a Fan' song," said Garcia, "but I guess the images of the tarot cards are like the images in the song, so they reflect on each other. Also, I like the game board reality. I saw a movie a long time ago called Eight by Eight, which was a surrealist movie with Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst; all these surrealists. 'Eight by eight' represents a chessboard. It had a kind of Alice in Wonderlandian quality to it — that surrealist, stretched, infinite horizons kind of thing that has always been fascinating to me. So I welcomed the opportunity to bring in that kind of stuff [to the video]."
All of the video pieces were continually evolving because there was never a fixed plan of what any of them should be. "Some of the people at the postproduction places thought we were crazy," Dell'Amico said. "They're used to harassed and harassing clients who are losing their minds and are uptight and abusive. So we come in and say, 'What we want to do is play,' and they're thinking, 'Oh my God! The client isn't the slightest bit prepared. They don't know what it's going to cost.'"
"In places like that, they [commercial producers] want 30 seconds of dynamite," Garcia commented. "They're spending their top dollar to get it, so they're very goal-oriented. Our way of working is more process-oriented. And once you flash on the process, it takes a while for the operators — the guys who are working for us — to say, 'Oh, I see what these guys are trying to do.' You have to take them through a passage where you say to them, 'Let's leave this image up there, push those things over there, try switching between these things.' 'You mean like this?' And they try it and then it's like, 'Hey yeah, right!' And then they start making suggestions. They get to actively join in creatively and suddenly they're not guys who you're telling what to do — they're people with ideas."
Still, Garcia noted, "The video is the Grateful Dead way of doing things, which turns out to be expensive, difficult and unrepeatable. If we went back to do this again, we'd come out with a different finished version. We couldn't repeat it."
As if toiling on the video and album wasn't enough to keep him busy, the revitalized Garcia also found time in the winter of '87 to contribute a guitar part to a song the Neville Brothers were recording at The Plant studios in Sausalito, and to play a concert sitting in with Olatunji & His Drums of Passion, Carlos Santana and Mickey Hart at the tiny Petaluma Veterans Auditorium in Sonoma County. The show, which was put on to raise money to establish a world music program in the Petaluma schools (where Hart's son Taro was a student), found a smiling Garcia trading scorching licks with Santana on some of Olatunji's best-known material, and even leading the giant African percussion ensemble through a blistering version of "Fire on the Mountain."
Page 363, top; Garcia speaks out about drugs, 1987:
"I think it's too bad everybody's decided to turn on drugs," he said that year. "I don't think drugs are the problem. Crime is the problem. Cops are the problem. Money's the problem. But drugs are just drugs. ... The real problems are cultural. The problems of the people who take drugs as a cultural trap — I think there's a real problem there; the crack stuff, the hopelessness of the junkie. The urban angst. But hey, when you live in Watts, you need a little smack to get you by, you know what I mean? You need something soft and comfortable in your life, 'cause you're not going to get it from what's around you. And society isn't going to give it to you. ...
"If we had any nerve at all, if we had any real balls as a society — or whatever quality you need; real character — we would make an effort to address the wrongs in this society righteously. Deal with them — OK, what's really wrong here? The deep-seated racism ... America has its problems, no question, but if everybody's fearless enough, we can deal with them."
Not that he expected the entrenched hard-liners of the Reagan administration to change their tune on the issue. As Garcia noted of the conservative elite that had been in power since the Eisenhower years, "They didn't want to believe that the '50s were over. And they were really frightened by the '60s. And this is their last chance to put up that thing: 'Ah, everything's OK. That [the '60s counterculture] was just a little flurry. A little mania of some drug-taking freaks.' ... I don't blame them for being afraid. A lot of them lived through some real horrors — the Depression, the Second World War and so forth — and they deserve a rest. They deserve to be able to spend their time in non-anxiety, floating comfortably in hypothetical America. And I wish them no ill, you know what I mean? But it's unfortunate that they've created a kind of second wave of young people who are buying into the same mythos. And who are not seeing, historically, what happened — here was legitimate, authentic, real stuff [happening in the counterculture]."
Page 364, top; more on Manasha's background:
"The next time I saw the Grateful Dead [after Watkins Glen in '73] was in September 1977 when they came to play on the street that I grew up on in Englishtown, New Jersey. Originally it was a horse farm and I used to play in the fields there, so it was uncanny that the Dead came to play there. I had just finished reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and I remember thinking how great it would be to see the Dead again, and then there they were — that was one of my first experiences of synchronicity. It was a good concert and I remember hearing Jerry sing 'Eyes of the World' and that particular song kind of awakened me and I realized that he was a big figure, that he was saying something big and that it was more than rock 'n' roll. It was very uplifting."
Shortly after the Englishtown show, Manasha traveled to England for nine months' study at Oxford University as part of a program at Shimer College in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, where she was enrolled. One of her tutors at Oxford was a Deadhead, so she fell in with a crowd who shared her interest in the band. In June of '78, right before she was scheduled to return to the United States, the tutor tried to convince Manasha to stick around and go to the Dead's concerts in Egypt, but she declined and went back to New Jersey and then to Shimer.
Page 366, top; Garcia on Dylan, continued:
"He's funny. He has a chameleon-like quality," Garcia continued. "He goes along with what he hears, so it's not as though we're fighting with him. It's nothing like that. He makes an effort to fit in with what he hears. But he doesn't have a conception about two things that are very important in music: starting and ending a song. Really. The middle of the song is great; the beginning and ending are nowhere. If I spent enough time and worked with him enough I think I could straighten him out. Because he's open; it's not like he's closed to anything. He's open to any suggestion."
Page 366, bottom; MTV discovers the Grateful Dead:
"I personally think that the 'Day of the Dead' on MTV is what fucked up everything," the band's ticket czar, Steve Marcus, said in 1992. "There was one solid day on MTV where like every third video was Grateful Dead-related, and then all day they did cut-ins from the Meadowlands parking lot [outside Giants Stadium] showing 'what a great scene it is out here in the parking lots!' From that point on, the number of people in the parking lots tripled, and it was like — party time! Instead of going to Fort Lauderdale on spring break, you go on tour with the Dead, but you don't even go inside!
"That day of TV got the Dead so much into the mainstream, particularly with young people, it's never been the same. When I first started working for the Dead in '83, the median age of our audience was about 25 to 27. In '87 and '88, the median age dropped to 17 or 18."
Page 368, lower-middle; more on the summer of '87:
The tour with the Dead obviously had an impact on Dylan. Over the next several years, he adapted a number of the arrangements of his songs that Garcia and the Dead had come up with. And in a 1997 interview, Dylan credited Garcia with helping him reconnect with some of his older material. "[Jerry would] say, 'Come on, man, you know, this is the way it goes. Let's play it; it goes like this.' And I'd say, 'Man, he's right, you know? How's he gettin' there and I can't get there?' And I had to go through a lot of red tape in my mind to get back there."
The second half of the Dead's summer tour began just two weeks after the final Dead-Dylan show in Anaheim and took them to several beautiful outdoor spots, including Red Rocks in Colorado; the Calavaras County Fairgrounds, in the heart of the rolling hills of California's Gold Country; Park West ski resort in Utah; Compton Terrace Amphitheatre, near the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona; and most dramatic of all, Town Park in Telluride, Colorado, elevation 8,700 feet.
Deadheads completely took over the town of Telluride for three days, filling every hotel, motel and campground within 50 miles of the town — this despite widely publicized warnings that no one without Dead show tickets would be able to get anywhere near Telluride. A sign stretching across Colorado Street (the main drag) read "WELCOME GRATEFUL DEAD" in tie-dyed letters, and the downtown generally looked like a Deadhead bazaar day and night. The Dead stayed in some luxury condos away from downtown, and Garcia spent much of his free time hanging around the swimming pool there, chatting with Deadheads. The evening after the first of the two concerts there, Babatunde Olatunji (whose group opened the shows) led Mickey Hart, Bill Graham (who promoted the event and owned a house in Telluride) and hundreds of Deadheads on a wild musical parade down Colorado Street, ending at the tiny recreation center, where a percussion jam ensued. The next morning at sunrise, Olatunji led a prayer at the Town Park to celebrate the Harmonic Convergence that day, which was touted by New Age types as a cosmic alignment of the planets that would somehow usher in a new era of enlightenment. Although it was just a coincidence that the Dead's second Telluride show was booked for that day, there was definitely a certain electricity in the air as the band hit the stage. Would they revive "Dark Star," not played since 1984, for the occasion? Would the entire park and the great rocky cliffs that surrounded it be beamed up to the heavens? Apparently not. The Dead opened their second set that afternoon with perhaps the most inconsequential song in their entire repertoire — "When Push Comes to Shove" — and steered clear of most of their spacey material, except for "The Other One." Still, the weekend was a little glimpse of what a Deadhead paradise might look like, and because the crowds were a manageable size, most of the problems that had plagued the Dead's tours since Garcia's return were nowhere to be seen.
Musically, each of the Dead's tours in 1987 was stronger than the previous one, as Garcia continued to regain his strength and the band as a whole locked into the steady upward momentum of the year. In September, the Dead returned to playing arenas (as opposed to stadiums) on the East Coast, selling out three nights each in Providence, Maryland/D.C., and Philadelphia, and five at Madison Square Garden. Garcia was in excellent form the entire tour — joking with his band mates between songs, more confident and expressive in his playing, and singing with greater emotion and range than he'd displayed for many years. Ballads had always been Garcia's forte, but after his comeback, his vocals on tunes like "Wharf Rat," "Stella Blue," "Black Peter" and "Morning Dew" seemed to be imbued with extra feeling, as if he was more in touch with the sentiments in those songs.
Garcia's confident vocals were much in evidence when he stopped into the Lone Star Cafe, a New York City club, on an off night from the Garden run, to listen to his old friends David Nelson and Sandy Rothman play bluegrass. Joining the band onstage with a borrowed Fender Telecaster — not his usual kind of electric guitar — he sang up a storm with his old picking partners. A surviving tape reveals Garcia nailing such barroom ballads and spirited bluegrass trios as "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music," "Teardrops in My Eyes" and one of his big favorites, Jimmy Martin's "Drink Up and Go Home."
In 1988, Garcia talked about his renewed love of singing: "It's only in the last couple of years that I've started to feel like a singer at all. I think I'm starting to get to be a singer. I'm learning it. I think it has to do with a feeling of emotional reality when I sing a song: Does it work for me emotionally?
"Singing is — you go out there and open your mouth and you try to hit the notes and you try to express something about the lyrics. Sometimes for me it's also another thing, an X factor. It's evocative; it's what the song evokes. It's the context, somehow, of the song. But sometimes it doesn't have anything to do with reality. Sometimes it doesn't even have anything to do with the text. Sometimes it just has to do with something in my head, some little thing about the way the chords work and the way the melody fits in — something graceful about the song that speaks to me. And it speaks to me emotionally. I don't have the language to say what it is — it's not a technical thing."
And discussing his increased range, Garcia remarked with a laugh, "It's a race between cigarettes and improvement! If I could stop smoking, I could probably bust through another four or five notes up on top." Alas, Garcia was never able to quit cigarettes for more than a couple of months at a time (usually less), and as a result he was afflicted with chronic shortness of breath.
Page 370, lower-middle; tragedy amid the triumphs:
This should have been the joy-filled pinnacle of Robert Hunter's career, "but I had a terrible change of life experience that happened right at that time," he said. "My son [Leroy, age 12] died, and it all turned to ashes in my mouth. The 'Touch of Grey' single was out there doing its number, and Dylan had just recorded 'Silvio' for a single, backed with 'Ugliest Girl in the World' — here's Dylan doing my stuff, and I was healthy and oriented. It looked like everything was happening, and then the rug was yanked out. Also the Duino Elegies [Hunter's translation of the famous poetic work by the German poet Rilke] had just come out that week, and things were as good as they'd ever been for me. I got a good, big lesson in how this stuff passes away, and how relative everything is. That was the specific instance that turned me to [writing] poetry.
"The other stuff was too big, it was just too out there. I needed to withdraw severely, examine everything, and poetry was my tool for doing this. I was writing out of the depths of grief. When tragedy hits, you find yourself doing what you do. And it [writing poetry] just saw me through. All I wanted to do was put as many years as possible between me and that event."
Hunter stayed away from Grateful Dead shows for a long time following Leroy's death — he didn't want to be part of the backstage party, didn't want to hear those songs while he was trapped walking the banks of his own psychic "Black Muddy River."
Page 372, upper-middle; Jerry Garcia, pitchman:
On the first three nights of March, 1987, the Grateful Dead played a series of concerts celebrating Mardi Gras at Kaiser Convention Center, with New Orleans' Dirty Dozen Brass Band opening the Fat Tuesday fete. During the days of the second two shows, however, Garcia, Rothman, Nelson and Kahn convened with engineer John Cutler at Club Front to record a down-home radio commercial for Levi's 501 jeans — a seat-of-the-bluejeans composition with words by Rothman and music by Garcia, in the style of the Blue Yodeler, Jimmie Rodgers. This was the first time any member of the Dead had been part of an ad, and Garcia acceded to the request only after numerous entreaties from Levi's. Though Garcia did have a long history of wearing Levi's of one sort or another, his jean days were long past — usually he wore baggy corduroys. At the time, he told friends that he did the commercial spot mainly to make a few bucks for his friends Rothman and Nelson and to have an excuse to get together in the studio with them.
Page 374, top; more on the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band:
"Jerry really liked playing in that band," Sandy Rothman says. "If David [Nelson] and I would go somewhere with him and we ran into somebody who was on his level of professionalism — whether it was Branford Marsalis or Clarence Clemons, or whoever — Jerry would introduce us saying, 'These are my string band guys,' kind of proudly. I could feel a certain glee in him when he'd say 'string band,' because for some people that's just the lowest of the low — 'What is that shit? Is this folk music all over again?'" he says with a laugh.
"John [Kahn] summed up the industry's, and really the whole world's, low estimation of this kind of music," Rothman continues. "When it was finally decided at some point that the group's official name was going to be the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, John's joke was to cover his mouth and mask the word 'Acoustic,' so you couldn't really hear it. 'The Jerry Garcia [mumbles] Band.'"
Page 374, middle; a note about the electric sets on Broadway:
Bob Weir showed up at two of the shows and helped the electric band out on a few songs at each, including Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece." And on Halloween, the final night of the run, the theater was decorated with black and orange balloons, and the stage lined with glowing carved pumpkins. Many in the audience dressed in costumes for the occasion — Bill Graham prowled the aisles in a futuristic "Road Warrior" get-up — and when the curtain rose for the electric set, the JGB was
standing knee-deep in theatrical fog as they kicked into "Werewolves of London." Then, at the song's conclusion, a witch skeleton sitting onstage in a rocking chair next to Garcia's amp magically "flew" up into the ceiling.
Garcia's stint in New York was also filled with various outside activities, some planned by Graham, including attending Borscht-Belt comedian Jackie Mason's Broadway show on a Garcia night off. Sandy Rothman recalls that Mason, a favorite of Graham's, worked Garcia's presence into the act. "Mountain Girl was there that night," he says, "and we were all going crazy in our aisle!"
Less than a week after Garcia returned to the Bay Area following his Broadway triumph, he and the rest of the Dead got together to shoot a video for Weir and Barlow's "Throwing Stones," the third song from In the Dark to be interpreted with an eye towards MTV. (The other two were "Touch of Grey" and "Hell in a Bucket.") For this day-long video shoot at an abandoned Oakland school, director Len Dell'Amico had the band dress up in long trench coats reminiscent of the postapocalyptic garb worn in the Mad Max/Road Warrior films. Not much was required of the band except that they parade solemnly in front of a bleak, stylized mural showing different forms of human suffering — it was meant to be a vision of the world if nuclear holocaust could not be prevented. This is a band that never looked particularly comfortable in costumes of any sort, but Garcia and the others gamely went along with the idea. After the light-hearted videos for "Touch of Grey" and "Hell in a Bucket," this was considerably more serious.
"No, Jerry wasn't crazy about dressing up, but he understood that it was to make a point," Dell'Amico says. "He worked at it for 10 hours, doing it over and over. He even did the original drawing that became the mural. At one point I had given him a napkin or something and he took a felt-tip marker and did that drawing. Then I gave the napkin to the artist and said, 'There's the wall,' and she painted it in three days.
"The day of the shoot, I went to Jerry's house at about 7 in the morning, and I left my car there and we got in his car. He was feeling the tension, and I was nervous, too. I was spending $150,000 in one day; a lot of crane shots. He was behind the wheel and he said, 'Listen to this,' and he puts in a Jackie Mason tape, from the Broadway show that he'd just been competing with. And he cranked it up loud. So instead of talking about the shoot and maybe getting tense, we spent the whole time driving to Oakland and laughing our asses off. We were in tears. He was laughing that famous laugh that's been likened to Ed Wynn. So we pulled into the location, the crew's already been there for an hour, and we've got this mountain of school equipment smoking and this 300-foot mural of his napkin drawing, and we get out of the car crying from laughing, and it was like, 'Holy shit. This place is smoking and apocalyptic!' Everyone there must have gotten a strange opinion of us."
At the end of that week the Grateful Dead played three Rex Foundation benefits at Kaiser Convention Center, followed by a trio of strong shows at the Long Beach Arena. During this era, the Dead peppered their touring schedule with little bursts of activity on the West Coast; not full tours, but just scattered dates that kept the band's chops up and entertained their loyal and still-growing California fan base.
Following a week's break, Bill Graham brought Garcia's eclectic acoustic-electric extravaganza — direct from Broadway! — to the Warfield Theater in San Francisco and the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles for three shows each. The Acoustic Band had two exciting additions to the repertoire: the chilling old folk tune "Oh, The Wind and Rain," which they learned from an arrangement by Jody Stecher, who'd briefly been one of Garcia's picking partners in the mid-'60s; and the ebullient spiritual "Turtle Dove," originally recorded by Bessie Jones & the Georgia Sea Island Singers. An excellent live CD of the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, released in 1988, was culled from the Warfield and Wiltern runs, though almost everyone agreed that the Broadway shows had a little more juice to them. Sandy Rothman, who produced the CD, says he originally had selected mostly performances from Broadway, but for legal reasons, they were unable to use them on the disc — compensation for New York City's powerful stagehands union was prohibitive.
In mid-December at the Warfield Theater, Garcia, Weir and Kahn played seven songs at a locally televised benefit organized by Joan Baez for Humanitas International. Baez sang with the threesome for a few numbers, and Garcia and Weir came out for the grand finale, featuring all the evening's performers, and lent their voices to a stirring version of The Beatles' "Let It Be."
Page 375, top; more on the New Year's telecast:
Len Dell'Amico, who directed the telecast and the comedy bits, recalls his favorite moment from the "Cooking with Jerry" skit: "The sigh when Jerry looks at the big bag of white powder on the counter, which is just flour, of course. When Davis told me this idea, I said, 'Tom, millions of people are going to see this, and it's so close to the bone.' I knew it would be hysterical but ... I said, 'If you can talk him into it, we'll do it.' I told Garcia about it and he said, "This isn't going to be very funny for me.' And Davis said, 'No, the purpose is to make it funny for other people.' Jerry says, 'You mean they're going to be laughing at me then.' Davis says, 'Yeah. That's the idea.' Garcia analyzed it brilliantly — he said, 'The source of the humor is the tension between who they know me to be and the image you're projecting me to be.' 'Yes, that's why it's funny.' It was ballsy. Jerry went for it and did it in two takes. And on the first take the whole crew cracked up. 'Can we be professional here? We can't edit the laughter out.' On the Saturday night after Jerry died, my wife and I had a few people over and that skit is one of the things that we showed."