Chapter 17: This Darkness Got to Give
Page 316, upper-middle; Garcia's changing role:
"I think in the beginning Jerry was very clearly the musical fountainhead, and everybody deferred to him, and over the years each other guy became more competent and more articulate and more unique and ultimately, those forces restricted Jerry's freedom," David Gans observes. "Bobby's sonic range was very clearly circumscribed in the early '70s he had his place above the bass and below the lead guitar. You could almost always find Bob there in the spectrum. By the late '70s that was no longer the case, so it wasn't as easy for everybody to blend; they had to pay more attention to stay out of each other's way, and Jerry, in particular, had to do more accommodating than he was used to. When you're basically playing with guys that are going to defer to you, you pretty much decide what you want to sound like and they stay out of your way. But when those guys start developing character of their own, it's suddenly not as easy to win all those musical arguments; it's easier to find yourself clashing with the other guy's sound. And I think Jerry was the kind of guy who would not confront another guy and say 'Hey, don't make your guitar sound like that, because that's where I am.' Instead he would find a new sound."
Page 319, bottom; music and psychedelics:
"Music is like psychedelics in a way," Garcia said. "There are times when I come off the stage and I'd swear I'd been dosed. I'd swear to it. But I know I haven't. In fact all of us in the band [have that experience]. There is some biochemical reality in there that has to do maybe with the loudness of the music or maybe, like the East Indians believe, that intervals in music contain emotional realities. Their music is organized where each interval has an emotional truth that goes along with it. So when they're playing, they're playing your heart; or a kind of nervous system music. And it feels that way when you hear it, too. There may be those kind of realities in there that are kicking off some kind of biochemical, subtle brain proteins and changes of that sort."
Page 321, middle; more on Ozzie Ahlers and the JGB:
Ahlers was barely familiar with Garcia's or the Dead's rich legacy,"which I think was refreshing to him," the keyboardist says of Garcia. "He liked that I didn't know all about him, didn't give a shit about him and just worked. I showed up; I was never late. I always played my heart out. He'd say to me, 'Ozzie, the Dead are playing in two weeks. Why don't you drop by and check it out?' and I'd always say, 'Nah, I gotta wash my car,' or something. I never did see them. But he didn't care."
Ahlers and Garcia got along well together in part because, "We both loved science fiction," Ozzie says. "Jerry was very impressed that Id met [sci-fi author] Theodore Sturgeon. He wanted to know everything he could about my 20-minute meeting with him.
"One time on the road, Jerry invited me to breakfast in his room, so I went up there at about 12:30 in the afternoon he's just waking up and it was then that I saw that he had almost no clothing. He'd just brought two suitcases, almost entirely filled with science fiction books. He loved science fiction, or as he called it, science reality. He was an avid fan and anything that I had read he had read twice and all the books surrounding it. He was a voracious reader, an extremely intelligent guy.
"He also treated everybody great. We all had suites, everyone had access to the limousines at all time two limos, four guys and we split the money evenly. He was just a righteous guy."
As time wore on, drugs became more of a problem in the group. "The first part of every tour was pretty groovy," Ahlers explains, "but four or five days into the tour someone would show up with the white heroin and I didn't do that. I didn't have a moral issue about it; I had a life issue about it. It pervades your life. It's the big drug because it's the best. Jerry could afford it and I guess he felt above it. I remember the tempos went down, the sound checks were nonexistent, the songs were twice as long and really rambling and I remember Greg [Errico, drummer] and I had a bond in not liking that. But what are we gonna tell Jerry? What are we gonna tell John? What are we gonna tell Rock? You couldn't talk to them about what they were doing, but they could talk to us about what we were doing. If they had a problem with us being late or us doing gack [coke] we'd hear about it. Heroin did take over every tour I went on. It was pervasive."
Page 325, upper-middle; the spring '82 tour:
Other notable highlights from the road trip included two "space" jams that deviated from the normal dense guitar cacophony. In Hartford on April 18, Phil celebrated the anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 by rapping about that event in a sort of poetic narrative as the players created their own noisy earthquake: "The Barbary Coast, 1906, the wickedest place in the world. A place with sin and salvation. Woo-ooh, lots of fun, hey!" and so on. The next night, in Baltimore, Phil was once again at the mike during "space," this time reciting "The Raven" by Baltimore native son Edgar Allen Poe.
Garcia always loved "space" because it was the one part of the concert when he could be completely free musically there were absolutely no rules. In 1984 Garcia called this music "our most free-form stuff, the stuff that's not really attached to any particular song. It's not rhythmic, it's not really attached to any musical norms; it's the completely weird shit. The last couple of years we've been picking themes for ["space"] and thinking of that like being a painting or a movie. I think our most recent theme was Reagan in China. One time we had the Khadafy Death Squad as our theme. Sometimes they're terribly detailed, sometimes they're just a broad subject. We do this when we think about it; when we remember to. It's not a hard, fast rule. It's made that part of the music at times have some tremendous other level of organization that pulls it together and makes it really interesting.
"It provides a sort of invisible infrastructure than anybody can interpret however they want and it still provides a centerpiece for us all to look at. It's provided for us more interesting shapes for that nonformed music, that shapeless music. Before we started using that idea, that music would sometimes get dispersed so far you couldn't relate to it all. And sometimes it would make an effort to turn into something familiar real fast, so it would hover between these two poles and there was something not quite juicy about; not quite as promising as it could be."
Page 328, middle; the Us Festival and more:
A week after the Oregon show, the Dead played one of their strangest gigs ever. The Us Festival was the brainchild of the wealthy co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, who thought it would be a blast to spend some of his millions putting on a rock festival in Southern California. There weren't any appropriate sites available, however, so Wozniak had one built from scratch in Glen Helen Regional Park in Devore, near San Bernardino. He hired Bill Graham's organization to stage the event and to book every big-name rock band he could for the three-day festival which was designed, in Wozniak's words, to "mark the end of the 'me' decade, and the beginning of the 'us' decade." After tickets for the festival had been on sale for a while, Graham lured the Grateful Dead onto the bill of the first show by guaranteeing them thousands of dollars more than they would usually make for a single gig.
Since the headliners for the Sunday show were already set two immensely popular L.A.-based acts, Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne the Dead agreed to open the concert: At 9:30 in the morning. The Grateful Dead were not a band of early risers, to put it mildly, so they stayed up all night before their performance, which put them in an appropriately ragged frame of mind for the 150,000 people who had camped out at the site overnight and were heavy-lidded themselves at 9:30. Phil greeted the crowd by saying, "So this is the Us festival, right? And how are we feeling this morning? Well, settle down and spread, 'cause it's time for breakfast in bed with the Grateful Dead!" and the group launched into a short but spacey version of "Playing in the Band," a nice way to ease the crowd into their set. There were probably only about 25,000 hard-core Deadheads in the crowd, but the band's two abbreviated sets were very well-received. It had been years since they'd played before a crowd that wasn't strictly theirs, and though it wasn't a history-making performance from a musical standpoint, it was lively enough to keep 150,000 non-Heads entertained for a couple of hours; it helped that there was only one ballad among the 14 songs they played. Yes, the Grateful Dead actually pandered to a crowd! By noon, as the temperature in Devore was climbing over the 100-degree mark, the Dead were packing their bags and heading for home, tired but considerably richer. Who knows, maybe they even won a few new fans with their high-energy performance. As it says in "Scarlet Begonias" "Once in a while you get shown the light/ In the strangest of places if you look at it right."
The band played one more big festival in 1982, the Jamaica World Music Festival in Montego Bay, which featured such diverse groups as The B-52s, Joe Jackson, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Jimmy Cliff and Peter Tosh. The Dead's experience here was the opposite of the highly efficient Us Festival. In Jamaica, everything ran way behind schedule and the Dead didn't go onstage until after 2 o'clock in the morning. Garcia basically never left his hotel room, except to play music, so, as was the case in Alaska, being in an exotic location was just another gig for him.
Page 329, bottom; Garcia and his fans:
When he did stop, Garcia was unfailingly courteous to his fans. Ironically, 1983 was the year Garcia said this about his relationship with his occasionally worshipful following:
"I try not to be an asshole. You do feel some self-consciousness on that level, but I also know that's important for me to try to demystify that role and to be human with those people. So I allow a certain amount of [contact with them]. I get paranoid if I keep my door closed too long. People knock on my door and say, 'Can I get your autograph, or talk to you, or turn you on, or something?' If I don't let some of those people in and talk to them one-on-one, I feel like I'm losing contact. There's been times in my life when I've burned myself out doing that when I'd sit all night five nights in a row raving with some hippies. I've burned myself out often enough to know that what people really want me to do is play well. And I know that if I approach them on that level and say, 'Listen, it's important I haven't had much rest, and I want to play well tonight,' they'll usually give me a pass, even if they've waited months to talk to me. If I'm polite to them, they're usually polite to me. They're good people.
"Sometimes they get a little excited, but if you remember what the whole thing is like, that's the key to it for me. I used to do the same stuff, like standing in line for hours to buy a ticket. I did all that stuff drive for hundreds and hundreds of miles to see someone. I've put in my dues on that level and I know what it's like. ... There are all sorts of temptations in rock 'n' roll to shine them on and bullshit them, turn into an asshole. But for me it's important not to, and it's important to maintain a level of contact. It counts for me."
Page 331, middle; Jerry's malaise:
Yet Dell'Amico says (and others agree with him) that Garcia displayed almost no consciousness of his physical being, even when he was obviously ill. Garcia once even spoke about what an inconvenience it was to have to drag a body around through life, as if it limited his capacity to fully use his brain. "You had this incredible mind, which is a given, and then exposed it to these amazing amounts and levels of psychedelic experience," dell'Amico says. "I think he basically moved to the other plane, and had one or both feet in that other plane all the time. And the world that we were in was something that he visited. I never heard him say, 'I'm cold' or 'I'm hot,' or 'I'm uncomfortable' or 'My leg hurts.' I never heard him say anything like that. I don't know if it was the macho thing of, 'I don't want anyone to feel like I'm complaining,' or he was really unaware of it. I think he would say he really wasn't aware of these things. I mean, when you're about to go into a diabetic coma [as he did in 1986], you should certainly be feeling weird and not just thinking, 'Oh, it's nothing.' It's a major system crash going on."
Dell'Amico says he tried to keep Garcia engaged intellectually as a way to distract him from smoking the Persian: "He would go to smoke and I would ask a question. Before the pipe got to his mouth, he would go back and answer the question. And then the pipe would start back up and I'd ask another question. If you do that for hours and hours of time, it makes a difference. I didn't see an alternative. I'd come up with as complicated ideas as I could and talk about philosophy and books and things that were interesting.
"Eventually he'd probably nod out, and there were times when he stopped breathing and then my panic would set in 'Well, I guess I have to pick up the phone now or administer CPR.' It was dark. There were moments that were just about as scary as it could get."
Page 332, lower-middle; more dark thoughts:
"I was very afraid Garcia was going to die," said John Barlow. "In fact, I'd reached a point where I'd just figured it was a matter of time before I'd turn on the radio and there, on the hour, I was going to hear, 'Jerry Garcia, famous in the '60s, has died.' I didn't even allow myself to think it wasn't possible. That's a pretty morbid way to look at something. When you've got one person who is absolutely critical, and you don't think he's going to make it, then you start to disengage emotionally, and I had. For a while I couldn't see where it was headed. I mean, I could see the people in the audience getting off, but I couldn't see any of us getting off enough to make it worthwhile.
"And it wasn't just Garcia. There were a lot of things that were wrong. I don't want to tell any tales out of school, but I think our adherents have a more than slightly idealistic notion of what goes on inside the Grateful Dead, and just how enlightened we all are. What happened with Garcia was not unique."
"The thing about Persian," says Tiff Garcia, "is it's not really a recreational drug, because you dont get high off of it in a traditional way. What happens is your system needs it to keep you normal, and then from there you could take other stuff coke or whatever that makes you get high. But the Persian itself doesnt necessarily get you high every time. But you get the illusion that youre getting high and it prevents you from craving more, right now. You can wait an hour and then crave some more. For a true junkie, they cant go more than four or five hours a day without a fix. They balance it out, figure out how to stay relatively healthy. I know people who have been junkies for 30 years and they seem as straight as you or I. Some of them even hold municipal jobs."
Page 335, middle; more on the intervention:
"It was really organized and everybody participated," M.G. recalls. "We got 12 people to go over there. A lot of people didn't want to do it, but we talked them into it. I remember how awful it was, and how he ducked it. We were trying to get him into this program over at Lake Merritt [in Oakland], because that seemed like the most humane program in the Bay Area; I checked them all out. I had spent four or five days making all these calls, using a phony name, finding out about different treatment programs and what they cost and all that.
"It was really weird because the phone line at Front St. was being tapped by the Justice Department because they thought the Grateful Dead had this big LSD-selling business," she continues. "I'd pick up the phone and dial the number of a treatment program, and as soon as the call went through I could hear phones picking up all the way to Washington, D.C. It was hilarious! It was the most obviously tapped line. We'd had tapped phones with the Pranksters, so I knew exactly what that sounded like a really weak signal and lots of weird echoes and teeny noises."