Chapter 20: Show Me Something Built To Last
Page 377, top; the winter of '88:
Almost immediately after returning to the Bay Area the last week of January 1988, Garcia took part in a benefit concert at Kaiser Convention Center to raise money for organizations dedicated to rebuilding villages destroyed during the long-running war in El Salvador. The concert, called "Blues for Salvador," was organized by Carlos Santana (who had just recorded an instrumental song by that name), and featured nearly six hours of music. Garcia, wearing a black, yellow and white floral print Hawaiian shirt and looking tan and fit adjectives that had never been associated with him played with a number of different groupings of musicians that night. First, in the middle of Tower of Power's set, he, Weir and soprano saxophone giant Wayne Shorter strolled out and joined in a funky jam that had the whole arena bopping. Shorter and Garcia were a great match two supremely melodic players who were also well accustomed to blowing freely on the musical edge. They stuck around for versions of "Love Light" (sung by Weir) and "Goodnight Irene" (sung by Garcia); then toward the end of the night they came back onstage for a giant jam session featuring that whole crew plus Santana, Bonnie Raitt and members of NRBQ (also on the bill) roaring through all sorts of intriguing instrumental passages and old-time rock 'n' roll songs.
A few days later, Garcia flew to New York to add guitar overdubs to a new album by Ornette Coleman & Primetime, called Virgin Beauty. Garcia had been a fan of Ornette's since hearing the saxophonist's "free jazz" recordings in the early '60s, which influenced the Dead and many other groups. When the Dead played at Madison Square Garden in the fall of '87, Phil Lesh and Dan Healy invited Ornette and his son, drummer/producer Denardo Coleman, to see the band. Ornette and Garcia hit it off immediately, and Ornette was impressed enough that when Garcia played Broadway later that fall, they got together again and Ornette asked Garcia to play on the record.
Now, playing Ornette's music and playing with Primetime was
not as simple as going into the studio and just laying down a guitar line. Primetime's sound was dense and complicated there were already two guitarists, two drummers, two bassists and Ornette and the compositions sometimes moved in several different directions at once, with one person playing a slightly bluesy feel, another a fast Caribbean flavor, another some undefined mid-tempo jaunt. It's challenging enough to listen to; Garcia had to figure out what he could add to songs that were essentially finished when he stepped through the door at New York's Clinton Recording Studios.
Fortunately, Ornette is famous for his detailed and evocative verbal descriptions of where he wants his music to go sometimes in the studio he'll talk to the band for two hours before they even attempt to get a song on tape.
"For me, it was a thing of finding a place where I felt I could say something rhythmically and tonally," Garcia explained shortly after the sessions. And in the places where I would have trouble I would just say, 'Hey Ornette, I'm having trouble with this. Can you steer me through this or give me some sense of what you might like to hear?' He would never say 'Do this,' or 'Do that.' He would say, 'Here's a possibility. Here's a couple of things you might do,' and offer maybe a half-dozen possible things. ...
"It's like a maze, if you think of music being a maze. Somebody can say, 'Part of this passage works like this, and this part goes like that,' and all of a sudden it clicks. Like, 'Oh yeah, I can get the rest.' So it was kind of along those lines. It's not something I can communicate that directly to somebody else. But just in a personal sense, it's one of those things that has the effect of freeing up my own playing by giving me ways to intellectually support something. So if I go into something weird, I know why I'm going there. I have a sense of option. Learning things from him harmonically is like opening the door to everywhere. It's not restricted; it just opens more doors. For me, it's something that comes right at the moment in my musical life when I need that kind of input. It was real helpful for me, and I'm just now starting to feel the effects. It represents a long-term thing. This is going to go on for a while because in five or six hours, he gave me a hundred years' worth of stuff to work on. I've got stuff to mull over forever. ...
"I learned so much, and he was so gracious about letting me learn it. A lot of older musicians get bitter after going through years of bad scenes and getting burned. But Ornette doesn't seem to have a bitter bone in his body. He's just a lovely man. Working with him was a tremendous honor."
The Dead played shows at Kaiser in February and March (with Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day themes, respectively) and the second week of March the band played at the Bay Area Music Awards, where they were awarded trophies for Best Album (In the Dark), Best Drummer/Percussionist (shared by Mickey and Billy), Best Guitarist (Jerry), Bassist (Phil), and Bay Area Musician of the Year (Garcia again). On the first of his two trips to the podium, Garcia thanked Deadheads for their support and dedicated his Best Guitarist award to them. Later, when Bill Graham handed him his Bay Area Musician of the Year trophy, Garcia simply noted, "Most of us who play music for a living consider it an honor and a privilege and exceptional good luck. We'd do it for nothin', man!" During the finale of the event, the Grateful Dead joined all six members of Huey Lewis & the News (who were among the most popular Bay Area groups of that era) for a jam session that included "Good Mornin' Little Schoolgirl," played remarkably like the Dead's '60s version, with Lewis singing and playing harmonica a la Pigpen; "Love Light," which found Garcia and Lewis trading solos; and Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally," with John Fogerty on lead vocals.
Page 377, middle; the Dead's attempt at crowd-control:
Knowing that they were on very shaky ground in some cities, in danger of not being allowed back if there were crowd problems outside, the Dead tried to head off potential trouble by sending a communiqué from Robert Hunter with all their mail-order tickets. It began:
"Here we are sitting on top of the world: big record, open doors and lots of steaming plans. This raises the question of who we are the answer is: partly us, partly you. Our part is to provide the music and logistics of the Grateful Dead experience; your part is to have one hell of a good time without anyone getting hurt or sore, which is what this trip is mostly about.
"Our current situation demands that we provide our part to growing numbers who are beginning to catch on to what you knew all along.
"There is no blanket solution to the problems caused by increasing demand, and there is no turning back. We are now the biggest 'draw' in the history of rock 'n' roll. That's not a self-congratulatory statement, rather a bald fact showing the seriousness of our logistical problem. The good old days when we were your personal minstrels have been overshadowed by a new reality which must be addressed. We are not a political, religious nor a grassroots movement; not a counterculture, drug culture nor the latest big shakes snatch-and-run glamour act. We are a symbiotic fun machine designed to get 10,000 or more heads straight at a pop."
The letter went on to lay down a few guidelines about vending outside the shows and urged people to behave responsibly and respectfully through "this unexpected era of Mega Dead-dom." Hunter concluded, "It's all just as weird for us as it is for you, but, after all, this wasn't meant to be a private party."
Alas, as it turned out, the Hunter letter was mainly preaching to the converted the problems at shows weren't being caused by the true-blue fans who faithfully bought their tickets by mail; it was the folks who didn't have tickets and turned up anyway for the party outside, people who would likely never see the letter. And the bad behavior continued to be an issue through most of the tour, with every negative event surrounding a Dead show receiving prominent play in local newspapers and occasionally even making national news.
"After the tour," said Jon McIntire, who was their road manager again during this era, "we had a few folks up to Hunter's house to talk about this. We had had Jerry and Bobby, Calico from the Hog Farm, Bill and Peter Barsotti, Hunter, Cameron [McIntire's assistant, later tour manager himself] and myself. And I said, 'OK, is it my imagination or is there something running amok? Are we in trouble?' And they said, 'No, it's not your imagination, Jon. Yes, we are in trouble.' 'Well, what are we going to do?' And we started coming up with these ideas, such as having people out there talking to Deadheads, taking suggestions. Because Deadheads are very lucid in general. We get very good letters with very specific suggestions of what can be done. We want to enhance that process and encourage that, and encourage people to kind of be their brother's keeper as it were to say, 'OK, here's the scene. It can be free and wonderful within limits. What are the limits we have to have? What determines those limits? What is going to make us appear reprehensible in the eyes of the cops or in the eyes of communities? Well, openly dealing drugs is going to do that. Open consumption of drugs is going to do that. Drunken behavior, property damage pissing in someone's bushes. Parking your van for prolonged periods of time on residential streets where people should not be camping out. These are all things that cause attention, and the finger is always pointed straight at the Grateful Dead. We are viewed as responsible."
Even with their attempts at preemptive action, however, the Dead had a serious image problem to overcome everywhere they went that summer. For example, during the weeks before the Dead's appearance at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, the local newspaper printed a series of anti-Dead letters that said things like: "This band is cult-active, they promote Satanism, drugs and sex"; "The term 'Deadheads' refers to people who have been stoned so many times on drugs they can no longer think rationally"; "The message being promoted by these bands [the Dead and hard rock bands] involves suicide, murder, sex, violence and especially rebellion in all forms"; "To have the Grateful Dead concert ... is an open invitation to the Whores of Babylon to spread themselves into our serene environment, peddling their wares of degradation, violence and sex." The Oxford paper itself came out in favor of the concerts, which drew more than 50,000 people for each of two concerts. No doubt there were some who felt that their fears of Maine being turned into a latter-day Sodom were realized, but most people agreed that the worst thing about the Dead weekend was the horrendous traffic snarls.
Exacerbating the weird vibes outside the shows was the Dead's decision to confiscate T-shirts and other merchandise which supposedly infringed on their copyrights. This was like a bad joke: Deadheads had been designing and selling their own Dead-related wares with no interference from the band for years. No group had ever inspired so much creative involvement from its fans T-shirts, decals, bumper stickers, tattoos, flags; you name it. There were hundreds of variations on the Dead's most familiar iconography i.e. adapted from Dead album covers and the like but thousands more that were completely new inventions or different variations on skeletons, roses, etc. The Dead's intention was to stop big-time merchandise bootleggers and to discourage the little sellers from clogging the parking lots, but the seemingly random enforcement of the poorly articulated policy did little more than create ill will between the Dead organization and Deadheads. It was especially galling to many Deadheads that while the T-shirt police were busy confiscating some solitary vendor's entire stock of dancing bear shirts, because 15 years after the dancing bear design had appeared on the cover of the album Bear's Choice the Dead decided it was theirs and theirs alone, entire armies of parking lot rabble openly sold beers for a buck apiece and balloons of nitrous oxide for a $5 a hit. After a few tours of this sort of harassment, the Dead more or less abandoned the policy.
Page 378, upper-middle; more on "Foolish Heart":
"I originally had a sort of Pete Townshend, acoustic guitar kind of rhythm something along those lines as a setting for it," Garcia said. "But the way it came out is completely different. It came out something uniquely Grateful Dead-ish. A lot of times my sense of how a song is supposed to work or how it's supposed to function, even in the live setting, has no bearing on it ultimate evolution, so I've learned to disregard my own ideas along those lines."
Page 378, bottom; Bob Weir's new song:
That summer, too, Bob Weir brought in a controversial song called "Victim or the Crime," which he'd written for the Dead in 1983 but the group not developed at the time. Instead, it became part of Weir's solo repertoire until he asked the Dead to tackle it again in the spring of '88. With its plodding rhythm, harsh chords and dissonant ascending lines, it was a tough song to embrace for Deadheads and the other band members. As Garcia said a few months after the song's debut, "It's a hideous song. It's very angular and unattractive sounding. It doesn't make itself easy to like. It just doesn't sound good; or rather, it sounds strange. And it is strange. It has strange steps in it, but that's part of what makes it interesting to play." (Weir said that the music had been inspired, in part, by Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste," not exactly easy listening.)
The lyrics, by an L.A. actor friend of Weir's named Gerrit Graham, also made many people uncomfortable, for obvious reasons:
Patience runs out on the junkie
The dark side hires another soul
Did he steal his fate or earn it?
Was he force-fed, did he learn it?
Whatever happened to his precious self-control? ...
What fixation feeds this fever
as the full moon pales and climbs?
Am I living truth or rank deceiver?
Am I the victim or the crime?
"I understand it's not real popular," Weir said with a chuckle in 1989. [That] doesn't matter that much to me because I have to do what I have to do, and I can't cater to a bunch of directives that are handed to me by a board of my peers." He insisted that the reference to the junkie in the first line "wasn't meant to be specific in any way. It's a line that had to be there. Hey listen, I tried to replace it in a billion different ways but nothing would do it. It's a powerful, intact image that gets the point across with a great deal of ease, though not with kid gloves certainly. ... I gather some people were touchy about it because we had some problems with junk. But I wasn't pointing a finger at that. I wasn't shying away from it either."
From its ugly beginnings the song eventually became a very powerful number, consistently well-played by the band, who seemed to revel in its clashing dissonance. It became another direction for the Dead's music to go, and in concert it dovetailed nicely with any number of Garcia's more melodic pieces, such as "Crazy Fingers" and "Foolish Heart."
Page 380, middle; more on the rain forest benefit, '88:
During the Dead's first set at the benefit, there was only one guest star: former Rolling Stones lead guitarist Mick Taylor, who wailed on versions of "West L.A. Fadeaway" and "Little Red Rooster." The second set, however, was loaded with surprises. The set opened with the Dead sympathetically backing New York singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega (a favorite of Garcia's) for a pair of tunes, Robyn Hitchcock's lovely "Chinese Bones" and Vega's own "Neighborhood Girls." After a couple of Dead tunes, Philadelphia soulsters Hall & Oates came out and fronted the Dead for versions of Hall's "Every Time You Go Away" and Marvin Gaye's powerful "What's Goin' On." For the drum solo that night, Mickey and Billy were joined by Olatunji and that portion of the program became an impressionistic rain forest soundscape, complete with sound effects of crying forest birds and the ominous buzzing of chainsaws. Bruce Hornsby, whose band opened the concert, came out to play accordion on "Not Fade Away," and then Hall & Oates, Hornsby and bassist Jack Casady helped the Dead on the encore: "Good Lovin'" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." By the end of the show, Garcia could barely utter a sound, yet he gamely attended a meet-and-greet after-party for the elite folks who'd bought $250 tickets for the concert, and chatted with an endless stream of well-wishers before finally beating a retreat back to the hotel well after midnight.
In October, the Dead undertook a brief tour of the South and Southwest, hitting markets they'd ignored for several years: Florida, New Orleans and Texas. "Basically what happened was they were going back to the same places over and over again and that was turning into a problem because of the crowds," says John Scher, who helped plot the Dead's tours. "So we were always looking for new places to expand. The South had always been a problem for them, but when they'd play there they'd usually do pretty well. Hampton [Virginia] became a good place for them. So did Atlanta. We had an internal joke where I'd get a 'gimme date' there could be one city that we'd go to that nobody wanted to go to, to see whether I was right and we could be successful there."
In the case of the Texas shows, Scher and the Dead guessed wrong the Houston and Dallas concerts were far from sold out, conclusively proving something the Dead suspected all along: that they couldn't ignore a region for several years and then expect there to be a rabid fan base when they returned. How did the Dead respond? They never played Texas again; indeed, they rarely took booking chances after 1988, opting instead to go for the easy money of playing familiar places, much to the disappointment of Deadheads who lived off the beaten path.
"Most of these shows we just did in the South were not quite us at our blazing best," Garcia said shortly after the tour. "And you hope to do a good show when you play a place you haven't been much, because it always improves the audience. Next time you go back, people are really hot to see you, because word-of-mouth works wonders. The Midwest is like the East for us now, because we've played there enough and played well. But you have to play well, because you build the audience one member at a time."
In the same interview, Garcia shifted into fantasy mode on the subject of gigs: "What would be great for the Grateful Dead is for us to have a run that would guarantee like four nights out of nine over a five-month period. We'd play some place like the Orpheum, in San Francisco, which sounds better than the Warfield. So we'd play there but you'd never know what night it was going to be, so we could blow it out. 'Hey, fuck it. I don't feel like playing, do you?' 'Nah,'" he laughed.
"Because like any human endeavor, there are times when you should do it and times when you shouldn't. When you're making your decisions of where you're going to play a year in advance, spontaneity doesn't come into it. So no matter what state you're in, you have to play those gigs. And if we don't plan our tours well enough to allow us enough time to kick a mood, get out from a bummer I mean everyone has bum days it's pretty rough. Just in the course of human events you hit those nights when it's like, 'God, I'd rather be anywhere but here right now.' Oddly enough, the nights when any of us feel that way, we all feel that way, and then we're going out in weakness. And then that may be the only show we play in that part of the country for five years."
Page 381, bottom, more on "Built to Last":
Garcia complained after he'd played the song just once that the arrangement "has no air in it so far. It's real new and I'm still grappling with the lyrics. There are a lot of lyrics and I'm still trying to get them so I can spit 'em out. ... I think 'Built to Last' is going to be a powerful song when it gets going. It's just that it's very new and the nature of the song is that it's going to take a little longer to wear it into something."
Evidently, Garcia never quite found what he was looking for in the song though he recorded a nice version for the album, he performed it only 16 times over the next year-and-a-half before dropping it permanently.
Page 384, middle; more on Garcia's MIDI guitar:
It was interesting to hear the sorts of sounds Garcia chose from this unlimited palette, which he called "a whole new language." In the early days of his MIDI work, he was somewhat conservative, favoring timbres that were similar to real instruments trumpet, saxophone, flute.
"They're the ones that are most playable for me right now," he said in the summer of '89. "I go on how much my touch can be transferred to the MIDI realm. What's interesting is that if I play harder on the 'horn' thing, I can actually overblow, just like you can with a horn. So what I'm looking for is some of the expression you get with a horn, except on a guitar."
Asked if he emulated specific horn players with his MIDI "sax," Garcia noted, "I tend not to think of specific players, but I do think of a color. So while I might not think of Coltrane specifically, I might think of 'Ascension' [one of Coltrane's most famous pieces] not part of it, but the whole way it unfolds. Or, more to the point, I found myself thinking at one point of 'My Favorite Things' [another Coltrane classic], but more Eric Dolphy than Coltrane, because one of the MIDI saxophones has a very good soprano [sax] register. That's the thing about the guitar it crosses the registers, so sometimes you find yourself in a place where like with the flute you're playing in a register that doesn't actually exist for that instrument, but you still recognize its characteristics."
"It was really fun to give Jerry a new [MIDI] sound and then watch him check it out," Bob Bralove says. "My first experience with Mickey in the drum solo and giving him sounds is he'd go through zillions of sounds he'd go crazy going through all the different sounds. But Jerry would want to play one new sound during a whole night. He'd want a sound that he could play with for an entire 'space' section or whatever he was going to investigate. He wanted to master that sound.
"And when he did the trumpet stuff, he'd do the slides and all these little trumpet things. He tried to be idiomatic with the instrument, and he did it all with his fingers. He would play a trumpet line like a trumpet player might do it. Where the trails are, where the vibrato is; even the embouchure.
"Sometimes he was a whole horn section. There was one time he played 'Midnight Hour' and I swear you could practically see the horn section he was doing standing up, sliding back and forth. He had this huge grin on his face. He could get totally out there, too, playing helicopters or thunderstorms."
More on mid-'89:
Aside from working on the album and touring with the Dead, Garcia had a busy spring and summer of '89. In late spring, he spent three days adding tasteful acoustic guitar parts to an album by Country Joe McDonald called Superstitious Blues. At one point he had considered producing the whole album, but his busy schedule prevented that from happening.
At the end of May, the Dead headlined an all-day benefit extravaganza at Oakland Stadium called "In Concert Against AIDS." Besides playing two sets with the Dead (who were joined by Bruce Springsteen's former sax player, Clarence Clemons, for much of the time), Garcia and Weir also played in a group backing up John Fogerty, who charged through note-for-note copies of some of his biggest Creedence Clearwater revival hits. Garcia bopped and smiled as he played, but Fogerty gave him no solo space at all, so Jerry's presence was all but wasted. But the crowd didn't seem to care: Fogerty's set was the best received of the entire affair.
On the summer solstice less than a month later, the Dead put on their second national pay-per-view television concert, an afternoon show from Shoreline Amphitheater. This time, director Dell'Amico and the band took a bare-bones approach to the telecast no skits or announcers; just the band playing, and during the break, scenes from around the amphitheater. It took the band a while to settle into a groove for this show, but by the end of the first set, which ended with "Stuck Inside of Mobile" and "Deal," the Dead were running smoothly on six cylinders. Clarence Clemons played on most of the second set, and that seemed to throw the band off a little. He clearly didn't know some of the songs, so his playing was not always appropriate. He was best on open-ended groove songs like "Eyes of the World" and "Lovelight."
Page 385; more on the stadium tour:
On the first day of the tour July 2 at Sullivan Stadium in Massachusetts Garcia, Weir and the five members of Los Lobos were videotaped backstage performing a low-key, acoustic mini-set for a special edition of the ABC news program Nightline that aired on July 4th. Though the group performed several songs, snippets of three were featured on Nightline: a bluesy version of "Sitting on Top of the World"; Shirley & Lee's New Orleans rock classic, "Let the Good Times Roll"; and a warm, down-home version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," with Garcia, Weir and Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo trading off on lead vocals. It was quite different from most of the music American television usually dishes out on the 4th all that Souza and Kate Smith. These were alternative American voices; quieter, but no less celebratory and proud.
Page 386, middle; more Garcia on being in "the zone":
Garcia likened it to a sports team that can do no wrong: "That's what it's most like and that's one of the reasons why we have a lot of professional sports guys that are fans. They see it, they can relate to it. It's like that magic time when a team is really clicking. You know, it's all the same guys and everything like that, but sometimes it's pure magic and sometimes you can't do anything right. It doesn't work in a rational way. There's nothing you can do to fix it. It's not that sort of thing.
"And in a way, the audience keeps score. I don't know whether you know anything about the old Brooklyn Dodgers," Garcia told his British interviewer, "but the Dodgers were kind of like everybody's favorite team because they lost a lot, but they were very human. Well, we're kind of like the Brooklyn Dodgers of rock 'n' roll. Y'know, people don't care whether we win or lose a lot of times it's just as much for the audience if we lose."
Well, sometimes. But carrying the baseball analogy further, it was more fun seeing the Grateful Dead being the invincible 1927 New York Yankees or the '63 Los Angeles Dodgers than being the 1966 New York Mets, or any year's Chicago Cubs. And it was more fun when everyone was playing well than when one or two guys or everyone was in a slump for a night (or an entire tour). The main reason so many Deadheads went to so many concerts was to increase the likelihood of hitting the magic nights. Some shows the band hit those transcendent peaks in just a song or two; other times it happened from the opening chord of the first song and continued through the last note of the encore. The variability and utterly transitory nature of the experience was what made it so compelling and, occasionally, so frustrating: "Oh, man, you shoulda been here last night!"
Page 387, lower middle; end of the fall '89 Dead tour:
The three-week tour brought one more surprise, further out of left field than the other songs, which had at least been rehearsed at Front Street before the Hampton gigs. Three days after the October 17 Loma Prieta earthquake devastated parts of the Bay Area, the Dead ended a first set at the Philadelphia Spectrum with a version of country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell's 1978 historical epic, "California Earthquake." Though written about temblors in 1883, 1899 and 1906, Crowell's song allowed the Dead to connect emotionally to friends and family back home: "California earthquake, you just don't know what you've done/ We might fall off in the ocean, but you'll never make us run." The band played the song only twice, but they put one of those versions on a special telephone hotline devised to solicit donations for earthquake victims. (The band also played an earthquake benefit concert at the Oakland Coliseum in early December.)
Page 389, middle; other activities:
Outside of touring with the Dead and the JGB, and completing Built to Last, Garcia still found time to work on various small projects during the summer and fall of '89. To help out his old friend Nikki Scully Rock's former wife, who'd become a metaphysical teacher in Oregon he went into the studio to lay down some guitar synthesizer parts for a tape she produced called The Cauldron of Healing, which was designed to ease the suffering of AIDS and leukemia patients by guiding them on a consciousness-exploration journey to encounter the Chinese goddess of compassion, Kuan Yin. Scully gave away copies of the tapes to various AIDS treatment groups and to any patient who requested it. The music Garcia augmented with his guitar work was by Roland Barker.
Another good cause Garcia donated some time to was a benefit concert for the National Hispanic Arts, Education & Media Institute, taped at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles August 2 by the Cinemax cable network, to be aired in October. The program, called A Latino Session, was organized by Panamanian singer/activist Reuben Blades, and featured songs and jams with some of the biggest names in Latin music, including Blades, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Linda Ronstadt (who was riding high with her album of Mexican music, Canciones de Mi Padre), Steve Jordan, Carlos Santana, and Mariachi Los Camperos. Garcia had never really tapped into his Spanish roots musically, outside of occasional Spanish-sounding jams at Dead shows through the years (which were probably more influenced by Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain album than by listening to Spanish music). But he had the Spanish surname, and was flattered to be asked to join such an elite group of musicians for the concert. Looking happy, tan and trim following a trip to Hawaii, Garcia, clad in a powder-blue T-shirt, appeared at several points during the show: jamming with Carlos Santana on a scorching Latin-rock instrumental called "Get Uppa"; backing Reuben Blades; and adding spicy licks to a giant jam session
that eventually evolved into a big, noisy version of "America the Beautiful," with blaring horns, pounding drums, congas and timbales, and all sorts of clashing keyboards, guitars and percussion a fine, spirited mess.
Garcia also contributed guitar overdubs to an album-in-progress by Bruce Hornsby, who by this time had opened for the Dead on several occasions, jammed with the band a few times, and become quite close to Garcia. When the Dead played at Hampton in the fall, Garcia spent the afternoon of one of the shows in Hornsby's nearby home studio adding a guitar part to a song called "Barren Ground." Then, when the Dead played at the Forum in L.A. in early December, Garcia went into a studio and cut the distinctive lead guitar track for Hornsby's driving rocker "Across the River," which became an FM hit in the spring of '90. (Hornsby returned the favor by sitting in with the Dead on accordion and piano for most of the second set at their December 10 Forum show in Los Angeles.)
Page 390, bottom; winter '90:
Following the New Years shows, the Dead took their traditional winter break, and Garcia lied low except for a couple of outside recording projects.
He appeared on two songs on Warren Zevon's Transverse City album the tough, edgy title cut, and an ominous-sounding ballad called "They Moved the Moon." "Jerry's very smart, witty, extremely down to earth and friendly," Zevon commented. "He's a virtuoso and he played nonstop for about five hours. He said 'I'll play it as much as you want, and you stop when you have to go' the most generous musician I've ever met. As immodest as I am in my private moments, it still kind of baffles me. Why did this guy go to all this trouble for me?"
But the most interesting work Garcia did during this period was on Rob Wasserman's Trios, an album featuring the virtuoso bassist in a variety of three-person settings. Joining Garcia and Wasserman to form one trio was singer Edie Brickell, whose two albums with her neohippie band, New Bohemians, had shown her gift for loose, poetic musings.
"It was more or less just an intuitive thing on my part to put the three of us together," Wasserman said. "I imagined Edie's voice and Jerry's electric guitar combining real well, and I didn't even know he played piano, to tell you the truth.
"What happened was the first night we got together over at Jerry's house we just started jamming. He has a grand piano there, so he started playing on that. We were playing and Edie was just singing, and the first thing that came out of her mouth was 'Zillionaire' [a song she made up on the spot]. We taped a lot of what we did that night [about two hours of improvisations], and later we went back to 'Zillionaire' and worked on that some more. Then, when we went into the studio to actually record it, Jerry stayed on piano, and then later he overdubbed some electric guitar on it."
Besides the lazy, loping "Zillionaire," about a dog who lives on the back of whale, the Trios record (which wasn't released until 1994) also included a Garcia-Brickell-Wasserman oddity called "American Popsicle" ("All I want for Christmas is an American Popsicle," Brickell wails in a non-specific foreign accent). On that cut, Garcia improvised on MIDI guitar first, using organ like tones, then navigating through a long passage of what sounds like technical exercises for electric bassoon-guitar; very strange. Wasserman called "American Popsicle" "the song that represents the 'other side' of Trios total spontaneity, no boundaries, improvisational musical madness."
Wasserman said, "We've talked about the three of us doing a show together sometime where we'd go out onstage and just start jamming, like we did on this project." Unfortunately, that never materialized, but Brickell did turn up onstage with the Dead one night in 1993 at Madison Square Garden, scatting and wailing over "space" and "The Other One," and adding conventional backup vocals to "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad."
Page 391, middle; Branford blows with the Dead, continued:
"Dark Star," especially, went to some fantastic new places with Branford piloting the rocket ship. Some of it was reminiscent of late '60s Miles Davis ("It definitely sounded to me like In a Silent Way and Jack Johnson, when John McLaughlin was in [Miles'] band," Branford commented a month after the gig), but mostly it was a free-form jam spreading out majestically in seven directions at once as each player tried to intuit a course.
Branford recalled, "There was this part where Phil started playing in one tempo, the drummers were in another, and Jerry was in another there were three tempos going; actually Jerry wasn't even in a tempo. I love playing like that. I'm not good at carrying people on my back. I'm directly affected by my surroundings. If the band smokes, I smoke."
Page 392, middle; more on Brent's death:
On July 30, four days after Brent's body was found, a service was held at a funeral home in Lafayette, and the entire Grateful Dead organization turned out in force to honor their friend and colleague. Representing the Dead, Bob Weir spoke affectionately about two sides of Brent's personality the gritty rock 'n' roller and the shy introvert and the band acted as pallbearers, carrying Brent's coffin from the funeral home to the hearse. A long procession of limousines and cars headed to a nearby cemetery, where he was laid to rest. "It was a sad, sad day," M.G. says. "It was heartbreaking thinking about his two little daughters."
Though Robert Greenfield's book, Dark Star, contains two anecdotes about members of the band clowning around in private at Brent's funeral, this can probably be chalked up to a certain sophomoric, boys-club mentality endemic to the Dead (and to male rock 'n' roll bands in general), mixed with inbred cynicism and misplaced machismo. In truth, everyone in the Dead family was devastated by Brent's death, Jerry as much as anyone.
"It was a crushing blow, especially to Garcia," comments Len Dell'Amico, who captured the special onstage bond between Brent and Jerry on video dozens of times between 1980 and 1990. "I had ten cameras [to direct], and I could see everything that was going on in terms of their communication. My job, I thought, was always to try to capture that, so people at home could see the looks that are going back and forth. The Garcia-Brent thing was just electrifying. When they got into that thing where they were grinning at each other, it was like a taut string that came out of the television and went through you.
"And toward the end, Brent really got it down. That was a good fucking band, and he was the perfect colorist. He accepted the role and made it into its highest art form. I think Jerry loved him. Brent was such a sweet guy, but so self-destructive. I mean, when Garcia sang 'Stella Blue,' you'd literally cry, it was so beautiful and so sad. And then you'd see him backstage 15 minutes later, and he's having a drink and laughing. He'd been performing. But when Brent sang 'Blow Away,' you were afraid he'd get up and kill himself right there! It was right from his heart. There was no separation between the man and the work, and that always scared me."
"Part of what killed Brent Mydland was a limited ability to express his feelings by any means but rage or music," his friend and collaborator John Barlow wrote in the Grateful Dead fanzine The Golden Road. "Coupling that with an immersion in a scene where the range of acceptable emotional expression runs the gamut from irony to sarcasm, he had little chance to air out his soul. And things got pretty stuffy in there. His death reminds me once again that the greatest safety may lie in vulnerability."