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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Garcia Talks Locally, Fall 1972

Staska, Kathie, and George Mangrum. 1972. Rock Talk by KG: Jerry Garcia discusses Grateful Dead, albums. Hayward Daily Review, October 12, 1972, p. 42.

It's a marvel to study Garcia interviews over the years in all kinds of ways. The man could talk as knowledgeably, engagingly, expansively, and articulately as he played the guitar, which is really quite something.

By way of preface, let me note the out-of-town selection bias exhibited by published interviews - locals barely bothered, but journalists in every burg across the country wanted to write Garcia up when he or the Dead came to town. This has all kinds of observable implications. One I'd note in passing is that it reinforces Garcia's remarkable ability to find an oral formulation that worked, and to stick with it,when it came to the inevitable stock questions about the Acid Tests, all that. He spoke to lots of people he didn't know - good to have a rap ready. Out-of-town stuff is probably also more tied up in commercialization than most local chats, a record to promote or, more likely, just trying to sell out the local basketball shed. It's not good or bad, but to me it's worth remembering that for a lot of what we read Garcia saying, he's on the road talking to people who aren't from where he's from. We get something of Garcia's self projection, from the outside looking in.

Local interviews for lots of periods were more rare. Corry often notes that most media just weren't that interested, a lot of the time. For many years (e.g., probably the second half of the 70s and the first half of the 80s) you'd only write up Garcia for a really slow news day.

This interview seems to have the commercial pretext of promoting the Dead's forthcoming Europe '72. This gives way to a small, slightly grainy, but interesting snapshot of the local context of Jerry Garcia, fall 1972. Among other things, he seems accidentally anti-commercial.

First, about the column. Kathie Staska and George Mangrum ran the amazing "Rock Talk by KG" column in the Hayward Daily Review throughout the 1970s in an unlikely passage from school paper to legit townie news. Hayward is an East Bay town between Oakland and Fremont, a crossroads (I580 and I880 join up, and Mission Blvd. starts running south all the way to Mission San Jose). It's surely a real property-rich spot nowadays, but I have it as "generic East Bay" in the 1970s. Anyway, good little town, and from this spot K and G reported on the Bay Area music surrounding Garcia when he wasn't on the road. They did a great job not just with San Francisco but also with the Berkeley roots music places (Mandrake's, New Orleans House, Longbranch Saloon) forgotten joints like the Bodega down in Campbell, the Marin clubs, all of it. Nice mix of touring acts, one-offs, and local favorites. In short: this is a great local music news column for a guy like me.

Second, I don't know the date of the chat (not really an interview), but I conjecture that it took place at the Dead's Winterland gig on October 9, 1972. (A propos of nothing, the article characterizes that gig as a benefit for the Dead's roadies, "who have been with them for six years".) The article appears on 10/12, and Gar says that Europe '72 will be available locally on 10/15. (FTR: deaddisc has it November 1972 [Warner Brothers 3WS-2668],while wiki says November 5.) The interviewer asks about the Tom Fogerty record, which I take to be Excalibur (Fantasy 9413, October 1972). It all just feels like October to me, though the only hard limits we have are between 8/25 and 10/11. The resolution is not great, but I am pretty comfortable with the 10/9 dating.

Anyway, here are a few shutterclicks.

Garcia Had A Lot of Album Credits in This Period
KG: It sounds like every album we pick up has your name on it. It would seem that you spend quite a bit of time on other people's albums.

Garcia: It's just an illusion. I don't actually spend that much of my life doing it. Each one of those albums represents about two days in the studio, maybe less, sometimes more. It doesn't represent that much ... accumulated time.
Fogerty Record
KG: One of the latest examples of this is on the new Tom Fogerty album.

JG: It has [sic] a chance for me to play different styles than I normally play.
Goodness, I wish he had taken the bait. He sounds rushed. I don't think he's on record anywhere about Tom Fogerty. But here's a chance for him to sell some vinyl - that's why they're together, I presume - and he sort of whiffs. Silly, anti-commercial man. On the other hand, this is a great GOTS quote: "a chance for me to play different styles than I normally play".

August 1972 BCT Dead Shows

The Dead played a four-of-five night run August 21-22 and 24-25 at the Berkeley Community Theatre, selling it out (I think?) for Bill Graham and finding some utterly transcendent moments, as during a hellfiring "The Other One" on the second night. I don't think I have ever met a Deadhead who doesn't love these shows.

Garcia, not so much.
KG: How did your last concert in the area (Berkeley) go for you?

JG: The four days at the Berkeley Community Theatre weren't our best performances. They could have been a lot better in my opinion. We haven't done a good show around here for quite awhile. Generally speaking, when we play here it's during our off season because when we're touring, we're usually touring the rest of the country.

When we've been working is when we're best. When we did the Berkeley show [sic] we hadn't been playing in quite awhile. It was more of a warmup for us for going out on the road.
Two thoughts.

First, huh. I think he's too hard on himself. If ever there was proof of the proposition that Jerry often articulated, that the Grateful Dead experience was totally subjective, this might be it. Anyway, de gustibus and all that. I hope he at least liked Veneta!

Second, I guess this is the piece that frames in the local vs. the road thing for me. Nothing earth-shattering, but an interesting perspective, and one that resonates . It has often been said that, for many years, the Dead played their best shows on the east coast. There's something to this, the people are different, sure, but also the energy of the road, that diesel taste of airline fuel in your nose, the zing. Home is home, if you're lucky.

3 comments:

  1. The SF Chronicle would briefly interview Garcia now & then, but otherwise yes, he did talk more to the press elsewhere. (Which makes perfect statistical sense.) For mainstream publications, he was something of a niche figure, but in the underground press he was a person of major interest - if they could get to him. A lot of these early out-of-town interviews appear not so much for "commercial" reasons, but were printed in the wake of a Dead tour (often after the Dead had gone home), since that's when the writers had access to him.
    In some periods he seems to have generally refused interviews, or accepted based on who wanted it; at other times he made himself more available. (Standard practice.) For instance, in the Europe '72 jaunt he did quite a lot of "publicity" interviews with various European publications - after he got back home, very little.
    Of course, the giant Rolling Stone interview came out at the start of the year. That should probably be considered "local" media in Garcia's terms, though it was read everywhere.

    It's also interesting to note how Garcia can vary his replies depending on how close he feels to the interviewer - that is, whether they're "straight" or asking boring questions, or if they share his mindset. It was possible for an obscure New York indie zine to get much better responses from him than a local reporter, depending on who they were... So perhaps the level of comfort he felt with individuals outweighed the difference between "local" and "elsewhere" - it was possible to meet people "from where he's from" anywhere. And I would venture that the level of interview "commercialization" was just as prevalent in local chats as out of town, perhaps more so.

    Anyway. It is something of a shock to see that he considered the Berkeley shows not very good. No doubt if they had asked about Veneta, he would have said something like, "Oh, we were out of tune, it was too hot..." One has to wonder which shows he did think were good! (He admitted to Rolling Stone after the 5/4/72 Paris show, "We played peachy." But it's rare to hear that kind of thing from him; typically just disparagement.)
    Usually Garcia would consider four nights in one venue to be ideal for the Dead; it's the kind of setting he often favored in interviews. But it's a rather different prospect to say that even four or five shows were just a "warmup" and the Dead wouldn't play well until they were out on tour!
    Perhaps Garcia himself couldn't pinpoint why the Dead's "home" shows were often more subdued affairs...

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  2. I have kind of an interesting factoid regarding the 10/9/72 show. A bunch of us from UCSC went up for show, and sat in the balcony. It was my college roommate Tim's birthday, so our mutual friend (and my recently former girlfriend) Debbie got it in her head to try to get the band to play happy birthday for him. During the break, Garcia was hanging out at a backstage area next to the stage (which was located on the long axis of Winterland at the time, and she went up to him and asked him if they would do so. His reply was "Lady, we can't play happy birthday for everyone who comes to our shows" or something to that effect. It is entirely possible that the Hayward reporter got access to him at or near the same time.

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  3. Cool. Sounds like ol' Jer was a little grumpy.

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