Monday, December 30, 2013

RN Peter Simon 1975 New Age Journal

Simon, Peter. 1975. Making Musical Miracles: An Interview with Jerry Garcia. New Age Journal .5 (May 1975): 52-59.

This is a really neat piece, lots of great stuff.  Interview took place at the "film house"  (230 Eldridge Avenue, Mill Valley, CA, 94941), ca. the last week of March 1975.

Love his notion of "tight-loose" forms conducive to "orchestrated twists of fate". This is essential Garcia in a very fecund period.

Reading Notes

Interview took place at a film lab in Marin County #The Movie. Note took place after 3/23/75, but before whatever needed to happen for a May deadline. Because Jerry went on the road with Legion of Mary and was gone the first three weeks of April, I have to say that this was probably the last week in March 1975.

Garcia hopes to have The Movie “done and maybe out by around October, but it could go longer than that – there’s a lot of film” (Simon 1975, 52). He speaks more about the film, how they have to work through the dreaded middlemen, trying to do the distribution with integrity. Talks about the idea behind it, how it tries to capture the GD concert experience in part as a substitute for the band touring live.  He explicitly talks about this as an alternative to touring. It’d be less expensive, and you don’t have to expose fans to hassles, including the ultimate hassle, the police power (Simon 1975, 52-53). #The Movie

JG on The Movie: “On the level of ideas, and just in terms of something to do as an artist, it represents a new level of interest and development for me. I enjoy films. I’ve been a film buff for a long time and all that – it’s neat to be kind of forced into making a movie” (Simon 1975, 53). #The Movie

They are working on Blues For Allah, so this could be February-March. Not sure I know when film work starts? NB from below, this is after 3/23/75. Sometime between then and a deadline for May 1975 issue. I am not sure I knew when JG started working on The Movie. # The Movie

Workaholism, life balance: NAJ: You’re also doing a solo album and touring with Merl Saunders. In that you have so many projects at once, how do you channel your energy so productively? JG: “Well, things tend to work and overlap, generally speaking. I wouldn’t really be able to concentrate on sitting in front of a movie editing device for eight hours a day; I can do it pretty easily for six, though. I feel my attention is on it and I can do a good job keeping up with it. I like to play music in a studio situation – that can also hold attention for six or eight hours. If I’m on the road, I’m not doing anything during the day; I’m playing evenings. So during the day is a time which is convenient to compose. I might sit around an hour a day just playing the guitar and practicing and maybe learn something and maybe some ideas would come out that are like songs. That represents maybe two or three hours a day on the road where nothing else is happening but television and a gig that night. Usually a gig will take maybe four or five hours, total time actually playing maybe two of those or two-and-a-half. It may look like more, but it isn’t really that much” (Simon 1975, 54). This is a great #adayinthelife #1975

The interviewer is impressed with his productivity, which Garcia explains away: “I’m crazed. I’m obsessed.” “People see you as a musical junkie,” the interviewer continues. Garcia: “Yes, that’s as good a description as any” (Simon 1975, 54).

JG: “I prefer playing live for sure, just as an experience, it’s definitely richer, mainly because it’s continuous. You play a note and you can see where it goes, you can see what the response is, what the reaction is. It’s reciprocal”, and a different energy than you get back from fellow players, which is like “a room full of plumbers” (Simon 1975, 54).

Studio vs. live: “Because we play music, one of the forms that music can go out in is the  record, but it’s a distinct form and not necessarily a reflection of what we do, so we just treat it for what it is. If you’re an artist, you might prefer to work in lithographs, … though sometimes you do a water color [despite the fact that] lithographs still might be what you get off on the most. But if you have to do a water color, you do a water color” (Simon 1975, 54). #official releases

Why did GD stop touring. The amount of gig money was not enough to move the band around, develop what they wanted to develop, and pay everybody. “We had a huge organization with a colossal overhead on a weekly [54-55] basis. So, past a certain point, we were really working to keep the thing going, rather than working to improve it or working because it was joyful. … We were interested in doing stuff that’s joyful or fun, y’know, then how could we reconcile that with economic survival, how could we work and have a good time and also pay the bills? We didn’t have that together.” Also the remoteness and anomie of playing large venues, “creating an unpleasant situation for the audience” … “We don’t want people to be busted at our concerts, we don’t want them to be uncomfortable or any of those things …” “Also, it’s basically sort of de-humanizing to travel [jgmf yes! air travel dessicates the human soul] the way you have to travel in a rock-and-roll band, and the quality of life on the road is pretty slim.” (Simon 1975, 55). #hiatus

More on hiatus: “Mainly, however, , it has to do with economics and the fact that we’ve been doing it for ten years, and we haven’t spent any time away from it. That’s a long time to do anything. So we’ve just decided to stop before it overwhelms us. Now we’re trying to consciously see what the next step is for us. We don’t want to go into the success cul-de-sac … we don’t like that place. Yet, it’s not possible for us to really do something that would be totally altruistic, like going and playing free everywhere. What we really need is a subsidy.  The government should subsidize us and we should be like a national resources” (Simon 1975, 55). #hiatus

Refers to Kezar benefit “recently”, so after 3/23/75 (p.55).

GD wants to play live again, but trying to figure the format. “One possible fantasy that we’ve thought of is moving toward playing at a more or less permanent musical fixture with the possibility of eventually building a place that could be like a permanent performance center that could be designed around us and our specific ideas” (Simon 1975, 55). Maybe do it two months out of the year. Prefiguring “Terrapin Station” and, now, Leshtopia.

Again mentions filming in Deadtopia and selling canned concerts (Simon 1975, 55) #The Movie

These ideas of a fixed venue, filming, etc. might let everyone “live comparatively normal lives”, touring selectively. “It would be good for the music” (Simon 1975, 55).

Do you feel ripped off by tapers? JG: “Not particularly. I think it’s OK, if people like it, they can certainly keep doing it. I don’t have any desire to control people as to what they are doing, or what they have … there’s something to be said for being able to record an experience that you’ve liked, or being able to obtain a recording of it. Actually, we all have that stuff, too, in our own collection of tapes. My responsibility to the notes is over after I’ve played them; at that point, I don’t care where they go [laughs], they’ve left home, y’know?” (Simon 1975, 56) #tapers

Asked a question about signaling musical intuitions within the group, he offers a beautiful interpretation of creative collective action: “A lot of it is miracles and that’s part of what creating new forms has to do with; it has to do with creating a situation where miracles can happen, in which amazing coincidences can happen, so that all of a sudden you’re in a new musical space. That’s the challenge of coming up with structures that are loose-tight, you know what I mean?” [JGMF my goodness … Garcia is a sophisticated institutional theorist!] They have an element of looseness to them which means they can expand in any direction or go anywhere from anywhere, or come from anywhere, but they also have enough form so that we can lock back into something. It really has to do with the element of what’s knowable and known and what isn’t known and what isn’t knowable and what can be invented on the spot. There’s a delicate balance in there and since we’re dealing with several consciousnesses at the same time, everybody goes through their individual changes, that those times when everybody is up for it and everybody feels right about it and the form provides openings, then miracles can happen, amazing miracles. That’s what we’re in it for, that’s one of the reasons that we do it is for those moments of ahhh … unexpected joy, just amazing stuff. … Orchestrated twists of fate” (Simon 1975, 56) #creation #institutions #dualities #collective improvisation

Quick note about that nice line “orchestrated twists of fate”: Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks had some out January 1975, I think, so “Simple Twist Of Fate” seems to have entered Jerry’s consciousness right away. He’d start playing it xxx TJS. #songs-S

They took 19 or 20 days to complete Workingman’s, but that has been their most “significant” album, scare quotes Jerry’s (Simon 1975, 57). That was going on while the New Orleans bust scene was “hanging over our heads”. “With American Beauty there was a rash of parent deaths where everybody’s parents croaked in the space of about two or three months. We were working on that and it was just incredible. It was just like tragedy-city --  bad news every day, really” (Simon 1975, 57). #official releases, #GD #dualities

Working with Hunter. Garcia’s a better editor than writer. Hunter finds the words for Garcia. “We don’t clash in terms of our egos and we both tend to focus on our work rather than on ourselves so it works out to be very comfortable.” #Robert Hunter

“I have this hangup about songs. I’m fascinated by fragments because of my involvement in traditional music – there’s a lot of things around that are fragments of songs, and they’ll be this tantalizing glimpse of two or three verses of what was originally a thirty-verse extravaganza, and there will be two or three remaining stanzas in the tradition and you read them or hear them and they’re just utterly mysterious and evocative for odd reasons at different times” (Simon 1975, 57) [jgmf think Whiskey In The Jar] #songs

What musical influences interests? “Everyone, everything, all music. I’m not particularly attached to any one idea or format, I just appreciate whatever is good. It’s whatever I hear, endless numbers of anonymous musicians whom I don’t know on the radio and stuff have influenced me, not to mention all the people who are well known whose names I do now. They’ve influenced me, too. I listen to everything” (Simon 1975, 57). Such a sponge.

In his playing, there’s a sound he is wishing he could hear, a sound he is searching form, “maybe just a little snatch of a guitar player on some record or just a moment … and there’s something about it that says ‘that is a door to something’ – I can’t really explain it, it’s emotional and it goes back to my earliest years, it’s that deep. It just is me really selecting out of the Universe stuff that’s part of that sound. It’s a thing that sometimes I hear very clearly and sometimes I Don’t hear at all, but it has produced by whole development” (Simon 1975, 58). #sounds

Early musical learning: I think Troy 1994 is wrong when he says Garcia had piano lessons, but I need to double-check. Here Garcia responds to a question about early picking up a guitar: “No, I didn’t, unfortunately; I wish I had. I got my first guitar when I was fifteen” (Simon 1975, 58).

“I didn’t really start .. working at the guitar until I was about twenty-three” (Simon 1975, 58). This dates it to electric period, ca. 1965.

“Feel that I’m a person that doesn’t have a great amount of talent. What I’ve learned, I’ve had to really work at learning. It’s been a hassle, basically. That’s one of the reasons I play a lot. I need to play a lot just to keep myself together, just to keep my chops together” (Simon 1975, 58). #workaholism

Question about channeling the Universe. Garcia: “I can’t say that there’s a certain sense when I am transformed, you know, in the sense that all of a sudden God is speaking through my strings … It’s more like if you’re real lucky, and practice and play a lot and try to feel right and everybody wants for it to happen, then there’s a possibility that special things will happen” (Simon 1975, 58). #workaholism

NAJ: “Do you have much ego identification with Jerry Garcia as a rock star or is music your main form of meditation?” Garcia: “Music is my yoga. If there is a yoga, that’s it. Practicing and keeping my muscles together, that is like what I would relate to a physical yoga, a certain amount of hours every day. Life is my yoga, too, but I’ve been a spiritual dilettante off and on through the years, trying various things at various times, and I firmly believe that every avenue that leads to higher consciousness does lead to higher consciousness. If you think it does, it does. If you put energy into it on a daily basis, no matter what it is, some discipline … I believe it will work. I believe that it’s within the power of the mind and consciousness to do that” (Simon 1975, 59).

Question about interviewing: “I can’t really do anything but lie, all talking is lying, and I’m lying now, and that’s true, too. … go and hear me play, that’s me, that’s what I have to say, that’s the form my thoughts have taken, so I haven’t put that much energy into really communicating verbally. It’s all open to misinterpretation” (Simon 1975, 59).


  1. The 'Fillm House" was in Mill Valley, but I've never been able to determine the exact address.

  2. Still talking about the idea of a permanent home venue, seating between 1,000 and 3,000, with a permanent sound system and all that, in late January 1976 (Staska and Mangrum 1976). Philtopia and Bobtopia in San Rafael apparently realize long held dreams for these guys.

    1. Garcia had been talking about that in 1974 as well:
      "My fantasy is eventually for us to build a permanent place to perform in that would be like a whole theater. It would be small and tasty and it would have a permanent set-up... The video thing is a possibility, and there's also the possibility of having another house on [the east] coast. We would play a run of about a month and really develop an advantage acoustically in a room."
      ("A Message From Garcia," Boston Phoenix 11/19/74)

      He (and Lesh) mentioned at other times that there were always lots of ideas floating around the Dead, but the few that came to fruition often took years to do so.


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