Fifteen Years of the Grateful Dead

Kids join the cult, new blood keeps the sound fresh, and the fathers of psychedelic rock vow to stay forever young

Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.
Clayton Call/Redferns
Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead perform in San Jose, California.
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As Rolling Stone went to press, it was learned that two members of the Grateful Dead and their road manager were among thirty-four arrested July 2nd after a fight broke out backstage at the San Diego Sports Arena. Guitarist Bob Weir, drummer Mickey Hart and Danny Rifkin were taken into custody shortly after the band finished playing a show at the arena, and the three spent eight hours in jail before being released on bail. Weir was booked on suspicion of inciting a riot and resisting arrest; Hart on suspicion of inciting a riot, disturbing the peace and obstructing justice; and Rifkin on suspicion of participation in a riot, interfering with a police officer and assault on a police officer.

According to news accounts, police were called to the stage area to investigate a report that a concertgoer was urinating on another person. While there, officers witnessed an apparent drug transaction. When they moved in to make an arrest, the melee broke out.

"The guy resisted," patrolman Jorge Nelson told a local paper. "Then everything went to hell because it looked like a fight." A police spokesman said Weir, Hart and Rifkin were arrested for attempting to "free the person being arrested."

Bob Weir, however, told Rolling Stone a different version. "On my way back to the dressing room I saw about half a dozen cops standing on a kid who was lying face down in a pool of blood," he said. "About six feet from them were Mickey and Danny. Mickey said, 'It doesn't take all of you to do that job.' One of the cops said to him, 'You're under arrest.' Danny said, 'No, you don't understand. This is our show.' At that point, a door burst open and maybe a dozen more cops came in, all with their clubs up. Four cops grabbed Mickey and Danny and started choking them and dragging them off.

"I stepped into the fray and said, 'Wait a minute.' I was concerned that there was the potential for a riot. Before I could do anything I was grabbed, handcuffed and dragged off to jail."

A police spokesman said the three will be prosecuted. But Weir hopes to "countercharge the police with inciting to riot, because they really were. It was bust fever."

They didn't sing "Happy Birthday" to the Grateful Dead, who turned fifteen on June 7th in Boulder, Colorado. Not that they didn't try. Pockets of Deadheads in the crowd of 15,000 at Folsom Field, on the campus of the University of Colorado, attempted to work up the simple song. It wasn't that they were met with stony silence or anything. The problem was that it was impossible to be heard over this . . . rumble of noise that started as soon as Warren Zevon finished his set. The mix of whooping and whistling, of screeching and screaming, filled the air during the Dead's ten-minute tuning-up. It rose in volume with the beginning of each new song, and settled into mere pandemonium between numbers. But Boulder, where Deadheads had gathered by the thousands the day before, was calm compared to New York.

Three weeks earlier, the Dead had played Long Island's Nassau Coliseum. For three straight nights – well, for three consecutive nights, anyway – crowds of 17,000 Deadheads packed the joint and gave out a nonstop screech reminiscent of a Beatles crowd. The only quiet moments were for the sweet, slow songs that Jerry Garcia sang. Those were like campfire singalongs, everybody joining in on "Sugaree" and "Candyman," arms and cassette microphones swaying side to side in the air. The rest of the time, it was get up on the chair, Jack, and scream the night away – through two sets (three hours, plus the "legendary break"), through a fiery drum duet by Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, and through songs ranging from "Johnny B. Goode" and "El Paso" to the newest stuff, like "Alabama Getaway," which was received as an instant classic.

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Grateful Dead

"New York," one of the Dead family had said before the first concert, "is extra intense." For the Dead, the East Coast has been intense for years. This time, about 51,000 tickets were sold with no advertising, save some radio-station announcements. On their end of the deal, the Dead turned a basketball arena into a cozy room, keeping the people wired with a mix of Sixties vibes and Eighties technology. Throughout the auditorium, one noticed the reach and clarity of the rented sound system. And a few other things, too:

• Microphones, on stands, sprouting out of the packed floor area, invariably connected to expensive portable tape decks, such as the Nakamichi 500 being operated by a Western-shirted young man with a scarf on his head and a knapsack on his back. Near the middle of the hall, another mike was attached to a crutch, held aloft and angled toward the stage speakers.

• The dancing, true to the Western-based music of the Dead, was free-form hoedown. "The Woodstock Sun Grope," as one writer aptly put it, is alive.

• The people doing the dancing, passing the joints and making the tapes were by no means all time-warped hippies. Probably half the crowd was under eighteen, and there were even some first-daters making out in the balcony while the newest Dead member, Brent Mydland, performed "Easy to Love You." His is a plains-of-California voice, high like Neil Young's and romantic like Jesse Colin Young's. His keyboards – electric piano and organ – give the Dead the extra coloring they'd been missing in the last years of Keith and Donna Godchaux' membership in the band.

Fifteen years after arriving on the San Francisco scene, and after having gone through acid, financial burns, Haight-Ashbury, busts, death and creative highs and lows as extreme as drugs could take them, the Grateful Dead are drawing bigger and younger crowds than ever. As a band, they sound fresher than ever. And they may be on the verge of their first hit single.

Far out, indeed.

Of course, their albums have always jumped onto the charts – but that's because of the automatic 250,000 or so snapped up by Deadheads, devotees who follow the band wherever it goes, tape-recording shows and trading tapes with one another (with the band's blessing). The Dead have even placed a few singles on the charts – "Truckin"' and "Uncle John's Band" reached the bottom half of the Top 100 ten years ago, and more recently, "Good Lovin'" (from the Shakedown Street LP) threatened. But through the years, the Dead, saddled with an image as washed-up hippies, have been anathema to most radio programmers.

That is, until Go to Heaven and its first single, "Alabama Getaway." Showcased on Saturday Night Live in April, "Alabama" almost immediately became the most-played album track among AOR (album-oriented rock) stations throughout the country. Heaven, said John Scher, head of Monarch Entertainment of New Jersey, which manages the Dead's tours, has ended radio's habitual Frisbeeing of new Dead product into the back of the album bins. "There are only three significant AOR stations that aren't playing the record," he said. "Twenty-five to thirty-five out of 200 stayed off the last one." "Alabama Getaway" has crossed over to a number of powerful AM stations, and the influential RKO chain is watching.

"If we ever get a Top Forty single," said John Scher, almost dreamily, "the sky's the limit."

On the eve of the first concert in Boulder, Jerry Garcia sat on a bed in his Holiday Inn room. The beds were covered with blue velour spreads that Garcia had brought in himself. In the tradition of touring rock artists, the TV set was on, with the sound off. At ten p.m., Garcia for once wasn't wearing shades, but his glasses were tinted a smoky gray. He wore – what else? – a plain black T-shirt and beige tennies. The subject was hit records, and Garcia was chortling.

"That's incredible," he said about the airplay "Alabama" was getting. Of course, he's often thought about having a hit. "Oh, sure," he agreed. "We were sure our very first record was going to be a hit." He laughed heartily.

Fifteen years ago – the anniversary is marked by Phil Lesh's entry into the Warlocks, which then consisted of bluegrass freak Jerry Garcia on guitar, high-society dropout Bob Weir on rhythm, blues aficionado Ron "Pigpen" McKernan on harmonica and keyboards, and rocker Bill Kreutzmann on drums – Garcia had no idea how long the band might last.

"I wasn't thinking about time," he said. "I was hoping it would do something like what it's done. It went way past all my expectations." He scratched at the back of his neck. "I mean, I've been over the hill of amazement for so long now. It continues to blow my mind."

Despite the years and the tolls the Dead have paid, Garcia sees few fundamental changes.

"The only big difference," he said, "is that our functioning ability has gotten to a point where it's competent. On our worst nights we're competent. It used to be on our worst nights we were just bad." He chuckled. The Dead, after all, were famous for dropping acid before shows and, subsequently, for many musically wasted nights. "Now I'll walk away from the bad ones not nearly as wounded as I used to feel. And not only that, it's more the whole band will feel that we haven't had a good night rather than one of us. Used to be that thing where everybody might have a good night but me. That tells me that somewhere along the line our whole aesthetic has gotten more focused. We share more of a common vision."

Going on thirty-eight, Jerry Garcia obviously doesn't feel his age. "I try not to lose touch with my more youthful self," he said. "I still basically don't think of myself much differently than I did when I was about seventeen. I may have a case of extremely protracted adolescence. I still get treated like a kid in certain circumstances." Garcia is, in fact, often in a protective bubble, watched over by band associate Rock Scully, in whose Marin County home Garcia currently lives.

"It's just . . . I mean, anybody who's a little off the wall is not a member of that invisible adult class that moves gracefully through every aspect of life – everything from walking into banks, insurance, tax, all that straight shit. I certainly see it, but I don't feel that I'm part of the adult world. Nobody I know's like that. The only other side of that world is the kids. Like walking through an airport, which is as close as I get to the public – apart from walking through the streets – you're thrown in with lots of more or less normal people; if there's a family traveling, it's usually the kid I can relate to, if I have to."

In Boulder, Garcia didn't hide from people. He often sat in the small lobby of the Holiday Inn, talking with friends. But for every stranger who ventured up to him, there were knots of others, decked out in Dead T-shirts, who grabbed an eyeful, then walked away, affecting nonchalance.

Good Old Grateful Dead

When Garcia does talk with teenagers, he said, it's "one-on-one." There are exceptions, of course, but he thinks he's no longer a spiritual guru to the counterculture, the gifted rapper known as Captain Trips. "Most people who've gotten at all past a very superficial involvement have read the interviews and stuff and heard me talk my way out of that space," said Garcia, laughing. "So if that space surrounds me somehow, or I'm identified with it, they know it's not something I subscribe to personally. And most people don't come on to me as if that were the case. If they experience anything, it's the normal celebrity fear. I get that myself. I was always afraid to meet the people who awed me." Those, he said, were mostly bluegrass musicians. "I would never have the nerve to introduce myself. I was much too shy for that. But I'd go see them." To Garcia, then, the younger Deadheads "are really the same kind of people we were when we were their age. The thing they like about Grateful Dead music has something to do with what we like about it. It's not a case of mistaken identity. They know who we are."

What we stand for, and what we represent to a lot of people, is misfit power," said guitarist Bob Weir.

At age thirty-two, Weir retains his preppie good looks. He was idly tuning his Ibanez guitar in the clubhouse of the university's football team, along with Phil Lesh, Brent Mydland and John Barlow, Weir's old friend and cowriter. Barlow, a rancher in Wyoming who was filling in for Danny Rifkin as road manager on this segment of the tour, piped up: "We're positive miscreants. Weir and I always vied for biggest asshole in our prep school." The two, only a couple of nights before, had attended a reunion at Fountain Valley School, just outside nearby Colorado Springs.

"I don't wanna talk about that," Weir snapped, but Barlow spoke up again. "We saw a lot of people our age who definitely had a little soul death," he said. This triggered Weir. "Yeah," he said with a sigh, "twenty, thirty years older than me – and chronologically maybe a couple of years younger."

Weir, who has a nervous, halting style of speaking, suddenly sounded determined. "I refuse to get hammered by age into being an old fart," he said. On the couch, working on a steak and a glass of wine, Phil Lesh jerked his head back and widened his eyes. "I'm not clutching to my youth," Weir said, "but there is a spirit here of, 'We gotta keep things fresh.' I see friends of mine who haven't managed to keep things fresh in their lives, and I find that lamentable. I think we relate more readily to people who haven't had the life kicked out of them. Kids – and older people – who are gonna stay young forever."

People such as Michelle, a thirty-six-year-old law-school graduate and friend of the Dead family who'd flown in from northern California to catch the Nassau shows. "I can't talk about it," she said backstage after the first concert. "To describe the indescribable – ta-ta! Basic problem." But she did talk, in a husky, awed voice, about the Dead as "quantum chemists," and about their ability to, if I heard right, "stretch the Taos."

Tom Davis, a writer and performer for Saturday Night Live, declared himself a Deadhead of ten years standing. Sitting at our table, he concurred with Michelle. "There are a limited number of bands that are capable of 'stretching the Taos,'" he said. Then, in an officious tone, he added: "An American band, too, I'm proud to say. Even while our country is hanging its head, at least we have people like the Grateful Dead!"

A lawyer friend of Michelle's who also made the trip told about a superior-court judge in Sonoma County (in the wine country north of San Francisco) who's a Deadhead. "He plays tapes on a deck in his chambers, and he's got a Dead sticker on his blotter." Michelle added: "My husband, Chris, has argued final arguments – to juries! – behind three nights of the Dead. His trip is so charged that he wins."

Such stories abound among Deadheads. In San Francisco's Bay Area Music Archives, Paul Grushkin, twenty-eight-year-old keeper of the books and records, spoke warmly about his twelve-year romance with the Dead.

"The Dead are a very personal thing," said Grushkin. "I think half the fun of being at a Dead concert is watching the changes you go through. Watching yourself metamorphose . . . maybe in time with the music."

He recalled a high point, a Winterland show in 1972. "I didn't think I was that stoned – maybe something like hash . . . or peyote . . . Anyway, that click, whatever it is that Deadheads say about going into hyperspace, where suddenly everything is quite . . . different . . . unnatural, not your normal course of events . . . And I couldn't decide through the next three or four hours whether it was me feeling that way, or if it was because of the band, or the audience, or the drugs. And I started to, if not hallucinate, really fantasize on some things associated with such a monumental experience in musicmaking."

In Boulder, Jerry Garcia, trying once again to explain his band's appeal, said: "They might like us in the same spirit that people like drugs. I think we're like a drug, in that sense. People turn each other on to us. And there's that personal contact involved with every Deadhead. There are very few Deadheads who are Deadheads in complete isolation."

"They've helped me to know myself a little better," said Paul Grushkin. "Dead concerts are a marvelous time for introspection and reflection. It's the perfect music for that. At concerts, I see people who just suddenly get the spirit, like you do at a gospel concert. You understand – not for everybody else, but for yourself. And what happens is, you are immediately, totally distant from your wife or loved one, from everyone. There are moments when it is really splendid or scary, and it's for you alone. It goes back to the [Robert] Hunter song, 'That path is for your steps alone.' I think it's 'Ripple.'

The Dead concert experience has been crystallized in two one-liners. A bumper sticker of unknown origin declares THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A GRATEFUL DEAD CONCERT. Even better is a remark by Bill Graham, so good he even had it painted on the side of Winterland on the occasion of its closing (with a Dead concert, of course): "The Grateful Dead are not only the best at what they do; they are the only ones who do what they do."

It follows, then, that Deadheads are a unique breed. Some have even been known to steal and fence their way across the country – or, in 1978, to Egypt – to see (and tape-record) the Dead. Some were jailed for their efforts.

Mickey Hart met some Dead tapers in Hawaii recently and was awed. "They're cunning," he said, backstage after the second concert in Boulder. "It takes more than going to concerts to be a Deadhead. Deadheads are rabid. They're a lot of things. A very complicated animal. They blow it sometimes, but most of the time they're right on. They go for it. They live on the edge."

I told Bill Kreutzmann, who was seated next to Hart, that many Deadheads have little more than their tape decks, backpacks and thumbs. He straightened up. "I think they're damn lucky!" he shouted. "They're luckier than hell that they don't have to be tied down to a regular old nine-to-five shit job, and get off on traveling with a pack and a Uher. I think that's sweet as hell!" Such effusive support of their fans runs throughout the Dead organization, which, among other things, sends out an irregular newsletter on the band's activities to some 90,000 Deadheads.

David Gans, a Dead tape collector, knows a Bay Area "tape-head" who owns upward of 1000 hours of the Dead in concert. "He's obsessed," said Gans. "He's a twenty-nine-year-old virgin, for Chrissakes! I said to him, 'What about women? Marriage? A little sleazy sex now and then?' He said, 'Well, I've gotten by this long without it'" Gans shook his head. "You remember that April Fool's Day concert [at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey] where they came out playing each other's instruments on 'Promised Land'? That was here, in Oakland, by the 3rd."

Gans, 26, used to be a full-tilt Deadhead, but he's begun to pare down his tape collection. "There's always a new generation of Deadheads," he said. "People grow up and out of it" Gans, a musician (whose band does a number of Dead songs) and freelance writer, struggled with having to be defensive about it. "There's a certain level of embarrassment attached to being a Deadhead," he said. "It is so frowned on by the nons. There's jazz heads who go, 'Don't talk to Gans. He's a Deadhead. He doesn't understand McCoy Tyner.' And the truth is, the thing the Dead do is jazz, only in a rock idiom. It's musical conversation, much as the best jazz is."

Paul Grushkin has no problems being a Deadhead, right in the open. "I enjoy spending a weekend getting prepared for a concert, and all of my Deadhead associates do the same thing," he said. "I don't think it's quite like preparing for the Eagles or the Cars. With the Dead, there's an excitement that begins Thursday or Friday and builds. You're really bouncing off the walls, as if you're psychically getting ready to give it your all, and whatever it is, you're gonna be right on top of the mother. In fact, it's been about six months" – Grushkin's eyebrows danced – "and boy, I'm ready for another one. Goddamn!"

Mickey Hart, after an enthusiastic discourse about drumming with the Dead, was asked about other interests. "That's it!" he shouted, flinging his arms out. "I'm a Deadhead! You're talking to one of the originals. Dead forever; forever Dead!"

In New York, Bob Weir, speaking for the band, had begged off interviews until Colorado. The Dead, he'd said, were going through some delicate changes and "learning about each other," and couldn't have an outsider watching, listening and asking questions. Weir had sounded weary, as if he were talking about a marriage on the rocks.

Three weeks later, in Boulder, I asked about those changes. It turned out they were musical, and still incomplete.

"It's not quite as manifested as I'd expected," he said, "but the old format has just about been played out. We have July and part of August and October off. In that time, I expect a fair amount of new material will be written, and there've been a lot of discussions about rethinking our mode of presentation."

"The old format," Lesh explained, "is two segments. The first is always songs, and the second is longer stuff, medleys, jams." The idea now, he said, is to "get it tighter." "Make it more succinct," said Weir. "There's got to be a way to get more music in."

Does this notion symbolize other changes within the band?

"Well," said Weir, who has a habit of giving that word a Western, Gabby Hayes twist, "I think we're a bit more flexible and musically mobile than we have been for years. We got into sort of a static situation with Keith and Donna, where we were pretty much locked into this old format. Then for the past year or so with Brent, it's been like getting to learn what to expect, and getting him to learn our operation." "Expect the unexpected," Mydland interrupted. Weir continued: "We're just now starting to loosen up to the point where we were, say, back in 1970, '72, where we can start drifting from key to key, from rhythm to rhythm, and in the jams, some interesting stuff has come up. Once again, we're tending to go to new places every night."

After seven years with the Dead, pianist Keith Godchaux and vocalist Donna Godchaux were invited to leave the band. "Essentially," said Lesh, "it was, 'Don't you guys feel you could profit from being on your own, doing what it is you do best, 'cause you're not doing it with us?'" The reason given was "limitations." The Dead wanted more and different keyboard sounds; Keith stuck to his grand piano.

Brent Mydland, 27, who in June 1980 celebrated fifteen months with the Dead, had played behind Batdorf and Rodney, and then with his own band, Silver, before touring with the Bob Weir Band. When the Dead met to discuss the Godchaux situation, it was Garcia, whose own band had toured with Weir's band, who suggested Mydland.

"One of the first few albums I ever bought," said Mydland, "was the first Dead album." Weir and Lesh look surprised. "I didn't know that," said Lesh. "I saw them live at the Fillmore West, and one thing that stood out was 'Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl.'" That song featured the vocals and keyboards of the menacing-looking Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.

Pigpen died in 1973, his liver shot through with alcohol. In a group known as the house band for the acid tests of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, and a band who – even into the mid-Seventies – was said to enjoy spiking anything potable, Pigpen never took drugs, except once, when he was dosed.

Now, Garcia says that the drug image was always overblown. "It's always been part true and part false. It's never been anything but something you do in addition to playing music. The fundamental thing we're doing is being a band, not selling or promoting drugs. The fact that we all take drugs isn't even true. Not all of us do take drugs, and none of us takes drugs regularly. I think drugs are just a reality of American life, in one form or another. I mean, hell, they're there."

Still, there's no arguing that they were more there for the Dead than for most people, especially in the early days. Mickey Hart was talking about how the band used to drop acid before virtually every show, and that prompted Kreutzmann to mention a major change in the Dead.

"In attitudes, how you feel before you go on," he said. "We don't get all wired and crazy." An example: "We really burned hard yesterday [the first day in Boulder]. It's like you have a bank account on psychic energy, and we used a lot yesterday. So I woke up this morning feeling a little behind and tired, and instead of going out and using stimulants to feel up, I just wait till the music comes around and let it build like that."

And the rest of the band will pick up on it? Hart answers: "The band will let it be. This band is sensitive to everything: the weather, attitudes . . ."

Indeed. A moment before, when Barlow broke in with a photo of the band and a request for an autograph on behalf of a fan, Hart flipped the pen away and snarled: "Get outta here, man. I can't keep a flow going when you interrupt!"

Good vibes!" Jerry Garcia chortled gleefully. "Too much! How perfect!" I'd just told him about a visit I'd made to 710 Ashbury, the Grateful Dead house in 1966 and '67, and about C. J. Filice, the fifteen-year-old boy who lives there with his parents and sister. In his room, on one wall, are posters of Cheryl Tiegs, Farrah Fawcett and a topless woman skier. On another wall – the big one, fronting the bed – are the Grateful Dead, in posters, photos and album-cover handbills. The kid's a Deadhead, and Garcia was delighted to hear it. "That makes me feel real good," he said, chuckling again.

The Eighties have come to the Haight-Ashbury. The street is dotted with chic boutiques and restaurants, art deco stores and a gay-owned disco. But the Sixties haven't left yet. Hippies-turned-winos litter storefronts; the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic is still around and needed. And at a street fair just a month or so ago, you could pick up every artifact you missed out on in its heyday.

Still, things have changed. One recent morning, a couple of men sitting at Kiss My Sweet, a dessert and coffee shop with a high-tech decor, spotted a woman at the counter. One of the men approached her. "Didn't I see you at the detox center?" he asked. "No," she said, repelled. He tried another line. Indicating his friend, he asked, with a smile: "Can we treat you to a quiche?"

Around the corner and up Ashbury, at 710, Michael and Francine Filice live in the two-story Victorian house they bought in 1973. It was a dump when they got it, in need of exterior paint, plaster, new plumbing and a fumigation. All they knew about the house was that a commune of between twenty and thirty people – and three dogs – had just moved out, leaving behind fallen ceilings and large, painted rainbows in every room. Today, the house is lovely. The Filices spent five years restoring Victorian touches and even added to the house's original stained-glass windows and trim. The kitchen, where a good amount of dope was successfully hidden during one of the notorious busts, was just featured in Better Homes and Gardens.

The Filices take their house's place in rock history in stride. Having bought the first Dead album themselves when they lived in Manhattan (on the Upper East Side), they are at ease with the occasional visitors. "They just sit out front and look," said Michael, a wine importer. "They are in awe. It's like a saint had lived here."

Photos: the Grateful Dead Through the Years

Their son, C.J., was not a Dead fan – "I thought it was kinda hick music" – until a high-school friend, Gino, got him to a concert last year. Now the Dead are his favorite group, and the only other bands he likes are the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin and the Stones.

In the kitchen, C.J., Gino and another schoolmate, Dave, talked about the Dead. All three are clean-cut and laugh off the presence of drugs at Dead concerts. "Even though the people there are kinda weird," said Gino, "it's a calmer crowd than the punks." Asked why he likes the Dead, Gino said: "Some of the songs really get you, I guess," and laughed, embarrassed. At school, said Dave, "out of a thousand, the majority don't like 'em. The punks have this line, 'The Dead are dead.'" But Dave is a loyalist. "I want them to play 'Ripple' at my funeral," he said, beaming. "And if they can't make it, we'll play a tape, or we'll have Beluga Oil." Beluga Oil? "That's a band. They play a lot of Dead."

I asked the boys what they know about hippies. "Revolt," said C.J. Dave added: "To be free. They were running everything, concerts in the middle of the streets. People were doing what they wanted where they wanted." From that knowledge, do they have a positive or negative impression of hippies?

"Positive," said C.J. "I thought it was pretty good," says Dave. "It started the Dead. Had to be pretty good!"

After fifteen years, what's ahead for the Dead? A tighter show? Maybe. Work in other media? Definitely. Mickey Hart got a taste of film work when he scored part of Apocalypse Now, and he wants to do more. Jerry Garcia, who edited most of The Grateful Dead movie and has done musical and sound effects on such films as Phil Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Roger Corman's Big Bad Mama, hopes to direct a movie version of Kurt Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan, to which he has secured the film rights.

"Moviemaking," he said, "is something I've always wanted to do. Not all the ideas I've had are music. Making a movie is really solving problems – visual and dramatic problems – of various sorts, and I've convinced myself I can do it, and do a good job of it."

Meantime, Garcia is providing the voice, via his guitar, for a robot child in a movie, Heartbeeps (starring Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters). He has something up his sleeve with Deadheads Tom Davis and Al Franken, and he and Dead lyricist Robert Hunter are considering making a movie out of various Grateful Dead songs. "There's a latent story there that we've been fooling with all these years. There's a story that kind of runs through."

In short, lots of new beginnings. I asked Garcia if he feels lucky to have survived, and to be doing just what he wanted.

"I feel very lucky indeed," he said, laughing again. "I feel we've scored real well on that one. But I also feel that, in terms of being a practical model, we haven't done anything exceptional. That is to say, anybody who can imagine themselves doing something better than what they're doing should just go ahead and do it, and have no fear of failure or success but just go for it. That's all we've done. And apart from that, it's not as though we're especially gifted. We may have been lucky – even that, I don't know about – but we have been exceptionally determined."

I was reminded of a remark by a Deadhead. The Dead, he said, were unique for their willingness to take chances.

Garcia nodded emphatically. "And we'll continue to take them. That's our shot. That's who we are. And we're also an illustration that you can go through life that way and it'll work. It might be bumpy, but it's never boring."

This story is from the August 7th, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 323: August 7, 1980
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