In December 1979, Abe Peck, a former Rolling Stone associate editor then a feature writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, received an urgent call from legendary radio host, author and historian Studs Terkel. "I've got this guy here and maybe you can help me out," Terkel said. "I don't know this music."
"This guy" turned out to be Jerry Garcia, who was about to appear on Terkel's radio show, The Studs Terkel Program, on WFMT. Peck had known Terkel since Peck's days as, in his words, the "hippie-Leftie editor" at the underground Chicago Seed. With Peck joining in on the segment, what resulted was one of the most unusual interviews of either Garcia's or Terkel's careers.
Although he didn't know much about the Grateful Dead, Terkel — then 67 and known for his radio work and his groundbreaking oral history Working — had an innate journalistic curiosity. During the 37-minute interview, he asked Garcia about his musical origins, violence at rock shows and the Dead's trip to Egypt the previous year. Terkel seemed stunned when Garcia said the Dead were initially a dance band, leading to Garcia's lucid explanation of the way dance halls gave way to theaters and how that change impacted on the band. "Our audience now is pretty physical but they don't have the room to dance," he told Terkel. "The kids are pretty much restricted to their seats and boogie-ing where they are."
When Terkel asked Garcia about music of the future, Garcia replied, "Out of the new wave, there's gonna be a few survivors … a few people that are gonna last past their third record. They're gonna go on to have more things to say and are gonna develop as individuals." Asked to cite one example, Garcia presciently named Elvis Costello. Garcia also cast a wary eye on what he called "the big Bruce Springsteen splash," referring most likely to three years earlier, when Springsteen made the covers of Time and Newsweek simultaneously. "It was an effort to, like, discover someone in America, an experience that was gonna communicate to all of America," Garcia said, adding that he felt Springsteen's impact was "very local … what Bruce Springsteen had to say to the kids of New Jersey didn't apply to the kids in California."
The interview is one of more than 5,600 conducted on Terkel's show, which lasted from 1952 to 1997. A Kickstarter campaign has just been initiated to archive, transcribe and upload 1,000 of the best-known interviews, which include Martin Luther King Jr., Betty Friedan, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Janis Joplin, Michael Moore, Frank Zappa, Pete Seeger, Jacques Cousteau and more. (See WMFT's Studs Terkel Radio Archive website for more info.)
Of course, Deadheads were aware of the Garcia spot almost as soon as it aired. Later that week, Peck popped into a store to pick up a framed poster. "The clerk saw my name and asked if I'd done the show with Studs and Jerry," Peck says.
"Yes," Peck replied. "Did you hear it?"
To which Peck received the most apt response: "I have the bootleg."