This story originally appeared in Issue 100, the January 20th, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone
“The Interview with Garcia” was always one of those things we put off into some indefinite future because Jerry was always around and, of course, we’d do it sooner or later. What finally brought it on was a meeting with Charles Reich, the post-fortyish law professor from Yale who wrote The Greening of America, over a year ago in San Francisco; it turned out that he turned on to the whole trip in 1967 during one of his annual true musical knowledge.
And it turned out he was a Grateful Dead freak, and he too hit me with the question: “How come you haven’t done an interview with Garcia yet? When Reich hit me with the question, I hadn’t really listened to a Grateful Dead album since their first one and had only recently (in early ‘71) heard “Casey Jones” slip into my ears.
The truth of the matter is that I was an original Grateful Dead freak. The first time I ever saw them was in San Jose, after a Stones concert, when I wandered into a Kesey scene that turned out to be their first Acid Test. I distinctly remember walking up to someone who later turned out to be Phil Lesh, and asking who they were. He said, “We’re the Grateful Dead.” The impact, in my state of mind at that point, was severe.
Anyway, it took this professor from Yale to turn me on to the Dead again after years of inattention. I thought his enthusiasm a little… naive, but, what the hell, he had suggested that we do an interview with Jerry, together: I’d do the interview itself and he’d come along and ask one or two questions of his own. It sounded OK to me; Reich was obviously very up on them, knew all the lyrics and could quote and speak intelligently about them, and I knew their past history. It would be a good combination, and God knows, Charles “Consciousness Three” Reich Meets Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia could turn into something of its own.
I called up Garcia last spring and told him what the shot was: Reich would be on the Coast some time in early summer. Open and always amiable, he agreed. In July, Reich was at the office raring to go and to settle who was going to make sure the tape recorder was operating correctly (me).
Jerry Garcia lives near the Tamalpais Mountains (a range with magical significance in Northern Californian Indian lore) overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in a casual 1950 suburban house with his old lady, Mountain Girl (once of the Merry Pranksters and a close friend of Kesey’s in those days) and their little girl. The house is surrounded by eucalyptus trees, huge shrubs and six-foot rose bushes, (beyond which is a magnificent view of the Pacific and the Far East, as far as the imagination can take you).
On the front lawn which looks onto that magnificent view, Charles Reich, myself and Garcia sat on a sunny afternoon and turned the tape recorder on. Five hours later, I packed up the machine and headed back to the city, not entirely sure I could drive too well and not entirely sure at all what had just gone down. Reich was wandering around somewhere in back of the house remarking on the vibrancy of the trees (never found out exactly when and how he left that day) and Jerry had to be somewhere at 7 p.m. for a gig.
A few days later, Reich called; there was a recording session he wanted to go to and he wanted to see Jerry again…. sure, sure, what the fuck, I didn’t know what my old acquaintance Garcia thought of me at all at that point, so might as well let it roll.
I received the transcriptions of the tapes about three weeks later. What had happened was one interview that I did with Jerry, based on an old familiarity, best described as the good old Grateful Dead trip; and there was a whole other interview that Reich was trying to do: Garcia as spokesman, teacher, philosopher. If I played participant and historian, Reich was the true fan and amazed adult. To be honest, there came a point in that afternoon where I sank into my chair with my hands over my face, wanting out of the whole proposition. Reich was asking questions I thought either achingly obvious or obviously unanswerable. Reich went back a few weeks later and did another two hours on tape.
In the fall, I returned also to talk to Jerry for another four hours, to complete the interview. Charles Reich put it all into a rough chronological order and then I edited it for publication. Reich is identified as the interviewer in several passages where I felt it important to indicate the dialogue between the professor and the professional. The rest is, at long last, “The Interview with Garcia.”
WENNER: You’ll be in our 100th issue. GARCIA: Far out. We were in the first one, too, “Grateful Dead Busted.”
WENNER: I wrote that story.
GARCIA: I loved it. It’s got some stunning pictures.
WENNER: In one picture you can see Phil in dark glasses, holding a gun.
GARCIA: And there’s a picture of Bobby handcuffed to Florence, coming down the stairs with a victorious grin. It was incredible.
REICH: Start us at the beginning.
GARCIA: Which beginning?
WENNER: Your beginning — the day you were born
GARCIA: My father was a musician. He played in jazz bands in the places that I play in San Francisco, the same ballrooms. I never knew too much about my father; he died when I was young. He played clarinet, saxophone, reeds, woodwinds. He was an immigrant, with his whole family, moved out in the Twenties or the teens from Spain. My mother was born in San Francisco. Her mother is a Swedish lady and father is Irish, Gold Rush Days people, who came to San Francisco then. My mother met my father somewhere back there in the Thirties, something like that; he a musician, she a nurse.
Then the depression came along and my father couldn’t get work as a musician. I understand there was some hassle: he was blackballed by the union or something cause he was working two jobs or something like that, some musician’s union trip, so he wasn’t able to remain a professional musician and he became a bartender, bought a bar, a little bar like a lot of guys do. He died when I was real young and my mother took over that business.
All through this time there was always instruments around the house because of my father and my mother played piano a little and I had lots and lots of abortive piano lessons, you know…I can’t read, I couldn’t learn how to read music, but I could play by ear. My family was a singing family, on the Spanish side, every time there was a party everybody sang. My brother and my cousin and I when we were pretty young did a lot of street corner harmonizing… rock and roll… good old rhythm and blues, that kind of stuff, pop songs, all that. It was radio days, “Lucky Lager Dance Time” and all that.
And then, my mother remarried when I was about 10 or 11 or so and she decided to get the kids out of the city, that thing, go down to the Peninsula, and we moved down to Menlo Park for about three years and I went to school down there.
Somewhere before that, when I was in the third grade in San Francisco, I had a lady teacher who was a bohemian, you know, she was colorful and pretty and energetic and vivacious and she wasn’t like one of those dust-covered crones that characterize old-time public school people; she was really lively. She had everybody in the class, all the kids in this sort of homogenous school, making things out of ceramics and papier mache. It was an art thing and that was more or less my guiding interest from that time on. I was going to be a painter and I really was taken with it. I got into art history and all of it. It was finally something for me to do.
When we went down to the Peninsula, I fell in with a teacher who turned me on to the intellectual world. He said, “Here, read this.” It was 1984 when I was 11 or 12. And all of a sudden it was a whole new – that was like when I was turning on, so to speak, or became aware of a whole other world that was other than the thing you got in school, that you got in the movies and all that; something very different. And so right away I was really a long way from school at that point…there was two or three of us that got into that because of this teacher, who ultimately got fired that same year because of being too controversial — got the kids stirred up and all that — all the classic things.
We moved back to the city when I was about 13 or so and I started going to Denman, a good old San Francisco rowdy roughneck school. I became a hoodlum, survival thing; you had to be a hoodlum, otherwise you walk down the street and somebody beat you up. I had my friends, and we were hoodlums and we went out on the weekends and did a lot of drinkin’ and all that and meanwhile I was still reading and buying books and going to San Francisco Art Institute on the weekends and just sort of leading this whole secret life.
I was 15 when I got turned on to marijuana. Finally there was marijuana: Wow! Marijuana! Me and a friend of mine went up into the hills with two joints, the San Francisco foothills, and smoked these joints and just got so high and laughed and roared and went skipping down the streets doing funny things and just having a helluva time. It was great, it was just what I wanted, it was the perfect, it was — and that wine thing was so awful and this marijuana was so perfect.
WENNER: So what’s happening to music all this time? GARCIA: Nothing much, I’m goofing around, I’m trying to play rock and roll piano and stuff like that, but I’m not settled in with my mother particularly, I’m sort of living with my grandmother and I don’t really have any instruments. I want really badly a guitar during this time, about three years, I want a guitar so bad it hurts. I go down to the pawn shops on Market Street and Third Street and wander around the record stores, the music stores and look at the electric guitars and my mouth’s watering. God, I want that so bad! And on my 15th birthday my mother gave me an accordion. I looked at this accordion and I said, “God, I don’t want this accordion, I want an electric guitar.”So we took it down to a pawn shop and I got this little Danelectro, an electric guitar with a tiny little amplifier and man, I was just in heaven. Everything! I stopped everything I was doing at the time. I tuned it to an open tuning that sort of sounded right to me and I started picking at it and playing at it. I spent about six or eight months on it, just working things out. It was unknown at the time, there were no guitar players around. And I was getting pretty good and finally I ran into somebody at school that played guitar.
REICH: Can I ask for the date?
GARCIA: August 1st — let’s see, I was born in ‘42– Christ, man, arithmetic, school, I was 15— ‘57. Yeah, ‘57, there you go, it was a good year, Chuck Berry, all that stuff.
REICH: I wanted to get an historic date like that.
GARCIA: Yeah, well that’s what it was, August 1st, 1957, I got my first guitar. And that was it. Somebody showed me some chords on the guitar and that was the end of everything that I’d been doing until that time. We moved out of town up to Cazadero, which is up by the Russian River, and I went to a high school for about a year, did really badly, finally quit and joined the Army. I decided I was going to get away from everything. Yeah, 17. I joined the Army, smuggled my guitar in.
REICH: In joining the Army, it was probably the time to leave home.
GARCIA: Well, it was the time to leave it all. I wanted to just be some place completely different. Home wasn’t working out really for me and school was ridiculous and, I just wasn’t working out. I had to do something. At that time the only really available alternative was to join the Army, so I did that.I broke off all my communication with my family when I went into the Army; and they didn’t even know that I was out of the Army, in fact, and I… I just didn’t want to say anything to anybody, I didn’t want to have anything to do with that, I just wanted to be goofing out, goofing off, I didn’t want to get a job or go to college or do any of that stuff. So there was nobody after me to do it. I would hear from people who had heard from them, you know. They knew I was OK.
REICH: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
GARCIA: I have an older brother. Circumstances made me a different guy from my brother, made it always – it was difficult for me to communicate with my brother. He was in the Marines for four years. All that’s evened out now since he’s gone kind of through a straight trip and… sort of fell out the other side of it and now he’s a head, and living in the new world so to speak, so now we can communicate whereas it used to be that we couldn’t.I lasted nine months in the Army. I was at Ft. Ord for basic training and then they transferred me to the Presidio in San Francisco, Ft. Winfield Scott, a beautiful, lovely spot in San Francisco, overlooking the water and the Golden Gate Bridge and all that, and these neat old barracks and almost nothing to do. It started me into the acoustic guitar; up until that time I had been mostly into electric guitar, rock and roll and stuff.
I was stuck because I just didn’t know anybody that played guitar and that was probably the greatest hindrance of all to learning the guitar. I just didn’t know anybody. I used to do things like look at pictures of guitar players and look at their hands and try to make the chords they were doing, anything, any little thing. I couldn’t take lessons – I knew I couldn’t take lessons for the piano– so I had to learn it by myself and I just worked with my ear.
When I got out of the Army, I went down to Palo Alto and rejoined some of my old friends down there who were kind of living off the fat of the land, so to speak, a sort of hand-to-mouth existence. Some were living off their parents; most of ‘em, most people were living off people who were living off their parents. And there were a few like kindly – we were living in East Palo Alto which is the ghetto down there–and there would be various households that we could hang out at and get a little something to eat.
REICH: This was the beginning of the dropout world?
GARCIA: Yeah, yeah, well, we were — well, like that’s the period of time I met Hunter. Immediately after I got out of the Army, Hunter, who is like a really good friend of mine all this time, he’d just gotten out of the Army — he had an old car and I had an old car when I got out of the Army, and we were in East Palo Alto sort of coincidentally. There was a coffee house, ‘cause of Stanford, university town and all that, and we were hanging out at the coffee house and ran into each other.We had our two cars in an empty lot in East Palo Alto where they were both broken. Neither of them ran any more but we were living in them. Hunter had these big tins of crushed pineapple that he’d gotten from the Army, like five or six big tins, and I had this glove compartment full of plastic spoons and we had this little cooperative scene eating this crushed pineapple day after day and sleeping in the cars and walking around. He played a little guitar, we started singin’ and playin’ together just for something to do. And then we played our first professional gig. We got five bucks apiece.
REICH: What did you and Hunter used to play?
GARCIA: Oh, folk songs, dippy folk songs. It was before I got into a purist trip and all that.
REICH: You started playing because there was nothing else to do?
GARCIA: Yeah, but also because it was what I was doin’. It was really, basically what I was doin’. And there was nothing else to do. There was a certain amount of hanging out to be done; Stanford was a rich place to hang out, there was all this stuff goin’ on there. You could always hustle the girls to get you something from the dining room…We played around, mostly at Kepler’s Book Store — it was not professional or anything like that. We played at Peninsula schools and we played all these arty scenes and intellectual scenes down there, still the coffee houses — that coffee house beatnik consciousness was still what was happening.
What happened was I kept going farther and farther into music and Hunter was farther and farther into writing and so finally we just stopped playing together. But we hung out together. He’s a poet, essentially. And the direction I went into music was Folkways Records, field recordings, that sort of thing, and old-time blues and old-time country music and got very serious about it for a long time although I was still in that same position of essentially being on the street, going around from place to place.
WENNER: Who are some of the people you met on the coffee house circuit?
GARCIA: I didn’t get into playing the coffee houses until a little bit later than that, really playing coffee houses — most of that time before that I was learning to play well enough to play anywhere — ‘61 or ‘62, I started playing coffee houses and the guys who were playing around then up in San Francisco at the Fox and Hounds, Nick Gravenites was around then, Nick the Greek they called him; Pete Stampfel from the Holy Modal Rounders, he was playing around there then. A real nice San Francisco guitar player named Tom Hobson that nobody knows about, he was one of those guys that was sort of lost in the folk shuffle, but he’s still around and he’s still great. Let’s see… in Berkeley there was Jorma playing coffee houses about the same time that I was, and Janis. In fact, Jorma and Janis and I met at the same time. They played at the place in Palo Alto I played at a lot called the Tangent. They came in one night and I just flipped out. Janis was fantastic, she sounded like old Bessie Smith records, and she was really good. And Paul Kantner was playing around; David Freiberg was playing around, David and Nikelah they called themselves, him and his chick played left-handed guitar, they did these rowdy Israeli folk songs. Michael Cunney was around then too. He’s a guy that’s kind of like Pete Seeger’s junior version, he’s very good, he still plays around, banjo and some. Let’s see…a lot of the people that are around now, that are still doing stuff now.
WENNER: Did you begin hanging out with Jorma and Janis?
GARCIA: Well, I wasn’t really hanging out with them but our paths would be crossing, playing at the same place the same night and pretty soon after two or three years of running into them you’re friends. You never planned it or anything like that, it’s just what’s happening.
WENNER: Were you making enough money to support yourself?
GARCIA: Nah…I was either not making money and mostly living off my wits, which was pretty easy to do in Palo Alto – things are very well fed – or else I was teaching guitar lessons in record stores.
WENNER: What did you turn the kids on to who came for lessons?
GARCIA: I tried to teach them how to hear. My whole trip with teaching kids, was teaching them how to play by ear, teaching them how to learn stuff off of records, because kids were always coming in saying, “Here’s this record, I’d love to be able to learn to play this guitar part on it.” And so mostly it was learn how to associate the guitar with what you hear. I couldn’t follow the notes myself; it would’ve been really ridiculous of me to try to get them to follow the notes, man.Sometimes they would have some knowledge, sometimes they would be pretty good as a matter of fact, it was all different ones, different kinds, because in a guitar store you get people who don’t know anything about music, let alone anything about the guitar and so it was my whole trip to try to teach them something about music first. I could relate to them stuff by making a tape of a whole bunch of kinds of music that would include the guitar that would all be technically pretty easy but attractive to the ear, like the Carter Family for example, is a real good thing to learn because it’s all first position, simple chords, rhythmically very easy, technically it’s easy and at the same time your ear can dig it, you can get into it.
I would play something for them and either there’s a flash, a spark there, either you can turn somebody on by saying, “Listen, isn’t that neat,” or if the music doesn’t communicate, you have to forget about teaching. That was my basis — that’s what it finally came down to.
Hunter and I were still more or less together; at this time we’re mostly living at this place called The Chateau in Palo Alto and me and Hunter and Phil is there a lot, Phil Lesh and Pigpen and all these…my fellow freaks.
WENNER: Where did they turn up?
GARCIA: The old Palo Alto Peace Center was a great place for social trips. The Peace Center was the place where the sons and daughters of the Stanford professors would hang out and discuss things. And we, the opportunist wolf pack, the beatnik hordes, you know, would be there preying on their young minds and their refrigerators. And there would be all of these various people turning up in these scenes and it just got to be very good, really high.
WENNER: How did they come along?
GARCIA: Phil was from Berkeley and he had spent…his reason for being anywhere on the Peninsula was that he had done some time at San Mateo Jr. College playing in their jazz band. Now, Phil, who I met down there at the Peace Center, was at that time composing 12-tone and serial things. He’d also been a jazz trumpet player. We were in two totally different worlds, musically. But somehow he was working at KPFA as an engineer, and I was up there at a folk music thing or something like that and Burt Corena who ran the folk music show there wanted me to do a show for KPFA as a folk singer, so Phil and I got together at a party. He put together a tape of me playing in the kitchen and it sounded pretty good to us. He took it up there and played it for them, they dug it, so I went up to the studio and he engineered my little performance. Phil and I had always gotten along together real good. So that’s me and Phil. That’s one stream as part of the Grateful Dead — the oldest, probably. We met this other guy named Bobby Peterson who is like an old-time wine-drinkin’ convict post criminal scene, a great guy, and he, Phil Lesh, a guy named John Winters and Bob Peterson all hung out together when Phil was going to San Mateo. OK, that’s one little unit there.
Now, Phil had a girlfriend from Palo Alto who he had met at San Mateo, that’s what brought him to Palo Alto. And when in Palo Alto he’d hang out at St. Michael’s Alley, which was where I and Hunter and these various other people were hanging out. It was a local coffee house where you could sit over a cup of coffee all night. And we met like we always met, in the course of some apocalyptic conversation from those old days.
WENNER: Whose idea was it to have a band?
GARCIA: See, what happened was, I got into old-time country music, old-time string band music, and in order to play string band music you have to have a band, you can’t play it by yourself. So I would be out recruiting musicians. One of the musicians I used to play with in those days was Dave Nelson, who plays guitar for the New Riders, so that’s another germ, and me and Nelson were playing old-time music and we got into blue-grass music, playing around at coffee houses. And Bobby Weir was really a young kid at that time, learning how to play the guitar, and he used to hang around in the music store and he used to hang around at the coffee house.Bob came from Atherton – he’s from that really upper-class trip, his folks are really wealthy and all that, he was like the Atherton kid who was just too weird for anybody. He didn’t make it in school and people were beatin’ up on him and he was getting kicked out of schools all over the place. His trip was he wanted to learn to play the guitar and have a good old time, and so he’d hang around the music store… I met him when I was working at a music store — he was one the king pin pickers — on the town — I always played at the coffee house and Weir would come and hear me play and so it was that kind of thing.
At that time he was like 15 or something, really young. He’s the kid guitar player. And the band thing kept happening various ways. Bluegrass bands are hard to put together because you have to have good bluegrass musicians to play and in Palo Alto there wasn’t really very many of them – not enough to keep a band going all the time.
Now Bill Kreutzman was working at the music store at the same time I was. My first encounter with Kreutzman was when I bought a banjo from him way back in ‘61 or ‘62. He was just a kid then playing rock and roll. He was in high school. I may have even played a gig with him once when I was playing electric bass in a rock and roll band on weekends.
Since I always liked playing whether it was bluegrass music or not, I decided to put together a jug band, because you could have a jug band with guys that could hardly play at all or play very well or anything like that. So we put together the jug band and Weir finally had his chance to play because Weir had this uncanny ability to really play the jug and play it really well, and he was the only guy around and so he of course was the natural candidate. And Pigpen, who was mostly into playin’ Lightnin’ Hopkins stuff and harmonica…
WENNER: Where’d he come from?
GARCIA: He was another one of the kids from around there, he was like the Elvis Presley soul and hoodlum kid. His father was a disc jockey…he heard the blues, he wanted to play the blues and I was like the guitar player in town who could play the blues, so he used to hang around, that’s how I got to know him. He took up harmonica and got pretty good at it for those days when nobody could play any of that stuff.So we had the jug band with Pigpen and Weir and Bob Matthews who’s the head guy at Alembic Studios now, and Marmaduke [of New Riders] even played with the jug band for a while, I believe.
The jug band we’re talking about is pretty recent, that’s like ‘63… ‘63 or ‘64… Phil’s back from ‘61 or ‘60…’60 and ‘61 from when I just got out of the Army. I met Phil almost the same time I met Hunter. Phil was doin’ a straight thing, he was goin’ to Cal, he was livin’ in Berkeley, he was born in Berkeley. I think he was goin’ to Mills College for awhile, he was studying music seriously…you’d go over to his house and find orchestra charting paper and incredible symphonies, man, all meticulously rapidographed. God–Phil, you know, has absolute pitch and this incredible vast store of musical knowledge, just the complete classical music education. And he’d been a trumpet player, that’s what he played. So, anytime I did anything musical, he was always turned on by the music, because he loves any kind of music…
WENNER: How did he get lured away from the classical world.
GARCIA: He just ran out of it…he ran out of it. I didn’t really fall back in with Phil until after we’d had our electric rock and roll band started.
WENNER: And you ran around and played the…
GARCIA: Played any place that would hire a jug band, which was almost no place and that’s the whole reason we finally got into electric stuff.
WENNER: Whose idea was that?
GARCIA: Well Pigpen, as a matter of fact, it was Pigpen’s idea. He’d been pestering me for a while, he wanted me to start up an electric blues band. That was his trip… because in the jug band scene we used to do blues numbers like Jimmy Reed tunes and even played a couple of rock and roll tunes and it was just the next step.And the Beatles… and all of a sudden there were the Beatles, and that, wow, the Beatles, you know. Hard Day’s Night, the movie and everything. Hey great, that really looks like fun.
REICH: Well, that’s something…when you say funny, well, say some more about that…
GARCIA: Well, funny is a good thing, I mean, what can I say about it?
REICH: Yeah, but you made…you were the kind of band that were funny.
GARCIA: Well, it was funny because it was fun, you know what I mean, it was funny in that you could…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Jug Band was a gas.
GARCIA: It was funny in the same way the Grateful Dead is funny now and I can’t really describe that, but if you’re around for a little while you can see right away that it is funny, it’s more funny than not.
REICH: But it started way back there with the jug band with something that was fun and everybody knew was…
GARCIA: Well, good times is the key to all this.
WENNER: And the Beatles were good times, that’s what was in the movie.
GARCIA: Right, exactly.
WENNER: So Pig fronts the blues band…
GARCIA: Yeah, well…theoretically it’s a blues band, but the minute we get electric instruments it’s a rock and roll band. Because, wow, playin’ rock and roll, it’s fun. Pigpen, because he could play some blues piano and stuff like that, we put him on organ immediately and the harmonica was a natural and he was doin’ most of the lead vocals at the time. We had a really rough sound and the bass player was the guy who owned this music store that I had been workin’ in, which was convenient because he gave us all the equipment; we didn’t have to go out and hassle to raise money to buy equipment.But then, we were playing at this pizza parlor, this is like our first gig, we were the Warlocks, with the music store owner playing bass and Bobby and me and Pigpen… and Bill. And so we went…and played. We played three gigs at that pizza parlor.
WENNER: What was your repertoire?
GARCIA: We did…we stole a lot of…well at that time, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones’ “King Bee,” “Red Rooster,” “Walking The Dog” and all that shit, we were just doing hard simple rock and roll stuff…old Chuck Berry stuff, “Promised Land,” “Johnny B. Goode,” a couple of songs that I sort of adapted from jug band material. “Stealin’ ” was one of those and that tune called “Don’t Ease Me In”…it was our first single, an old ragtime pop Texas song…I don’t remember a lot of the other stuff.
REICH: Nowhere near Dylan or something like that?
GARCIA: Oh…yeah, we did “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” We did that from the very beginning because it was such a pretty song. Weir used to do “She’s got everything she needs, she don’t look back”…
REICH: How much were the Beatles important to you?
GARCIA: They were real important to everybody. They were a little model, especially the movies – the movies were a big turn-on. Just because it was a little model of good times. The Fifties were sure hurting for good times. And the early Sixties were very serious too – Kennedy and everything. And the Beatles were light and having a good time and they were good too, so it was a combination that was very satisfying on the artistic level, which is part of the scene that I was into – the art school thing and all that. The conscious thing of the artistic world, the Beatles were accomplished in all that stuff. It was like saying, “You can be young, you can be far out, and you can still make it.” They were making people happy. That happy thing – that’s the stuff that counts – something that we could all see right away.
REICH: What about Dylan, who was so unhappy for such a long time?
GARCIA: Dylan was able to tell you the truth about that other thing. He was able to talk about the changes that you’d go through, the bummers and stuff like that – and say it, and say it in a good way, the right way. I dug his stuff really from “Bringing It All Back Home.” Back in the folk music days I couldn’t really dig this stuff but on “Bringing It All Back Home” he was really saying something that I could dig, that was relevant to what was going on in my life at the time. Whether he intended it that way or not is completely unimportant.
WENNER: That first gig…
GARCIA: That first night at the pizza place nobody was there. The next week, when we played there again it was on a Wednesday night, there was a lot of kids there and then the third night there was 3-400 people…all up from the high schools, and in there, man, in there was this rock and roll band…we were playing, people were freaking out.Phil came down from San Francisco with some friends because they heard we had a rock and roll band and he wanted to hear what our rock and roll band was like and it was a flash to see Phil because he had a Beatles haircut, and he’d been working for the post office and livin’ in the Haight Ashbury. He wasn’t playin’ any music, though, and he wasn’t writing or composing or anything and I said, “Hey, listen man, why don’t you play bass with us because I know how musical you are, I know you’ve got absolute pitch and it wouldn’t take you too long and I could show you some stuff to get you started.” He said, “Yeah, well, that’d be far out.” So we got him an old guitar to practice on and borrowed a bass for him, and about two weeks later we rehearsed for a week, and we went out and started playing together.
We never decided to be the Grateful Dead. What happened was the Grateful Dead came up as a suggestion because we were at Phil’s house one day. He had a big Oxford Dictionary I opened it up and the first thing I saw was “The Grateful Dead.” It said that on the page and it was so astonishing. It was truly weird, a truly weird moment.
I didn’t like it really, I just found it to be really powerful. Weir didn’t like it, Kreutzman didn’t like it and nobody really wanted to hear about it. But then people started calling us that and it just started, it just got out, Grateful Dead, Grateful Dead…
We sort of became the Grateful Dead because we heard there was another band called Warlocks. We had about two or three months of no name and we were trying things out, different names, and nothing quite fit.
WENNER: Like what?
GARCIA: Oh, the Emergency Crew, uh…the Mythical Ethical Icicle Tricycle…ha, ha…we had a million funny names, man, really, millions of ‘em, huge sheets of ‘em.
WENNER: What were the others?
GARCIA: Oh, God, man I can’t remember, really you don’t want to hear ‘em, they’re all really bad.
REICH: I’d like to know about your life outside of playing. What kind of scene was that.
GARCIA: Well, I got married back there somewhere and it was one of those things where she got into trouble, you know, in the classic way, “I want to have the baby,” “Well, OK, let’s get married.” We got married, and the parents’ thing and all that and it was like I was tryin’ to be straight, kinda. I was working in the music store, you know, in earnest now, and our baby was born and it was OK and all that, but it wasn’t really workin’. I was really playin’ music, I was playin’ music during the day at the music store practicing and at nights I would go out and gig.
REICH: Were you interested in anything besides music?
GARCIA: Yeah, I was interested in everything besides music.
REICH: I want to hear about that, too.
GARCIA: Well, name something. I mean I’ve never had any hobbies, but music; I was never doin’ anything, but anything that came up would interest me.
GARCIA: Drugs, of course.
REICH: OK, let’s talk for a minute about that, how they came in at that time… it was an old story.
GARCIA: I’d been getting high for a long time, but marijuana turned up on the folk music world and there was speed. The thing about speed in those days was that you stayed up and raved all night, or playing. The Doors of Perception and stuff like that, we were talking about. And there was mescaline; we could not find mescaline, but we could find peyote. That was the only psychedelic around at that time.
GARCIA: Religion, yeah, Martin Buber and that whole existential thing was just leaving at that time…
GARCIA: Philosophy, right.
GARCIA: Right, reading…film, films. My wife was at the Communications Department at Stanford and she was into film and I spent a lot of time working on sound tracks for people’s films, and I got really interested in it and I spent a lot of time there, just hangin’ out, watchin’, seein’ how they do it…There was a lot of stuff happening because it was a university town, good concerts and so forth…
REICH: What about the Kerouac, Ginsberg world?
GARCIA: Well in my travels around the Bay Area there was like Berkeley, San Francisco, Marin County and down the Peninsula. You’d go to North Beach and there would be sort of the remnants of that beatnik scene, but see I’d been into that scene as a young kid back when I was livin’ in San Francisco going to art school down there in North Beach when that was all happening, the Bagel Shop was even going on in those days.
REICH: Poetry, literature, stuff like that?
GARCIA: All that, all of that, and on all levels. That was like a continuing thing, but then along came LSD and that was the end of that whole world. The whole world just went kablooey.
REICH: What’s the date of that?
GARCIA: Let’s see, LSD came around to our scene I guess around…it all was sort of happening at the same time, around ‘64, I guess. We started hearing about it in ‘63 and started getting it about in ‘64.When we were living at The Chateau, even earlier, like ‘61, ‘62 I guess, or ‘63, the government was running a series of drug tests over at Stanford and Hunter was one of the participants in these. They gave him mescaline and psilocybin and LSD and a whole bunch of others and put him in a little white room and watched him. And there were other people on the scene that were into that. And as soon as those people had had those drugs they were immediately trying to get them, trying to find some way to cop ‘em or anything, but there was no illicit drug market at that time like there is now.
REICH: Two questions together, how did it change your life and how did it change your music?
GARCIA: Well, it just changed everything you know, it was just — ah, first of all, for me personally, it freed me, you know, the effect was that it freed me because I suddenly realized that my little attempt at having a straight life and doing that was really a fiction and just wasn’t going to work out. Luckily I wasn’t far enough into it for it to be shattering or anything, it was like a realization that just made me feel immensely relieved, I just felt good and it was the same with my wife — at that time it sort of freed us to be able to go ahead and live our lives rather than having to live out an unfortunate social circumstance, which is what the whole thing is about.
REICH: In what sense did it free you?
GARCIA: In making it all right to have or not have. That is, I think the first lesson that LSD taught me in sort of a graphic way, was…just…it’s OK to have something and it’s also OK to not have it.
REICH: I don’t understand yet.
GARCIA: That’s it, there isn’t anything to understand.
REICH: No, it’s just a question of saying it another way.
GARCIA: Well, let’s see, let me think about it.
REICH: Accepting things the way they are.
GARCIA: Yeah, right.
REICH: You mean it taught a religious idea of acceptance or a philosophical idea of…
GARCIA: No, no — it was the truth; it’s the truth just like these flowers are the truth, or the tape recorder there, or us sitting here or that sound we’re hearing or the trees. It’s the truth so you know it absolutely, you don’t have to wonder whether it is. It’s not in the form of an idea, it’s in the form of a whole complete reality. I’m not saying that it does that for everybody, I don’t mean that, I’m just saying that that’s what the effect was on me. It meant that everything is possible; for one thing, it meant that everything else just took a step toward becoming more real and for me being able to do it without any reservations, that’s what it did.
REICH: And the straight life became less real.
GARCIA: Well, I knew it for what it was and…it was me trying to make…trying to tell a lie that I didn’t decide on. And I could no longer…and I was never good at it anyway, it was just like my most recent attempt at that time, that was my attempt because of the child, of having a child and having to support a wife and all that, it was like, all these things were like problems but then I…the thing about LSD was, that particular trip was…it was just not important, that was not the important thing.
REICH: Did you have the feeling that like you’d known it all along? Inside?
GARCIA: Sure, sure. Right, and it was like it made me immensely happy because like suddenly I knew that what I thought I knew all along I really did know and it was really, it really was the way I hoped it might be. That was the effect. And it was groovy because like for that first trip it was all, all of us people who’d been takin’ various kinds of drugs together, a whole lot of us, we got this LSD, we all took it, glop, glop, you know, here in Palo Alto and we just wandered round and round the streets bumping into each other and having these incredible revelations and flashes, it was just dynamite; it was just everything I could hope for it to be for me.
REICH: It was the thing you’d been looking for.
GARCIA: It was like another release, yet another opening. The first one was that hip teacher when I was in the third grade; and the next one was marijuana and the next one was music and the next one was — it was like a series of continually opening doors, that’s the way I see that.
REICH: You’ve talked about continually opening doors. Is that like a philosophy you have, in other words, is that the way you want to keep on going?
GARCIA: Well, I think that what doors have been opened for me now are enough to occupy my time forever.
REICH: I was trying to ask you about a sense of direction….
GARCIA: Well, I don’t have a personal philosophy…all I have is an ability to perceive cycles…and I think that things happen in a more or less cyclical way and the thing is being able to maintain your equilibrium while the cycles are in their most disadvantageous places and that seems a function of time.
WENNER: What were you doing when you were dropping acid, listening to music or just wandering around?
GARCIA: Wandering around…We were playing around in this house, we had a couple of super balls, hard rubber DayGlo balls, and we bounced them around and we were just reading comic books, doodling, strumming guitars, just doing stuff. We weren’t really doing anything. All of a sudden you remember that you are free to play. Wow, we can play with all this stuff and do things! We were rediscovering the world and playing with all these wonderful things.Our scene was totally anarchic, you know, we had no plans, we had nothing to prove or anything like that. Kesey, from what we could understand of what was going on up at his place at that time, was like into specific stuff apparently, although we didn’t know.
REICH: He seems to have had a definite idea of where he was headed toward.
GARCIA: He was a writer, and writers always have the end of the book. Dig.
REICH: Yeah. And I asked you that because I wanted to see if you had the same kind of thing.
GARCIA: No, because I’ve always been a musician and into improvising and it’s like I consider life to be a continuous series of improvisations…I view it that way.
WENNER: When was the first time you played music on LSD?
GARCIA: Uh, when we were, let’s see…we…oh, we were the Warlocks and we were playing in a bar in Belmont, we were playing this straight bar and we would do five sets a night, 45 on and 15 off and we’d be sneaking out in the cars smoking joints between each set and so forth. One of those days we took it. We got high, and goofed around in the mountains and ran around and did all kinds of stuff and I remembered we had to work that night. We went to the gig and we were all a little high and it was all a little strange. It was so weird playing in a bar being high on acid, it was just too weird, it was not appropriate, definitely wasn’t appropriate.The first time that music and LSD interacted in a way that really came to life for us as a band was one day when we went out and got extremely high on some of that early dynamite LSD and we went that night to the Lovin’ Spoonful…remember that thing, the Lovin’ Spoonful whatever, the Charlatans and whoever else down at the Family Dog, Longshoreman’s Hall, it was one of the first ones and we went there and we were stoned on acid watching these bands play.
That day — the Grateful Dead guys — our scene — we went out, took acid and came up to Marin county and hung out somewhere around Fairfax or Lagunitas or one of those places up in the woods and just went crazy. We ended up going into that rock and roll dance and it was just really fine to see that whole scene — where there was just nobody there but heads and this strange rock and roll music playing in this weird building. It was just what we wanted to see.
Just Goodwill junk — old clothes. I had some striped shirts — I think that was the hippest thing I owned. We had some Acid Test pants that were painted DayGlo — but you couldn’t call it hippie stuff. There never was any hippie stuff really.
It was just truly fantastic. We began to see that vision of a truly fantastic thing. It became clear to us that working in bars was not going to be right for us to be able to expand into this new idea. And about that time the Acid Test was just starting to happen.
WENNER: How did the music change? You’re still playing country music and you’re playing blues and…
GARCIA: Well, we got more into wanting to go…to take it farther. In the nightclubs, in bars, mostly what they want to hear is short fast stuff, uhm…and we were always trying to play a little, stretch out a little…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: More…loud.
GARCIA: So our trip with the Acid Test was to be able to play long and loud. Man, we can play long and loud, as long and loud as we wanted and nobody would stop us.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Oh, god…
REICH: So like would you take something you’d played before and just make it longer and longer and louder and louder? And you were improvising?
GARCIA: Of course, we were improvising cosmically, too. Because being high, each note, you know, is like a whole universe. And each silence. And the quality of the sound and the degree of emotional…when you’re playing and you’re high on acid in these scenes it is like the most important thing in the world. It’s truly, pshew, cosmic…Our consciousness concerning music is opening up more, so the music is becoming,…is having more facets than it seemed to, having more dimensions…and we’ve also seen the effect of all of a sudden we find a certain kind of feeling or a certain kind of rhythm and the whole place is like a sea and it goes boom…boom…boom, it’s like magic and it’s like that something you discover on LSD and you discover that another kind of sound will like create a whole other, you know…
We’re just playing what’s there, is finally what it comes down to, because we’re not in a position to be deciding.
WENNER: When did you meet Kesey, and how?
GARCIA: The Chateau, where we were all livin’ several years earlier, was situated physically about two or three blocks from Kesey’s place and there were people from Kesey’s, that were over at our scene and so on. We didn’t hang out down there too much because at the time it was a college trip, you know, they were college people kind of and it was, it made us self-conscious to be there, we were so, you know…undesirable, they didn’t really want us, nobody really wanted us hangin’ out.When I first got into that scene, they reminded me of college people. They were all bright and clean and their whole scene was bright and clean. They were colorful, snappy and quick–college stuff.
But then, years later, here we are a rock and roll band. They were hearin’ about us up at Kesey’s place from our friends who are stayin’ up there and gettin’ high and comin’ down and gettin’ high with us.
There was this interaction goin’ on. Just like there was interaction between our scene down on the Peninsula and the San Francisco scene…the San Francisco scene, all these little networks of one or two guys that go back and forth, sometimes it’s dealers, sometimes it’s musicians, you know, that was like the old line of communication.
So, it became obvious since you guys are a band and we’re right up here in La Honda, and we’re having these parties, we want to move the parties out into the world a little bit and just see what happens. So they had this first one down in San Jose, we took our stuff down there and…
WENNER: Had you met Kesey?
GARCIA: No, I had never met Kesey. It was Page, John Page Browning, he was sort of the messenger. I don’t think there was any…ever any real decision, just sort of a loose thing.It was in a house…right, after the Stones concert, the same night, the same night. We went there and played but–you know, shit, our equipment filled the room, damn near, and we were like really loud and people were just, ah…there were guys freakin’ out and stuff and there were hundreds and hundreds of people all around, in this residential neighborhood, swarming out of this guy’s house.
REICH: When did you get into all this fabulous equipment thing?
GARCIA: It’s always been kind of our trip. What it comes from is bein’ high, being high at these old Acid Test scenes and looking out on the stage at this equipment, and this equipment is like squat and functional with knobs and dials and lights and things gleaming…
REICH: It felt like science fiction, right?
GARCIA: Right, it’s right in that world, right in that science fiction world with the Day-Glo shit painted around and black lights.
REICH: And you’re at the controls of the rocket ship, right?
GARCIA: Well, yeah, something like that, it’s definitely that rocket ship flash…yeah, science fiction, horror movies.
WENNER: What happened at the meeting between you and Kesey?
GARCIA: After that first one we all got together, us and Kesey and everybody, and had a meeting about it, and thought, well, you know, that first one there was all those people there, but it was too weird ‘cause it was somebody’s house, you know and… it just didn’t make it.We just decided to keep on doing it, that was the gist of it. We had all these people at this house that wasn’t adequate, but the idea was then to move it to a different location and then the idea was to move it to a different location each week.
They had film and endless kind of weird tape recorder hook ups and mystery speaker trips and all…just all sorts of really strange…it always seemed as though the equipment was able to respond in its own way, I mean it…there were always magical things happening. Voices coming out of things that weren’t plugged in and, God…it was just totally mind boggling to wander around this maze of wires and stuff like that. Sometimes they were like writhing and squirming. Truly amazing.
That was the Acid Test and the Acid Test was the prototype for our whole basic trip. But nothing has ever come up to the level of the way the Acid Test was. It’s just never been equaled, really, or the basic hit of it never developed out. What happened was light shows and rock and roll came out of it, and that’s like the thing that we’ve seen go out.
REICH: But what was it when it was at its greatest?
GARCIA: Well, something much more incredible than just a rock and roll show with a light show; it was just a million more times incredible. It was incredible because of the formlessness, because of the thing of people wandering around wondering what was going on and…and stuff happening spontaneously and everybody bein’ prepared to accept any kind of a thing that was happening and to add to it, it was like…uh…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Everybody felt pretty much responsible for each other.
REICH: You mean you were all creating, everybody was creating.
GARCIA: There you go, everybody was creating.
REICH: Everybody was doing something.
GARCIA: Everybody was doing everything. That’s about the simplest explanation.
REICH: And it was magical besides.
GARCIA: Truly, it was magical because there was that willingness for everybody to be constantly on the lookout for something new.The scene now is watching television or going to a movie. That’s essentially what’s happening, you go into the show, there’s a proscenium arch, there’s the speakers, visually you’re focused right at the center of things, the sound is coming at you from that direction; there might as well not be any back of your head, there’s nothing happening back there and so it’s that same old experience,…the very flaw that we were trying to eliminate with that Acid Test. The Acid Test was going in a whole other direction, something completely weird.
The Acid Test was a buck, but everybody paid it. The musicians paid it, the electricians paid it, the guy that collected tickets paid it, everybody paid it, and if there was only one buck we’d all pay it over and over again. It was always an exchange, it cost you a buck and you stayed there all night.
WENNER: What do you think stopped it?
GARCIA: The fact that LSD became illegal was the thing that really stopped it. That’s the thing that stopped it the hardest.
WENNER: You don’t think perhaps because too many people were coming…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: No, no, not enough people came, as a matter of fact.
GARCIA: In San Francisco they were getting larger and larger. Had we not had to run for it, period, had Kesey not been busted and had LSD not been made illegal, perhaps a whole something other than what we’re experiencing now would’ve evolved.
WENNER: Where was the second Acid Test?
GARCIA: The second Acid Test was that at Muir Beach? Or was it at the Big Beat?
MOUNTAIN GIRL: It was at the Big Beat, I think.
GARCIA: It was at the Big Beat, a plushy little nightclub in Palo Alto. That was a real nice one. There was the stage with the Grateful Dead setup on it over here…The Dead’s on stage and on the other side there’s a kind of a long sort of a runway affair. It’s sort of an L-shaped room, and on the point of the L is the Grateful Dead and down here is where the Pranksters have their setup, which is like…it kinda looked like a cockpit, there was like these tables up on this runner with tape…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: …that weird table organ.
GARCIA: Yeah, yeah, the dayglo organ and all these weird tape recorders and stuff and microphones and Babbs, who had on one of his quasi-uniforms.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: That was the first week of the Pranksters shirts.
GARCIA: The Prankster shirts were quasi-uniforms, almost like uniforms but not quite, and Babbs looked kind of like a superhero.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Except they were bright green and orange and white stripes and shit like that, so they were pretty loud.
GARCIA: Yeah, they were real bright, everything was getting real bright; that was what we were all starting to flash on then.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Oh, there was the two straight ladies who owned the place or something.
GARCIA: Oh, right, right. They were hanging around behind the bar the whole time…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: …worrying what was going on.
GARCIA: Middle-aged ladies.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: We had rented this place from them for $50 or $100 or something like that. They were just freaking out. Nobody could believe that Page had gotten this place–when we actually did come we were sort of surprised about it–because nobody ever took Page seriously; it was the first real thing he ever did…oh man, we just got in there and set up our shit and everybody shows up and…
WENNER: Who came?
GARCIA: Well, all the other psychedelic scenes at that time: There was Dick Alpert and his scene, Leary and that, Leary wasn’t there, Dick Alpert may have been to that one; and there was the Berkeley psychedelic scene which was pretty well developed by that time because of the Cabale coffee house in the old days, the mescaline scene and all that.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: A lot of drifter Palo Alto types…and speed freaks, lots of speed freaks.
GARCIA: And weirdos. There was always weirdoes at the Acid Test. There were always a lot of people that didn’t know from LSD; they were like bums and hobos and strange truck driver types and shit like that who would always somehow turn up there and find themselves in this weird other world.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Oh, and Neil Cassidy and Ann Murphy were there.
GARCIA: Neil was really good. There was a strobe light in between our two set-ups. Just one small strobe light hanging out, but it was real bright, enough to flash the whole place because it was a fairly small room. We’d play stuff and the Pranksters would be doin’ stuff and there was this incredible cross interference and weirdness. Stewart Brand was there with his Indian stuff.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: He had this little slide show and recorded music, taped music and he’d just show all these beautiful slides of Indian trips and Indian homes.
GARCIA: All kinds of Indian trips, things like neon arrowhead signs and highways, long expanses of highways that were really lovely images, each one a jam.
REICH: How did you get into the idea…playing and having this visual thing?
GARCIA: It was just the idea of everybody having their various stuff and doing it all at once.
WENNER: Let us ask you more about the Acid Test. What were some of the other things. What happened at the end of the evening?
GARCIA: This one ended up with Neil Cassidy under the strobe light tearing up paper.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Tearing up his shirt! He was ripping up that beautiful fluorescent polka dot shirt that Marge Barge made him, tearing it into little pieces. And then he got onto the paper after the shirt. He was ripping up anything he could get his hands on.
GARCIA: It was going very very fast and then it was very quiet; there was almost nothing else happening.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Right, except all the equipment was on and it was humming and any noise was sort of weirdly echoed around.
GARCIA: And amplified around…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: And so it was sort of strange in there. A lot of people were drifting in and out of the spotlight and the strobe light was stopped and sort of the falling dance was going on, you know, people were still on their feet and meandering around.
GARCIA: And it’s getting to be about dawn.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Yeah, people start to step outside to check the air, you know…
GARCIA: Real cold in the morning…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: After an Acid Test was always morning. You start to pack up and step outside and it would be cold there and, ohhhh, really clear and everybody looking about eight inches shorter than they had been when they walked in, and about 20 pounds lighter. Not particularly haggard looking, but just a lot littler and packed down.
GARCIA: Well used.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: And everybody would creep off home. Driving back was a really far-out experience because we always had to drive over this mountain route to La Honda.
GARCIA: It always seemed really remarkable that…
MOUNTAIN GIRL: …that we were still alive.
GARCIA: …That actually another day went by…there’s the sun again another day, God, isn’t it incredible it had been a long, long night.
WENNER: What were some of the others? There was Muir Beach.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: That was a particularly nice one. One of the highlights of that one was–dare I, shall I breathe his name?– Owsley pushing a chair along this wooden floor, this old wooden chair, running it along the floor making this noise, the most horrible screeching and scraping. It went on for hours, I’m not exaggerating, it just drove everybody completely up the wall. That was really an incredible exhibition of making yourself…uncomfortable…making other people uncomfortable.
GARCIA: No, man, it was just the guy completely freaked out with his body running around…that’s what that was, I mean he was completely freaked out.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: He was scraping that chair and listening to the noise and lovin’ it, I guess that was what was happening.
GARCIA: How do you know?
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Oh…I watched him for a really long time.
GARCIA: That wasn’t it. I talked to him about that a lot and he just, his mind was completely shot, he thought they’d come and taken it from him.
WENNER: Owsley was part of the Berkeley psychedelic scene.
GARCIA: Right. He didn’t get along too good with our more wilder version, because…well, the big straight psychedelic scene always called our scene too high-energy you see… “Too high-energy, you can freak out in there, you know.” That was what they always used to say.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Hardly anybody did.
GARCIA: Owsley did.
WENNER: What was accomplished between the Pranksters and the Dead at that time?
GARCIA: We were even looser than they were. They became a sort of semi-fascist organization as soon as Kesey had to go to Mexico. And Babbs was kind of at the helm and at the time he was very much into keeping everything clean.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: He was into one of these big security trips.
GARCIA: …and straight and “We don’t want any strangers,” and security. We were just really pretty loose, the Grateful Dead, we were real loose.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: Well, you guys were also doing up a lot of DMT and we were going on a number of not smoking any grass and not taking anything but acid and only on Acid Test night. We were really trying to clean up and you guys were really…ohhh, God…really weird.
GARCIA: We were definitely not making ends meet, we were living solely off of Owsley’s good graces at that time. The free park thing started later after we moved back from L.A., after the L.A. Acid Tests, we moved back up to San Francisco.The Pranksters were on their way to Mexico and we were at that time living at a house that Owsley had rented. We had no money, of course, no furniture, no place to sleep, or anything like that. Owsley’s trip was he wanted to design equipment for us and we were going to have to be in sort of a lab situation for him to do it. He was really serious about it and so it was like the long wait for components and stuff while he was working on it, he and his partner.
WENNER: What happened when Owsley’s equipment finally came?
GARCIA: It got there piece by piece but it never really quite worked. We went on for about a year or so with it – but it never quite worked and we always had to spend five hours dragging it into a gig and five hours dragging it out afterwards and it was really bringing us down.After going through a million weird changes about it and screaming at poor Owsley and everything and getting just crazy behind it, we finally parted ways, parted company with Owsley. He agreed to turn some of the equipment back into just regular money and bought us some regular standard simple-minded plain old equipment so we could go out and work. And you know…
WENNER: That’s when you became a working band.
REICH: Kesey and the Pranksters are known to most people through the Tom Wolfe book that’s made them into legend, and the legend is that Kesey’s super-hero and the Pranksters are these unreal people.
GARCIA: I think there was this weird emphasis placed there. There were similar scenes happening all over that just had no emphasis. The situation as it came into history was that Tom Wolfe was basically a writer who was writing about a writer and his emphasis was on that writer. When I was experiencing that scene it seemed to me that Babbs was the central figure and that Neil Cassidy was the powerhouse. He was the guy that everyone was learning from. Kesey had a good situation happening because he knew what to do with the money he made from his book: He wanted to have a good time with it, and so he opened some space for his friends so they didn’t have to be drudging and working and they could be going out and having a good time. That and the fact that he participated in the government psychedelic experiments. It was just timing.
REICH: Did you feel it was a put-on?
GARCIA: No, because we were all doing stuff together. When the Acid Tests were going on, everyone was getting real high, everyone knew that it was far out. Everyone knew that it was at least cosmic. Whether it was or not is not even important, but we were definitely all together in that. We all found ourselves into it. The Pranksters are essentially a lot more rural and down-home in a sort of way. Take a look at the difference in our scenes: their scene is up in Oregon, out in the country and Kesey mainly deals with the people right in the town around him. I think of us as being kinda like storm troopers ‘cause we go out to places nobody else goes — Kansas and stuff like that. We’re all really doing basically the same thing and we work together basically in the same way. We are basically structureless and leaderless — both our scenes. When the right situation happens, we work together as one scene.
On that certain literal level, Kesey was the leader, he was the spokesman. He talked a lot and because he talks a lot, a writer can listen. Whereas a guy like Neil Cassidy would leave writers or speakers or literal thinkers or rationalists really crazy and they would say, “he’s crazy” – they would dismiss him as crazy.
In my mind, Neil Cassidy was the complete communicator – he was the 100 percent communicator. The guy always had it, always had a stream going and you could always jump right on it and be right in it. And he would always take into account that you were there. He was a model of a completely far-out guy. MOUNTAIN GIRL: And he was personally responsible for a lot of people getting high, and ripping girls out of their suburban homes – boldly going in and plucking them off of the street and putting them in his car and taking them off and completely blowing their minds, changing their minds totally, and from that day on they’d be different people. He had a fantastic power over people, and it was all benign. GARCIA:We had more or less separate kinds of loose scenes that sorta had spillovers. There were people in Kesey’s scene, Page, who was an old friend of mine and an old friend of Phil’s. At one time our headquarters were very close together so to speak. Kesey used to live on Perry Lane, which is just down from Stanford, and we lived over at the Chateau, which was maybe two or three blocks away, and there would be a lot of spillover so that we would stumble over to their parties and some of them would spill over to our parties.But we really were different scenes because we were much younger. And because we were younger we were basically undesirable to their scene. We were all just drop-outs and they were college people. They were serious. This is going way back and Kesey at that stage was not, in the old days of Kesey the writer. And that’s going way back.
In our scene, which was not the Grateful Dead at that time, and was not even the Warlocks and was not anything but a loose collection of freaks, we were definitely not serious – we were definitely not doing anything for a reason – we were just goofing and freaking out.
REICH: Tell us about the Haight-Ashbury. Where did you live and who did you live with and what was the scene like?
GARCIA: We came back from L.A. and moved into Danny Rifkin’s house on 710 Ashbury. Actually we hung out there for about a week, we didn’t actually move in because we were looking for a place in the country. We ended up with a ranch — Rancho Olompalli – which is the site of the only Indian battle ever fought in California. It’s up in Novato. It was a great place. It had a swimming pool and barns and that sort of thing.
WENNER: The parties are well-remembered!
GARCIA: We didn’t have that place very long, only about eight weeks. It was incredibly tense for everybody…the parties were like really…it’s hard for me to tell, ‘cause I’m seeing all this stuff from a really weird angle. So some things seem more important than others. I don’t have any real central spot to be judging this stuff from, in terms of what it was. But those parties…Novato was completely comfortable, wide open, high as you wanted to get, run around naked if you wanted to, fall in the pool, completely open scenes. And I think it was the way they went down and the way the people responded to that kind of situation. Everything was just super-groovy. It was a model of how things could really be good. If they really wanted to be. All that was a firming up of the whole social world of rock and roll around here, because all the musicians in the Bay Area – most of them are from around here, they’ve known each other for really a long time in one scene or another – and that whole thing was like shored up, so to speak, at those parties. The guys in Jefferson Airplane would get together with Quicksilver and different guys, all different players, would get together and get high and get loose and have some fun.
WENNER: What other bands were there?
GARCIA: At that time there were some bands that are no longer in existence, like Clover or Wildflower or something like that. Good guys, all good guys…from the P.H. Factor Jug Band, and the Charlatans…that was when we started getting tight with Quicksilver. I’ve known David Freiberg from back in folk music days. They came and hung out at our place in Novato when we had our parties. And a lot of people like the various filmmakers, and writers and dope dealers. All the people who were into doing stuff. People who had seen each other at rock and roll shows and all that shit, in that first year. Those parties were like a chance to move the whole thing closer, so to speak. It was good times…unselfconscious and totally free.After that we moved back into San Francisco.
WENNER: Who lived at 710 Ashbury?
GARCIA: Danny Rifkin did and a whole bunch of other people. We had just one room there and we were kinda in and out. We were mostly just catching as catch can. We were all on our own, going around staying at different places and hanging out with people.Then we got another place out in Marin. Camp Lagunitas it was called, it used to be a summer camp. We had our office in San Francisco at Ashbury because there was only one room there that was legitimately ours. Our business was done in the city and we were living out at Camp Lagunitas. Finally, we messed that up and got kicked out and we ended up back in San Francisco at 710. By this time most of the other boarders had moved out so we got the house and a whole lot of us moved in. Not everybody lived there. Bobby and I and Pigpen of the band lived there, and Danny and Rock, who were our managers at the time, Tangerine, who was Rock’s old lady and a really good chick, and just various other assorted people hanging out at various times.
REICH: Was it like a commune?
GARCIA: Well, our whole scene had been completely cooperative and entirely shared. We never structured our situation where anybody was getting any money. What we were doing was buying food, paying rent, stuff like that. That was our basic scene and that’s basically how we still operate.
REICH: How many people came drifting in off the streets?
GARCIA: Our place got to be a center of energy and people were in there organizing stuff. The Diggers would hang out there. The people that were trying to start various spiritual movements would be in and out; our friends trying to get various benefits on for various trips would be in and out. There would be a lot of motion, a lot of energy exchanged, and it was all real high in those days because at that time the Haight-Ashbury was a community. We had The Psychedelic Shop – the very first one – down in the Haight-Ashbury, and that was news, and other people were starting to open stores and starting to get under way. They were looking real good. It was just about that same time that people started to come to town to find out about the hippie scene, and that’s about what the hippie scene was – it was just the very small neighborhood affair when we were all working for each others’ benefit.Most of the people of the Haight-Ashbury scene were people who had been at San Francisco State and gotten into drugs and acid and stuff like that and were living out there experimenting with all the new things that they’d discovered. It was a very high, healthy kind of thing – there were no hard drugs, only pot and LSD.
REICH: No rip-offs? No paranoia?
GARCIA: No rip-offs – none of that kind of stuff. No shootings, no knifings, no bombings, no explosions.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: No hassles with spades.
GARCIA: None of that kind of stuff. Nothing that we weren’t working on or handling or taking care of pretty good.Then when the big media flash came out – when the Time magazine guys came out and interviewed everybody and took photographs and made it news, the feedback from that killed the whole scene. It was ridiculous. We could no longer support the tiny trickle that was really supporting everybody. The whole theory in hip economics is essentially that you can have a small amount of money and move it around very fast and it would work out, but when you have thousands and thousands of people, it’s just too unwieldy. And all the attempts at free food and all that, certain people had to work too hard to justify it. At the early stages we were operating completely purely without anybody looking on, without anybody looking through the big window. We were going along really well. And then the crowds came in. All the people who were looking for something. MOUNTAIN GIRL:The Hollywood people came. San Francisco isn’t really a super-wealthy city to begin with. Our scene was anything but wealthy, just supported by trickles, by grass and LSD and rock and roll music; that was essentially the income, except from the occasional gift from a turned-on rich guy. GARCIA:The first really pure event was the Be-In, which was the first time that the whole head scene was actually out in force. It was in Golden Gate Park. It was publicized through completely underground channels–posters and word of mouth and that sort of thing–there wasn’t much in the way of underground newspapers in those days except the Oracle–actually the Oracle started after that.
REICH: Am I right in saying that the scene worked until it got invaded by the mass media and it wasn’t your scene that broke down as much as it got destroyed from the outside?
GARCIA: Right. We all had to do what we could to work on our own development just to survive that. Everybody tried to deal seriously with the problem. We all knew that the following summer there was going to be a lot of people coming and we tried to prepare for that, but there was no assistance coming from the officials. They weren’t going to believe it and so forth. It was just that same old thing. And we knew that if we didn’t do it ourselves, it wouldn’t get done.
WENNER: You were playing around San Francisco then.
GARCIA: Yes, and it was about the time we started playing free in the parks too. It was in cooperation with the Diggers’ trip and the Diggers were into free food and free everything and they were actually doing that real well. They were making regular delivery once a week — a big truck full of vegetables and chickens and all kinds of food which they’d gone and gotten for free in various ways.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: They were just hustlers, in a mysterious way…
GARCIA: They’d go down to the vegetable markets and scream…
REICH: What began to spoil it?
GARCIA: Too many people to take care of and not enough people willing to do something. There were a lot of people there looking for a free ride – that’s the death of any scene when you have more drag energy than you have forward-going energy.
REICH: You were having to pull along more and more people?
GARCIA: And it was getting harder and harder to do. For about a year or so there was a regular thing you could see happen – people coming into town, bounce around on the streets for about three or four months, start to get hip to what was going on, they would start to find themselves a scene and they would work into it and be assimilated that way. That was working real well before there was the great big onslaught.And in that summer of 1967 the street was just packed with people – weirdoes from out of town in on the weekend to get in on the free love and all the rest; Gray Line tours stopping in front of our house. People driving by behind locked windows and peering out.
WENNER: Did you find your personal life was invaded?
GARCIA: Not really, because we’ve always been on the trip that if somebody isn’t putting out the right vibes right now, then get out real quick. That’s the way we ran our house, in an effort to keep our own scene together.
REICH: Did you tell them that they weren’t putting out the right vibes?
GARCIA: No, they knew it.
REICH: One of the things with the communes that I have seen is that they’re unable to do anything about a person like that and they simply keep him there and everything goes bad.
GARCIA: That’s the “freedom lie.” There’s been a lie about what freedom is and the big lie is that freedom means absolutely and utterly free, and it really doesn’t mean anything of the sort. The case in point is when you have your own scene like that. Somebody comes in and they’re free to move in, but likewise you’re free to tell them to get out. Freedom is a premise that’s been put forth that’s been abused.For any scene to work, along with that freedom there’s implicit responsibility – you have to be doing something somewhere along the line – there is no free ride. And you have to know where you’re going. It’s helpful to have a scene that will indulge you long enough to let you find out. That’s basically what our scene was doing and when people were coming into town and kicking around for a while, they’d learn the ropes, they’d learn how to work it on the street and how to do a little hustling during the day and just survive until they could find something they could really attach on to. That was the general story.
REICH: So this was a model, but other people had to find their own scenes eventually for it to work?
GARCIA: The idea at that time was to establish as many possible models as could be established.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: And they flowered fast, too, like the Diggers and the wonderful free store and all the leather shops and all that shit just blossomed overnight.
GARCIA: Stuff was just happening. Finally, everybody who’d been concerned about anything had something to do with it. There was suddenly this positive avenue and it was based on the premise that after you’ve been high you know that everything is possible. You know that it’s possible to do whatever your wildest dream is. It’s just a matter of lining yourself along that line and doing it. That’s what we were saying and that’s what we were doing, and so we knew it to be so.
REICH: Once you know it you never go back?
GARCIA: Well, you don’t need to — you can if you want to, but you don’t need to – you can just keep pushing along.
WENNER: But it wasn’t the “media” which killed the Haight.
GARCIA: No. Do you want me to tell you the incident where I thought it started to get weird? I was walking down Haight Street, and all of a sudden in a window was a little notice. It said “Communications Company” – and it was that guy, what’s his name? Chester Anderson! And it was this horrible bummer of a depressing story about some 13-year-old meth freak getting raped by nine spades and smack heads… it was just a bummer. Bad news. This guy took it upon himself to print up bad news and put it up.Then he started putting out the whole “Free the Street” trip and he just brought in all this political heavy-handed East Coast hard-edge shit, and painted it on Haight Street, where none of it was…it wasn’t happening like that. It was still groovy. And that was the point where I thought, this scene cannot survive with that idea in there. It just goes all wrong.
WENNER: At that point, Emmett Grogan began The Diggers and associated himself with those people, and they had a press conference…
GARCIA: Emmett made a lot of mistakes in those days. We all did because at the time a lot of that stuff seemed like it was right and good. But what happened was it turned out to be destructive and a drag. In fact all that stuff just turned into publicity. It didn’t serve any purpose.
WENNER: I was working at Ramparts at the time, and I remember when Chester Anderson first came around the office and got them started on doing the first “hippie” article.
GARCIA: He was the guy who did it. He was representative of the thinking which was not inimical to that scene of the people who had already gone to school, and heard speeches and heard all that shit. The peace movements and all that.Everybody had already been through being disillusioned. It represented a step backward. I thought, ‘Aw, man, not this shit again.’ I thought we had already gone through it and now we’re into the psychedelic era. There was a whole new consciousness starting to happen and it was really working nice, but then the flood came and that was it.
WENNER: The “flower power” thing had its own inherent weaknesses.
GARCIA: Right, the inability of not being able to say, ‘Get out, go away.’ That tells us something about what innocence is. It’s that which allows itself to become no longer innocent. There’s some lesson in there. There was a thing about freedom which was very much in question all through that, with the Diggers and Free and all that. Emmett said a thing to me once which I thought was far out and I think it still applies. He was talking about being in his house and having somebody walk in, and the guy’s rap was ‘Aren’t I free to walk in?’ And Grogan was on the trip of ‘Well, if there’s freedom, then I’m free to kill you for entering my house. I’m free to do whatever I think I need to do.’
WENNER: What happened to move you out of that scene and then where did you go?
GARCIA: We didn’t really move out of it – we didn’t get up and leave. We hung around for a long time. We lived on Ashbury for a couple of years, anyway. Various of us were living in other parts of the Haight-Ashbury – up on the hill. Our scene has always been too big to be central and we’ve never really been able to get a really big place where everybody could stay together.It just hadn’t been working. We did ultimately get busted in the Haight-Ashbury and that was a good reason for everybody to leave. That was the point at which we all started to leave. We just started to find new places to be. I was the first one to move out to Marin county – to Larkspur. Then everybody else came out.
WENNER: Do you miss not living together?
GARCIA: Well, we see each other all the time in our working scenes and at the office. We hang out together. That’s really how we started — we were hanging out together and thought we might as well be doing something together. So we still hang out together and our scene still represents a place where other energy comes — it’s just that now it’s not in San Francisco, it’s not in the Haight-Ashbury.
REICH: Are the girls part of this, or do they get left at home like housewives?
MOUNTAIN GIRL: It depends on the girls. I get left home a lot.
WENNER: Do you like it?
MOUNTAIN GIRL: No. But it depends on what’s happening. When these guys start to play, I don’t play with them. I don’t play with the band. There’s nothing for me to do. I don’t really go for the freak-out dancing trip. They don’t let me rave over the microphones very much. So I get really bored. Immediately in fact. Frustrated, ‘cause there’s nothing for me to do, so I usually stay home. I’m still going through a transitional period, even though it’s been going on for five years. I’m still working on the whole problem. It’s still like a daily problem for me.I try to have things going that I want to do more at home and not think about it – not thinking that I might be missing something. ‘Cause usually when I get to their scenes I just get sleepy after a while.
GARCIA: Either you’re a person who really gets into the music and loves it for that reason, or you’re a person who plays, or you’re a person who works there, and if none of those things are happening for you, it’s not what’s happening for you.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: I love the music scene but still I want to be doing something while I’m listening. I’d have this urge to be doing something.
GARCIA: The problem there is the form we’ve been stuck with. It’s unfortunate. The most historical point, I suppose, would be the Trips Festival, when another form was starting to evolve. It was turned into the most obvious kind – you take a light show, you take a rock and roll band and that’s your psychedelic experience. And that’s not it. That wasn’t it at the Trips Festival and that’s not what we were doing either.But in order to keep on playing, we had to go with whatever form was there. Because for one thing, the form that we liked always scared everybody. It scared the people that owned the building that we’d rent, so they’d never rent twice to us. It scared the people who came a lot of times. It scared the cops. It scared everybody. Because it represented total and utter anarchy. Indoor anarchy. That’s something that people haven’t learned to get off with. But our experience with those scenes is that’s where you get the highest, that’s where people like Mountain Girl find stuff to do.
MOUNTAIN GIRL: And people are very protective about their equipment now.
GARCIA: Our first free things were done sort of in conjunction with the Diggers who were now working on giving free food to people down in the Panhandle. It seemed like a good idea to go down there and play for them one weekend. We got a truck and a generator with the help of the Diggers and Emmett and all those guys…uh…and we just went down there and played. It was just great. It was easy. It was simple, and it was free in the sense that nobody had to do it, it was truly free. We were able to do that pretty comfortably for almost a year.
WENNER: You don’t do many free concerts now.
GARCIA: We haven’t had the opportunity to do one that would be a good trip. Again, we’re talking about the word “free.” What does “free” mean? To me, “free” means free for us too, so that we’re free to do it or not, is what it comes down to. The thing that was groovy about the Haight-Ashbury was that we could get up on a Sunday morning and say, “Let’s play today down in the park,” and we’d call a few people and the Diggers would have a truck and someone else would have gotten a generator and we’d be down there playing in an hour. That was free because we were free to decide to do that.The kind of free that people are talking about now is, “Will you set up a free concert in Central Park on October 14th” or something like that. It’s just the same as a gig for us –it’s no different. Where is the free in that? That’s another form that we haven’t been able to get back to really comfortably, although we’re always on the lookout to do something free. Spontaneous, open or fun, is what free means.
WENNER: How do you remember a typical Avalon dance?
GARCIA: It’s hard to say what’s typical. I spent so much time high at those things, and wandering around, for various reasons, on various trips, that the whole experience to me is some completely subjective, kaleidoscopic scene, but definitely on the good side of the vibe scale. That’s the only way I can explain it. I think there’s a lot of that feeling on Live Dead, because it was recorded at the Avalon and it was a good time, when it was happening. It can raise a lot of the era, the way it seemed…larger than life. I had some good times there.What can you do better than have parties? The Avalon at it’s finest was like a continual party. Everybody that was going to it was aware that the whole money thing — the way it was being distributed — was ultimately for the good of the community. That was in the days before there was a lot of capitalist accusations. Or before the great political consciousness consumed the whole city. It was a much freer time.
WENNER: Why did it change?
GARCIA: I think just the thing of doing it too long. Doing it too long and too continually. It’s just like anything once it gets old. Once the enthusiasm from anything as intangible as having a party or having a good time goes, then the substance is not there. As soon as you’re having a thing without that substance, what the hell.That’s the thing we’ve become conscious of in our own trip, the Grateful Dead trip, because there were one or two years back there when we toured too much and we became mechanical. We began to see that there’s a cycle that occurs: you’re interested in what you’re doing, and then you get disinterested in it. And then it changes and you get interested again. It’s a matter of being able to leave space for those changes to happen; and to be in something which will provide you with an open end in which to change. That’s the key. You have more of a flow happening, which can be a benefit in the sense of having a lot of people, various people whose energy will be working on a night when yours isn’t.
The whole thing could happen, but I think the fact that it got desperate – in the sense that economics started to drive everything out, that it was the drawing power formula that worked, those kind of realities, business world realities – and the thing ultimately turned into a merchandising trip. A Show-Biz trip. That wrecked it. That wrecked it for me, anyway.
WENNER: But you can have a commercial trip if the substance…
GARCIA: Right, if you keep the substance together, since that’s the only thing there really is, in music or in anything else. It’s the fact that it has balls, it has some intangible something which you can’t pin down. And it has to do with the feelings of the people who are involved. In the Grateful Dead, our solution to it is to space ourselves out. So that we know it’s gonna be good, because we haven’t been doing it all along.
WENNER: We touched on Owsley for a moment. Do you see him at all?
GARCIA: Yeah, we got to work with them [the inmates at Terminal Island Federal Prison] on their play and got to visit with him for the day. It was just great. Owsley is a hero. I didn’t get a chance to get into a really indepth thing with him, which I was sorry about, but his head’s together, he really feels good. And he’s doing what he feels he has to do, I suppose. And I’m looking forward to having him out again. He’s a tremendous asset when he’s working.
WENNER: When will he get out?
GARCIA: If everything goes at its absolute worst, I believe next October. But if there’s any change or improvement, he could get out before then.
WENNER: Owsley had a really weird role in the whole thing. You think he’s mellowed quite a bit?
GARCIA: Right. I think that he still has the capacity to be what he is. But I think that there’s an important lesson involved which took us a long time to snap to, which is this: Owsley is the guy who brought a really solid consciousness of what quality was, to our whole scene. And that’s been the basis of our operations since then: being able to have our equipment in really good shape, our PA really good, stuff like that. We try to display as much quality as possible in the hopes of being able to refine pieces of what we do. And that’s the thing that Owsley does like no other human being that I know can do or devote his attention to, and that is that thing of purification. It’s a real thing with him. He’s really really good at it. Owsley’s a fine guy. He’s just got an amazing mind.He’s got enough of every kind of experience, man! There’s almost nothing the guy hasn’t done. You know he’s a licensed blacksmith? Not only that, but he’s got a first class broadcaster’s license, too. He worked for years in TV. He’s also an excellent auto mechanic; he’s obviously a chemist. There’s almost nothing that he doesn’t do, or at least have a good grasp of. He understands just about every level of organization. He’s just incredible, he’s got some incredible capacity for retaining information.
REICH: You have a reputation that during the Haight-Ashbury time and later, that you were the sort of spiritual advisor to the whole rock scene.
GARCIA: That’s a crock of shit, quite frankly.
WENNER: Jefferson Airplane says that on their first or second album.
GARCIA: I know. That’s because at that time, they were making their second record and they were concerned about it – they didn’t want it to be like their first record. And RCA had given them the producer, and he was like this straight producer who used to produce Andre Kostelanetz or somebody like that and he didn’t really know what they wanted to do, how they wanted to sound or how they wanted their thing to be. The Airplane thought it would be helpful to have somebody there who could communicate to their producer who they could communicate to and since they all knew me and I understood their music and understood what they were doing pretty much at the time, it would be far out. I went down there and hung out and was a sort of go-between them and their producer and helped out with some arrangements and stuff like that – I just hung out.
REICH: But that’s a big difference from being the “guru” of the whole scene?
GARCIA: Here’s the thing — I would like to preface this whole interview by saying I’m one of those guys who’s a compulsive question answerer. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m right or anything. That’s just one of the things I can do. It’s kinda like having a trick memory. I can answer any question. I’m just the guy who found myself in the place of doing the talking every time there was an interview with the Grateful Dead.
WENNER: How about among the musicians themselves?
GARCIA: I’ve played with nearly all the musicians around and we all get along okay. But the whole music scene is very groovy. Here there’s very little competition, very few ego games. Everybody knows what it takes to make music pretty good around here. It’s that thing of being high and playing. I think it’s the scene this area has that makes it attractive for musicians and that’s why a lot of them moved here. That freedom, that lack of competition, the fact that you aren’t always having to battle and you can really get into what playing music is all about. But as for coming to me for advice and shit like that, that’s ridiculous. That’s like “Captain Trips.” That’s bullshit.
REICH: Now, can I act like a professor, and ask you a long thing? People that write about rock say that it started as a rebellion, that it spoke to these needs in people to express their feelings. Tin Pan Alley was music that didn’t tell the truth and rock did. The question is, do you think that rock began with that kind of revolt and has it changed? GARCIA: I don’t know. I don’t go for any of that stuff. If I were going to write about rock and roll music, I wouldn’t write about it from that sociological standpoint and so forth because all that stuff really had to do with who you were. If you were wearing a black leather jacket and swinging a chain in the Fifties and listening to rock and roll, yeah, it was the music of rebellion. But if you were a musicologist following what music does, or a musician, it was something wholly different. It depends on who you were or who you are when they hit you.
REICH: What I’m trying to get at is your idea of what rock meant.
GARCIA: It was music I loved. That’s what it meant, I mean it didn’t mean anything. It meant have a good time, it meant rock and roll. Whatever – I like the music, that was the thing. It was the background music for the events of my life. My theme music. Them rock and roll songs – that’s what was happening.The people that are writing about rock and roll are doing it as writers and they’ve got to create a situation to write about. Because if you don’t create something to write about, you’re left with no excuse for writing. That’s not true of all writers. There are some writers that write for the flash and writers that write about the flash too. And it’s easier for me to read the flash than it is for me to read about the sociology. I think you could make a better movie. “Rock Around The Clock” I think was a good movie about the source of what rock and roll was and “Rock Around The Clock” was the background music for 1958 and that was right on.
REICH: Well, if knife fights and stuff like that was the background for the Fifties, what’s the scene from which your music comes now?
GARCIA: It’s everything that I’ve ever experienced. It’s everything that we – the Grateful Dead – has ever experienced as a group. It’s a combination of every crowd we’ve ever seen, of every time we’ve ever played.
REICH: In a way you’re just a reflection of your times, wouldn’t you say?
GARCIA: Everything is, yes. But I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that’s what it was; that’s the thing it does. I don’t know that’s what it is.
REICH: People pointed out how angry the public got at rock. Remember how furious they were when it first began with Elvis. What was it that made them so mad?
GARCIA: I really don’t know. I always used to wonder, too. No one around me was ever that mad at it. I never experienced that. See, music was always a part of my life and no one was really around making big value judgments about one kind of music or another. My grandmother listened to country music; my mother listened to opera; my father was a musician. I was in the middle of music. And nobody was saying this kind of music is good and this kind of music is bad, nobody was telling me that rock and roll was out of tune. I didn’t get that. Somebody must have because they always write about it, but I never did.
WENNER: How did you avoid the music business taking over your lives? Because nobody wanted it?
GARCIA: Yeah… that’s a good part of it. And with us, we’ve never really been successful in the music business; we’ve never had a super big hit album or a hit single or anything like that. Grateful Dead freaks are our audience, you know…we’re not mass market or anything like that, which I think is super great. I think that we’ve been really lucky because we haven’t had to put up with all the celebrity stuff, or star stuff. At the same time it’s been somewhat of a struggle to survive, but we’re doing good, we’re doing OK…so it worked out OK.
REICH: You really are celebrities, though, aren’t you…don’t you feel that?
GARCIA: Only in a certain world.
REICH: But you couldn’t walk around Yale without being mobbed.
GARCIA: Possibly not, but I could walk around in downtown San Francisco without anybody even knowing who I am.
REICH: In Berkeley, you’d be like surrounded by 2,000 people…
GARCIA: No, I don’t think so. I move very freely around here. It’s like the way it is with the people who know me, usually they’re almost all hip enough to just let it go at “Hey, man, I really like your music.” And that’s always a turn-on, I can live with that. And almost nobody ever insists upon getting me to do weird shit or anything like that. It’s been really cool, I think…I complain about it a lot though.
WENNER: Do you think you could cope with a Crosby, Stills Nash & Young type of success?
GARCIA: I might be able to cope with it, but I don’t think that I could be really that comfortable with it, you know, because I…the place where I get strung out is…is…I’d like to be fair, you know, I want to be fair, so I don’t like to pull the thing of having somebody at the door that says, “No, fuck you, you can’t see Garcia, you know, you’re not going in no matter what, no matter how good your rap is.”Our backstage scene and all that is real open, we try to let as much stuff possible come by and I just’ve gotten into the thing of being able to move around pretty fast so I don’t have to get hung up into anything, but I like to let it flow rather than stop it. I think that if there’s more pressure along that line–it’s getting now to where maybe 50 or 100 or 200 people backstage is getting kinda outrageous and if we were like super popular it would be that many more, and that (I’m thinking in purely physical terms) would start to get to be a problem…somewhere in there, if we get much more famous.
That’s why I feel pretty good about finishing up our Warner Brothers thing, stopping being part of that mainstream, and just kinda fallin’ back so that we can continue to relate to our audience in a groovy intelligent way without having to be part of a thing that…really that other world of the higher up celebrity thing really doesn’t seem to want us too badly, so, you know, we’re able to avoid it. We’re really not that good, I mean star kinda good, or big selling records good.
All we could hope to do, all we are really interested in doing is being able to keep doing what we do, but be able to have the energy come more directly back to us and be able to keep more of our friends alive, that kind of trip. Essentially that’s what we’re interested in doin’.
REICH: So you’d rather play than not?
GARCIA: I don’t think of my work as being fulltime work. What I’m doing is my work, but I’m playing! When I left the straight world at 15, when I got my first guitar and left everything I was doing, I was taking a vacation – I was going out to play and I’m still playing.
REICH: And is it still a vocation?
REICH: But a while back you were saying that you couldn’t have a good scene like the Haight-Ashbury unless people would contribute but it still shouldn’t be the old-fashioned kind of work?
GARCIA: No. I don’t think sacrifice is contribution. I think that contributing is contributing your own positive energy, and not forcing yourself or any of that stuff.
WENNER: Do you think it’ll go on for a long time…the band?
GARCIA: Uh, I don’t see why not. Barring everybody dying or complete disinterest or something like that. As long as it’s groovy and the music is happening…I don’t see why it shouldn’t just keep on going. We don’t have any real plans, but we’re committed to this thing…we’re following it, we’re not directing it. It’s kinda like saying “Okay, now I want to be here, now I want to go there,” in a way. Nobody’s making any real central decisions or anything. Everything’s just kinda hashed-out. It stumbles. It stumbles, then it creeps, then it flies with one wing and bumps into trees and shit, you know. We’re committed to it by now, after six years, What the fuck? It’s still groovy for us. It’s kinda like why break up the thing when it’s working, when it seems to be working good and everybody’s getting off.
WENNER: What happened to Mickey? GARCIA:Mickey is still working on his record. He’s still got his barn and all that. He’s in a good place, I saw him last night, he was at the Crosby and Nash’s concert, Mickey is a very even dude. He’s pretty together in his own way. He likes to walk on the edge of the cliff. But he stays cool behind it. He’s able to do it. I like him.
WENNER: What’s the scene with Pigpen now?
GARCIA: He’s pretty sick. But he’s living. He was really, really extremely sick. I don’t really know how sick, because I never hung out at the hospital that much, although I did give him a pint of blood. We all did. He was really fucked up; his liver was full of holes and then he had some kind of perforated ulcer… just all kinds of bum trips from juicing all these years. And he’s a young dude, man, he’s only 26. I think he might even be younger than that.From juicing! It’s incredible, but he survived it, and he isn’t dead. He survived it and now he’s got the option of being a juicer or not being a juicer. To be a juicer means to die, so now he’s being able to choose whether to live or die. And if I know Pigpen, he’ll choose to live. That’s pretty much where he’s at. For the time being he’s too sick, too weak to go on the road, and I wouldn’t want to expose him to that world. I don’t think it’s good for him at this point. It would be groovy if he could take as long as it takes to get him to feelin’ right, and then to work on his solo album, and get himself together in terms of becoming… it’s sorta like stepping out of the blues story, ‘cause Pigpen is a sort of guy whose like been a victim of the whole blues trip. It’s like Janis exactly, in which you must die. That’s what the script says. So Pigpen went up to the line, and he’s seen it now, so the question is how he’s going to choose.
REICH: You feel like it’s on the prow of a ship up here, that’s a very good way to think of it because you can see the Captain’s stands.
GARCIA: Right, it’s kinda like a retired admiral’s place, little brass telescope, cranky parrot.
REICH: That’s fine, Captain’s cabin, that’s what I’ve been thinking of you as, see,…
GARCIA: I know, that’s an attractive image and sometimes it seems like it, but I always thought that Kesey was. But he ain’t either.Nobody is, man, there isn’t anybody, it’s just a convenient, it’s just a place you can be…it’s just a way to express yourself…
The way it works is it doesn’t depend on a leader, and I’m not the leader of the Grateful Dead or anything like that, there isn’t any fuckin’ leader. I mean, because I can bullshit you guys real easy, but I can’t bullshit Phil and Pigpen and them guys watchin’ me go through my changes all these years, and we’ve had so many weird times together. But it’s that kind of thing–I know in front that the leader thing don’t work, because you don’t need it. Maybe it used to, but I don’t think you need it any more because everybody is the leader, when it’s the time for them to be the leader, you know what I mean, it all of a sudden, you’re the guy that knows in that situation…
WENNER: That’s right.
GARCIA: You know, I think the Grateful Dead, the Grateful Dead is like one dumb guy, instead of five, you know…dumb guys, it’s like one dumb guy and it seems like everything that we learn comes in the form of these big dumb, you know, take this, you know, the manager, kreccccchhh, and we get hit over the head, oh yeah, manager, manager, yeah, it takes like a big one for us to notice it, man. That’s kind of the way I see it.
GARCIA: Yeah, that’s all we can do…I can’t do anything else hahahaha and the Grateful Dead is still a good trip through all of it, through all of it it’s been a good trip and I’ve dug every minute of it, man, it’s just like I really love it, it’s really a good trip, and that’s the payoff, ultimately, you know, and that’s the reason why we’re all doing it, really, that’s the one thing that still makes it. And you know, now actually for us everything is making it, everything is…it’s just going real good, it’s going good enough where we can actually decide what the hell we want to do, which is – aw, fuck, what’s that?