WHEN THE BUSINESS MAGAZINE Forbes recently published its annual list of the forty highest-paid entertainers in the world, the Grateful Dead — those outlaws of the music industry — ranked number 29, with an estimated annual income of $12.5 million.
Money is hardly the primary measure one would select to evaluate the success of the Grateful Dead’s vision. But it is indicative of the fact that after decades of touring with a consistency and success unmatched by any other band, the Grateful Dead have a relationship with the Deadheads — the fans who follow the band with a near-religious fervor — that is unique in the history of rock & roll. On the eve of the release of their twenty-second album, Built to Last, the Grateful Dead stand as an American dynasty like no other.
Formed in San Francisco in 1965 as the Warlocks by guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and the late keyboardist, harmonica player and vocalist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, the band made its debut in July of that year. Changing its name to the Grateful Dead (taken from an Egyptian prayer that Garcia discovered by chance in a dictionary), the group performed at — and became closely associated with — the Acid Tests, a series of public LSD parties and multimedia experiments staged by author Ken Kesey before the drug was outlawed. And it was LSD chemist Owsley “Bear” Stanley who became the band’s patron, bankrolling the Dead during their infancy and designing their original state-of-the-art sound systems.
Paradoxically, it was the conscious attempts at formlessness and chaos that characterized the Acid Tests that gave shape and direction to the Grateful Dead (which has grown to include keyboardist Brent Mydland and percussionist Mickey Hart). In the literally thousands of performances that the band has given since then, the Grateful Dead have never walked onstage with a set list. The process of discovery and a complete dedication to being of the moment — which the band traces to the beat writers of the Fifties, whom the members of the group cite above any musical influence as their mentors — define the inner workings of the Grateful Dead.
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Deadheads, who make up the outer workings of the Grateful Dead community, are no less of an anachronism: The band’s die-hard following comes closer to being a cultural phenomenon than a concert audience. In the post-Reagan era, when the tenor and issues of the late Sixties have been relegated to the position of a brief moment of insanity in the nation’s recent history, the spiritual ethos of that time and the legacy of the Acid Tests still find expression in the hundreds of thousands of tie-dyed Deadheads who follow the members of the band on their concert treks across the country, trading time, money and outside commitments to whirl like entranced dervishes at the last remaining outpost of the counterculture.
Performing live has always been the focus of the Grateful Dead, and until the 1987 platinum album In the Dark produced the single “Touch of Grey,” the band had never had a Top Ten hit. But today the Grateful Dead find themselves more popular than ever, creating a new set of problems that Garcia terms “oversuccess.” The cult of Deadheads has grown so large that the Dead have been forced by many arenas to ask the fans who follow them and camp out wherever the band plays to stay home unless they have tickets. This is a particularly thorny problem for a group that has always striven to avoid the conventions of the music business and considers its fans as much a part of the Dead community as the band members themselves.
The rebirth of the Grateful Dead coincides with that of their lead guitarist and reluctant figurehead, Jerry Garcia. After a diabetic coma that put him in the hospital in July 1986 and a period spent shaking a heroin and cocaine habit, Garcia — who admits to having “vacillated furiously” for most of his career about whether or not he wanted to be involved in the Grateful Dead — has regained his stride, touring and recording with his own group when the Dead are off the road. With the release of Built to Last, Garcia agreed to sit down at the Dead’s recording studio on Front Street, in the San Francisco suburb of San Rafael, and take stock of where the Grateful Dead’s decision to take their own road nearly twenty-five years ago has ultimately led.
Congratulations on making the ‘Forbes’ list. I see the Dead are number 29 — how do you plan to jump over Van Halen and Madonna in the coming year?
Oh, God. Success has never been part of our schedule, exactly. It’s kind of been a happy surprise, but in a way it presents itself as just a new level of problems. And not that it’s not gratifying — it’s gratifying to have an audience. For us, it’s been slow and steady enough where none of it has been a shock.
What do you think the appeal of the Grateful Dead is to listeners who weren’t even born yet in 1967?
Well, in a way it gives you a curious feeling of not having changed much. There are people out there who look a whole lot like the people that we originally started playing to. So you get this kind of relativistic view of time. We have people coming to our shows who are younger than we were when we started. You wonder where these people are coming from, but they’re self-invented. We didn’t invent them, and we didn’t invent our original audience.
In a way, this whole process has kind of invented us. I don’t know why, and I can’t say what it is that motivates them. Back in the Seventies we had the same phenomenon of all these young kids. But now those are the people who are in medical school and law school — they are college people and professionals. They still come to the shows. So now there are Deadheads everywhere. They’ve kind of infiltrated all of American society — everybody knows one. “I’ve got a cousin who loves you guys.”
I wonder what the late Sixties mean to a person who is nineteen today. The drugs were different, and you didn’t have to worry if having sex with someone would kill you.
The feeling they might have missed out on some fun. Yeah, it’s possible. This is a grimmer world.
Do you think that following the Grateful Dead is perceived as a way to step into that other world?
Well, really, there’s no way to step out of this world. They are carrying all their baggage with them when they come to the Grateful Dead shows.
So you have no sense that the culture surrounding the Grateful Dead is isolated?
Shit. I don’t think it’s isolated. Of course, how would I know? I’m right in the middle of it — I have no perspective. Go ask a black person if it means anything to them. It probably doesn’t We’re not at that Johnny Carson level of absolute familiarity.
But he wasn’t that far ahead of you on the ‘Forbes’ list.
That’s gratifying [laughs].
The fact that being in the Grateful Dead has made Jerry Garcia a wealthy man is kind of strange.
Who would have known? Yes — it’s still not the point, either. I mean, the things that I’m trying to do I’m still trying to do. And having money or not having money really doesn’t help it. It doesn’t interact in any way. I’m not very into stuff. You know, oh, hey — a new car [a BMW 750iL]. After you’ve bought one or two things, that’s it.
We never said that money was bad. But it just has never been our focus one way or another, pro or con. The most cogent example of how things have changed in my life is that when the Grateful Dead wasn’t working I used to go and play in bars. Low profile, not many people were interested. Now this has escalated along with everything else. And the stress level has skyrocketed.
That has also caused problems at shows. One city even threatened to ban Dead shows because of the crowds you draw.
A lot of the towns we play in, we bring in more people than the population of the town. It’s obviously upsetting, and when it’s going on for three or four days, it’s really upsetting.
What can be done about it?
Not a whole lot. We can pass the whole set of issues onto the fans, which we try to do. We give them handouts and say, “Here are the problems we’re facing. If you have any suggestions, please let us know. Otherwise, here’s what we think should happen.” In other words, take this into your own hands. If you want the Grateful Dead to come back to this town, this is what they are saying we have to do. Luckily, our audience is always pretty much game enough to accept the responsibility.
What do you make of all the police busts surrounding your shows in the past year?
It’s more of the same. It’s probably part of the fallout of the tremendous frustration America is feeling about drugs. Just not wanting to deal with it realistically. Instead, they’re going to somehow try to arrest everybody who uses drugs.
What do you think of President Bush’s war on drugs?
It’s a joke. Greed and the desire to take drugs are two separate things. If you want to separate the two, the thing you do is make drugs legal. It’s the obvious solution. Accept the reality that people do want to change their consciousness, and make an effort to make safer, healthier drugs. When you take the greed out of it, all of the damage starts to fall away, because the criminal intent is a whole different level than the guy who takes drugs.
In terms of the situation with the police, has the band done anything to try and…
Oh, yeah. The police love suggestions from us.
But isn’t the issue of finding places to play so great that you have to sit down and talk to the police when you want to go into a town?
Oh, definitely. The Nassau Coliseum [in Uniondale, New York] is the primo example. Every time we played there, they busted 300 or 400 kids. We’re not going to be bait for the police department, so we refused to play there. And they said, “Please come back. We promise we won’t bust anybody. Honest to God. Come back.” So we said, “Okay, we’ll go back.” And when we played there, they did it again. This has happened a couple of times. So they say, “Honest to God, we really aren’t going to bust anybody — no shit. Please come back and play.” So I just played there with my band. They busted forty or fifty kids. So the Grateful Dead ain’t going to go back there. What is it about our fans that makes them so fucking offensive to everybody? They’re certainly no worse than sports crowds.
When Paul McCartney recently announced his U.S. tour, he said he was inspired by seeing Jerry Garcia and the Dead come out and play the way they have always done. Do you want to take responsibility for all these old bands going on tour?
Fuck no! [Laughs] No way. I mean, yeah, it’s not as though being over forty is somehow debilitating. There’s nothing preventing anybody from going out and playing. God, there are country & western acts that are in their fifties and sixties that are playing 300 nights a year — and hitting hard, you know? Pablo Casals, Andres Segovia — these guys were playing when they were in their nineties. Nobody is drawing a line.
I think it’s good to see the Stones and the Who get out and work. It’s what they do.
What do you make of the Jefferson Airplane re-forming?
I think it’s interesting, because they are all so amazingly argumentative. There was a time when they made great music together. If they find some of that chemistry — and sometimes it’s the chemistry that makes you fight that makes the music good — if they can hold themselves together long enough, we might be exposed to something interesting.
Are you in touch with them?
I know that I can call up [Paul] Kantner any time. And certainly Grace [Slick] was very helpful to me when I was going through my drug trips. These people are like relatives. Also Pete Townshend. I’m really sorry I missed him on this run. He’s the guy I really love.
Do you find the music they’re making now is vital?
Well, I always liked Pete’s music. And I think Steel Wheels is a hell of a record. So, yeah — there is something there to hear.
What about some of the other musicians who were around Haight-Ashbury when the Dead got started? I understand the Dead had a friendly rivalry with Quicksilver Messenger Service. Didn’t you guys used to stick each other up onstage?
Yeah. One night we raided their house — got all decked up in war paint like the Indians. We stormed in there — it was a game, that’s all. Then they were going to come and stick us up when we were playing at the Fillmore Auditorium. They were going to handcuff us to the microphones and play a tune through our equipment and split. They had all of this lined up, and some cops saw them in the street in their van with plastic guns. This was during the touchy period of big shootings in the streets of San Francisco. They took them off to jail immediately.
Quicksilver guitarist John Cipollina recently passed away. Did you continue to play with him over the years?
Oh, sure. He used to sit in with us all the time. He was a trooper. He was always sick — there was never a time when he didn’t have that horrible cough. It was like a death-rattle cough twenty years ago. He knew he was dying, and everyone else knew it. He wasn’t moaning and groaning about it. He wasn’t that kind of guy.
Is there anyone you’ve lost touch with that you’d like to find? I never see Owsley Stanley’s name anymore.
Owsley’s still around. We still see him. You don’t see his name because he chooses not to be in the public.
What does he do?
He’s an artist. He makes jewelry and sculpture. He comes every year and visits us, comes out on the road and hangs. But he chooses to be invisible. He’s a quiet and regular citizen now. But he’s still Owsley, and he’s still the same lunatic. I still see Kesey. We’re all still good friends. The Acid Test was powerful stuff. You never erase those experiences from your life.
Considering the tenor of the times, do you think it’s possible today for there to be something akin to what the Acid Test was in the Sixties?
No. Well, yes. It depends on what you think the Acid Test was. What the Acid Test really was was formlessness. It’s like the study of chaos. It may be that you have to destroy forms or ignore them in order to see other levels of organization. For me, that’s what the Acid Test was — that’s what it was a metaphor for. If you go into a situation with nothing planned, sometimes wonderful stuff happens. LSD was certainly an important part of that for me. I also think there’s an electronic hinge like computer cybernetics that’s going to take us to interesting places and may work the way psychedelics do without the idea of substance.
What are you talking about?
Have you heard of this stuff called virtual reality? There’s a place here where they have something you put on your head. It’s got like a pair of goggles on it, and the goggles are two little TV screens that give you a 3-D image. There’s something on top of the helmet that tells attitude — whether you are shifting out of center. And then you have this glove you put on your hand.
When you put on the goggles, you are in this room. It’s a completely fictitious room. But if you turn your head around, your view of the room is 360 degrees. And you have this disembodied hand out in front of you which is the glove. And you can pick up fictitious objects that you “see” in the room.
You can see where it’s heading: You’re going to be able to put on this thing and be in a completely interactive environment. There is not going to be any story, but there’s going to be the way you and it react. As they add sounds and improve the image, you’re going to be able to walk around in that building, fly through the air, all that stuff. And it’s going to take you to those places as convincingly as any other sensory input.
These are the remnants of the Sixties. Nobody stopped thinking about those psychedelic experiences. Once you’ve been to some of those places, you think, “How can I get back there again but make it a little easier on myself?”
You already knew Robert Hunter, your lyricist, when he was involved in the original LSD lab research near Stanford, right?
Oh, yeah, sure. When he came back with his reports of what it was like, I thought, “God, I’ve got to have some of that.”
When I was in junior high school, I saw a documentary showing a bunch of people who were taking LSD. At the time they thought it was a psychomimetic, that it produced schizophrenia. The film showed this artist who was just drawing lines, and he was obviously very moved — like at a peak ecstasy experience. I thought, “God, that looks like such fun!” That image stayed with me a long time and that notion that there is some magical substance that corresponds to the best of your dreams.
In primitive cultures the state of the shaman is a desirable state. In our society, we somehow are trying to not have that. That’s a real problem. We need the visions. A lot of what we do is already metaphors for that — movies, television, all that stuff. We want to see other worlds. Music is one of the oldest versions of it. That’s Mickey Hart’s shot: magic in music, the magic in the drums. The primitive power of the drums. I think that stuff is all still there. The problem is we’re not dealing with it consciously.
In a sense, the Grateful Dead experience is that metaphor, too. It’s like “Here’s the ritual that we have been missing in our lives.” We don’t go to church anymore. We don’t have celebrations anymore. The magic has even been taken out of the Catholic Mass. English? Sorry, it doesn’t have that boom — it doesn’t have that scare.
What do you make of the myths that grow around the band? There’s one that says a person disappeared while you were playing. And several people claim to have seen it happen.
I love it. We get all kinds of feedback from people who get into it on all kinds of levels. We get it from quantum physics. From people who are doing brain research. From the hard spiritual to the hard science. We get people who are Deadheads who are all of those and who see a relationship. And as they elucidate the relationship between what the Dead does and what they do, we start to see ourselves as part of this complex something else. Which I think is the real substance of the Sixties. For me, the lame part of the Sixties was the political part, the social part. The real part was the spiritual part.
What are your feelings about those social and political values? Why haven’t they held up?
I don’t think they ever represented any kind of majority thrust on any level. America is still mostly xenophobic and racist. That’s the nature of America, I think. The big America. It was never apparent to me in the Sixties that there had been any kind of huge, important victory. There has been some change. It’s tremendously diluted, but if you go looking for it, it’s there.
A lot of kids who grew up under Reagan are Republicans. Do you perceive that any of the kids who come to your shows now are young Republicans?
I don’t think there’s … I mean, frankly, do you think there are any Democrats worth voting for?
But the Republican party stands as the party of privilege.
I think there are a lot of people who don’t vote.
Do you vote?
I don’t feel there’s anything to vote for yet. Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.
So do you feel it’s possible for someone to like the Grateful Dead and the Republican party?
Yeah. We’re American, too. What we do is as American as lynch mobs. America has always been a complex place.
The Grateful Dead are unlike any other band because aside from playing music, you are the core of a social phenomenon. Does that make it hard to just be a musician?
For me, music is as difficult as it ever was. It’s really hard for me to write a song, it’s hard for me to play the guitar. I have to practice a lot to do it even competently. And I feel like I’m just getting into it, just getting started. And no matter what I do, it’s still that way. It hasn’t made it easier, it hasn’t made it more difficult. But there is that juice. When you hit a crowd of 80,000 people and you get the pow, there’s definitely a rush involved. The lame part of the Sixties was the political part, the social part. The real part was the spiritual.”
You know, the Rolling Stones used to try to get their audience to rush the stage — it wasn’t a good show unless the audience rushed the stage. With us, the criteria has never been so cut and dried. We have an audience which allows us to be formless. The Grateful Dead can go into any venue and play anything, and the audience will have experienced the Grateful Dead show. The audience has allowed us that luxury.
The Grateful Dead have never denied that they have nights when they’re awful. But it seems as if the people who follow the band just love everything.
They’re more judgmental than that. They have their favorites, but they know when we have a bad night, and they appreciate a good try. And some nights that we hate, those are the nights they love. Sometimes there are nights that are all conflict, and it’s like everything you do is wrong, and when you listen to them later on, they are very interesting musically.
So in a way they’ve allowed themselves that latitude to enjoy a show for lots of different reasons. I think that’s in their favor — no matter what the experience has been, they don’t get burned. It’s not like going to a show that’s a real tight show and you miss every cue and everything is fucked up and you say, “Shit, that was horrible.” When a Grateful Dead show is horrible, it’s interesting.
Have the Dead gotten to where they want to be, musically?
It feels like we haven’t really gotten to that place — you know, the perfect moment of Grateful Deadness, or whatever it is. We brush up against it occasionally. We’d know it if we saw it, but it isn’t something that we can just make happen. The audience may be getting what they’re after, but what we’re after remains elusive and slightly out of focus. Although it’s getting stronger and more clear as the years go by.
That’s one of those things you can’t predict when you start out: How long is this going to be interesting to me? I would never have thought I’d be interested in something for twenty-five years. That’s a long time for anything. Even if we never get to that place, the process itself stays interesting, so the trip has been worth it.
Over the years, the band has never been satisfied with its studio records. Are there any you’ve gone back to and discovered that you like?
A few. I really like Mars Hotel. And Blues for Allah is a very chancy record. Instead of writing at home, we worked on stuff together in the studio. We went every day to Weir’s house for about six months and developed all the material. It was very productive, and the music had a real singular personality.
What about your new album? Did the success of ‘In the Dark’ have an effect on how you approached ‘Built to Last?
Not too much. When we started recording this album, we thought we’d follow the same methodology we used for In the Dark.
You recorded the basic tracks in a concert hall, right?
That’s what we did with In the Dark. But on this one, about a year into it we changed our tack totally, so this record has been completely different. Instead of going after the standard bass and drums kind of basics, we worked from rhythm tracks — just the basic rhythm of the tune, which we’d write into a computer.
Then Bob and Phil and me and Brent would rough the tune out. So essentially, we were dealing with just one take of each tune. Mickey’s got his own studio, Weir’s got his own studio, and we’ve got Front Street here. We were able to evolve ideas — everybody at their own rate. Really nobody heard this record until we mixed it. And as the ideas were evolving, somebody would say, “I see Phil is going in this direction with this — I’ll have to change my part a little bit.” Then Phil would say, “Well, I see Weir has changed his part a little bit — I’ll change mine.” So the whole evolutionary process was accelerated.
It sounds more like you were interacting with the computer rather than with each other.
Well, we’re interacting with the music more directly and not so much with each other. No one was really working in isolation.
You were once an art student. Do you find that background is intrinsic to the way you approach music?
I can’t separate myself from it. I still tend to think visually, even if I don’t mean to. When I listen to a mix, I see a field.
Do you think that way as a guitarist, too?
Yeah. I think of notes as objects that have perspective. They have the front part of them and the back part of them, the attack and the release. To me, it’s very visual. If I had the time, I would illustrate all my solos. I could do it — I have seen them that way.
How do you feel about your work as a songwriter?
I’m not a prolific writer, I’m a default writer. In order to have original material, somebody’s got to write it. It’s like “Who’s going to do it?” “Shit, I don’t know — does it have to be me? Oh, fuck.” It’s been that kind of thing.
Actually, looking back, I’ve written some okay tunes. I’m very satisfied with them. My style, if there is one, is really very close to folk music and bluegrass — those are my roots.
Do you still get a chance to play with other musicians outside the Dead and your own bands?
If I have the time, I love to do it. I did a thing for Warren Zevon not too long ago. It was great to work with Ornette Coleman, too.
Had you ever worked with him before?
I had met him a couple of times. He has been to a couple of Grateful Dead shows. He and his son, Denardo, asked me if I would record with them. And I said I’d love to do anything any time under any circumstances. So they called me when they were working on the album [Virgin Beauty]. I was flattered silly.
I hope to play live with Ornette sometime. I think I hear what it is that he does.
Critics of the Dead say …
What? Somebody critical of the Dead? Sorry. The band has been called anachronistic. We always were anachronistic, if you use it to say we’re out of time. We have always been out of time. We’ve always been doing something that wasn’t exactly the thing that was happening. We’ve gotten slightly more professional over the years — we don’t take quite as long between tunes as we used to. We still don’t do song lists. We still wing it, but we’re getting very good at it.
But do you think that what the Grateful Dead do is still in tune with what’s going on musically and culturally?
We are a process rather than an event. In terms of vocabulary of fashion, there’s fashion in music, and we sort of keep up. But it’s definitely within the context of what we’re doing.
The members of the Grateful Dead really have a complex relationship. At this point it’s gone beyond even blood. The Grateful Dead has been the most intimate kind of relationship I’ve ever experienced. There is definitely the danger of becoming insular, and were certainly aware of that on a lot of levels. But that’s kind of what we’re after — a kind of community. And we have it. It’s hard to stay closed. I’ve tried that I spent a good long time trying a drug world that was pretty closed.
Why did that happen?
It’s just wear and tear more than anything else. It’s kind of like I needed a rest. I’m not very good at self-analysis. But I stopped because I care more about the Grateful Dead than I do about myself, ultimately.
In a way, the Grateful Dead has become the focus of all of our lives, even though we have families and children. The Grateful Dead — that’s the center in a way.
Have you been able to figure out why you developed such a bad drug problem?
Self-indulgence, pretty much. I mean, I liked it too much, and the more you like it, the more it likes you, and pretty soon that’s just about all there is. I’m glad I’m not involved in it anymore. I really am. But I haven’t come to any conclusions about drugs at all on any level. I don’t think I’ve gained any particular insights, but I do know that I’ve always basically been an addictive personality. That’s just who I am. And so for me, it’s one of those things I always have to watch out for.
Let’s talk about the live album the Dead did with Dylan. There was talk that you were unhappy with it when it came out.
No. Bob wanted us to bury his voice a bit. When you’re collaborating with Dylan and he says, “Hey, I think that my voice is too out front,” what am I going to do? Punch him? I’ll say okay against my own instincts.
By the way, I understand it was your idea to do his song “Joey”, about the mobster “Crazy” Joey Gallo. Why? It might be the most laborious song Dylan ever recorded.
I love it. I don’t know what it is — people from the East Coast tend to hate that song. For me, it’s a folk song. You know, it’s like [Woody Guthrie’s song] “Pretty Boy Floyd.” I don’t find it judgmental — I don’t think it says anything good or bad, and it’s got some really touching lines in it. But I must admit, I’m in the minority here.
While we’re talking about choosing material, let me ask you about the music the Dead are performing these days. Over the years, the Dead have been including more and more covers. What’s that about?
There’s a certain amount of laziness. Getting Bob Weir to do new tunes is like pulling teeth sometimes. He doesn’t even like to do his own tunes a lot of times. We slowly stop doing a lot of his tunes, and he doesn’t say anything. It’s like “Hey, whatever happened to those tunes of yours?” Unless we actively do something about it, tunes escape us — they just get away.
We can play five or six nights without repeating anything. So the tunes don’t get played very often — that’s the consequence.
You’ve said that the Grateful Dead took their cue from the beats. What was your perception of Neal Cassady when you met him? [Cassady was the model for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s classic beat novel ‘On the Road.’] Was it a conscious thing — I’m hanging out with Dean Moriarty”?
Well, I had been a fan of Kerouac’s, so a little bit, yeah. But the reality of Cassady was so much more incredible. He was so much more than anybody could get down on paper. As incredible as he was as a fictional character, the reality was more incredible.
There’s no experience in my life yet that equals riding with Cassady in like a ’56 Plymouth or a Cadillac through San Francisco or from San Jose to Santa Rosa. He was like the ultimate something— the ultimate person as art. Not only did he play into his own myth, but he also played into you specifically.
He knew your trips — he knew who you were, like a person in a book. He had this uncanny ability to pick up a conversation where it stopped, even if it had been six months before. I mean right where it stopped. And he could do it with like a half dozen people at the same time. He was just incredible — there is really nothing like Cassady.
Plus, he was the ultimate sight gag. The most incredible wit and rap. And the most incredible physical body — I saw him do things that were at the level of like Buster Keaton, in terms of physicality and timing. Only in the real world.
He was so much larger than life. You know, he used to have this thing where you’d take a dollar bill out and he would holler out the serial number on it. And every once in a while he’d get it right. No shit. Your mind would be so blown. There was nothing like him.
Just the privilege of seeing him talk to a cop: There were times when we got pulled over in the bus and a cop would talk to Cassady. And Cassady had this incredible ability to mind-fuck the police. He’d instantly turn into this humble guy — “Hey, I’m just taking these college kids around. I’m a working man myself.” And he’d have his wallet out, and they were asking him for a driver’s license. He’d have his life story out. You know, a wallet this thick with stuff — little clippings and pictures and all kinds of shit. And pretty soon the cops would say, “Oh, fuck it!” A lot of people couldn’t handle him, and a lot of people were scared to death of him. They thought he was totally crazy. And a lot of people would dismiss him because he didn’t cop center stage. He would have a little side show going on over here. You’d ignore it as long as possible, but you’d sort of get sucked in, and pretty soon, wham! — there you are in this world. If you went for it, it was incredible. But he’d never lay it on you. It was one of those things you sort of had to volunteer for. I had incredible experiences with him. He blew my mind hundreds and thousands of times. Looking back, what do you think has been lost from that time?
Neal is the big thing — it would have been great to have Neal all the way up to now. I certainly miss him as badly as I miss anybody — Pigpen, too. And the whole thing with the Acid Test That was tremendously lucky; it probably cemented us more than any other experience in life so far.
Do you think the Dead’s shows still have any connection to the Acid Tests?
In a way. What we’re doing is not that different. Do you think that’s one of the things that the kids who come to see the Dead are trying to connect with? They get something. It’s their version of the Acid Test, so to speak. It’s kind of like the war-stories metaphor: Drug stories are war stories, and the Grateful Dead stories are their drug stories, or war stories. It’s an adventure you can still have in America, just like Neal on the road. You can’t hop the freights anymore, but you can chase the Grateful Dead around. You can have all your tires blow out in some weird town in the Midwest, and you can get hell from strangers. You can have something that lasts throughout your life as adventures, the times you took chances. I think that’s essential in anybody’s life, and it’s harder and harder to do in America. If we’re providing some margin of that possibility, then that’s great. That’s a nice thing to do.