March 2, 2014

The Brotherhood vs. the Dead Machine

Musically, the early seventies are remembered as some of the Dead’s finest years. But some of those inside the scene had a very different perspective on what was happening with the band.

Robert Hunter recalled the Europe ’72 tour:  
“What I most remember about '72 was the tragedy of it. Looking back over empty years that should have brimmed with joyful greatness, I realize more and more fully how tragic it was... How much should be said? To me the '72 tour was about division. I joined to see Europe and to write songs (and because I always toured with the band) – endless European bus trips seemed like a God sent time to get the next album sketched out since Garcia was almost always otherwise occupied in the States - maybe a fourth album to follow the Workingman's Dead/American Beauty/Rambling Rose trilogy. Instead a major insurrection occured. The Bolo-Bozo metaphor was a way of laughing it off, but the always incipient schism between crew consciousness and artist orientation became decisive. Every meal was a food fight. Sensitivity to cultures was nearly non-existent. It was not only insinuated but bluntly proclaimed that the show could not go on without muscle and tech. Strike was threatened. The band was intimidated and no one was able to call the bluff. I split off from the group at the end of that tour, feeling alienated, groundless and forlorn, eventually moving to England. Though I continued providing songs and collaborating with Garcia, in essence I retired from the Grateful Dead touring and business juggernaut after 'the '72 tour. It was plainly headed for a brick wall. So was I.” [1]

This perspective of the “schism” between band and crew hasn’t really surfaced in other accounts of Europe ‘72, though McNally drops some hints that the crew was pretty hard to deal with on the tour. (Jon McIntire diplomatically said, “The equipment guys could be a problem since they were…emotionally willful.”) They were a boisterous bunch, swinging bats and flicking knives – in one famous incident, they dumped ice cream over a young protester in Paris, who then proceeded to sabotage their equipment truck. The Dead seem to have found all this more hilarious than Hunter did.

Hunter wrote more about his later disenchantment with the Dead scene:
“About midway through the ‘70s shows became a trial for me to go to. Before then I was there with every note, immersed in the adventure - the blossom was bloomin' and there was no telling what the flower would look like. But something indefinable that attracted me became increasingly rare. Not to say it didn't show up in a thousand instances right up to the end, folks say it did and I believe them.
On the other hand, maybe it was just that I was falling into disuse, my personal relations with these "Stars" becoming strained and less productive. Pig was gone, Keith hit the skids pretty quick, I never even got to know Brent. The drug stuff was no longer experimental, just stupid addiction. I'd break away and then wander back. Coteries became entrenched and the politics were insufferable. The understanding among the politicos was: all you needed to do to work your will was to get Jerry on your side - and the way to do that was to isolate him - the rest of us could go fuck ourselves. You can pretty well suss from Rock's book the kind of contempt in which he (and others) held everyone but the big G . They had contempt for him too, but it was tinged with astute respect for his actual power.
I think this Machiavellianism was the main source of the leaks in the dream. It conditioned everything. Jerry knew it for what it was and hated it. He retreated into dreams of his own, tried to make music apart from it, but the die was cast. He was like a lost dinosaur trying to fit into a trailer home.” [2]

Hunter missed the early years of philosophical banter with the band. “I often wish the interpersonal Grateful Dead scene had continued along those lines. We used to shoot the shit stratospherically, yes indeed we did. That's the part you won't find in the tell all books because who can begin to remember all that was said? It has to be created anew on a regular basis. Prior to 1972, the Dead was all about discourse and music. You can hear echoes of the dialogue in the music. After '72, drugs and earthbound elements established domination. Dialogue metamorphosized into employee gripes and road plans. The butterfly returned to the chrysalis and emerged a centipede with numerous legs, capable of infinite truckin'.” [3]

Hunter wasn’t happy to see the transformation of the Dead into an organization devoted to internal politics, “employee gripes and road plans.” The original vision seemed distorted, in particular by the band’s burly road crew. After one tour, Hunter wrote “The Ten Commandments of Rock & Roll” about the Dead’s crew:

1. Suck up to the top cats.
2. Do not express independent opinions
3. Do not work for common interest, only factional interests.
4. If there’s nothing to complain about, dig up some old gripe.
5. Do not respect property or persons other than band property or persons.
6. Make devastating judgments on persons and situations without adequate information.
7. Discourage and confound personal, technical and/or creative projects.
8. Single out absent persons for intense criticism.
9. Remember that anything you don’t understand is trying to fuck with you.
10. Destroy yourself physically and morally and insist that all true brothers do likewise as an expression of unity. [4]

Echoing this, old friend Willy Legate once wrote a note to the band about their scene:
“Bad-mouthing someone in his absence is an art form, deliberately cultivated here… Optimistic descriptions of situations are sometimes passed out to anyone nearby who is prepared to play the role of patronizing fawning multitude. The optimistic description is given with the understanding by all concerned that if it should change within the next hour or week, that adjustment will not be relayed; in other words, that anything good you’re told is meaningless. In the words of the prophet: if you don’t know by now, don’t mess with it.” [5]

The Dead had a very macho and intimidating road crew who made their own rules, and Hunter wasn’t alone in feeling aghast at their behavior. Stories abound of their hazing rituals, surliness, violence, and random abuse of outsiders. Once in ’73 a crewmember dumped the group’s dinners over a Philadelphia promoter’s head (it wasn’t the food specified in the contract), prompting his partner to write Sam Cutler: “The crew was given as many extra considerations as we could muster… We’ve had quite a few problems with your crew in the past. You say that the band knows that they’re animals but that they can’t do anything about the situation.” Cutler responded that they wouldn’t work with that promoter again. [6]
One Rolling Stone article in 1973 pointed out the roadies’ “habit of destroying hotel rooms,” but Steve Parish tried to explain: “We’ve shown a rough exterior to a lot of people, but that’s because you get jumpy on the road… We’re not gorillas. We’re all really sensitive guys. Well, yeah, it used to be a big thing to flip out – we were experts at flippin’ out. And we did a lot of machoing out too – a brotherhood swaggerin’ kind of thing.” [7]
But the Dead must have found it useful to have their own Hell’s Angels-type characters on the crew, keeping the growing audience at bay. (Band members trashed their own share of hotel rooms, too.) The Dead also took pride in having their own kind of anarchic democracy, where everyone in the crew would have as much say as the bandmembers in what went on. As Garcia said, “They’re there when we have our business meetings. We’re dragging them through life, shouldn’t they have some say about it? We’re all working on the same thing – why should we treat each other any differently?” [8]

David Gans wrote:
“In the beginning, I think, the presumption was that everybody would behave responsibly and look out for the group; but it was well known that you could pretty much do what you wanted to do in the Dead world. Those high tribal ideals the family once embodied gave way to the realities of the tour. Power went to the men who put the rubber to the road… Jerry Garcia was a most reluctant emperor. He was pretty much the only one who could have controlled any of it, from the thugs on his own crew on down, but for the most part he refused to correct anyone’s behavior. A long-time associate of the Dead left the tour in 1972, he told me years later, because ‘I realized that Jerry was never going to control his people, and I couldn’t stand to work in that sort of craziness.’” [9]

Mickey Hart told McNally that the crew “became so powerful, and we just said whatever. That was one of our downfalls, not taking a stand with the crew. They didn’t want to work, and we said okay, whatever. It was one of the stupidest things we’ve ever done, letting the crew run the show… Rifkin and Ram Rod were the great spirit of the Grateful Dead, the real souls, but some of the other guys had other agendas, partying animals… We let it go down. It was our cross to bear. We spotted it. We thought it was endearing and cute, letting the quippies run the show. That’s what I thought. What an odd thing. Everything else is so odd, why shouldn’t this be odd? Maybe they’re protecting us from some evil… I liked all of them.” [10]

Garcia admitted that “the quippies” were not always the kindest souls: “The Grateful Dead is not where you’re going to find comfort. In fact, if anything, you’ll catch a lot of shit. And if you don’t get it from the band, you’ll get it from the roadies. They’re merciless. They’ll just gnaw you like a dog. They’ll tear your flesh off. They can be extremely painful.” [11]

Garcia & Lesh joked about Steve Parish once –
Garcia: There’ve been meaner guys – Steve ain’t that mean…
Lesh: Now when Jerry breaks a string, he’s lucky he doesn’t get garroted – “How dare you break a string?”
Garcia: [Laughs] Right – “I don’t want to have to ask that big guy for something – I’ll just play without the string. God knows what he’ll do, holy shit.”
Lesh: “I’ll whistle the top notes.” [Laughter] [12]

Parish and Garcia reminisced about life on the road – 
Garcia: I loved it that time when you changed all my strings but one. He just wanted to see if I’d notice…
Parish: You’re in a world where everybody is trying to party, and trying to get you to party… You’ll be made fun of if you fuck up…that keeps you on your toes…
Garcia: The road thing is, some people can adapt to it and some can’t. Some people really go to pieces on the road…
Parish: Everybody was always playing practical jokes on each other…constantly. If you ever let your guard down your foot would be on fire, or you got a real weird haircut – and a lot worse stuff that I can’t talk about… You’ve got to be able to take a hotfoot as a joke at 5:00 in the morning when you’re trying to sleep sitting up in a seat and you’re pissed off and your back hurts and maybe you’re wounded…and then everybody’s laughing at you, so maybe then you’ll laugh…  We’ve had some [new] people we took out, and they only lasted like one trip… They couldn’t make it through the grueling, rigorous initiation, which goes on for years. You have to prove yourself on so many levels – little games that we play, sort of like initiation rites, on the crew. You have to run a certain gamut…
Garcia: You’ve got guys like Kidd nippin’ at your heels day in and day out…
Parish: When you’re getting yelped at, you love to yelp at someone else. We used to have some fights – people would look at us and say, ‘They must hate each other,’ but we loved each other. If somebody else from outside messed with us, they were like opening up Pandora’s box.  [13]

*

In his time touring with the Dead in 1974, Ned Lagin didn’t really have a problem with the crew in particular, but was concerned about how the wider Dead family was negatively impacting the music.
“There were crew members, particularly from Oregon, who were just great to me… There were a few members of the crew who were less gracious, cordial, and friendly, and some of the business and management and touring family were not particularly receptive to my being there. They did not want to see the band go off into outer space and not return. Collective composition wasn’t random, but it wasn’t particularly controllable; you got where you were getting when you got there. There were people who thought those prescribed happy sequences of Grateful Dead tunes should just go on.” [14]
The Phil & Ned segments of the shows ran into some resistance. “Sometimes there was acceptance and sometimes there was rejection – audience rejection, and comments by critics and writers that were not appreciated, I guess. Jerry didn’t like audience rejection; he worked very hard to be who he was, but also to be popular, quite honestly. And people weren’t as open as they said they were…and never would be. And I think Jerry was not happy in acknowledging that. There was a lot of criticism about weird music, strange music – which none of us really liked.” [15]

Lagin saw the conflict between the mainstream rock aspects of the Dead that were more popular and accessible, and the more esoteric improvisational possibilities that could be closed off if the Dead simply pursued audience acceptance. It must be said that the Dead managed to balance these two sides of their music, but offstage Lagin was wary of the internal culture that had formed around the band. The Dead’s “pirate brotherhood” was going sour.
“The Grateful Dead was a brotherhood like the Hell’s Angels in a certain sense, though by ’74-75 that was past being visible except as a rationalizing philosophy. Anybody who entered the brotherhood got a real, though unstructured, trial by fire. It lasted for months or years. It was like a screen test to be in the pirate movie.
“I grew up in New York, and I had a certain amount of toughness and dedication to what I was doing… They thought I could take it, and maybe give it as well. But when you were getting messed with by somebody, they chose almost always to not take responsibility.”
He mentioned a run-in he had with a Hell’s Angel at Roosevelt Stadium, where the band didn’t interfere but some crew members stepped in. “When authority figures in the band such as Jerry or Phil were present at…minor injustices taking place, they did not choose to exert a mitigating force. Some of the crew did, as regular stand-up guys… I thought there was a certain level of counterculture communal hypocrisy, of…not exercising any real level of control, involvement, and responsibility for situations they created. I think they had a highly contextual sense of loyalty and responsibility for their friends; it was a registration of some deep cynicism – and fatalism.”

“How the band members interacted in the musical realm should have been very different. But the “family” issues increasingly spilled over into the music. I think there was a lot of interpersonal politics and frustration, related to the growth of the band, the growth of the audience, and the change in the technology.
“We have a growth economy in the United States. Instead of living within our means, we have to continue to create new markets so everybody can have more and more. Although the Grateful Dead came from the counterculture, they wound up behaving just like the dominant culture… They thought they had to continue to expand to stay alive. They did that better than other groups, and longer than anybody else. But fundamentally, they were locked into the same American Dream growth paradigm…
“This was a period of transition for Phil and for Jerry and for the Grateful Dead – getting bigger and more famous and doing more stuff. Commensurate with their becoming bigger, there was, at least to my way of thinking, a bigger emphasis on a family culture of extremes and nihilism. Everyone seemed to want something from someone else… Music was not enough.”
In Ned’s case, he wanted to play in a different, more quiet way than the Dead were playing – his desire to play “minimally, delicately” wasn’t that suited to the rock-show context. “We couldn’t get back to the delicate places, the intimate, small, cozy, loving little spaces, and I really wanted to be able to play that kind of music… There was too much emphasis on electric instruments and technology, rather than on collective intuition and expression… Because of where the Grateful Dead were going, and because of the frustrations and dynamics within the band – Phil’s and Jerry’s nihilism and extremes and hardness and edge, and the requirements of meeting the demands of a rock & roll extrovert culture – it didn’t seem that we could get to moments of gentleness and delicacy that weren’t bracketed with dynamic or power contrasts.”  [16]

Aside from Lagin’s concerns, by the Europe ’74 tour the band was frazzled. He recalled, “Everybody was deeply upset…by the time we got to London, everybody was clearly doing too many drugs. We had a meeting with everybody who was on the road with the band. We agreed that everything was fucked up: to be blunt, cocaine was a problem. We all agreed to flush our stashes, which we all dutifully did.” [17]  The rest of the tour went more calmly, but “everybody was burned out…and very tolerant of excess.” [18]
Now and then there would be LSD nights as a way to reestablish group communion, “recoup the good old Grateful Dead.” Since Keith avoided acid, he would be dosed. “No one thought there was serious irresponsibility going on, particularly since it was within the pirate cowboy brotherhood.” [19]

*

Bear returned to the crew in 1972, after two years in prison, and noticed a dramatic change. In the earlier years, “Everything was a constant flow of ideas and so forth. And there was no isolation. Everybody was involved. That was the scene that I left. When I came back in 1972 [it was more like a compartmentalized union organization]…everybody had a job and a responsibility, and that was his, and this was his…all isolated. And this went on for two years. I come back, and there’s this scene that’s totally different, where nobody is going and helping the other guy – ‘Oh no, that’s my job, that’s your job…’ And all of a sudden I found that the three things that I did – recording, stage monitors, house mixing…there were three guys doing that job. Each one fiercely defending his little territory… It was ‘this is mine, this is yours…’
“Suddenly there wasn’t a place [for me]… I was still smoking a lot of pot, so I was being everybody’s fool. You know how with kids somebody would get down behind you and the next guy would push you over, stick you in the aisle and trip you? It seemed like that, psychically; that kind of thing was happening, so I was flopping down…and being a real nuisance… I had to figure it out: why is this different? Why are these guys not being nice to each other? Why is there this heavy jockeying going on?... [It was] power trips, lots of power trips…
“Going from something which I considered as being an almost tribal thing of everybody sharing in all of the work and all of the obligations, and helping each other like a bunch of brothers, all of a sudden I came back and it was like the union and the management…There was a lot of cocaine and they were bitching at each other and using abusive language, and a lot of beer and everything else. I was feeling very uncomfortable with the whole thing…
“I was getting pissed off at the way in which every time I tried to do something, somebody would interfere. I’m not going to lay any blame, it was a group-consciousness thing, and they didn’t even think of it that way… The scene had changed; it didn’t seem to have a place for me…  
“It was too fucking much. There was a lot of coke and a lot of beer and a lot of booze and a lot of roughness and there were too many people working, there was too much weird shit going on, and there were too many power struggles at the top – management against management against the record company. The whole thing was just this weird energy going, always this maneuvering. The brotherhood was gone. There was a lot of talk of brotherhood, but from my viewpoint there wasn’t any brotherhood. It was like a lot of guys protecting their territory, this is mine and this is yours… And I was in there with this concept of cooperative, tribal, brothers all working together… It wasn’t working. I was very uncomfortable. And every time I turned around, I was pushed a little bit closer to the perimeter. Or that was my feeling.” [20]

Perhaps the low point for Bear came when some equipment was stolen at one show and a crew member “picked me up and threw me into a water cooler.” After his experiences in late ’72, Bear apparently stopped working with the road crew for the next couple years, instead working on the band’s sound system.
“They started saying, ‘We want to be bigger… We want to go to bigger shows.’” The end result was the Wall of Sound, which Bear had mixed feelings about. “The thing was such a monster. It required so many people, so much bureaucracy, so much logistics, so many trucks, so many stages, so many boxes, so much wire, so many amps, it became this huge thing! Because it was very inefficient… It was a logistical nightmare. There were a lot of problems… This thing was out of control.” [21]
“Eventually it just became too much, and it collapsed on itself and the band just backed away from it suddenly…one day they came out and said, ‘Hey, we can’t handle it anymore…’ In this case they couldn’t fire anybody – they always felt like that kind of family. They didn’t know what to do, so they just stopped playing, hoping that the people would go off because they had to make a living… When they started back up, they started back up with the guys who hung in the tightest. Parish was working with the Garcia Band and Ram Rod was involved… The core guys were the guys who had clung to the Dead and made something to do…and the others had gone off in different directions.” [22]

Weir later said that in ’74 the crew was “drowning in mountains of blow… We had a crew that was being paid like executives for doing blue-collar work, and they were abusing our generosity.” According to Weir, one goal of the hiatus was to force many of the crew members to find other jobs. [23]

Lesh recalled ’74 in his book as a time of “stresses and strains” that produced “cracks and crevices in our unanimity of purpose.” Part of this was due to the businesses they’d formed – from the Dead offices sprouted not just two record labels, but also a booking agency and travel agency. Lesh sighed, “In our naivety, the band thought that we could control all this without falling prey to the infighting and dissension that comes with the territory. At the same time, no one in the band wanted to be bothered with the boring details of such control.” Infighting and dissension soon followed, with the band firing their tour manager Sam Cutler at the start of 1974 as a result of various office backstabbings and accusations. They rounded out the year by firing manager Jon McIntire on the Europe tour after more arguments.
“We now employed twice as many stage crew and truckers as before, meaning we had to play larger venues, sell more tickets, and play more often to be able to support the sound system. Luckily, our audience was continuing to expand; even so, the financial strain would eventually prove untenable… The expenses associated with the Wall of Sound meant that we were constrained to play only the largest venues…where the intimacy we’d prized in the ballroom era was a fading memory. The stages were ten to twelve feet high, further removing us from contact with the audience, who receded into a blur of shapes lacking any individuality. Our crew was twice as large as it needed to be, and could be quite surly. Simultaneously, the psychic atmosphere was beginning to cloud up with the emergence of cocaine as the drug of choice among the crew, generating an ‘us against the world’ mindset. The amount of security and backstage space needed in an arena had tripled from that of a theater or ballroom, and the band became more and more detached, withdrawing into the famous ‘bubble’ of isolation out of the sheer desire for preservation of our energy and sanity.” [24]
(Though Lesh says that “at that point I wasn’t drinking or using drugs,” other evidence makes it sound like he was already chugging beers pretty heavily by 1973.) [25]

In a November ’74 interview, Garcia sounded quite unhappy about how the year had gone.
“Basically, success sucks. And all the other crap that goes along with it. We've unconsciously come to the end of what you can do in America, how far you can succeed. And it's nothing, it's nowhere. It means billions of cops and people busted at your gigs. It means high prices and hassling over extra-musical stuff. It's unnecessary…
“Our whole development has been 'going along with the changes.' It's not as though we've plotted to get to a certain level. By just not thinking about it, or not making conscious decisions about what we were doing, we ended up in that place of stadiums, coliseums, large civic-owned and civic-controlled buildings, high ticket prices, enormous overhead, in an effort to fulfill the requirement of whatever the level change was. For example, we changed from playing theaters to large places…because there were more people who wanted to see us than we had time. So the obvious thing was to go to bigger rooms. [But] that meant we can only go to bigger rooms if we sound good in them, and that led to our whole PA thing, which is expensive. Our rationale was, 'We'll divert the income into developing the resource' because, really, we have a relationship with our audience...
“But the truth is we've been stuck in this total control situation; our whole lives are controlled by economic circumstances. We're sort of up against the back end of success… It's been gradual, but that's the really insidious thing about it. We were prepared mentally for any quick jump, but going slowly into this scene, it becomes almost habitual. Finally we all realized: 'it's gotten to the point where we can no longer really make enough money to keep it working at the present rate. And also there isn't anything for us to get off on. We're removed from the audience, we're removed from what we're doing and it just is a drag.’” [26]
"That's where we ended up in terms of the largeness of our audience and the greatness of demand for what we were doing and so forth. We felt that was a dead end and there was no place for us to go from there, so at that point the experience for us got to be totally controlled in the sense of [it being] airplanes to motels, motels to gigs, heavy security backstage, nobody near the stage. And what's worse is the way very large venues deal with people — they deal with them in a sort of cattle-prod methodology: lots of cops, lots of frisk lines. We felt like that was not what we wanted to do; that was clearly not it." [27]

*

Ned Lagin felt that the feeling of togetherness that the Dead’s shows were supposed to inspire had become more distant by ’74.
“The collective id of the Grateful Dead juxtaposed the American mythology of doing what you wanted to do in the wide open West…with a certain tribal psychedelic pseudo-telepathic conformity about ‘being on the bus or off’ – a juxtaposition that could be as destructive as it is empowering… ‘You’re either on the bus or off the bus’ was a real clubby, exclusionary, nonsensical thing to me. It’s the pirate creed: ‘You’re sailing with us or you’re not sailing with us…’ It’s not a question of being on the [bus] or off… The idea of sense of spirit and community…and interconnectivity – unfortunately, at least the way I see it, the audience didn’t become the Grateful Dead. They just wanted to get on the bus with the Grateful Dead.” [28]

Bear’s perspective was also that the communion between band and audience of earlier years was now gone. “The microcosm [the band onstage] and the macrocosm [the audience in the hall] are now separated. The macrocosm/microcosm of brotherhood and community, which was the Grateful Dead family, propagated out into the audience and took hold. When I went away, it was macrocosm/microcosm; the Grateful Dead and crew were the same as the people that were out there. Well, the band/crew thing, as the stages got higher…it produced a separation, a gulf. And the microcosm turned into something else, but the macrocosm continued to be what it was…
[Early on,] our stage was sometimes two feet off the floor. I was in the audience… [Now] when I’m walking in the crowd…I feel the sixties, I feel the way it all was. In the old days, there was no separation. The Grateful Dead, the deadheads, the crew, everybody was the same… It was like a family… The concept of tribalism, of brotherhood, has propagated out and maintained itself as the band removed from [it], as they got to the point where they come off the stage into limos and are gone, from the days when they walked through the hall, through the people, hung around – had a gig that would go to dawn, sometimes.” [29]

From their different viewpoints, each saw the Dead’s ideals eroding as the “family” and audience expanded. Hunter hasn’t talked directly in these terms about the distance between band and audience that I’ve seen, but he was focused on his own distance from the band.
“My tie with the organization has been that of an outsider ever since '72. I was once described as a maverick's maverick. All I ever wanted to do, back then, was to put my full energies into the songwriting aspect of the group, but that became harder and harder to do as other matters assumed greater immediate importance. I continued to write - there must be hundreds of lost songs, since that was before word processor files, and often there was only one typed or handwritten copy which, like as not, would go in someone's back pocket and end its life in the washing machine. "Hey Hunter, do you have another copy of that song?" I'd try to remember it, end up writing something else. A few phrases might remain.” [30]
“The pressure of making regular records was a creative spur for a long time, but poor sales put the economic weight on live concerts where new material wasn't really required, so my role in the group waned. A difficult time for me, being at my absolute peak and all. I had to go on the road myself to make a living. It was good for me. I developed a sense of self direction that didn't depend on the Dead at all.” [31]

No longer on the road with the Dead, he gradually stopped going to Dead shows altogether. Though it’s hard to trace the decline in his attendance or just what the last shows he saw were, he did say that in the later years “I only went to only one big outdoor stadium gig” (in 1987). Flabbergasted, he decided “the only way I could remain dedicated to my part of the vision was to stay clean away.” [32]
Though initially pleased by the Dead’s burst of popularity in ’87, over the following years Hunter came to see it as ruinous. “The "Big Time" was always problematic… I don't ache for the same thing the fans ache for, so my viewpoint is very different. I don't even ache for the promise I watched going down the drain for a dozen years. Big time success meant less than shit to me. It was like a forced death march. I was in the trip to write good songs. Nothing more, nothing less. My engagement was exactly equal to the opportunity to do that.”  [33]
He felt it was fortunate that financial success came late to the Dead: “Getting this far with my spirit and creativity intact are far more important to me than getting an olympic sized swimming pool. Having "big money" is a career of its own… The increased standard of living attendant on sudden and disproportionate wealth is, to my mind, the source of the major problems which destroy the camaraderie of successful bands... Two things which allowed the Grateful Dead to become what it was were lack of radio success over the years and lack of overwhelming wealth. We were given leave to grow musically, rather than as a financial empire. That came later, but the deed was already done.” [34]

During this time Hunter became suspicious that the Dead were intentionally dropping his tunes, even while Garcia was blocking him out as well. “Tunes dropped out of repertoire for years at a time, replaced by others, for no other reason than to have a different show. If a complex tune dropped out, it would need to be rehearsed to be brought back in, and there are so many songs some of them just went bye-bye. As I stopped going to shows, becoming less interested in pushing my material on an increasingly apathetic collaborator, a lot of my songs were replaced in the repertoire with cover tunes, which the audience found quite acceptable. I was never clear on what the message was, other than that my less than subservient stance, born of frustration, was unacceptable and I was being deleted insofar as that was possible to do, considering the backbone of the repertoire. It wasn't a highly motivating situation.” Hunter found Garcia at a “creative impasse – he was unavailable for years at a time, other than for musical projects he could accomplish standing on his head – and it was imperative that I seek elsewhere…[to find] the mutual respect and excitement in creating that is such an important part of collaboration.” [35]

Of course, on a personal level Hunter also felt robbed of his friend – not by the Dead, but by addiction. “Heroin, period, destroyed our scene. It destroyed Jerry… I hate the drug because it fucked my life over so bad, via my friends, without my even enjoying whatever the pleasures of taking it happened to be. Watching all human feelings die from the sidelines. Being excluded from creative participation because [I was] neither a junkie nor an "enabler"… My diving experiences with Jerry [in 1993] were the only time I felt in touch with my cantankerous old friend in a decade and a half.” [36]

In a way, by the stadium shows of the ‘80s the band were revisiting the problems they’d faced in the early ‘70s and had never really solved – if anything, most of the issues had gotten worse. Lesh wrote, “Suddenly we were drawing so many people to our shows that we now had to play mostly stadiums and huge indoor arenas… It’s a very rare stadium show that can sustain the shared intensity of focus that’s needed for ignition, let alone lift-off; the audience needs to know that they’re making the music… The psychic connection and sense of community shared by the band and the audience is the key to our music and to the Grateful Dead ‘experience.’ This connection can be diluted by the presence of too many people; especially if people were coming to our shows because they heard that it was a great party, or because they heard that they could score drugs there… Playing stadiums had been exciting at first, but the thrill of projecting our music across such vast spaces evaporated rapidly in the face of the mind-numbing sterility of the stadium environment. It came to feel as if we were playing into a vacuum, with no possibility of feedback or response from an audience that was barely visible from the stage.” [37] 

While in ’74 they could back off and try to start afresh, in the later years they couldn’t – they still felt trapped. By ’91 Garcia was starting to complain loudly about this.
One witness said, “He wanted to take a break; it was very clear… There was one meeting where they were talking about the stadium tour of ’91 and he stopped everybody and said, ‘Am I the only one who thinks that stadium shows suck? I don’t ever want to play in another stadium. Does anybody else feel the way I feel?’ And nobody said anything. But they were trapped: big overhead, big family, dates are reserved. Who’s gonna say, ‘Yeah, you’re right. Let’s cancel the stadium tour’?” [38]
Lesh’s book has a sample of the minutes from one meeting, summarizing Garcia’s statements: “We are a community, a family, a tribe. This pressure chokes off enthusiasm. It’s killing to keep doing the same tours. It has not much dignity. The pressure is so great that we can’t stop. It’s hard to be creative with a gun held to your head. It’s a huge responsibility. (Vince adds, “We need to take some time together to rework things. Doesn’t want to stop – can hardly afford his house now.”) Talking about 25 years and is burnt-out and wants to do what he wants to do… (Kreutzmann suggests taking six months off.) Can’t guarantee the workers. We can make enough to take six months off without shutting down. We did it in 1986…we can try to do it next year… Try to eliminate the fall tour.” [39]
Garcia went at length about this to Rolling Stone that year – asked if he’d told the band at meetings that he wasn’t having fun playing with them anymore, he said, “Yeah, absolutely… The last couple of times I’ve been there screaming, ‘Hey, you guys!’ Because there are times when you go onstage and it’s just plain hard to do, and you start to wonder, ‘Well, why the fuck are we doing this if it’s so hard?’… I probably brought it out in the open, but everybody in the band is in the same place I am. We’ve been running on inertia for quite a long time. I mean, insofar as we have a huge overhead, and we have a lot of people that we’re responsible for, who’re working for us and so forth, we’re reluctant to do anything to disturb that. We don’t want to take people’s livelihoods away. But it’s us out there, you know. And in order to keep doing it, it has to be fun. And in order for it to be fun, it has to keep changing… 
"We’re going to have to construct new enthusiasm for ourselves, because we’re getting a little burned out… So we have to figure out how we are going to make this fun for ourselves… To me the answer is, let’s write a whole bunch of new stuff, and let’s thin out the stuff we’ve been doing. We need a little bit of time to fall back and collect ourselves and rehearse…and come up with some new material… 
(RS: Do you think you might stop touring for a year or so, like you did back in 1974?) "That’s what we’re trying to work up to now. We’re actually aiming for six months off the road… I don’t know when it will happen…” [40]

It didn’t happen that way, but Hunter felt that by then it was too late for the Dead to recover. He wrote a year after Garcia’s death:
“Say, for example, the band had continued, with a break for a heart bypass operation for Jerry, and the problems with the crowd escalated even more? Suppose the shows became insuperably problematic to attend? It was not only headed that way, you know, it was full upon us. And say the music was suffering for this, the whole inspiration - because what kind of thoughtful musicians would expose crowds to that kind of thing just to make money or jam? What I'm driving at is the very likely probability that you and many others would find that what was so good and moving in what the GD was being destroyed by circumstance. Entropy, if you will. What happened had to happen pretty soon, whether via death or retirement. The fractalization into smaller units, forced by necessity, is probably the only real solution. Downscaling for the Dead was impossible. We were about ready for another quantum leap and it would have been a disaster. … A lot of people were already caught in that quandary. The music was often not all that hot and many didn't like what we were becoming. A mega-stadium powerhouse. Venues were closing their doors to us. Violence was erupting. It was a personal quandary for me. I often felt we should call it a day. Jerry often felt the imminence of true disaster. But who rides the tiger fears to dismount.” [41]

All of Hunter’s comments here were written around that time in 1996, which should be kept in mind considering their bitter tone. The interviews he gave while the Grateful Dead were active are generally optimistic about his work with the band, and (that I’ve found) give no sign of his estrangement. His bad feelings about what the Dead were becoming, he kept to himself until after Garcia died.
“My dream for the Grateful Dead went down in flames too and I am somewhat bitter, but not embittered. I think that's an important distinction. I believe in the community... All I can say for certain is contained in the old expression: "the jewel is in the lotus"…of course, the lotus is renowned for growing out of the muck and mire. The jewel is the community which flourished around the Grateful Dead. The lotus, muck and mire were the band and its internal scene.” [42]

*

NOTES

4. McNally, Long Strange Trip p. 57
5. McNally 60
6. McNally 268
7. Perry, “A New Life for the Dead,” Rolling Stone 11/22/73
8. Gans, Conversations with the Dead p. 57
9. Gans, “All His Children Grew and Grew” (from Tuedio, Grateful Dead In Concert) -
see also http://www.levity.com/gans/SFFocus.html
10. McNally 215
11. Henke, Garcia interview, Rolling Stone 10/31/91
12. Conversations 238
13. Conversations 223-5, 231-2
14. Conversations 362
15. Conversations 374
16. Conversations 362-64, 373-74
17. Conversations 365
18. Conversations 369
19. Conversations 366
20. Conversations 327-29, 331, 334-35
21. Conversations 332
22. Conversations 335
23. McNally 475
24. Lesh, Searching for the Sound p. 218
28. Conversations 362, 365
29. Conversations 339-40
37. Lesh 281, 301
38. Jackson, Garcia p. 405
39. Lesh 298
40. Henke, Garcia interview, Rolling Stone 10/31/91

39 comments:

  1. This post should be regarded as an incomplete set of notes, rather than a finished article... There are many issues raised here that could be expanded with further research, enough to be posts of their own.
    The goal was to take a look at some of the problems a few insiders saw in the Dead's internal scene, focusing on '72-74 - what might be seen as the disintegration of the original spirit of the Dead as they turned into a successful "touring machine." (I hadn't intended originally to include the final decline as well, that was more of a postscript.)
    Certainly more could be added to this, and some related issues were skipped over - for instance Greenfield's Garcia bio is full of unhappy stories of his decline, but I didn't want this to be too Garcia-centric. This post is more of a rough outline, suggesting areas that could be investigated more deeply.
    A lot is still unknown about the Dead's inner scene, and the relationships within the "family" - obviously, many people are unwilling to talk too much about the negative aspects (especially at the time), and some things could be swept under the rug until they became glaringly, publicly apparent. So we're necessarily dependent on a few fragmentary reports from insiders like these, given years later and full of hindsight, that often suggest more than they say, and leave many spots still hidden.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post, really insightful and critical, and opening up a lot of things to talk about, from the transitions in the music biz in general at this time, to the relationship between drug, addiction, and creativity, to the relationship between internal politics and aesthetic execution in any kind of musical-commercial enterprise. And, a sad, human story at the root of it too. And all of that's just in the general context, outside of its dead-specific anchoring.

    Some quick thoughts: There's a good amount of literature out there, some of it new, about this era where rock and roll performance transforms into a stadium-filling machine, and about bands with (to various degrees) countercultural roots negotiating this transition, mostly poorly. Because the whole narrative of rock musicians behaving badly writ large in this era is so familiar, I think its sometimes hard to see this as part of a structural transformation, and an infrastructural transformation too. The dead weren't the only ones to go from theatres to halls to stadiums in this era, but they're a better prism than many for really seeing the contradictions in capitalism that come to light when you try to consistently and continually replicate a drastically scaled up performance of something that aesthetically pines for uniqueness and intimacy. Its not just that they're so counterculturally rooted, its that their specific countercultural style-radical acceptance of the moment and the person, twinned with a wiseass bad attitude, really didn't adapt well.

    Another is that I keep returning to the uneven paralells with The Band, who in the same starmaker machinery, go from a powerful (but hardly idyllic) internally bonded unit to being fractured and divided, who have similar (but also different) issues regarding authorship and collaboration, who also have problems with heroin, and who take their own hiatus 2 years after the Dead.

    Reading this, I kept wishing that there was some kind of better model that they could have broken out to for presenting music. The music business is,in general, even more fucked up now than it was then, but there are different avenues for reaching audiences now. I kept thinking of a Dead version of Levon's Midnight Rambler events over the past year or two, supplemented by events like Wakarusa and Bonneroo. This isn't compatible with the size of the adudience that The Dead built, but neither was staying mentally and soulfully healthy. With an audience as tightly involved in the music as the Dead's, a strategy based on bringing people to you instead of going out to them makes a lot of sense. But, the stadium shows, taking that musical experience to so many people at once, built a lot of that extreme audience involvement, so maybe that's an uncrackable nut even in terms of what if.

    Its also kind of ironic that, as I read this, I keep thinking "goddamnit, they should have just operated in a more businesslike manner and told people what to do!" because that's not something I think most of the time. Putting that show up and taking it down and putting it back up all the time in different places is a lot of work. A way of doing that which gives the people who do the physical/technical work a significantly participatory level of authority is really fabulous. Not a small thing, especially on that level. But if you make that deal with the wrong people...

    Or maybe even if you don't. I've done a lot of soundwork and seen plenty of travellng crews, and alot of the practices and behaviors here have been omnipresent, like a continuum of self-mythologized macho-osity that different crews (and bands) fall at different points on. But maybe this era is where that whole (mostly) bullshit rock road crew ethic is worked out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. possibly nowhere more sadly apropos than to his sweet-sad tale of a great great band...

      . The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic
      . hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.
      . There's also a negative side.
      . . . . . . . . -- Hunter S. Thompson

      Delete
    2. I always believed (perhaps naively) that Shoreline was the answer. That was home and they'd just play there and NYC for lengthy runs. As they aged, they could continue this bi-coastal existence and we could just visit them...

      Delete
  3. Thanks for the comment. The stories included in this post offer so much to unpack, I didn't get into much analysis or interpretation, thinking it was better to let the quotes stand & leave some things between the lines.

    The Dead seem to have behaved on the road just like other big rock bands, which you might expect (heck, even Donna was smashing hotel rooms & getting in drunken fights) - but it does raise the question of how their tribal, "countercultural" stance of "us against the world" actually differed that much from a lot of other bands in practice. Maybe because, in interviews at least, Garcia made such a point of talking about their original ideals & how they were trying to stay true to those.

    In the early '70s Garcia was already saying, "My fantasy is eventually for us to build a permanent place to perform in that would be like a whole theater...we would play a run of about a month." He often talked about this dream - the Dead would stay put in one spot, and the fans would come to them. The Dead never got around to developing this, though - never had the finances for it - but stuck to the traditional tour format.

    The Dead's crew accrued naturally over time - as Parish said, those guys were "chosen" in a sense; they were the ones that could fit into the scene the best. But I think that if it had been different guys on the crew, or the Dead were less democratic with them, it would still have been a group of macho bullies. That's just part of the territory.

    Owsley had one interesting structural comment about the Dead: "The whole thing is about a social movement. It's tribalism, which is the only social structure that is truly human. The world today runs on feudalism — governments, companies. All those structures are feudalistic, arranged in hierarchies which at their root follow Parkinson's law — that is, once you create a hierarchy or bureaucracy, it has only one purpose, and that is to continue; there's nothing else. But that has nothing to do with the tribal entity. The tribal entity exists to abide in harmony with its environment. It's something that benefits everyone, not just this one structure." (A little idealistic - "tribes" are not always about harmony - but still food for thought.)

    ReplyDelete
  4. One thing that struck me was that Garcia complained multiple times in 1991 about the Dead's ceaseless schedule, how they needed a break & he had more fun playing with other musicians. As it turned out, he got a health-enforced break in 1992, which did him a world of good. (Though I think the common idea that just staying off the road would've gotten him better is too facile - he was determined to stay on the road in one way or another.) The thing is, I don't recall seeing any such complaints from him in later years - it seems he either resigned himself or held his peace after that. And I think he may have felt some responsibility, not just to the employees but also to the audience, that overrode his personal weariness.

    Blair Jackson quotes one later deadhead's observation, with a very different perspective of the later stadium shows:
    "Why keep doing it over the last few years? Inertia? Money? Mouths to feed? Too stoned to tell the difference? It's much more than that. The music still burned. The people still cheered. The new 18-year-olds still got it. More people were turned on to the Grateful Dead in the last six to 10 years of their playing than in all the rest of their time put together, I'm sure. And I think you could also argue that they had their most powerful transformative effect in that last 10 to 12 years. I think that's in part because the study of the Dead as a sociological phenomenon is clearly a different study from that as an evolving musical consciousness.
    Listening to Dick Latvala raving on the radio about how great the band was in 1968, or...hearing how much it had all fallen apart by 1982, is probably a very valid experience, but it's the experience of the inner core of the whole Grateful Dead thing, and it fails to really observe what's going on in the outskirts, where most of the activity is taking place — the lives that were changed at Alpine Valley during what the Dead might say were some of their worst years. There's so much power in the experience, and they got better and better at extracting the core of the experience for the people there, that even when they obviously weren't at their best, thousands and thousands of people still came away from Dead shows changed for the better. And that's because it was bigger that Garcia; it was bigger than any of them, and I think they recognized that and that's one reason they kept at it."
    http://blairjackson.com/chapter_twentytwo_additions.htm

    ReplyDelete
  5. God, this is just too much. So great. Thank you, LIA!

    ReplyDelete
  6. And I love the cites! Is this what it looks like when you use footnotes in, e.g., Word, and then copy and past into Blogger?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, no; the endnotes were done manually. That method would probably look better. I still find citing a laborious process!

      Delete
  7. Fascinating material. I truly appreciate what I read here...and Corry's blogs and JGMF. Thanks for compiling and the analysis. How much do you think age factors in it? Of course, these guys were committed to be, let us say, "youthful" for most of their adult lives, but they obviously got older, got married, had kids. While they were certainly not the most conventional people, is it surprising that their priorities and interests would change over time? They start in their 20s and by the early 80s they are in their 40s. I am not saying it would be the most significant, but it plays a role I would think. And coupled with all that you lay out here it seems that as much as the quippies played a big role, it may have happened some other way just as bad and just as easily.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not sure age enters into it that much....you're thinking of the later period, especially the '90s, I would guess. One thing I think we can safely say is that the Dead was always the highest priority for all the band-members. The only one who strayed away for a few years was Mickey Hart, who took the time to busy himself with lots of other projects at the Barn. Garcia certainly had the opportunity, but the other people he played with were always "on the side." For whatever reason, even in the '90s, Garcia never put his foot down with the Dead. (And he admitted to Rolling Stone that he had more fun playing with others - "that's always dangling in front of me, the thing of, well, shit, if I was on my own, I could...")
      There are other factors, not mentioned here, that would have worn out the Dead. For instance, their business meetings - not something they could have anticipated when starting out, but as they became a bigger institution and the Dead became a corporation, they had to have monthly company meetings to make decisions on finances, touring schedules, etc, all kinds of things. McNally has a chapter detailing a sample meeting from 1984. Garcia said to Rolling Stone in '91, "We really manage ourselves. The band is the board of directors, and we have regular meetings with our lawyers and accountants. And we've got it down to where it only takes about 3 or 4 hours, about every 3 weeks."
      Regularly meeting with lawyers & accountants every month for years on end to deal with business matters does not sound like much fun to me, and I doubt it was for them.

      The quippies were just one of the symptoms, not the disease, you might say. Certain structural changes were inevitable as the Dead became more popular. They could no longer be "one of the audience." They had to start playing stadiums, with the resultant larger crew. They had to separate themselves from the audience & protect themselves so they weren't constantly mobbed. Later on they had to deal with the audience's problems as it became a force of its own. While some of their decisions along the way might have been good or bad, a lot of this was out of their control.
      In 1973 they could jokingly represent this as the beast "Urobouros" devouring its tail: "Greater Demand --> Larger Halls --> More Equipment --> Bigger Organization --> Larger Overhead --> More Gigs --> Greater Demand..." Garcia's comments in '74 sum up well how gradually they found themselves stuck: "our whole lives are controlled by economic circumstances."
      But in '74 they were still free to stop. 16 years later they didn't even dare take a few months off. On top of being creatively all but burnt-out, it was no wonder Garcia & the others were feeling pretty tired of it. Their dedication to keeping the Dead going outweighed all other considerations - but age also entered into it, in a way, because over the years they'd gotten used to that steady income, the constant expenses, the more comfortable lifestyles; and turning off that spigot was a lot harder in their 50s.

      Delete
    2. Agreed, but (as my aunt used to say "there's always a 'but'") in the beginning they are playing to get high and have good times. By '72 they are playing to get houses. Garcia makes his first solo album to get a house. There's the crew benefit to get a house(s). The Brotherhood, which I believe is always of paramount importance to the band at least as band members, morphs into a Family scene and the idea of " the long haul" comes into the picture. As Garcia says around the same time that the counterculture won and now its cleanup time. Cleanup is certainly not as fun or as interesting as winning the battle.

      Again, I'm not disagreeing with you, but I do think there are additional elements in that same history. McNally quotes Weir as saying by 1974 the band was "so musically inbred that we were playing some fairly amazing stuff, but almost nobody could hear it or relate to it except for us." So beyond the quippes , family, and venues, there was this element of playing over their audience's head, which for a group of diehard musicians, has to be dispiriting in its own way.

      Despite all of this, their commitment to continue is remarkable. They did understand that the gestalt of the band was something not only bigger than each of them but that it must be served. Even late in the game, as you quote Garcia in '91 it still got them off. Their obvious success at reaching new audiences indicates they were not alone. True they paid a psychic cost, their ideals became compromised, and they had "family" responsibilities to their scene, but I do think it was more than just money that kept them going. I recognize that there are no real metrics for that.

      Delete
    3. Good points. By the early '70s they had a more conventional lifestyle with more expenses - not just houses, but an office with employees, and a growing sound system with its own team, which all by itself ate up a lot of their revenue, in the classic instance of the Dead eating their own tail. At the same time their touring became more regularized and "professional," and their management (if not the bandmembers themselves) became more financially responsible. At least at the outset of this process, the idea of constant expansion may have seemed both feasible and desirable, though I don't think they imagined just what steady growth would entail - that is, that they wouldn't be able to do it entirely on their own terms. 1970-71 seems to be a turning point when they realized they had to start adjusting to a larger audience than they were used to.

      There was a whole tangle of motivations that kept them going (aside from simply "running on inertia") - dedication to the music, wanting to support friends & "family," needing to pay for houses or other things... Probably only those who were at the band meetings could say which factors were most important at any given time.

      Weir's comment is a whole complex of issues in itself. Of all the bandmembers, he was probably the most concerned about losing the audience in a show with long weird jams (and the most prone to cutting those jams short, feeling it was better to keep the spaciness succinct). He's also referring to the "average kids," newcomers to Dead shows who weren't familiar with the band (and the Dead played to a lot of them in '74 - they played a lot of cities in '74 they hadn't played before, or in a long time). There's also a lot of discussion both in contemporary show reviews and later memories about how much of the audience really followed or enjoyed the long jams at the time, versus just wanting to boogie to a rock band (not that many of them, apparently). Yet despite all this, the band stuck to its "esoteric" jams in '74, even subjecting the audience to the Phil & Ned sets... Possibly the rest of the band had different thoughts about it than Weir did.

      Delete
    4. I'd definitely agree that its more than just money that keeps them doing it. But it's money, or more specifically the ongoing need for infusions of new money that keeps them doing it in the way that they're doing it. I think that LIA's orobouristic diagram is a pretty good description of the dynamic in practice. And I think its pretty obvious from their own mixed feelings, and from the turns that this set in motion in some of their lives over the next decade, that it was pretty bad for them, which is why I keep coming back to "what ifs" in my head about new and different models for doing ecstatic rock and roll performance on a large scale. Contra Garcia's comment about the counterculture winning, I think that this is an illustration of the counterculture largely not winning.

      I don't mean any of that to sound condemnatory. Taking a (mostly) consistently duplicable ecstatic experience to that many people is not to be discounted, I think it would be fairly hypocritical to throw stones at them for, at the same time, trying to get themselves and their families set up a little. I'm (taking a break from) doing the same thing with my own labor while I type this. I'm not judging. But, a lot of the rhetoric of that particular counterculture was about finding new, better models, and I don't really see that happening successfully here. They did manage to keep bringing a great joy to a great many people, for a long time, and did so at what was eventually a great personal cost to some of them--Garcia mostly--even as they got themselves and their families largely secured. I'm not trying to discount that, but I also don't think that's what any of them would have imagined winning looking like in 1967.

      Delete
    5. I agree with both LIA and Urk, and I appreciate the time and thought in both of your responses. As regular reader,but not frequent comment contributor, I am regularly impressed with what I read here.

      Urk, in regards to the counter culture winning, I can see why Garcia felt that in '72 and in essence he was right, because its ideals are making their way into mainstream culture. But as we see from Haight onward, the idea of utopia is fleeting and probably unsustainable. Too many people want to live off the scene rather than contribute it, and the responsibility for it surviving falls on the shoulders of the few rather than the many (which may also be true of those that undermine it). The microcosm of a Dead show also can't sustain itself in taking care of itself, so the Dead's organization was not unique in failure to live up to its promise.

      All movements, arts and otherwise have a lifespan and the idea of "ecstatic rock and roll performance on a large scale" has its own. I do think they found better models, but nevertheless those models themselves were transitory. Pollyana that I may be, I don't necessarily see it as failure that the Dead could not sustain their trip in the manner they would have liked (and of course we would have liked), but rather something more akin to human nature. I think back to the Marty Weinberg piece LIA posted sometime ago and it really struck me as how the early adapters were so turned off by the turn to more conventional songs in 70 - 71. For those, the dream died then. Whether you agree or not, that was their experience. Forgive my digression into the audience experience, which is a topic unto itself.

      As a curator who thinks a great deal about the visual artist's experience, I recognize that even with all the evidence we can find, we probably only know less than half why an artist did this or that. It's not linear thinking, and perhaps not something that can be articulated. I have always found it fascinating to read an artist's reaction and explanation of a say a painting over the years. When he paints it, he has a one take. Ten years later he sees it differently, 25 years later, might lead to a complete reappraisal. Sort of like Garcia talking about their records or shows after the fact. The artist's intent is essential to create the work, but after its finished, his view simply becomes one of many. I love the evidence that LIA gathers, and I think he provides as much insight as anyone can into motivations (for someone who was not there), but the reasons for many things in the Dead world will always be unsettled because it was ecstatic, in-the-moment, generally unspoken experience. That said, I eagerly await the next post.

      Delete
    6. LIA, I would love to see some of the contemporaneous reviews you mention about 74 shows and the effect of the long jams on the audience. Deadsources has some very fascinating material. As for Weir's comments, I read it differently. I didn't see it as complaint, but more of a perhaps rueful observation. Weir may have been more concerned that the others about the effect of the music becoming inaccessible to the audience, yet he continued to write challenging music for the band and the audience. Perhaps it was a perverse pleasure for Garcia and the rest of the band to open Weir tunes like Estimated, Supplication, Dancin', Stranger, or Victim of the Crime.

      Delete
    7. DLeopold, I know I've commented on that issue somewhere before; I'll try to dig up some quotes.

      Weir's comment on '74 is best read in full in the original interview, for context (Conversations with the Dead p.120) - he's thinking of shows where the band wasn't in tune with the audience, and goes on to say that now (1981) their space music is a lot quicker & more to the point. I suspect he had the long spacy jams in mind, as opposed to the song material - after all most of his own songs, if sometimes difficult, were still danceable or at least had a groove of some sort. (Victim's the only one you mention that's downright inaccessible.)

      This reminds me of another Weir quote on the Dead's connection to jazz:
      "In the early 70s, Miles came out with Bitches Brew and Live Evil, but we also listened to Return to Forever, which was fusion that hadn't slipped into its dry and intellectual mode yet. Those fusion guys had monstrous facility which seemed unattainable, but Bitches Brew was more groove oriented and a clear lightpost, so we did that stuff in rehearsal all the time. We could also pull it off on stage from time to time."
      Q: Did the audience always follow?
      "We would take the temperature of the audience and though nobody ever discussed it, there was an understanding...that there is only so much of this that we are going to get away with, because for the most part, the audience came to hear songs. And of course we loved to deliver songs."
      http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=31645

      So there you have another Weir admission that the audience wants "songs," and there's only so much fusion-type jamming the band could "get away with."
      At any rate most of the Dead's material after the '60s was pretty straightforward, or easy for the audience to connect to (give or take some clunkers). But they always had that fine line they walked, between how much to play straight, conventional-type rock, and how much to stretch out into more or less weird improv. The big jams settled into a relatively small part of the show (and in some periods, dwindled considerably), becoming to some extent more predictable.
      That situation reminds me of Ned Lagin's comment that some of the Dead managers & family "did not want to see the band go off into outer space and not return. Collective composition...wasn’t particularly controllable; you got where you were getting when you got there. [They] thought those prescribed happy sequences of Grateful Dead tunes should just go on."
      It seems to me there was an undefined struggle here, perhaps never even discussed, between different orientations of the group and what they would play. The result was that the "weirdness" became confined, with strict boundaries, and the Dead became primarily a song band. This was a process that had started in '69 with the flood of covers & new Garcia songs, but ultimately I think this was a compromise between the different bandmembers and what each wanted to do, and what the audience wanted.
      It's probably a mistake to think the Dead were united on what they should play - Garcia often mentioned the "discordance" within the band, and each could be dissatisfied with shows for different reasons. Phil, in interviews of the '80s and '90s, often complained that the band didn't 'open up and go out' more, and was frustrated at how the sets had "ossified" since 1970. Difficult songs tended to disappear over time (or never got attempted), and while Garcia often said he wanted new jamming material for the band, after the '70s he wasn't willing to put in the writing or rehearsal time for it. Various bandmembers would admit they were bored with some of the songs, or would hint that others in the band were less willing to venture back into the unknown. So what got played at the shows was what was left in between their disagreements.

      Delete
    8. Found some material about the effect of the long jams on '70s audiences.

      There was a discussion of '70s showgoers on the Archive forum a few years ago - for many kids at the shows, the rockers like Johnny B Goode made much more of an impression than the long jams. One person mentioned that at the 6/17/75 show, the highlights for him were Beat It On Down the Line and Me & My Uncle!
      Another said, "When you are a youngster, the rockers are the ones that stick with you, they get your attention... The first time I saw them (10/14/76) it was the Around that got me, not the long Dancin>Wharf Rat (my buddy fell asleep!) The next concert (2/26/77), I was impressed with the US Blues and the short Weir tunes, not the Playing>Wheel>Playing, or the Help>Slip>Frank... Didn't even know I had heard a 'Help>Slip' till I got the tape!"

      Another said, "By 74, there were lots of times during jams the audience was quiet, and while looking around, it wasn't a scene of quiet reverence as I can attest. It was sheer and utter boredom. Only when it was within 3 songs of the close, and esp. energetic, would everyone be engaged...most of the 72 jams, esp. long Stars, I tend to think would be in this "yawn" category. At the time, I absolutely deplored anything more than a five min song...I really do believe few at the time cared much about long jams."
      (Of course, many folks then disagreed with him!)
      [For those who want to wander through the digressive original threads -
      https://archive.org/post/323422/motbor-is-that-botb
      https://archive.org/post/323691/ever-changing-fanbase-of-the-dead ]

      And here's a little thread on the frequent audience requests for Johnny B Goode -
      https://archive.org/post/382671/riot-in-cellblock-9
      Those familiar with '71-72 tapes may also recall all the folks calling for Truckin' through shows (sometimes prompting Garcia to say things like, "We'll get to that top-40 shit later, don't worry.")

      As for contemporary reviews, it's not that easy to find descriptions of how the audiences reacted to different parts of the show. Perhaps the best example is 5/14/74, where one reviewer praised things like El Paso & Saturday Night, but protested that "one incoherent jam rambled on for 40 minutes." Another reviewer said that the band wasn't really in tune with the audience and much of the concert was over their heads: "Most of their music was slow... Their instruments weaved graceful patterns through extremely difficult polyrhythmic passages, many of which went unnoticed by the audience that only wanted to boogie. There were times when the audience and the band did seem to communicate, [but] these were few." In this reviewer's opinion, the highlight of the show was the string of rockers at the end, when the crowd could finally let loose and dance.
      https://archive.org/post/1010943/alternate-review

      Delete
    9. (continued)

      One review of 4/2/73 also said that "as far as audience reaction, the big winners were the closing sequence of Sugar Magnolia...and Casey Jones." A review of 2/28/73 noted that the band "eased into a long and relaxing set of mostly sit and listen music. But that didn't deter the audience. There was dancing in the aisles, hand clapping, and singing along with the familiar songs. The band, in fact, seemed to go out of their way to keep things calm." A review of 3/21/72 mentioned, "The audience was a little confused by the new material... 'Rock and roll!' somebody importuned from the balcony."
      One pessimistic writer at the Felt Forum '71 shows wrote, "The audience reaction is predictable - brainless acceptance of everything with loud cheers and continual screaming for the songs they already know... The energy level is higher than ever, but communication lines between performer and listener are down... Will success spoil the Grateful Dead? ...It certainly has ruined their audience, which is eventually bound to affect the group in one way or another."
      A reviewer of 12/1/71 was also disturbed by the Dead's "mindless following" - "The crowd was wrecked, on their feet, and screaming with unbounded enthusiasm before the first number. They were here to have a good time regardless of what came out of the performance." According to him, the band seemed alienated, condescending to the crowd & playing perfunctorily. I think that was just his mistaken perception, but he does say that during the Other One suite, "the unruly crowd was awed in silence."
      The new audience flooding into shows in '71 was a concern to a lot of older heads. From Blair Jackson's deadbase review of 4/4/71: "I feared that the band was trying too hard to cater to the rock 'n' roll yahoos who'd started coming to shows after Casey Jones and Truckin' were hits."
      These "yahoos" were not always welcoming to the spacier stuff. From one deadbase review of the Chicago '71 shows: "What I remember most about these shows is that Space was a hard sell to this audience with whistles and catcalls highlighting the feedback, until the feedback got so loud it drowned out the natives."

      All that said, it's undeniable that a large part of the audience at most shows actually were faithful Dead followers who were thrilled by the long jams. But clearly, for those who were "awed into silence" during the jams, there were plenty more who were nodding off or just waiting for the next song to boogie to.
      From a deadbase review of 12/6/73, in the long Dark Star: "During one of the more quiet parts...people were yelling for the band to 'play something.' ...The woman behind us scolded them...'Shut up you babies!'"

      Delete
    10. Thank you for sharing these contemporaneous reviews. These are fascinating in not only what they reveal about the audience of the time, but the writers themselves. It is remarkable that while people may have rejected or not understood the music at the time, it turns out that many "caught up" with it later. I'm also not sure that "whistles and catcalls highlighting the feedback, until the feedback got so loud it drowned out the natives" was not a desired effect by the band, or at least one element.

      Thanks also for the link to the Weir interview. Very interesting to read what he says in that context. I will also re-read the one in Conversations of the Dead to get a better sense of his point. And while I think it is easy to blame Weir for wanting shorter jams and/or more accessible music, I think Garcia should also be included. He spends the hiatus jamming in the studio with the Dead, but all of his live shows are with Merl and eventually other players. Those bands never really get "out there" save for a "Don't Let Go" or "Lonesome & A Long Way From Home" (and really both of those are after the hiatus). He too is making a conscious choice to play "songs" rather than jamming. While it is easy to see as a business decision, I wouldn't be surprised if it were more than that. How many times can you scale Everest before it becomes just another mountain climb?Having explored deep dark space, perhaps there was not as much of a need to go back again. While they did codify "space" you must admit it was still a ballsy choice to play atonal music in an arena/stadium setting on a regular basis.

      I also think that it was the nature of the band to be contrary. "We were going to play that, but Mickey wanted to" or "the loudest No wins." Linear logic goes only so far with this guys, which muddies the water when it comes to understanding their decisions, both artistically and business-wise. The creative tension over what to play probably led to some of the best moments of the band, as well as its worst. Garcia felt it was important enough to include in the Dead movie the anecdote about the night he was so pissed off at Phil's playing that he threw down the stairs, and only to realize later the night was "crackling with energy" and they ended up using it an album.

      That same tension leads to the firing of Weir and Pigpen, but paradoxically it doesn't stop the two from continuing to play with the band. Even after TC leaves the band, he sticks around. Muddy water everywhere! I think that creative tension was a primary reason that the band continued. It was a challenging world that none of the band members, including Garcia found anywhere else. It reminds me of my brother telling me that when you see Van Morrison you want him to be a little pissed off because it makes for a better show.

      Delete
    11. I don't disagree that they took less chances as time went on, particularly Garcia. When Phil wants to reintroduce "Unbroken Chain" only Garcia does not show up for the soundcheck rehearsals. On the same tour, Garcia brings back "Alabama Getaway" and introduced "Matilda" so obviously they were in different places (and as we know for different reasons). Garcia never wrote another song after "Fire on the Mountain" in 1977 that opened up for any significant jamming, but he was still capable of finding "out" places to play in other songs.

      To get back to the original topic, there were obviously many factors that played a role in how the Dead and their organization evolved. I think so much of what you wrote about in your post played a role, but it was certainly only part of the picture. If popularity was the overwhelming problem, it seems counterintuitive that they would play more songs that the audience wanted, no matter how much the "management" wanted. I think their musical evolution and long time interests such as Garcia's love of the American songbook played a role in what the organization and the band became as much as anything else (which maybe stating the obvious), and as we have discussed, their musical interests and objectives are not entirely linear

      Delete
    12. The topic of why the Dead played some things at shows (and didn't play others) is a vast & mostly subterranean issue, since a lot of the decision-making is unknown, and the band could be very contradictory. It could be another post of its own.

      We know Garcia liked the weird, far-out spaces; but at the same time he could also be very conservative in what he chose to play. As Ned Lagin noticed, partly Garcia did want audience acceptance; and Garcia himself said in later years that though he liked weirdness, he was more drawn to the emotional connection of music. You mentioned his shift in '75/76 from playing jazzy stuff with Merl to playing more straightforward gospelly stuff with the JGB (coinciding with a similar shift in the Dead's music) - there's a post about this somewhere on the JGMF blog, relating it to business reasons, but as you say Garcia may also have been tiring of going musically "out there" every night, or wanting to stay more in a comfort zone.

      When the Dead shifted to being a "song" band in 1969-70, it must have been a welcome change, and they emphasized the variety of contrasts in their sets, from country covers to freakouts in a blink. (This remained a central aspect of the band.) I also think of Cream, though, who said that once their audiences expected long improvs all the time, they quickly got tired of having to do that every night; which was one reason they burned out so quickly. This could be another factor in the Dead's making the improv section of their shows somewhat short, dependent on the mood of the night, and sometimes skipped altogether. And your observation that the Dead didn't like repeating specific types of space jams for too long is very true - Feedbacks, Tiger jams, thematic Dark Star jams come and go over the early years, as the band (in Garcia's words) played them to death til they got bored with them.

      There's no hard rule for how much the Dead catered to the perceived audience need for a "rock & roll show," versus how much they indulged their own whims musically against the crowd - obviously the Dead liked playing simple rock dance numbers too. The demands of the growing, less-attentive audience in the '70s must have had an effect, though - recall Lagin's feeling in '74 that the band was no longer reaching "moments of gentleness and delicacy that weren’t bracketed with dynamic or power contrasts." Phil once observed that they could no longer play very quietly in the large places, since the audience noise was louder than they were!

      Delete
    13. (continued)

      It's interesting that within a year of Brent's arrival, the band was regularly including the post-drums Space section in the shows...Space had been a very rare element in '76-78, so this was something of a scheduled return to the primordial core. I think one reason it stayed firmly in the sets til the end was because it was so flexible, unlike the more structured improv tunes. It could also perhaps be called the audience turn-off portion of the set, at least for the listeners who preferred more conventional fare...Bob Bralove remembered Garcia saying, "I like the part in 'space' where the audience turns around and wonders, 'What am I doing here?'" (And by that point no audience was complaining, unlike the occasions in the early '70s where spaces or Phil & Ned sets could be met with whistles & catcalls, which they'd ignore.)

      But then at the same time, obviously they were continuing to play the crowd-pleasers, even while their popularity rose and they had every reason to try to diminish the crowds. Maybe it was habit, maybe they really wanted to stay accessible & not disappoint fans. It's like the strange matter of their studio records - for all their disparagement of their studio efforts, still, for two decades they kept trying to make polished, smoothly-produced records with "hit" singles, aimed straight at the mainstream market. When the hit finally came in '87, it wasn't for lack of trying before.

      Delete
    14. As we are all aware of, the man in the keyboard seat had a significant effect on the band, with one effect being that it made the band perhaps think consciously of what they were doing set wise.

      As for continuing to play crowds pleasers, I do think they never lost the ambition to get people high, and while outside may have been beyond their control, they were able to still get people off inside a venue, and perhaps they couldn't resist and/or felt compelled to hold up their end of the bargain. File under "rank speculation."

      Delete
  8. While I am sure this is a more accurate representation of life within the Grateful Dead tour, it's also worth noting that there were many comments, frequently by Garcia, which expressed the viewpoint that the Dead in later years had learned how to run the rock n' roll caravan as a business while maintaining much of their 60's ideals. I particularly remember a comment by Garcia while they were doing a stadium tour with Sting as the opening act, that Garcia (who clearly respected Sting as a musician in his post-Police work) wanted to show him that there was another way to run a rock band business organization.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Garcia generally always maintained the idealistic point of view in his interviews. But I think he definitely remained proud of what you might call the non-feudal, semi-anarchistic way the Dead ran their business, and hoped that it could be an example to others of the different possibilities for making things work.

      Delete
    2. And for all its flaws, the Dead model is still better than most bands. Pearl Jam understood this and went to several shows to get an idea of what changing the setlist was like every night and I'm sure lots of other things. ”We were studying the Grateful Dead model,” says the band’s longtime manager, Kelly Curtis. ”We just went and hung out in their offices and looked at how they did things. It was so grassroots and so great.”
      http://www.glidemagazine.com/hiddentrack/pearl-jam-went-on-dead-tour/

      Phish and Dave Matthews also studied the Dead model and perhaps it is not a coincidence that these three bands have a unique and strong relationship with their fans, and they have all had to deal with playing bigger and bigger venues.

      I'm sure if we looked into the interpersonal relationships between these band members, their crew, their office and their fans, we would find dissension, ennui, substance abuse, etc. in these groups. While the Dead were not the only one to suffer in this area, they appear to be among the first.

      Delete
  9. The Grateful Dead: the world's longest running musical argument.

    Lots of great stuff here. As someone who has had a musical career since the 80s, employing various different models from anarchy to dictatorships, I can say that with a band like the Grateful Dead, there was probably a lot of ideas about how to drive the bus, but no real evidence that doing one thing or another had any specific results. Serendipity, mistakes, wild chances, sheer stubbornness and many other idiosyncratic factors came into play constantly. While it is enticing to try to take them as a model as to what to do or not what to do, it's really hard to make any of it meaningful without their context. As Garcia said, they spent their entire career falling upstairs. No other band will get to play the Acid Tests or run into Salvador Dali in Central Park (and really know who he is and what he stood for), etc. At the end of the day, I wish they had hung it up for a while in the 80s. There's a good chance that not only would Garcia be alive today, but many of the younger fans wouldn't have had to be enthralled with (and this is just my opinion, likely to to be unpopular with the younger set) largely mediocre music played by people who would have rather been somewhere else and think it was the most amazing thing in the world. They might have had a chance to see a rejuvenated band that could have brought the intensity and interest that the band had managed for quite a long time and that Phil now brings to his music making. But, it went down the way it had to go down. Someday the last person who saw the band live and really got it will pass away and that deep knowledge of the in moment of being in that room will be forever gone. Which is as it should be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "the world's longest running musical argument." - Hey, that's my line!!

      Delete
    2. Profound P.O.V....

      Someday the last person who saw the band live and really got it will pass away and that deep knowledge of the in moment of being in that room will be forever gone. Which is as it should be.

      Delete
  10. Thank you. That's a fine article.

    Goddamn, well I declare
    Have you seen the like?
    Their walls are built of cannonballs,
    their motto is Don't Tread on Me

    ReplyDelete
  11. Just wondering if anyone could identify the third album in the comments by Hunter in the beginning of this post - "maybe a fourth album to follow the Workingman's Dead/American Beauty/Rambling Rose trilogy". Maybe he's talking about Garcia's first solo album? If so, I hadn't heard it called "Rambling Rose".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, when Hunter said "maybe a fourth album" he was thinking pretty far ahead of the E72 tour, since the "Rambling Rose" studio album was of course never recorded. That was Hunter's name for the collection of songs he wrote with Garcia & Weir in 1971-72. He was hoping the Dead would record them as a studio album, but most of them got put on the E72 live album instead. (The Dead did not want to do another studio album for Warner Bros.)

      From a 1991 interview with Blair Jackson -
      Hunter: To me, all that material was sort of the kicker follow-up album to American Beauty. Instead, we put out this three-album package that sounds wonderful, but it spread out the material so much we never got to hear what those songs might have sounded like as a package. I personally would've liked to hear those songs on an album of their own.
      Garcia: I would have loved to... Instead we dribbled some of that music all the way up through Wake of the Flood.

      Delete
    2. So... what songs would have ended up on the "Rambling Rose" studio album? Bonus points for your thoughts on the optimal song order ;)

      Delete
    3. Well, this thread had some speculations about what songs could have been on the album....
      http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/compile-a-lost-grateful-dead-album-from-1971.324864/
      (To my mind they err by including songs already released on other '71 albums, but it depends how far back you want to go for the alternate fantasy album.)

      Obviously by summer '72 the Dead had more new songs than would fit on one album: Mr Charlie, Chinatown Shuffle, Two Souls, Brown Eyed Women, Tennessee Jed, Ramble On Rose, Jack Straw, Comes a Time, He's Gone, Stella Blue, & Mississippi Half-Step - that's not including any of Weir's songs that went on Ace, of which 6 or so could also be considered candidates if that album hadn't been done. (Though that was effectively a Dead studio album anyway.)
      If you throw in the Skull & Roses originals, and the Garcia solo album songs, you have another 8 or 9 songs that could've been on a 1971 Dead studio album. (Though it would be an all-Garcia album.)

      Delete
    4. From Robert Hunter's interview with the UK magazine Dark Star, April/August 1980:
      "No one was more surprised than me to have [Europe '72] turn into a triple live album, because I had a lot of songs that I felt were companion to those other two albums [Workingman's Dead & American Beauty], and that was going to be the end of the cycle. I was starting to move out with songs like 'Brown Eyed Women.' I would have been very happy if that had been a single album. Warner Brothers was doing releases of the best of the Dead - I wish they could have taken the songs off there and put them all onto an album, just the songs. I think that would be a fine companion to those other two albums. The fact that there's an album of songs there (on Europe '72) kind of gets lost in the stretching out..."

      Hunter seems to have felt his new songs were a little more "lost" on the live albums than they actually were!

      He's also asked, "Did you enjoy touring Europe?"
      His immediate reply: "No, it was hideous. I vowed I would never go with a whole pack of people again. Oh God, it was hideous."
      But he goes on, "I feel very much at home here in England. I'm not really looking forward to going back to Marin. There's nothing much holding me down to the West Coast anymore. My involvement with the Dead was once so total that I was pinned there. Now my work is more casual, I don't invest myself too entirely. It's not there so much for me anymore. Other people [in the band] have ideas about where the Dead should go, and for myself I've had to compensate for this by following my own career... I had a good run with the Dead. I had a stranglehold on the music for a while. I know this is healthy for me."
      As an example, he talks about how he decided not to go to Egypt in '78 so he could tour with his own band instead.

      Delete
  12. Really great stuff, all of you! Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This is just great! Thanks, Light Into Ashes, and thanks to everyone for their illuminating comments!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Another excellent article. Fascinating discussion of the aesthetic choices made by the band at various points in their existence.

    With respect to this: "Of all the bandmembers, [Weir] was probably the most concerned about losing the audience in a show with long weird jams (and the most prone to cutting those jams short, feeling it was better to keep the spaciness succinct)."

    Perhaps that's because at the end of the day, Weir knew he was the mostly likely band member to be on the receiving end of a disgruntled audience member's projectile?

    ReplyDelete