Jerry on Jerry – The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews. Edited by Dennis McNally with a foreword by Trixie Garcia. 240 pages.
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. Hachette Audio Books.
These were conversations, not interrogations, and because Jerry had a genuine love of trading stories, the subjects tended to veer off into side-tangents that were absolutely fascinating…
— Dennis McNally
Former Grateful Dead publicist and official band historian Dennis McNally had a knack for coaxing the good stuff from the late Jerry Garcia. McNally’s first meeting with the psychedelic bandleader coincided with a book he was writing about Jack Kerouac and the beatnik culture to which Garcia warmly related. Being a fan of jazz and the Beats, McNally was about as well suited an interviewer for Jerry as could be imagined. In exchanges spanning from 1973 to 1986, he and Garcia conversed engagingly about a host of topics ranging from Jerry’s artistic influences, which included early ’50s television shows, comic books, arthouse cinema and R&B music, to the headier realms of politics, literature, songwriting and LSD.
Jerry on Jerry is a collection of these previously unpublished interviews, artwork, hand-written notes and rare photos that helps to illuminate the man behind the myth. The book begins with a short but sweet foreword by Garcia’s daughter Trixie, whose mother, Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia, is also featured in some of the discussions. The talks were culled from tapes from the Grateful Dead Archives at UC Santa Cruz. Many of the artworks, photos and handwritten notes were provided by Trixie and Carolyn Garcia and come from their personal family collection (which they refer to as the Garcia Family Archive).
(Jerry with his father Joe in San Francisco. 1947)
As a teen, Garcia attended classes at The San Francisco Institute of Art. He continued to explore his interest in the visual arts as an adult, and some of his artistic efforts, from pen and ink drawings to water color and airbrush renderings, adorn the margins of the book, lending a whimsical and intimate glimpse into the musician’s mind. In her foreword, Trixie notes that many of these drawings were taken from “small spiral bound notebooks dating from 1985 through 1991” and that, in the years following her father’s 1986 coma, “an unending stream of arts supplies of increasing complexity funneled into the house, mostly in the form of markers, pocket sketchbooks, and the occasional airbrush set.” Among other things, Garcia appeared to be fascinated by monsters and ghouls, including Frankenstein — who was the star of one of Jerry’s favorite films, Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The book includes many humorous anecdotes, such as the time the Grateful Dead played a gay bar in San Francisco (The Rendezvous Inn) during their early years. At this gig, some of the club’s patrons allegedly took to calling Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist Bob Weir “Candy” while patting his backside in appreciation.
Other colorful accounts include memories of early performances and gatherings where copious amounts of LSD were placed in the food and beverages available to performers and audience. These “dosings” led to a variety of results — some of which are amusing and others frightening (at times the musicians were too pleasantly distracted to play, while occasionally someone in the extended Dead family would experience an acid-fueled meltdown). Garcia was a good raconteur and a great practitioner of the art of conversation and his love of a good story permeates these relaxed rap sessions. Perhaps the most interesting material centers around his revelations about his own personality and his approach to his artistry. “I can be a terrible Puritan,” he muses. “I’m constantly having to turn on myself . . . this is my own personal battle with my personality . . . it’s a real war . . . and the Grateful Dead is good for me for that reason . . . because I always have an opinion, but my opinion isn’t always the best one. Sometimes I’ll go well they know better, and sometimes I’ll go, Fuck ’em. ” (p. 146).
Garcia’s reflections on his artistic method are fascinating and provide a sense of how his legendary soloing took shape. “The real reality is note to note, but for me music is like a thing of hunks, you know, of like, sentences. For me an idea is not one note. An idea is like a sentence or a paragraph sometimes . . . and my mind is constantly spinning off little melodies. Some of which I keep and others which I don’t really pay attention to because they’re too cheap to bother with. Melodies have the kind of sense that poetry has. They have meter. They’re like iambic pentameter or something. Line A of a melody will go like this, and line B will go like that, and so on.” (p. 148)
Some of these chats (which include Mountain Girl and New York Post writer Al Aronowitz) lead to unexpected disclosures. For example, while Garcia’s song collaborations with the lyricist Robert Hunter are considered by Deadheads to be hallowed ground inhabited by iconic Grateful Dead imagery and symbolism, it’s interesting to note that Jerry could still be critical of them.
“Whenever I sing that song [Ripple] there is a moment or two when I feel like, am I really a Presbyterian minister? You know what I mean? It just — it crowds me just a little. It’s right within range. I mean, I can just manage it, but if it had one more cautionary moment in it, or whatever that is — [and] yeah, I’d have real problems with it.” (p. 212) Anything that’s at all weird, I have trouble singing it. I mean weird from my point of view. It’s hard for me to know exactly what that is, but it’s hard for me to lie in a song.” (p.213)
It’s fun getting to better know Jerry through the book, which offers a glimpse of the varied facets of his character as well as his different interests and experiences, including his fascination with, and subsequent mastery of, the pedal steel guitar (something that blossomed after a visit to a Denver music store), his fondness for quirky movies, the car accident in which his life was miraculously spared, his unlikely time spent in the U.S. Army at the Presidio in San Francisco and his recollections of childhood in the Bay Area. Jerry on Jerry is a fun and informative collection of talks and ephemera that Deadheads, and anyone interested in learning more about Garcia, is sure to enjoy.
The book is out and available through sites including the following: