HEART TO HEART WITH DAVID GANS
By Alan Sheckter
Alan Sheckter: How did your radio show get started and how many stations currently run the Grateful Dead Hour? How long does it take to put a show together?
David Gans: As of this week there are 56 stations carrying the Grateful Dead Hour. The Deadhead Hour started on KFOG (San Francisco) in November 1984. I appeared as a guest on the 2/18/85 program to promote my book, Playing in the Band. I did a little feature titled "Greatest Pump Song Ever Wrote" and played some rarities, and I had a great time. So I asked if I could do another program and the host, M. Dung, said yes. See, he was working morning drives AND had the "Sunday Night Idiot Show" so he was already working pretty hard. Over the next few months I got addicted to radio, and eventually the station gave me full responsibility for the weekly program. And after a few months I had lost my enthusiasm for my magazine-writing gigs, so I got permission from the Dead to distribute the show nationally in hopes of making it my full-time gig.
GA: ...which it hopefully has become. How did you first approach the Dead and how long did it take you to get their cooperation? Is there a specific person in the Dead family that deserves your thanks for backing you early on? And today - how much do they examine your show content?
DG: Cooperation? That's an interesting word. I received permission fairly easily. I wrote up a one-page proposal and presented it to a board of directors meeting - the band, lawyer, a couple of hecklers from the road crew. The specific people in the Dead family who supported me were Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. No one examines the content of the show, as far as I know.
GA: Have they made any restrictions on what you can and cannot play? There seem to be many stations around the country that also play Dead tapes on the air. Do they also have permission to do so?
DG: The one restriction that's still in force is "no complete sets." That's because they might want to release the material later, and it's thought by some that my playing it on the radio would diminish the commercial value of that material. I don't see it that way, but it's not possible to fit an entire GD set into an interrupted hour anyway, so what the hell?
Some other stations have either tacit or oral "permission," going back to before I had an exclusive contract with the Dead. It's not my place to police their intellectual property rights, so unless there's a conflict with one of my stations (meaning unless one of my stations asks me to intervene), I don't worry about it.
I'm the only radio guy who gets to go into the vault and pull out the rare gems, so I'm ahead of the game no matter how you slice it.
GA: Right, as the 'bandleader' for the official Grateful Dead Hour, you are able to air some old recordings that even the most zealous collector has not heard, while also broadcasting portions of a show that may be just a few weeks old.
An issue that seems to fall into a gray area is the fact that offered in a music collector's magazine are DJ copies on CD and record of the GD Hour. Seeing that the advertisers have been known to charge a lot of money for these, there seem to be two considerations. 1) Do you feel ripped off that what originally was a free radio broadcast can put money in someone's pocket? 2) Can bootlegging your show cause a loss in ratings the same way bootlegging someone's record can hurt album sales? And while we're on the subject, how do you feel about folks recording the GD Hour from the radio and trading it for free to their friends?
DG: None of these things concern me much, and if they did, what could I do about 'em anyway? The GD Hour was distributed on vinyl for one year, so there a hundred or so of each one in existence. I'm sure that means there are close to a hundred of each in circulation - and I've got a few of each in my closet, so if I'm ever on the verge of homelessness I might sell a couple myself.
"Can bootlegging...cause a loss in ratings...?" I doubt it. The "trading" of GD Hour tapes can only help to spread the reputation of the program far and wide.
What does bug me is people who don't even listen to the GD Hour because all they want is complete sets. Those people have missed a lot of cool stuff.
A guy I was talking to on the phone the other day told me the GD Hour was a great source for "filler" - those odd 20-minute gaps at the end of concert tapes. That's just fine with me!
GA: We have several friends who have only been seeing the band recently and they've told us that your show has given them an understanding of the band's past. There are a lot of people who don't collect tapes, for whatever the reason, and your show provides a way for them to hear the best of what's around with no hassles.
Say, David, when you sit back to enjoy a live Dead tape, from what era do you usually choose? 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s ? And what other music do you curl up with?
DG: Big question. Off the top of my head, I'd say the best years are '69, '74, '77 and maybe '81. There's some great stuff from the summer of '85, but Jerry's voice was not in good shape and there were frequent lapses of continuity.
Almost anything from '69, '74 or '77 is going to be a treat.
What else do I listen to? Not much, given my schedule, but I like all kinds of stuff. Elvis Costello, T Bone Burnett, lots of '70s wimp-rock (Early Elton John, Eagles, CSNY - the stuff I learned to play for the bands I was in at the time), and of course tons of Beatles. I'm also a fan of country music, and the psychedelicized variants of it; I think at their peak Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen might have been the best band in the history of the planet. Through the Airmen I got turned on to Asleep at the Wheel, and through them all that great Western Swing, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and contemporaries like Waylon and (especially) Willie. Emmylou Harris. I also get turned on to a lot of wonderful, weird stuff through my work with Phil Lesh and Gary Lambert on their monthly KPFA program, "Eyes of Chaos/Veil of Order." Obscure English composers like Harrison Birtwistle.
And of course, I love the David Grisman Quintet.
GA: Certainly a wide variety! Speaking of Elvis Costello, he recorded the Grateful Dead's "Ship of Fools" for the Deadicated LP. Didn't you have something to do with him recording the Dead's music?
DG: Elvis has been hearing Dead music for 20 years! On Deadicated there's a picture of an outdoor show in England in '72 and El's story of "standing in a foot of mud among a small, sodden horde who braved the swamp in front of the stage."
In 1987, my pal Bonnie Simmons - a pal of Elvis's - was shopping with Elvis at Village Music, a great record store in Mill Valley, California, and she noticed him picking up a Dead album (Wake of the Flood, I think). She said he might want to check out a live tape or two, and then she asked me to make a tape of some of the Dead's ballads. I happily obliged, and she gave the tape to him in the van on the way to a gig. That night he announced to an audience in (I think) Davis, California, that he was going to play a Grateful Dead song. He didn't.
The next night in San Jose, he announced it and he did it! He played "Ship of Fools," and into the middle of it he dropped "It Must Have Been the Roses." Bonnie told me that Elvis had told her the "Roses" part was from memory, that he had known that song years ago.
About two years later I did have the pleasure of introducing Jerry Garcia to Elvis and to our mutual guitar hero James Burton in the basement of Sweetwater, a great club around the corner from that great record store.
GA: Great story! For a small club, the Sweetwater seems to pack quite a large historical punch.
Back to the GD Hour if I could; you told us what years of Dead music are your favorites, how about the audience? Do you get more positive reactions/mail after you broadcast a previously unheard Dead show from the 60's, or after you play clips from the most recent tour?
DG: The mail I get is usually more general in its praise and blame rather than specific to a given broadcast - although I do get a letter now and then that says something like "Thanks for playing that GD-with-horns stuff from 9/73 - that blew my mind!"
My favorite piece of listener feedback of late was from the guy who told me my radio show is the best source of "filler" material he knows. Y'know, those 27-minute blank stretches following a first set on a 90-minute tape, stuff like that. That's fine with me! Balance that against the complaints I get from people who think I should just play entire shows, spending a month to cover one entire concert I guess. Those people tend to regard studio cuts as an outrage, a waste of their time. I explain that this radio show is not a downloading service for tapers, but a radio program aimed at presenting the whole musical world of the Grateful Dead to an audience that includes many people who may never have heard any GD music - live or studio - outside the Grateful Dead Hour.
I happen to love a lot of Dead and Dead-related "commercial" recordings, and the Grateful Dead Hour can't limit itself to rare live recordings because that's too narrow a definition.
GA: Also, after the tragic passing of Brent Mydland and Bill Graham, you produced some wonderful tribute shows. They brought tears as well as joy as they brought us all together to feel the loss as a community. Were they hard shows to create?
DG: Interestingly, those programs are the most complicated and the most inspired. In the case of the Brent memorial, I went to the WELL for help in choosing the best material to include, and the interview stuff was easy to select. I am fortunate in that my creative lights seem to shine brightly at those times; I think it's because I'd rather be doing something than sitting around feeling bad. It's either grief-processing or grief-avoidance, I'm not sure which.
GA: Yes, but either way it's a productive positive energy and that makes others feel better.
Can you tell us about the Grateful Dead's "vault," the place where all their historic performances reside? Is it fireproofed? Is it mostly cassettes? How many of the old shows were recorded by the group?
In what condition to the old tapes appear to be? Do they have backup copies of everything? Inquiring minds want to know.
DG: There are three vaults, two of which I almost never see. The "original" vault has tapes going back to the early '60s, including Jerry's bluegrass stuff, Phil's college compositions, etc. Not originals, from what I've seen, but copies of interesting stuff. I haven't explored that area much.
The Dead tapes are on two-track reels going back to '67 or so. In the early '80s the digital (PCM/Beta) tapes began, and the DATs began in 1987 or so. There are shelves full of multitrack stuff, including the 8-tracks from which Healy culled Vault II. There are some four-track masters in there, too. I'm not allowed to mix multitrack, so I don't think about those tapes.
There are lots of cassettes from the '70s and '80s; in fact, there are some periods that are represented ONLY by cassettes.
There are some definite gaps in the Dead's collection; lots of stuff missing in 1970, '71 and '72, for example. I assume the masters are in private collections, but I have no idea who those collectors might be.
I assume it is fireproof. It's definitely temperature and humidity-controlled. The band recorded everything they could, seems to me, and kept it all except for the stuff that disappeared.
Most of the tapes are in fine condition, although there are some batches of (particularly Ampex) reels that will need to be "baked" before they can be used. I don't think the big digitize-everything project has been started yet.
GA: Interesting. What kind of video collection resides there? Are these tape archives guarded by some immense bouncer? Who's in control of the Dead tape vaults?
DG: I don't know anything about the video, and I have no substantive answer to the other questions.
GA: Ok, we'll move on then. David, you also spend time playing live music of your own, do you not? Tell us about the folks you play with presently.
DG: Great question, since I just got home from band practice! It's called Crazy Fingers, but we want to change it 'cause we're not that Dead-oriented any more.
This is the most exciting band I've worked with in my whole life. Our new rhythm section swings, and they sing, too! I play guitar and sing, and more and more of the songs we do were written by me. Bob Nakamine and I have been playing together since 1973, off and on in a number of different configurations, starting with Dead songs and cruising through some other styles on the way to the eclectic approach we're taking now. He's a guitar player, and he jokes about singing but I've never heard him do it.
Alan Chamberlain, aka Loathsome Axon (Axon is his user ID on the WELL, and Loathsome is a badge of honor in a strange way), joined the band a couple of months ago, replacing Tom Yacoe. Tom had just quit the band for the third time - he's very talented visual artist I think he's doing more of that these days. Loathsome and I had played together casually over the last couple of years, including a "WELL house band" called WETWARE that played some parties and had too many guitars. The change in our energy level when he arrived was tremendous: he does his homework and (to lift a football announcer's cliché) he comes to play. And sing, which is great. Our new drummer, Cyrus Azar, was with Axon in another band. Axon's arrival took Crazy Fingers to a new level of commitment, which our former drummer wasn't willing to make unanimous, so we started rehearsing with Cyrus and we found ourselves kicking up to an even higher gear. He sings, too, and he knows a lot of songs.
Our setlists are getting really interesting, because we're working up a lot of stuff that's new to us and keeping our performances really open-ended so anything can turn up anywhere in the set.
For me, it's the merging of my separate musical selves. With the electric bands I've been in for the last ten years we were primarily Dead-oriented, and my other interests weren't part of it. I have been writing songs and performing solo for more than twenty years, and I love songwriters like Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Lennon-McCartney, John Prine, etc. For the first time I'm playing with musicians who are interested in all that stuff, too, so we can pull off a set like Thunder Road->Playing in the Band->Poncho and Lefty or New Speedway Boogie->Watching the Detectives->Sultans of Swing or Cassidy->Rocket Man->Lady of the Well->What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding? With excellent jamming in between. I think you can tell I'm jazzed!
GA: I'm jazzed too - just hearing about it! Sounds most excellent! Who could resist that bunch of songs you just listed? Just the Thunder Road -> Playing in the Band combo creates great possibilities.
How often does Crazy Fingers perform live?
DG: We've got five gigs in the next eight weeks, and we're once-a-month regulars at Sweetwater, a world-class bar in Mill Valley. That's the club where Jerry Garcia jammed with Elvis Costello, and other exciting musical stuff, so we are thrilled to be part of it.
I can see this group working more and more in the near future. We rehearse at least once a week - and three times a couple of weeks ago - so the enthusiasm is there and the audience is building. I'm very excited.
GA: Great. Any plans for any studio releases?
DG: We definitely want to record, but we have a lot of work to do before we're ready to do that.
This week was great. On Thursday we had an amazing rehearsal, running through about a third of our repertoire and making excellent and unprecedented transitions. At this point (I told the others after last night's gig) we don't have any problems that can't be solved by more work. Night before last night, around 7:00pm, I got a call asking if the band could appear on West Coast Weekend, a two-hour variety show on KQED-FM, an NPR station. I called the guys, and everybody was able to make it except Bob, who was committed to a family matter. So yesterday we made our radio debut, performing several original songs and one minute of "Dark Star" with Tom Constanten (the house pianist on the program)!!! And, after the broadcast the producer told us we'd be invited back and added that many of the audience members had gone to the merchandise table to ask if they had any Crazy Fingers tapes or CDs for sale!
So we're pretty excited, and it feels like we're on our way.
GA: Sounds very promising! David, you also have quite a bit of writing under your belt. Playing in the Band and Conversations with the Dead have become "required reading" in the Deadhead community. Tell us about these two projects and are there any future publications in the works?
DG: Playing in the Band was a glorious happenstance! I got an assignment to cover the Dead for a major music magazine in 1982, and Phil and Bobby got me onto the press junket to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where the Dead and the Midnites were appearing in the first (and only, heh-heh) Jamaica World Music Festival.
What a trip! The bands all stayed at this cheesy flight-crew hotel, but the journalists were put up at the Tryall Beach and Country Club a few miles outside of town. It was once a plantation of some kind, I think. I roomed with my buddy G. Brown of the Denver Post, and we had a wild time. The show went on all night, and we weren't going to waste those gorgeous days sleeping, so we just grooved around the clock!
Among the other junketeers were Peter Simon, famed reggae photographer and a Deadhead, and Bob Miller, then of St. Martin's Press. They were planning to do a book on the Grateful Dead, with Peter handling the photos and another Bay Area author covering the text.
Being a young magazine writer, I schmoozed Bob Miller - which was not a cynical act since we were both musicians, Deadheads, etc. Bob and I stayed in touch, and a year or so later when the author dropped out Bob called me to ask if I was interested in doing the book.
Damn straight I was!
GA: Great, and you certainly made good use of the opportunity. It's a wonderful book. Excellent Herb Greene, Gene Anthony, Peter Simon, Jim Marshall and David Gans photos, as well as others. Well written text for the baby to veteran Deadhead.
And Conversations with the Dead? Being a book of interviews, was that simply a gathering of the best of your personal interview archives and deciding on the cream of the crop? Interviews with Steve Parrish, the Dead's most famous roadie, and Owsley Stanley, famous for many things not the least of them being an audio engineer are very rare. Conversations provides great insights.
DG: Thank you! That book was the brainchild of Dan Levy, who went to Citadel Press with a wonderful idea. "Citadel Underground" was intended to bring back the best of the counterculture (from the beats through the psychedelic era and up to the present, e.g. Ringolevio by Emmett Grogan and (we had hoped) Garcia: A Signpost to New Space and introduce some new titles that were of a piece with those documents. Dan had read the full transcript of the 1981 Garcia interview I did with Blair Jackson and agreed with me that the unpublished passages of that text deserved to be seen. I felt that way about many of the transcripts in my file cabinet - what gets used in a magazine piece is almost always an alarmingly small percentage of the real thing - and I was honored to be part of this excellent series.
The piece de resistance was the Bear interview. I don't know why Owsley agreed to give me an interview, after shunning the press for so many years, but I know a great opportunity when it materializes before me!
GA: And you made the best of that opportunity. It was a voice in the Grateful Dead "family" not often heard by the public. Do you have plans for another book in the near future?
DG: I don't know. I'd like to publish a Collector's Guide to the Grateful Dead Hour with listings, cross-references and interview transcripts, etc., but beyond that I'm not sure.
GA: Hey, that sounds like a terrific idea. It will create renewed and first time interest in the Grateful Dead Hour. You will then officially be a "collectible."
Is a compilation CD or a series of them a possibility? We see no conflict with Vault release shows which seem to be complete performances. We see an opening in the market for a CD of Dead cover bands.
DG: I don't know if the GD would be interested in a GD Hour compilation. At the moment they seem more interested in releasing entire concerts, but I think some day they'll open up to the idea of composite shows and rarities/highlights collections. Whether I will be involved in such projects is another question entirely.
GA: How about a Grateful Dead bloopers CD with missed lyrics and funny moments? That'd be funny, but not too likely I imagine.
How do you see the future of the Grateful Dead Hour? Thinking back to Garcia's exhaustion/forced tour postponements over the summer and fall we are reminded that nothing is forever. Would you like to continue the GD Hour if the Dead stopped performing?
DG: I'll keep doing it as long as I enjoy doing it and the stations keep putting it on the air.
The GD organization has never been terribly cooperative, beyond giving me permission to do it. Some people there appear to understand the value of the program as a means of selling stuff, and as the vault project picks up steam the radio show will become more valuable to them.
I'm about to move into the exciting and creative world of digital production, meaning the job will get easier and the quality of my output will improve markedly, AND the creative possibilities will expand significantly. So I can definitely see myself continuing with the GD Hour.
GA: How will digital production make things easier and better, will editing become super precise? Will the audio quality itself near perfection? And will you at that point be ahead of the radio station's technology? Maybe they'll have to catch up with you now with regards to state of the art equipment.
DG: What it means is that recent music will never see an analog generation. And some editing of older tapes will be saved an analog generation, too, so it will definitely mean a general improvement in the quality of the program. It will also broaden my creative horizons, because this stuff is fun to play with! I've been called "the edit king" by one enthusiastic listener, and that's a nice thing to be called. Those "scenes from next week's program" are loads of fun to do, and that will all be done on a Macintosh screen now instead of on quarter-inch tape.
More and more stations are getting DAT machines, which is great because that is the last link in the signal chain and the one I have the least control over. Some stations broadcast from cassettes, which I duplicate in real time from digital masters. Most public stations get it from the satellite, and again, I have no control over how they record it.
In the best of all possible worlds, I'd distribute the show on CD. That would eliminate the risks associated with other media, e.g. ancient open reel decks and the wrong kind of tape stock, a misaligned cassette deck, etc. But I don't have enough stations (yet!) to warrant the expense. The digital production system takes me a step closer to being able to do CD "pre-mastering," so on we go.
GA: So now the music can be edited as "sound-bytes" on the computer. And I imagine the control you have is so much better than the old mechanical stop and start functions. And after all, music aficionados strive for perfect sound, and you're getting there.
Where does the satellite for the Grateful Dead Hour originate? What kicks it into motion, so to speak?
DG: It's the NPR satellite. I send a DAT to WKAR in East Lansing, Michigan, and they transmit it to the satellite on Thursday evenings. Stations that are entitled to receive it record it on whatever medium they choose.
GA: That certainly sounds better than making a bunch of cassettes and sending them all over the country! That's great.
Changing topics a bit, the Grateful Dead have just returned to performing concerts after Jerry Garcia's recuperation from exhaustion this summer. I understand that at the first gigs in Denver, a billboard was put up showing the Deadheads' support of gay folks and unhappiness that an anti-gay bill passed on Election Day. It got a lot of publicity. Can you tell us what part you played in coordinating or spreading the word about the billboard?
DG: That project was the work of many people, organized on the WELL.
Earlier this year a conversation began about "gay-bashing" at Grateful Dead concerts. Many of us who consider tolerance a key attribute of the Deadhead culture were concerned about this, and we struggled with the question of what can be done about it.
Oregon had an anti-gay ballot measure in the works last summer when we were planning our Eugene trip, and many Deadheads did not want to go to Oregon without making a statement. The conferencing system is a wonderful medium for collective brainstorming, and what we came up with was a logo that replaced the lightning bolt in the "Stealie" with a pink triangle, the symbol adopted by various gay movements (originally used by the nazis to identify homosexuals, as they used yellow stars to identify Jews). Our intention was to emulate the king of Denmark by identifying ourselves with our gay brothers and sisters. (We printed up thousands of stickers with the triangle's apex pointed up before we realized the more common orientation was pointing down [I think ACT-UP likes the apex up, but I'm not sure], so the next run of stickers was "corrected.")
The stickers were distributed and put to use, and then the Oregon Dead shows were canceled because of Jerry Garcia's health problems. With no shows, there was nothing to do about the gay-bashing issue.
The Dead announced their return from sick leave, starting with two shows in Denver December 2 and 3. Shortly thereafter, Colorado passed an anti-gay initiative - an otherwise spectacularly upbeat day in American political history, if you ask me. I characterized Amendment 2 as "a missing tooth in the national grin that broke out on November 3."
Nobody wanted to boycott the shows - I mean, this is what we DO, y'know, plus it was Yet Another Triumphant Return, etc. It wasn't up to us to tell the band to boycott Colorado, and if we didn't go 17,000 other people would have bought those tickets and the whole event would have passed without a ripple in the public consciousness. It is not my place to speak for the Dead, nor for anyone else, but a sufficient portion of the on-line Deadhead community felt strongly enough about the implications of Amendment 2 that we didn't want to go to the shows without making a statement.
So we brainstormed some more. Picketing made no sense. Stickering was good on the ground level, but we wanted to raise our profile and say to the people of Colorado, "We're here to do our thing but we do not like what has gone down here."
Somebody hit on the idea of a billboard. Bingo! With the collection of talent converging on the WELL's Grateful Dead conferences, we had all the resources we needed to make a large public spectacle. In Boulder and Denver, Russ Bertolette and Kenna Koester, Doug Everitt and Scott Spanbauer scouted sites, contacted billboard companies and made contact with some of the groups working to repeal or nullify the measure. Russ, a graphic designer, created the art for the billboard (in consultation with the WELL gang). Like the sticker, the billboard used a phrase from "Uncle John's Band": "Ain't no time to hate." In large letters it said "UNDO 2," and it was signed "Deadheads Against Discrimination."
In New York (Jeff Gorlechen), San Francisco (Naomi Pearce), Los Angeles (Sparky), Denver (Scott Spanbauer), Topeka (Michael Newman), and elsewhere, people mobilized to create a press release and a media alert and draw the press to an "unveiling" at the billboard site on the day of the Dead's first show in Denver. The writers collaborated via e-mail and posted their drafts for all of us to comment on; the PR professionals developed a media list and volunteers stuffed envelopes, sent out faxes, made follow-up calls, and so on.
When we gathered in the parking lot of a bingo parlor across the street from the McNichols Arena, many of us were meeting face to face for the first time. That was one of the special pleasures of this experience for all of us: to put all our hearts into an urgent task for the benefit of others and to reap the collateral joys of shared achievement. Many of us came away from this with new friends as well as a sense of accomplishment.
And the media came! At 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon five camera trucks rolled into that parking lot, along with several radio reporters and a couple of newspaper photographers. I made my little speech about the missing tooth, and I pulled up my sweater to reveal a T-shirt with the same logo as the billboard - a photo of which, brilliantly composed by David P. Gilkey, appeared on the front page of the Boulder Daily Camera the next day with a caption that accurately explained what we were doing.
One of my favorite Grateful Dead concert experiences of all time resulted from this campaign. After one of the shows in Denver I stood on the concourse handing out "Ain't no time to hate" stickers. There were thousands of them out there already, and people who didn't already have one were very pleased. I didn't stick them on people - I kind of ceremoniously tore one off and handed it to anyone who looked twice at my t-shirt (with the same logo) or who otherwise seemed an appropriate recipient.
I think the stickers may have been as more important part of the campaign than the billboard, somehow. It put that thought-provoking concept right into the hands and minds of thousands of people, and they took it with them out into the world. One woman took the sticker and said, "Great - my daughter can wear this to school tomorrow."
It's so simple, and it suggests rather than insists - like Grateful Dead music, it offers some food for thought and allows/requires the beholder to put some mind to the idea. I'm not sure what, if any, was the big result of the Deadheads Against Discrimination project (and we may continue to work on this idea if the various campaigns against human independence persist), but some eyes were opened, some minds were changed, and friendships were formed and that's never a bad thing.
GA: Yes, the "Ain't no time to hate" lyric is a simple yet meaningful rallying cry for the Grateful Dead, their fans and the general public. You and your friends deserve congratulations for helping to bring positive national press (even CNN) to those December 1992 Dead concerts in Denver, their first shows in five months.
Beside being an active musician, writer and host of the Grateful Dead Hour radio show, you have been a long-time host (sysop) to many conferences on the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link). I've been a member since October 1986, and have loved it. It's sometimes referred to as an "on-line community" where people meet and converse by means of a computer and modem.
Can you tell our readers a bit about how the WELL started, your part in it, and some of the conference topics?
DG: It was Mary Eisenhart's idea, really. She is the editor of MicroTimes, a popular computer magazine here in California, so she was aware of the development of public-access computer conferencing. CompuServe was the first one to reach to the general consumer market, I think, and BIX and/or GEnie were more nerd-oriented. There were online information services that were more like libraries than meeting places, but when it became evident that were was a new medium coming into existence Mary immediately saw the potential for linking Deadheads across the country.
Our general discussions of this matter yielded a flash of inspiration in the balcony of the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in November of 1985. We both got the idea at the same time, and we recruited our friend Bennett Falk (who was in the same section of the balcony that night but somehow didn't catch the inspiration!) and started talking about an online service for Deadheads.
Damned expensive, we knew.
Mary was involved with a new online service started by the people who publish the Whole Earth Review, and she knew they were looking for interesting conferencing ideas. So we decided to try our idea out in the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) before worrying about raising lots of money for our own system. (Whole Earth was half owner of the WELL, for the record; the other half was owned by NETI, the company that developed PicoSpan, the conferencing software. NETI is no longer involved, but that's another story.)
The Grateful Dead conference was a smashing success. It didn't turn out to be the scholarly endeavor we had originally envisioned, but there are discussions of Grateful Dead music and lyrics and cultural matters along with the tape trading, trip planning and social bonding - something for just about everybody. I felt so at home in the WELL that I lost interest in creating a separate Grateful Dead computer system; Mary has started a Grateful Dead scene over on America Online, and there are many small independent Grateful Dead BBSs across the country. Other large systems have GD areas, too, I think, but I've never gone exploring beyond the WELL and AOL.
My friend Alan Mande explained the WELL Deadhead scene beautifully in a radio interview back around 1986. He pointed out that when you're at a Dead show you're listening to the music and enjoying the company of your friends, etc., but that in between Dead shows you're still interested in the music and the culture - so it's great to have a place to talk about it.
I've made a lot of friends through computer networking, and I've stayed in touch with my radio audience, too. I post the listings of upcoming Grateful Dead Hours and the list of stations that carry it, and I correspond with listeners who want to get the show on the air in their town. Deadheads share information about hotels and campgrounds, plan get-togethers on tour, unload extra tickets (with a strict no-scalping rule that is beautifully enforced by entirely social means), plan tape trades, etc.
The Deadhead community is a community of affinity rather than one of physical location, so cyberspace turns out to be a great "place" for us to hang out together.
GA: What's your best guess as to how many people have called the WELL over the years and how many of those have checked out the Dead conference(s)?
Also, the WELL has served as an instant source of up-to-date information during emergencies. What special events come to mind for you?
DG: I have no idea what the numbers are, but the GD conferences are very high in the "standings" of WELL conferences every month. The WELL is used for all sorts of communication, including news and rumors and trivia and just plain socializing. I think people tend to check in here for the straight poop when there's an ugly rumor afoot, and sometimes we do have accurate information - but it has to come from somewhere, and it's almost never from an "official" Grateful Dead source. So it's hard to say whether the WELL is any more or less efficient than good old-fashioned word of mouth.
Sometimes I'm able to confirm or deny a rumor by contacting someone in the GD organization, but I'll only do that when it's something really dire and really plausible.
GA: And rumors do travel fast electronically <grin> Actually, I was thinking of other situations like the earthquake a few years back, the Oakland fire, etc. Sometimes what's happening in the world overshadows the conferences, no?
DG: The WELL was a great source of down-to-earth news during the Oakland fire and, a couple of years before, in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Television had the big pictures, but the WELL has personal journalism that provided lots of up-close information. The term "electronic bulletin board" took on greater meaning, too - lots of information sharing, strangers helping strangers find out how their loved ones were doing, etc.
There's a lot of ephemeral ranting and raving going on in the WELL, but there is also a tremendous amount of important and meaningful communication.
GA: Well put. As for you David, tell us about some upcoming projects of yours either in progress now or in the conceptual stage. You mentioned an interest in a comprehensive listing of your radio shows. Do you have any other books or projects?
DG: I'm working on a proposal right now for the Grateful Dead Hour Book, listing the contents of all my national radio programs (August 1987 to present), plus full transcripts of the interviews and features that have appeared in the program and other interesting materials.
The producers of Eyes of Chaos/Veil of Order, Phil Lesh and Gary Lambert and myself, have been wanting to take that program to a national forum. We need to raise a small pile of money to make that happen, and we haven't yet decided how best to accomplish it.
GA: That show should be national. We saw an excellent documentary produced by the BBC on the Rex Foundation's support of classical music. There's a real opportunity there to teach the world about the Dead through something more
universal and timeless than psychedelic music. Also, it's a great opportunity to have Deadheads learn classical roots.
It seems like a great way for Phil to tie his background and interests to his work. What is your function with that radio show? We thought we had spotted you in the documentary!!!
DG: Yeah, I'm in the background in some scenes shot at Club Front. I'm the producer of the program. I record Phil and Gary and then, working with Gary, I edit the talk and assemble the program. I take the tape to the radio station on the second Monday of the month and put it on the air.
GA: I imagine that show has entirely different challenges than your own show. How does getting the rights to use the classical works happen? Can you play anything you want and then royalties are paid later? Or do you try to get interview snippets from the people who can be found to use too? Not being on the west coast, we have never heard the actual show as most likely many of our readers have not either.
DG: Much of the material is from obscure and/or hard-to-find commercial releases, and some of it is sumbitted by the artists themselves. The mission statement of Eyes of Chaos/Veil of Order is "music that falls into the cracks between the genres," and although we have played material by artists as well-known as Miles Davis, Astor Piazzola, David Grisman, etc., our stock in trade is excellent music by composers who deserve much more exposure than the rigidly stratified world of charts, merchandising and radio can provide.
Phil Lesh is a wonderful host for this program. His love for the material comes shining through, and his knowledge of the subject matter enables him to explain things marvelously. For example: "Earth Dances," by Harrison Birtwistle, an orchestral work that Phil thinks is as important in its way as Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony, "Tristan und Iseult" by Wagner, and Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." By the time Phil was finished explaining it, I was ready to have my mind blown by the work. And it happened.
What I'm trying to say is that this is not music that we have to fight for the rights to broadcast; it is music that aches to reach some open-minded ears, and it is our pleasant mission to make that connection.
GA: For those who are able to tune in, when it is on? And also, what stations can people find your own show on?
DG: Eyes of Chaos/Veil of Order is on the second Monday of each month from 8 to 9pm on KPFA 94.1 in Berkeley and KFCF 88.1 in Fresno. For The Grateful Dead Hour's national broadcast schedule, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
GA: We've enjoyed having the chance to talk with you. Is there any mailing address where readers can get in touch?
DG: Truth and Fun, Inc.
484 Lake Park Ave. #102
Oakland CA 94610
GA: Great. Well, thanks for all of the time you have put into this on-line interview, David. We very much appreciate it.
DG: My pleasure!