Archive for the ‘amusing’ Category

DG’s Stanford “Overture”

Wednesday, January 24th, 2024

Here is the address I delivered to the first session of “MUS 49 — Psychedelia and Groove: The Music and Culture of the Grateful Dead,” a class I am teaching for Stanford Continuing Studies.

I wanted to call this class DID IT MATTER? DOES IT NOW? The answer is “Yes, and… yes!”

Please think of this as the OVERTURE, with hints of themes to come. Just let it wash over you! Lots of these bits will be elaborated on as we go.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead brought together a group of brilliant and musically diverse people, created a sophisticated musical language, and invited us to listen in on an ongoing conversation, in which the group gave equal weight to their original songs and their interpretations of songs from elsewhere – all woven together with a unique form of collective improvisation. As the years went by, they continued to expand their sonic palettes along with their repertoires, and large numbers of us stayed with them through all the changes.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead played more than 2000 shows in thirty years, a great percentage of which are thoroughly documented in various media, and because several generations of Americans – and a few people on other continents, too – organized their lives to a great extent around their relationships with this band and its fan community.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead cultivated an audience that welcomed new songs and was happy to hear a fresh twist on an old one.

• We’re here because the sailor gave at least a try.

• We’re here because there are web sites devoted to Grateful Dead set lists; web sites where you can listen to hundreds of concert recordings for free; a scholar who makes mandalas that attempt to describe the universe of “Dark Star,” and another who delves deep into union records and rental receipts to map out Jerry Garcia’s musical travels from the 1950s til he died in ’95.

• We’re here because a lot of people like licorice.

• We’re here because, as Gary Lambert likes to point out, the Grateful Dead performed unstructured, abstract music to audiences of thousands on a regular basis.

• We’re here because Jerry Garcia brought some of his bluegrass practices to the proto-Grateful Dead, thinking it would be great to have “an electric band where the instruments talk to each other.”

• We’re here because various members of the Grateful Dead collected and transmuted input from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Charles Ives, Ken Kesey, Chuck Berry, Lord Buckley, Ornette Coleman, Mississippi John Hurt, Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Jesse Winchester, Hamza el-Din, The Band, Ken Nordine, the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir, reggae, jazz, blues, musique concréte, African and Indian scales and grooves, samplers, synthesizers, and such.

• We’re here because as Mikal Gilmore wrote, “At their best, they were a band capable of surprising both themselves and their audience… playing as if they had spent their whole lives learning to make music as a way of talking to one another, and as if music were the language of their sodality, and therefore their history.”

• We’re here because you ain’t gonna learn what you don’t wanna know.

• We’re here because the studio recording of “Dark Star” is less than three minutes long while live performances tended to go for 20 or so and once peaked at 48 minutes.

• We’re here because Sue Swanson, Connie Bonner, and Bob Matthews decided to help their pals the Warlocks become famous so they could all meet the Beatles.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead produced not one but two brilliant songwriting partnerships – Jerry Garcia with Robert Hunter, and Bob Weir with John Perry Barlow – and because every other band member also contributed eminently worthy material.

• We’re here because, as Regan McMahon observed, Grateful Dead music is loaded with biblical references, death, and gambling. And I would like to note that Grateful Dead music features at least one talking dog.

• We’re here because a friend of the devil is a friend of mine.

• We’re here because when I became a Deadhead, I couldn’t find any books on the Grateful Dead until 1973, and when I published my first book on the subject in 1985 there were maybe half a dozen. As I speak to you today, there are hundreds of books about the Grateful Dead, and my personal contribution to the pile is up to five of ‘em!

• We’re here because a significant number of key behind-the-scenes players in the Grateful Dead world were women. There was plenty of sexism in that the various sub-subcultures of this scene, of course, but women were essential to the operation.

• We’re here because one of those women, Eileen Law – the face and voice of the Grateful Dead – was my main contact in the office when I was covering the Grateful Dead for BAM magazine in 1976, and it was her voice on the ticket hotline in the later years.

• We’re here because Donna Godchaux had the chutzpah to approach Jerry Garcia at a club gig and tell him that her husband was his next keyboard player – and it turned out to be true!

• We’re here because Jerry Garcia played the banjo when he was young and then came back to it in 1973 with Old and In the Way, a band that introduced a lot of hippies to bluegrass!

• We’re here because there were days when all we ever wanted was to learn and love and grow.

• We’re here because, as Peter Richardson told me, “The Dead seemed to flourish when Ronald Reagan was in office – first as California governor (1966-74) and then as president (1980-88).”

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead played so many benefits that they eventually founded a nonprofit, the Rex Foundation, that continues to do good in the world to this day, in memory of Rex Jackson, a member of the Grateful Dead road crew.

• We’re here because Les Kippel and Jerry Moore started a tape trading newsletter that evolved into a Grateful Dead magazine called RELIX that still exists today, and because of Mikel and Dupree’s Diamond News and Unbroken Chain and The Golden Road, and other periodicals that served the music and the community.

• We’re here because, as Nick Meriwether of the the Grateful Dead Studies Association tells me, there have been more than 600 papers presented at Popular Culture Association conferences representing more than 25 different disciplines “from musicology and literary studies to history and sociology.”

• We’re here because a web site called has listings of Dead cover bands and other related musical happenings every day, from coast to coast.

• We’re here because I know musicians in their 30s who couldn’t possibly have seen Jerry Garcia play live but who have become fluent speakers of the Grateful Dead language and practitioners of collective improvisation.

• We’re here because a band that isn’t the Grateful Dead played a sold-out concert at Red Rocks in Colorado a few years back, celebrating and re-creating the Dead’s sold-out performance in that venue 40+ years earlier.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead played a big part in the evolution of concert sound, eagerly collaborating with various geniuses to improve everything from guitar pickups to PA speakers and everything in between.

• We’re here because Deadheads and other recording enthusiasts taped pretty much every Grateful Dead concert after the first few years, and distributed copies for free: VIRAL MARKETING before that term existed!

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead served their community by fighting for the right to issue their own tickets for their shows, and created a ticket office run by fans of the band to make sure the people who loved the Dead the most got to see the shows.

• We’re here because Lonnie Frazier got healed on a surprise road trip to see the Grateful Dead in Colorado, and because there are so many more like her who found fellowship in the Deadhead community. They didn’t all make movies, but I’ve heard so many stories! I’ll borrow a line from John Denver, of all people, to describe the feeling so many have reported when they arrived in the Grateful Dead world: “coming home to a place we’d never been before.”

• We’re here because as Jerry Garcia recovered from a diabetic coma in 1986, Merl Saunders spent days helping him to relearn the guitar.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead inspired artists of all kinds to make graphical portmanteaus of GD and other corporate logos – such as a t-shirt that combines Grateful Dead and Federal Express on the front and WHEN YOU ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY HAVE TO BE THERE EVERY NIGHT on the back, or MORNING DEW replacing MOUNTAIN DEW on a soft drink logo.

• We’re here because you know it’s gonna get stranger.

• We’re here because Tom Stack sold unauthorized t-shirts in the parking lot on Dead tour, became a licensee, and wound up running Grateful Dead merchandising for several years.

• We’re here because Courtenay Pollock went walking one day and wound up making tie-dyes for the Grateful Dead.

• We’re here because Ben and Jerry are Deadheads, and so are retired senators Patrick Leahy and Al Franken, former vice president Al Gore, Steve Wozniak, Bill Walton! and Tucker Carlson. And Steve Liesman, senior economics correspondent for CNBC, also plays in a Dead tribute called Stella Blue’s Band.

• We’re here because Patti Smith recorded “Black Peter” the day Jerry Garcia died and let me put it on a record called Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful Dead.

• We’re here because Stephen Inglis made a record of Grateful Dead songs in a Hawaiian slack-key style, and because the David Murray Octet recorded a kick-ass version of “One More Saturday Night,” and because Wake the Dead play their Dead music in a Celtic groove.

• We’re here because the a grade-school singing troupe called the Barton Hills Choir has released two albums of Grateful Dead songs.

• We’re here because Grateful Dead was something of a killer app for online community.

• We’re here because Grateful Dead was something of a killer app for online streaming of live concerts.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead created their own career path: while most of the music business profited most from the sale and airplay of studio recordings, the Dead made their living playing live. Over time, as CD sales collapsed, the rest of the industry came over to our side: the bands that once toured to support their records now make records to support their tours.

• We’re here because Time Magazine, in an early-‘70s article about music fans, characterized the GD audience as “male lonerism” – but we turned it into a family-friendly culture that now sports three and even four generations of Deadheads.

• We’re here because at Jerry Garcia’s funeral, Bob Dylan told John Scher that Jerry had been the only person alive who knew what it was like to be him.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead persisted long enough to become a formidable entry in the annals of the record business after all. Among other things, the Dead are tied with Frank Sinatra for the most top-40 albums at 56, and the Dave’s Picks CD series has the most releases of any single band, at 49 and counting.

• We’re here because Phil Lesh is about to turn 84 and he’s still playing music, and because Bob Weir is 76 and tours with a ten-piece band and occasionally plays with a symphony orchestra.

• We’re here because the Grateful Dead are more popular now than they’ve ever been.

• We’re here because Bill Kreutzmann’s son Justin made a film called Let There Be Drums, worked as a producer on The Long Strange Trip, and is currently making the definitive documentary on the life of Jerry Garcia.

• We’re here because “Sure don’t know what I’m goin’ for/But I’m gonna go for it for sure” turned out to be a viable career plan for me.

• We’re here because I have been curating Grateful Dead music on the radio and elsewhere for going on 40 years and I’ve never gotten the slightest bit tired of it.

• We’re here because Gary Lambert is a wonderful co-host! We have collaborated improvisationally on SirisuXM’s Tales from the Golden Road for 16 years, shooting the shit about the Grateful Dead.

• We’re here because Joel Selvin, longtime music writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, recommended me to teach a class on the Grateful Dead.

• And we’re here because, as it turns out, several hundred of you are interested enough in this subject that you signed up for the class. Thank you!

Garcia Songbook Live in Berkeley tonight (early show!)

Sunday, April 16th, 2023

Joe Craven, David Gans, Lorna Kollmeyer, Jeff Hobbs, Joe Kyle, Jr and special guest Mookie Siegel – telling the story in our own voice!

Sunday 4/16. Doors at 6, show at 6:30
Art House Gallery and Cultural Center
2905 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Tickets are available here

Click here to hear our new studio recording of “Attics of My Life

SFAS interview with John Curl

Monday, April 12th, 2021

The San Francisco Audiophile Society asked me to interview John Curl about his work on the Grateful Dead’s sound systems over the years. The conversation took place via Zoom on Saturday, April 3, 2021. SFAS posted the video here.

This was actually my second interview with Curl for SFAS. The first one, on October 20, 2018, wasn’t recorded; they asked us to do it again for the archive. Here is SFAS’s writeup of the first one.

Rare 1975 JG poster for KPFA

Saturday, February 20th, 2021

Jerry Garcia 1975. Photo by Frank Moffett

Tom Stack has donated five more copies of this rare poster for KPFA’s benefit.
Were asking $100 for the poster, and Tom will pay for shipping.

First five people to contact me ( can have ’em.

This picture was taken at Winterland Arena in San Francisco, California by the late Frank Moffett. Though originally booked as “Jerry Garcia and Friends,” it eventually morphed into a full scale Grateful Dead show, right in the middle of their “retirement year,” 1975. This was one of only 3 impromptu shows that year.

Taken side stage via special access, it shows Jerry in the midst of a contemplative solo.

Printed on thick stock, and measuring 14” x 20 ½”, this incredibly rare poster is one of a few left from an edition of roughly 500, and was personally approved for licensing by Jerry himself. All copies are out of circulation and in sole possession of a local collector, also an ex-employee of the band. This will serve as a beautiful addition to any Dead Head’s collection.

Festival Express promo kit

Monday, July 6th, 2020

In 2003, I received two copies of the promo kit for Festival Express, a wonderful musical documentary of the June 1970 Canadian tour that inspired the Hunter-Garcia song “Might As Well.”

If I recall correctly, the press kit included a screener DVD, bio and other info about the film, probably a few photos. Each package also included several bags of guitar picks and a case of Hempire rolling papers that had nothing that indicated a link to the film.

The guitar picks had the film’s logo stamped on them – a 100-count bag each of three different thicknesses of Jim Dunlop Tortex picks, the kind I like. The purple ones were the gauge I prefer, so I gave away the other four bags and used nothing but those purple Festival Express picks for the next ten years or more. When my supply ran low, I ordered a thousand white Tortex picks with my own logo and web site stamped on ’em in purple.

The Hempire papers were also very much to my liking, the popular 1.25 size. The two cases of papers lasted seventeen years. The last two packs are nearly depleted. I bought new papers for the first time since 2003.

It’s the end of an era, and that’s what this post is about.

Interview transcripts on Medium

Monday, April 16th, 2018

I am going to post a bunch of interview transcripts on – first up are Ozzy Osbourne (January 1982), Tom Petty (November 1981), and Joe Walsh (June 1981). More to come!

My mistake

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

I fucked up.

In the liner notes for GarciaLive vol 5, just released, I stated that “God Save the Queen” is known Stateside as “America the Beautiful.” I am getting notes from all over the place, calling attention to this blunder.

I regret the error.

Thought for the day

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

It’s okay for you to brake for hallucinations, but you have to let the other drivers pass.

Photos from Peru

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Rita and I “won” a pair of round-trip tickets to anywhere LAN Airlines flies in South America. It was a promotion, I think because they had just opened the San Francisco market.  It happened at a favorite restaurant, Bocanova – a “Pan-American” restaurant in Oakland’s Jack London Square – a perfect place for them to do this promotion! Every single diner AND every single employee working that that night got a voucher. We had two weeks to book and we had til the end of the year to take the trip, so we sat down with our friends (who had joined us that night) to make plans. We looked at Argentina, too, but our friends had some excellent connections in Peru so that tipped the scales.  I have always wanted to see Machu Picchu.

This link will take you to my photos and Rita’s, too. We’re both adding more images to our collections, so check back again in a few days.

After visiting Sillustani (near Lake Titicaca), our tour group stopped for a photo op.

After visiting Sillustani (near Lake Titicaca), our tour group stopped for a photo op.

“The Narcotic Problem”

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Jon Carroll’s column in today’s Chronicle is (yet again) about the insanity of our drug laws.

The current state of affairs is something of a mess, although commerce is winning out in many areas. There’s gold in them thar buds, friends, and lots of people are aware of that and jumping on the bandwagon. If the Justice Department were to back off, we’d see a vigorous free market at work…. According to the folks at Harborside, Oakland’s upscale, perky-people, “have a nice day,” one-stop-shopping marijuana purveyors, the feds are now pressuring armored-car companies not to do business with the pot clubs, threatening possible prosecution for criminal conspiracy…. The Justice Department could decide unilaterally to just back the heck off. The pot clubs would be permitted to act like the shadowy companies they are, still technically illegal under federal law but otherwise OK. Tens of thousands of customers would be able to buy what they want to buy, and things would be messed up but a little less messed up than they are now….

I posted this column to Facebook and, prompted by the discussion that ensued there, I went and found my copy of “THE NARCOTIC PROBLEM,” a book “prepared by BUREAU OF NARCOTIC ENFORCEMENT” and distributed by the San Mateo Union High School District, where I was a student from 1966 to 1968 (Burlingame High School).

"The Narcotic Problem"

Here’s what the book had to say about “Marihuana”:


Marihuana (Cannabis sativa), a drug which contributes heavily to today’s narcotic problem, is a product of the hemp plant. This drug, most commonly known 1n the Western hemisphere as Cannabis Americana and Marihuana.. is generally known throughout the world as hemp and in the Asiatic countries as “Hashish, II “Hasheesh,” “Chara,” “Bhang,” “Ganjah” or “Gunjah.”

Cannabis sativa, or Indian Hemp, is a tall annual reaching to height of from four to twenty feet when mature. The leaves are alternate opposite with each leaf being made up of an odd number of coarse serrated blades with as many as eleven blades to the mature leaf. The hemp plant seems to have originated in Asia Minor, but is now cultivated in many parts of the temperate zone. This plant has considerable commercial value. The stalks and stems are used in the manufacture of rope and hemp cloth, similar to burlap. The fruit of this plant, which is often incorrectly called the seed, after sterilization, has been used extensively as a domestic bird food. The fruit also is valuable in industry as it is a source of a quick drying oil used in paint. It is believed that the hemp plant had its origin in the Central Asian area north of the Himalayas, but it is adaptable to a great variety of climates and is cultivated and grown wild in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia.

The cannabis habit has claimed its victims throughout the oriental countries for over a thousand years. In the last twenty to twenty-five years it has become a problem of great importance in the United States. In this country most individuals habituated to the use of this drug ingest it by smoking. Throughout the Orient the drug is most generally eaten. The leaves and flowering tops of the cannabis plant are covered with a gum or resin. This gum contains the active constituent cannabin, which is a glucoside of the drug. As morphine is to opium and cocaine is to the coca plant, so is cannabin to marihuana.

In the United States when the female plant is mature the leaves and flowering tops are dried in indirect heat, such as under the roof of a barn. The seeds are shaken from the flowering pod. All stalks and stems are removed and the leaves and flowers are crushed or “manicured” by rubbing between the palms of the hands. The resultant substance may be packed in a variety of ways. The most common of these ways are — compressed into bricks, each brick weighing approximately one kilogram (2.2 pounds), packed in an ordinary tobacco can, or loosely stuffed in a paper bag. To use the drug, it is rolled into cigarettes~-usually brown, or wheat straw, paper is used–the cigarettes are rolled in double papers, each paper being carefully pasted on the overlapping edge, and the ends tucked tightly in to avoid spillage. The double paper is to protect the cigarette against the possibility of breaking up as they are at times handled by many persons before they reach the consumer. Also, the double paper is necessary to hold the marihuana flakes which are harsh, dry, and sharp, having a tendency to puncture the paper when handled. The average marihuana cigarette, holding not more than four grains of the drug, may sell at prices ranging up to $1.25 each. In the Near East and in the oriental countries where marihuana is usually eaten, the leaves and flowering tops are gathered, the fruit stalks and stems removed, and the leaves placed on a long napped rug. This rug is rolled back and forth for hours. The gum from the leaves will adhere to the nap of the rug. After the rolling has been completed, the leaves and flowers are thrown away and the gums scraped up from the nap. This gelatinous mass is made into a type of candy and is eaten and chewed by the natives habituated to the use of the drug.

Marihuana releases the inhibitions of the users, as does cocaine. It ordinarily produces a state of intoxication and a feeling of exaltation, stimulation and release. The user may begin giggling or laughing uproariously. His perception of time, space, and distance is distorted so that objects begin to appear larger or smaller than the actual size, seconds seem like hours. He may be driving 80 miles per hour and believe that he is only doing 20. Marihuana may produce greatly varying effects upon different individuals, ranging from mere excessive affability to maniacal frenzy, and on different occasions it may bring about greatly varying stages of intoxication from the same person. There is no physical dependence created by using marihuana but it does produce both tolerance and habituation. It is an addicting drug only in the sense that existing psychological factors in the individual may lead him to depend upon its use. Its greatest dangers are that the intoxication and hallucinations produced may lead to violent conduct, such as attacking a friend thinking that it is necessary for self-defense, and that it may lead to the use of other more addictive drugs.

Marihuana is used to a great extent in combination with alcohol, which produces an uncontrollable intoxication. The subject is very dangerous to handle, knows no fear, and may cause considerable difficulty in being placed under restraint. It is possible that repeated indulgence in the use of marihuana may produce mental deterioration. It has been reported that many of the mental institutions throughout the Near East and Far East attribute the condition of their insane patients to the over-indulgence of the drug hashish or bhang, as marihuana is known in those countries.

In California narcotic laws provide that marihuana may not be cultivated. However, California provides the proper climate and the fertile soil that is required in the growth of this drug. Marihuana requires a considerable amount of water for growth and in California where the rainfall is limited during the growing season, constant irrigation is necessary. Practically all marihuana found by Narcotic Agents comes from Mexico except for limited garden and flower box culture within the state. No very large scale production in California has ever been detected.

The user of marihuana is a dangerous individual and should definitely not be underestimated by police officers. Caution should be used at all times in taking any drug user into custody, but particularly individuals who are known users of either cocaine or marihuana. They may be dangerous, hard to handle, and might resort to any act of violence.

"The Tools of Addiction"

Kids holding signs

Monday, March 11th, 2013

I saw some kids at the Greek on my way to the show… you know how everyone’s out there holding signs, “I need a ticket?” Nowadays they don’t even need to hold up a sign – they just have to make believe they’re holding up a sign.

– Harry Popick, July 1984

“Ecology Blues”

Monday, July 19th, 2010

I was transferring some old reels today and found my very first recording session, made in my family’s living room in San Jose in May of 1970. I was 15 years old. So please be kind when you listen!

Ecology Blues

“My Improvised Life”

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

This afternoon I spoke to the Rotary Club in Oakland. My connection to the Grateful Dead was the hook, and my theme was “My Improvised Life.” I recorded it on my iPhone, if you’d care to hear it. It’s about 27 minutes.

Thanks to C.J. Hirschfield (executive director of Children’s Fairyland) for inviting me!

The drugs I need

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Church Sign Generator

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

I’ve been seeing these things for a couple of years, and I should have figured out by now that they were artificial. Sent to me this morning by Ric Findlay:
And Ric also told me where he got it: The Church Sign Generator, of course!!