Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Genetic Interview: Sonny Rollins

About a year ago I got to interview Sonny Rollins. You would think after two decades of interviewing music legends and other illuminaries I would have a certain savvy about me--and you would be wrong. I get extremely nervous the bigger an artist is--before talking to Sonny Rollins I asked a jazz friend what I should avoid mentioning--his response was to avoid talking about jazz.

This proved eaiser then you would think as my knowledge of jazz is limited to a mushroom trip listening to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Alice Coltrane's Om Supreme back-to-back. And yet, talking to Sonny was like talking to the grandfather I never knew--he was deep, wide and funny.

The biggest white guy snafu was when I sent him a picture to sign. Another friend of mine had a uncle who was a famous Bay Area jazz photographer and he volunteered a stunning black and white of a young Rollins to get signed. When it arrived back, Sonny had autographed it and dedicated it to Dexter Gordon. This seemed galant and a bit odd, but what the hell Sonny Rollins is 82 and he can do as he pleases. A week or two went by and my buddy called me and let me know we had actually sent Sonny a picture of Dexter Gordon.

 DNA: This is DNA with the Good Times in Santa Cruz

 SONNY ROLLINS: Oh, yes, Hello.

 How you doing man?

  Fine thank you.

 Thank you for taking a little time out of your day to chat with me for a short while

  You’re welcome.

 How are you feeling today?

  I’m feeling well!

Very good. You excited about coming out for the Monterey Jazz Festival?

  Well it’s always an event I look forward to—whenever I play I struggle on the part of myself to create a good musical experience. That’s always there, never the less. But the opportunity to come back to Monterey is always a challenge that I hope to meet in some degree. 

Is it true that after so many years you approach every performance as a struggle? Has it ever been easy to play?

  No it’s never easy. Sometimes the results are easy when, you know, turn out extraordinarily well. Sometimes you cannot determine how these things happen. We’re subject to the elements and all the things that make a good night happen—and who knows why, because we try our best. We never know so it’s never a sure thing. At least not for me because I’m always trying to improve myself and the musical experience—it’s never taken for granted, like “Oh, it’s gonna be a great gig in Monterey.” It’s always a challenge to satisfy the people and satisfy myself. Do you like to surround yourself with other musicians who have the same philosophy? Surely, there are some people you end up playing with who feel that a gig is a gig and don’t try to challenge themselves or the audience. I can’t surround myself with people—this is a personal philosophy that I cannot expect any other guys to have. I cannot determine that, I just look for a certain musical level that they need to have and do what I need them to do on a professional level. It’s a philosophical way of thinking and playing and I don’t require that from members of the band. I think of somebody like Chuck Berry who just requires the band to know his songs and be prepared to play them in any key at any tempo without any improvising. Of course, rock is a different world than jazz, yes? Yes, because improvising is what jazz is all about. I wouldn’t say there is a higher of lower level between rock and jazz, it’s just different. In jazz you have to be ready to improvise—it’s completely in sub-conscious levels—so you never know. When I play I try to reach a subconscious level, I don’t want to play on a conscious level—I want to be letting the music play itself. I certainly admire people like Chuck Berry and what they do.

 Do you use the new media, like the internet to research new information or check out new players on the scene?

  I enjoy seeing music. I don’t listen to music at home. I haven’t for a long time. But I do enjoy seeing people perform. At home, for some reason I don’t listen to any music and I haven’t figured out why I haven’t done that for many years.

Do you have a stereo—could that be it?

  I got the whole thing. At one point in my life, of course I listened to stacks and stacks of my idols. Maybe I just don’t want to listen to anything too different than my own sound. I’m not sure if that’s why I don’t listen to other peoples stuff, I love other peoples stuff. It’s great to listen to people who have something to say—it inspires me, really.

 Who amongst the latest wave of jazz greats do you like to hear?

  My last concert that I did with people that I admire a great deal were Ornette Coleman, Roy Hargrove, Jim Hall and Christian McBride a great great talent and Roy Haynes. I like those guys and the younger guys like James Carter, Joshua Redman, Ron Holloway plays a more contemporary sound. I have come across people like Wynton Marsalis and really like them. I don’t live in the city so I’m kind of isolated in a sense.

 Where do you live? Upstate New York.

 My whole family is from Newark, New Jersey. I spent half my life there and half my life here in California. It’s a different energy on the East Coast.

  Which is preferable?

 Neither is better or worse. I love both of them at different times. I’ve been listening to your recording from the Beacon Theatre that you just mentioned and particularly enjoying the tracks with you and Ornette Coleman. Having not shared time together in 60 years, was that particaulary exciting that you were going to be playing together?

  It was nice. We had never played together live before. We did play together back in Malibu, California in the mid-50’s on the beach, but never onstage. Back then I used to play all the time. Ornette came out with me one night. My thing was I like to play with the elements, the ocean and all that. I used to go with Don Sherry, the trumpet player and we’d go in the park and play. Part of it was that outdoors you can play as loud as you like and you won’t have anyone throwing bottles at you. 

I hope you don’t find this to be a superficial question, but as I look at pictures of your over the years, you have always have some great hair styles. A friend of mine sent me a picture of you and Coleman Hawkins and you have a Mohawk. Did you have a friend that gave Mohawks?

  One of my fans was a native American guy, you know, so during that period I began to read some literature about native Americans—I used that hairstyle as a tribute to them. 

Were you more self-conscious as younger man about the way you looked onstage? Do you struggle with what you’re going to wear to a performance these days—or as is?

  Sure, sure. I came up at a time when the musicians were really well dressed—sharp suits and everything. I was inculcated into that at an early age. And then times changed and guys were getting onstage in jeans and sneakers—and I went through that change as well. I still want to be presentable onstage. I don’t go onstage without any thought. I realize I’m onstage and know people are looking at me. At this age I don’t strive to be the dandy that I used to be. Now I wear things where comfort comes first but it’s not like I dress when I get a cup of coffee. 

It does seem to me that in the first half of the 20th century there was a greater sense of style in fashion, in automobiles and that people knew what “looking good” meant. Do you feel we have peaked? That we had our golden era and nowadays everything harkens back to another day? Do you feel that jazz peaked at a certain time, or that it constantly evolves?

  I feel that there was a golden age of jazz, probably that ended in mid-century. I don’t mean that was the end for jazz, just that it was a particularly fruitful period. It’s natural that it would subside in a way and I’m sure that things could pick up again and there will be another great age. Things change and the music has to be open to change, but I think that jazz is an opening of music. The question is what is jazz? Is it a singer in a café with a piano trio—no, jazz is the spirit in music, the spirit of freedom. And that will always be here. What we call the classical period can be seen in the photograph by Art Kane—of course Miles and Coltrane are not there—they were working and everyone else was available. It was those guys that made a big impact. Jazz is such an unpredictable form, it’s a spirit. So when you say jazz, I don’t know how to respond—because I don’t know what you mean by that. Here we are in 2011. People are trying to push Obama out of office, wild rhetoric that would have seemed at home 60 years ago is once again strong and loud—politically there is a movement to make one gigantic step backwards. Now would be a good time for the kind of jazz or rock and roll or any kind of music that focuses on the freeing of the spirit to take the stage. Finding the commonwealth of humanity is noble pursuit but it is not everyone’s pursuit. Your personal philosophy is something unique to you, but I wish we could instill it in more people. Even in the age where you might have felt that everything was progressing in a good way, whether you might believe in it or not—they were always countervailing forces. Just like the movement in jazz goes up and then down and then up—it’s the nature of life on this planet. Sure they are things that are against jazz but there will be an era where people embrace more freedom. Jazz is freedom, it’s the unexpected, it’s not always doing the same thing. Yes, there are rules but trying to correlate that with political movements. . .Look there movements in jazz, styles come and go.

 You’re a great inspiration and I wish you good health and safe travels.

  That’s very kind of you. You have really asked some provocative questions. But I would say don’t feel despondent. People will, of course, feel down and then feel up, but that’s the world. The world is like that. Water, waves that go up and down—we are part of the physical world. It’s the way it is. It’s never hopeless, and it’s never hopeful, it’s just always changing. We don’t know why we are here and nobody knows where we came from on this planet—but one thing is that it’s not all good and it’s not all bad—so it must be that there a philosophy that we have to take out of that. Everybody isn’t a good person and everybody isn’t a bad person and that’s just the way it is.

 I do stand-up comedy, that’s my passion, and I’ll listen to your music before I go onstage to try and bring my brain around to place that isn’t fixated on absolutes, so I can reach people with being funny and some element of truth, or at least honesty. Thank you for those words.

 My contact, Terri, is so excited about how you got this DNA as a name. She told me to ask you, but how can I ask a question like that?

 You wouldn’t be the first person to ask, Sonny. It’s the initials of my given name and when I started doing comedy in 1990, I knew I had to have a funny name so I legally changed it to DNA. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’m getting married and my fiancée and I are in negotiation about what her name will be. She doesn’t want to be known as Mrs. DNA. So she’s taking the A and adding it to her last name which is Perry. So she will be Mrs. Perry-A.

  Oh, that’s a good one. You have to use that in your act!

Monday, October 11, 2010

An Interview with Grateful Dead archivist: Nicholas Meriwether

by DNA

The original opener for the interview with Grateful Dead archivist, Nicholas Meriwether began, “Like Superman wandering around the Fortress of Solitude, slowly unpacking his crystals. . . “—but got self-edited in a measure to not seem like a dunce. I may know Grateful Dead, but I don’t know academics. You can read the printed article here.

This, then, is the raw unscripted version of our talk. It wandered, it meandered, a few things were taken out for discretion---much laughter pervaded the entire interview—hope you enjoy.

Meriwether holds a bachelor of arts degree from Princeton University, plus a master's in library science—with a specialization in archives—from the University of South Carolina.

His research on the Grateful Dead, their cultural significance, and their impact on late 20th century society has resulted in a number of publications.
Meriwether is the editor of All Graceful Instruments: The Contexts of the Grateful Dead Phenomenon (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007), as well as four volumes of Dead Letters: Essays on the Grateful Dead Phenomenon (Dead Letters Press).

DNA: I’m a little daunted, I did some research and you’re incredibly well educated.

NM: Not at all. (Laughter) It’s great to be able to hang out in school until you know what you want to do with your life.

DNA: You’re an East Coast guy. Was it a big culture shock moving to Santa Cruz?

NM: I lived in San Francisco for ten years, Oakland for a year and a half and San Mateo for a year and a half so I knew exactly what I was getting into.

DNA: Do you find it more subdued here in Santa Cruz then say, Oakland?

NM: Not really, actually. I dated a girl for two years in Santa Cruz when I was living in SF. And there’s a little bit of a different vibe, but not that different. And both of them are so radically different form the East Coast vibe, that it’s more an East Coast/West Coast thing. And I was born in South Carolina and the North East/South East is so different, as well. Where are you from?

DNA: I was born in Newark, NJ. During the 1960s riots Newark was on fire. My dad likes fire, not just being in one, so we moved one town over to West Orange.

NM: I went to college in New Jersey.

DNA: Princeton.

NM: Right, absolutely. I was there from Fall of 1983 to Spring of 1987.

DNA: I moved out here in 1985 to go to Graduate school and be closer to Jerry.

NM: So you’re a fan as well. Good, excellent. How many shows?

DNA: 500 Jerry shows.

NM: Dude.

DNA: I was committed.

NM: That’s impressive. I think I saw close to 80.

DNA: But you’re also a scholar. When you go to community college it’s easier to miss class. In graduate school I majored in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology—going to Dead shows was research.

NM: I think there is a definite parallel. Some of the more interesting Dead work is being done by psychologists. One is Stanley Krippner.

DNA: Right, love Krippner. He did the dream telepathy experiments with the Dead back in 1971. I didn’t realize he was still involved with the Dead.

NM: He is part of a group of scholars that study the Dead to and meet once a year at one of the big national conferences. I recruited Stanley three or four years ago and he’s a regular—he’s 83-years-old now, but he’s got more energy, sharp as a tack and loves to come hang out with us.

DNA: When you meet are talking about what happened in the past or recently? Which Dead band do focus on: Further, Ratdog, Phil and Friends or the Rhythm Devils? They’re back with friend Tim Bluhm playing with them—Keller Williams dropped out and Tim from the Mother Hips stepped in.

NM: I’m so busy with the archive that I haven’t seen too many shows. I did make it to Outside Lands. Swallowing the archive I’ve sort of dropped out of being a Deadhead.

DNA: It’s one of those ironies, I’ve been so busy writing about music journalism that I don’t get to as many shows as I would like too.

NM: I did see five Further shows. I saw the first three and went to the NYE shows—and I had big fun with that. That was interesting. Further is the most successful post-Jerry aggregation. My contention is that if that they should have chose Steve Kimock and paid him well and let everything else go. He’s the only guitarist for my money that can do Jerry without floundering.

DNA: Jerry even passed the torch when he called Kimock his favorite guitarist.

NM: I think Further works now because they simply gave up. Warren Haynes is a wonderful guitarist, but not in that context. Jimmy Herring is a wonderful guitarist but not in that context. Kimock was great, but they won’t be able to keep Kimock—so the thing they did is good. The core of Further is that you have these two great “rhythm players,” amazing virtuosi—putting Weir and Lesh together is putting two rhythm players who are acting as the lead and everyone is arrayed out and subservient, tributary to that—and it works and it’s cool and it’s interesting.

DNA: I went primarily for Jerry. I loved travelling around making my way by selling shirts, anklets, license plates in the lot—but that was not why I was there. I wanted to be near the touchstone. I feel that people now are just living in the echo. On the other hand, when I was 16 I told myself that I would never get jaded. So new experiences, getting to hear Dead songs live for the first time, congregating with friends for adventure is awesome--I salute fans going to shows. But it’s not for me.

NM: I just had a fascinating interview with a kid who never saw Jerry, but he really gets “it.” I saw something of that when I went to a Ratdog show about three years ago. Here’s me in my gray hair in my 40s with a bunch of my contemporaries and we’re looking around overwhelmingly at 19/20 21-year- olds. The thing that I was so charmed by was for them the highlights were Greatest Story Ever Told and One More Saturday Night. And I remember thinking, “Wow, the reason they are going apeshit over this is because they know this is as close to the Dead as they are ever going to get.” He’s interested in doing some oral histories with people even younger than he is—who also somehow get “it.” And as much as I agree with you and that was our experience and we were lucky enough to see Jerry, these kids are still getting something out of it. The other thing, DNA, let’s think about what that fucking says—just as you and I found it…

DNA: Didn’t we always know that one older guy Deadhead who was like, “ever since Pigpen left the band it hasn’t been the same.”

NM: Yeah! “I never saw them after 1971 because Pigpen wasn’t there.” It’s great. (laughter)

DNA: I never try to disparage anyone from their “thing.” But my question is what is “it?” What is the “it” that younger people are getting? Is it simply enjoyment of the music? People really like bands of all kinds, they like their songs, their sounds, and the crowd they attract. You get aesthetic pleasure from the way the composition rings in your ears. So what is “it?” What was “it?” And let’s say there continues to be an “it,” what is “it?”

NM: And how is it that that thing continues without the heart, core and soul of “it”, in our experience. I think the answer to that unfolds on several levels. Number one in general we lack a vocabulary, a common cultural vocabulary for describing the kind of X-Factor or experience that we are really getting at. We don’t have that and we’re kind of groping—I tend to think that all the scholarship that I’ve been participating in is that each one of those disciplines is trying to get to that core from their own perspective—we all know that the other perspectives are valid and we hope that if we put enough of them together that we’ll be able to see what “it” is.

DNA: So the mystery is intact?

NM: One of the reasons that mystery existed is explained in an essay by a fine scholar who talked about the degree to which the music was about the experience of hearing the music and I think there is a lot of truth to that. The article is by Granville Ganter; it's called " "Tuning In": Daniel Webster, Alfred Schutz, and the Grateful Dead," in John Rocco, ed., Dead Reckonings (NY: Schirmer Press, 1999), pp.172-181.

The exact quote is, referring to Schutz's theories, "His {Schutz's] characterization of musical experience helps explain how the Dead's music can be thought of as the focal point of a communal consciousness. The Dead's sound is a kind of music about that interaction." [p.177]

That may be why people continue to get “it.” My first falling in love with the Dead was when a California friend of mine put on Skullfuck, which I made the mistake once of saying on the radio--the eponymous live 1971 album.

DNA: Which is often not the top of the list of favorite Deadhead records.

NM: It tends to fall out of people’s consciousness, but it stands. The thing that blew me away was Wharf Rat—it was one of the most intelligent pieces of music I had ever heard. I thought it was the most enormously sophisticated compositions of music I had ever heard. It was an amazing combination of lyrics and music. And then of course you get into the whole side two Not Fade Away/Going Down The Road Feeling Bad and I thought that was magnificent and I was hooked. Then he gave me Dead Set and that really cemented me and then I got Reckoning and then I saw my first show.

DNA: Is this your friend in college, Christian?

NM: Ah, no. Christian became my running buddy. He and I saw tons of shows together. But no, the guy who turned me on is now a very respected oncologist at Dana Farber Institute and faculty member of Harvard Medical School and I don’t know if he ever saw a show—he was just a California guy who liked the Dead, thought they had a real interesting sound and thought that I should know that. I was just a good old boy from South Carolina and I said “you’re right!”

DNA: At what point did your passion with the Dead intersect with your scholarly critical analysis of what you were experiencing?

NM: I started thinking about it immediately. It’s funny—I actually gave my first academic lecture on the Dead in the summer of 1987 when I graduated college or 88, right before graduate school and I lectured a summer school class on the band. I came across those notes just a few months ago when I moved out here—I hadn’t seen them in years and I looked at them with a sense of, “Oh my god, what the hell was I saying.” None of the good reference books had come out yet. What was amazing was that I hadn’t gotten that much wrong. Almost immediately I thought this is worthy of explication.

DNA: As a guy who had an enormous amount of time and money invested in his education, were you concerned that your passion in a supremely strange band, at a time when there were no other scholarly treatises were written would label you as a wingnut? I recall the first book about the Dead was written by Hank Harrison and it was a skewed bunch of literature combining occult knowledge with a fictional narrative.

NM: Of course, Courtney Love’s father.

DNA: He later tried to cash in with a story about how Courtney killed Cobain.

NM: He’s insane.

DNA: I remember Mickey Hart being very vocal that the book did not represent the band. The book was filled with astrological charts and I knew the band was weird, but I didn’t resonate with Harrison’s particular kind of weirdness. So when you began down the road of scholarly analysis of the band you didn’t have much text to back you up—you were an archeologist digging in an area nobody had ever explored before. When did you tap that vein and realize you were onto something and think this could be a career or at least a deeper pursuit?

NM: I never thought it could be a career and until I took this job….Let’s fast forward. One of the things that every scholar who studies the Dead phenomenon has to come to terms with is the stigma that attaches to you from studying that—sociologists are keenly aware of that because it’s happened in other areas. There’s a famous sociologist who studied strippers—he did a fine conservative job on a very reasonable topic, but he was immediately labeled…

DNA: He became known as “that guy.”

NM: Exactly. So we all have to contend with that. It was interesting for me because I was at a crossroads in career before I took this job. I had been offered a high-level job at the university I was at before this and I saw my career path diverging. If I had stayed there and taken that new job not only would I not have time not do anything outside that area which was mid-nineteenth century American southern cultural and intellectual history—it was an either or situation. Up until then I had managed to have a fairly eclectic carved out bohemian lifestyle in the academy which is not easy to do—but you can do it if you are a librarian or an archivist—but you can’t do it if you are going to teach. My crossroads was I either take this job and come out and do Dead studies and solely Dead studies or I stay there and give up on the Dead studies—and I really was not sure which direction I was going to go in. I let the two universities have a bid for me. There were really compelling arguements on both sides. One of the arguments against taking this job was exactly your statement about being labeled. My contention is, stepping back from it—I was born and raised in South Carolina and I had studied American cultural and intellectual history at a pretty high level. So I had a real sense there were contexts and precedents that really were exactly analogous for what I was interested in seeing happen with Dead studies. I could take comfort in the fact that I might be getting beaten up for studying something like this now but that is no different from what earlier generations of scholars had gone through. My father was pilloried in the 1950s for wanting to study this obscure southern writer, who at the time had all his books out of print and he was very weird and no one paid attention to him and then he won a Nobel Prize and gave an incredible acceptance speech. At that point everyone said, “This guy William Faulkner has got something going on.” And from then on, father looked pretty good. (Laughter) There’s a wonderful book on Black Nationalism and Jazz that came out in the late 1960s—he starts the preface of the book by saying, “It’s traditional to start a book by thanking all your colleagues who helped you, tragically none of those people thought this topic was worth studying.” And that was 1969—it’s a reminder to all of us. General Jazz studies started not long after that but Jazz faced a similar problem of being accepted academically. You can go back to before then in the 19th Century, opera was considered a debased and vulgar form of classical music, ain’t nobody going to say that today—it’s a high art as it gets. So I would say in fact to summarize all the work being done on the Dead—and there are some wonderful currents, Bob Weir is engaged in an interesting project with Giancarlo Aquilanti of the Stanford Wind Ensemble and are going to have an amazing premiere of Weir’s symphony which is based on taking motifs and elements from a whole slew of Grateful Dead songs and turning it into a symphony. This is by way of saying that you could see the broader forces at work that have always worked in culture which is as folk art becomes popular art and eventually passes into high art—it’s not a universal process, but I definitely think that it is the complexity of the Dead that lends themselves to high art. They are in many ways as high art as they are folk art. There’s enough good work done by good high-end musicologists to demonstrate that. I can point you to four essays right now that will make you agree.

DNA: From the Graceful Instruments collection?

NM: Two of them are in All Graceful Instruments and two more are from a book called Perspectives on the Grateful Dead edited by Rob Weiner, but they’re all enormously bright and very accomplished musicologists. Their essays make the point that not only are the terms of art music absolutely applicable to what the Dead did, but even more, you need those terms to satisfactorily explain how that music is working. When David Malvini describes the incredibly complex orchestration of Terrapin Station he points out that, oh by the way, you know how many rock songs have been written in the key of F—the Dead do that. When you read Graham Boone about why Dark Star hits you a certain way, he’s giving you an intellectual and musical vocabulary how the music works and sockets into on an emotional level—and it’s absolutely compelling. There’s lots of examples of how academic musicology and sociology having a real hard time with rock music. There’s a great opening in a book by a British sociologist named Simon Frith considered the dean of rock sociologists—he has great fun opening one chapter of a book called Sound Effects where he takes an Animals song and he juxtaposes this really high-level erudite musicologist’s voice:
(Nicholas lowers his glasses to the bridge of his nose, slumps in his chair and becomes a stuffy music snob.)
“This kind of riff is kind of a blend of Mozart and Bach, I call Mach.” (Laughter) Incredibly high-falluting and you’re just going along forgetting the fact it’s really a very simple Animals song. Then he juxtaposes this Animals clip where the band members are saying, “Right. Me mate and I wrote this in the back of the van, badly hung over, vomiting and we sort of did this and it kind of worked.” A very Spinal Tap kind of thing. Often rock has had that difficulty where you had this very academic approach to the subject matter that did not work and often ended up looking ridiculous. It never looks ridiculous with the Dead, ever. In my first long interview with Dennis McNalley he asked me, “Nick, you know what made the Grateful Dead don’t you?” I said, “I think I do, I also think you’re going to tell me.” He said, “Three geniuses.” I said, “Agreed.” He said, “Name them.” I said, “Easy. Garcia, Lesh and DNA?”

DNA: He mentioned me? (Laughter)

NM: No, I’m asking you who is the third?

DNA: I would have to say Mickey Hart.

NM: No.

DNA: Well this is a horrible game and I’m now I’m losing. The audience? No, that’s not it. Damn.

NM: Hunter.

DNA: Oh yeah.

NM: He’s the other critical thing. Don’t get me wrong, Weir is brilliant. And you could make the argument that he too is a genius. The proper analogy there is that there is an amazing string quartet in classical music—musicologists point to the Budapest String Quartet being the entity that really redefined the way that a String Quartet is understood today. There is a brilliant second violinist named Sasha Schneider and the way to understand Weir’s role in modern music is that he reinvented the rhythm guitar. The first time I saw a show I thought, “So many licks that I used to think were played by Jerry are played by Weir.” The symbiosis between those two is just extraordinary. For my money as a fan I think Two Djinn and Ashes and Glass which are the post-Jerry Ratdog songs, for my money, those are Bobby’s equivalent of Lazy River, So Many Roads and Days Between—which are the most stunning later era Garcia/Hunter songs.

DNA: What about Black Muddy River?

NM: No that was much earlier, 1987 or so. I’m thinking the last gasp of songs.

DNA: Wow, it’s amazing to hang out with somebody who knows the answers to stuff. It’s actually easier with my friends because they just agree with whatever I say even when I’m wrong.(Laughter) I’ve seen countless side projects. Bobby and the Midnites, Kokomo, Go Ahead…

NM: I saw Kokomo and Go Ahead and it was bad, I thought nobody had seen that stuff.

DNA: I remember, but every Garcia show was magic. Whether it was JGB, or Old and in the Way, or Grateful Dawg or just solo, or with John Kahn—I understand the whole Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human, Misfit Power story of the Dead, but even away from the Dead, unlike anyone else in the band, Jerry could still manifest the mojo and with the other guys I didn’t really feel it. Look there are plenty of musicologists who write about all kinds of music, and the Dead are no exception—but what about everything else going on at shows and I don’t mean the lots, the travels, the pretty colors. Plenty have tried to pen thoughts regarding the glance that Deadheads gave each other, the knowing. I think it’s still ill defined. And while Jerry was verbose, when asked about any hidden meaning in the Grateful Dead he signed off.

NM: And he was pretty consistent about that. At the same time there are some scattered comments from him on the record I’ve heard over the years where he says, “You know, I don’t really believe in anything I cannot see, touch, taste at the same time if there are enough reports like that you can’t discount them, you have to take them into consideration.” Your question seems to have two different parts. One part is how we as academics as fans as just thoughtful people, how can we keep pushing at naming the ineffable, putting words to something that is transcendent. That is really what Stanlel Krippner’s work in life is all about—post-modern science says that we may not able to replicate something in a laboratory but that doesn’t mean we cannot come up with ways about talking about it. It sockets me back to a wonderful comment my mother made to me. She’s a very pragmatic, down-to-earth person, a very Southern lady but a very progressive feminist, not namby-pamby, she had an MA in Chemistry and all that stuff, she’s passed away now, but years ago she told me was that one of my siblings had been born, and this was at a time when the practice was to immediately remove the newborn from the mother and to let the mother sleep. I forget which sibling it was but they wouldn’t shut up and my mother couldn’t get to sleep. Hours after the birth, the nurse comes to my mother who is still awake and she says, “I know the baby is still awake, bring him-or-her to me.” I think that we are connected in ways that we do not understand yet—and some point we will learn how those connections work, but right now we do such a bad understanding of our brains—such a bad job of so many fundamental things. I have no problem saying much of what we describe as happening in those moments of highly charged connections in a community—there’s a reason we have words like synchronicity, they may not be technically accurate but they are certainly getting at something that everybody has a window into. It doesn’t mean that you have to get all mystical and put crystals on yourself to pull out bad vibes or something. The point is not to become untethered, the point is to admit ignorance. Admit a place in your life for profound mystery, how could it be otherwise? At the same time don’t get all wrapped up thinking you can control the channel to understand we’re still as a people a long way from that.

The second big thing is that I do think on an academic scholarly level we can push the discourse a lot further than we have—the approach that I take, that I’m working on now with one of my books is to demonstrate how the approaches to the Dead all fit a pattern of scholarship that has really come into particular focus over the last hundred years across a number of different disciplines and how the ways that we have suggested and have started to talk about the Dead actually fit in with these actually broader and deeper intellectual currents and themes and I do think there are certain things we can point to like Mikhail Bakhtin

DNA: Who’s that?

NM: A guy who has a theory almost a sociological or cultural theory of carnival and how that describes these kind of luminal moments of ecstasy and transformation. You can go back all the way to the Eleusinian mysteries. When I first walked into my first Dead show, my reaction was, “Wow. I am going to spend the rest of my life thinking about this and this is my generations Eleusinian mysteries, this is it.” The Eleusinian mysteries insured that when you left you were transformed—nobody could talk about it, but they would spend the rest of their lives thinking about it. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? And I don’t think that happens in any other venue or form.

DNA: Part of your job is that you are also a fundraiser for the archives.

NM: I wouldn’t call myself a fundraiser, I think the proper way to put it is that any special collection that comes into any archive in this country at this time, all are hurting badly. Taking care of archives is more expensive and more difficult and more time consuming than taking care of books. It’s an enourmous resource intensive process. Every archive has to do fundraising and development. You can make a cointrinution to UC Santa Cruz, McHenry Library or directly to the Dead archive and it’s all tax deductible, 100%. I get a certain amount of money that is donated free and clear, but I also get in kind donations of materials we need, pictures, posters recordings, you name it. I got a wonderful gift last week of a handpainted jean jacket of Mars Hotel, just an amazing piece of Deadhead art. So yes, I am actively trying to raise money but that is part of what it takes to build a collection and that requires a lot of different things. I work with interns, I write articles, I do interviews, I conduct oral histories and I also talk to people who have money who are interested I supporting the archive.
DNA: Have you seen Slugs and Roses?

NM: Yes. I love the healthy musical scene that Santa Cruz has. I’ve seen Shady Grove, The China Cats and Slugs and all are remarkable bands. A wonderful convivial collaborative scene.

DNA: I would imagine that the red-headed stepchild for you might be something that is integral to the story of the Dead—LSD.

NM: One of my responses is that the problem with that conversation is that our country does not do well when we discuss substances or inebriation in any way shape or form—very much conditioned by our Puritan past. There’s a religious overlay that deeply informs the American thought, remember we are only country stupid enough to try and ban alcohol. Dinoysianism ain’t where we at as a species. As an example of that look at the genesis of drug literature in this country is Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s The Hasheesh Eater. He is the son of a minister and a Presbyterian abolitionist. The fear that runs through his novel, the Calvinist repudiation of inebriation being an invalid thing for humans to do. It starts in the 19th century, look at all the temperance movements. There are a good couple of scholars who have done analysis of how marijuana became illegal and in general is the kind of way that prohibitions have happened. What that scholarship has proved is that prohibitions are really political control of an undesireable class. So the wave of anti-marijuana laws in this country that began in the early 20th century is essentially targeting Mexican workers. Prohibition of alcohol was celebrated by Republicans who toasted it with hard liquor because it would shut down all those beer drinking saloons where the Irish would congregate, and the Irish democrats would congregate. Scholarly research shows that prohibitions aren’t about controlling substances, they are about controlling part of the population for political reasons. And I think that is compelling. This is how in the middle to late 1960s you could be sent away for more years for a conviction of having two joints then you would for violent rape. Eric Schlosser’s recent book Reefer Madness where he says: Look at what we have done with the war on drugs—we’ve destroyed people’s lives. It’s a very respectable mainstream book. He goes on to say: Any society that finds it more appropriate to punish a non-violent drug offense with greater severity than you do murder, has lost its bearings, and I think that’s absolutely correct. This is along winded way of saying the question is just hopeless and by asking that question you have identified yourself among the ignorant. There is no amount of lecturing by me or any other human being that is going to bring you face-to-face with your predjudices and your misinformation.

DNA: Except maybe a nice tab of acid.(Laughter)

NM: In a hundred years I hope that this archive is able to give a future archeologist the stories of personal transformation that came out of the Dead scene. Most of the collection is off site for processing, but I will take you to the ultra secret high security room and let you see what I got.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interview with Richard Metzger former CCO of Disinfo.com


Over the years I have done my fair share of interviews. Sometimes it was a job assignment that I carried out as professionally as I could muster. Usually, it was because I had somehow convinced somebody I admired to talk to me. 99% of the interviews were published somewhere or another, but, this one, fell through the cracks until it landed in my lap this morning.

I love the weird side of life and for years had read books from Disinfo.com about global conspiracies, alien abductions, psychedelic research and Suicide Girls. Founder Richard Metzger and I were on for an interview that took a few days to iron out for my publication, HUMP. There were missed calls, interruptions, dead cell phones and then the kicker was that this interview went unprinted for over 5 years.

The interview is thick. Turns out Metzger’s favorite later-day Leary story was one I had written in an Australian magazine called REVelation. His empire was looming, my novel was about to be released—but the landscape was bleak. Bush was in office and hope seemed far off.

In the end we theorized that a charismatic candidate might yet emerge from the shadows. In my novel I had imagined a skinny/community activist/addicted to cigs/messiahish/b-ball playing candidate that people call a socialist and communist. Real life gave us Obama.

Here then is the tale:

Richard Metzger: Hello?

DNA: Hey, I'm looking for Richard.

R: Speaking.

D: This is DNA with Hump Magazine.

R: Hey, man. How are you?

D: I'm doing pretty good. How are you doing?

R: I'm great.

D: Is now a good time?

R: Yeah, sure thing.

D: Cool. What's going on in New York City right now?

R: You're calling Los Angeles.

D: Oh, you're in L.A.

R: Yeah.

D: Alright, well, oh, right, that's good. It is earlier than it would be if I called you in
New York. [chuckles]. That's good. I got lost in your website for the last hour or so. It's quite a ride. How often do you personally post and stuff on your website, or does it kind of run by itself?

R: Me, next to never. Every once in a while I'll forward something on to Alex Burns -- who's the site's editor -- and he'll put it up. I actually don't do it that often myself. I haven't, really, since the late nineties.

D: What do you got your hands busy in right now then?

R: Well, just -- running the company, in general. We publish a book a month, and
usually a DVD a month -- so that's pretty big.

D: Totally. And I saw something about a feature film?

R: Yeah, I don't know why -- where did it say that because . . .

D: On the information page.

R: Oh, really. At one point we sort of did but, no, that's sort of fallen by the wayside.

D: Oh, really? Why is that?

R: It's not worth discussing.

D: Well, it would seem, though, that with your hands on all the information, is it just
about getting a good screenplay together?

R: No, it was about the property we were going to buy.

D: Was it the Da Vinci Code?

R: No, it was the Invisibles.

D: Oh, right. So you moved on to the hardcore business side. Was that always your main pursuit -- working the business side of things?

R: No, not really. I was the TV producer for a long time, and then the dot com thing came around, and I was able to take one of my favorite TV ideas and make it into a dot com thing and have corporate funding -- TCI at the time -- now known as AT&T Broadband -- but it was TCI's money -- their stockholders' money, rather -- that was behind it, behind me being able to realize some kind of underground thing on a higher budget than it normally would have received in any time in the past. The dot com era made that possible. I went from being someone who was essentially a producer and a director -- on the creative side -- to being someone who was doing all that but also had to deal with a business on a day-to-day basis, and . . .

D: Hey, Richard. My phone's about to die. I'm going to call you right back.

R: Okay.

D: Fuck. Piece of shit fuckin' phone! Fuck you, you stupid cocksucker!

[recording interference].

[dial tone].

[number being dialed].

[phone ringing].

R: Hello?

D: Hey, this is DNA with Hump Magazine.

R: Hey.

D: Good morning, how ya doing?

R: Good morning.

D: How ya doing?

R: Doing good. Can we start this in about 20 minutes?

D: Yeah, you want me to give you a call you back in 20?

R: Yeah, that would be great.

D: Hey, no problem, dude.

R: [unintelligible].

D: Okay, bye.

R: Okay.

[recording interference].

[dial tone].

[recording interference].

[phone ringing].

R: Hello?

D: Hey, this is DNA with Hump Magazine.

R: Hey, there, how are you?

D: Good. How are you today?

R: I'm great.

D: Sweet. Hopefully the phone won't die today. Sorry about that yesterday.

R: No problem.

D: I spent a lot of time on your website over the last couple of days. I was just wondering, as a starting point maybe, where -- did you always have kind of a deep fascination with the kind of news that you weren't getting any other place? How did the initial idea to start the site come up? What was your passion to get it going?

R: Well, yes, it's a two part answer. Yeah, I've always been interested in weird, unusual things. When I was kid I was a real bookworm, so I used to read a lot of counter culture books and stuff like that. This was like in the late seventies, when I would have been coming of age. That was the time when there was a lot of that kind of stuff around, you know, and mainstream publishers that published that kind of stuff 'cause that was just what was in the air then and that's what they did. So there was a lot of that kind of stuff turning up in like used book stores and stuff when I was . . .

D: Was it like . . .

R: You know, something like Naked Lunch or books on underground film -- like, let's say a book about, like, you know, [underground film in New York] -- I remember being a film that I loved -- books by people like [Parker Tyler].

D: [Carlos Castaneda]?

R: I wasn't really into that, but, yeah, that kind of thing. I mean, I read those books. They didn't really impress me that much, but I would read things like Leary's books or [Burrow]'s, and I was especially interested in [Alistair Crowley]. I guess those were the three main things that I was really interested in.

D: What about, like, Philip K. Dick?

R: I wasn't really a Philip K. Dick person. I liked him -- Lenny Bruce was more my speed. My sort of pantheon when I was a kid were Leary, Lenny Bruce, and William Burrows and Crowley. . .

D: [overlap]. That's a pretty good trinity, right there.

R: Yeah. Then, to answer your question about the site, I was working, for a little while, for Jerry Brown's presidential campaign. I guess it would have been in 1981, so it was the '82 election when Clinton won -- '92, rather. I devoted my life, for about six weeks, to Jerry Brown in New York state, so I was at a lot of meetings, and speeches, and public events, and so forth, and I'd look at the way that they -- I'd buy all the newspapers the day after something seemed particularly good to me. It's actually worth reminding you, or whoever's reading this, that there was a short period of time where he was beating Clinton in the primaries and from a surprise upset in Michigan, and another one in Connecticut. So New York was next. So Jerry Brown was actually looking -- Whoa, Whoa, what's going on here? Could this fire brand maverick candidate actually -- well, you know, how far could he get? I don't think anybody thought he could be president, but how far can he get? How long can he say what he's saying, and say it on CNN, and NBC, and ABC, and get that kind of exposure? That was kind of where I was more at with it anyway, just to see how far can this be taken in the media. Like I said, I never thought he could be president, but it was interesting to note that there was this up-kick in his fever at that point with a lot of people on the left. What I saw was you know 10,000 people, perhaps, at a campaign rally where the streets would be closed off and the cops, you know -- it'd be like a big deal -- and it would get reported in Newsday, New York Times, The Daily News, The New York Post, etc, etc, much differently than it had appeared to my own eyes. There would be discrepancies of sometimes 7,000 people between one article and the next. It became very strange, and I just realized that journalism was made by people who had a bias or that they were lazy or that they were generalizing or, you know, any number of things. Journalism, in a sense, is like any other industry -- it's like there are people who do their job really well, and there are people who do their job very poorly, and there are the people who will do anything they can just to escape having to work.

D: Just print whatever's in the press release, rather than research it?

R: Yeah, yeah, exactly -- the people who will just regurgitate a press release -- you're absolutely right -- or worse -- not that it was anything nefarious, I just thought it was -- the way the system works is human nature -- that's how it occurred to me. I never really saw it as a conspiracy, although a lot of people do. I don't see it that way. There's people who want this kind of thing, and I was seeing -- at that same time -- and having myself -- a growing interest in conspiracy culture in the 90s. After Oliver Stone's JFK, and then [Art Bell] becoming so popular, and zines. Obviously zines were still a new thing. That kind of information was coming out for the first time, and I thought, if this is fascinating to me, it would be fascinating to others if it was presented in a way that was not going to be distasteful or intimidating to them. There was a conscious effort to put together a glossy front or a sheen or a store front or whatever you want to call it to bring people in who might be looking for political information or who might be looking for conspiracy theory information or who might be just looking for something weird to goof on or something about a weird cult or whatever it is they can find on the Internet. We endeavor to become the portal to that kind of thing where somebody who didn't really know what they wanted to do -- or someone who did -- and know they could get a certain kind of thing if they came to our URL.

D: Right, do you think that -- how old are you?

R: I am 39.

D: I'm 42 so we're kind of right in the same boat . . .

R: (overlap). The same leaky boat . . .

D: The same -- well, that depends on how you want to look at it. I, too, was going out searching out Leary books early on, and it was always difficult to find that kind of information. Maybe I put more stock in it because I actively had to go, rummage . . .
R: (overlap). I think so. I know I did. I've said similar things in interviews myself

D: I actually got to spend like three days with Leary and I produced his last show before he ending up just staying down in LA.

R: Which one?

D: It was up in Chico. I was working for Magical Blend magazine at the time. I was helping with editorial and doing a bunch of stuff there. I don't know if you've ever heard of Magical Blend?

R: Oh, yeah.

D: Leary was coming up for Chico State so I ended up being his chauffeur for a couple of days and then I invited him . . .

R: There isn't an article about that in Revelation magazine, is there?

D: In Revelation? Yeah, I wrote that.

R: Oh, yeah -- I have that issue still.

D: Yeah, I wrote -- I worked with [Peter Collins] for like five years . . .

R: (overlap). Something about going into a Denny's. He doesn't want to go into a Denny's. He was pounding on the -- you wrote that article, huh?

D: Yeah.

R: I remember thinking that captured him really well because it showed how fucking out of it he was.

D: He was out of it, but as soon as he was in front of the media, he was sharp.

R: I've seen, in my own personal experience with him, it's gone from where he's just like all over the place -- and it's not even like he was like high. It was like he had been high for too long.

D: Yeah.

R: He was so burnt out. Interesting to note, if you watch a film of Leary in the mid-60s, like when it was still black and white -- he's still got the tie on. He was burnt out then He was inarticulate then. His raps in the 60s were very inarticulate, you know?

D: Yeah.

R: Compared to a lot of his contemporaries in that counter culture club or whatever, he is the poorest of poor.

D: He [faired] better than Jon Lily.

R: Enough said there.

D: Yeah. So then I booked a show with him up here and in the interim it was national news that he had terminal cancer. I was like, "Do you want to finish this engagement?" He was like, "I've never cancelled a gig." He came up here, and he did his show, and then he died a couple months later.

R: Not a couple months later -- about a year later. He milked that thing for like a year. I mean, I remember being at his house on a Friday and it got announced on like a Monday in the New York Times. I'd been sitting there waiting for an hour and 45 minutes. I was about ready to go, actually. There were all these people milling around as normal up there -- didn't seem to know who anybody else was or where Tim was. Anyway, suddenly he walks through the door -- and I had seen him probably two and a half years prior to that and he looked really good when I had seen him last -- and he was 72 and he looked like [Johnny Carson] -- what you expect Leary to look like from that era -- and all the sudden he came in and he had the goatee and his skin looked terrible and his hands were starting to rot away. I was like, "Whoa!" I think he assumed that we had heard the rumor about his cancer, but we hadn't. He walks in and this woman who I was with said, "Hey, Tim. How's it going?" He just sort of stuck his hands out like, "Well, you know," and it was weird because I remember thinking, in retrospect, after I read that article on a Monday -- he was, the whole time, alluding to this, and thought we understood what was going on. I understood vaguely that he had been ill but I didn't know it was anything terminal, you know. Boy to he look -- it was shocking to see him -- how bad he looked.

D: One of the things that was interesting when he was up here for that performance was one of the news guys who took me aside and he was like -- you know how news guys are -- they're pretty clean cut -- you know, they don't rock the boat too much or they try not to -- and he said, he goes, "I did acid in the 70s and I've never done it since. Can you tell me what I experienced, was that real?" I go, "I don't know what you experienced but it might have been real. It blew his mind.

R: Yeah.

D: I think so many people, who've maybe dabbled in that kind of stuff, had cosmic experiences and then kind of pushed it aside to go on with their life.

R: Yeah.

D: Leary was the touchstone for that for a lot of people. He was pretty inspirational to be with but it was like hanging out with your grandfather. He was always like yelling at me about something.

R: He could be very testy.

D: Yeah.

R: Yeah.

D: On the other end of the spectrum, one guy who's remained completely brilliant over the years has been like Robert Anton Wilson . . .

R: (overlap). Bob's great.

D: And I got to push his wheelchair around down in Palm Springs a couple years ago at a [prophet] conference . . .

R: (overlap). Yeah, I was there.

D: Oh, yeah?

R: Yeah, I was up in his hotel room. Were you hanging out there?

D: I was not in his hotel room. A woman I know, Susan, took over the wheelchair aspect of that . . .

R: (overlap). Some British guy who brought him a bunch of mushrooms. 'Cause I went back to his room. We were like getting high.

D: He -- The Illuminati Trilogy -- 'cause you were talking about [The Invisibles] -- and it's like -- yesterday -- Wilson seemed to be like one of those guys who pulled together all these different disparate elements of conspiracy and put it out in a fictionalized novel . . .

R: (overlap). Oh, yeah.

D: Then, with the [Da Vinci Code], now, and people saying how it's the most brilliant thing ever, it just seems like kind of a rehashing of stuff I've read for 25 years.

R: Yeah, Da Vinci Code, it's more properly, I think, a rehashing of [Name of the Rose].

D: Oh, right, yeah the holy blood, the holy grail

R: (overlap). Pendulum -- no, the [Empire Eco] two novels, that Sean Connery movie.

D: Oh, that's right.

R: Yeah, that's really close to what Dan Brown does. It's funny, we've been making money off of Da Vinci Code related products. We've got the DaVinci Code, like, fan book thing. So somebody who wanted to know, "How much of this stuff's true," could like go back and read that, and we just sort of cynically put it out to make some money, obviously -- it wasn't like either one of us were great Dan Brown fans. I think that book sucks, personally. We did end up selling a boat-load of those books. Then, this summer, I did a documentary -- it's like a 90 minute documentary -- about the Da Vinci Code as well. I mean, I really think it's stupid but it's big business right now. Like it or not, [Disinformation] is somewhat in the Da Vinci Code business.

D: Right.

R: I mean, I know it's [naft], believe me. It's stupid.

D: Yeah. I just finished my first novel and it's a contemporary look at the Messiah returning. I was raised orthodox Jew but I went to church for the last year and a half, trying to get some insight into, you know, what is going on for these two billion Christians, and Da Vinci Code was often in the hands of the different preachers I saw at different churches.

R: I think that's great.

D: Obviously disputing it, not agreeing with it.

R: Yeah. The fact is, you know what, though? It's like -- think about it this way too -- there could be a 12-year-old kid sitting there listening to them dispute it and thinking that's kind of rational to me. I mean, let's face it, whenever you hold the Bible up to any kind of scrutiny, it falls apart. I mean, it really, really falls apart. It's inconsistent within its own covers from chapter to chapter. I always thought the Bible was absurd when I was a kid.

D: Right, well it's that amalgamation of stories that have been translated and mistranslated over the years. Do you think that -- in '85 there was the Jose Agrguelles Harmonic Convergence and it was this whole idea of we're entering a new age. The Y2K thing wasn't so much a new age as it's all gonna fall apart. All this apocalyptic . . .

R: (overlap). 2012.

D: Yeah, 2012 -- Armageddon kind of philosophy that's spouting around now with more access to it with, you know, your website, and with [Surfing the Apocalypse]. It's easy to find out what this stuff is. Do you think it has less value or do you think it's permeating the culture more for people?

R: Well, if you can find it, and you have access to it, and it's around more, then it would have a positive effect. I don't think information in and of itself is ever gonna have no effect or be ineffectual or over-exposed. It's not going to be like, you know, oh, I'm sick of [Grace Jones] this year -- oh, God I can't stand Paris Hilton anymore, you know -- it's not like that. It's always different stuff. I think it's a good thing. I don't really know how to answer that question but I don't see it being devalued . . .

D: (overlap). The one thing of Arguelles I actually always liked -- one of his quotes -- "When the light hits, dark gets tough." Not to put everything into black and white, but with the inauguration yesterday, and all the headlines in the British tabloids -- you know, [I] thought things were bad during Reagan's reign, but certainly in this place we're in right now, in a lot of ways, we've become the enemy of the world.

R: It was that way then, too -- "We are the enemy of the world". I mean, I was abroad for two years during the early '80s and there was constant antagonism towards Americans in the U.K. -- living in London -- there was a [constant] antagonism towards Americans. I mean, I got very good at deflecting it. It's absurd when, let's just say, some young British person would want to walk up to me and have some kind of argument about what Reagan was doing -- "Dude, you really think I have a lot of influence with him?" The only thing you can do is look at someone incredulously and say -- and ask something like that just to point out the absurdity of it. I think it was bad then, and I think it's bad now. Here's the thing -- I look at it this way -- I'm not like a Bush-hater. I didn't vote for him. I had a queasy and uneasy feeling when he got back in, but I don't hate him. I think he has a point of view. You know what I'm saying?

D: Yeah, totally.

R: People have a point of view. It's a strong one. It's not one that I subscribe to, but I can understand these kind of people. I come from those kind of people. My parents are republican. My sister and her husband are republican. I know those kind of people. They want to do good in the world. They don't want to do evil.

[recording interruption -- reggae music?]

R: But, you know, it is what it is, and, you know, I just don't think you can get that involved in it. I think someone like Wilson has a really good perspective on all of this because he's old enough to. I think it always seems like it's going to be The End -- mind you, it seems a little bit worse now than it did during the '80s -- but I can remember during the '80s thinking, you know, God, if [Casper Weinberger] thinks that we're in the end days, and he's [The Guy] -- that's fucked -- you know? It's not quite like that. It's different now. You know what I'm saying? [Are we] still hanging on the very hairy edge of annihilation of the planet ? Yeah, we definitely are. That's what it's been for a fuck of a long time, though. Is it better now? It probably actually is. It probably actually is better now. You know what I mean?

D: Do you think that the access to information makes it . . .

R: [overlap]. Better than it was in the Cold War.

D: Right. Do you think more people having more access to information helps make a more intelligent populace?

R: Yeah, definitely -- definitely. I mean, like how hard was it for them to sell this whole war to half of the population? Very hard, you know -- very, very difficult. They have not made that sale. There is a very -- hang on one second -- sorry, just let me see who's calling me.


R: Hey.

D: Hey.

R: Anyways.

D: Do you have a couple more minutes?

R: Oh, yeah. I'm fine.

D: I did a thing up here four years ago called Nudists for Nader and I released that we're going to do a rally for Nader and have nudists show up, and the media came -- we ran for three days -- because we actually did have nudists show up, and then we gave free pizza to the media, and it was all about Nader was coming to Chico. It was the last stop on his tour, like, a week later. I was running for Mayor at the time so I got to run the Nader show, and introduce him, and there was such a feeling in the audience of a possibility of change, of something amazing was going to happen -- maybe that's how it was when you were on the brown campaign -- but it really petered out pretty quick. Do you think -- the nuts and bolts of democracy -- that a third party coming along is actually something that's going to make a progressive change in this country?

R: Yeah, I think that's the only thing that's going to happen. I think that there is a high likelihood that there could be someone who could emerge from nowhere -- on a reality show even -- and become some sort of charismatic person who can capture the public's imagination, simply on charisma, and then raise the money after that. I think that -- you know what's most surprising is that it hasn't happened already.

D: [overlap]. Yeah.

R: In the past 20 years there hasn't been more of a -- not really like a necessarily onward gantry because that implies a negative thing -- but, like, where somebody hasn't just taken advantage of there being the sort of media [sphere] that there is and become some kind of ubiquitous all media celeb -- you know, like, Howard Stern -- someone like that, conceivably -- I don't think he could do it now -- but at a certain time -- maybe could have run for political office [and he didn't] but who knows.

D: [overlap]. Wasn't he going to run for governor of New York?

R: Yeah, he was, but they wanted to look at his tax returns . . .

D: [overlap]. Yeah, it was his tax returns.

R: I think that was all posted on that website, too, but -- Smoking Gun -- but I think that there's a high likelihood of there being someone like that. I think it's the kind of thing where it might be like -- like the French would say -- a manifestation -- where there would be some kind of political party that would, I think, appear, maybe, ad hoc around some sort of charismatic candidate. I can also see it going away just as easily.

D: Totally.

There was a Time: reflection on chico


1987 in August I moved to Chico during the Harmonic Convergence. First stop, Mount Tam (I was the guy in the Life Magazine photo behind the photographer). Second stop, due to a untimely death of my trusty (to that point) baby blue Delta 88-- the finest car made in the last half of the 20th Century--Oakland. Frankly, I was lost.

Saint Vincent de Paul became heir to half my belongings before I even got to Chico. I don’t know what they ended up doing with my High Times collection and black light posters, but I’m sure somebody in Oakland appreciated the donation.

Chico, like most summers, was hot that year. A hot I had never experienced. Arizona had a dry heat. New Jersey has a humid heat. But Chico had a mind-bending heat. A heat that would make you lie in a bathtub of cool water because it was too hot to make it to the river.

During those first dog days the streets seemed to stretch out in a haze of melting asphalt. The people on the sidewalks, my first exposure to Chicoans, walked around when it was 110 degrees like it was no big thing. I suppose that was an inkling into the Chico psyche.

Rent was $110 for a one-bedroom in a four-plex, next to a very young Eli and Ben Bird, and a still young Stevie Cook.

A minimum wage job could carry you through the month.

Fraternities had keggers where seminal versions of the Hips and Circus learned their chops. The beer flowed freely and there were no white gangsters--thugs maybe--but America and Chico’s imagination hadn’t been marred with the need to be a pimp. All we had was Huggy Bear. MTVs version of hardcore hadn’t arrived, yet.

Hippie parties were bacchanals. Days long, dragged out in the streets, drugged out on the lawns and the cops weren’t that hip, yet.

Halloween, Pioneer Days, St. Patrick Days, Memorial Days and every weekend, thousands of people clogged the streets walking from bar to bar, following bands and just being a menace in the streets.

West Second Street was dominated by Ted Shred, whose uttered name would cause skate rats to scatter, quickly. Ted was X-Games.

I became familiar with the legion of Chico families who had been fighting the good fight, whose children carried on the tradition. I was an outsider who was welcomed in. I had found the extended family I always knew existed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009



We need a big "what the fuck." Something that will take our minds off the all current fucking dilemma we got brewing. I saw an interview with a Palestinian woman, beautiful all wrapped in muslin, who organized suicide bomber missions. Apparently not all terrorists are men. Newsflash to me. Because if women are involved in terrorism, we're doomed. We coulda beat the men, but the women will get us every time.

It's all too much. I mean, Al Fucking Gore is on the bandwagon that we have a slim 100 years before a Global Climate Shift. Give or take a 100 years. I think an awful lot of fatcat democrats are sitting around thinking, "hell I got 100 years. Gotta plenty of time to see some Grandkids learn how to shaft the poor." But when have scientists ever been right? They are constantly changing their mind. They call it refining their results. If the ocean raises 3-5 feet, 70% of the population will have to be mobilized to higher ground. Have you ever tried to lead a group of people in any physical movement? It's like training a monkey to use an IPOD.

Other effects of this imminent global shift are it's gonna get hotter and colder. More fires, more blizzards, more hurricanes and more tornadoes.

Meanwhile Mohammed Armididjidad is going to do something fucked up real soon. Can't you just feel it. Cuz he hates Jews. Wants to move Israel to Alaska and that's not going to happen. Florida maybe, but not Alaska. Meanwhile, Meanwhile back at home, it's a complete mess.

So where's the huge "what the fuck" that we all need. Where's that giant UFO?

Am I the only one that wants one to appear? Because if that happens even a Palestinian woman hell bent on blowing up children will have to look up and say, "what the fuck."

It would have to give one pause.

We say it's the 21st Century, but it's more like the 21st Century BC. Everyone still hates Jews. But now we got Ipods. What have Jews done that they have been hated, persecuted and oppressed for over 4 thousand years? Those early Jews must have been really annoying.

You can imagine some Ur meeting, some Sumerian council where the head poobah says, "it's time that we as a culture set the bar higher, " and from the back of the room you hear, "bar, bar, two jews walk into a bar, they buy it. Bada bing, I got a million of them." "Arrest the Jew, in fact Arrest all of them."

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Interview with Jackie Greene.

Fuck Rolling Stone—A interview with Jackie Greene.
by DNA


Jackie Greene is living a pretty cool life. His songs are on the radio. He tours around the country with friends. He guest sets with Phil Lesh and the Mother Hips.

As chance would have it I got the chance to interview Jackie for the local weekly here in Santa Cruz, Good Times. Very little was used in the story as it ran and so I decided to create a longer piece for the web.

We started a preliminary talk via email as Jackie was driving around Montana on tour with his band. We moved onto a phone call and things loosened up a bit.

DNA: How was your last show at the Santa Cruz Blues Festival?

Jackie: As I recall, the weather was perfect last time and the crowd was really energetic and eager to be moved. The food was fantastic and we had lots of fun. Things like that stand out to me.

DNA: Promoter Bill Welch books you for the Blues Fest, as well as Moe’s Alley—are good promoters essential to your happiness on the road?

Jackie: Bill lives and breathes live music. I've done a dozen shows with
him and each one has been great. He takes care of the acts that come through his club. He knows what it's like.

DNA: You playing new songs on the road?

Jackie: As far as new songs, we have several but may or may not play them yet. We're dipping into the old songs a lot more and stretching out our improvised stuff a lot more. We're not really a "jam band" but we wear that hat pretty well sometimes.

DNA: Do you change up your set depending on the venue you’re playing?

Jackie: Well there's a certain amount of "playing to the crowd" that goes on. But more or less, we just do our thing. We're getting better and better and feeling out the situation and adapting if we need to...so it's kind of hard to say.

DNA: As a terminal Deadhead, I was a bit more than surprised when you joined Phil Lesh and Friends.

Jackie: Phil called me on the phone and asked me to come to a recording session and help write some songs, play guitar, sing, etc. I guess he heard a song of mine on the radio, really liked it and bought the record. I was familiar with the Grateful Dead but by no means a Deadhead. Now, I am. Phil has introduced me to a wonderful
world of music that has been really inspirational to me. He's one of the true visionaries of music. The Deadheads have been really kind to me and I'm stoked to be involved in their world. I was nervous as first, but I felt warmth and opened up to it.

DNA: You ever get star struck when you meet people like B.B. King?

Jackie: I did a few tours with BB King as his opener about 5 years ago. He's one of the greats, for sure. The first time I saw him, I was 17 years old. Next thing I know, I was opening for him. I'm a big fan. His band is fantastic.

DNA: Do you feel like crowds in Montana are more eager to see your shows because there’s nothing else to do besides trap beavers?

Jackie: I think there's a certain amount of truth to that, but at the same time city crowds like San Francisco and New York can be pretty
enthusiastic. I think it boils down to the setting, venue, vibe, how much tequila was consumed, etc. We don't get much time to sleep so we usually try and catch up on rest between shows.

DNA: Who owns the studio?

Jackie: Tim and I own the studio together and started it a couple years ago. He's in there more than me because I'm always on the road.
Right now I'm working on my new record that Tim is producing along
with our friend Dave Simon Baker.

DNA: You guys are good friends?

Jackie: Tim is one of my dearest friends and he's a one of a kind person. He's very important to me.


(Finding a moment in Montana where his cell phone got bars, Jackie called up.)

DNA: Hey Jackie what’s going on.

Jackie: How ya doing man, we’re driving through Montana.

DNA: God’s country, big skies…

Jackie: Animals and shit

DNA: People with guns

Jackie: Crazy fuckers.

DNA: Are you in a tour bus?

Jackie: No, we roll in a van. We’re stopping for a little dinner here.

DNA: Moose burgers?
So I did a little research online and during an NPR interview you said that you couldn’t say on the radio why you moved from Sacramento to San Francisco.

Jackie: I did?

DNA: Yeah, you said it was a reason you couldn’t say on the radio.

Jackie: Oh, well, shit, I don’t know why I said that. I was probably going to say something negative about Sacramento. I mean, I don’t have anything bad to say about Sacramento, but at the time I was probably irritated about Sacramento. I moved because Tim and I started a recording studio. I wanted to anyway but the studio kind of kicked me in the ass to do it………..sinking a bunch of money into a place helped the decision making.

DNA: You grew up in Salinas?

Jackie: I was born in Salinas but I grew up in Placerville

DNA: My girlfriend is working in Salinas today?

Jackie: Oh cool

DNA: You might be in love with a Mexican girl, but she’s trying to keep them from getting pregnant. (Disclaimer: DNA is a stand-up comic not afraid of a terrible joke.)

Jackie: She’s helping them out.

DNA: Do you and Tim have a name for your recording studio?

Jackie: Its called Mission Bells.

DNA: Tim just finished up with Hot Buttered Rum.

Jackie: That’s right. They did that one there. We did a record with a cat named Chris Velan from Montréal. The Hips are halfway through their new record, I’m about a ¼ the way through mine. A lot of shit goes through Mission Bells.

DNA: Are you represented by Digg or Verve?

Jackie: Currently I’m on a label called 429, before that I was on Verve. Digg is a label but they are just my management co.

DNA: Are you still playing with Phil Lesh and Friends?

Jackie: We toured in 07 and 08, but now he’s playing with the Dead.

DNA: Are you playing with the Dead?

Jackie: No, no, no. I’m in Phil’s band, we don’t have anything planned for this year, but you never know, Phil’s pretty surprising.

DNA: For an old guy.

Jackie: For an old guy, he’s pretty last minute.

DNA: You’d think he’d have better planning by now. But he’s earned it.

How did you and Tim Bluhm originally meet? Were you into seeing the Hips play?

Jackie: There’s a ten-year age difference between us. I think I was a sophomore in HS when Shoot Out came out and I was totally into it. A group of friends and I were really into the Hips and we would go the park in Sacramento and see them play. We met about 5 years ago--I actually had met John the drummer, years before I met Tim. I met him at a show I was playing at and he was working at the club or something. He said, “I’m the drummer for the Mother Hips, and I was like, “I love your band.” He told Tim about me, and we started talking by email, turned out Tim was playing a solo show in NYC. We had a night off and saw him play and we hung out. I think I bought him some beer and pizza. We’ve been friends ever since.

DNA: Is that it all it takes with Tim, some beer and pizza?

Jackie: That’s pretty good for a Chico boy.

DNA: How did you end up onstage with the Hips, did you rehearse and learn the songs?

Jackie: Tim and I are next door neighbors, so it just sort of happened. We decided that I would play with them whenever they are around--I’m like the fifth Hip.

DNA: I believe that one day the world will discover the amazing cavalcade of songs that the Mother Hips have.

Jackie: They’re one of my favorite bands too.

DNA: Skinny Singers--you have a new album coming out?

Jackie: We are slowly working on something. I have my album due, so we’re working on that first. It’s fun because it’s really simple stuff, we try not make it too complicated. Our thing is that with the Skinny Singers we keep it simple so we can invite our friends to play with us and they don’t have to know our songs. Mike Ferrel played with us the other night.

DNA: It’s like Delaney and Bonnie.

Jackie: Exactly, but way more simple.

DNA: You are in the midst of a pretty long tour; it seems to stretch out through the whole year.

Jackie: With a few breaks, we’re going to come home for a couple of days and head back out for a few weeks. That kind of thing.

DNA: Looks like you are on the track Amber Eyes, by Bryn Loosely’s new album, Wrecking Crew.

Jackie: My part was done at Mission Bells.

DNA: Bryn’s another Chico guy making good. So, to keep it short--I am putting together an article for the local paper, it’s not Rolling Stone.

Jackie: That’s good. Fuck Rolling Stone. You can quote me on that.

DNA: There’s my title for the piece.