What’s That Up Ahead?: An Interview With Mickey Hart
It was with anticipation and deep honor that I got to interview Mickey Hart. There isn’t much that I can tell you about the man that you don’t already know. I mean what can I say, Mickey is one bad-ass mofo!! I do remember two distinct stories about Mickey that might help you understand my fondness for the guy though.
The place was Nassau Coliseum, Long Island during the early eighties. It was that phase of tour when many, and I mean many, people would go in the hallways during drums. Yes fans, you know it’s true. There was a long stretch you treated drums like you treat Dylan. You split till it’s over. (By the way, Dylan rules!) I worked my way to one of those killer seats right behind the drums that always seemed to be open, but yet was one of the best places to watch the band in the Coliseum. Mickey just finished a drum solo that was godly. Parish placed a towel on Mickey’s shoulders and led him off the stage. I realized that this I had just witnessed the best drum set ever, the most tapped in primal rhythm I had ever seen. Of course for Mickey, it was just another night on the road.
The second story actually shows me to be a crazy man. It involved a later eighties show at the other receptacle of huge shows, Oakland Coliseum. I found myself during drums, in the midst of a gigantic DNA strand that was running in opposite directions into infinity. And inside that cockpit of genetic material was Mickey Hart working his magic and keeping it real. Whew! Lock me up and throw away the key. I am certified.
It’s officially one year I have been writing for you all at Jambands.Com, and I want you to know that I think of you all as my friends and that even though I am supremely opinionated in my head, that in my heart, I’m all about “One Love.” With that disclaimer out of the way, let the opinions begin. The Dead were the most important band of the century. They were a group of musicians who wrote awesome tunes, jammed better than anyone since Smuckers, and were brilliant and interesting each in their own right. They were also more than a band. They were midwives to change, they were cheerleaders for weirdness, they were a tribal syncopation that allowed transcendent splendor. These facts are irrefutable and I will openly debate anyone who disagrees. So, bring it on!
Since Garcia died, I have been reticent to make many comments on how I feel about the scene. Basically, if The Dead were a signpost to new space, then the future awaits us beyond the signs, pointing fingers and remnant parts. On that note, enter this interview with an open mind, as I seek to explore the weirdness of it all with Mickey Hart.
I was testing the equipment to make sure the tape deck worked.
DNA: Mickey I’d just like to say it’s an honor to be talking with you, I’m a big fan, I’ve always been a big fan and I will continue to be a big fan.
“Well I ain’t often right”
My phone rings:
Mickey Hart: DNA this is Mickey are you ready?
DNA: I thought it was at noon.
Mickey: Well what time is it?
DNA: Uhm, 11:30. I was just writing down a bunch of questions
Mickey: Well that’s close enough--do you want me to call you back?
DNA: No, I’m ready, I’m excited how are you doing?
Mickey: Good, let’s rock.
DNA: Briefly, I followed you around from '78 till '92 and saw about 500 dead shows and side projects.
Mickey: Oh my god, holy Jesus.
“But I’ve never been wrong”
DNA: I was dedicated. I ended up getting my Masters from Sonoma State in Transpersonal Psychology.
Mickey: Do you know Stanley Krippner?
DNA: I happen to have a signed copy of Song of the Sirens right here in my hands. So my first question would be about the ESP experiment that the Dead were involved with at the Capitol Theater back in 1971. And I know that shows get a bit fuzzy over the years…..
Mickey: NO, I remember it quite vividly.
DNA: How was it you got involved in that exactly?
Mickey: Well at the time Stanley was the director of the dream laboratory in Brooklyn in New York City. He was conducting studies in dream telepathy and he was using psychedelics in that research. This was before '71 though…
DNA: It started in 1970 with Richie Havens.
Mickey: Richie was one of the sleepers.
DNA: And the Holy Modal Rounders.
Mickey: That’s right. So Stanley was working there using mind expanding drugs, working Kirlian photography and all kinds of stuff. Stanley was a pioneer, a circumnavigator and he was fond of the Grateful Dead. I met him at a party for the great Indian drummer. That is where we met and we became great friends. Eventually Garcia, Stanley and I got into a conversation where Garcia proposed the experiment. A plan got formulated where there would be a group of sleepers at the Dream Lab and we would ask the audience to concentrate on an image that was presented behind us. Our idea was to send that imagery to the sleepers via telepathy. We did the experiment for five or six nights and got like five direct hits. The sleepers accurately described the image that was behind the wall during REM. It was a very powerful night. The images were selected at random by being pulled out of a hat. It was a great moment.
DNA: Did you ever do anything like that again?
Mickey: No, we never repeated that experiment again. I know that other people have done similar events, but you’ll have to research that one.
“Seldom turns out the way it does in the song”
DNA: I did an interview with Uri Geller (Israeli Psychic) yesterday so I’m on an ESP kick right now.
Mickey: Well it is fascinating. Our main focus was the idea of group mind. We saw the Grateful Dead as a group mind and one in which were able to share with the audience. We were able to take an image and project it into the audience and send it to receptive receivers. It proved a lot on a lot of levels.
“In the strangest of places if you look at it right”
DNA: I attended the Ritual and Rapture lecture that featured you, Garcia and Joseph Campbell. I recall a Deadhead asking Garcia about telepathy at Dead shows. His question was something like, “There are times at a show when my friends and I will think of a certain song and you will play it, and we know you know.” Garcia’s response was, “That’s pee-pee.” (anyone out there have a tape of this?)
Mickey: He said what?!
DNA: He said that people who he knew weren’t crazy had told him similar things. But it had never been proven to him beyond satisfactorily. He said it was pee-pee.
Mickey: I happen to agree with Garcia, though I wouldn’t call it pee-pee. I would call it unproven. My hypothesis is that it’s not impossible, it is within the realm of possibility. And certain people that are connected on one level or another can receive messages, synchronicity, entrainment or being in the flow. I believe that when people’s rhythms are locked they have something deep in common it happens. My question is this, “I know it happens, but can you prove it?” There’s just no conclusive proof. All through my life I’ve had people where I’ve called them up and they have picked up the phone without it ringing. I just had an interesting thing happen with Jean Campbell, Joe Campbell's wife. I hadn’t talked to Jeanie for a year and half or two years, and I just called her up a couple of weeks ago. I was like, “Hi, Jean, this is Mickey.” “Mickey, I just dreamed of you last night.” I was like, “Jean, has that happened before,” and she said, “No.” These are the kinds of things that make you wonder. She said, “I had a dream last night that I should call you.” We just kind of hung there for a moment. It just isn’t that unusual for people that are connected.
DNA: That’s a grounding experience, bad science, but a good anchor.
Mickey: Hunter and I once wrote a song once, completely separate. He wrote the words and I wrote the music, but when we put them together they were completely identical. There was absolutely no way that either one of us could have heard the other's composition. He never played it in front of anyone and I never played it front of anyone. He swore that I stole his music, but we looked at it and it would have been impossible to ever have either of us know what the other was thinking. Things like that happen all the time in a world where people are connected.
DNA: Grateful minds think alike.
Mickey: Definitely Synchronous minds.
“Once in a while you get shown the light”
DNA: I interviewed Apollo 12 astronaut Edgar Mitchell. He said he was having lunch with Uri Geller and was telling Uri that he was disappointed that Uri resorted to trickery so much to prove that ESP existed. When all of a sudden there was a plop in his soup and it was a tie clip he had lost ten years before halfway across the country.
Mickey: I mean c’mon, Uri Geller is a real guy, he definitely is a showman, a circus performer but you cannot deny his psychic powers. That psychic stuff has been totally proven. I met him once and he was a bit of a jerk. Though that does not take away from his talent.
DNA: Would you consider Uri a contemporary Shaman? Or, where do we find people in our society that can link up with the spirit world?
Mickey: He has Shamanistic powers, but does he use it for the betterment of the world, I don’t think so. Mostly I see him as a vaudeville performer. I don’t see him making a better world, do you?
DNA: Not unless he reads my mind and mails me a million bucks. That would make my world better.
Mickey: Is he a healer, a medicine man?
DNA: In his new book, he talks about how his castle in England is often filled with kids from a cancer ward of hospital. Apparently he performs healings on them.
Mickey: Well there you go.
DNA: Where is the contemporary of Rolling Thunder? Is there a war on Shamanism?
Mickey: There has always been a war on Shamanism. It is an edge science, and anybody who is on the edge is always suspect. For the individual who is there, it doesn’t always work. It’s living your life by the seat of your pants. Whenever you deal with non-scientific experimentation you’re going to find Shamans. The word connotes “thinker.” It’s part of the lexicon, he doesn’t have to be a healer, he could be a faker.
DNA: Was Rolling Thunder genuine?
Mickey: Rolling Thunder was the real deal. I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes so there is no question about it. Of course he surrounded himself with a lot of Mumbo Jumbo as well, as all Shaman. So much of Shamans is the show, the act. You have to prepare. Belief is such a big part of Shamanism, you have win the persons confidence to heal. Or invade if it’s surgery, or even if it’s a mental healing, you must prepare the person for induction. Typically, rhythm, song or vibration, or magical charms do it. It’s mental and physical and there are many different approaches to doctoring and each one of them has their own tool kit. Rolling Thunder for the most part was herbal based and it worked. I picked herbs with him and he was a genius in that field. Stanley and I were also good friends with Rolling Thunder.
DNA: So where is the contemporary Shaman?
Mickey: Everywhere. Women are taking a big step forward and coming on strong. Musicians and artists or anyone who deals with the spirit world has potential. We haven’t cracked the code of DNA yet. Sorry, I hate to say that word.
DNA: That’s all right, I get a dime anyone says it.
Mickey: Science is starting to weigh in on this topic though. At a recent conference in New York on Music on the Brain, there was work done on what a brain looks like before and after an auditory driving experience and how vibration effects brainwaves. There is a scientific study being done in Santa Cruz called the Heart Math. What they are finding is that the heart isn’t just an organ that pumps blood, but it also pumps emotional content. And when you find pure science starting to study the physics of vibration, it isn’t long before they find the metaphysics.
DNA: So Science is mapping the human body in how it relates to environment, but also in the way it relates to consciousness.
Mickey: Yes, science is reinforcing and codifying the shaman way. It comes down to how do we create trance on a daily basis. What is the rhythm, what’s the rate? We’re trying to tune into the frequency so we can duplicate the experience and do it twice. Again, at the moment we’re doing it by the seat of our pants, but this century will crack that code.
DNA: If technological advances are often co-opted by the government for the purpose of war, do you see trance being used in that way?
Mickey: I don’t think so. It will be a war all right, but it will be a war of the minds and fight for the spirit world. There will be battles fought, but nothing we’re used to. I see the first application being used for medicine and therapy.
“Rings on her finger and bells on her toes”
DNA: If we presuppose that the Drum is an instrument that elicits trance and can create the environment for time travel, in the sense that it could physically move you to another time, where would you put yourself.
Mickey: I would go back to the Paleolithic. I’m a big fan of first man; I would have liked to have seen what it was like when we first came together as humans. I’ve already experienced the fifties and the sixties; I know what that’s like. Either that or the turn of the century, those are two times that hold great interest for me: The dawn of the Industrial age and the dawn of man. I would also like to go back to Congo Square at the turn of the century. About 1890 New Orleans, that is a fascinating time, for it is the birth of music in our country. Ya know, I would really like to see some Temple caves about 9000 BC as well.
DNA: What I find interesting about Congo Square and your thought about it being the birthplace of our music. Couldn’t’ it be argued that at that time there was great divine intervention and that all our music, Blues, Jazz, Rock and Roll comes from the Spirit World.
Mickey: Absolutely. It was where the Spirit Music of Western Africa came and hit our shore. At the end of the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 1700’s, it ended up in Congo Square, and that was it, baby. That’s where it all started. That’s when the slaves were given back their instruments to play on Sundays. That was the only day they were allowed to go into trance. Where do you think we got Rock and Roll, Big bands and Jazz? It all that came through Haiti and eventually to New Orleans. The birthplace of the cool.
DNA: Is cool more than attitude?
Mickey: Attitude is a big part of it. But they also brought the instruments and the most powerful rhythms on the planet. All of the vodon stuff came with it.
DNA: I find it interesting that if you see divine providence in the thousands of year preceding New Orleans, whether Mohammed, Jesus, Moses or what have you, spirit came in words. But then suddenly it descended through rhythms and it is music that has been the backbone of the last 110 years.
Mickey: Words do not entrance you on a physical level, they can on a mental level. It’s about the vibration.
“The sky was yellow, the sun was blue”
DNA: Well let me ask one final question here.
Mickey: This is the strangest interview I’ve had for while, but it’s nice. I’m OK with it.
DNA: Well I followed you around for so long, this is my shot. Twilight Zone episodes, when are they coming back?
Mickey: Shit, I have no idea.
DNA: I know you pioneered 3D holographic sound for those episodes and now with DVD and home sound systems, the full effects can really be seen.
Mickey: I spent three weeks in a row at the University of Illinois, at Northwestern, trying to make sound move in mono. We had a giant computer that did create sound that had movement in a holographic way. After I did get vertical and horizontal movement, CBS didn’t follow through on the transmission, so it became a mute point. Wow, I had forgotten all about that. I spent three weeks in this little room. Every time I made an update, it took all night for the computers for the main frame computers to crunch it. I had to do it all in little pieces. The theme is actually holophonic. It works great in 5.1.
DNA: When it was first on, I would sit an inch away from the TV set and listen for the sound to move.
Mickey: For a while there we got it to the point where the sound seemed like it wasn’t coming out of the speakers. It was so time consuming and costly back then. It was the first of it’s kind. I really like the episode called Grandma, written by Harlan Ellison. I was the music designer and the set designer on it. I worked on 79 of those episodes. Wow, man thanks for reminding me, we should re-release those suckers.
(all lyrics from Scarlet Begonia. Author Robert Hunter. Copyright Ice Nine Publishing)
DNA is an International Journalist who lives in Northern California with his wife and three cats. He is currently running for Mayor and getting involved in the Green Party.