Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interview with Richard Metzger former CCO of Disinfo.com

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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.

[silence]

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

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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

WHAT THE FUCK

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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

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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.

Photobucket

(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 MontrĂ©al. 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.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Interview with Steve Silberman

Steve Silberman- Containing Multitudes (originally published just after Jerry's passing in my rag HUMP)

Wherever destiny takes us, we go, willingly or dragged with our heels kicking sparks. And every evening, after we find ourselves having digested an hour of a news program, our global awareness indicator points decidedly north, in an inflated sense of truth, justice and the American way. But is the media our destiny or just various individuals who spin thoughts into our info receptors. After an hour of CNN we think that we are hurky-jerky informed on world events.

Isn’t it true that we never really know what’s going on in the world, but only certain distorted facts that get filtered through various media? Who are these men who call the shots on what is ultimately shown to us? Do they really want us to get all the facts of the story, or just certain facts?

Traditionally, journalists were hard-boiled, martini swilling guys with degrees in Journalism, men with ink in their fingers, who often immersed themselves in stories to find out a good lead, or to get a scoop on a story. But bottom-line, men who were no nonsense and often very conservative in nature. A conservatism that was so ingrained in their character, that their stories often had conservative slants, whether conscious or not.

Imagine what would happen if the swirling gospel of the media, that we call the news, was dictated by a hipster?

What if Dan Rather was a proponent of Earth First or Gay Rights? Chances are that he would find it impossible to write stories that contradicted his deepest belief system.

Just the other night, I saw Ted Koppel defending the interment of Japanese orphans during World War Two. He based the acceptance of American atrocities on knowing the details of history and therefore being aware of the specifics that lead up to our inhumane acts. He said that because the Japanese killed more Chinese than all the Japanese killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that those American’s who threw Japanese children in Hellholes, were justified. This type of logic is the sort of hypocrisy that contributes to the ills that plague our modern soul. Would a hipster ever let this type of spin on revisionist history occur?

Since my first story about the Internet ran four years ago in Synthesis Magazine, I have tried to show you how the Net will transform our lives, and the world we live in. Many of you turned the other cheek in a basterdization of Christian ethics, but like destiny, you can’t escape history. Time and tide wait for no man.

How could a new source for news ever compete with the monolithic dinosaurs of the current day? Well, Wired News is the David ready to slay the Goliath. And at the helm, loading stones into the slingshot is Steve Silberman. Part scholar, part Deadhead and part visionary, please welcome Steve with a high, hearty, HUMP………..


Tell me what it is you do.

I work for Wired News, I write about a story a day, three or four stories a week and a column. Wired News is www.wired.com I seldom write for the magazine because Wired News is so all consuming. Wired News is a very exciting thing that hasn’t really been talked about much in everyone’s eagerness to bash Wired for hubris or to talk about how Wired Digital is “burning money.” Basically, what we were able to pull off, was to launch a news service last year. We’ve not only managed to stay away from the Silicon Valley press release mentality of a lot of the other on-line news services, but we’ve also stayed away from the sort of gee-whiz/hype/capitalist/lust over objects that afflicts Wired Magazine. We’ve also been able to get into the news flow and kind of inject into the media an awareness of stories that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. I wrote a story about the number of blacks getting onto the net being disproportionately higher than what one might imagine and at the same time there is a loss of minority-ownership radio stations. That story was picked up by CNN and turned into a special report. I wrote a story about this atomic veteran who survived being basically marched through ground zero in the early fifties, everyone he knew who was there with him was dead. He put up a web-site and he ended up getting a book contract to tell the story of the Atomic Veterans. So we’ve been able to be an interesting conduit for stories that otherwise would have been not noticed. I think Wired News is cool, it reminds me of a zine in a way or an underground newspaper from the sixties, but because it looks like a straight news service, we end up getting looked at by a lot of straight and mainstream media people. I have a feeling that most of the people who read us are reporters from other media. The New York Times outright stole one of the first stories I wrote for Wired News. They called me up, asked me for the contact numbers of the story I was writing about, and then ran it as if they were breaking the story. I’ve gotten totally used to that now.

Scooped.

Yeah.

In the last issue of HUMP, I asked Steven Johnson who has FEED.COM if he felt that the dinosaurs like Time Magazine or the New York Times felt the new news media biting at their heels yet. He said no. Do you think that they feel competitiveness as to where people feel the source for news might be?

Absolutely, I think people can read a lot of news and it’s not just insidery geeky business news. Allen Ginsburghs terminal illness broke on Wired News half a day before any of the wire services had it, we break a lot of interesting cultural information before the other news services. I don’t think that the owners of the Hearst newspapers are waking up with sweaty palms, worrying that people are going to go to our news service, instead of reading the newspaper in the morning with their sip of coffee. Also, I don’t think that Time Magazine is worried that we are going to go out of business. On the other hand, what I think that is even more interesting than direct competition for eyeballs, is that the on-line world as a whole is becoming an interesting challenger for some of the bullshit in mainstream media. The first time I really saw that was when Time Magazine ran a cover story on Cyberporn, siteing this study by this guy Marty Rin, who is really a student at some East Coast university. The cover was very spectacular, it was a child’s face that had been altered by photoshop so that his eyes were totally wide, he looked like he was looking at split beaver right on his screen. What happened was a group of journalists and smart folks got together on the WELL, and found out through digging a little that Marty Rins study was completely bogus. The figures that he came up with were from surf sessions on porn sites rather than general usenet statistics. The study was completely debunked. Time ran a retraction in microscopic type. Time was made to look very foolish. Even though the publisher of Time Magazine didn’t commit hari cari, it’s important to realize that the study was debunked by on-line conversation on the Well.

So here’s the sense that there are watchdogs for the mainstream media now.

Things like Wired News and intelligent on-line communities like the Well act as an ombudsman for the big media view of things, conventional wisdom. An ombudsman in the old newspaper world was somebody whose job it was to be a little bit cynical. They would take the coverage in a newspaper and say” is this really true?” They were the check and balance for the stories and the spin. Places like Wired News and the on-line community in general are acting like a giant ombudsman for mainstream culture and mainstream media and I think that is a profoundly important development in American History.

The Persian Gulf had media blackout, could that happen again, or is on-line reporting going to change that.

Yeah, I do think it will change the way public response is organized completely. It will massively decrease response time so information will be wildly disseminated on a scale that the sixties mimeographing radicals could have only dreamed. It’s as if you could go back in time and say to SDS “how would you like to have a meeting that’s a) Worldwide, b) very low cost, c) as pervasive as the television networks, and D. you can do images and text?” They would go out of their minds!

What if the Black Panthers were able to arm the citizens of Oakland with laptops and Video Cameras, instead of guns?

Exactly. I also think the ubiquity of video cameras is interesting, but of course it’s a mixed blessing. The story I’m working on now is how whenever a big crime happens, like the Oklahoma City Bombing, somebody comes up with pictures or video of the bombers eating sandwiches, or Princess Di walking through the hotel lobby before the car crash. One wonders if one is ever completely not under watch. But yet on the other hand, if there’s massive police brutality or something, there’s a guy with a video camera. And hopefully that information can get on the net or a television station.

In the case of the Humboldt Cops torturing people with pepper spray, they handed in the goods on themselves.

Around the Tiennaman Square thing, the first thing that the Chinese Government tried to do was to shut down the Fax machines. I think as the Net becomes more pervasive in Third World countries, it will either become harder for the enemies of human liberties to accomplish their deeds or it will just cause dictators and despots to completely crack down on the Net. So I think it will be both, it will be turf wars, where people will be trying to wire their local communities and organizations into the Net and Governments will be coming down on them. And coming down on them in more insidious ways as filtering software becomes more pervasive. So if you’re in country XYZ and the government doesn’t want you to see political sites, when you log on, you’ll just never see them, they’ll be invisible. Imagine if Gary Bower of the American Family Council could put his own filtering software in everybody’s machine, gay kids would never see gay teen sites and there is a lot of information that will be lost as filtering software becomes accepted as a humane replacement for censorship.

Couldn’t all the hype about child molesters on the Web just be a rallying point for filtering software and censorship? Don’t you think that just parallels the censorship of newspapers. Aren’t certain stories kept to regions?

Yes they are, but I see it as my personal job and mission in life to undo that and I have a very clear case in point. A couple of University of Pittsburgh students were recently barred from having any internet access and from even physically appearing in any computer labs, and they were computer science majors, so it was tantamount to expelling them. Their crime was that they had created one of the most useful net security resources for people who wanted to guard their sites against hackers that there is. It’s a site called anti on-line.com and the University simply did not understand what these kids were doing and reacted against it in a very heavy-handed way. For instance one of the first sites to talk about a hack called a windowhack, that allows people to take down windows machines remotely. It’s a very useful site that was referred to by many other sites. But these kids were screwed by not only being barred form the Net and use of any computer equipment on campus but by being barred from communicating directly with the person that was making it all happen. I got a tip from one of the students who said that the only coverage that the story had gotten was in the school newspaper. I wrote an article about it in Wired News and within two weeks, the story had gotten into USA Today, The Village Voice, The New York Times and the associated Press. The school officials, even though the case is still pending, got a heavy message that they were fucking up. I think it’s very possible for Wired News and people on-line who have compelling enough Web Sites to make regional outrages a global concern.

Did you feel that the media adequately covered Allen Ginsbergs passing?

Allen was a friend of mine for twenty years, all of my adult life. The depth and sensitivity of the coverage of like The New York Times impressed me, they put his obituary on the cover. There were some decent stories in the AP about him. Ultimately, the coverage he got, was because he founded a movement that has almost become a cultural trademark, the Beat Generation. Everyone from Starbucks to Levi’s has appropriated it. Granted, a lot of the content that Ginsberg and Kerouac and Burroughs had put across is not appreciated in an ad of slackers nodding, out as jazz plays in the background. But Ginsberg was perennially popular with young people, I know because I went on several different tours with him. And wherever Ginsberg went the halls were packed to capacity and often he would give a second reading to the thousands of people that were outside that couldn’t get in. So he remained, in terms of popularity for a poet, incredibly popular. I can’t say that he was necessarily influential on the current poetry scene in any kind of obvious way. There’s a tremendous bunch of corny, tacky, beatnik poetry out there in zines that I can’t say is really a good thing. But I do think that he was subtly pervasive influence in terms of encouraging public sincerity and honesty in such things as homosexuality and even drug use. I think that even though he was a very famous man, that some of his most enduring influences are part of the woodwork, part of the air that Americans breath that allows them to be a little bit freer then they would had he never lived. Certainly for a subject like homosexuality, he really was one of the first people to open the door at all on any kind of honest dialogue. Although I think what he was really saying about homosexuality is still not appreciated even by his gay fans. I asked him once in 1987 if he felt that it was ironic that he was hailed as the father of gay poetry and that he had hardly any gay friends? He said “well Burroughs and I never really considered ourselves gay, gay was like Castro street, we called ourselves queer.” What’s funny is that this was before the word queer was resurrected by the younger queer people. I said what’s queer? He said “well gay people are like adults trying to have sex with each other and queers like me and Burroughs, we’re trying to have sex with straight teenagers.” I happen to know how often he was very successful in that ambition. I think that Ginsberg and Kerouac also pointed to a truth that even this week America is wrestling with. There’s this little blonde guy who claims that this co-workers on an oil rig were harassing him sexually. One of the lower courts said “well this couldn’t be true because all these guys are heterosexual, so it must be about something else besides sex. The same lower court said it’s only harassment if the people involved in gay, because only then would sexual attraction be going on. That’s ridiculous. One of the things that both Ginsberg and Kerouac pointed to is that the human heart is very complicated. Walt Whitman said “I contradict myself, very well than I contradict myself. I am vast, I contain multitudes.” And I think that Ginsberg and Kerouac were pointing to the fact that we contain multitudes, some of our multitudes are heterosexual and some of our multitudes are homosexual and they’re all kinds of different feelings and tenderness. Going with that tenderness is more subversive than going with the idea that gay people are genetically determined and you can’t get mad at them because its genetic. It’s actually more subversive to say that we all have these different ways of relating and loving those around us, and what are we going to do with that?

Science is still looking for a gay gene.

Right and what are they going to do when they find it? What about all those kids that Allen slept with, did they have just a little bit of the gene? It’s easy to say that they slept with him because he’s famous, which is probably true, but they also slept with him because they loved him. The truth is ultimately more subversive than any easy take on it, even a progressive take on it, even a gay positive one.

What about NAMBLA?

Allen was hit with some of the hysteria over pedophilia. I talked to Allen about NAMBLA, and he didn’t know that much about it, but he defended their right to speak. To be frank, I think he had a soft part in his heart for NAMBLA, because he himself was very attracted to teenagers, so he was well aware of the pleasures and the risk of inter-generational sex. As far as I know he did not have sex with minors. I remember talking to someone about Allen not soon after he was dead. This person said “well I never liked Allen Ginsberg and I’m not sad that he’s dead.” I said, “Why’s that?” And he said, “Well he was a pedophile. One of my professors said that he supported NAMBLA.” I asked if he ever read his poetry and he said “No and I don’t want to read it.” Well that’s great, that’s like not listening to John Coltrane’s music because he was a heroin addict at one point. People are so moralistic it’s unbelievable. Or people that said that Jerry Garcia took heroin and wrestled with addiction himself. We’re all wrestling with something.

Exactly. You can always find a reason not to listen to somebody.

It’s more of what you can accomplish anyway despite how confusing and messed up your life is. Who doesn’t have a messed up and confusing life?

I don’t know, I haven’t met them yet.

And those people who pose as those kind of altruistic people are the ones who turn out to be the worst kind of motel room whore mongering drag…..

..J. Edgar Hoover……

I read Rock Scully’s book “life with the Dead,” and hearing about how Garcias would set hotel rooms on fire when he would nod out, didn’t make me lose love for the man. It allowed me an insight to his psychological make-up. If we all didn’t have these quirks and eccentricities, we would lose our individuality.

I find it almost redemptive to read those stories. I’m reading through a much more in-depth biography of Jerry Garcia that’s going to be published in a year and a half by Blair Jackson, long time Dead scholar. Garcia’s relationships make even mine look relatively stable. He often had two girlfriends at once and sometimes three. He was always paying off various ex-wives and was riding a little scooter from one wife to the next. It was obvious that he was unable to make up his mind who he wanted to be with intimately and he probably had big fears of intimacy and yet was drawn into it. And as I read through it and go through my own relationship apocalypses it made me feel better. When I put on a tape now I think, “geez, this guy who’s singing and making this beautiful music, once he got off stage, had to deal with all these ex-wives and problems and all this tzuris, as they say, a great yiddish word that means hassles. And yet he was still able to create this art that had like a primordial majesty to it.” I met Garcia and he certainly was my favorite of the Dead in terms of personality. I mean the Dead are fairly egotistical and isolated guys by now. Bill Kreutzman is an unpretentious and nice guy in terms of my limited contact with him, but I never felt like they were living saints or anything like that. But for so long they were able to speak this musical language and be so articulate in it. They gave so much pleasure and so much ur-education to so many people. Its amazing that they were able to do that and still struggle through their lives as we are all doing. So one of the things about Allen was that he never tried to present himself as perfect. He always presented himself as this lusty, confused, hilariously egotistical goofball. Even though I think he had a tremendous ego, there was something redemptive, and as he might have said, Bodhisvata, about his willingness to be wounded and confused and fucked up in public. He realized that we’re not alone and the thoughts in our head don’t make us the one cursed.

Much of the music we look back on and label as ‘revolutionary,’ is only so in hindsight. Just as so many people say, “rock is dead” today, it will take visionary thought or just the simple [passage of time to see how today’s music related to and contributed to society at large. With that in mind, do you feel the impact of the music of the Dead has yet been revealed?

What’s hilarious and cosmic about this is that this is the second interview in twelve hours where this question has come up. I was reminded last night when the author of this Phish book asked me this question is that in the late sixties, like 69 or 70, I was reading the newspaper at my parents home. My parents were communist and the paper was published by the political organization that my father was in called Progressive Labor. It was accusing the Grateful Dead of being sellouts because they were not singing songs about the war and they were not addressing the political issues of the day. And they certainly were not (sell outs), they were singing these weird transformations of traditional American folk songs and (lyricist) Hunters psychedelic word salad. In a sense they were occupying their own little space and yet if you think back on the more topical music of the day, it’s totally tacky and did not last and was a flavor of the month. Certainly some of the more tacky stuff like “eve of destruction,” is completely forgettable. Some of the more earnest stuff like Phil Oches and whatnot is great, but it’s very much of it’s period. But if you put on the Dead playing Dark Star in 1969, damn it’s still relevant to this era. Their subversiveness was at the level of music and being open to spontaneously emerging forms in the improvistory moment. In a funny way that ends up being more subversive than coming up with some big policy statement about why the government are all pigs. You end up being a little garden where the essential free nature that is the heart of every living being gets to flourish. This is more subversive in the same way that Picasso is more subversive than some of the social realist artists of the Soviet Union. You look at Social realism and you think “oh god, this is just tacky propaganda.” You look at Picasso and there’s vitality and a untameability to his images that could practically over throw a police state. At least in your mind, for a moment when you look at Picasso you’re not living in a police state. That’s the best kind of art.

I guess that’s the difference between being the road, a car or a bumper sticker.

So what this guy was asking me last night, was were the Dead the voice of their generation and the answer is no. They were the voice of something deeper than that. They were the voice of a transcendent, very wild and hairy principle, like the voice of the Tao, which is the voice of every generation.

It’s interesting how the Dead made a point of not making overt political statements on stage while at the same time there were protests and rioting going on right behind the show.

I know that Garcia was personally asked hundreds of times by police and anti-drug organizations to make an announcement at the shows to tell the fans not to come to the shows and take drugs, and he never did. I think it’s too his credit that he wasn’t willing to take on the role of an authority in other peoples lives. And yet, it’s true that a lot of people suffered by going to jail and what not because the government was able to move in and really cut through the dead scene likes wolves through a flock of sheep. Who wants to be caseing out crack dealers, when you can go to Oakland Colesium and bust a bunch of Oberlin Students.

The lot of the Dead couldn’t handle the weight of suddenly being the cool place to be.

The lot was like a wildlife preserve and all of a sudden a lot animals, even those not native to that jungle, came in simply because it was one of the few places where animals could be animals. Also there was a lot of greed by people realizing that they could make some quick bucks selling nitrous or bad drugs. It’ easy to understand how it could develop that way considering the amount of hypocrisy and oppression at large in the American Culture. There was definite feeling in the early eighties that the Dead scene was a little island of sanity in the middle of the Reagan/Bush Bullshit Festival. What’s unfortunate is that after MTV featured the Day of the Dead, it became known as the biggest party going. Al these people who really didn’t care about the music showed up. I mean there was always people who didn’t care about the music. They were filtering themselves in, and then out. Once the music became irrelevant in the lot, it just became a place to: live in a barter economy, a place to not get a job, a place to have a lot of sex, and make some money, and stay high constantly. It became too much of a refuge, I think. A little bit of all that is great, but it really became a bunch of people who weren’t dealing with the outside world much. The thing about the Dead scene that I really miss, is that it was a litmus test and a easy way to see where people were coming from. There were many times I would be in some small town, or on the road, and I would look, and it wasn’t even so blatant as Dead patches on a knapsack or stinking orf Patchouli oil, even if they were dressed in straight clothes, there would be just a look in their eyes and I would say “do you go to shows?” And if they said “what kind of shows?,” you knew you made a mistake. So often you hit though, and it was an instant, if not shallow, brotherhood and sisterhood with other people you might have seen at a show at that moment you were having a revelation. I not only miss it, I think that my life is suffering form the lack of that, and from the lack of having a place to remagnetize the compass needle of my spirit. I’m doing fine with my adult life, like keeping a job and all that. But in terms of the heartfullness and confidence that I need, it’s not as easy to feel at home in the world without occasional visits to Deadland.

I just figure I’ll never dance again.

I know, I’ve put on weight since Jerry died because I don’t dance as much. I feel like I’ve aged twenty years since 1995. I think that the problem with the size and scale of the Dead scene in later years was too centralized and the litter had become too big and there are only so many teats. I do think there has been an upsurge in more local and smaller jamming bands, who take some of the lessons of the Grateful Dead. Although it’s a little too easy too play that way. But local hippie scenes are getting more attention from people, because they have too. They just can’t hitch a ride to Deer Creek and immerse themselves in their own scene, because that place no longer exists. Every Deadheads hometown disappeared like Pompeii under the volcano. Everyone has to find the scene that’s local to them. That having been said, I’m on Phish tour.

Jumping Ship?

No, I love Phish and have since 1992. I don’t feel like it’s jumping ship, I feel like it’s a different ship and it’s floating very well thank you. Phish are doing great things in their own groove. Seeing Phish now is like seeing the Dead in 1973 because their music is so focused and so tight that they can go anywhere with it. It’s a very exciting time to be into Phish and I’m not there because it’s a substitute, I’m there because it’s good music.

I tend to be a snob sometimes.

I remember I ran into someone who saw the Deads last 650 shows, at a Phish show, 6 months after Jerry died and he said “Owww, it’s like the Stepford show! It’s the same people, the same clothes, different band!!” I mean, sure a lot of the cultural forms have been appropriated, but that’s not the point. The point is the music and point is getting off, and the point is psychedelic experience whether you’re tripping or not, and the point is being free for a moment and listening to the spontaneous risky inventions of a bunch of geniuses that are very hooked into one another. So wherever you can find that you should do it, whether it’s at Phish or your own local bar or your own room.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Interview with Bill Kreutzmann

Interview with Bill Kreutzman—BK3 (Egyptian Windmill Operators)

I’ve been pretty lucky in my journalistic career to interview many of my heroes: Timothy Leary, Mickey Hart, Ken Kesey, Robert Anton Wilson, Bob Weir, Paul Kanter, Jorma and the list goes on. But it was a real joy to spend a while chatting with Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead. The focus was on his new band, BK3 (aka Egyptian Windmill Operators) but the ease of the conversation steered us off-course to tales of Hawaii, Obama, and Bette Midler. Like the coolest guy you would ever want to share a brew with, Bill filled the conversation with laughter, positivity and hopeful looks at the future. Eventually I will write a more complete introduction, but in the kindtime, enjoy this transcription of what was one of my favorite talks in a long time----ladies and gentlemen—drumroll please—Bill Kreutzmann!



Bill Kreutzmann---Y’ello.

DNA: Hi, This is DNA calling from Santa Cruz.

BK: DNA. How do you pronounce that?

DNA: You just did my friend. You also spelled it, so you’re ahead of the game.

BK: Right on. How is Santa Cruz treating you?

DNA: Great. I’m looking at the ocean right now, people are playing volleyball, the sea lions are out, the sun is breaking on through.

BK: Right on, right on. You’ve given me the warmest phone call yet. I did two interviews prior to yours and they’re both freezing out there in Boulder. I’m sitting here in 80 degrees Hawaii weather.

DNA: I lived in Maui for several months. What a magical experience.

BK: That’s why I’m here.

DNA: You got yourself an ocean view?

BK: I don’t have an ocean view, but I have a hidden garden which is wear I keep my beautiful flowering plants. That’s my hobby here--growing tropical flowers. Pikaki is used for leis and is the smelliest (that may not be the proper word) in Hawaii.

DNA: Do you still run your organic farm, Grateful Greens?

BK: No, I stopped that. It operated for a while, but then I had to move back to the mainland for several years to do Grateful Dead projects and the farm was loaned out to somebody. But I’m back! I couldn’t stay away. I couldn’t find the happiness in Marin that I find here in Hawaii.

DNA: Next time you have to move to the mainland, try Santa Cruz--it’s not too shabby.

BK: I agree with you. Right now my step-daughter is attending Cabrillo College and then will be transferring the University down there.

DNA: Cabrillo is a great college. There are excellent people that attend there. Ya know, all your archives are stored here in Santa Cruz, at UCSC.

BK: I knew that! I was instrumental in having that happen. UCSC offered us such a deal. They even offered us a room dedicated to the archives. Pretty cool.

DNA: Although I don’t have much knowledge about archival goings-on, I volunteered to help. On my resume I said that I could pick out Jerry Garcia’s underwear out of a pile of laundry. They didn’t respond.

BK: That was a good line though.

DNA: I do stand-up comedy. Sometimes it works--sometimes it fails miserably.

BK: Ah well, that’s life. The thing, DNA, that I really want to talk about is the trio that I have coming your way soon.

DNA: Really exciting man. I’ve seen Oteil Burbridge play with the Aquarium Rescue Unit and besides the Allman Brothers, he’s sat in with God Street Wine. I used to go see Scott Murawski play with Max Creek all the time.

BK: Put me in the mix and you know what the bands like. It’s the best band I’ve played in since the Grateful Dead days.

DNA: I listened to a couple of tracks on your Myspace page. It’s great. Do you see this trio staying together for a while beyond this tour?

BK: I would sure like that. I would like to just keep doing it. As a matter of fact, the three of us just talked yesterday—but we live so far apart. Oteil lives in Alabama and Scott lives up near Providence, Rhode Island and I live in Kauai. So we have a lot of conference calls—it’s the best way to do it. They are all into it--I can tell they are really excited. I think for Oteil, and I don’t think he will mind me saying this—he’s played with the Allman Brothers so much that he has it down in his back pocket—that its fun for him to be in a band where he can be totally open and free. I encourage that with my players. I don’t have rules. I believe in what John Coltrane once said, “Damn the rules.”

DNA: “Damn the rules. It’s the feeling that counts.”

BK: And that’s the same for my trio, or any band I play with. That’s where I coming from. I’m not sitting there thinking the music should do this or do that. I let the music talk to me, rather than imposing my own stuff.

DNA: What a difference to play small clubs where you can see the whole room, as opposed to Madison Square Garden.

BK: I like both you know? But the small club thing actually taught me to hear better. I learned to play softer. I have a jam garage here and it’s the hottest jam garage in the world. Not temperature-wise, it just sounds good. I provide a bass amp and a guitar amp and I have a Noble and Cooley drum set in the back. We’ll play for hours and sometimes the cops will come about 11:30. “That’s enough boys.” They know me by now. They don’t get too pissed off because the music is real good.

DNA: Are you still having trouble naming the band?

BK: It’s the BK3.

DNA: Oh! BK3!!

BK: I didn’t like the word trio, and I have no problem with jazz, but it reminded me of a jazz band. I’d rather be BK3--my initials and 3. That’s the official name. The other name we tried to use but my manager talked me out of it—The Egyptian Windmill Operaters. That’s our name—Egyptian Windmill Operators. It doesn’t have to make sense. Like Aquarium Rescue Unit. She said, “You oughta use your initials.” If you could call us BK3(Egyptian Windmill Operators), I would dig that. See, I’m a little comedian too.

DNA: I always thought you were the funniest guy in the band.

BK: I don’t know how to take that. ( silence followed by laughter)

DNA: You pulled out of being somewhat reclusive from the Dead scene to do this Obama gig. Was it Obama that pulled all of you together?

BK: Well yeah. It was really him. I missed the first show those guys did for him.

DNA: At the Warfield.

BK: Bob wanted me to make it. But I had just flown in from Costa Rico for hours, and the gig was the next day, and it was more than I could do. It went real well for them. Bobby said we could get something together at Penn State and he was like, “Let’s do it.”
I met with Bobby and said, “Well if we’re going to all this trouble to get together for Penn State, let’s get together and do a tour.” And everybody said yes to it. It was kinda my idea, I guess. If you’re going to all this trouble for one gig, why not tour?

DNA: So it’s a show-by-show thing, no future plans, take this tour and see what happens?

BK: Yup. We’re going to practice for 20 days before we hit the road. 20 rehearsal day. Some of those are set-up days. It’s going to different. We don’t want to structure it the way we used to—ya know, four or five years ago—we want to change it up and make it better. I want to talk about that, but I really want to talk about the trio. People who like the Dead will really like BK3.

DNA: You guys play a bunch of Dead tunes.

BK: Not a bunch. We do some really nice covers like “Rhymes” by Al Green, as well as, original songs by both Oteil and Scott. I totally encourage that. Everyone is doing tons of Dead stuff, and it’s a great book to play from, no doubt about it, so that’s being covered. In our band we will certainly do our fair share, but Hunter wrote us 12 original songs. And we’ve played 8 or 10 of them so far. They’re way cool songs.

DNA: How’s Hunter doing?

BK: His writing is incredible. I have a phone call when we are done one to Mickey, and one to Bob. I need to send him a DVD of BK3 from the Culture Room (Ft. Lauderdale, FL.). It will blow his mind. He should be quite happy. If I was him I would be quite happy.

DNA: I look forward to hearing those new tunes played out. Mike Gordon (bass player for Phish) helped curate this band?

BK: We call him the curator. We started over a year ago when Mike invited us down to do a benefit gig down in Costa Rico in a town called Jaco. It’s a surf town about halfway down the coast. The benefit was for the school system and we stayed at Mike’s dad’s house. To cut to the chase, Scott was the guitar player, and about two songs in I knew I had a player on my hands that could go anywhere--we played maybe 5 hours that night, we got really into it. People loved it and we got to give money to the school system, which was the most important thing. The next day I said, “Mike I had a really good time last night, let’s do this more.” He said, “Bill, I’ll do it whenever I can but I’ve got my own band.” I thought to myself what am I going to do, sit at home and audition bass players? I said, “Mike I want somebody who is the best at their instrument and who knows me.” And Mike said, “Lets call Oteil.” Oteil said OK and that’s why we call Mike the curator. We all are having the best time, I just love it!

DNA: Oteil is just a monster bass player, t takes it so many places.

BK: Well they got a drummer who likes to take it many places too. He’s having a lot of fun and Scotts the same way. Scott feels the same way as far as freedom and imagination, he doesn’t play the same thing twice in a row. He takes solos and you think he’s done and he’s only halfway through. He’s building and building and building and doing all these tonal changes and it’s really good music. They trade off all these licks and lines and sides of solos, which is really fun, or they’ll play in unison or harmony parts on the same line and I’m back there laughing. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I know the Deadheads in Santa Cruz, or anyone that loves good electric music will enjoy it. I don’t like to use the word jazz, I like to say free music. It’s not traditional music, if anything it’s close to fusion. Ya know DNA, I love your name, I heard this one track, and I said, “What band is that?” And my girlfriend Amy said, “You nut, that’s you!” She had put on some of the CDs I had lying around the house and I thought I was listening to some fusion band. I was like, “Fuck, that’s us?” That’s’ how happy I am with this band. Onstage they crowd around my bass drum and you have three guys laughing their brains out while their playing. It’s sort of Bluegrassish in this way. We play real close and play tight music.

DNA: You’re kicking off the tour in Santa Cruz, cannot wait! You said that you will rehearse with the Dead for 20 days, will you have anytime to practice with BK3?
BK: We won’t have time. Maybe we’ll get in there that afternoon and play a few songs, but that’s how it goes with the trio, we don’t really need to rehearse. I’m not reallt sure how that sounds to you. . .

DNA: You guys are all consummate professionals. . .

BK: We’ve all played for years. You’re the first interviewer whose known both Scott and Oteil, most people don’t know either, and if anyone gets known it’s Oteil and me. But I’m glad you know Scott, he’s an amazing guitar player. And their voices are great as well and they complement each other. Scott has kinda of a raspy voice and Oteil has kind of a pretty gospel voice, nice contrast of tones.

DNA: I grew up on the East Coast we would go see Max Creek, waiting for the Dead to return. It was cold and we had to stay warm.

BK: I don’t feel like I’m the leader of the band. I like for everyone to be the leader. It’s sorta Obamaish. He said, “I’m your leader, but you all got take a hand in this thing.” That’s how we do it. I don’t tell them what to do, I say, “Here are some ideas, what do you think?”

DNA: Do you have a set list before you start?

BK: We call up a few songs. We have a master list sitting out there and think which key might fit with the next song, tempo or feeling. We don’t have to have a set list at all. One night I got up there at Toads in Connecticut and played a 1/2 hour drum solo before those guys came out and joined me. I brought down a good hard beat and started jamming on the beat and made up another song and played it for an hour and a 1/2 and then started a song off the list. We went into Eyes of the World—it was the biggest meltdown! It’s great to see the audience having that much fun—very reminiscent. Now that Obama is president, I feel better.

DNA: The world is just as crazy, but it’s nice to have a guy at the helm that you don’t hate.

BK: I was in Washington for the inaugeration to play with the band. I was watching television in my hotel room—there was two million people a 1/2 a mile away, I decided, well, my hotel room is safe—so I was watching the swearing in on TV. There’s the old tradition of the president getting in the helicopter and flying away—and I heard a helicopter outside my window, I grabbed Amy and we went to the window and it was Bush flying away—so we gave him a big wave. Good riddance, man.

DNA: 8 years of lunacy.

BK: It felt much longer than 8 years.

DNA: Well there was his Dad as well. I just heard they’re talking about Jeb in 2012. It’s way to early to hear stuff like that. Too soon, too soon.

BK: How about Palin?

DNA: Drill Baby Drill.

BK: Let’s shoot wolves from helicopters.

DNA: She gave a lot of fodder to comedians.

BK: Didn’t do her any good. When McCain chose her I thought he did it because he didn’t really want to be president. I doubt that was his thought but it appeared that way.

DNA: He couldn’t have made a goofier choice.

BK: I know. Thank god.

DNA: Had a question about Hawaii. You guys passed the Lowest Law Enforcement Priority of Cannabis Ordinance, but your police chief recently said that, “anyone who is pro-marijuana is automatically pro-terrorist.”

BK: Blame it on being slow-minded and uninformed. Hawaii is very backward when it comes to things that are fun like marijuana and dancing. The caberet laws are in effect. There are no places on this island where you can go and dance. You can go out and sit-down, but you can’t dance. There has been a ton of corruption politically and it’s the good-old-boy syndrome—which is another word for gangster. The way I deal with it is by living my life in the best way, trying to be an example to other people. There was a guy here, Andrew Kluger, who built a dam that broke 2.5 years ago and killed several people. . .

http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/03/15/news/story01.html

. . .and the corruption goes all the way up to the Governor. They never inspected the dams, they knew one was leaking and it finally broke. It was 400 million gallons of water, it carved a miniature Grand Canyon—took out the property across from me, which is Better Midlers property. I got the least damage from it, but I lost all my Ag water, so I couldn’t water all my beautiful flowers, and they died. The city water has too much chlorine in it and it’s also very expensive. What I’m saying is that for such a beautiful place it’s amazingly backward.

DNA: To go indirectly back to the Dead for a second. I lived in Maui but realized that to fight the good fight and make a difference I needed to move back to Turtle Island. And I gotta say that it was through touring with you guys for 500 shows that I realized it was through being an activist and community action that you could really help those around you.
BK: You’ve got a good heart. I’ll tell ya, the cops here are just really mean, unduly mean. They take pride in being bullies.

DNA: Well play it safe with that garage of yours.

BK: I don’t do anything that they could get too down on me for. Last Friday night it was a lady cop that came to shut us down. She was very polite and she said, “Wow, that sounds really good, but it’s 11:30 and we’ve been getting complaints.”

DNA: Was it Bette Midler that called the cops?

BK: No..no..Just saying that Hawaii is Obama land, but their policies are not like Obama.

DNA: Corruption runs deep. Look at Blagojevich.

BK: I cannot believe that he is still in the news.

DNA: Hey you screw up at work really bad and it takes balls to keep showing up.

BK: Yup. After the inauguration we played that night. The next night, thanks to Mickey Hart, I got invited to a Power Party. Nancy Pelosi was there, Barbara Boxer was there, Harry Reid was there, Diane Feinstein was there—all the heavys. That asked us a lot of questions and I always promote Green. I pleaded to build solar panel factories, obvious stuff. Let’s take all those Mercedes store in Long Beach that cannot be sold and put electric motors in those son-of-bitches. I was running all this stuff down and the vibe was really optimistic. Those folks didn’t like working for Bush and there was joy I the air and that made me feel better about our country. I wasn’t too happy with Bush and I know you haven’t.

DNA: It’s hip to talk Green, but when is somebody going to thank the hippies for thinking of it all.

BK: we never get thanked, but as long as they take action that will be enough.

DNA: Thanks a lot for the talk Bill. If you ever need a stand-up comedian to open for you guys. . .

BK: You can call me every morning to make me laugh.

DNA: It’s on. Expect a call tomorrow at 6am.

BK: Come find me in Santa Cruz I have a story about John Belushi I want to tell you.

DNA: OK.

BK: How did you get the name DNA?
DNA: In 1990 I was backstage for a Showtime comedy contest. I was backstage, high on acid, freaking out that I didn’t have anything funny to say. And then I remembered that my initials were DNA—which is funny.

BK: Perfect.

DNA: One last thing. The only interaction we ever had in the past. . .

BK: Uh oh.

DNA: In 1986 I was at a Bill Graham private party at the Fillmore. John Lee Hooker was there, Huey Lewis, The Charlatans were playing onstage, it was insane. Everyone knew each other, except for me. I was like an orphan at a family reunion.

BK: Orphan!

DNA: I was standing next to the dance floor, where a bunch of high-class ladies were shaking it. And you pushed me into the dance floor and said, “Get in there and dance young man!”

BK: Great story, I’m not usually that pushy!

DNA: Alright, see you in Santa Cruz. Aloha.

BK: Aloha!