Blair Jackson GDForum Interview, August 9th 1999
On the fourth anniversary of the death of Jerry Garcia, Blair Jackson sat down with us in an AOL Live auditorium, and discussed the life of Jerry Garcia. Blair's new Book, Garcia: An American Life, has just been released
log editing courtesy of firstname.lastname@example.org
Geoff Gould: Welcome to tonight's special AOL Live event. My name is Geoff Gould, and I am the AOL GD Forum coordinator. Before we start the official proceedings, and I clear the question buffers, I'd like to ask that we come up with really good questions. If all I find in the buffer are questions like: "When are the Dead getting back together?" and so on, it makes it harder to find the good ones!
Blair Jackson: When the Dead were busted in '67 they had a press conference where they threatened to pie the first person to ask a dumb question
GG: Let's try it
BJ: As we say on Celebrity Deathmatch, "Let's Get It On!'
GG: Go ahead and submit questions.
Question: Obviously this book was a huge undertaking, when writing about Jerry, did you discover anything that was completely shocking or spell bounding? Anything you hadn't known already?
BJ: Well, I was a little surprised than no one had anything really mean to say about him.
BJ: Even people who had dark encounters with him were overall impressed by him. People gave him a certain amount of slack for being Jerry.
GG: Well, that he was indeed. Blair, what the most fun part of writing the book?
BJ: I loved researching his childhood in San Francisco and his years as a folkie.
GG: great stuff for people to know
BJ: I found a lot from interviewing his brother and some cousins who hadn't been interviewed much before. Got some cool photos from one cousin.Wait till you see what Jerry looked like at 15--the year he first smoked pot.
GG: cool pix?
BJ: There are about 50 b&w pix, some of 'em previously unpublished
Digaman1: Why were musicians of Garcia's generation so gifted ;hybridizing new forms and breaking boundaries?
BJ: Because the old forms were getting used up so new forms had to be created just as they were in art earlier in the century I've been listening to Coltrane all day, working on a article. Talk about new forms!
Question: In wrtiting your new book, did you actually have occasion to interview any band members?
BJ: Phil and Bob, whom I've interviewed before, did not want to be interviewed when I was working on the book. I did talk to Mickey, Vince and Bruce.
JudeNev: what was the craziest thing or most surprising thing you found out about Jerry? Was there something that just seemed off the wall?
BJ: He loved stand-up comedy ; really comedy eof every kind, from Jackie Mason to the Jerky Boys. he loved the Jerky Boys!
LLRainFL: Blair from what perspective of Jerrys life do you write in your book?
BJ: What do you mean? I'm a fan, first, a historian second. My perspective was pretty straight, meaning historical...
Hanah202: do you think that people giving Jerry so much slack inevitably harmed him?
BJ: Absolutely. When you're surrounded by yes-men and sycophants. How can you get an objective reading on anything? Of course, the band didn't cut him that much slack. Neither did his kids or his girlfriends
JudeNev: What single song do you think best encapsulates the new ground Jerry Garcia and the dead broke musically?
BJ: Whoa, tough one. "Dark Star," I guess. Philosophically, "Uncle John's": "Will you come with me/ Won't you come with me..."
GG: In your book, you make special mention of China Cat
BJ: That was one where they really played off each other musically in the kind of ways we came to love later on...
Eleven Jam: What initially inspired you to write a Garcia bio considering how much is already out there?
BJ: Well, there wasn't much good out there. Troy's book is too surfacey and Greenfield's "Dark Star" too focused on the personal stuff. I wanted to write something that dealt more with his creative side while not ignoring the personal.
RIPPLERON : what kind of personal contact have you had with the band members??
BJ: Through the years, I've interviewed them all multiple times. I just interviewed Weir a few weeks ago while he was working on the Ratdog disc. I intreviewed Jerry nine times between 1981 and 1993.
Chinacatt7: After all you have learned, do you think that anyone (ie:the band) could have saved Jer's life?
BJ: I think he was trying to save his own life. he did not want to die. He was trying to make changes. It was just too late. Would it have stuck? Who knows? Sadly we'll never know the answer...
Digaman1: Tough question, maybe bogus: Who do you think was the great love Jerry's life?
BJ: His guitar. But seriously...I'm not prepared to touch that one. It would be a little presumptuous of me. Certainly his relationship with Mountain Girl was on a high level for many, many years...
Geodhead: It's so nice to finally get a book that discusses Jerry, the musician and songwriter. What do you find is the most intriguing thing about musicianship and songwriting skills?
BJ: That he is a brilliant craftsman in a conventional sense-- he knows structure--yet he was always coming up with suprising things, whether it was an unusual chord or a particularly hip bridge. he wrote great bridges...
Eleven Jam: Do you think you'll ever see another person like Garcia in your lifetime?
BJ: No. But with luck there will be others who blow our minds in different ways and show us something as awesome.
GG: RIPPLERON wants to know a little background about you; explain yourself Blair! I should have done a better intro!
BJ: Not guilty! I grew up in the New York suburb of Pelham. I'm 46. I first saw the Dead at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester 3/20/70. I've lived in the Bay Area since October '73. That's all you get unless you give (truth) drugs!
GG: Blair, tell us a little about the box set you, Gans, and Silberman are involved in
BJ: Can't say too much except that it's a 5-CD box, four CDs of which
will follow the contour of the Dead's career, and a fifth disc with of the so-called "new songs', i.e. the unrecorded one. There will be a few goodies on there. It should be out in November, I'm told. Classy package.
GG: Vague, but enthusiastic!
BJ: ...in the Grateful Dead tradition of vague but enthusiasatic responses!
Rduke007: I liked the E! documentary, did you?
BJ: With all due respect, I hated that documentary. It had so many factual errors and those re-creations were so lame. They asked to interview me but I turned 'em down when they admitted they would be doing re-creations. It was fun seeing M.G. and Barbara Meier et. Al.
GG: The stupid re-enactments of Jerry's hands. Nice to see his brother Though.
BJ: Yeah, he's great.
Batch25: what are some of your influences,musical and otherwise?
BJ: I love politics, history, music. I grew up with The Beatles and all that '60s stuff. I loved hendrix, The Doors, the Airplane. I listen to lots of stuff world music, Los Lobos, whatever's around...
Eleven Jam: Is it too soon to speculate what effect Dick Latvala's sudden passing will have on future vault releases?
GG: We miss Dick
BJ: It's too soon to speculate specifically. It's safe to say that the Dead going to want releases to keep coming. This is their bread and butter.
Hexfest: Who was the most enjoyable person you interviewed for the book?
BJ: I fell in love with Sara Katz, Jerry's first wife. What a wonderful, smart, vibrant person. I already knew M.G., so that wasn't a surprise. Barbara Meier was also delightful. All the people from the folk days were cool: Nelson, Eric Thompson, Suzy Wood, etc.
USA 4 SOD: Hey Blair--favorite Dead song? and why>?/
BJ: Too hard. Depends on my mood. Hard to beat a great "Scarlet-Fire" But then is there anything better than a sweaty "Sugar Mag" at the end of a great show? Or "Terrapin" to take you to the beyond?
GG: We also need to ask the traditional GDF question: What's your favorite ice cream?
BJ: Hate to be so dull, but straight coffee ice cream. Or B&J's White Russian.
Batch25: have you ever heard of the 60's band named "Love"..they were a big influence on the doors.
GG: Loved them myself.
BJ: Yeah, I never cared much for 'em personally. A few good songs. I didn't go too much for that speedy psychedelia. I liked the more expansive and brooding stuff; early Pink Floyd.
SKULLnROSE: When your not busy writing what music or artists are you listening to now a days ?
BJ: Today I was reveling in a Johnny Horton's Greatest Hits. The stuff I listen to is all over the map. because I work for a music/audio mag (Mix) I get free discs, so I hear a huge variety of things.
GG: North to Alaska? I loved him; tragic loss. Tell us about your website Blair
BJ: Thanks for askin', plugmeister. It's http://www.blairjackson.com and it's got a lot of spillover from the book (stuff that was cut) and a critical discography.
GG: What do you think of the post-GD bands? We always get questions about Phish comparisons.
BJ: Believe it or not, I've never seen Phish. I've heard a bunch of tapes and listened to the records and it doesn't do much for me. That said, I'm rooting for them. I like their approach. They seem to be good guys and are obviously really talented players. But I find the lyrics a bit silly and banal and they seem fidgety musically to me sometimes. I loved the Phil and Phriends with Trey and Page! I've liked all the P&F's I've seen. I'm a big fan of Missing Man Formation. The first year after Jerry died I thought they were bty far the best post-Dead group out there. Ratdog I don't care for particularly, though I loved their
New year's show. I'm not a huge fan of saxophones in rock and though I can see that dave Ellis is a good player, it's not a texture I enjoy partiicularly in Deadish music. Though, I was knocked out by Branford Marsalis' appearances with the boys.
GG: Junior Walker included?
BJ: That's a different bag. he's obviously great at that kind of thing, just like Maceo Parker is great at his thing.
Digaman1: Was there any area of JG's life that you wish you could have find more about, dug deeper into, in your research?
BJ: The late '70s is particularly interesting because obviously the Dead made some of their greatest music then, yet Jerry was going through some tough times personally. I'd like to understand the connections in his life at that time a little better.
Rduke007: I really liked some of the later Jerry tunes, not on any album, DO you have a fav later day Jerry tune?
BJ: I loved them all: "So Many Roads," "Days Between," "Standing on the Moon," "Liberty," "Lazy River Road." each is special.
GG: I'd like to thank Blair for comin' tonite. Any last words Blair?
BJ: Say a prayer for Dick's soul. He was good people.
GG: Say a prayer indeed. We bid you goodnight