Volume #15, Issue #1
SO FAR: A Transcript
of a Grateful Dead Press Conference
By Toni A. Brown
How do you know when a Press Conference or a Video Screening is successful? When both include the Grateful Dead.
Not only was the press out in full force on September 14, 1987, only days before the Grateful Dead’s five sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden, but they sat through the 55 minute So Far video, tapping feet and mouthing words to “Uncle John’s Band,” “Playing in the Band,” “Throwing Stones,” (this portion of So Far was previously shown on MTV) and “Not Fade Away.” They swayed with relish to “Lady With a Fan,” “Space,” and “Rhythm Devils.” It was a delight to see representatives from New York’s most respected media sources let their hair down, so to speak, as they sat mesmerized by the montage of effects that accompanied the Dead’s performances in this new video.
The screening of the video w as followed by a Press Conference. The speakers on the panel were Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, So Far Producer/Director Len Dell’Amico and Arista Records President Clive Davis.
Q: We had to wait seven years for this studio album. Will we have to wait seven years for the next one?
Garcia: Uh… trick question…
Q: I’m hoping we don’t have to.
Garcia: We haven’t really started thinking about it yet, but I think we’re gonna go a little faster in the future.
Q: Has success spoiled the Dead?
Q: How so?
Weir: Well, it looks pretty rotten to me.
Q: And how has it changed you?
Weir: Well, I was noticing the other night, when I’m opening pistachios, the hard-to-open ones? I don’t bother with them. Who’s got time?
Q: A number of segments in the video were performed in front of an audience and some were not?
Weir: We did a live show at Oakland Coliseum, and the live pieces were taken from that show. And then we shot four days at Marin Vets, which is where the album was basically recorded.
Q: Did you have difficulty performing at the standard peak without the audience? The audience is something that the band feeds off of, obviously.
Garcia: Right. Well, that was the gamble. The gamble was, could we go into a place with no audience, and just relating to ourselves, could we find some energy in there? And we had hits and misses. Some of it worked out pretty good, and some of it was interesting. But it’s definitely a different kind of energy… We didn’t plan our continuity from one situation to another.
Q: Why did you plan it like that?
Garcia: We didn’t plan it that way at all. Actually, we started off with all kinds of plans. We had real specific things we were gonna do. Something very tight and formal, and then that sort of dissolved, and after we did the shoot at Marin Vets, the whole contour of it started to look different. So we started to look for a different methodology to be able to do what it seemed to call for.
Q: What is Marin Vets?
Garcia: It’s a nice, tasty concert hall in Marin County that’s about five minutes from where we all live. It’s about an 1800—2,000 seater, small but very nicely articulated. It really sounds beautiful. It really has a good, crisp recording sound.
Q: Is it like a theatre-in-the-round? ‘Cause I noticed you were all facing eachother…
Garcia: No, we just set up that way, ‘cause we were addressing ourselves rather than addressing an audience.
Q: Why isn’t “Touch of Grey” on this video?
Garcia: Well, we didn’t have a workable arrangement of it, really. We tried it.
Q: Speaking of Marin Vet, you did all the basic tracks for the new album there with the exception of “Touch of Grey” which has a fade ending, all the songs are set up in the same way they would be live. Was that a conscious effort just to get the songs out on an album, pretty much the same way they are live?
Garcia: Not intentionally. Sometimes we let it run out. We didn’t really plan the ends. So, some of them trail off, some of them build. They tended to be as idiosyncratic as they are at live shows. They were different from each other. Their performances were quite different from each other.
Q: Jerry and Len, where did you get the vintage film clips? I think we saw Hitler in there, the KKK. Where did they originate from?
Len: Well, we started by coming up with an image list of what we wanted to stick in there, and then we’d come up with places to get it. Associate producer Ann Uzdavinis went out and found all this stuff, and editor Brian Colloza put it all together. But it comes from the National Archives, and all kinds of archival places. And you buy it, and use it.
Q: Was there any discussion of using this theatrically?
Garcia: Not really. It’s one of those things. It’s not quite… it’s not big enough… it’s really addressed to the person who sits in front of the television set. It’s that length.
Weir: It wasn’t done on film. It was done on video, and video doesn’t look all that great.
Q: It seems like “Throwing Stones” is your first move into the political realm…
Weir: It’s apolitical. “Throwing Stones” is just a diatribe.
Len: That’s a lie! (audience laughs)
Q: It seems very relevant to what’s going on today.
Weir: You’ll find that it’s probably pretty relevant to what was going on a few years back, and a few years before that, and probably gonna be going on in the future, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. It addresses what you see today, but it’s pretty much what you see from day to day. Unfortunately, it’s relevant, yes.
Q: How long have you been working on this (“So Far”)? How long has this project been going on?
Garcia: Well, let’s see…
Weir: Two and a half (years)?
Garcia: Yeah, about that.
Q: How did you choose the songs that you decided to use in the video?
Garcia: Like we do everything. We took the good ones. We recorded a lot of bad ones, too. Len started out with a menu, a wish list. So, there’s been a certain amount of filtering to get those tunes, but going in, we didn’t know what we were gonna do.
Q: Is this video a way to reach your growing audience?
Garcia: Not really, ‘cause this all happened way before this current… whatever it is, so really this is just another thing, you know. It’s not meant to play into some segment of our career.
Q: Has this wave of success taken you by surprise?
Garcia: Nah. Let’s see… Fifteen years ago, it would have taken us by surprise, but we sort of crept up on it, really.
Weir: We’ve been building up to it. We knew we had good songs to record for the last few years, and we finally got around to recording them, and we knew it would do pretty well.
Q: Did the video have much to do with its (In the Dark) success, do you think?
Garcia: No, I don’t think so. I think what it did do, though, it did indirectly help the record project, because it gave us a chance to run through the room and everything, so the experience of recording for the video shoot, which was before the record production, gave us a chance to fool around in the room, so we knew we could come out of there with good sounding stuff.
Q: What about the video of “Touch of Grey”? Did that affect sales of the album?
Garcia: Probably, although that’s something that I know nothing about.
Davis: What you had here was a lot of factors occurring at once. In the last few years, tickets to the concerts were being snapped up much more quickly. The demographics of the group were increasing to a younger and younger audience. Number two, we got so much more airplay on so many different cuts in different formats that the whole nation really heard, in whatever format they tuned into, whether it was “Touch of Grey,” whether it was “Hell in a Bucket” or “When Push Comes to Shove” or “West L.A. Fadeaway,” there was a tremendous amount of play, more so than certainly in the last ten years that they’ve recorded for Arista. You also had the video being received extremely well. Went into heavy and power rotation on MTV, and then of course you had a giant hit single, which turns everything upside down. You’ve got them in every configuration, and then with heavy Top 40 airplay, and reaching their first Top 10 single, you’ve got those elements. So the album ain’t stopping at just platinum, it’s coming in now stronger than ever.
Q: Whose is the seventh set of eyes on the corner?
Weir: Yours. (They are Bill Graham’s eyes.)
Q: (re: “Hell in a Bucket”)
Weir: The video is pretty much the song. The song pretty much scripted the video. And we just made sure we were there for it. We decided to do it, and did it relatively quickly. Less than a month ago we decided to do it, and we were going on tour, and while we were on tour we got together, we met and scripted it, and did some pre-production. And then we got back from the tour, we were touring the Rocky Mountain states at the time, we got back from that tour and just the next day we started filming because we… everybody was into it. We were on time and on budget and everything. When we scripted it, we more or less dreamed up what everybody should be wearing, and if someone was there at that particular meeting that could fend for himself, but if he wasn’t there at that particular meeting, he could end up in a cathouse piano player costume.
Q: Could you see yourself in am ore historical document? Could you do something about where you’rea ll from, that kind of thin?
Garcia: We could, but for us it feels premature to start fooling around with the past.
Weir: We’d be dealing with stuff that we’ve already done, and we’d probably just as soon move on to other projects.
Q: How has your audience changed, or is it the same?
Weir: I’d have to say that it’s very much the same. The same kind of people.
Garcia: They are really nice, a wonderful audience really, from our point of view. Most of the time it is really neat out there. It’s very friendly.
Weir: We’re not hitting different demographics. We’re hitting probably the same demographics. It’s just that every year those demographics fall a little younger to us.
Garcia: Yeah, they’re younger than us, but they’re not less capable, do you know what I mean? They’re getting’ it.
Weir: They understand what we’re up to.
Garcia: They know a good night, and they know the nights that are not so good, too.
Q: Do you find a lot of parents bringing their kids?
Garcia: Yeah, and I see a lot of kids bringing their parents.
Q: how has your recent popularity changed the menu of your performances?
Garcia: It doesn’t change the way we do what we do. We still can’t be dependant on our hits. Other than that, if there’s a new crowd, they’re being absorbed so quickly into the Deadhead feel or whatever, that the quality of the audience has not diminished in any sense.
Weir: So they’re not going to demand our hits every night. We can do what we damn well please.
Garcia: And we’ve been playing this size place, the Madison Square Garden-sized place, for some time now. So only at the huge mega-gigs do you get some sense that the public at large has started to filter in. So we haven’t yet begun to experience much of the result of that.
Q: How did you enjoy the mega-gigs with Dylan? Did he enjoy that?
Garcia: Oh, it was fun! He did enjoy it, yeah. It was tough to get it out of him, but he did…
Q: Will there be more concerts with Dylan?
Weir: We have no plans, but we’d certainly be open to it, and it’s a long time until next summer, which is the next time we’d be able to get around to it.
Q: Did it take more rehearsal time than usual, to get together with Dylan?
Weir: The nature of our rehearsals was pretty amazing. We rehearsed a lot of stuff…
Garcia: And then when we went on the road, we didn’t have the slightest idea of what we were going to do!
Weir: We rehearsed up 80 songs, and we couldn’t even remember the songs we rehearsed.
Q: Do you miss playing small theaters?
Weir: I’ll tell you, after the stadium shows, getting back into these hockey halls, they seem intimate.
Q: Is there a new focus on video, both video clips and home video?
Weir: We’ve had some fun doing what we’ve done so far, and we’re also having some success with it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we did more of it.
Q: Do you think that corporate sponsorship adversely affects a band’s image?
Garcia: It can, yeah. The Grateful Dead wouldn’t want to do that. And the whole thing of the Levi’s commercial was that some friends of mine got the gig, so to speak, so I volunteered to do it with them. And really, it’s a chance for my friends to work. (Garcia did a Levi’s radio commercial with Sandy Rothman and Dave Nelson.)
Q: What’s in store for the band if Jerry goes out and does Broadway?
Garcia: Well, the reason that I’m doing that is because Brent’s going to jail!
Q: Do you want to expand on that a little bit?
Garcia: No! You’ll have to ask Brent.
(the conversation returns to “So Far,” ostensibly the reason for the press gathering.)
Q: Can you tell us about the computer-generated graphics?
Len: The technology is available. You have to find the most talented people, and the place where the machines are, and then set ‘em loose. And the main thing is the setting-them-loose part, of telling them that you want them to help you, rather than just doing what you tell them to do. And if you give them time to play, you come up with great stuff.
Q: Considering that most concerts go on 3 or 4 hours, why is the run time only 55 minutes?
Garcia: Because, like I said, it really has to do with what we get. So if you record five shows, and maybe get an hour’s worth of good stuff… In this case, the ratio is probably steeper than that. So for me, it’s a process of recognition. You assemble it. It starts to look like something. As soon as it starts to look like something, then you have a shape. So what we did was we constructed the shape, kinda like the way they do animated films. We constructed a shape which was the soundtrack, and then used that as the basic template for everything else. The interesting thing about it, methodology-wise, was that we approached a video editing facility as thought it were a multi-track audio facility. So we had many levels of images to choose from at any given moment. So there were never decisions until the last edit about what images actually go where at what moment. We were really assembling layers of possibilities, all on individual machines.
There is no multi-track video; video does not exist in that realm. So it’s a matter of sort of inventing a version of that.
Weir: Also to be taken into consideration, if you think about all the imagery that’s being knit together, audio and visual, the songs and everything, to make one piece, there’s really quite a bit that goes into it, and it’s all delicately inter-related, and the more you get, the more work it is. And by Len’s estimation it took two and a half years to make this one.
Garcia: Give us another year, and we’ll make it an hour and a half.
Weir: Yeah. If you want three hours, it’s going to be a while in coming.
Q: Do you think “So Far” Will filter through to record sales?
Garcia: Don’t know, I really don’t. It’ll be interesting to see exactly what it does.
Q: What does the Grateful Dead think about the release of their older material on compact discs?
Garcia: Uh, it’s one of those things. We’ll have to see. Luckily, there’s this guy who helps us out with that stuff, a young mastering whiz, Joe Gastwirth, who’s really been helpful in terms of getting our old stuff remastered. So we’ve been able pretty much to stay on top of it. A few things we’ve had to sort of call back. But I’m talking about our older catalogue. So far, everything has come out pretty good.
Weir: If it’s done, it really sounds good.
Garcia: The nice thing about compact discs is they’re better than any vinyl, but a lot of times they even have more punch than the tape does.
Q: This week is the anniversary, I think, of the shows out in Egypt in 1978, and there’s been some talk about performing in China next year. How’s that coming along?
Weir: Just fine. (China has since been postponed.)
Conference comes to an end with “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.”