THE NEXT WEEK WE WENT TO SEE PARTICLE AT LA ZONA ROSA AND NONE OTHER THAN PHIL LESH STEPPED OUT ON STAGE AND PLAYED “THE OTHER ONE” WITH PARTICLE. DURING THE BREAK I WAS GLOWING AS I MADE MY WAY TO THE BACK TO FIND MY FRIENDS. ANOTHER FRIEND APPEARED AND LED ME BACKSTAGE TO MEET AND INTERVIEW PARTICLE. WHEN WE GOT BACK THERE, IT WAS ALL SMILES AND HANDSHAKES. IMAGINE MY SURPRISE AS A SLENDER AND TALL, GREY HAIRED MAN REACHED OUT TO ME. PHIL LESH SHOOK MY HAND AND BESIDES ALMOST MELTING DOWN THE DRAIN, I WAS ABLE TO TELL HIM I WAS A HUGE FAN AND WAS ABLE TO SET UP AN INTERVIEW. I HAVE BEEN A LONG TIME FAN OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD AND RECOGNIZE THE CONTRIBUTIONS THIS MAN HAS MADE TO THE MUSIC SCENE. HIS NEW BOOK, “SEARCHING FOR THE SOUND,” TELLS THE STORY OF HOW THE GRATEFUL DEAD GOT TOGETHER AND BECAME ONE OF THE BIGGEST BANDS IN THE WORLD. WHAT STRUCK ME MOST IS THAT THESE WERE JUST ORDINARY GUYS THAT WENT ON TO DO GREAT THINGS. MANY OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT HE DESCRIBES OCCUR ON A NIGHTLY BASIS HERE IN THE LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. ALL IT TAKES IS THAT SPARK FOR SOMETHING GREAT TO HAPPEN.
HERE ARE THE WORDS WE SHARED:
AD: Compare writing a book to making an album.
PL: It’s more like composing a symphony rather than making an album, because making an album is such a collaborative process. It’s more like composing a piece of music and having it performed, with the performers being the function of the editor with the book. It’s interesting too, because music flows in much the same way that prose does. It has pauses and sentences and verbs and objects and subjects and paragraphs and pages. In all guises, it’s often in a similar way. It’s a lot like composing a piece of music.
AD: In the book, you talk about jamming with the Grateful Dead as not creating, but being created. Can you please elaborate on that?
PL: I describe it in the book as being essentially not there. In other words, the state of mind that the
music is taking us to is a place where we’re not there any more. We’ve fused our individualities into what I call in the book and elsewhere a group mind or a Gestalt organism, an organism that is created from the sum of the parts. So this group mind is faster and smarter and more aggressive and more dangerous than any of us are as individuals. In that space, it’s as if none of us are. Our egos don’t exist any more and there is only the music. We don’t even know where it’s coming from, except my theory is that it’s coming from some divine space, it’s that eternal music that plays throughout the universe. We in that Gestalt state of mind, we can tap into it. It’s like opening a valve. Stravinsky said, “I am the vessel through which music passes.” That’s pretty much the image that I would like to impart.
AD: In your book you spoke of how great it was for the Grateful Dead to have had many of the great musicians sit in with you guys. How does it feel to sit in with other bands as one of the greats?
PL: That’s an interesting question. For me, it’s always like, “Oh, man, I hope I don’t suck.” Because
I’m going into another musical space that maybe I’m not too familiar with. I really want to do right for
the people I’m playing with and for their music. Sometimes I feel like I should tread cautiously, to try to find out or understand what it is that they are doing a little better before I make my move.
AD: It was fascinating to learn from your book that you trace the roots of the Grateful Dead back to the British romantic poets. Would you elaborate on the connection and about the impact of poets like Wordsworth, Colridge and Blake on your thinking and music?
PL: For me, that poetry was like a lifeline in a way in a period of my life when I was at loose ends, when I really didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. That literature spoke to me across the centuries saying in one way that, “We can hear, too.” These great poets have been in the same psychic space and have not only lived to tell about it, but have told about it most eloquently. Aside from that, on the personal level, the English romantic poets are to my mind along with Walt Whitman direct precursors of the Beats. And the Beats and our scene, and the Grateful Dead scene, are kind of like contiguous; you can blend one into the other. Because the Beat poets and novelists and writers were very important to us as we were growing up. So as the Romantics were to the Beats, so the Beats were to us. It just feels like an “Unbroken Chain” (ha ha, if you’ll forgive me) of spiritual influence actually over centuries. Which really makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, which is always a good thing.
AD: Did you ever meet Kerouac?
PL: No, I’m sorry to say that I did not. By the time that we were ready to do that, he had already I think sort of rolled into a shell and he went home to live with his mother as far as I understand it. I heard rumors that he didn’t care very much for hippies.
AD: How long did the book take you to write? The editing process must have been a nightmare scaling it down to fit.
PL: Not really. Not really. In fact, the hardest part was adding more. I wanted to tell the story in as
momentous a way as possible in the sense that I wanted it to just keep flowing. I didn’t want to digress into side trips. By the time I’d finished that, it needed more, it needed elaboration. It’s the things you learn in the process. And every story is different. If I were writing another story, I would have had to do different things to it.
AD: What do you still want to accomplish with your music?
PL: I just want to keep making it, I guess. I’m going to let id tell me what he wants to accomplish.
AD: You were in the South for about a week or so. Did you get out to see local musicians in your travels, or does fame and time not permit that?
PL: No, I wasn’t able to do that very much, although I was able to sit in with both Particle and Ryan Adams in Austin. That was neat. I heard a lot of local bands as I was walking down the street in Austin. It’s fascinating. There’s so much music going on there all the time. All you have to do is walk around and you’ll hear something good.
AD: What do you think of Austin?
PL: I love it. I love Austin. It’s the only reason to my mind for Texas.
AD: What do you think Jerry would say about the rise of other jam bands and what do you think about Dark Star Orchestra?
PL: I don’t know what Jerry would think. I know I love it. I think it’s great not so much because we seem to have been the jumping off point, but just because musicians are saying, “Okay, we can do this. We can jam. We can make music spontaneously. We can create a group mind. We can bring people together in the moment that same way.” To me, that’s just wonderful. I don’t know what I think of Dark Star Orchestra because I’ve never heard them. I’m trying to say that I don’t know what I think of the idea, either. I don’t know how detailed they are, either. Dark Star Orchestra does a Grateful Dead show, right? All our songs? I don’t know how deeply they go into detail. I have not had the opportunity to listen to them.
AD: What is next for Phil and Friends? /strong>
PL: We’re doing two gigs in Colorado with Ryan Adams as part of the band. One at the Philmore and one at Red Rocks. Our foundation, Unbroken Chain, has been gifted with Jerry’s old guitar, Wolf, which had been sold at auction. The current owner is donating it to the foundation so we can use it to bring music to people and to allow musicians to come and play it and to raise funds for our foundation to do good work. So that’s happening in Colorado and to that end actually, we’re having an auction so that whoever bids the highest in these auctions can come up and play Wolf at the sound check party. And then we’re also inviting musicians to send in CDs. Those musicians who are chosen will be allowed to play Wolf with my band at a sound check party. We’re trying to get the gamut of people who can afford to to support the foundation for those who can’t. We still want them to be able to play with the guitar and make music. So that’s what’s happening there. And then I’m coming out with another band with Phil Lesh and Friends in the fall.
AD: Do any of your sons play music?
PL: Yes, they both play guitar and my younger son is actually switching to bass to play in a band with some older guys. So he’s actually been rehearsing for the last two or three nights with a band of much older guys. And my older son plays guitar and sings and he’s sat in with my band many times now. It’s the highest thing that could ever happen to me just to play music with my kids.
AD: Well, finally we’d like to thank you for being you and giving us countless good times over the years and we look forward to more.
PL: Thank you for all the great energy that makes it possible.