Grateful Dead Magazine Articles

Playboy Interview w/J. Garcia Pt. 11

Collected from
Back Previous Bus Stop Forward (Beth Dyer)
Organization: University of California; Santa Cruz
Reprinted without permission from Playboy, March 1972...

GRATEFUL DEAD I HAVE KNOWN (pt. 11) by Ed McClanahan

So here we are, me and ole Wheat Germ, smack in the middle of your typical sunny Sunday afternoon in a small, semirural suburb in upper Marin County, and well under way is your typical softball game in your typical small-town municipal ball park: chicken-wire backstop, rickety wooden bleachers along both base lines, scrupulously barren infield, shaggy outfield-in short you regulation government-issue I-see-Amurrica-playing scene as it is enacted every summer Sunday not just here in Marin County but from sea to shining sea, lots of good cold beer and good fellowship and good-natured umpire baiting ... and here today among these particular devotees of the national pastime, an abundance of good vibes and good karma and the world's own amount of goooood dope.

Because the curiously coifed 50 or 60 fans in the stands here today are not your common ordinary garden-variety bleacherites, those dulcet-toned, undershirted cigar chompers and their frumpy Cowbell Annies who customarily attend to the umpire baiting on these occasions. Such undershirts are in evidence this afternoon are brilliantly tie-dyed, and the ladies in the crowd, for all their electrified "Bride of Frankenstein" hairdos, are almost unanimously pretty, not a frump in sight. No more do those improbably befurred gents manning their posts upon the field of combat bear more than a passing resemblance to the Mudville Nine's anonymous opponents, nor is that the Mighty Casey at the bat.

No sports fans, the awful truth (may J.G. Taylor Spink, up there in the Great Press Box in the Sky, be spared it!) is that the freaks afield are Jefferson Airplanes to a man; and the big-wigged fellow who just struck out, the one who looks like John the Baptist, that's Jerry Garcia, guitarist extraordinaire but a banjo hitter if ever there was one. And the umpire just now being baited, that scowly little dude with the scraggly chin whiskers and the red-white-and-blue backwards baseball cap, is either Augie Donatelli or Pigpen McKernan, choose one.

So far, seen as I am seeing it through the sickly-sweet blue smaze of the dread devil drug, it's been a genuine pisscutter of a ball game-which appraisal has, as the Great Scorer is reputed to have written, naught to do with who's winning (the Airplane, by about 11 to about six, nobody seems to know exactly) or losing, but solely with How They're Playing the Game. For if the Great Scorer ever looked in on this contest, He'd probably take His ball and go home; because these weirdos are simply having much more fun that this moldy old sport was ever intended to provide. Most of them play like the guys who always made the second string in high school but never actually got in a game: lotsa hustle, lotsa chatter on the benches and base paths, no end of hot-pepper razzle-dazzle when they're chucking the old pill around the infield, but complete and utter panic when they somehow get themselves involved in an actual honest-to-god play. The Airplane, for instance, has a beautiful, big-bearded guy wearing bib overalls in the outfield who circles frantically under pop flies like a man with one leg shorter than the other hollering "Me! Me! Me! Me!" and waving his arms as though besieged by a swarm of bees, but who, to my admittedly none-too-reliable recollection, has yet to lay a glove on the ball. And Jerry Garcia cavorts very impressively around the Dead's hot corner until he sees the ball headed in his direction, at which point he instantly goes into such gleeful paroxysms of excitement that he can't possibly execute the play.

What they lack in skill, though, they more than make up for in elan, jawing at Pig and guzzling beer in the on-deck circle and squawking "Whaddya waitin' for, Christmas?" at batters who don't choose to swing at every pitch within bat's length of the plate. So that when, along about the fifth, Mickey Hart, sometime second drummer for the Dead, bounces one out of the park over the low fence in deep left field, and a furious hassle ensures along the third-base line over whether or not Pig should have ruled it a ground-rule double instead of a homer-both teams storming up and down the base paths and gesticulating wildly and turning the air yet another shade of blue with good old-fashioned cussing plain and fancy-one understands immediately that behind all their histrionics the players are taking enormous delight in burlesquing these hoary old rituals, and at the same time one sees too that behind that is a profound and abiding respect -- reverence even-for the very traditions they are pretending to make light of. Which in turn goes a long way toward explaining how it is that the Dead, who not long ago were plunging ever deeper into the howling wilderness of electronic exoticism, are now working almost exclusively within the relatively strict, fundamental forms of stay-at-home country music and blues. It may even help explain why Mickey Hart, after he has negotiated the knot of wrangling dialecticians around Pigpen and tagged the plate, trots directly over to where I'm sitting with my ubiquitous notebook spread upon my knee, and says, grinning proudly, "Listen, man, I don't give a sh*t what you write about my drummin', but you be sure and put that f*ckin' homer in, OK?"

Anyhow, all those heady speculations aside, there remains one more disconcerting little distinction between today's contest and your run-of-the-mill Sunday softball game; to wit: That unwashed young chap over there, furtively but eagerly proffering first this freak, then that, something or other from the small round tin he's palming, is no peanut vendor. As a matter of embarrassing fact, he's none other than the noted Wheat Germ, my very own millionaire millstone; and judging from the withering scowls his attempts to peddle his wares all afternoon, business is bad, exceeding bad. Evidently, the Dead's and the Airplane's respective rooting sections prefer their tradesmen to come on-if at all-considerably cooler than Wheat Germ, who, his self-advertised $6,000,000 worth of experience in these affairs notwithstanding, has already forgotten the cardinal precept of his chosen profession: Nobody loves a pushy pusher. Poor old Wheat Germ; even from where I sit, in the bleachers down near third, it's apparent that he's trying way too hard, buttonholing fans while they're trying to watch Paul Kantner strike out Jerry Garcia, spraying them with the humid spindrift of his enthusiasm, generally conducting himself in a manner likely to get him reprimand from the Dealers Association's Ethical Practices Committee if the word gets around.

Which is all the same to me, actually, except that as I ponder the obdurate sales resistance his cheap-Jack wheedling seems to be eliciting in the market place, it begins to occur to me that it just might not be in my best interest to associate myself too closely with this pariah in the present company. After all, despite the unarguable fact that it was my vainglorious boasting of Connections in High Places that brought him here in the first place-thereby making Wheat Germ in a sense the corporeal embodiment of my vanity, my alter ego incarnate-I am nonetheless a Responsible Card-Carrying Member of the Fourth Estate and, as such, it behooves me... oh Christ, here he comes now, heading straight for me, wearing the rueful hangdog look of a man who's just suffered put-down upon put-down, everybody'll see that he's with me and suppose I got no more cool than he does and I'll never get within hollerin' distance of the Dead again and ... it positively behooves me to maintain at all costs my credibility in the eyes of these the subjects of my report to my vast readership, one might almost say I owe it to my public to cook this albatross' goose somehow, to sneak away from him or pretend I don't know him or offer to drive him to the bus station or ...

We need guys like him, they keep us honest. Jerry Garcia's own true words echoing up from some lost recess of my memory, and even as I hear them I hear too my own voice saying, aloud and straining to convey the heartiness I'm trying hard to feel, yet in a kind of secret harmony with Jerry's words, "Hey listen, Wheat Germ, the New Riders are playin' at the Family Dog tonight, and I've got an extra ticket. You want to come along?"

And as his snaggle-toothed grin chases the despair from Wheat Germ's unlovely countenance, I am smote by yet another Cosmic Axiom, this one more or less of my own making: One man's pain in the ass is the next man's psychic bedbug. Dig it, dad, you never know when you might need one.

Turn to Part 12. . .

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