Jerry Garcia Discusses His Gear, Near-Fatal Illness and the New Grateful Dead Album, 'In The Dark'
In this interview from the December 1987 issue of Guitar World, the Grateful Dead guitarist discusses the band's new album, In The Dark, his gear and near-fatal illness.
Here's an interview with The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia from the December 1987 issue of Guitar World, which featured Joe Perry on the cover. The original story by John Swenson started on page 34 and ran with the headline, "Back From the Dead: A little grey around the edges but still as out there as ever, Dead Head Jerry Garcia is pickin’ his way to prosperity."
Jerry Garcia looked around the Grateful Dead’s rehearsal studio in San Rafael, California, and smiled. “It’s good to not die,” said Garcia, who suffered a nearly fatal diabetic coma in July of ’86.
The legendary guitarist whose mercurial improvisations are the life’s blood of the Grateful Dead’s music has made a miraculous recovery from an illness that at first left him incapable of walking, speaking clearly or playing.
“I remember the moment in the hospital when he was recuperating,” said Dead drummer Mickey Hart. “Once he came out of his coma, you could see that he has life back in him,” The first thing he asked for was his acoustic guitar. He must play, he’s an animal. He’s like a thirsty animal, like a shark, always eating, always playing. If he can breathe, he’ll play.”
Garcia insisted that he was never aware of being seriously ill. “For me it wasn’t one of those near-death experiences,” he explained. “It was very weird, it had a sort of science-fiction quality to it. But it wasn’t painful, it was cerebral. The weird part of it was that it took a while for me to get to the point where I was understood. I had to fish for everything.
"It was like everything was in random access, I know all the words, but I can’t get it out of myself. So for the first few days it was mostly sort of Joycean inversions of language, and then after a while I started to remember how itworked. But I had to do that with everything. They had to teach me how to walk again, and playing the guitar, I had to do that stuff all over again. But it was all there. I mean the bits and pieces where all there, but I didn’t have ready access to all of them.”
Within three months Garcia was writing songs and playing with his solo group, the Jerry Garcia Band. In mid-December the Dead returned to the stage, opening with “Touch of Grey,” the celebration of aging that Garcia wrote a few years ago with lyricist Robert hunter. The concert was a triumph. Instead of falling apart after Garcia’s illness, the Dead re-emerged with new energy. The group went back on the road, finished a concert film they’d been working on for years, then recorded In The Dark, their first album in seven years, and possibly their most commercially successful one yet.
To simulate live conditions, the band recorded the album in a Marin County theater. “That’s how the energy got into it,” said Garcia. “It’s a nice little theater and it has great sound. We rented it, moved out stuff in and set it up just as though we were playing live. We didn’t have an audience, but it was that same mood. We did the tracks as though we were performing full out, so on some of those tunes I didn’t replace any solos.”
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