Furthur (no) more: Dis­so­nance of drama in Grate­ful Dead’s farewell

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY GE­OFF EDGERS

The three Chicago shows sold out through Tick­et­mas­ter in min­utes, the longde­funct Grate­ful Dead sud­denly a hot­ter sum­mer ticket than the Stones or Tay­lor Swift. But among the “Dead­heads,” the group’s af­fec­tion­ately named hard­core fans, all was not well. ¶ “An out­right tragedy,” Ste­wart Sallo wrote in the Huff­in­g­ton Post, “that per­haps the most beloved band in his­tory has put it­self in a po­si­tion to be re­mem­bered for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the big­gest money grab in mu­sic his­tory.” ¶ That’s when a very Dead thing hap­pened. Pro­moter Pete Shapiro, who or­ga­nized the mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar gigs, tracked down Sallo’s cell num­ber. They talked and emailed sev­eral times, shar­ing opin­ions and mar­ket re­al­i­ties. By the time the band an­nounced two ad­di­tional shows in Cal­i­for­nia a few weeks later, Shapiro used a lot­tery sys­tem, out­side Tick­et­mas­ter, to han­dle the hun­dreds of thou­sands of re­quests. And Sallo, the en­raged Dead­head, sounded ready to join the drum cir­cle. ¶ “I’m con­vinced Pete Shapiro’s heart is in the right place,” he says now, “and I don’t think you can ex­pect th­ese guys to work for free.” ¶ The path to “Fare Thee Well,” kick­ing off June 27 in Santa Clara, Calif., and wrap­ping July 5 in Chicago, would be one of the strangest mu­si­cal sto­ries of the year, ex­cept it con­cerns the Grate­ful Dead, a band that’s rarely done any­thing nor­mal.

In their hey­day, they se­ri­ously con­sid­ered sell­ing all of their mu­sic from roam­ing ice cream trucks, blew a for­tune gig­ging at the base of the pyra­mids in Egypt and took their lead from Jerry Garcia, a bril­liant, heroin-ad­dled ad­dict who proudly called the band “lead­er­less.” Now, with Phish singer/gui­tarist Trey Anas­ta­sio and singer/key­boardist Bruce Hornsby en­listed, the four re­main­ing mem­bers — gui­tarist Bob Weir, 67, bassist Phil Lesh, 75, and drum­mers Bill Kreutz­mann, 69, and Mickey Hart, 71 — have set aside their dif­fer­ences to cel­e­brate the group’s le­gacy and say good­bye with five sold-out con­certs.

Anas­ta­sio added buzz. The pledge by the re­main­ing four to no longer play to­gether added ur­gency. Weir, de­clin­ing to dis­cuss how he and his band­mates made peace, speaks of a higher call­ing.

“Pete Shapiro sure as hell helped,” says Weir, “but I think the guiding force is that it’s the right thing to do. I think every­body came to that re­al­iza­tion. We have a duty.”

A spe­cial pro­moter

Every­body knew the 50th an­niver­sary was com­ing. And ev­ery­one knew it would be big busi­ness. Live Na­tion made of­fers, as did the Bon­na­roo and Coachella fes­ti­vals. But Shapiro scored the gig.

The pro­moter, 42, has built a jam-band em­pire since grad­u­at­ing from North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity in 1995. He pub­lishes Relix Mag­a­zine, founded the Jam­mys and ren­o­vated and runs the Capitol Theatre in Port Ch­ester, N.Y., a place the Grate­ful Dead played 13 times in one year alone.

He has de­vel­oped a close re­la­tion­ship with bassist Lesh, whose strong will — or, his de­trac­tors say, thirst for con­trol — has caused fric­tion with his for­mer band­mates. Lesh has also made it clear that he’s done with long tours. Hence, the con­cen­trated sta­dium run. Shapiro has worked closely with Weir as well and with Trixie Garcia, the Garcia daugh­ter most in­volved in the late gui­tarist’s busi­nesses. Garcia and Shapiro have a li­cens­ing deal to run a bar, Garcia’s, at the Capitol.

Shapiro also is a fan, say­ing his life was changed by a 1993 show.

“I’m a Head, I love the mu­sic and it was im­por­tant for me that this 50th an­niver­sary get cel­e­brated,” he says. “I tried to put the pieces to­gether to do this the right way. Tak­ing into ac­count my his­tory. Tak­ing into ac­count the re­al­ity of 2015.”

There have been se­ri­ous bumps along the way.

Shapiro says the thirst for tick- ets caught him by sur­prise. Seats sold out in min­utes in Fe­bru­ary, with StubHub and other tick­et­ing ser­vices soon list­ing tick­ets for thou­sands of dol­lars and locked­out Dead­heads grum­bling. The band agreed to do the two Cal­i­for­nia shows and this time ran sales through a lot­tery to keep ticket bro­kers at bay. Still, Shapiro got blasted last week for chang­ing seat­ing charts and ticket lev­els to, he says, squeeze in thou­sands more des­per­ate fans. In­stead of ig­nor­ing the World Wide Dead, Shapiro again picked up the phone to call a blog­ger named “Grate­ful Dean” who had called him a “jack­ass.” A day later, Shapiro an­nounced a new plan to ap­pease fans.

Then there are the frayed re­la­tion­ships among band mem­bers. The re­main­ing four have ac­tu­ally toured to­gether since Garcia’s death, billing them­selves as “the Dead.” But a 2009 swing did not end well.

Drum­mer Kreutz­mann, writ­ing in his just-pub­lished mem­oir, “Deal,” com­plained of fights over money and power. “I don’t want to be in a band where the mu­si­cians in front of me don’t get along and some­how man­age to put up with each other just to do the gig,” he wrote.

Weir con­tin­ued play­ing with Lesh af­ter the tour in a band called Furthur, telling Rolling Stone that the drum­mers weren’t in­cluded be­cause “Phil and I are way more cur­rent.”

Lesh’s style has cre­ated fric­tion as well, Dead in­sid­ers say. The bassist blasted his band­mates in his mem­oir, “Search­ing for the Sound,” for con­sid­er­ing dis­tribut­ing the group’s vast au­dio ar­chive through ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and con­test­ing a sec­tion of Garcia’s will that left some gui­tars to Doug Ir­win, the man who built them. The ten­dency of Lesh and his wife, Jill, to be “profit mo­ti­vated” and “lord over” was a bar­rier to a re­u­nion, said Sue Stephens, Garcia’s as­sis­tant for 22 years.

One for­mer Dead staffer even noted that, a few years ago, Jill Lesh or­dered her hus­band’s side­men to shed their ban­danas lest they look like hip­pies.

“The idea of some­one telling some­one else how to dress on a GD stage,” the for­mer staffer said, “is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble.”

You won’t hear the orig­i­nal four talk­ing about a truce. That’s be­cause you won’t hear the orig­i­nal four talk­ing much at all. At first, they de­clined all re­quests for in­ter­views.

“They’re not sell­ing an al­bum,” Shapiro said ear­lier this sum­mer. “It’s so sold out, there’s no point.”

But then Kreutz­mann had to pro­mote his book, which led to in­ter­views. He talked freely about shar­ing 13 groupies with a friend one night, as well as his co­caine ad­dic­tion. When it came to the “Fare Thee Well” shows, he turned as tight as a snare drum.

“I don’t re­ally have any­thing to say ex­cept I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to play­ing them and that’s all I’m telling you,” he said, end­ing a planned 30-minute in­ter­view 13 min­utes in.

Weir, do­ing an in­ter­view to pro­mote a new doc­u­men­tary about him, “The Other One,” was looser in de­scrib­ing early re­hearsals with Anas­ta­sio and Lesh. (The band, as of this week, had not be­gun re­hears­ing to­gether.)

“There’s a lit­tle anx­i­ety,” he ad­mit­ted. “I want to get rolling, ba­si­cally. Right now, it’s easy to feel a lit­tle anx­ious about it just be­cause we’re not do­ing it. We’re think­ing about it. There’s am­ple op­por­tu­nity for any of us to over­think the sit­u­a­tion. Which won’t serve us at all. I think once we get rolling, we’ll find our cen­ter.”

The Jerry ef­fect

Dur­ing his life­time, Jerry Garcia was that cen­ter.

“The rock-and-roll Bud­dha,” says Richard Loren, who man­aged the Grate­ful Dead from 1974 un­til 1981. “He let other peo­ple feel they made the de­ci­sions that he made. Jerry was the glue, and when he fell apart, it got re­ally petty.”

Garcia, Lesh, Weir, Kreutz­mann and or­gan­ist Ron “Pig­pen” McKer­nan played their first Grate­ful Dead gig in late 1965 as the house band for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” au­thor Ken Ke­sey’s acid tests. They added Hart and lyri­cist Robert Hunter in 1967. (McKer­nan died in 1973.)

It may be hard, all th­ese years later, to re­al­ize how much the Grate­ful Dead rev­o­lu­tion­ized mu­sic, but con­sider this: On­stage, they vir­tu­ally in­vented the jam band, meld­ing the spirit of free jazz with rock, blue­grass and coun­try. Off­stage, they also were pi­o­neers. They formed their own record com­pany, started their own ticket of­fice and not only al­lowed but en­cour­aged fans to record shows and trade tapes.

The Grate­ful Dead did not need hits. They could al­ways count on a com­mu­nity of Dead­heads who would travel, sell­ing enough T-shirts and grilled cheese sand­wiches to get to the next gig.

“For a band that could be sort of chaotic and dys­func­tional off­stage, they had a real sense of how to have an or­ga­nized busi­ness,” says Rolling Stone con­tribut­ing edi­tor David Browne, au­thor of “So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grate­ful Dead.” “They went seven years with­out re­leas­ing an al­bum, and yet, at the end of that, they went from sheds to sta­di­ums.”

Amazingly enough, they did this with Garcia, whose per­sonal life was chaotic. His re­la­tion­ships with women were a mess, with split-ups, mar­riages and chil­dren sprin­kled in with years of to­tal iso­la­tion.

He was a heroin ad­dict, though his chain-smok­ing and junk-food habits also killed him. When Garcia died at 53, in 1995, it was be­cause of a heart attack, not an over­dose.

Garcia never wanted to be a rock god. He found it a drag when the band could not take a break be­cause they needed to main­tain the over­head for dozens of Grate­ful Dead staffers. He did not like it when the band, in the 1980s, jumped from the­aters to are­nas.

“They’d pro­pose the tour and Garcia’s say­ing, ‘ What’s the mat­ter guys, are we broke, do we have to play th­ese places?’ ” says Stephens, who took notes at band board meet­ings.

The sur­prise 1987 hit “Touch of Grey” did not help. It led to more tick­et­less fans crash­ing the fa­mous park­ing lot scene.

“It be­came a bur­den, it lost the sim­ple joy of it and be­came a re­spon­si­bil­ity,” says Den­nis McNally, the band’s pub­li­cist for years and the au­thor of “A Long Strange Trip: The In­side His­tory of the Grate­ful Dead.”

“When you have a half a mil­lion peo­ple telling you that you’re the great­est, that you’re Beethoven, Jerry would just say, ‘S---, man, I was just try­ing to stay in tune up there.’ Jerry wanted to be Huck Finn with a joint in his mouth and a gui­tar float­ing down the river.”

Life af­ter Dead

In 1995, in the first band meet­ing af­ter Garcia’s death, the re­main­ing mem­bers quickly ended the band. But that didn’t mean re­tire­ment. They played on in var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions, among them The Other Ones, RatDog and the Rhythm Devils. They joined forces for the 2003, 2004 and 2009 out­ings as the Dead.

They also shored up the Grate­ful Dead busi­ness, a mess af­ter squab­bles over Garcia’s es­tate.

Th­ese days, the band’s Rex Foun­da­tion, which has pro­vided nearly $10 mil­lion to a range of needy or­ga­ni­za­tions, con­tin­ues to raise money. Rhino over­sees the band’s cat­a­logue, re­leas­ing a seem­ingly end­less stream of cu­rated con­cert sets. (The most am­bi­tious — an 80-disc, $699.95 set of live shows — will come out in Septem­ber.)

Rev­enue flows through mu­sic and mer­chan­dise sold on Garcia’s of­fi­cial Web site, ties, art­work and roy­al­ties from the Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” fla­vor.

That’s the busi­ness end. Mu­si­cally, there are those who say the Grate­ful Dead ended with Garcia’s death. One of those? Kreutz­mann. “The Grate­ful Dead with­out Jerry Garcia would be like the Miles Davis Quin­tet with­out Miles Davis,” he wrote in his book.

But bas­ket­ball leg­end Bill Wal­ton, who has been to more than 850 shows fea­tur­ing the band or side projects over the years, takes a softer stance.

“We all loved Jerry, but this is a team,” he says.

Whether this truly is the Grate­ful Dead re­mains a de­bate even among the play­ers. Tech­ni­cally, they say they’re do­ing a trib­ute and farewell. Just try to in­ter­pret that from the way the band name is plas­tered on the ads for “Fare Thee Well.”

“A good friend of mine had a dream in which Sig­mund Freud came to him and said, ‘Lis­ten, I’ve been dead for a lit­tle over 100 years and I’ve had some time to think it over and I’ve determined that neu­ro­sis is the in­abil­ity to ac­cept am­bi­gu­ity,’ ” Weir says. “I to­tally buy into that de­scrip­tion. Let’s not get neu­rotic about this.”

If only that were the only de­bate about “Fare Thee Well.”

In ad­di­tion to tick­et­ing is­sues, some have ques­tioned choos­ing Anas­ta­sio over the sta­ble of smaller-name gui­tarists who have played with band mem­bers over the years. (In his book, Kreutz­mann takes a petty swipe by call­ing one of them, John Kadle­cik, a “fake Jerry.”) There is also the choice of Chicago. The fi­nal shows with Garcia were in­deed played at Sol­dier Field in 1995. But they were not scrap­book ma­te­rial.

Grossly over­weight and us­ing again, Garcia flubbed so­los, stum­bled on cues and some­times barely seemed to re­mem­ber lyrics. At one point, Kreutz­mann crashed a cym­bal, he says, to re­mind Garcia that he was on­stage.

“That whole year, man, 1995, was the worst year of my life, a hard, hard year,” Kreutz­mann said when asked whether he had fond mem­o­ries of that fi­nal tour.

Right now, the band mem­bers are just start­ing to pre­pare. They’ve been e-mail­ing each other ideas for set lists and re­hears­ing in small groups.

Hornsby, an hon­orary mem­ber of the Grate­ful Dead dur­ing Garcia’s fi­nal years, looks for­ward to the mo­ment the mu­sic takes cen­ter stage.

“The Grate­ful Dead song­book is so great,” Hornsby says. “They just set you up. The pres­sure is, we’ve got th­ese great pieces and we need to de­liver them. So they can be heard to great­est ef­fect. That’s a tall or­der, but that’s our charge.”





With the city that birthed them — San Fran­cisco — ris­ing be­hind, the Grate­ful Dead pose at top for an early por­trait in 1965. From left, Bill Kreutz­mann, BobWeir, Ron “Pig­pen” McKer­nan, Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh rode a wave of psychedelia. Not even the 1995 death of Garcia, above, who was memo­ri­al­ized in Golden Gate Park by le­gions of Dead­heads, be­low, was enough to stop the mu­sic. Sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the band — Kreutz­mann, Weir, Lesh andMickey Hart — will play a set of farewell shows.

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