DENNIS MCNALLY, PH.D.
[The following interview with Grateful dead "Historian" Dennis McNally was held in the summer of 1994, more than a year before the recent death of Jerry Garcia. This is an excerpt from TALES OF THE DEAD (Book 1), still unpublished. It is presented just as it was written, more than a year before Jerry's death.]
You can't help but see shamrock roots in Dennis McNally's looks. At 44, he's a typical Irish-American poster boy, with reddish hair over a low forehead on a friendly but feisty face that rests on a chin squared in don't-gimme-no-shit determination. A map of the Emerald Isle is imprinted all over Dennis, but Jacobson is imprinted on his birth certificate. Dennis's mother was Adeline Jacobson. Her mother was a Liebowitz, and, as Dennis says, that makes him a Jew. Of course, all this has nothing to do with the fact that only a band as far out as the Grateful Dead would think to hire a Ph.D. for a press agent. Far out ! That was one of Jerry Garcia's favorite expressions back in the past when I used to go visit him. Now, it's more than 20 years later and Dennis's blue eyes twinkle through his metal-framed lenses as he tells me about the day that he knew he had really stopped smoking cigarettes.
"That's when I found out I was good on this job," he says, "I got put to the test on this job in the summer of 1990, when Brent died. Brent Mydland. He was the keyboard player. He replaced Keith Godchaux in January of 1979. Brent became the new keyboard player and also he had a great high harmony voice. And he was thissss "---here, Dennis expresses despair more than disgust---"kid from the suburbs. And he didn't have a strong enough ego. He was a drunk and fooled around with other drugs, although mostly he was a drunk. And never felt comfortable with the band. And, you know this band does not go out of its way to make you feel comfortable. You get in and it's sink or swim. I mean, you don't get a lot of coaching. When I got my job, Danny Rifkin, who was essentially the Dead's manager, told me, 'Jerry says he'll probably hire you to do the job, so go talk to him. He'll tell you how to do the job.' So, I went and we talked about 20 minutes and Jerry basically said, 'Don't be too easy on them. Don't just give tickets away. Make sure it's good.' I don't remember what else he said, but that was pretty much it."---a long pause---"So, ah, Brent was insecure. And, ah, to make a long story short, he, uh, had taken up hard drugs. Only very limitedly, like four or five times. It was that inexperience that killed him. We come home from a tour and three days later he's gotta quit. So, he was gonna have the laaaaast party, right? And he killed himself.
"So, I drive up to the Dead office. About ten o'clock in the morning I get there. Danny was in India. One of the great things about Danny Rifkin is that, unlike most people who work around the Grateful Dead, he's not addicted. To the Dead, that is. He has his own life and, among other things, it's world travel. Every three years, he takes off for six months or something. There's always something to do when he gets back, because he's an invaluable kind of guy. So, he was gone. Cameron was in New York. Cameron Sears, the tour manager. He stayed after the tour to do some kind of business with the record company. The band members were scattered around. In the Dead office, there were some of the bookkeepers and me, that's it! And I walk in and Mary Jo Meinolf, who happens to be the woman who'd gotten me hired, is crying at her desk. Like I say, that was the day that I really knew I had quit smoking cigarettes. Five hours later, I look up and I say, 'You know! Sonofabitch! I haven't wanted a cigarette all day! Isn't that amazing?'"
Dennis says that he had been trying to quit smoking for two years. When Mary Jane told him that Brent was found dead, Dennis got himself a cup of coffee and glued the phone to his ear. The phone didn't become unglued until maybe seven hours later. The problem was that the band already had more than enough of a druggie image. The Grateful Dead needed this like the sun needed to know the right time, right? When all the reporters called to ask if Brent had died of a drug overdose, Dennis answered with the literal truth: "I don't know." After all, Dennis got his Ph.D. as a historian, not as a pathologist.
"That's when I felt that I had become a real . . instead of just sort of . . . an employee," Dennis says. "I had become a full part of working for the Grateful Dead. I handled it well. I said legitimately that we didn't know why he had died. I didn't put out any lies, as someone suggested that I do. And kept the band from being stuck with the druggie routine again because a month later, when the autopsy comes out, nobody reads the autopsy. It's that initial story that counts. At that point, I got my first sort of major raise where I was like acknowledged as a full staff person, making me feel I was part of it. That's ultimately the story of me and the Grateful Dead."
Dennis says his gig is largely "fending off" the press or what he calls "filtering" information to the media, occasionally letting the "interesting" stuff come through. As an example, he gives me a copy of The New Yorker with a profile of Jerry in it. He comments that the piece starts out great but "ended up unfortunately not being great. It dwindles out. But the guy who wrote the piece is a good guy and a good writer.
"Another thing we did," Dennis adds, "was an interview with the BBC, who were doing a history of Rock 'n' Roll. We did that one because Jerry---well, aren't all Americans impressed with the BBC? So we did that one. But mostly we don't. No! Mostly I say no. I try to say no gently, but Jerry gives maybe only one interview a year."
It's not until I get home from my meeting with Dennis that I open The New Yorker , dated October 11, 1993, to read the profile, entitled Still Truckin' , which was authored by Bill Barich. He's a New Yorker staff writer who lives in the band members' home territory of the Bay Area's Marin County, and he immediately won my approval by describing Jerry as "our most improbable pop-culture idol, somebody to whom the playing matters more than the posing." I also agreed with his description of Jerry as somebody who "resembles the proverbial unmade bed," with an "absence of style [that] is a style itself. . ." Yes, exactly my thoughts about Jerry to a T-Shirt.
The New Yorker profile also told me things about Jerry that Jerry never bothered to tell me, and about which I never knew to ask. Jerry, for example, told me about his father getting unfairly blackballed by the musician's union and I knew that his father had his own Dixieland band and also led a forty-piece orchestra. But I didn't know that Joe Garcia had named his younger son in honor of Joe's wife's favorite musical hero, Jerome Kern. Or that Joe was a gung-ho fly fisherman who, on a camping trip one spring day, was swept to his death by a raging river as a disbelieving five-year-old Jerry watched helpless and horrified from the riverbank.
Dennis tells me that Phil Lesh was born in '40, Jerry in '42. Dennis is giving me his own oral history of the Grateful Dead because I've asked him to. As I recall, when Dennis first got the job, he told me it was as the Dead's "historian." That made sense because history, after all, is Dr. McNally's area of expertise. Also, Dennis' relationship with the Dead started out with him working as the band's biographer. It was by writing Desolate Angel , a biography of Jack Kerouac, that Dennis had first started to make a name for himself. Paul Krassner called Desolate Ange , "The Roots of the Hippie Generation."
"He meant Alex Haley's Roots ," Dennis says. "And that's exactly the way I saw it!"
Desolate Angel , subtitled A Biography, Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation and America , was Dennis's doctoral dissertation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
"Amherst is 90 miles from Boston," Dennis remembers. "This is out in western Massachusetts. There are two colleges in Amherst. There's Amherst College, which is a very small, very elite four-year college and the University of Massachusetts, which is a 25,000-student---probably bigger now---state university. You're in
Right in the middle of the woods in a farm valley amid the smell of cowshit stands a 25-story tower!
with the veterinary and all the other schools. We used to smell the cowshit---it was a big aggie school. But it had a great library! A great library! Right in the middle of these woods in this farm valley, there's this 25-story tower! The library! And a great one!"
We are sitting in what he calls his Grateful Dead publicity office, at the front of a modest seven-room house he shares with his wife, photographer Susana Millman, who has the use of still another room as her own office. She is currently working on a photo history of the Grateful Dead which is to be included as part of Dennis's Grateful Dead biography.
"She had been an old friend of Jerry," Dennis says, "and she was also a friend of the Grateful Dead tape archivist, who is one of the biggest Deadheads ever. He knew me and he knew her. He's the one who got us together."
When I joke that this sounds like a Deadhead family affair, Dennis protests:
"It wasn't like we went out to shows together and hung out together, but it was the impetus. It was on a more adult level. We didn't go to a show together until I don't know when, but it was some months later."
She had been a partner in a venture called "What's In Store," featuring clothing imported from Bali and India, which was very popular with San Francisco hippie types in the '70s and '80s and which still is part of the gayly colorful fashion parade heading from the parking lots to the gates at Grateful Dead stadium shows. Susana left the partnership after deciding to take up photography full time. She was what Dennis called "a Marin County person" and she had been on the scene long before Dennis.
"She knew Nicky Scully and was part of that scene in the Grateful Dead world," Dennis says, "so Dick, the tape archivist, said, 'You gotta meet this lady,' and I said, 'OK!' I was single and she happened to live only about six blocks from me, so I went over and one thing led to another. She was willing to see me because she had read my book, so she was curious to see what the person was like behind the book. She has a Ph.D. in psychology and she had better degrees than I do, and we talked and, after a while, we fell in love. She had what was then a 12-year-old and what is now a 21-year-old daughter named Season that I did and do love and after a while we decided to get married and had a big party."
They were married in 1985 and Dennis is fond of boasting that he now has a stepdaughter old enough to have been graduated from college. The house, which they bought in 1989, is in San Francisco's Mission District, a working-class Hispanic neighborhood which is ever so slowly becoming gentrified. A Mexican construction crew is renovating the house next door and there are the occasional loud noises of their work as I interview Dennis, with him sitting on a chair near his desk while I lean back on a couch beneath the open front windows. BAM! BAM! . The loud construction noises keep drifting in. On a low table between Dennis and me, my cassette recorder presumably catches Dennis's every last word. As I said, he is giving me his oral history of the Grateful Dead.
"Phil's got more IQ than he could. . ." Dennis starts to say, without finishing his sentence. "He also has perfect pitch. Everybody in the Grateful Dead has an anarchist streak. They take no shit and they certainly are not 'trainable.' So Phil dropped out of school. He also--- after ultimately playing jazz trumpet and big band stuff at the College of San Mateo---went to Cal, trained with Luciano Berio and then dropped out at Cal Berkeley. . . Because he didn't fit in. This was about 1961.
"Jerry picked up the guitar when he was 15 and went into the Army in the late '50s because, in the late '50s, you just did. If you were a kid at loose ends and weren't going to college because you dropped out of high school and you didn't have anything else to do, you went into the Army. Then, after about nine months or so in the Army, they just sort of said, 'Mr. Garcia, you don't look like you fit around here, so why don't you go!' And he left. Here's this kid, he goes into the Army, a street kid from San Francisco, and he ends up at the Presidio, which is the cushiest duty in the whole damn Army. And at this point, he focuses on acoustic music. And this is when the great folk move is happening, and first he becomes a guitarist and then he gets really fascinated and really serious for the first time in his life with bluegrass and with playing the banjo, which is arcane and difficult and, in fact, this is not a place to play it. How many people play the banjo? . . There's no cultural context to play bluegrass in the Bay Area. This was in '62, '63.
"But he tried. And, eventually, he was hanging out in the peninsula, not here in San Francisco, because in the peninsula, life's easy. You know, you can get kids to sneak you in at the dorm at Stanford and you can eat and, well, and it's warmer---literally. Physically, it's a cold city but that natural air conditioning is from the ocean so it's OK. Jerry is kinda bumming around, gettin' by. In 1964, he's teaching guitar at this music studio and he has started a jug band because bluegrass, no matter how good he got, who would know? There was no audience for it. There were no other bluegrass players. And so he started a jug band. Which is at least fun. Great fun. Funky '20s music. Black music. Blues, stomps. And Jerry is playing with a couple people, one of whom is a guy named Pigpen. Nicknamed Pigpen. A guy who is white skinned, but who is mentally black. He hangs out with black people. He plays only black music. He's a black guy. except in skin color. And also there's this rich kid whose name is Bob Weir, who plays some guitar, but who is still a student, really, at that point. And various other people, most of whom were on the Dead scene in one way or another, although they're not around any more. And then Robert Hunter, who played a little guitar--- not very well---but who was Jerry's buddy.
"In the fall of '64, you get the Rolling Stones. The Beatles, of course, had broken in February. Jerry wasn't so much interested in their music, although Hard Day's Night , was the model of fun. Or zaniness, as Jerry put it. . . Jerry's an older guy, he's kind of a beatnik. Jerry's already hung out. He's clearly a scion of the beatniks. He's younger, but he'd been going to art school on Saturdays, meaning the Art Institute, which is just above Grant Avenue, on the other side of the valley. Art school, which is, of course---Brian Jones, John Lennon, all those guys went to art school. It's a Bohemian tradition. In '64, the Stones haven't written any original material. Their first album---their first two albums, I think---were solid covers of standard blues, electric blues---Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, 2120 Michigan Avenue and all that stuff. Pigpen says to Jerry, 'We can do this!' Because the jug band, that's not getting anywhere, either. Pigpen doesn't say, 'Lets start a rock 'n' roll band.' Pigpen says, 'Let's start a blues band!' Jerry says, 'Yeah! We can DO this!' Pigpen plays as good a harp as Mick Jagger ever did. And definitely had the blues voice. And Jerry was certainly a good enough guitarist to play blues chords. And blues leads. In early '65, they start rehearsing, and in April of '65, they play a pizza joint called Magoo's. Jerry and Pigpen, they call themselves the Warlocks and they're a blues band. They had a guy named Dana Morgan, whose father loaned them the equipment they needed. Dana's father ran the studio where Jerry worked. Dana wasn't really much of a bass player. So, after about three sessions, Phil Lesh, Jerry's buddy from just being around, had come to one of these shows at Magoo's. He was a Beatles fan and he had long hair. He'd given up playing music, he thought. And Jerry just takes him aside and says, 'You're gonna play the bass. We need a bassist. You know music.' And the great story with that is that Phil says, 'Yeah, well gimme a lesson! You're a guitarist. At least you can teach me.' Jerry says, 'Well, you know how a guitar is chorded? Yeah, well the bass is the four bottom strings, but one octave down. There's your lesson. Go play!' So, Phil started playing. And they're playing bars. 'Divorcee bars,' they called them. Just bars. Older people get drunk, so the band got louder. They were doing covers mostly. Like Good Lovin . Which was a Rascals hit that summer. 1965. Do You Believe In Magic? Basic cover stuff. And some blues. But they kept
The Dead got high
for the first time
in the summer of 1965
getting louder and weirder. And then, that summer they also had psychedelics for the first time. Jerry did in particular. Phil a little earlier. They were all encountering psychedelics. And then, in the fall of '65, came Kesey. He wanted to do something with the money he had---at that point, he had money. He wanted to do something creative with exploring LSD. Not a Tim-Leary-organized-way, but a creative way. So, he started the Acid Tests, which started out as private parties and just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. At this point they also found out there was another band called the Warlocks. This is a true story. They went to a dictionary, opened it up, stuck in a finger, and there it was! Grateful Dead! Which came from a kind of a folk song. A folk song where a traveler is going along and finds a corpse that has not been buried properly. So, he buries it. He pays the burial costs and proceeds on his way. It's a justice karma story. The traveler proceeds on his way and the spirit of that dead person comes back, usually in the form of an animal and helps him in his own odyssey, whatever that is. That's a very common thread in mythology, stories like that and folk songs like that, since the Egyptians. There are whole books on the subject. And so they become the Grateful Dead.
"They don't even like the name. It's too heavy. But, on the other hand, it sticks! It's perfect! So, they hang out with Kesey and they do these Acid Tests, which get bigger and bigger and hipper and hipper and wilder and wilder through early '66, until Kesey, who has been busted a couple of times for pot, takes off for Mexico. Maybe one last Acid Test, which was kind of a bummer, just uncomfortable. In Watts. It was called the Watts Acid Test. By now, they've fallen under the spell of the guy who's been making a lot of the acid, a guy named Bear. Augustus Owsley. So, he finances them. At the time, he's making a lot of money. He also has pretensions of being a record producer or an electronics expert. He'd done radio and stuff. Nobody knew much in those days about technical stuff. So, he's gonna design their sound system, which is one of those systems where, when it works---for like ten minutes---it's fabulous, but most of the time it doesn't work. So, in the summer of '66, they come back to the Bay Area. They'd been in L.A. for about three months. Now, they come back to San Francisco and they were gonna make it. You know, make it in the music business, which was kind of a joke and they realized that after a while. In the summer they came back and they lived out in Marin. In the meantime, the San Francisco music scene, Quicksilver, Big Brother and all those other bands, had really started happening. The Fillmore Auditorium. Chet Helms at the Avalon. And so, in the fall of '66, they settled down to become what quickly became THE band of the San Francisco Scene. And moved in to where Danny Rifkin had had his management office, a big house at 710 Ashbury Street in the Haight-Ashbury. They recorded their first album as the Grateful Dead in 1967 and it shat. They recorded it in three days on speed and it sounds it. I mean, if you listen to the tapes, they were playing much better live than what they were doing in the studio. Basically it's a live album recorded in a studio. You listen to that---I keep comparing it---and you listen to an album recorded six months later, like Jimi Hendrix's first album---and eight-tenths of that album you'll listen to till the day you die! That Hendrix stuff is soooo good! His playing! The sound of it! His first album! I mean it's his FIRST album! It's a masterpiece ! Even then, it was obvious that the Dead were gonna be a live band, not a studio band.
"So, in '67 they came East for the first time. They played in Tompkins Square Park for free, they played in Central Park for free. And from the beginning, the interest back East in the Dead was always more from the social aspect than the musical aspect. They were always the representatives of the Hippie Thing from San Francisco. They were deeply involved in it as a neighborhood phenomenon. I mean, their house at 710 Ashbury was sort of one of the hippie city halls. So was the Oracle office. So were a lot of other focuses of energy. But I mean their house was like, you know, part of that Haight-Ashbury scene. But they WEREN'T the house band for the hippies, you know! They were a band. They were just a band. Five. . .just musicians. So that's 1967. By 1968, they recorded a second album. They got very experimental. In 1968 and 1969, they recorded two albums, Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa , which were extremely creative, extremely experimental, and not successful---for one reason or another---esthetically and definitely not successful financially. By then, Mickey Hart had joined them and they also brought in Mickey's father, Lenny, to be their manager and he was a con artist from the word go. He ripped them off badly. And in March of 1970, they hit the wall. They owed the record company about $150,000, which, at that time, was an ungodly amount of money. The record company, Warner Brothers, was extraordinarily generous to them, not to shut them down at that point. They were an experimental band. They had this guy Tom Constanten, who was an old buddy of Phil, playing piano with them. They were doing 45-minute versions of Dark Star , which is still my favorite music they ever produced. But it had limited appeal in terms of a broad audience. Not that I mean people can't listen to 45 minutes of no lyrics. And, in fact, the whole year of 1969---partly under the influence of hanging out a lot with Crosby, Stills and Nash---they rode horses together. Mickey Hart had a place in Nevada, which everybody called 'the Ranch.' And everybody hung out, including Steve Stills. And everybody was riding horses. And there was this cowboy feel to it. And at the same time Robert Hunter had come back into their lives. He'd written the lyrics to Dark Star but by '69, they'd started to really write. Jerry and Robert were starting to write things like Uncle John's Band and ]Dire Wolf[ , the stuff that's on Workingman's Dead and so, bit by bit, they were broadening themselves instead of just being an experimental band. They were going to be a full band with a full range of stuff. And that March, they hit the wall. They hadn't produced an album. Warner Brothers was just gonna end them. They coulda folded. They had, in fact, fired Pigpen and Bobby Weir at one point in 1968 because, basically, their musicianship was moving away from the concept of what Pigpen did, and Bobby wasn't a very good musician at that point. And Pigpen and Bobby, they both basically just refused to be fired. You know, in the Grateful Dead, that's not enough to be fired. A lot of people in the Grateful Dead have been fired, and you say, 'No, I won't be fired!' And sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.
"So in March of 1970, they went into the studio and in about three weeks flat they recorded Workingman's Dead . And that saved them. At this point, they're bankrupt. They're firing their manager. March of 1970 is when they move to Marin to the office which we have to this day in San Rafael. The only thing that could keep them together was making music, and this album showed them that it works! They produced an album that was a gem. And then another album that's very similar in approach, American Beauty , six months later. And all of a sudden, instead of being just this freak experimental band, they had songs, beautiful songs, with vocals and they were a band, they were a full band. Those two albums were such a binding experience for them. That was the music which defined them.
"They recorded live albums. They recorded other albums. They did this. They did that. Pigpen, by 1971, was increasingly ill from liver damage caused by major drinking. He died a bluesman's death. He was a bluesman. He was a black bluesman. He might as well have been Lightnin' Hopkins, except Lightnin' got a lot older and managed to drink a lot more than Pigpen ever did. But his liver worked. Pigpen's didn't. He died in 1973. By 1971, they brought in Keith and Donna because Pigpen couldn't play all the shows. They went to Europe in 1972 and recorded Europe '72 , which is a great live album.
"The lesson they had learned from Owsley and from Kesey was basically to go for it. The lesson was about risking all for quality, and that was what led them in 1973 to start their own record company, which lasted three years and which, businesswise, was very creative---although the music they made for it was limited. The problem was that it was run by a guy named Ron Rakow, who was a shark and a hustler and eventually hustled them. Then they took the only long vacation in their lives in the mid '70s, from 1974 to 1976. And since 1976, they've done basically 70 to 80 shows every year. As for Keith and Donna Godchaux, Keith was too emotional. Keith was frequently bombed and Donna also did her share. And, besides that, Keith was a very moody guy. They eventually sort of washed out, so that Brent came in and in the '80s the band just got bigger and bigger and bigger, the audience got bigger and bigger and bigger. There were fundamental changes. The band went through a certain sense of maturation as a business entity. They got to be decent businessmen, at least about the shows. They make a lot of silly decisions about other things sometimes. Silly to other people, because it means, among other things, that they don't go for maximum profit. Quite frequently, they don't go for maximum profit.
"There were maybe two things that were, I think, of significance. One of which is that they started the ticket office---they sell half of their own tickets by mail order, which means that their audience, instead of being just kids---colleges kids who can sneak off and line up at four in the morning in front of the Ticketmaster---older people have a chance. Older people. People with lives. Now, they, too, have a chance to buy tickets. Because they can afford to put $200 in a cashier's check and send it off and three weeks later they get their tickets back. The band did it so they can have BOTH kinds of audiences. Kids AND more settled people. That was a fundamental difference. And then, they started the Rex Foundation. Instead of doing all these benefits, which they've always done, now they do a benefit for the Rex once a year and this next show is in June. They'll do these shows, take all the profit, put it in a pot and dole it out.
"Another fundamental change is that they hired me, which is not me personally, but the fact that they acknowledged they needed a full-time publicity guy---somebody to deal with all that stuff, which has always been sort of hit or miss before. Now there's only one guy to blame.
"And that's the way it's gone. The other fundamental thing is the decadence of the late '70s---and particularly the cocaine---is definitely gone. And, little by little, all the odd things went. They finally had a hit record in 1987 with Touch of Gray , which was the most remarkable thing to finally have---a Top Ten single that was just hysterical! But a joke to them, thank God! Obviously, if they'd had that hit single in '66, they probably would have crumbled. To have it in 1987, it's like, 'Hmmm, that's amusing! That's interesting! OK! Far out!' Bobby Weir tells a great story about somebody saying, 'Well, what's it like being successful now?' And Bobby says, 'Well, you know when you eat pistachios and sometimes you run across one that just won't crack? Now, I just throw that one away.' Bobby has gotten more and more into environmental things. They each have lives outside the band that are taking more and more time--which is a problem, because they don't talk enough to each other now. You know, they talk on stage. They don't really spend a lot of time with each other off the stage and that's inevitable after you've been together for 30 years. But that leads to times when important things don't get discussed. And that's negative. The central problem facing the band at this point is they need to renew their relationships with each other. You know, how Phil was always the party boy, so he was always there? Well, now he's got two kids---two beautiful sons---and he's very, very in love with his wife. If everybody straggles in at three, he's still going home at five on those rare occasions when they CAN do a rehearsal. He's gonna leave. He's not gonna say. 'Well, OK, let's send out for some food and we'll play all night.' No, no! That doesn't happen anymore. So, that's where the Grateful Dead's at.
"They're still remarkable. They're still committed to quality in a way that I don't think any other institutions around are. They're committed to delivering a quality concert sound system that nothing else is even close to. It is the best ! There is nothing like it. As for Bear---Owsley---he hasn't had anything to do with the Dead in 25 years. He hangs around. He makes jewelry and he annoys people. Some people. Some people adore him still. Bear's last really major contribution to the Grateful Dead was a thing in '74 called 'the Wall'---the most enormous sound system ever made. He had a lot to do with the design of that. But it was too big. It was too expensive. By '73 Healy was the sound guy. He was the sound guy up until this spring when he was finally let go."
To me, the story of the Grateful Dead represents a triumph of improbabilities. Were they poets who had picked up musical instruments in the wake of the Beatles phenomenon? Or were they a bar band collection inspired by the vision of an unfancy-looking guitar player with a missing finger? What was once a bunch of just-so musicians has evolved to become an American giant. Acclaimed not for the tickets they sell but for their unwillingness to compromise to sell tickets, this is a band which has come to enjoy commerciality and still dares to experiment. It was not too long ago that I took a virtuoso jazz sax player to a Dead concert in Madison Square Garden, and both our mouths dropped when the band went into a free jazz improvisation as far out as Ornette Coleman ever journeyed and you could still dance to it. My jazz purist friend was impressed. The Dead is a group of musicians who are dedicated to nothing else, just music. Doesn't it show? Deadheads boast about how you can go to 10 Dead shows in a row and never hear the same song a second time. Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone broke the rules against a pop tunes lasting more than two and a half minutes, but the Dead were stretching out their instrumentals almost from the start. The Dead likes to find a groovy groove and stay there as close as possible to forever.
This is what legends are made of. The Grateful Dead has become a phenomenon in the way that the Beatles were a phenomenon---even if to a lesser extent. The Dead has become a sort of religion, preaching everything that San Francisco stands for, a Whole Earth brand of organic anarchy. A sort of good-time religion dedicated to no God but music. A call to joy which has been answered by adherents ranging from unreconstructed potheads of the '60s to teenagers preferring a good-timey sense of belonging.
Five telephone lines wire Dennis's house to the rest of the world. Two are for fax machines, one is for his wife's phone, one is for Dennis's phone and one is for the Dead's phone.
"I have three answering machines in this house," Dennis explains.
So we won't be interrupted during our conversation, he has turned off the ringers on the telephones and also the voice monitors on the telephone answering machines. Still, I keep hearing the answering machines clicking continually during our time together, and I come back from a bathroom break to find Dennis punching the buttons on his phone. He is catching up on his messages.
". . .Hi, can I speak with David McCarthy. . . " Dennis says into the phone. There is a long pause. "Not really. . . Could you just tell him that Dennis McNally called him. He'll know. Thanks!" Click.
"Last one!" Dennis says, starting to punch more buttons on the phone. Suddenly, he stops punching. "No, the hell with it!" he mumbles. "He'll wait!"
In some publication somewhere I have seen the Dead listed as among the top 10 or top 15 individual moneymakers in America for the past two years. Bill Barich's New Yorker profile of Jerry declared the Dead to be the highest-grossing concert act in the business, with 1992's receipts amounting to more than $32 million. Someone else had told me that the Dead gets most, or at least a big chunk, of its income from handling its own merchandising---T-shirts and other articles emblazoned with the Dead's colorful skullhead logo.
"Touring. . ." Dennis says, "Ticket selling. . . Oh, they've made millions, for sure! That's gross and it's a long, long, long way from profit. I mean, they're not in the 'Fortune 500,' let's put it that way. There's a thousand companies that make more money than they do. They do very, very well. Last year, they were the Number One touring act---$43 million gross. As I say, that's a long, long way from net. This year, with all the huge acts that are going out---especially with the money they're charging---the Eagles charging $100 a ticket, Pink Floyd at $65, the Stones. . . They'll all do much bigger than us, because. . . we do maybe 10 stadium shows, which really are critical when you want to have a huge gross for the year. So this year the Dead'll probably be in the Top Five. But no bigger than that. Only because there are much bigger acts than the Grateful Dead. They just don't tour every year."
I ask Dennis about the merchandising.
"But that's small-scale," Dennis replies. "Remember, the fact that the band tours so constantly works against them. You got a band like the Rolling Stones that comes out every eight years or five years or whatever it's been---already it's been five years since the last tour. Then, you know, you go to the show once every five years, you're gonna not only buy your tickets, but you're gonna bring a hundred bucks. You're gonna bring a chunk of cash. If you're a Deadhead and you go to 10 shows a year, you don't buy T-shirts every show. So, the fact is that our merchandising sales are very modest compared to somebody like the Stones or Pink Floyd. . . Again, this is what I was talking about earlier when I told you about not looking for an angle that sells the most or makes the most money. The band really feels that way, God bless them!
"Our record sales are modest. I mean, we haven't put out a new album---a new studio album---in five years. We haven't put out ANY kind of album in four---except for these CDs that we do of our old tapes. The biggest of them sold 100,000 [units], which is very nice, particularly when you're doing it yourself and it's aaaalll gravy, and there's no promotional cost. It's a very profitable thing. But the fact is that 100,000 units is---you know--- nothing !"
I told Dennis that many people I had talked to insisted in believing that merchandising was how the Dead made most of their money.
"God no!" Dennis said. "In the last three years, the band has started putting out old tapes. The first one was from 1975, the second was '68 and this last one was from 1973. The first two, we distributed through record stores as well as mail order, and they both did over 100,000. Really nice. It was called One From The Vault.
Out of a gross of $43
half pays for the expenses
of doing the tour
Otherwise, their record sales are just piddling compared to. . .Bonnie Raitt does better than we do! She's got a hit on her hands. It's a hell of an album! We're not in the same league with, you know, the Stones! I'm sure their new CD will go double platinum. . .
"You know, the Dead do very well. Remember, you're talking about $43 million. Half of that goes to the expenses of doing the show. So that leaves $23 million out of the year. The basic rule of thumb in rock 'n' roll economics is that if the road manager can take home half the gross from a show after paying all the different expenses---the rent and the cops and the food and everything at the show. But that's not including our salaries by any means. If they can get half of it out, they've done a good job. So, figure we have good ones, so that's $23, $22 million left. Another coupla million for our hotel and transportation over the course of the year. That's 20 million. Probably 10 million for overhead. For employees' salaries over the course of the year and rent on our facilities. That's our nut. So you're now saying that six guys divvy up 10 million. Before taxes. There's corporate tax on them, although I don't know how that works. I'm not an accountant. The fact is that they probably all make a million in a year, which is obviously great money. But that doesn't make them, in this---in 1994, all that means is so what " I mean, the Rolling Stones do that per month with their record sales. Easily.
"We do very well. But when you're paying your crew so much! Clearly, the Dead are not suffering, they're doing very, very well indeed! And they all have nice homes and drive nice cars, but I mean nobody's rich in the way that Bruce Springsteen is rich or the way Michael Jackson is rich. Uhn, uhn !
"And Jerry? Jerry's classic! Jerry spends it faster than he can make it. And he makes the most because he's got the Garcia Band, and that's a little cash cow. But on that level, he's still a beatnik. He still basically regards having a lot of money in the bank as a sin and he makes sure he doesn't sin. He spends it faster than he makes it."
On what? I ask.
"He supports people," Dennis answers. "And this, that and the other, you know. He's pretty generous with a lot of people."
Jerry also has a lot of ex-wives. But that is Jerry's story to tell, not Dennis's. Jerry has recently remarried again but the couple, said to be very much in love, live in separate houses. I know a lot of guys who would like to have it that way.
I know I can't lead Dennis to wade in hot water by talking about the personal life of the man who is ultimately his biggest boss---especially when Dennis is talking to someone whose advertised mission is to put it all into print. But I know that everybody in the Dead organization is always expressing some kind of concern about Jerry because everybody in the Dead organization not only has a genuine affection for him, but also a huge stake in Jerry's personal well-being. After all, Jerry isn't hard to love. As I remember him, he's one of the sweetest rock stars I ever met, which truly makes him, as Bill Barich wrote, "our most improbable pop-culture idol," even if only because rock stars are never famous for building reputations on sweetness. One thing I've learned in my 66-year roller coaster ride is that just because someone happens to be one of the greatest artists ever born doesn't necessarily make him one of the nicest guys who ever lived. Except, as I say, I used to think that the Jerry Garcia I knew was one of the nicest guys who ever lived.
You can detect Jerry's sweetness in his guitar. I'm one of those who believe that an artist's true nature usually finds a way of sneaking into the artist's art, unless the artist's art is the practice of deception. Like acting, which too often is an essential part of singing. The only acting Jerry ever does is to act natural. There's none of the usual Rock 'n' Roll style of macho posing in Jerry's performances. His show is always as plain as his T-shirts. What he wears on his sleeve is not so much his heart as his honesty. There are only a couple of others that I can think of in whose guitar you can hear the same kind of sweetness---George Harrison and Eric Clapton, for instance. Jerry, George and Eric, they all wield friendly axes rather than threatening ones. The same kind of sweetness is heard in their voices when they sing. This sweetness is the icing on the multilayered cake that is the Grateful Dead's sound because Jerry is the heart and soul of the Grateful Dead. He not only provides the icing on the cake, he is what holds it all together.
The Grateful Dead plays music that makes you want to get up and dance. You feel loose and happy. You feel joy. Grateful Dead shows bear that kind of resemblance to black church revivals. There is a sweetness to the joy and this kind of sweetness characterizes the Grateful Dead's sound just as the Dead has come to characterize San Francisco. Sweet and, on the whole, good-natured. Inviting, just like San Francisco itself. As opposed, say, to New York, which growls at you and spits in your face while it picks your pocket. San Francisco, a seafaring city built on little mountaintops, with spectacular views, cable cars, a tradition of rampant bohemianism, a home of artistic innovation---plus the biggest Chinatown outside of China. I get a high every time I come to San Francisco. San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. I'm certainly high this trip as I stand on Kearny Street, in the heart of North Beach, only a block or so below the summit of 284-feet-high Telegraph Hill. I'm high with thoughts of this book I'm going to write about the Grateful Dead when Dennis putt-putts up the steep slope in his beat-up, red 1971 VW Beetle to pick me up. It is the last day of May 1994.
Dennis and I are old friends. As if to reassure me of this, Dennis reminds me of the time I played big brother to him years before, when he complained about not getting laid.
"You told me to just keep my mind on my work and the pussy would come," he remembers.
Dennis takes me on a tour of post-earthquake San Francisco on the way to his house, where we find Dennis's wife, Susana, driving a 1985 BMW, on her way out to run an errand. Returning a little while later, she joins us long enough for a quick hello, giving me a momentary vision of a small, cheery woman with dark hair and an intelligent smile that says she doesn't want to impinge on my time with Dennis and, besides, she's busy, too. She soon vanishes into her own office, several rooms away, from which she can be heard talking on her telephone. Dennis and I start our conversation by reminiscing.
"I was thinking how I got onto you in the first place," he says after we get settled in his office and turn on the tape recorder. "I had come down to New York to do research for my book. . ."
And Dennis spins off into a tale about Marshall Clements, whom he describes as a ballet dancer out of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans gay scene who came to New York in the late '40s, but never made the big time and instead got a day job working as a secretary for some doctor. Clements was a Jack Kerouac devotee who collected almost everything ever printed about Jack into a scrap book which Clements called "the Telephone Book" because it was larger than the Manhattan Directory. In 22-year-old Dennis's academic isolation up in Amherst, Clements was one of the first "sources" Dennis learned about as he started researching the Kerouac biography he was planning to write. It was the fall of '72 when Dennis traveled to Manhattan's Upper West Side to seek out Clements.
"Marshall was extremely kind to me in turning me onto various people," Dennis remembers. "And of course he also talked about you and about the series you wrote in the New York Post about Kerouac and the Beat Generation. So, I called you and that was when you had an office on 93rd Street and I came over and you were way late."
At that time, I was interested in resuscitating the manuscript of a book about the Beat Generation that I had started but never finished writing and, as Dennis puts it, I "wanted an academic around." It was in June of 1973 that I first took Dennis to meet Jerry Garcia at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, N.J., where Jerry was playing with his bluegrass band, Old & In The Way.
"I remember you talking with the door guard there," Dennis recalls, "who was probably---now that I think about it---Kenny Viola, who I know now, after 10 years on the road with the Grateful Dead. Kenny is our chief in charge of security. So, we went and saw that show and you disappeared into the dressing room, where I was a stranger, so I was sitting in an outer little corner with Vassar Clements, who played fiddle with Old & In The Way---a very sweet guy---and he treated me very nicely although I was a total stranger.
"And then we went to the Gramercy Park Hotel, where Jerry was staying. And there was this incredibly beautiful woman with him---I have no idea who she is or was! I don't think she was a major player, just the evening's entertainment. But, oh, she was striking! And he had somebody else with him. It might have been Danny Rifkin, but I don't remember who it was. It's so odd that I don't remember. But then this is my first encounter with what has become a considerable part of my life. Like most of it.
"The first room they showed Jerry was just a room and not a suite. And he said, 'No, I need a suite.' So, we shuffled around and waited until they found another room for him. And then, afterwards, someone produced a joint, with which we got stoned. And I was on my ear all the way back---I stayed that night at your home in Englewood. All the drive back, my head was spinning.
"The guy who turned me onto Kerouac only a year and a half before was this whacked-out mathematician, Chris Byrnes, and Chris was also the same guy who turned me onto the Dead just that previous fall. He took me to my first full Dead show in October of 1972 in Springfield, Massachusetts. By later in that year, I had decided that what I wanted to do was this two-volume history of the Counterculture, whatever you call it---at the time, it seemed a lot realer. Volume One would be Kerouac in the '40s and '50s and Volume Two would be the Grateful Dead in the '60s and '70s. And '80s and '90s---who knew? So I had that in the back of my mind.
"So, I guess I was a Deadhead even then. I had gone to a couple shows and loved them a lot and was real impressed with Garcia. So that was obviously a big deal for me to meet him. And it was fun. And it was fun to find him charming and intelligent and sharp. And everything that he was . And is. The irony that sticks in my memory of him that day---he was so very sweet---is that he was so black-haired then! But even then, he had this gray streak under his chin, on his throat. And now he's Santa Claus! Almost white all the way around! So, that was my first meeting with Jerry. It was an incredible series of coincidences about how I met Jerry the next time."
After my Beat Generation manuscript turned into a dead end for Dennis, he went back to Amherst, eventually moved to San Francisco, finished writing his Kerouac biography, got it published in 1979 and sent a copy to Jerry. What he still had in mind, of course, was to write a companion volume to his Kerouac biography, a companion volume that would complete his envisioned chronicle of the Counterculture by telling the story of the Grateful Dead in the '60s and '70s. As he says, who knew then that the story would extend into the '80s and '90s?
"I had realized intuitively that if I had marched up to the Grateful Dead and said, 'Hi, I wanna be your biographer,' they woulda said, 'Yeah, sure, you and 50 others! Goodbye!'" Dennis says. "I had to interest them in a completely passive way. So the Kerouac book came out in August of 1979 and I sent a copy to Jerry and a copy to Robert Hunter and waited. Just waited."
Then, on December 31, 1979, Dennis went to the Dead's New Year's Eve show at the Oakland Auditorium and, like just about everyone else in the audience, came home inspired. Dennis, after all, was an author. He had written a biography. It had been published and he had received some acclaim. That gave him credentials. He would become a freelance writer. He drew up a list of feature story proposals and marched into the offices of California Living , which he says is "what old folks like us would call the roto section," the Sunday supplement of the San Francisco Chronicle . One of his story ideas was an article which would concentrate on Deadheads rather than on the Grateful Dead and it would turn out to be the first published article of its kind about the burgeoning phenomenon of the Dead's fans---like I say, a sort of Beatlemania all over again. California Living editor Jane Ciabattari liked that idea, and Dennis got to work researching the story.
"Out of the blue, totally cold, I called up Bill Graham. Bill loved the Dead and Deadheads so much, he saw me," Dennis says. "And his secretary of that time, later his fiance, although they never married---and who is now the assistant to the tour manager of the Grateful Dead---a lady named Jan Simmons, she is also a raving Deadhead---she put my message through to Bill, for starters. Just because I said I wanted to talk about the Dead! I did a 45-minute interview with Bill about Deadheads, which was one of those one-question interviews. You knew Bill!"
Yes, I knew Bill. The first thing he always demanded from anybody was the floor.
"So he raved about Deadheads," Dennis says. "I was a nobody in this town! I had no connections. I didn't know anybody. But as I was leaving, Jan handed me the phone number of the Grateful Dead office, which is unlisted. Which I don't know how I would have gotten otherwise. And told me to call Eileen Law, who is in charge of Deadheads. I adore her! To this day, I adore her! Now, her daughter Cassidy, for whom the song is named, is 24 and is helping her in the office. Eileen is like the Madonna---not the sex star. She's sort of the mother superior of the Dead office on some level. And of Deadheads. She takes care of Deadheads.
"So I called Eileen and said, 'Could I talk to you?' She said, 'Sure.' I was working a 9 to 5 job. I said, 'Could I come on a weekend?' How many people will do that? So, I came on a Sunday afternoon and she was in working. I ended up hanging out with her for like three hours. This was in January of 1980. We talked, and then a couple of other then-staff people---Alan Trist and Nicky Scully, who was Rock's then-wife---came by and sussed me out. So, I write this article and it's very long. And the editor, Jane, says, 'I want to publish it, but I don't want to cut it. We have to wait until the fall. Back to school. We'll have an ad base, a larger paper. We'll publish it then.'
"In the meantime, I kept a mild connection with Eileen, but I didn't have any real excuses and I was being very, very subtle. Then, sometime in the summer, Bill Graham ran this wonderful ad in the Pink Section: FIFTEEN
Bill Graham took out a full-page ad that said, 'They're not the best at what they do, they're the only ones who do what they do.' The ad didn't mention the name of the band
NIGHTS! The ad never mentioned the name of the band. Maybe they had the Dead logo in it. There was a big ad, a full-page ad, and it said, 'They're not the best at what they do, they're the only ones who do what they do.' That's Bill's comment on the Dead. But the words 'Grateful Dead' were not in the ad to sell all these shows. So, I called up Jane and said, 'Hey, they're gonna do 15 nights at the Warfield in late September! There's your hook! You gotta run my piece!' And she went: 'You're right!' And I think the run at the Warfield started on a Saturday night and Sunday morning, there's my piece in the Sunday paper. Everybody read it. By Monday, they'd framed it. They put it on the wall of the theater! And of course I had tickets to every night. And I was watching kids read my piece. How often does a writer get to have that happen?"
For the fall of 1980, the Grateful Dead was planning a series of shows to celebrate its 15th anniversary. The shows would wind up on Halloween night with a live TV special from New York's Radio City Music Hall. A third acoustical set was being added and, because there would be two intermissions, the Dead had called on comedians Al Franken and Tom Davis, whom they knew from their appearances on Saturday Night Live . To plug the gaps between the musical sets for TV, Franken and Davis came up with comedy skits, one of which was called "Jerry's Kids," a take-off on the Jerry Lewis Telethons. When Deadhead Madonna Eileen Law learned they were going to audition poster kids for the TV skit, she looked up the only number she had for Dennis, which happened to be his previous work number. She called and left a message. She didn't realize that Dennis no longer worked there.
In the days before answering machines, Dennis wasn't home often enough to answer himself. But he happened to be home when someone called from his previous job to tell him that an Eileen Law had left a message for him.
"It sounded important, so I called you," the person at Dennis's old work number said.
"But through the most incredible series of circumstances," Dennis says, "that Eileen Law called an old work number I had that she had from a year before, that I happened to be home to answer the phone from someone at my old work number who called me at my home because it sounded important to him. I was home approximately four minutes that day! So, I called Eileen and, though it was a very unlikely shot---well, I was too old already. I was 31 and not hairy enough---I went to this audition, which consisted of talking with Jerry for five minutes. And in the middle of it, I cleverly let drop I had sent him a book and had he ever gotten it? And Jerry was sitting on the edge of his seat as it was and he literally leaped out of his chair and said: 'You're the guy who wrote that Kerouac biography? That's the best biography I ever read!' Which obviously made me feel grand. And he ran over and shook my hand and we started raving about Kerouac. Tom Davis was trying to run this and he was looking for material for his skits, so after about 10 minutes---because you don't hurry Jerry---he sort of went, 'Well, guys, this isn't getting us any further. . .' and generally got rid of me in good taste. It was fine. And Jerry was saying, 'Come on backstage and hang and blah blah blah.' I just sort of had to keep my mouth shut and not say anything and wait for the idea to suggest itself. And by December, Jerry sent Rock and Alan to meet me. They called me up and Dylan was doing a run at the Warfield. . ."
Dennis can't stop gushing about those Dylan shows:
"The high point for me, obviously, was when Mike Bloomfield sat in. The word was that it was only maybe the third time that Bloomfield played Like A Rolling Stone in public, which he of course played on the album. It was particularly heavy because not more than two or three months later, he died. Maria Muldaur sat in, Roger McGuinn sat in, Carlos Santana sat in, Jerry Garcia sat in. The great thing was classic Bill Graham lying for God. He went to Dylan and said, 'Bob, Bloomfield really wants to sit in with you but he can't tell you.' And Dylan shrugged and went, 'Yeah, all right.' And then he went to Bloomfield and said, 'Mike, Dylan really wants you to sit in but he can't tell you.' And Bloomfield went, 'Yeah, if Bob wants me, sure I'll sit in.' And it was great. He did this with all of them. Remember, this was 1980. The year before was Dylan's first run at the Warfield. The first Christian run. And he was up tight and constricted and it was depressing and he was only playing Christian and it was a drag. But in 1980, he played a lot of Christian material and he played a lot of other material. He was at peace. He had a stunning run at the Warfield. And he was loose enough to let other people sit in."
Dennis was at the Warfield to see Dylan's performance, but Rock Scully and Alan Trist had business backstage in Graham's BGP (Bill Graham Presents) offices They told Dennis: "You know, Jerry would like for you to do the biography of the Grateful Dead."
Dennis remembers mumbling back to them that sounded like a nice idea.
"I went home," he says, "got drunk and sat in front of the typewriter and typed about three solid pages of JERRY LIKES MY BOOK AND WANTS ME TO DO THE BIOGRAPHY. . . JERRY LIKES MY BOOK AND WANTS ME TO DO THE BIOGRAPHY. . . I was very loaded and. . . ecstasy, I guess, is the word for it. I'd been dreaming about this for five years. It was just the work I wanted to do. It was meant to be, and it happened!"
It was the fall of 1990 when Dennis started on the Dead bio. In the meantime, he was supporting himself by working as a secretary to a wealthy woman shrink who, as the anything-goes Reaganite boom got under way, was trying to prove she was just as smart a real estate speculator as she was a therapist. Part of the time, Dennis worked on the Dead book. The rest of the time, he devoted to his boss. He says the job was a drag, but he liked the paycheck.
"She was doing a pyramidal scheme," Dennis says, "and I kept telling her, 'You're out of your mind! The instant mortgage rates drop, you're screwed!' Unfortunately, I was right! She should have listened to my innate Irish-Jewish conservatism about money. . . She went bankrupt."
Then, in the Fall of 1982, Jan Simmons, who proved to be one of Dennis's guardian angels, told Bill Graham that she thought he needed an archivist. One of the giants of his day with an ego to match, Bill readily agreed. Dennis McNally, Ph.D. was the obvious choice.
"With Bill, there was a compulsive need to display his history," Dennis remembers, "You yourself have been in half the rock promoters' offices of the world and there's always a couple of pictures on the wall, right? But this was really compulsion. In Bill's office, there's maybe a thousand pictures. Everything's framed. Everything's on the wall. It was just too much."
By the time Bill was killed in a 1990 helicopter crash, he had a staff of five archivists, but when Dennis held the job, he says, a well-trained chimp could have done what Dennis was doing. According to Dennis, Bill was in the habit of printing a poster and a handbill for every show at his Fillmore Auditorium and he always printed enough copies to hand them out to anybody who wanted one afterwards---plus he printed more than enough to keep for his files.
"He had a sense of history," Dennis explains.
But, Dennis adds, it was not only for a sense of history that Bill also overprinted the admission tickets, which were actually miniatures of the posters.
"Nobody, including the fire marshalls, ever knew how many people were actually in the audience in that hall," Dennis explains.
Twelve years of posters, handbills and tickets were stored in 300 liquor cartons in an attic loft above Bill's offices, now located not far from Dennis's house. Dennis's Ph.D. qualified him to spend 1983 sorting through the contents of those 300 cartons by making stacks of posters, handbills and tickets for each different Fillmore show.
"When they asked me how much I wanted," Dennis says, "I said I wanted to work two-thirds time so I could work on the Grateful Dead book. I didn't want to work full-time. And I told them if you were hiring me at a university, I'd probably get 25 thou, so I want two-thirds of 25 thou, which to them was high. But anyway, OK, I am doing the most mindless work of all time. All right? It had to be done! They literally had two million tickets. Thousands of each of 200 different shows, two hundred different images on those posters, but each show is three nights. A lot of paper! So there I am, sorting away!"
Dennis finished sorting the attic just before Christmas, 1983, at which time one of Bill's administrators fired Dennis simply because the administrator hadn't been the one who hired Dennis. This administrator said the job Dennis was doing could be handled by all the others in the office in their "slack time." When Dennis's case came to Bill's attention, Bill angrily began grilling the administrator in front of Dennis, who, by this time, didn't want the job any more. When his guardian angels at the Dead office heard that Dennis had been fired, they made it clear that there would be a part-time job for Dennis at their place. He was hired by the Dead to sort clippings at $10 an hour.
"When Bill was grilling the guy and embarrassing him," Dennis says, "I said, 'It's OK! I'm outta here! I'm gonna
Five people were
to do the job that
Dennis had once done
work for the Grateful Dead. But I want you to know that the job can't be handled by the others in the office in their "slack" time because nobody who works at BGP has any "slack" time.' And by now, which is 1994, 10 years later, they have five people doing that job. And what I did proved profitable to BGP. As I pointed out at the time, if you've got two million tickets stuffed into two cartons, they're valueless if you don't know what you've got inside those cartons. If you sell them at a buck apiece as mementos, they're suddenly worth two million dollars, or whatever they're really worth, God only knows. Just by sorting them, just by doing that really silly work, silly in the sense that it's not what you get paid for studying American history for, I added value to them.
"Jan and Eileen, my two guardian angels in the Dead office, always caught me when I fell," Dennis adds. "So when I fell, they caught me again. It was still part-time work, but it was easy to scuffle in those days. My rent was $300 a month. Now, I pay a thou, and I feel like I got a great deal---a house with little rooms but lots of them."
When I return from another bathroom break, Dennis again is catching up on his messages.
"My life is measured by the answering machine," he sighs. "I have three answering machines. If they break down, I go into a depression. I have a total dependance on answering machines."
He starts to tell me a story about first moving to San Francisco and living without a telephone when his answering machine clicks and he picks up the phone.
"Hey, Dennis, Dennis McNally. Hi. I wanted to tell you two things. One is that you plus three, four tickets, four passes are already down for the two shows, the 16th and the 17th of July at RFK, courtesy not of me but, in fact of, uh, of Sue Swanson, whom you took care of at the White House and who. . . Oh, yeah! . . Yes, she is. . . Obviously everybody is invited, you know, the Pres or whoever, to both shows. . . and the Pres, y'know, whatever---I hear rumors that Chelsea wants to come and sit in the audience like a person, which is. . . We can arrange that, too. . . The other thing was. . . It was just a thought, but could you put it in your mind. Your assistant said that she didn't think it would be too big a problem. I'm reading about this big deal that's going to happen in July on Jupiter. And Phil was wondering if he could bring his sons to the Naval Observatory---possibly while we're in Washington---to get a look at this huge astronomical event. So, that was the special thing I was wondering if it would be possible to arrange. It would be maybe, you know, Phil and his wife and his two kids and I don't think there'd be. . . unless maybe Jerry might even be interested in that, but it would have to be after the show, so probably not. . . But whatever. . . So keep those two things in mind. Go off on the 50 places you're gonna travel and once you get settled and all, gimme a call. Bye-bye."
A Dennis-to-Dennis conversation, with the other Dennis being Dennis Alpert---nephew of Baba Ram Das, known as Dr. Richard Alpert in the days when he was helping Timothy Leary push LSD, then the new wonder drug.
"Dennis Alpert is the Vice President's what I call road manager, but they call him Head of Advance," Dennis says. "You know, an advance man! There's a big comet that's gonna hit Jupiter. There's a big piece about it in the Smithsonian . Phil wants to show his kids. The Vice President lives at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. That's the closest we'll ever get to a real telescope. We'll be in Washington. We're ass-deep in politicians in Washington. . .
"One of my favorite stories is about the time I almost threw Al Gore out of the dressing room, which was three weeks before he was nominated as the Vice President of the U.S. He was Senator Gore, and he'd come to our show with Tipper---and this was when Tipper was still known for that censorship-parents-media thing. She wanted labeling of lyrics and I'm a big civil libertarian. I didn't like the idea. I was pissed off about it, frankly. Bobby had invited her. And Bobby's going, 'Oh, it's voluntary,' and I'm going, 'Bullshit! Voluntary, schmoluntary, when a Senator's wife talks about labeling, it's not voluntary. I don't like this!' And really, I complained about it to him. But anyway, I come into the dressing room and it's this big football locker room, and the band didn't have separate rooms, they were all little cubicles made by curtains all in this one big room.
"And I see this guy looking in the cubicles. He's looking for his daughter it turned out. And fortunately I said in this very calm and very quiet sort of 'Can I help you?' And by the time the words were out of my mouth, I went, 'Uh, schmuck ! That's Al Gore! Senator Gore! Uuuuhhhhnnn " OK!' ' Oh, no! I was just looking for my daughter! And then at that minute, his daughter came out of the bathroom.'
"Since then, I've introduced Al Gore to individual band members in the White House, sort of my peak arranging. It turns out that Dennis Alpert, Al Gore's advance man---he organizes the Senator's political or other visits anywhere---is a raving Deadhead, so we've become pals. So, I've had Jerry, Mickey and Phil and their ladies on a White House tour and then they ended going and hanging out with Tipper Gore, as a matter of fact, across the street. I mean there's Jerry in sweat pants and a really stained T-shirt shaking hands with Al Gore. 'Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Lesh.' Surreal! Very surreal! You know that old line of the comedians... 'I've worked the big rooms' Well, I've worked the big rooms. I've worked the United Nations. I've worked Congress. l've worked the White House."
Are Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh going to make hay out of this? The Vice President playing footsie with LSD's house band? Or at least that's what the Dead used to be. Even if they aren't acid astronauts any more, aren't they still Hippiedom's Heroes? Doesn't a Deadhead equal a pothead?
In his New Yorker profile of Jerry, Bill Barich played down the marijuana angle. Describing a Dead concert he went to at the Oakland Coliseum, he wrote: [set following graph indent all small caps] . . . Oddly, I didn't smell any marijuana---a scent that. . .had characterized the Dead concerts I used to go to at the fabled Fillmore Auditorium. Some people were obviously stoned but they'd done their smoking in private. The average Deadhead is often portrayed as a glassy-eyed, long-haired wretch in a tie-died T-shirt, but I didn't see many of those types. The fans were mostly middle-class white people in their twenties and thirties. They had the look of yuppies masquerading as hippies for a night, eager to bask in the recollected glow of the sixties.
Was Bill Barich's nose stopped up? But then, even I have quit smoking pot. As for Dennis, he tells me that it was 1984 when the Dead "finally reached a stage where all-out decadence was about to become unfashionable." He says Phil was the first to clean up.
"And," he adds, "Phil has a lot to say with the tenor of what goes on with the Grateful Dead. Always. Now, it's a consistent Dead policy that if you're wired, you're fired. Nobody does blow any more in the band. After you reach a certain age, your body just can't rebound from it."
There's also the question of Jerry's health. I'd heard he'd once collapsed in a diabetic coma. In the New Yorker , Bill Barich wrote:
. . . When he turned fifty last year, he weighed almost three hundred pounds, smoked three packs a day, survived on junk food, never exercised (he needed a roadie to carry his attache case), and had a serious drug problem. He appeared to be headed for an early grave, but he had the good luck to collapse instead. Forced to confront his mortality, he changed his ways, adopting a vegetarian diet, cutting down on cigarettes, taking long walks, swallowing vitamins in megadoses and even hiring a personal trainer to tone a body that had given new meaning to the concept of shapelessness.
Jerry used to smoke freebase and I know what that's like because I used to smoke freebase, too. The last time I visited Jerry in his dressing room, I sold him an eighth of cocaine. That was during the '80s, when I was eking out a living dealing dope in D.C. I charged Jerry the going rate for the eighth at the time. I should have given him the eighth for nothing, but I couldn't afford to. I was so out of it in those days that I even brought along a fellow dope dealer to show off that I could get into the Dead's dressing room. I haven't been allowed in the Dead's dressing room since then.
Looking at Dennis, I still see the young academic I met years ago and I find it hard to imagine him a cocaine freak. But now he tells me that he had once been into blow, too. When I first met Dennis, he seemed like such a sweet, innocent kid, I didn't think he had ever even smoked primo pot. That was 1972, the year when he says he did acid and went to see the Grateful Dead for the first time.
"I had smoked a lot of dope in college, but I had never done psychedelics," he says. "I didn't run with that hippie a crowd, I guess. I did a lot more drugs in graduate school than undergraduate school, oddly enough. Did a lot of things in graduate school, emotionally and life-wise, that I did, traveling, emotional friendships and stuff that---I was sort of socially retarded. A lot of the stuff that most people would do in college, I did four years later. I'll tell you one story which is really connected with all this in my own weird way. The first person I was ever truly intimate with---not physically, we never have been sexually intimate---but truly intimate with was my student at UMass then. Her name was Eileen.
"I moved out here in '76 when I finished the doctoral dissertation, literally, the next day. I finished the last page, set it down, packed it up and the next day I left Amherst to come out here. Primarily because she was here. She had settled here. And there were various other reasons. But I had to go somewhere to wait for the book to sell so I moved out here. She'd always been trouble. She was an alcoholic really then. I didn't realize it. She ended up getting heavily into hard drugs. Scraped the bottom of life as hard as you can scrape it. Totally fucked! Finally in 1986, the cops popped her and I don't know why, they just were sort of sick of her. And they said, 'Look, rather than just put you in jail again, if somebody will sign you out at home, we'll just put you on a plane. She was from Massachusetts. And her parents came through for once in her life and they brought her home and she got into a rehab program. To make a long story short, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude from Mount Holyoke College last week. She's going to Harvard Divinity School. So, all this stuff is sort of snarled and interwoven and her example is great. It can be done! It can be done! This is a woman who I saw die of overdoses more than I could count more than I got fingers. And now she's a pretty functioning member of society."
Decadence has become unfashionable for those who once were viewed as among the hippest style-setters of decadence. The Grateful Dead, despite themselves, have turned into a respectable institution.
"Hello. Hello, Courtney?"
Dennis is catching up on his messages again.
"You're welcome. Those tickets were for which night? I do shows on every Sunday of the year. What show? Las Vegas? Right! Las Vegas is totally sold out. I can't add any more tickets. I can't swap them, either. I mean
'I can't swap things around, I'm sorry. I mean if you want to return them, we'll return your money, but I can't replace them.'
it's done. Haven't you gotten your ticket yet? Right. I can't swap things around, I'm sorry. I mean if you want to return them, we'll return your money, but I can't replace them. Yeah, I'm sorry, it's a lunatic situation with Phil. What, so your client suddenly doesn't want to go that day? Well, tell them you don't have a choice and maybe that will sort of clarify things. That's correct. Uh huh. Okay! Take care. Bye bye. . ."---Dennis punches a button---"Hellllo! Yes. Hi, Chris, things are OK. So you got my message, so what's the number? Uh huh. OK, he'll call you ten-thirty his time, one-thirty yours, tonight! Awright, awright. OK, OK, awright. Take care of yourself, awright. Bye-bye."
Dennis turns to me and says:
"Most of being a publicist is what I call Maitre d' skills. At the show, I'm a Maitre d' , I meet people, I make them comfortable, I bring them a drink, I bring them what they need. What they need, they get. Not only the media---with me, it's expanded. I deal with the whole outside world. When I deal with people like the Vice President, that's the hilarious stuff after dealing with some college kid who doesn't have an answering machine and you wanna be right, so you call him back four times. They're calling you three times because, you know, they don't have a phone. They're going to classes and stuff. When you're scuffling around on the bottom end, which is a lot of what I do, a lot of which is very minor, it's minor secretary work. And then occasionally, you do something that's preeeettty outrageous. . . pretty fun, pretty silly. . ."
When everybody agreed that former manager Rock Scully had lost his effectiveness, he left the band in March of 1984. Alan Trist also left the management team about the same time. In those days the Dead still held what were called "band meetings," attended by the entire staff---including all employees. At one such meeting, held in June of 1984, one of Dennis's guardian angels in the Dead office, the previously mentioned bookkeeper named Mary Jo Meinolf, then a receptionist, raised her hand and asked:
"What do we do with the media?"
At that point, Danny Rifkin was IT for management of the Grateful Dead, according to Dennis.
"And Danny had never been fond of the media in the first place," Dennis adds. "Plus, he was overworked and completely overwhelmed. He was the road manager, the tour manager, everything. Theoretically, Rock had always handled the media, although he hadn't handled it, he had just always shuffled it around to Ren Grevatt, the publicist in New York."
But now that Rock was gone and Ren was gone, Mary Jane said:
"What the hell do we do with this? They all ask for Danny. Danny doesn't return their calls, so then they call me and they rag on me. . ."
And Jerry Garcia said:
"Get McNally to do it! He knows that shit!"
"Only because I'd published a book!" comments Dennis. "Only because I'd published a book, I had some idea of how the media worked. I was not a publicist by any means, although I have since come to find that being a publicist is in fact being a good secretary. You answer the phone and make calls. It's no more complicated than that. That's how I got hired, literally. The next day I stopped by the Dead office, walked into the kitchen and somebody said, 'Congratulations on getting the job!' That's how I found out I was getting the job. I said, 'WHAT?' He said, "Oooh, oooh, I shouldn'ta told you! Go talk to Danny!' I went out and saw Danny and he said, 'Yeah! You're hired!' I got what all the secretaries were getting, which at the time was $500 a week---$26,000 a year, which was, at the time, the biggest money. I couldn't imagine making so much money.
"I started in." A long pause. "I made some mistakes, not too many, I guess. I kept the job, after all. Got laid off. I've had my soul tested by the Grateful Dead. When Jerry got very ill in '86 and had the diabetic coma, Phil and Mickey were in a panic. And they thought they didn't have any money and didn't know what to do, so they had to sacrifice somebody. So I was the newest employee and, on the theory that you didn't need a media person if you weren't touring or anything, they called me in and laid me off. I was the only person laid off, which was painful."
Then, in December of '86, with the band getting back together again, Dennis went to a back-in-action Jerry and said:
"Hey, I got laid off because there was no work. The work's back."
Dennis remembers that moment with great pride.
"And it was a great compliment," he says. "Because Jerry, if you work for him, is not necessarily forthcoming with compliments. He just assumes you're gonna do a good job. And he said,"---and Dennis mimicked Jerry's voice---"'Yeah, man, usually when I get somebody hired, they fuck up and I get embarrassed about it, but you never fucked up, thank God!' So, I went to a band meeting and they all said, 'Yeah, sure, come on back!'
For as long as I have known Dennis, I have always taken for granted that he was 100 per cent pure Irish because he looks so 100 per cent pure Irish. So, when I express surprise upon learning that he is half-Jewish, Dennis gets defensive and starts insisting that his mother's mother is buried in a "sanctified" Jewish cemetery. In Chicago, he thinks. As for his mother, he says she denied her Jewishness and, he adds, she even acquired a southern accent when she was stationed at Fort Polk in Shreveport, Louisiana, during World War II. She was a WAAC captain and outranked Dennis's father, Army Lieutenant John McNally, when they later met while stationed in southern California.
"As a matter of fact, their social relationship was illegal," Dennis says. "Against regulations. Absolutely proscribed. But of course, they snuck out. And had a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful relationship. They just adored each other!"
They certainly liked each other enough for Dennis to be born on December 1, 1949. At the time, his parents were stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. A sister, Maggie, followed Dennis three years later. Dennis grew up in Germany and then lived in North Carolina and in Georgia before moving out to Los Angeles in 1953 or 1954. Next, Dennis' father was sent to Fort Holiver, where Army Intelligence trained their agents. Fort Holiver is in Baltimore just across the street from where Dennis' grandfather lived. After another stint in Germany, the McNallys moved back to L.A. Dennis was nine years old when his mother was diagnosed to be dying of cancer in 1958.
"My father recognized that she was in some ways smarter than him, although he was a very bright guy." Dennis says. "Usually, when you know you're gonna die, you pack it in. You party or drink it up or whatever you think you do. My mother got straight As. A woman in her 40s going to college for the first time, a junior college in L.A., and she got straight As. And that's a great thing! An example of courage that I'm very. . . I'll always hold dear. I really will. It's important to me. . . her courage in going on."
Dennis's mother died in 1961 at the age of 47. Dennis was 11 at the time. It was only then that John McNally learned his wife had been five years his elder, a fact she had also managed to conceal from the U.S. Army and from the U.S. Department of State.
"She was very insecure about that," Dennis says. "She managed to get passports, go abroad, and be an Army wife without anybody knowing how old she really was. My father found it out somehow when her birth certificate came with the burial papers. My mother is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. I go and see her from time to time when we do a show in D.C. It's a helluva place, a very beautiful cemetery.
"In the Army, my father was a spook. He ended up in Army Intelligence and they kept him busy chasing Communists around, that sort of nonsense. He had gone into the Army in 1939 as a very young man straight out of the CCC [the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps]. He had gone to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii as a corpsman, served with the Seventh Cavalry when it was still horse cavalry, which was Custer's cavalry, which was why we watched a lot of cavalry movies as a kid in my house. My father left Hawaii November 7, 1941, which is a great thing to be able to claim."
Exactly a month later, the Japanese bombed Schofield Barracks as part of their Pearl Harbor attack, inflicting heavy casualties and drawing the U.S. into World War II. It was afterwards that Dennis's father was assigned to undercover work.
"My father was in the army, but he wasn't because he never wore a uniform," Dennis says. "And finally, in '63, he retired. His buddies who had left the Army a little before him had set up a detective agency and we were gonna move to Malibu into a house with a pool---that was the big thing, to have a pool. We were living in what is now Little Tijuana in the San Fernando Valley, a workingclass neighborhood even then. Fourteen-five, he paid for the house. The only house he ever owned in his life. Fourteen-five. He probably paid $50 a month mortgage.
"My father always had this religious drive. In the late '50s, here's this lapsed Catholic and this lapsed Jew sending their kids to the local Protestant Sunday school. But the church happened to be run by a really bright special guy named Maynard G. Van Dyke. And Maynard and my father became very close and eventually my father decided he wanted to go to a seminary. And that was our choice. We could either stay in L.A. and eat steak or, knowing we were gonna be broke, go to Bangor, where the seminary was, and eat hamburger. And my sister and I said, 'Yeah, we like hamburger. Let's go to Maine!' I was gonna trap animals."
The three of them lived in a one-bedroom apartment. In his classroom, Dennis remembers studying beneath the portrait of a man named Dole, whose sons founded Dole Pineapples.
"Hawaii was missionaryized from three congregationalist seminaries, Yale, Harvard and Bangor," Dennis says, "so I had a real early take on the connections between the Christian church, imperialism and the exploitation of native peoples. There we were in Maine. In 1965, my father remarried. A wonderful woman who it would be an insult to call my stepmother. She's my other mother, my second mother. She's still around, she's hale and hearty. Lives near Boston, as does my sister. Gertrude is my new mother's name. We met her, it's 30 years now this Thanksgiving. So I got two moms. I was very fortunate in that way. We became a New England family. I graduated high school in Maine in 1967, went to college in Upstate New York, St. Lawrence University, where they had a wonderful history department.
"And then I went to UMass, where I discovered that the way to beat the system was that instead of being just an open mouth that they stuffed stuff into, instead of being an IBM trainee that just learns the rules by rote, if you chose your dissertation topic in advance you were playing the game according to your rules instead of their rules. You might have to take an irrelevant class, but at least you know it'd be irrelevant, whereas if you didn't have anything in mind, it'd just be blind."
Dennis had become a pot-smoker at St. Lawrence U. but by the time he entered graduate school, he was so broke he couldn't afford to buy any grass. Anyway, he was in Amherst, a new town, and he didn't know anybody to buy marijuana from.
"I didn't have any grass to smoke the first two months I was in graduate school," Dennis says. "I was living in the graduate dormitory, which is, you know, geekdom---the halls of geekdom. And one night I ran into this little funky, hippy-looking dude, with a long pony tail and a full beard, who was a genius, a mathematical genius, named Chris Byrnes. He was a real sweet guy and we both had enough ego about our skills in grad school---I was a very good grad student. I was doing really well, straight As and all that. So was he. And he liked to smoke dope. And he liked the Grateful Dead. And he liked Jack Kerouac. So, Chris got me stoned for the first time in a couple of months. And kept me stoned. I was so broke, it was probably two months before I could even contribute to buy a baggie. I was on the most minimal of budgets that first semester until I got a teaching assistantship. And he used to say, 'Dope's like manure. Only does some good if you spread it around,' God bless him. And he was generous of heart and never made me feel like I had to pay, mentally or otherwise. So we'd hang out. I was working 19 hours a day. I did a masters in nine months flat, which is impossible. Just ask. But I did it. My social life consisted of one hour every third day and that consisted of getting stoned with Chris.
"So, I am going through dissertation topics. I'm trying to find a dissertation topic. And I pick a topic and I go to the library and I find out there are 16 books on that topic already. The rule was that the subject couldn't be minute, which most graduate doctoral dissertation topics are. It had to be fairly broad. And it had to be publishable, by a real press---not some college press---but by a New York City press. And one night in January, maybe February 1972, I'm sitting around getting stoned with Chris and he said, 'Why don't you do Jack Kerouac?' And I went. . . Indicate on tape: 'Mouth dropped open, he's thinking.' And I just went, 'Hmmmmmmmm.'"
The logistics were just right because Dennis's finances were still close to zero. Dennis's father and second mother had moved to Haverhill, 10 miles up the road from Amherst. Meanwhile, Chris mistakenly thought all of Kerouac's papers were on deposit at Columbia University and said he had friends at Fordham with whom Dennis could stay.
"Here I am, this Bohemian in graduate school getting pummeled by the graduate establishment, and I'm not part of their world," Dennis says. "I listen to Dylan and smoke dope. I'm a freak and this is the roots of my freakdom. And I've read On the Road . That was about it. And I went to the library. In 1972, there were no biographies of Kerouac. He'd been dead three years. Annie Charters' book would come out the next year. I obviously read that with great trepidation, thinking, 'Oh, my God! If it's great, what am I gonna do?' Fortunately, it was not great. It was pretty weak. I went, 'I can do better than this! I certainly have a different point of view.' That's fine, off I go. I finished my master's in the summer of '72 while living with my parents and went to a wonderful bookstore in South Hadley, five miles from Amherst and bought all of Kerouac's books, a lot of them on credit. In August of '72, I went down to New York, stayed with the guys at Fordham, did acid, went to see the Grateful Dead for the first time and started interviewing people for my dissertation. And that fall, I heard about you and met you."
It is about 10 in the morning when Dennis picks me up on Telegraph Hill, and now we have talked into the afternoon. It's time for some lunch. I ask Susana to join us, but she begs off, claiming to be hopelessly locked into her work. Dennis wants to take me to a Thai restaurant on Mission Street, but when we get there we find all the good restaurants in this neighborhood are closed for Memorial Day. We end up almost around the corner from Dennis's house at a place called Universal Cafe. Occupying a space not much more accommodating than a local bodega---which it once might have been---Universal Cafe has a North Beach ambience, with a good-looking waitress, a sort of Whole Earth menu and the kind of casual and friendly charm that always enchants me about San Francisco.
The idea of writing a book about the Dead had excited me from the moment the idea was suggested to me and, immediately, I dropped everything and flew here to see Dennis. I had envisioned the book as a follow-up to Moon Jasmine , a Jerry Garcia interview which I had written more than 20 years earlier. I had no guarantee that Jerry or anyone else in the Dead would agree to sit down for interviews with me, but I was hoping Dennis would be able to reconnect me with the band members I'd been best acquainted with. In any event, an interview with Dennis would be a good start.
At lunch, I remind Dennis that although I, like Dead manager Danny Rifkin, cannot be considered a Dead addict , I have always felt connected to the band. I was the first pop writer to hype the Dead in New York's straight press. At Dead concerts, I always enjoyed sharing a joint with road manager Steve Parish because not only was he great company but I knew he would always have a couple of Humboldt County's best already twisted up. On one trip to the Bay Area, I stayed with my then-old lady at Bill Kreutzmann's house. Unforewarned, Bill's mother-in-law dropped in for an unexpected visit and walked in on my old lady and me while we were in the middle of sex. Already headied by the magical Bay Area atmosphere, my old lady and I were so into what we were doing that it must have been five minutes before we realized we had an audience. "Who are you?" Bill's mother-in-law finally asked. Also on that trip, my old lady and I accompanied Dead manager Rock Scully and his wife, Nicky, to the crap tables in Lake Tahoe, getting there through Donner Pass, where survivors of a wagon train once stranded in a blizzard practiced cannibalism to stay alive. When Rock and I and our old ladies went through Donner Pass, it was still blizzarding once again, but we made it without having to eat one another. My plan now is to profile every member of the Dead organization who will talk to me in the same way that I write this profile of Dennis. Of course, if Jerry doesn't talk to me, that will leave a big hole.
I tell Dennis that Moon Jasmine cries out for a follow-up. Didn't I have something to do with connecting Jerry to Dylan years ago? Wasn't I the invisible link between Arista Records President Clive Davis and the Dead? When Clive wanted to sign the Dead to Arista, he called me up and asked me to put him together with Jerry. In my own head, I always imagined myself as having my own "special relationship" with Jerry.
"At this point, quite frankly, I don't know if anybody has a 'special relationship' with Jerry," Dennis says. "Just because he's been physically ill and he's very grumpy. He's a borderline diabetic and if he doesn't take care of himself. . . I intend to talk to him and hopefully provide time for you when he's next in New York. I'm gonna approach him. . . "
Yes, I've always identified with Jerry. He gave me the first hit of cocaine that I ever liked. Like him, I later sought enlightenment in a freebase pipe. Like him, I ultimately discovered I was inhaling evil. I think I quit smoking freebase a little before Jerry quit. I quit all on my own---cold turkey---without rehab, without therapy, without a shrink, without a 12-step program. I quit smoking cocaine and I quit smoking everything! What was Jerry's experience? Would he want to tell me? I'm counting on Dennis to get me to Jerry.
[Jerry died before Dennis could succeed in setting up an interview with him for me. When I afterwards asked Dennis why he had misled me about Jerry's drug problem, (the cause of Jerry's death), he protested it wasn't his job to publicize Jerry's heroin habit. Which indicates that, as the Dead press agent, Dennis has learned as much about the practice of spin control as he already knew about being an historian.] ##
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CLICK HERE TO GET TO INTRODUCTION AND CHAPTER ONE OF 'A LONG, STRANGE TRIP' BY DENNIS MCNALLY
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