" I'd Love to Turn You On "
an interview with David Gans

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What year was this?

This was November of '85. On March 1 of '86, the three of us opened the Grateful Dead conference on the Well. It cost two bucks an hour to be a member in those days, plus phone charges and stuff -- this was before the Internet was really big and widely available -- but it took off. We were right in our hunch that Deadheads would love this thing. First of all, I think the Deadhead demographic is fairly well educated, fairly well compensated, middle class Caucasians. So I think it was a predisposition to either already be online or have the wherewithal to get online.

One of the coolest things that happened was when people who'd never had a computer before went out and bought one just to get online and join our community, which a bunch of people did. There was already a Deadhead community out there on Usenet, and we acquired a lot of refugees from there. They were willing to pay money to be online because there was a fairly high grade of conversation going on, and over the next few years it just really took off. We'd pass out leaflets at shows and people would get interested in it, and it grew.

The Deadhead community is credited by many people with keeping the Well afloat in its early years, because they had enough revenue from us that it helped them break even long enough to survive infancy and become a viable online community. The Grateful Dead conferences got so big over the years that we split them up into taping, touring, and deadlit for sort of more serious, scholarly discussions of music and words and stuff. Then the general GD conference was for all sorts of other things and schmoozing and general community and all.

We started a semi-private space to talk about community issues. This was in the late 80's, when the Dead were being banned from various venues because of the insane circus atmosphere that was accompanying them on tour. We used our virtual community location as a place to recruit peer-organized help at shows. We started something called the Minglewood Town Council here in Oakland. We had people volunteer to fan out into the neighborhood and keep people from making too much noise after a show.

The Kaiser Convention Center is close to several residential neighborhoods, and the hippie buses would move in and people would camp out for weeks. There was one time in '88 the Dead played a run of shows in February and then they played a run of shows a month later, and nothing in between. photo taken by R.LucenteSo a huge number of hippie tour buses just came and settled in the neighborhood for a month, and they drove the neighborhood batty.

We wanted to organize to get some peer policing. We created -- with volunteer artists and writers -- leaflets that we passed out, that just encouraged people to be respectful of the neighborhoods and not be climbing people's fences and shitting in their front yards and screaming and yelling at the end of the show. You know, you're high as a kite and having a great time, and you just got back from a trip to Jupiter at a Dead show and stuff but (whispers) 'people are trying to sleep over there'. So we did our best to sort of help keep things civilized in the neighborhood, and that was something very much facilitated by the online community.

There are other great stories about what the online community has done, but the great thing about it was it just brought together people from all over the country. My friend Alan Mande, who's an old old-time Deadhead, said it really well: 'When you're at the show, you're experiencing the music and you're being with people there and stuff, but when you go home from the show you still want to talk about it. It still matters to you'.

So this is a great way for people to stay in touch in between tours and to plan get-togethers. We exchanged information about what hotels are good, what overpasses have cops hiding out -- all kinds of lore was exchanged in the touring conference: carpooling, sharing hotel rooms, et cetera. A tremendous number of friendships were fostered by that world, and the tape trading, which has absolutely mushroomed on the Internet, began in earnest in places like the Well.

Before the Well there was the Dead Board, in Pennsylvania, which was run by Klaus and Gretchen Bender. I don't know where they are now, but they had started a small, private free independent BBS before the Well even existed. So we don't get credit for being the first of anything, but it wound up becoming a pretty major place. It also wound up acquiring a reputation as this sort of elitist place. There was abit of a schism -- people out on Usenet and in other free places somehow assumed that because it cost money to be on the Well that everbody in there was some sort of snotty elitist who thought that they were cooler than everybody else. There may had been people who had Well accounts who behaved that way, but it was certainly not anything that was part of our dialogue inside the Well. There wasn't a lot of 'Oh boy aren't we cool?' kind of stuff going on.

I think it was just a natural tendency of people to think that if you have to pay for something then it thinks it's better than you or something. But anybody who was willing to pay the two bucks an hour -- and by the way it now costs 10 bucks a month, flat rate, the Internet has changed everything, so it's a whole lot cheaper to be part of the Well. I mean there were months when it cost people a couple hundred bucks to be part of it, but they wanted to be there so much. We had people on the Well who would post the set lists as the last notes of the encore were ringing out -- and there were guys that would like compete to see who would be the first one to post the set list, so if you weren't on tour you could find out immediately what had happened.

That was both a good thing and a bad thing, in a way, because I think as all that was happening the Dead were becoming a little bit less adventurous and more repetitive. A real good example is 'Oh my god! They played this weird old song called "I Fought the Law" as an encore tonight!' And word spread like wildfire -- 'Wow that's neat!' Guys that are my age remember that song from when it first came out, and younger people had no idea what it was. But it was like the coolest thing on earth until they'd done it like 15 or 20 encores in a tour.

The life-span of cool ideas got really really short because of the rapidity with which information was transmitted. If you're following the tour from you home, then you could start carping about repetitive jams really early. You don't have to wait to get the tape. You already know 'Oh no, they played that sequence again'. The Throwing Stones>Not Fade Away combination was named by somebody 'Throwing Up' because they got so sick of it being such a cliché. And that's the down side of the information age:You had way too much time to absorb and recognize the patterns, and you could get tired of a Dead tour without seeing a single show, which was a weird aspect of it.

But on the other hand, people could get in touch with each other, and tapes of the tours were very easy to get a hold of if you were part of a scene like this. Because the community had formed around it and people were good about making tapes available and duplicating them. Tape trees and tape vines and all that stuff are a major part of our scene on the Well, as they are on the Net at large. Nowadays the Web is incredible because there's this automatic correlation of tape lists. The idea that everybody can post his own list on the Web, and then somebody else can have a web site that visits all those databases, and you can key in a song or a performance you are looking for and it'll give you like 12 guys who have copies of it -- it's made it so much easier to get good music out and around.

I think huge numbers of Deadheads have become accomplished Deadheads and built impressive tape collections in record time thanks to the Internet and the facility it brings to exchanges.

How about the whole digital music trading revolution?

When I started, people were mastering shows on cassette and occasionally on an open reel, and tape trading was done cassette to cassette. First of all, you'd have to make friends with one these legendary tapers and either have something they wanted or appeal to their kindness. There was a great range of characters in that world, from really nasty materialistic sons of bitches to really really generous come-on-over-let's-get-stoned-and-make-some-tapes kind of people. Every generation mattered. If you could get a cassette made off the master cassette, you were happening. Your cassette made off somebody else's cassette from the master cassette was that much noisier. Plus if the speed of one deck was not happening you'd wind up with this horrible sounding hissy tape that sounds like the Chipmunks are singing.

Now with digital, everybody has access to really good stuff, and since CD burners have become universal, there's hardly any cassette trading going on at all and people have really really brilliant wonderful sounding master tapes. It's a great thing for the love of the music, and now the online thing is going to make it even easier for people to get great music. It's also complicating matters for people who are trying to make a living selling their music.

What is your opinion as a musician and as someone who has been in the radio industry of the future of music with the Internet?

Well I've been 'giving away' music on the radio for 15 years, and most people in the Grateful Dead world recognize that as a brilliant marketing tool for them. There are some who regard it as giving away something that should be sold. I have the rewarding experience of occasionally getting an email from somebody who says, 'I have never got to see the Grateful Dead live, but I have really become a Deadhead thanks to your radio show' and that to me is a thrill.

It's not just the people who know when the show is on who tune in for it, it's the people who are cruising the radio dial and hear something weird that they never heard before and stay with it, and then they get to the end of the show and they find out they've been listening to the Grateful Dead and like OK, all the sudden we've made another mutant. That's a great feeling.

But as a musician, it's a double-edge sword. I am using the wide availability of tapes and CDs and stuff to market myself. I send out CDs of my better performances in hopes of turning them on to my music and making them want to come out to hear me play. And also hope that they will want to buy my commercial releases. I have observed something that I think is an odd inversion of values, in that there seem to be people who've grown up in this era who somehow think that it all has to be free and who don't value something that they have to pay for.

It's like the miracle ticket phenomenon: they've been led to believe that this is some sort of land of milk and honey where everything good is given to you, and if somebody's charging for something they're some kind of capitalist creep. I'm friendly with a lot of young bands who are trying to make a living as touring musicians. They allow taping of their shows, but they worry that their commercial releases aren't being bought. I think that people don't quite make the connection in their heads that if they don't buy a ticket to the show and if they don't buy that CD, these guys are going to have to quite touring and get day jobs.

I just want to keep reminding people that artists need to be rewarded for their creativity and earn a living doing what they do. It's a difficult issue, because there's a lot of poorly thought-out reasoning in this bootlegging world, and plenty of really good people who just love the music and want to share. It's hard to sort out the schmucks from the cool folks, and it's hard sometimes to remind people that paying 15 bucks for a CD is a good thing to do if it supports an artist whose work you admire.

I always thought that in the Grateful Dead world, the social contract was fairly straightforward: The Grateful Dead allowed us to tape and to trade tapes of their shows, and I felt that it was always incumbent on us to support their commercial efforts by buying pretty much everything they put out. I made that statement in a public forum before the Box Set came out; there were a lot of people who were totally offended by the Box Set idea. 'How dare you guys rip these beautiful performances out of their context and do this cut-and-paste Box Set. The only valid form of Grateful Dead music is complete unedited sets, goddammit!' I said that thing about the social contract and got whacked upside the head from various people, 'How dare you tell me that I have to buy that?' And there were people who said, 'I will not encourage this form of Grateful Dead release because the only thing I am interested in is unedited Dick's Picks and I will not buy this no matter what because a) I can get this stuff in other form and b) I don't want to support it'.

It was hard to hold my temper in some of those discussions, and it's hard to deal with people who are so hard-headed about something and who seem unwilling to listen to the other point of view. I did not say, 'You are required to buy everything the Grateful Dead put out.' I said ' I always viewed the social contract as being such and because you have so many other tapes, including the tapes from which this Box Set was made, it seems to me only fair that you support what the Grateful Dead are putting out. They've looked the other way while you've collected hours and hours of stuff, and now that they are asking you to pay real money for something so they can do what they do -- which is earn a living from their music -- why is this a problem for you?'

It was rewarding when the Box Set came out that a lot of people said 'Well, you know, I picked it up and it's good, I like it' and other people who said 'I don't entirely like this, but I see your point and I'm going for it and I'm glad I did'. People bought it and liked it, and a few people dug in their heels and will never get it; they feel they're entitled to everything. That's OK, we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Yeah, there's really that whole scene in the Dead community where everybody's a critic. Like these show reviews go around and there is a lot of negative commentary that comes around. It's quite puzzling at times.

Some of it is valid and some of it isn't it. There are some people who are just cranks.

And no show is worthy.

I'm a Californian all my life, and seeing the Dead in New York was a very different experience. I formed this opinion after a few visits back there that there's a whole class of Deadhead, largely in the Northeast Corridor, whose main interest in the band is to sit up in the stands and make rude remarks. I mean, it's a valid approach because they're just shmucks like us, you know, in a lot of ways -- but it seemed like there were people who just liked to sit up there and kind of go, 'I can do that, that's no big deal' (laughing). I found it amusing, but (laughing) it was enlightening to experience that kind of East Coast attitude for the first time.

As an East Coaster, that's one of the reasons I came out here. I saw the Dead once out West and went 'All right. I guess I've got to get over here now.'.

The flip side to that is that we on the West Coast were vastly more blasé about the Grateful Dead. When I went to the Garden for the first time, I acquired an immediate appreciation for why it's so important to people out there. You know, life in the Northeast isn't as easy at it is out here. Weather is your enemy, overcrowding is your enemy, public transit is your enemy, capitalism is your enemy. There's a million things that make life a challenge in that part of the world, and battling your way through the transit system, getting to Penn Station and making your way upstairs, handing your ticket over, getting searched, getting inside though all that crap. Then you make it all the way through and you're in the hall -- you'd see people just (getting up and cheering) 'YEAAHHH!' They were so glad to be there. I went 'Yeah, O.K., you guys worked really hard to get here. Now I understand'.

As opposed to the Greek Theatre [in Berkeley]: they open the doors at 11 o'clock, we come in, we have a nice picnic, we're lying around working on our tans. The band takes the stage at 3 o'clock we go 'Oh hey, you guys'. It's very very different. People [back East] worked a lot harder and saw the Dead a lot less often. The contrast between life at the show and life in the world is much greater on the East Coast than it is in California. So I came to respect that a lot after a few years of seeing shows in the East.

I'd like to talk a little bit about your music. I don't know how many of our readers are aware of your singing and songwriting. How long have you been writing songs?

Thirty years. I was a songwriter before I'd ever heard the Grateful Dead. I started playing the guitar in 1969. My older brother had a guitar, and he set a couple of my poems to music and taught me the chords and I was off and running. From that time on, every time he left the house I was in his room stealing his guitar. I got the songbooks for the Beatles' White Album and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and started teaching myself the chords. I had written songs before I'd even played, because my brother had set these two songs to music for me.

In high school I hooked up with my buddy Steve Donnelly, we started writing songs together. He's the guy who turned me onto the Dead. This was 1969/'70, this was sort of the Californa wimp-rock era -- the Eagles were coming along around then, and Elton John was big when me and Donnelly were living together and writing songs all the time. He was the lyricist and I was the performing songwriter, so our working team model was Elton John and Bernie Taupin before it was Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia.

I was into John Prine, Steve Goodman, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, all that kind of singer/songwriter stuff before I'd ever seen the Grateful Dead. In March of '72 Donnelly took me to see the Dead. I didn't understand what was going on a lot of the time, but the songwriting instantly got to me. I immediately understood that these guys were onto something a whole lot deeper than I had known possible in my pop existence before then. It just changed everything I understood about what songwriting was, and over the next couple of years I started to appreciate what was going on in the jams. Then I started thinking like a guitarist rather then a songwriter. So the Grateful Dead really upped the ante on every level for me, but my sensibility was formed independent of them, and I still have a lot more of a pop sensibility.

A lot of my serious Deadhead friends are way into jazz, and I've never really been a jazz fan. I find a lot of that stuff sort of inaccessible and too brainy. I like country and pop and rock 'n' roll. I guess my tastes are probably not nearly as sophisticated as some of my colleagues and friends. I just have to admit it that that's who I am.

I also was way into Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, and in the early '70s I think they were the best band on Earth. Through them I got turned onto great stuff like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and real traditional honky tonk music and stuff like that that the Grateful Dead touched on, but those guys were way way more into.

Starting in the mid-70's, I played music with some friends here in Berkeley that were into Grateful Dead and all this other stuff. I've never been in a Grateful Dead cover band in my life. Every band that I've ever been in that played Dead oriented music, played a lot more, including original material. A band that I still play with once or twice a year, The Reptiles, goes back to 1980. The other guitarist and songwriter in that band, Al Feldstein, is a friend of mine who lives in LA. He's one of the first people I met when I moved to Berkeley in 1973 and we've been playing together ever since. We've played Dead music and lots more together for 26 years now. I always like a lot of other stuff, and was never willing to limit myself to just playing in the Grateful Dead space. There's a lot more going on than that

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"I'd Love to Turn You On - An Interview with David Gans"
Conducted by R.Lucente, December 3, 1999 - Oakland, CA.
David Gans photos & foward by Robert Lucente. ©1999. All rights reserved. www.philzone.com and www.2012productions.com

Special thanks to Truth and Fun, Inc. for providing the audio
and to Robert Minkin Photography for providing the Broken Angels photos. For more of R.Minkin's photos, visit his official web site:
http://www.minkindesign.com/photo. So Many Roads photographs property of http://live.dead.net .

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