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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.
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.
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.
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.
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. So
a huge number of hippie tour buses just came and settled in
the neighborhood for a month, and they drove the neighborhood
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.
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'.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
about the whole digital music trading revolution?
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.
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
is your opinion as a musician and as someone who has been in
the radio industry of the future of music with the Internet?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
of it is valid and some of it isn't it. There are some people
who are just cranks.
no show is worthy.
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.
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.'.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
was into John
Prine, Steve Goodman, Cat
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.
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.
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.
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
out Philzone.com's special AudioZone
featuring highlights from all three Broken Angels' shows
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
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