The Dead come back to life
Band reclaiming name, eight years after Garcia's death
By Joseph Van Harken
(CNN) -- The Dead is risen.
No, it's not a Biblical reference, though some Deadheads may consider it so -- especially the ones who used to chant, "Jerry is God." But it does mark a monumental moment in jam-band history.
This year, for the first time since 1995 -- the year singer-guitarist Jerry Garcia died -- the surviving members of the Grateful Dead are touring under a name very close to the original, all the more a reminder of the band's legacy. That name: The Dead.
"We're reclaiming it," said bassist Phil Lesh. "For a while we let it go, but now we're reclaiming that part of it that we have a right to."
After Garcia died, the four remaining full-time members -- Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann -- decided to pay homage to their front man by retiring the band's name. They continued to play and tour with their various side bands, and even reunited last year under the name The Other Ones, but "Dead" was off-limits.
Now that the name is back, they've enlisted the help of four new members -- Rob Barraco and Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, Jimmy Herring on guitar, and Joan Osborne on vocals -- and hit the road. They kicked off their summer tour, Summer Getaway 2003, as the headlining act at Bonnaroo, the weekend-long festival in Manchester, Tennessee, that took place June 13-15.
While there, CNN caught up with them for an interview.
CNN: How do you feel about kicking off your new summer tour under your new, or revived name, headlining for such a huge music festival as Bonnaroo?
BOB WEIR: Well, it's a hell of a way to kick off a tour.
JIMMY HERRING: It shoots the adrenaline through you and sorta gets the machine started.
PHIL LESH (jokingly resting his head on Bill's shoulder, making snoring sounds): Yeah, it's driving the adrenaline through the roof.
JOAN OSBORNE: For me this is my first for real gig with these guys. ... This is like the sink or swim moment for me, trial by fire. So if I'm still on the tour a few days from now, you'll know I did all right.
KREUTZMANN: Aw, you're going to rock out, sista.
CNN: What are you looking to try to do out there [with people who have been fans for years]?
MICKEY HART: First you have to connect with yourself and with your brothers and sisters on stage. Once you do that and get intimate like that then you can give it to them. And then we form this feedback loop and then we all get high. That's what it's all about.
CNN: Tell me about the whole [jam-band] scene that you guys started.
WEIR: We're just carrying on a tradition that started a long time ago. In American music, improvisation is what it's always been about. And uh, the jazz and blues idioms, people have been improvising like crazy and have been since they've been playing that kind of music way back before there were even recordings made.
HART: I think we gave people a license to fly. Y'know when they heard us stretching the song form from four minutes to 10 to an hour to whatever, they just said sorta, "Yeah, we can do this too." We certainly didn't invent it, but we may [have] pushed it forward some.
'What is music?'
CNN: Mickey, your new book is about music and the soul of music, and you ask a question, "What is music?" Can you expand on that a little bit?
HART: Well, I think it's different for everyone, but for me it's a feeling, and what you get from that feeling, and what you do with that feeling. It's not just playing music and clapping and having a good time. But it makes you feel a certain kind of love. And hopefully that translates in the community. You go out you hug someone you do something good, you make a better world. To me, that's music. It's not playing good notes and everything right ... it's the feeling you get and what you do with it.
WEIR: Music's another reality. And it's every bit as real as a couch or a bottled water. When you are there, there's no denying you're there. You can touch it, you can feel it, you know exactly what it is, it affects you. Just as the air you breath and the food you eat.
HART (laughing): It's right up there with sex. (laughter from others) Food and sex and music.
CNN: Could you talk a little bit about your legacy?
WEIR: Well, it's a work in progress. Ask me that question in 20 or 30 years.
KREUTZMANN: It's a place that I can get off the best of any other place. I have the most fun, most enjoyment working for people playing. It's the highest thing there is in my life.
HART: It's freedom. It's freedom. That's what it is to me.
The new Dead
CNN (to new members) Can you guys talk a little bit about musically playing with them?
HART (to the new members): You can talk freely now, you can tell them the truth.
HERRING (laughing): The truth is it's unbelievable, it's the kind of freedom you can't get anywhere else. ... It's an education, too. An education in harmony. Between the way Phil writes, Bobby writes, and these great Garcia/Hunter tunes. It's an unbelievable learning experience to play.
OSBORNE: The phrase that keeps coming to my mind is I learn these songs and get to know these guys better musically is the thing that Gram Parsons used to say about "cosmic American music," that was something that he was going for and he came out of this music tradition. And there are moments when I am on stage with these guys and doing these close harmonies with Phil and with Bob and I feel like I'm in this amazing country music band. It's a very American thing and the harmony singing and it's a sound that all of us can make together but none of us can make separately.
JEFF CHIMENTI: We share a freedom of expression that we can all do together. And to get the opportunity, it's been a highlight for me.
CNN: You guys had a reunion show in Alpine Valley as The Other Ones. Why did you decided to change your name for this tour?
HART: Well, I think we just looked around and we realized we are the Grateful Dead and uh, we had to honor our commitment to put the name to sleep when Jerry died and uh ... I see The Other Ones as a holding pattern that got us here. Because, we really weren't The Other Ones after a while. When we all started to get together, it's Grateful Dead music, it feels like the Grateful Dead, it is the Grateful Dead, sounds like the Grateful Dead without Jerry. And so, we sorta just said, "let's do it."
CNN: One last question ... what would Jerry say if he were here right now?
HART: He would say, "Go out and do it and take it to 'em. And play the music."
KREUTZMANN: And, "Why aren't you listening to James?"
Note: Special thanks to Hotsupe Productions for hosting the interviews at the Bonnaroo Music Festival 2003.