Interview with David
Lange Nacht der Grateful Dead, Radio FSK, Hamburg
Saturday, March 9 2002
Moderators: Nobat (N), Arne Heinen (AH), Frank Poppe (FP)
FP: Hello David!
FP: Welcome on our radio show, the Grateful Dead Marathon on
Radio FSK in Hamburg. We just talked to Phil Demetrion in Paris, he told
us about your visit and how you jammed with the Paris-based Dead
cover-band Deadicace. How was this American-French meeting for you?
DG: Oh, it was wonderful fun. I went to Paris on vacation last
year, on holiday and a friend of mine in Chicago said ďLook up my friend
Phil Demetrion in ParisĒ and I called him when I got to Paris and he
invited me to meet with his friends and we had a splendid evening
together. I enjoyed meeting the French deadheads. You know, having grown
up in California with the Grateful Dead in my backyard it was really
interesting to meet people who had seen the Grateful Dead only once in
1974 and then they saw them again in 1981 and then again in 1990. It
must be an interesting thing to beÖ, uhm, uhm, Ö, in, oh, you know what?
Iím really sorry, I have to stop. Can you play a piece of music and call
me back in a few minutes?
FP: Sure, no problem.
DG: Yeah, Iím really sorry, I gotta go.
Hard to Handle 8-6-71
Alligator Jam 4-29-71
FP: Jetzt haben wieder
den David Gans am Telefon, das freut uns ganz besonders und mŲchten ihn
somit gleich noch mal begrŁŖen: Hi David, youíre welcome again.
DG: Yes, Iím sorry. The door bell rang and exactly the moment I
was speaking with you. Itís my guitar was back from being repaired and I
had to answer the door, so Iím very sorry I had to leave.
FP: Thatís great so you can play us a little bit a little bit
DG: Ah, that wouldnít sound very good over the phone, noÖ
FP: I know, I know. So, letís talk a little bit about your music.
You write your own songs, is that right? So are you influenced by the
improvisational ability of the Grateful Dead?
DG: Oh, very definitely. But I was a songwriter before I ever
heard of the Dead. I was much more influenced by Jackson Browne and Bob
Dylan and John Prine and people like that. So by the time I got
interested in the Grateful Dead my consciousness and style were already
fairly well formed. So I connected very much with the Dead over their
folk music roots and all, so really it was just an expansion of what I
was already doing. But you know, the Grateful Dead taught me a lot about
what a song can be. Their music was so sophisticated and so uncommercial
in a way. It didnít follow the same kind of rules of predictability and
accessibility that popular music did. So I considered it a deepening and
a widening of my consciousness to get exposed to the Grateful Dead.
FP: So I suppose you got a pretty close relationship to the band.
When and how did it start?
DG: I first approached them as a journalist. I was a fan first of
course, listening to the music and going to shows and then I started
writing for music magazines. So there was a magazine here in California
called BAM, published in San Francisco. I became a correspondent for
them and so of course I pursued opportunities with my favourite
musicians, the Grateful Dead among them. Through that I began to get
friendly with the band members and began a relationship that continues
to this day. In 1982 I went as a journalist to Jamaica with the Grateful
Dead and accidentally met a fellow who was writing a book, a gentleman
named Peter Simon who by the way just has a brand new book, a wonderful
photo memoirs of his own life called ďI and IĒ which I recommend very
highly. And through that connection I was able to do my first book on
the Grateful Dead called Playing in the Band, which came out in 1985.
FP: And itís a beautiful one.
DG: That led getting into the radio business. Next thing I knew I
was a radio producer.
FP: So when was it then, you started your Grateful Dead hour in
DG: Yeah, well, actually someone else started it. It began in San
Francisco in November of 1984. I appeared for the first time in February
of 1985 and within a few months I was doing it regularly and it became
my job. So Iíve been doing radio for 17 years.
N: Could you make money with of it or was it just for fun?
DG: It has been my living for most of that time, yeah.
N: Wow, I want this job, too, because we do this here for free.
DG: Yeah, most people are doing radio for free or close to it.
And itís actually winding down now, the radio business is becoming very
corporated and commercial these days. Itís less and less receptive to a
specialized program. You know, something as narrow as the Grateful Dead
doesnít really fit in to the commercial pop radio world anymore.
FP: So how do you distribute your radio shows?
DG: I donít know if you understand the structure of radio out
here in the States. We have the public radio system which is from
college and university stations and a government supported satellite
distribution system. So it goes to those stations by satellite and then
it goes on compact disc to commercial stations all of which pay for the
privilege of carrying it.
FP: David, do you have access to the vault?
DG: Occasionally. The politics of that
situation are very strange and complex. It depends on who is in charge
of it in any given moment. There are some people who understand that
putting the music on the radio is a good thing, it serves the culture
and it involves new listeners in the music. But there are other people
who are very protective of their power in that world and they see it as
giving away something that, you know, should be sold or they see me as
somebody who is taking something away from them. Itís a strange and
sometimes troubling world to trying to do business in I must say.
FP: I ask myself sometimes because all these soundboards are
circulating. Where do they come from, letís say from the eighties or
DG: Well, the gentleman, the fellow who ran the vault for many
years, a wonderful, very kind deadhead named Dick Latvala, who passed
away a couple of years ago, actually did a very revolutionary thing. He
gave away many, many, many copies of those tapes to his friends, which
was on a certain level a bad thing to do because they werenít really in
his property to distribute but on another level it was a very
revolutionary and kind act because he put the music into the ears of the
people who most wanted to hear it and after he passed away everybody who
was holding on on those tapes and keeping them in their private
collections began to distribute them to other people, so a vast amount
of music from the Grateful Dead vault has just been given away person to
person around the world over the last couple of years.
FP: So I guess David Lemieux (Grateful Dead archivist since 1999)
is doing a little bit different job now?
DG: Well, he is a different person. I canít really speak for him,
but what Dick did was almost criminal on a certain level because the
music was the property of the band and they didnít want to just give it
away, you know? So David I think is more respectful of that. You know,
the responsibility to the people who own the music, itís a complicated
thing. I mean I think David has a very good ear, he knows the music very
very well and he is doing a very good job in his role as the archivist
and as the producer of the Dickís Picks series and stuff but no, he is
not giving away the music to friends the way Dick did but on the other
hand Dick gave away almost all of it so itís already out there or itís
getting out there, you know?
FP: And itís pretty easy to get a hand on a lot of shows. Me
myself I collected about 600, 700 hours of Grateful Dead live music and
Iím not stopping and Iím very proud of this music because some of this
probably came from Dick Latvala, Iím not sure.
DG: Yeah, we love the music and these days the internet and
digital audio have made it really easy. When I started out listening to
this music it would come to you on a cassette which was made from a
cassette which was made from a cassette and by the time you got three or
four generations away you were listening to a lot of noise. Nowadays
duplicating CDs is very easy and inexpensive and itís also with
high-speed internet connections, people can put up a Grateful Dead show
on their server and hundreds of people can download it over the net. So
the really really high quality music is circulating for free in a way.
Thatís a wonderful thing in terms of making the music available for all
of us to hear it. But as somebody who creates music and is trying to
earn a living being a creative person itís also problematic because itís
hard to earn money from your music. Itís a complicated issue.
N: How did the Grateful Dead handle the thing with the bootlegs
because what Iíve heard they have special areas where the bootleggers,
the tapers could go and just do their tape? How was that?
DG: The Grateful Dead in the mid-eighties realized that people
were recording their shows and they decided that rather than fight they
would accept it, encourage it and regulate it. So what they did was they
created a place in the hall where people who wanted to record could go
so that they wouldnít bother the other fans. So they could get good
quality sound and they would be in a place where they could all hang out
together. I remember being at the Berkeley Community Theatre which is a
few miles from where I live, the first time there was an official
taperís section, and this was in 1984 I think, and everybody was
recording on cassettes on these days and it was a really funny thing,
about forty-six, forty-seven minutes into the second set youíd hear all
these people taking their cassettes out and turning them over at the
same time, you know? It was an amusing sight to see, there were maybe a
hundred tapers all sitting together in this one area behind the
soundboard all shushing each other so that they could record the music
through their microphones. It was funny to see them all gathered
together, you know, whereas in the past theyíve been scattered all over
the audience hiding their microphones under jackets and stuff.
FP: So I guess the most money comes from the live actions, from
DG: Yeah, I mean they make money from selling their CDs now and
stuff. They rely on the good faith of the audience and it seems to me as
a matter of morality and honour that those of us who have such access to
free music on the tape-trading world the very least we can do is pay for
the music that they are offering for sale, because we love the musicians
and we love the music that they made so it seems only fair that we
should support them financially.
FP: Yeah, so do you know how many copies of the Dickís Picks
series are sold?
DG: No, I donít know. Can I tell you about a record that I just
DG: You all know who Bob Dylan is, right? And you know how the
Grateful Dead always did songs by Bob Dylan?
FP: Ah, thatís the new one, okay.
DG: Yes, I put together a collection called ďPostcards of the
Hanging Ė The Grateful Dead perform the Songs of Bob DylanĒ and itís
coming out on Grateful Dead Arista Records next week on March 19 (2002)
here in the States. Itís got eleven songs, ten of them are the Grateful
Dead performing Bob Dylan songs, the eleventh track is Bob Dylan and the
Grateful Dead from a 1987 rehearsal performing a song of Bobís called
ďMan of PeaceĒ. And there is a bonus disc with two more Grateful Dead
performances on it in the first press run of 50.000 or so CDís. So it
should be available in Europe almost immediately after itís released
FP: Thatís great!
DG: Yeah, Iím very happy with how it turned out.
AH: If they release it in Europe.
DG: Well, Iím sure they will. You could get it off the internet,
AH: Yes, thatís one way. Sure, but you know, the thing is that
the postage cost so much money to send something over here so that itís
hard for a lot of people.
DG: Arista Records is owned by Bertelsmann, so I would assume
that it being a German company that they release it in Europe as well.
FP: Is it distributed over Arista?
DG: Arista distributes the Grateful Dead and Arista is owned by
Bertelsmann so I would assume that it will be released in Europe.
FP: Definitely, I think.
DG: I hope so, I want you to hear it.
FP: Sure, so we are going to play it then, thatís for sure, on
our radio shows.
DG: Great. So thank you very much for having me on air.
N: Dou you still have some time for questions?
DG: Sure, ask me a question.
N: I would be interested, I suppose you have been to a couple of
shows, the must question: how many shows you have been to?
DG: Oooh, I went toÖ I stopped counting after a few hundred. I
started going to shows 30 years ago in March of 1972. And I did not
tour, Iím not one of those people who gave up their life and drove
around the country going to Dead shows. But I did go to a lot of Dead
shows over the years, ah, several hundred Iíd say.
N: What different types of people actually did go to the shows?
What Iíve heard, because Iíve personally never been to a show, is that
there were like motorcycle gangs and on the other side there is like
tripping hippie, can you characterize sort of some typesÖ
DG: And everything in between. Well, you know, the thing is weíve
started going to Dead shows when we were young going to college and all.
People got on with their lives and went into the rest of the world. I
have friends who are deadheads who are now judges and politicians and
doctors, accountants and salesmen and stuff. So people from all sorts of
life are deadheads. Some of them are hippies and live in Volkswagen vans
and some of them are bikers and some of them are even policemen.
FP: I think thatís one very special point in the following
people, the fans of the Grateful Dead and all the deadheads, itís not
easy to categorize them, itís just everything is there.
DG: Yeah, deadheads are all kinds, you know? I was starting to
say earlier, I was so impressed when I went to Paris and I met these
gentlemen who had seen the Grateful Dead once in ten years basically,
you know? Seven years apart their visits from the Dead, itís like to us
the Grateful Dead is like the moon, it occurred once a month, you know,
it cycled through once a month and to you Europeans it was more like a
karma that came every few years.
AH: Yeah, they were in Germany four times.
AH: Too bad for us.
DG: And they played brilliantly when they were there.
AH: Yes, fifteen shows in Germany. Thatís not much.
N: And did the concerts within the years, I mean you started in
72, I was five then, did the shows change from the whole way they went
from the beginning to the end throughout like the almost 25 years that
youíve seen them?
DG: Oh yeah, the style of the band would change, they evolved
over the years, you know? When I first started to see them they only had
the one drummer and Keith Godcheaux was the piano player and then in
1979 Keith was out of the band and Brent Mydland joined the band, Mickey
Hart was back in the band at that point and then things began to sort of
settle into the form that they had for the rest of the career where the
second set was almost always continuous and there would be a big drum
solo in the middle you know and that sort of ritual began to happen. I
prefer the music of the early seventies much more, frankly.
AH: Like Frank!
FP: Like me, like me!
DG: Ah, well, thatís where the word frankly comes from then.
N: We wanna learn the secret of the Grateful Dead language
tonight and one is ďmagicĒ, so what was your biggest magic if you can
think of one?
DG: Well, Dark Star was the thing. Dark Star to me was where the
Grateful Dead begins and ends, you know? Thatís a place where anything
could happen and magic happened in Dark Star all the time. You know they
played a lot of rockíníroll, the played country, they played folk music,
they played songs with wonderful stories in them and stuff, but when the
singing stopped and the instruments went off into space, thatís where I
really enjoyed it the most.
AH: Yeah, we will have a Dark Star later on.
DG: Good, good.
AH: 72 Spectrum Philadelphia.
DG: Oh, thatís a good one. A great American writer named Will
Rogers said ďI never met a man I didnít likeĒ and I say ďI never met a
Dark Star I didnít likeĒ.
FP: I can understand that!
DG: Hey, can I mention my web page?
FP: Yeah, great!
DG: You can visit my web page and learn more about me. Germans
will think my name is very funny because it means goose.
FP: Yes, you know that.
DG: My webpage is
N: Oh, like David Gans.
N: How do you say your last name?
DG: Gans, yah.
N: Gans, okay.
DG: I know itīs not how the Germans pronounce it and actually my
name doesnít come from Germany, I know a lot of Germans named Gans but
mine actually comes from Bohemia. My roots were in Central Europe.
FP: All right. So the next song we are going to play is not a
Dark Star but a Bird Song and itís from one of those magic moments, itís
from Veneta 72.
DG: Ah, thatís a great Bird Song, you have a very good taste my
AH: We work hard on it.
FP: And I really hope the movie is going to see the day of light
in the next months.
DG: I think itís coming. I spoke to Sam Field, the director of
the movie a couple of weeks ago and they are restoring it now and I
think that some time in next year or so we will see that movie reissued
FP: Yeah, Iím looking forward to it.
DG: Thank you very much for having me.
FP: David, thank you very much, really and have a nice time then
DG: You, too, enjoy the rest of your broadcast.
FP: Yeah, itís going until I donít know, ten in the morning, now
itís two in the morning and a few hours are left.
DG: All right, enjoy!
FP: Okay DavidÖ
DG: Good night.
FP: Thank you.