Thursday, June 08, 2006

Vince is Missed

David Gans will have a tribute to Vince Welnick on Wednesday June 14th at 8-10 p.m. California time on This will stream live so you can listen in.That is 11 p.m.-1 a.m. for Eastcoast Deadheads....

Robert Hunter speaks:


Dear Sean,

I'll try to answer your concerns as best I can. Your moving letter is representative of what I fear a lot of people are thinking: what's with the breakdown of basic human decency in the Grateful Dead? Probably have to take that point by point. The fiasco, in my opinion, has to be laid at the feet of lawyers who went over the band's head and made a right mess of things; as they did with the Tiger guitar business, doing news interviews on their own and leaving the band members to clean up the sewage spill with their reputations. It's quite a delicate beast, this fan/band symbiosis characterizing the Grateful Dead's famous contract with its public. The media loves to get its teeth in our presumptuous jugular. Compensatory spin, also known as self defense, is generally ineffective due to hedged language. You can just tell a lawyer looked it over first. Probably doing a bit of that here myself -- I do feel protective of the family concern, but there you go.

By the way, when I say Grateful Dead I'm not referring to the surviving members of that generational phenomenon expressed as music, but to the Mythos generated around it in which all who believe are able to partake according to their belief. I hate seeing the endemic cynicism of the times hamstring that lofty giant which everyone admits was bigger than any of us.

In the aftershock of the tragic death of Vince, an amiable man and a fine musician, the Grateful Dead is once more a target of public disdain, fueled by passion and indignation. Its ethics and humanity are being publicly questioned on a deeply troubling level. Sic transit gloria mundi. Do I know the score? To a degree. But I'm not concerned here with either justifying or condemning the attitudes which make a group of musicians, who must seal themselves together in that intimate time capsule called a tour, make the decisions they do concerning who they want to travel with and why. It's not necessarily democratic and it's not always pretty. They choose what they choose for reasons as much personal as professional.

Some people are angry at what they perceive as the band's throwing over of Jerry's chosen keyboard player. That's off base. We all chose him. I listened to the auditions and said "He's the one." Everybody was in agreement. As for saying anything further, stick your arm in the sink of gossip and it rises to suck you in. The attacks on the band members are heartfelt and, were they based on accurate assessment, could be accounted righteous. One must not entirely discount a touch of 'rising to the occasion' in the bias of the information shaping perceptions of purported evil doing in the wake of this sad event. But grief is like that, it brings out extremes. Who is entirely guiltless? Not me.

In your letter you say " I don't know how much of my resources I'm prepared to plow into this if half of what I read is true." Hey, me too. But what if what you read is only half true? What if events tally but the interpretation placed on them is wrong? What if events have justifying precedents and antecedents of which you are entirely unaware? Or, if aware, interpret by a code of valuation foreign to the situation of participants? Are you willing to throw over something you truly prize on the basis of hearsay? Listen - I know these people. They're bastards. Yet I find myself here trying to interject a little perspective into their public scorching because they're my bastards. They played the songs I helped write with love, taste and sublime dignity. You know what I'm saying because you heard it too. Otherwise you'd have no problem switching to brand X. You wouldn't ask me to give you a sign so you could continue to believe. I hope this scattershot letter will do, I thank you for your note because it touched me to write this, which I think should be written - if you'll excuse the public reply.

A shelf of books could be written and still only lightly perturb the surface of who the Grateful Dead were, are, and why. A book must have a point of view and I submit there is none extant sufficiently wide and informed to no more than tease curiosity. That possibility probably passed with Ramrod. Think of something approaching your own life's complexity of nuance and multiply it by the number of characters in our scene, past and present, and put the spotlight of the world on it - see what I mean? There is an official Grateful Dead story, chronological highlights which are largely, and rightly, Garcia oriented, but no possibility of a comprehensive estimation. It wasn't a story, it was life. There's a difference.

Judgments for and, more recently, against the Grateful Dead are made relative to a rarefied catalogue of sixties stereotypes. But there are names involved and when those names are sullied, the people beating them feel distress. Those so offended can even be prodded to say stupid stuff in self justification. In a lose/lose situation wisdom dictates keeping one's own council. Hence the relative silence regarding most internal matters.

But people demand answers. Failing answers they go away. Please don't do that. Just don't expect golf balls from a walnut tree. All I can offer is perspective; a limited one at that. Answers are a different matter.

I may personally believe the only answer is to continue creating one's art while being careful not to live beyond one's means, physically or psychically. Sure. But that's not what people twant o know. What they want to know is: who's to blame? Not the music. If the music were to blame they wouldn't be asking the question in the first place. Play the recordings. I put as many clues there as I could. In a way, they are one long letter to the Grateful Dead. The tensions involved created art. I think that art lives. Go there for answers.

Best to you and thanks again for voicing your concerns.


David Gans and Big Island Shindig play Franklins Tower at the Music That Matters Festival on 6/3/06 in Marysville CA.


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