Grateful Dead Music Forum

A place to talk about the music of the Grateful Dead 

 #6098  by amyjared
 Wed Jun 07, 2006 2:43 pm
Barlow's two cents...

By John Perry Barlow, June 2006

The Dreadful Great, among our other bad habits, had a reliable propensity for killing off keyboard players. It was a kind of ritual sacrifice, I suppose, but the really terrible aspect of these departures was the bottomless sorrow that drove out of the physical world Ron "Pigpen" Mckernen, Keith Godshaux, Brent Midland, and now, on June 2, Vince Welnick.

Like all of his previously mentioned colleagues, Vince killed himself. But unlike them, he did it very explicitly, using means too appalling for even me to relate.

The Coroner's Reports for his predecessors were somewhat more ambiguous when it came to conscious involvement in their deaths. Pigpen very clearly drank himself to death, though, given the nature of alcoholism, I suspect that even in his last moments, he was surprised to find himself at Death's Driveway. Keith was a passenger in the car wreck that killed him. Brent did his best to tread on the slimy serpent of Thanatos coiled in inside him. And I did my best to argue it back with songs that, as it ironically happened, only amplified the love he could not stand, the approval he was not psychologically equipped to reconcile with his own lousy self-image.

I remember the time when Brent died better than I wish I did. Time magazine, ever the supercilious snot-nose, honored me with the "George Orwell Doublespeak Award," as the result of an interview with me in Rolling Stone, conducted the day after the event, in which I declared that he had "died of rock 'n' roll," when it was plainly obvious that he succumbed to a drug overdose. (Upon winning this dubious distinction, I wrote a letter to the editor of Time in which I said, among other things, that "anybody who can't tell the difference between metaphor and euphemism probably can't tell the difference between poetry and lies." They didn't publish it, of course.

Like the rest of his doomed and gifted predecessors, Vince was a strangely sweet man, apparently too empathetic to endure the cruelties of this world. He had a passion he brought to his music that was electric, a quality that, like his personal shyness, he also shared with them. Writing songs with Vince was - as I've said of the same marvelous process with Brent - the most intimate thing I ever did with a man.

When Jerry Garcia died, Vince was alone among us in his wretched sense of utter loss. He attempted suicide about six months later, thereby 86ing himself from any further creative interaction with what was left of the Grateful Dead.

As a culture, we were never big on emotional vulnerability. Like a caribou herd, we had learned, over a long period of time, to leave our cripples behind on the tundra rather than risk the entire local genome. That's life, Dude. Devil take the hindmost.

At one point, shortly following his suicide attempt and consequent exile, I went up to Forestville, California to encourage him. He was still in a heart-rendingly desolate state. We wrote a song the lyrics of which went like this:


Forestville, California , Thursday, January 11, 1996

What do you want from me?
Whatever it is, I am fresh out of it.
Ain't nothing here to see,
Best move along,
There ain't no doubt of it.
I get up in the morning, I go to bed at night
The hours in between seem to pass without a sight
No sight of mystery, no magic round the bend
No expectations 'cept a few I don't intend at all...

Look out on the sea
Big as it is, that's only the top of it.
Down at the bottom of the sea
You can sink forever
Cause there's no stop to it.
No end of trouble, no end of pain
No end of people to tell you you're to blame
No end to this world
And nowhere to go,
Except the music must have ended a long time ago.

So I am waiting for...
Waiting for...
Waiting for something strong.
Waiting for something to sing about
Waiting for the song to come.

When it does, there will light again
There will be colors in the world and birds across the sun
And everything that's been going down so hard
Will be coming right again...

But I'm still waiting...
I'm still waiting...
I'm still waiting for the song to come.

Meanwhile, I got you,
Your tender words and all the little good they do.
Meanwhile, you got me
Ain't no great prize, but at least it comes for free.
It's an act of conviction, baby, simply holding on
Keeping forward motion, pretending to be strong,
Listening with all my heart for voices in the wind
That will be singing for us, Baby, when the song begins again.

Till then I'm waiting...
I'm still waiting...
Waiting for something strong
Waiting for something to sing about
Waiting for the song to come.

When it does, there will light again
There will be colors in the world and birds across the sun
And everything that's been going down so hard
Will be coming right again...

But I'm still waiting...
I'm still waiting...
I'm still waiting for the song to come.

As I recall it, this song had a stark and yet occasionally soaring melody. Vince orchestrated it on his beautiful Bösendorfer piano as though he were Beethovan writing a requiem. And now I can't remember a single note of it. It was all in his lovely head and has died there.

Several weeks ago, he called me. He sounded upbeat. He was talking about getting together with me and writing some songs. He told me that he was working on reuniting The Tubes, his original - and marvelously peculiar - band. I was into the idea of writing some new stuff with him, just for the fun of it. And it had been fun, even in our darkest moments. (Perhaps it was fun precisely because of the surrounding bleakness.)

I told him I'd make of point of riding my motorcycle up to Forestville the next time I was on the Left Coast.

I wish I'd done that. But then I wish a lot of things.

When my friend Spalding Grey committed suicide, I wrote this about clinical depression, a nightmare I've experienced myself:

Fighting clinical depression is inevitably a lonely struggle. What could be less conducive to compassion than a disease that make you whine? Laymen and loved ones tell you to get a grip. They make you feel ashamed to be sick. Even if they're more enlightened about the disease, they can't help but harbor a secret, naturally human, belief that you are suffering a failure of will rather than biochemistry. Meanwhile, the doctors consider little but the neuro-soup and turn you into a shambling medical experiment, testing pharmaceutical nostrums on you that are as blunt as the mind is subtle, though just as unpredictable. But, for you, life just trudges on. It remains, despite whatever visible signs of well-being - wonderful spouse, great kids, well-located house, etc. - a purgatory of uselessness, barren of joy and meaning. Love, incoming or out-going, becomes something you think, not feel.

How can we ask of anyone that they insist on living in such a world as this? How can we be so arrogant as judge anyone harshly for taking a pass on such demanding material manifestation?

I loved Vince Welnick. I wish, of course, that I'd been able to show him that love in a manner that would sustained him. But, once one has been pitched down that hole, it strikes me that he ought to enter a condition of general amnesty. He took something from me that I cherished, but I certainly won't hold it against him.

 #6099  by strumminsix
 Wed Jun 07, 2006 3:38 pm
wow. heartbreaking. where did you find this?

 #6102  by st stephen
 Wed Jun 07, 2006 4:28 pm


 #6103  by caspersvapors
 Wed Jun 07, 2006 4:46 pm
where did you get this?
 #6107  by waldo041
 Wed Jun 07, 2006 8:29 pm
Last edited by waldo041 on Thu May 14, 2015 2:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
 #6109  by caspersvapors
 Wed Jun 07, 2006 8:40 pm
waldo041 wrote:. how come jerry was never left in the tundra after his crippling diabetic coma?
because everyones career rested on him
 #6115  by strumminsix
 Wed Jun 07, 2006 9:23 pm
waldo041 wrote: i disagree with this animalistic approach to ones brother...

the whole thing is sad, and to make light of what really happened, gives the appearence of a tragedy. it also makes the grateful dead "culture" who were supposed to be about peace and love, look like wild animal's without a care for humanity.

my 2 cents, take it for what it's worth.

Waldo, to me it sounds like he is speaking from what he witnessed. Doesn't sound like he's making light at all.

The reality it the culture of peace and love was in the audience not on the stage. From what I read when they moved on from pot and acid to coke and horse they stopped being the communal family they once were.

In fact, from what I have read and been told by eye witnesses, they were not the lovey dovey hippie types.
 #6129  by ebick
 Thu Jun 08, 2006 8:34 am
strumminsix wrote:The reality it the culture of peace and love was in the audience not on the stage. From what I read when they moved on from pot and acid to coke and horse they stopped being the communal family they once were.

In fact, from what I have read and been told by eye witnesses, they were not the lovey dovey hippie types.
Was it John Lennon who said "Don't ever aspire to meet your idols".

 #6131  by eyeprod
 Thu Jun 08, 2006 9:03 am
to assume they were hippie dippie types is pretty naieve. just because the crowd around them embraced peace and love in such a big way doesn't mean jerry or anyone was setting some grand model for evryone to follow. remember, the 60's was a time when it was hip to be aware and open-minded, so i would venture to guess that alot of the seemingly hippie people were just going with the flow as to fit in or as to not stand out too much. it's often easier to just smile and nod then get into specifics about your beliefs when everyone around you is scrutinizing your every move and probbaly doesn't want to hear what you really think(if it differs from their views) anyway. not many people want war over peace, but there are plenty who just live life and don't make everything about politics etc.

 #6145  by wisedyes
 Thu Jun 08, 2006 11:22 am
Realistically, while I'm sure that away from the world that is the music biz and big time rock 'n' roll, the Dead was a nice bunch of guys, it's a tough business to be in. Especially for 30+ years, like they were. Everything I've ever heard, read, or even in my own very limited way personally experienced leads me to believe that in order to survive it, you probably need to develop a very thick skin, a very healthy sense of cynicism, and a certain callousness towards those that can't "cut it". It's not a place for the meek or the overly emotionally fragile or needy, as Keith, Brent, and now unfortunately, Vince all seemed to be.

What was the old saying Garcia had about the GD road crew? That they would eat you alive and gnaw the flesh right from your bones? It was probably more of a survival mechanism than them being a bunch of heartless dicks. Think about it; once you make it big, everyone wants a piece of it ( and you ). How long can you be giving before you find that there's nothing left, that it's all been given away? So you probably need to have the strength to be , well, for lack of a better term, mean in order to survive it.

Don't get me wrong, this is not meant to let the boys off the hook in my mind. They are already rich men, their careers are assured, they are at a point in their lives where they can now afford to be generous, giving, etc, and they weren't, at least in regards to Vince. But, on the other hand, we really have no true idea of what their reasons and motivations are ( and were ), so it's best not to judge.

 #6148  by caspersvapors
 Thu Jun 08, 2006 12:28 pm
from Robert Hunters Online Journal

dated 6/7/06

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 do 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 bearing 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.