On this day in 1987, Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart appeared on the Today Show to promote In The Dark and discuss the Grateful Dead‘s already longevous career. It might sound silly with the Fare Thee Well 50th Anniversary shows quickly fading into memory, but at that point, the Dead’s ability to fill large stadiums 20 years into the band’s career was pretty unheard of. If only they could foresee what was about to happen.
1987 was a pivotal year for the Grateful Dead. With the release of In The Dark—which included many modern-day setlist staples like “Hell in a Bucket”, “West L.A. Fadeaway”, “Throwing Stones”, and “Black Muddy River”—the band experienced a surge in popularity due in part to increased visibility following the release of the band’s first music video, “Touch of Grey”, which received heavy airplay on MTV. The video and song were enormously effective in exposing the band to a mainstream audience, attracting new fans to shows and ultimately spawning the “touch-head” stereotype, defined as someone who only liked the band because of the song that one song.
In the interview, Jerry sheepishly explains that the band had no choice but to make the video, completely unaware of the impact it would soon have on his own fame.
“The video now has gotten to be regular accompaniment to [the music],” he says. “It’s industry stuff. But we’ve been kind of 20 or 30 miles to the left of the industry for the last seven or eight or 20 years.”
After discussing the “Touch of Grey” video, which the interviewer refers to as “shocking” because it is out of character for the band, the conversation turns to the Monterey Pop Festival.
“We played badly there,” Jerry interrupts. “That was one of our classic bad scenes. We came on the stage just after The Who started smashing their equipment for the first time in America … the audience was devastated, you know. The Who were beautifully theatrical. There were clouds of smoke and explosions. So we come out and play our little set—ding, ding, ding—and then Jimi Hendrix comes on after us and … if anyone noticed us that was it. It was erased from existence. … That’s where we were in the show. It didn’t pan out for us.”
The interviewer then asks what’s kept the band fresh for 20 years and Jerry and Mickey joke that they have short term memory loss before going on to explain,”We don’t observe show business formula. … 80% is improvised. We make it up as we go along.”
Mickey elaborates that with the combination of Jerry’s bluegrass and country influences, his space, jazz, and percussion background, and Phil’s orchestration skills, everything just fits together.
“It works because of the difference in everybody’s perspective of what the music is supposed to be like,” Jerry agrees. “We all see it differently but we all know it when it happens.”
“It doesn’t take direction from any one person. It kind of directs itself,” Mickey adds.
Finally, the conversation wraps up with a familiar topic—deadheads. “There really isn’t a good demographic description of what a deadhead is,” Jerry explains. “They come in all shapes and sizes and ages and occupations and endeavors and backgrounds and everything. A deadhead is that person wherever they turn up in society that’s looking for adventure in America, you know, something to do that’s not like what everyone else does, and a chance to get out and scare themselves a little.”
Asked what he thinks about the growing crowds 20 years into the band’s career, Jerry quips, “We were amazed the first time there were more of them than us!”
Watch Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart on the Today Show on this day in 1987 below.
Jerry Garcia And Mickey Hart Interview – Today Show – 8/7/87
Originally published 8/7/22.