Grateful Dead release 1980 Fox Theatre show and Mickey Hart plays his brain
A new Grateful Dead release and a Mickey Hart Interview
Rhino recently released another in their series of live Grateful Dead performances from the Dead’s 30 years of shows. Dave’s Picks Volume 8, comes from a Grateful Dead performance at Atlanta’s own Fox Theatre on November 30, 1980.
The three-hour, three disk set features a touching version of the Robert Hunter/Jerry Garica song “Bird Song” which was first played in 1971 just four months after Janis Joplin’s death from a drug overdose. The song was written as a tribute to Joplin who performed a few times with the Grateful Dead and was a lover of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who was member of the Grateful Dead until his death in 1973.
In this excellent version of “Bird Song” you can hear the soulful heartbreaking voice of Jerry Garcia singing one of Hunter’s most touching lyrics over some of the Dead’s most melodic playing.
“All I know is something like a bird within her sang. All I know she sang a little while and then flew off.” Garcia sings in the saddest voice he’s ever summoned.
At about three and a half minutes into the song Garcia’s guitar takes off into one of those classic Garcia guitar runs and he is quickly joined by the rest of the band, as they take you to complete abstract chaos and then back in the opposite direction to the beautiful melody at around seven minutes:
“Don’t you cry, don’t you cry, don’t you cry anymore” Garcia sings upon reentry.
And right there exists the essence of the Grateful Dead’s epic musical trip - the group’s ability to rip it apart and bring it back to complete order tied with the emotional force and lyrics which are both universal and ambiguous (add a little LSD) and you will understand the pull of the Grateful Dead experience. As the description on the Dead.Net page says about this show “multiple listens will yield un-ending revelations.”
The release itself is difficult to get a hold of, only 13,000 copies were put out on November 1, and they are sold out, some copies, though are available on Ebay (for double and triple the original asking price of $28.98), you can also, of course, listen to the show for free at Archive.org, although part of the treat of Dave’s Pick’s is the unparalleled sound, which you won’t get at Archive.org.
A few weeks ago Grateful dead drummer Mickey Hart came through Athens to play a show in support of his wicked new album “Superorganism.” On the album, Hart, 70, explores brain wave signals which he “sonifies” using a “cap with electrodes that can read the throbs and signals of the brain.” He combines this with words from Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and funky vocals by Crystal Hall. His live shows from this tour featured Hart performing a piece wearing an EEG cap so the crowd could see his brain activity. His previous album Mysterium Tremendum explored sounds from outer space.
Hart took a few minutes to talk about his recent musical explorations.
How are you doing, Mickey?
I’m doing great.
On your new album and current tour you perform with an EEG cap? What is an EEG cap?
It’s used primarily in laboratories to measure brain wave response. This is all cutting edge, this just happened in the last couple of months. What I’m doing is a little different than what anybody’s doing. I’m doing it live. And what you’re seeing is my brain wave. And what you’re hearing is my brain.
Is the audience literally listening to your brain?
What I do is I take those brain waves, which are electrical signals - the brain is like filled wild rhythm patterns. It’s all rhythm. Rhythm central - and it just looks different and sounds different than anything you’re used to. It’s not like musical, or what you would say recognizable, rhythm. I take electrical stimuli - alpha, beta, gamma, beta - all of these parts of the brain that are putting off these signals, running the body. And I take them into my world, the digital world, and I personify them into sound. Digital impulses, electrical impulses, into sound. And then I take that sound, and I make a musical signal out of it. Something that’s not noise. Something that’s melodic. And then I perform, I play it.
I also interact with the brain as well. So I can do something and see what part of the brain is lighting up with what I’m doing physically. So I’m in training with it, I’m doing a dance with the brain, because I can see it. So when you add light and sound - that’s synesthesia. You’re combining forms, light and sound, that’s synesthetic. That allows me to really focus and train and dance with my brain in real time. And play music and groove and have fun with it!
- Joeff Davis
- Mickey Hart
It is such an insane idea. Do you see your sounds correlate with your emotions at all?
Yes of course. That’s the language that I’m involved now in learning. See, it’s another language. And yes, I’m starting to get that connection. But when you look at it, it’s another rhythm world, and it’s another sound world. So it’s just like any other instrument, if you’re playing with one, you have to learn it. It’s like learning a clarinet. It’s a rhythm instrument. It’s rhythm central.
Think of the city at night. Just buzzing. Electrical city - a grid. Pop! Firing on and off. The whole thing moving. You can see the rhythm. You can’t understand it because it’s moving at such rates and in a way that’s not familiar. So, the last number of months and years, I have been studying it, the motion and the entrainment and now I feel confident enough to take it out on the road to show everybody what the micro looks and sounds like.
The last record was the macro. You know, the things you could see. The universe, the cosmos. The sonic timeline goes from 13.8 billion years ago, the moment of time and space, the moment of creation, the birth of the universe, to the micro - us, you, me! What does our brain look like rhythmically? And how can we use that?
This is leading to medicine. Music is medicine. Rhythm is medicine. That’s where all of this is going. It’s going to the neurology of rhythm. I’ve got to figure out the code here in order to be able to repeat it. We know it works. We know there’s a healing energy in music.
What do you see the ultimate goal as when you talk about music as medicine? What do you see as the potential?
Let’s say for instance we know what rhythms are in an affected Alzheimer’s brain, as opposed to a healthy brain. I mean, sonically, what’s happening is that the vibrations have been cut off. That’s really what dementia is: the vibratory - the neural pathways have been broken, and so it’s not connected completely. When you put vibrations back, sometimes it reconnects. I’ve worked with Oliver Sachs at the Institute of Neurologic Function in New York City, we worked with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients.
So this is starting to happen now. We know it works, we know it reconnects neural pathways, we know that it sends new signals to the synapses, they’re firing. We’re reconnecting the vibratory world to a machine - the brain - an organ. That has been disconnected. We’re made of vibrations. The universe is made of vibrations. In the vibrations, there are healing energies. What they are exactly, we’re just finding out. That’s what this is all about.
This is also about dancing your ass off. Because I love to be in an environment of deep grooves, lots of percussion, you know. People sweating, dancing, having a great time. It’s not a science experiment. I’m playing as deep as I can play. It’s really quite an experience at the end of the night because we’re traversing the whole history of the universe, sonically. Going from the Big Bang right to us, that’s 13.8 billion years of sonic history.
It is an epic idea. What surprises have you learned when you’re looking into the sounds of the brain and the sounds of the universe?
It’s all in rhythm. It all works in rhythm. There’s vibration to it all, and if it’s all vibrating in rhythm and training in sync, it’s healthy. A happy brain’s a good brain. (Sings:) A happy brain’s a good brain. Same thing. The idea of being in time with life, the rhythm of life. That’s the key to being happy and healthy and living a good life.
On my wall here, I’m looking at designs from bacteria, what they really look like on a microscopic level. It’s unbelievable! I mean, it’s so well-developed, it’s so well-formed. And the images, we can understand, It looks like a Grateful Dead album cover (laughs). I’m telling you, man. It’s a different rhythm world. It’s a different visual world. (Whispers:) It’s all in rhythm. It’s perfect. It’s the master clock. It’s unbelievable! That’s where I’m at right now, making music with that, trying to understand it, trying to find a way for this to turn into legitimate science, medicine. Therapy.
Are there sounds that you’d like to hear? Now you’ve done the universe sounds, now you’ve done the brain sound ... What other frontiers would you like to explore, if you had a 100 more years on this Earth?
The brain is really at my attention now because all roads have led here, and there’s a lot to learn here. I think I have to stay here for a while and really investigate this because it’s of great importance to not only me and you, but to everybody. To understand that you’re made of ... like, Carl Sagan said, the carbon in your cheesecake, the carbon in you, the matter that makes you, that you’re made of, who knows, came from perhaps a star that was born 2 billion years ago that perhaps doesn’t even exist anymore. That’s where you came from. You came from the vibrations that made you. You’re part of the universe.
There were vibrations made that created the universe 13.8 billion years ago - you are a chain in that. It’s kind of like the Gaia of the universe. Now science can prove it. Before, when I was writing about it in 1991, and other people saw that scientific secret that the universe had an arrhythmic event, 13.8 billion years ago, and space and time were born. Everything came into being. The universe was formed. We know that now. But when I wrote my book At the Edge and Planet Drum, we thought it was between 10 and 20 billions years ago. That’s a lot of billion! And then, when George Smoot won the Nobel for it in 2006 for recording the Big Bang - he discovered it, he took the readings at the end of the ’90s and they gave him the Nobel - then I was able to actually hear it. Not until recently were we able to actually collect these deep space signals, which are radiation. I get them as radiation in the radio telescopes and turn them into sound, make music with them.
That turning it into sound - I’m a little confused by that.
It’s called sonification. I’ll explain it to you.
You can sonify anything. Anything that moves that’s not an inanimate object. Anything that has a vibration has a sound and a color, there’s two components. What you do is you take whatever component it is - I always take radiation, light - and putting it in a very powerful algorithm, and turning that form of light and changing it into sound waves. And then taking those sound waves, the sound that’s in the domain that we can hear, between 20 seconds and let’s say 18,000, taking that, and then making music of that. Making songs of that, writing lyrics to it.
And (Grateful Dead Lyricist) Robert Hunter is a big important part of all of this. He’s the poet laureate here. A lot of credit goes to his amazing imagination.
And what about the vocals?
Oh, Crystal is perfect for this. She’s interpreting Hunter’s words so beautifully. She’s so into it. She’s a singularity now, because nothing sounds like her. She crossed the line - she left her style behind and morphed into this original creation. So, with those ingredients, I thought she could talk to the gods (laughs). I was looking for something other than just a great voice. She allows her voice to be processed, and she travels - you know, she’s up for change, and she’s looking for the sound that wraps herself around you.
What is it about the drum that makes it the instrument that you communicate with? What do you see in the drum? What is it about the drum?
Well, the drum was created to make rhythmic impulse, to recreate what was happening in the heavens, that allowed music to ride on. Without rhythm, you really can’t have a groove. This is the greatest tool for making a groove. You also have a love affair with them. When they’re with you for a long period of time, they become like part of the family. When I see my drums, they’re my friends, you know. But I won’t go any further than that. I can’t reveal what else I think of my drums and what I do with them. I might get a little bit, you know, out of line. I don’t know ... Is it against the law to have sex with drums?
I know in Georgia it is, but in California, probably not.
Thank God. Thank God for that. My goodness. Just in case I was having a love affair with my drum, that’s off the record, you understand (giggling)? So anyway, the drum is everything. The drum makes me whole, and it does a great service to humanity, and for me and for you and for everybody that wants to hear it. I have many feelings for each drum. Each drum has a name. I have a relationship, a very intimate relationship with my instruments. Rhythm is the basis of all life. Because you’ve got to remember - vibration is really the basis of all life. Without vibration, it doesn’t live. It has to have a vibratory impulse. And then, you can change it into any form. And then you can make music with it.
I’ve always been keen on noise. You know, I see myself as a “noise-ician,” as well as a musician. And these things that I’m just gonna bring in - the cosmos, the micro, the noise - and turn them into music, sound, that you can listen to. You wouldn’t want to listen to your DNA for long, because it would have very little meaning. But once I can take it apart and work with it, it’s something you’ll listen to for a long time, hopefully. I’m having the time of my life.
What do you think it was about Jerry Garcia that attracted people?
He had a great sensibility. He was a very heroic guitar player, very adventurous. He was a great person. Funny. He was really funny. He had a kind of wacky wisdom. I loved him. We were just really good friends. Besides playing together, we loved to be together. We laughed, we cried, and we played - a lot.