In his new memoir, Deal, drummer Bill Kreutzmann tells a story about the Grateful Dead's tour of Egypt. Instead of filling hookahs with "black, gooey tobacco," the band "filled the entire hookah with hash. No tobacco!" In the midst of Middle East trouble, the Grateful Dead's members were unwitting ambassadors of American culture.
"Everybody had fun," Kreutzmann tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Yes, indeed."
Deal emerges just as the Grateful Dead is getting back together, with surviving members planning a concert in July. Of course they'll be missing lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995. Kreutzmann writes that he met Garcia when they were kids in California.
"My dad was going to play banjo and he never got into it, so he advertised in the Palo Alto newspaper: 'Banjo for sale,' " Kreutzmann says. "One night there's a knock on the door. I open the door and Jerry Garcia was standing there."
A number of years later, Kreutzmann saw Garcia again, playing with Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, and was "completely taken away." That night, he swore to follow Garcia everywhere. Two weeks later, Kreutzmann got a phone call from Garcia asking if he'd like to be in a band.
"I thought that was a very good idea," Kreutzmann says. "Turned out to be a pretty great idea, don't you think?"
'It Can Be Like Fractals'
In the band's beginnings, altered states of consciousness fueled the Grateful Dead's creativity.
"Well, acid was the most beneficial drug," Kreutzmann says. "I jokingly refer to it as my college education, my graduate school, whatever. If I hadn't taken acid, I just would not be here talking to you today. It opens you up; it lets you see that what you're taught in school or what your parents have taught you, or society lays on you, isn't necessarily all there is to see. Your art can flourish and flourish and flourish. It can be like fractals, your art; it can just keep growing. That's what LSD did for me."
But drugs ate away at the band, even as the Grateful Dead grew into the biggest touring attraction in America.
"When cocaine came into the Grateful Dead, it really hurt us," Kreutzmann says.
Kreutzmann says that 1995, when Jerry Garcia died, "was a terrible year for me. I moved to Hawaii to get healing. I was in a really bad way —"
After a moment, Kreutzmann composed himself.
'He Was My Best Music Teacher'
The drummer and the bandleader had once made a pact: If the Grateful Dead ever came to an end, Bill Kreutzmann and Jerry Garcia would move to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, clean up and go diving. In the end, Kreutzmann moved there alone.
"I thank him. He was my best music teacher," Kreutzmann says of Garcia. "He taught me more about music than anybody else. And not necessarily just in words, but how he played. The way he played, you can learn so much from it. Doesn't matter what instrument you play.
"I [was] a senior in high school when he asked me to join the band, when that phone call came in. I knew how to play the drums just a little bit. I had the desire. The thing he said was, 'Bill, play full value. Make four beats be a really full four beats. Don't rush to the end of the bar.' "
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We have a story now about ambassadors of American culture - the Grateful Dead. That's how they come across in a new memoir by Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, who recalled the group's concerts in Egypt.
BILL KREUTZMANN: (Reading) The local custom for smoking hash was a bit different than ours. They'd fill their hookahs with black, gooey tobacco, then they'd clean it out a little, and then they'd put a finger-size bowl in the very middle of it - a finger-sized piece of hash, a round ball of hash. They showed us their way, and then we showed them ours. We filled the entire hookah with hash, no tobacco. We put some coals in the middle so the hash would burn and puffed and puffed and passed.
INSKEEP: Never mind the troubles of the Middle East.
KREUTZMANN: Everybody had fun. Yes, indeed.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRATEFUL DEAD SONG, "DEAL")
INSKEEP: Kreutzmann's memoir is called "Deal." It emerges just as the Grateful Dead are getting back together.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAL")
GRATEFUL DEAD: (Singing) Goes to show, you don't ever know. Watch each card you play and we'll play it slow. Wait until that deal come round.
INSKEEP: Surviving members plan a concert in July. Of course, they'll be missing Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995. Kreutzmann writes that he met Garcia when they were kids in California.
KREUTZMANN: My dad was going to play banjo, and he never got into it. So he advertised in the Palo Alto newspaper, banjo for sale. And one night, there's a knock on the door, and I opened the door. Jerry Garcia, he's standing there.
INSKEEP: Kreutzmann was not yet a teenager. Garcia was four years older, and the younger boy grew attached to the older.
KREUTZMANN: Later on, a number of years later, I go to a place called the Tangent in Palo Alto, and he's playing there with Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions - quite a name. And I'm sitting right in front of him. I have the best seat in the house, and he completely just takes me away.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COCAINE HABIT BLUES")
JERRY GARCIA: (Singing) Oh, cocaine habit mighty bad. It's the worst old habit I ever had. Hey, hey, honey...
KREUTZMANN: He's got the whole house in his hands, and everybody's just listening and watching everything he does. He's totally infectious. That night, I just said to myself, I'm going to follow this guy everywhere. And wherever he's playing, I'm going to go watch him play, you know. And probably within two weeks, I got a phone call and it's Jerry and he said, you want to be in a band? And I thought that was a very good idea. Turned out to be a pretty good idea, don't you think?
INSKEEP: Well, now, you describe someone who is infectious, who had some kind of charisma. I'm sure part of that was his musical skill, but are you able to put into words what else it was that drew the crowd to him and particularly what drew you to him?
KREUTZMANN: I think his sense of joy, sense of happiness deep inside, you know, not just as an entertainer putting on a face, but true believer in music and sharing something that makes people so happy. His whole being, his whole body, it just put this positive energy out, you know? You just felt really comfortable there with him.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE'S GONE")
GRATEFUL DEAD: (Singing) Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a pile. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.
INSKEEP: Did you guys play high a lot?
KREUTZMANN: (Laughter) Yes (laughter) great question - of course.
INSKEEP: How did that affect you over the years?
KREUTZMANN: Well, acid was the most beneficial drug. I jokingly refer to it as my college education or graduate school or whatever. If I hadn't taken acid - I don't know, I just would not be here talking to you today - is the truth of that. It opens you up. It lets you see that what you're taught in school or what your parents have taught you, what society lays on you isn't necessarily all there is to see. Your art can flourish and flourish and flourish. It can be like fractals - your art. They just keep growing, you know. That's what LSD did for me.
(SOUNDBITE OF GRATEFUL DEAD SONG, "THAT'S IT FOR THE OTHER ONE")
KREUTZMANN: But when cocaine came into the Grateful Dead - it's really hard to say this, but it really - it really hurt us.
INSKEEP: What happened?
KREUTZMANN: Well, just you'd get into doing too much. You get addicted to it. And in the '80s, it was like baking flour everywhere (laughter). Man, there was just so much of the crap around. We just fell for it. A lot of the guys in the band fell for it. It made it really hard to play.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S IT FOR THE OTHER ONE")
GRATEFUL DEAD: (Singing) There was cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to never ever land. Coming, coming, coming around. Coming around.
INSKEEP: Drugs ate away at the band even as they grew into the biggest touring attraction in America. Bill Kreutzmann says both the drugs and the touring were hard to quit.
KREUTZMANN: If we had stopped, maybe what had happened might not have happened, but that's all behind us unfortunately.
INSKEEP: Jerry Garcia died in the mid-'90s.
KREUTZMANN: Yeah, he died in August 9, '95. That was a terrible year for me, you guys. This is - I want to tell you this. I want to really make it clear. I moved to Hawaii to get healing. I was in a really bad way and - take a break there.
INSKEEP: Take a minute if you need it.
After a moment, he went on. The drummer had made a pact with his band leader. They'd made it before Garcia's death from a heart attack at a rehab facility. If the Grateful Dead ever broke up, they said they'd moved to the Hawaiian island of Kauai and clean up and go diving. In the end, Kreutzmann moved there alone.
Did you do anything in particular to memorialize Jerry Garcia when you got there, as he had not?
KREUTZMANN: I did that in my heart. You know, I just do it all the time, just quietly to myself. I thank him. He was my best music teacher, and he taught me more about music than anybody else. Not in necessarily words but just how he played and the way he played. You can learn so much from that. It doesn't matter what instrument you play.
INSKEEP: It's hard to put music technique or music philosophy into words, but I wonder if I can get you to try. What is the essence of something that he taught you over the years about how to play?
KREUTZMANN: One of the first things I remember him teaching me - this is like when we - man, I'm a senior in high school when he asked me to join the band, when that phone call came in. And I knew how to play the drums just a very little bit. I just had the desire. And the thing is he said, Bill, remember, play full value. Make four beats really be a full four beats. Don't rush to the end of the bar.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO LAY ME DOWN")
GRATEFUL DEAD: (Singing) To lay me down one last time.
INSKEEP: Play full value, don't rush - Jerry Garcia's advice for music and maybe also for life, as recalled by longtime Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. His new memoir is called "Deal: My Three Decades Of Drumming, Dreams, And Drugs With The Grateful Dead." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.