Robert Hunter On Writing With Jerry Garcia, Junk, & Much More

This week Rolling Stone ran a fascinating interview in two parts with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Huntrr, who also collaborated on songs with Bob Dylan.

Here’s writer David Browne talking to Hunter about the drugs.

When Jerry was busted in 1985, was it all catching up with him?
We all went over once to his house and confronted him, and he opened the door and saw what was going on and said, “Get out of here!” He was trying to shut the door and we all filed in and did the confrontation you could do. And he said he’d do something about it. That’s about all you can do, isn’t it? All I can say is that it more or less ruined everything, having Jerry be a junkie. I remember a time when “junkie” was the nastiest thing Garcia could call anybody. You had such contempt for anybody that would get involved in that.

But what are you going to do when you’re elevated the way he was? He once said, “They’re trying to crucify me, man.” And I said, “Jerry, never mistake yourself for Jesus Christ.” And he really took that advice. He took it hard and well. You’ve got to understand the whole weight of the Grateful Dead scene was on Jerry’s shoulders, to support all the families and everything as well as the audience’s expectations. There were times when I just drove him through the wall.

Then Jerry had his coma in 1986.
Jerry was diabetic, and before he had a coma, he was guzzling down fruit juice. It would’ve been better if he was guzzling down brandy. I believe that sugar put Jerry where he was. He was in terrible health — diabetic and taking immense amounts of sugar, and it did what sugar will do to a diabetic and overloaded him into a coma. I remember going in to see him when he was coming out of it, and he was saying, “Am I insane?” And I said, “No, man, you’ve been very, very ill, but you’re fine, you know, you’re coming out of it.” And he said, “I’ve seen the most amazing thing.” He’d been somewhere.

Read all of part two of the interview here.

There is great stuff in part one as well.

Let’s talk about how you became the Dead’s primary lyricist in 1967.
I got pretty deeply into speed and meth and came close to messin’ myself up. The scene I was in, I had to get out of that scene entirely, because as long as it was around I would be tempted, so I went off to New Mexico. And while I was there I had been writing some songs, mostly before I left Palo Alto. I had written “St. Stephen” and “China Cat Sunflower,” and I sent those — and “Alligator” — off to Jerry, and he uncharacteristically wrote back [laughs]. He said they were going to use the songs and why didn’t I come out and be their lyricist? Which I did.

How would you write songs with Garcia?

Jerry didn’t like sitting down by himself and writing songs. He said, “I would rather toss cards in a hat than write songs,” and this was very true. There were situations where he would come over and have melodies and we’d see what we could get out of that. More often I would give him a stack of songs and he’d say, “Oh, God, Hunter! Not again!” He’d throw away what he didn’t like. I’d like to have some of the stuff he tossed out! I don’t know where it went. I wrote once about “cue balls made of Styrofoam” — that line from “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” Jerry took objection to the word Styrofoam. He said, “This is so uncharacteristic of your work, to put something as time dated” — or whatever that word would be — “as Styrofoam into it.” I’ve never sung that song without regretting I put that line in. Jerry also didn’t like songs that had political themes to them, and in retrospect I think this was wise, because a lot of the stuff with political themes from those days sounds pretty callow these days.

Read the entire part one here.

– A Days Of The Crazy-Wild blog post –

About Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg is a distinguished pioneer in the online music space; Newsweek magazine called him an ‘Internet visionary.’ In 1994 he founded Addicted To Noise (ATN), the highly influential music web site. He was a senior vice-president and editor in chief at SonicNet from March 1997 through May 2000. In 1997, Addicted To Noise won Webby awards for best music site in 1998 and 1999, and also won Yahoo Internet Life! awards for three years running as best music site in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Prior to starting Addicted To Noise, Goldberg was an editor and senior writer at Rolling Stone magazine for 10 years. His writing has also appeared in Wired, Esquire, Vibe, Details, Downbeat, NME and numerous other publications. Michael has had three novels published that comprise the "Freak Scene Dream trilogy": "True Love Scars," "The Flowers Lied" and "Untitled" which can be ordered here. His new book, "Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey," can be pre-ordered from HoZac Books. In November Backbeat Books will publish "Addicted To Noise: The Music Writings of Michael Goldberg," which can be be pre-ordered here.

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