An Online Interview with Dennis McNally

On Sept. 19, 1995, at 7PM PDT, Dennis McNally sat down with me for a live 'interview' in an online 'auditorium.' As many as 700 people were logged on at a time. The questions were taken from the audience. America Online is touchy about allowing this copyrighted material to be available to the rest of the world, and they asked me to make sure that whenever this file is copied, that the phrase "Copyright 1995 America Online, Inc." is always included.

Geoff Gould (
AOL Grateful Dead Forum sysop

Geoff Gould: Tonight, The Grateful Dead Forum is proud to have Dennis McNally as our guest. Dennis is the official publicist and biographer for the Grateful Dead.

I hope you'll have some thoughtful questions for him tonight.

Let's have a big round of applause for Dennis!

1st question:

Question: So is there any official status of the band at this point in time?

D. McNally: Gee whiz. A question I never thought I'd get... OK. The fact is, even I'm bored with repeating the following answer over and over -- to the point that I'm getting convinced that nobody believes me anymore. But it's the truth. And that is this: the band has (really and truly) made exactly two decisions so far. One is to cut down the size of the GD staff -- more or less putting large parts of the beast into semi-hibernation, so that we can coast for a while. The second decision was to cancel the fall tour --- I gather you've all noticed that decision. That really is all they've decided so far. Believe me, I'm as curious about how this will all turn out as you are -- and don't know a whole lot more about it. Sorry about that. Kreutzmann is up on the Northern California coast dealing with the ocean, which is his favorite thing. Bobby is working on a special project which I've been told to not discuss, even though he blabs about it about once a week to the media. Anyway, he's busy. Phil's having a good time with his family. Mickey, of course, is hitting things with sticks in his studio. Which obviously makes him happy. Vince works out on his Bosendorfer (the high end of all pianos) daily. They haven't met in some days, and I've not the first idea when they will. My theory is that it will take bad weather and boredom to force them to make a decision. The fact is, after 30 years of making only the decisions they absolutely had to, they've gotten used to doing it their way -- and that won't soon change. So we'll all wait together. Meantime, ... naaah, I'll save the sales pitch for later.

Question: Does or did the Dead enjoy playing the southeast in cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte?

D. McNally: There are three places to play a concert: home, where you can sleep in your own bed; New York City, because you can't enter Manhattan without being aware of it; and the road. With very minor differences, there is no distinguishable (spelling?) difference between Milwaukee and Charlotte -- the hotels are equally ordinary, the food the same. The only distinction for band members is the sound of the hall -- and Atlanta and Charlotte fall into the great gray median range of halls.

Geoff Gould: I would like to tell you all that Dennis is an amazing typist!

Question: Will Grateful Dead productions open the archieves, to the public now that Jerry is gone and the group is in flux?

D. McNally: I'm not clear precisely what you mean by open the archives. If you mean literally open to the public then no, of course not. If you mean increase the "vault release" program, then the answer is, like so many you'll hear tonight, I dunno. Probably -- certainly we have the next release coming out September 26 -- "100 Year Hall", which is the show from Frankfurt on April 26, 1972 -- which you probably already knew about. See how fast I slid into the pitch?

Question: Is the Dead ever coming back?????Please say yes!

D. McNally: Well, I've tried out three or four possible answers already to this one, ranging from silly to serious to cynical to I dunno -- but to avoid misunderstanding, let me say again that nobody knows. Let me just say the obvious: Bobby is 47, which is kinda young to retire. Etc. Etc. These are guys who've been on a schedule for 30 years, and I think they're pretty pleased to not have one in their face just at the moment while they're dealing with the catastrophe of their lives. But IN MY OWN PERSONAL OPINION I don't think that that will last all that terribly wrong. As I said, along about the time it gets cold and or boring, they'll deal with things.

Question: If I may begin, please tell us what will happen in the future with the Dead and if the new material will be released on an album?

D. McNally: I'll answer part two, because I can only answer part one twice tonight. Answer to part two: I dunno. There are absolutely no hard plans of any sort in the grateful dead at present except for the release of 100 Year Hall. Really. Everything else is speculation. When the band gets around to deciding, we'll find out. Sorry if this disappoints you; I assume you 'tuned in' here to find out specific stuff -- but unfortunately, when I got hired I promised Garcia I'd tell the truth, which on the whole I've done. It's too late to go back now.

Question: Dennis: big fan!!! Bought Desolate Angel day it hit stores. I worked for a few years up in Lowell, Tewksbury, Andover, Shawsheen Massachusettes. Met cool ol' guys who grew up with Kerouac, and one dude who's bro.-in-law was in your book and remembers you. I was elated when you got the Dead gig!!!! Question: Any more books??? Also thanks!

D. McNally: Yer very welcome. I hope the bro-in-law was Billy Koums, a very great guy. Anyway, I was brought into the GD originally to be the biographer, and in the very near future, as things cool down a little more, that becomes my main job. The only sure thing about it is that it will be called "Waiting To Be Born: The Story of the Grateful Dead". But -- in the Dead tradition -- you'll have to be very, very patient because I'd say it's 2-3 years away from publication. But I do hope you'll stick around for it.

Question: Is Bob currently auditioning new guitarists and if so don't they know any one around the industry that will succeed Jerry?

D. McNally: No, the item in the New York Daily News is -- like most gossip items, I guess -- not true. Bobby was not where they claimed he was, and certainly hasn't gotten around to auditioning guitar players. You're right, we know a few good ones. But -- whatever, too early to even guess which way they'll go. And by the way, please, please, if you happen to look like Jerry, please do not write me and -- oh, never mind.

Question: Dennis, what year did you meet Jerry and how did you get involved with the band?

D. McNally: I met Jerry first in 1973 after an Old and in the Way show in New Jersey, where I interviewed him about Neal Cassady for a book I was editing for a man named Al Aronowitz, once a columnist for the New York Post, an amazing story in his own right who was then -- and always, I guess -- my mentor. Then, to make a very complicated story shorter, I met him again (having published my Kerouac book and having sent it to Jerry and he having read it), I met him again in 1980 during the Warfield run when they were looking for a "Jerry's kid" for a skit with Franken and Davis. He allowed as he liked the book and things proceeded from there.

Question: Dennis, why didn't anyone stop Jerry from doing all the drugs?

D. McNally: Those who knew him know how impossible that question is. People get healthy because they want to. Jerry was many things, but malleable -- about something he cared about -- was never a word that applied. Which is to say, he lived his life the way he chose to. That includes having made a decision to clean up his life -- about 24 hours before he had a heart attack.

Question: What is your happiest memory of Jerry?

D. McNally: Jeez, that's one of those open-ended questions that are impossible to answer on the spot. I will say that in 1993, Jerry only did three interviews -- which of course was when I spent the most time with him -- because he was, frankly, in a really grumpy mood most of the year. The first two interviews were done for their own reasons, in particular because one was the BBC, and every American has some reflex reaction to that... anyway, those two were early in the year, and given his mood, I just packed it in. Until I got a request from the American Movie Channel for him to talk about "the movie that changed me". He really loved movies, and I mentioned it to him and he went into a twenty minute discourse on all that he remembered and had learned from "Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein". Hilarious. The interview was even better, and you should call AMC and make them run it again. Jer at his very best -- and that was about as good as it gets.

Question: Hi Dennis - is a videocassette available of the film made from the october '74 concerts at Winterland?

D. McNally: Yeah, I'm pretty sure that is so -- call 800 CAL DEAD and ask them for it. Dunno the cost.

Question: How did you hear the bad news about jerry??

D. McNally: I got a call from Joel Selvin, the SF Chronicle critic, who'd heard it on the radio. Then my phone line exploded (metaphorically speaking) and by the time I'd finished calling various people inside the organization and then the Marin Coroner's office, I'd been forced to believe it.

Question: who was the last person to speak to Jerry and did he have any words of wisdom or something? stupid question - but i was interested.

D. McNally: Boy, can I hear Garcia giggling over this one. I mean, putting his name and words of wisdom in the same sentence would have made him very, very full of giggles. The straight answer to this question is that I have no idea -- obviously, someone at the center he was at, and I doubt very highly he said anything any wiser than ... never mind.

Question: How much live video does GDP hold? Are you guys thinking of releasing some choice concert footage?

D. McNally: Well, you know that we had a six-camera video shoot at all the summer stadium shows for the past three or four years, so that's a fair amount of footage. How much of it was good enough to release is of course the main question, and you'd have to ask the official in charge of hypercriticality, Dr. Phil Lesh, that. I would say that the answer is -- enough, I hope.

Question: Dennis, Will Jerry's art become as big as some of the greatest artists like Rembrandt?

D. McNally: Not even in the same ballpark.

Question: Dennis, With all of this stagnant energy out there, what has been the most inspirational for you and the members of the band?

D. McNally: I'm really proud of the way that we -- and 'we' is all of us, the band, all Dead Heads, even, God help me, most of the media, -- proud of the way that we've handled this. The Dead stands for something -- it stands for a cosmic sense of humor, for a spirit of adventure, for compassion for our fellow beings, for skepticism, for some honesty, -- for whatever the hell you make of it. We've all got to grieve -- and then we've all got to go out and honor the example that he, we, you have set for the past 30 years. And we shall. To quote Hart, "Failure is not an option."

Thanks for having me in front of you. I'm going to end this with a frank commercial pitch, mostly because David Gans and Henry Kaiser are friends of mine and good guys. In addition to the 100 Year Hall album, they've got a nice tribute to the scene (and let me point out that both these albums were in the works long, long before August 9th) from the most important point of view of all, the musical part of the scene. This tribute is called "The Music Never Stopped," and it's a CD of 17 original versions of Dead cover tunes...and if there's one great use for the Dead (aside from the obvious one of glorious pleasure), it's as a really cool tool to use to study American music... original tunes from Dylan, Rev. Gary Davis, and you-name-it. And, to coin a phrase, that does it for me, and "We Bid You Goodnight." Thanks.

Geoff Gould: I want to thank Dennis for coming tonight, and once again, a big round of applause!

Party in the Rose Garden!


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