|Ned Lagin at his synthesizer board|
before the Grateful Dead Concert at Dillon Stadium on 31 July 1974
(photo by James R. Anderson)
Ned Lagin - acoustic and electric piano
Jerry Garcia - electric guitar
David Crosby - electric 12-string guitar
Phil Lesh - bass
Billy Kreutzmann - drums
John Cipollina - electric guitar
NED LAGIN - interview with David Gans on KPFA 2/3/2001
NL: Hi, David.
DG: It’s so nice to have you here!
NL: Thank you very much for having me here.
DG: I remember once seeing you with the Grateful Dead; it was the Hollywood Bowl in 1974, a very intense… I mean, I saw you with the Dead a bunch of times, and that particular show was really, really interesting and intense, and you guys, you and Phil Lesh got up there between sets and made the strangest and most intriguing noises together.
NL: Thank you very much.
DG: It was really fun
NL: That show, was… every show was intense in some way or other. That show was particularly intense because I had my Fender 88; it was delivered to the stage early that afternoon; Bill Graham was there supervising, and the forklift dropped the Fender 88 onto the Hollywood Bowl stage, and it was a mess, and Bill Graham’s promise to me was that by the time we performed that night he would have another Fender 88, which was a rare instrument at that point in time, on stage for me, and Bill came through, and it was there.
DG: Bill Graham. What a guy!
DG: A Fender 88 is an electric piano, obviously?
DG: Wow. So, you hooked up with the Grateful Dead at MIT in the late '60s, is it?
NL: Yeah, and...
DG: Tell us a bit about yourself.
NL: In the 60s I was… as a kid I had been playing and listening to jazz. I grew up in New York and so I hung out in the jazz clubs. And when I went to MIT it was to be a biologist, but it was also to study music there, and cross-register at Harvard, but also to go to the Berklee School of Music, where I studied for awhile. And in 1969, while I was there, a friend of mine, in fact, a guy who lived next door to me in the dorm, said “the kinds of things that you’re doing, you oughta listen to the Grateful Dead,” and I was really not a rock and roll listener at that time, I was a jazz, uh, person, and I was a jazz musician. And so he forced me to go to a Grateful Dead gig, and they were gigs, then, not concerts; they were playing in small clubs that held 2 or 300 people at most, and the club was about half full, and there I was in my jazz outfit, which was at that point a turtleneck sweater and a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the sleeves. Very beatnik and bohemian. And the Grateful Dead came out an hour late and played and in a way blew my mind for what they were doing.
And that was that; until my friend then pushed me a few weeks later to write Jerry Garcia a letter. And if you’ve ever thought, as a musician or as a fan, writing a letter would have no effect, well I’m here as a witness to tell you just the opposite. I wrote a letter, and I heard nothing back for a couple of months, but my friends and I also decided that we’d get the Grateful Dead to come and give a concert at MIT. (And that’s a story unto itself.)
But then Kent State happened, we had organized the concert… Kent State, May 1970 happened, and the Grateful Dead arrived that week. I remember Jerry pulling up to the motel and driving a station wagon. He jumped out and introduced himself and I introduced myself, and the first thing that Jerry did was run away. He ran down the parking lot yelling, “Phil! Phil! I found the guy! I found the guy!”
NL: Evidently he had been impressed with the letter that I had written and what I was doing musically, which maybe we’ll talk about a little later, ‘cause we wanna play some music for the folks out there who are listening… But they spent the week at MIT hanging out in my dorm, and if you could imagine the looks that I got with the Grateful Dead walking down the hall into my dorm room and closing the door and us hanging out for a few hours…
I had a piano in my room. Pigpen and I sat at the piano, first him on the left and me on the right, me playing the right hand of blues and jazzy kinds of things, and him playing the left hand. Then we’d switch around. While Phil and Mickey and Jerry were just sittin’ on my bed in the dorm room, listening and hangin’ out.
Phil I took down into the basements of some of the electronics labs there; we played SpaceWars, and I gave a concert of my electronic music; an 8-track concert of my electronic music there, and they invited me to California. That’s how I ended up out here.
Maybe we should get on to some music and explain what we’re gonna listen to tonight, and we’ll get back to some history later.
DG: Great! What is this first piece we have – see, I just have them by number, this is “Ned’s #1.”
DG: What do you want to say about this session?
NL: OK, this session is from March 17, 1975, and on my tapes – and these are from cassettes, three cassettes – they’re known as “Ned’s Birthday,” because it was a jam that occurred on my birthday. It appears in the compendium, I believe, of reviews of Grateful Dead tapes. It did take place in Weir’s studio in Mill Valley. The session was originally potentially a Grateful Dead rehearsal session which got cancelled. When those got cancelled, Phil and I were set up in the studio to do Seastones work for up-and-coming gigs that we had at Dominican College and Palace of Fine Arts.
And so this turned into “a Seastones” session, but since it was my birthday I got to call the shots, as it were, and I wanted to jam on a bunch of tunes. David Crosby I called that morning; he had a habit of showing up for some of these jams and rehearsals. And this was not a S.N.A.C.K. rehearsal, as it’s possibly listed in the book, but David showed up because we were gonna do some Seastones work, which we did do later, and John Cippolina was invited also, and he did show up later, and a little bit of that you’ll hear tonight.
The first track on here is playing on the changes of “Low Down Payment,” a David Crosby song. We did play around with the song and we were learning the song; Jerry and Phil and I… and Billy. But then we played on the changes. One of the things that I was doing was collecting material for what I was considering then a suite. In the jazz world, vamps and chords were borrowed from popular tunes – in this case, David’s tunes – and used to play on and put together in a sequence to form a suite of tunes. This was everything from Count Basie and Duke Ellington to my hero, John Coltrane, did that. And so I was assembling some of that music at this point in time.
So the first piece you’re gonna hear is about 5 or 6 minutes of us playing on just the out-changes, not the song itself, but the out-changes, to “Low Down Payment.” David and I had a very close relationship; he was sitting almost… he was standing almost next to me over the piano, and we were piling up chords one on another. Jerry sounds remarkably like Wes Montgomery, for you Jerry or guitar fans, and so listening to him play octaves is remarkable here.
I advise you who are listening out in the real world there to turn up your stereos to listen to this.
DG: He wants you to play it LOUD, folks.
DG: This gentleman is Ned Lagin, we’re gonna listen to him playing with Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann. Ned is the guy playing the piano. Dig.
[ Ned’s #1 follows]
DG: Gee what a fun way to spend a birthday, huh, Ned?
NL: Yeah (chuckles)! You know, we should tell people that this tape had been sitting – the cassettes we’re listening to, digitally reproduced cassettes that sat in my closet for 26, I guess, years –
DG: They played like buttah!
NL: Yeah (laughs). I had the Barbra Streisand concert where someone yells from the audience, “You sound like butter!”
DG: That’s where that whole thing came from? The big television Saturday Night Live riff and everything?
NL: Yes. Yes.
DG: Wow. I had no idea. You collect Barbra Streisand concerts and bootleg tapes?
DG: Just checkin’.
NL: But having grown up in New York, and my parents raising me to be a scientist and a scholar, but also an entertainer – in the sense that they thought I’d be the life of the party or something – I got to see all the Broadway shows, I learned tap dancing and ballroom dancing, and my first role model and hero was – dare I say it on KPFA? Frank Sinatra.
In any case, Barbra Streisand was someone I got to hear at her first concert in Central Park, and her marvelous adaption of jazz techniques to popular music was something that influenced me.
In that regard, I’d like to say that I was very lucky on my birthday, but for the five years preceding this, to get to play with musical heroes of mine. And by musical heroes I don’t mean people just that I enjoy playing, and had moved me emotionally and spiritually, but people who had actually shaped my melodic style; and I’m referring particularly to Jerry and to David Crosby. And so, to interact with them and to collectively improvise with them, which is what you’re gonna hear in a moment, was not only a great way to spend my birthday, but it was a great way to spend those five years.
I told everybody that I had written Garcia a letter and that’s how I ended out here in 1970. Well, that letter did not surface again for five years, and it surfaced on 3/17/75, the date of this tape. It was in Jerry Garcia’s guitar case, and Jerry pulled it out and showed it to me on my birthday…
NL: … as a déja vu. Gotcha!
DG: (Laughs) That’s neat. Well, one other thing that’s really striking about this is what a solid and interesting rhythm guitar player David Crosby is.
DG: He isn’t really known for his guitar playing. I mean, I remember being blown away as a young guitar player just by his rhythm guitar playing on the song “Woodstock” and stuff.
DG: But you know, he’s known for his singing voice, and you hear this guy really knows what he’s doing in this jam.
NL: Well, David, I’m sure, listened to all the great jazz singers, and all the great horn players. And one of the things that anecdotally is pretty funny is when I came out here in ’75 – in ’70, I’m sorry – I flew out here and had no idea where I was going, and so Phil told me to fly out here, get on a bus, take it to San Francisco and then go to the corner of Hyde and Turk Street, and right there you’ll find Wally Heider’s studio.
So there I was; I got off the plane, I got on the bus, I went to Wally Heider’s studio at Hyde and Turk there. I walked into the studio and there was Jerry sitting at the board. And there’s three studios: A, B, and C, and Jerry said to me, “Oh, you can play on our album,” which was American Beauty. Which just shocked me.
But what was going on there was what I had heard about from the East Coast, which was this great interplay between all the different musicians. Because in the other studio was the Jefferson Airplane, and in the third studio was David Crosby working on his first solo album.
And I bring that up because we’re talking about the jazziness and the jazzy feel of what we’re playing tonight. Well, in 1970, when I sat in on David’s record, you know, on those takes which were never used on his album, he walked over to me while he was playing and said “Could you sound a little less jazzy?” And at that point my hero had been Bill Evans, and I had grown up playing very lyrical, but with lots of sevenths and ninths… I’m sure some of you know what that means.
But by the time we got to 1975, David was stacking chords as I described – and you’re gonna hear more of that in a moment – and because of his ability to sing a capella and hear all the harmonics – as Jerry was able to do as well – jazz harmonies came naturally to them, and passing chords and harmonizations and transitions came very naturally to them. Fitting those into the rhythms of jazz also came very naturally to them. And I want to add that Bill Kreutzmann, who’s known as a rock and roll drummer – and I don’t know if he ever played any jazz – in my mind, would have been a GREAT jazz drummer. A great jazz drummer. And on here you can hear how solid he is, but how tasteful he is, and how appropriate he makes the drums sound to what we’re doing.
Anyway, going on to what we’re gonna play next… We’re gonna play #2 and #3 in this collection. #2 is only 41 seconds, and it is a little piece of mine – you like to call it a “Souza” piece – to me is reminiscent of Charles Ives and Erik Satie. And it’s a very short little humoresque piece. And this is one of the little pieces that’s out of order with what actually occurred that day, but it’s one of the pieces that has John Cipollina, as well, on it.
And if it’s possible, David, after it ends you’ll hear all five of us sequentially laugh, and if you can turn up the volume a little bit so you can hear…
DG: I did when I mastered this; I cranked it up a little bit
NL: Because one of the interesting things that I’m proud of in this birthday tape is that everybody was laughing and having a really good time. I won’t tell you all the reasons on the air why that’s true…
NL: … but I’d like to believe that some of them just have to do with the music.
Before you start playing, a little bit more musicology: #3 is a collection of themes and rhythms that I had been working on. In the Compendium, they’re sort of labelled “Grateful Dead Things,” but they’re really not, even though Grateful Dead licks, particularly from Jerry, are played on top of them.
And some of the things to listen for are… some of the things that again come from the jazz world. One of my piano teachers played with Charlie Parker, and one of my heroes – and who I got to listen to extensively when I was growing up in New York – was John Coltrane. And one of the things they played in their different styles was what was called in the jazz world, “Sheets of Sound.” Huge numbers of notes and large, almost, topographies of sound. And so you’re gonna hear some of that in the piano, but also in the guitar.
David is playing – and maybe we should have noted this before – David is playing an electric 12-string, so you’re gonna be able to hear all these strings and his tuning, and you’re gonna be able to hear his strumming in the matrix of the sound.
What goes on here is collective improvisation, and so to call this a jam is very appropriate. This is not… and it’s sort of tune development; it’s in the tune laboratory. This is not meant to be heard by an audience. It’s not a performance. It’s us getting together for the sheer joy of making music together, and for hearing syncopations and rhythms and trading them back and forth.
What ends up happening, though, is something very surprising. We get to a point where David is listening very carefully over my shoulder and watching my hands, as is Phil in front of me. We start playing into a set of changes that, towards the end of this 18 or 19 minutes, becomes almost a tune unto itself, with a structure.
One final musicological note is, having grown up listening to a lot of different kinds of music, some of this is not in typical 4/4 or 3/4 time. In one hand I’m playing in one meter, and in another hand I’m playing in another meter, and the phrasing is not always in groups of fours or twos, as is normal Western popular music. That was by intent, and it leads to a little bit of a disjointed feel to it. But again, it flows and it works. We all knew what we were doing and we liked doing what we were doing.
You just… play it.
DG: My guest here is Ned Lagin, a keyboardist who did some amazing work, which we’re about to hear, from his birthday, March 17, 1975, recorded in Bob Weir’s studio. Ned Lagin on piano, David Crosby on electric 12-string, Jerry Garcia on electric 6-string, Phil Lesh on bass, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and John Cipollina on this little short bit here, on guitar.
DG: We have just a bit of all-American goofiness, and then this other nice jam. So, dig all this, folks! Thanks for listening. And thanks for being here, Ned.
NL: Thank you. And everybody listen to the first piece, closely, ‘cause it goes by faster than you’ll believe.
DG: Oh, boy! That’s some stunning stuff you got there, Ned!
NL: (Laughs) Thank you.
DG: Do you remember what guitar Jerry was playing on that session, Ned?
NL: Sorry, I don’t.
DG: Yeah, several people in the Chat Room are asking questions and some comments I’d like to ask you about…
NL: I may be able to recall that later on, as I work through the cobwebs. Remember, I was only 8 years old when I was playing.
DG: (Laughs) That’s right, he hadn’t even had his bar mitzvah, yet.
DG: And there he was, at aces with all those musical heroes. Karen Hicks says her 10-year old son loves the “Seastones” tapes they have from the live shows you guys did in Marin County in ’75, and her 10-year old son calls them “whale music,” and thinks it’s “good music to think to.”
DG: I happen to agree with him, by the way.
NL: Well, I’m very gratified. First of all, there IS a relationship to whale music there. And that is, “Seastones” was a piece that started out compositionally with me in 1970, and it had a lot to do with a number of issues. It’s a process piece, and by that I mean there’s more than one version of it, and, in fact, in 1972 there was an acoustic version with all the same players on it.
It reflects a lot of feelings, some of them frightening, from Vietnam, and from what was going on, as I said, when I met the Grateful Dead the same week that the Kent State killings occurred. But it also has a lot of transcendentalism in it, particularly the last section. And a lot of inter-species communication thoughts and feelings, particularly whale music. And the little story that goes with that is that David Crosby, once again – after he had heard the initial work that I had done on “Seastones” in the early 70s, and had already done some of his work – he brought to me a record that had come out, Song of the Humpbacks, by Roger Payne, who was a biologist who was recording the humpbacks. And we sat at David’s house and listened to that often, and thought about it.
So I’m very gratified to hear that people still remember that and that kids are thinking about it. Of course, I went to MIT and so music to me is everything from dance and sex and music and fun, but it’s also something to think about. There’s all different kinds of music and it should stimulate all different parts of your body and your brain.
DG: I’ve often characterized Grateful Dead jams, to people who are wondering what it’s all about, as “really good music to think along with.” And one of the things I sort of came up with earlier this year in a conversation with somebody was that the songs themselves were provocative enough. A lot of Hunter’s lyrics were vague and sketchy and suggestive, rather than assertive, and it would give you something to ruminate about when they went off into these jams, you know.
NL: Oh, absolutely.
DG: Very good music to philosophize with.
NL: As I was telling the story of how I met the Grateful Dead… one of the reasons that my friend pushed me towards the Grateful Dead was that there were not only things that we were doing that musically, stylistically, rhythmically were happening, but there was a process that we were going through that allowed that openness of interpretation.
Much of the personality of the audience at any given performance could be included, in some sense, subliminally or overtly in what was going on in the music. And that was one of the beauties of the Grateful Dead. It was also one of the things that they had to, occasionally, suffer through, in fact, being as sensitive to the context, the environment within which they were playing, and who they were playing to, and what they were playing about.
DG: I remember Phil or Jerry, I forget which, talking about when you guys were in Europe doing this stuff, that one of the audiences – maybe in Germany – was whistling, which was a sign of disapproval where they came from, but that you and Phil sort of played along with the whistling, and played it right back to them. Do you remember that?
NL: Well, again, I need to say two things about that. One – just backing up to the whale music and the recordings of “Seastones” – one of the unfortunate things about “Seastones” was that it was recorded at a time when the technology – particularly the magnetic tape, but even the amplifiers – could not handle the sound. And so, for example, when I played on stage, I had the ability to play a chord on stage and lift the entire P.A. as if it were a seismic event. Phil and I were able to play subsonics, as was Jerry, and those could be felt… you know, the tactile part of music. But those could not be heard, and those could not be recorded. It’ll be interesting to remix some of “Seastones” in Surroundsound with today’s technology, because the original record that was released was actually released in quad, and when it’s flattened into two-dimensional stereo, you miss the three-dimensionality of the sound taking place.
The concert in Munich was very interesting because once again, like Vietnam influencing “Seastones,” there we were in Munich just a few months after the Olympics, and a few months after – or maybe it was closer to a year – but within a short period of time of when the athletes had been killed by terrorists. I’d never been to Germany before; I’d been to Europe, but Germany was for me an interesting place to go and see what was going on.
And it’s true, what you’ve heard – that German audiences, at least back then, showed their disapproval by whistling. And what occurred was that we were playing to a hall of about 6 or 8,000 people, and, particularly in the front, there was a group of people who were very into the music. But in the back of the hall there was a group of people who were very much not into the music, and they started whistling. And they all tried to get together in the back, whistling – and this is thousands of people, now, potentially trying to whistle in tune, in harmony, together. And so with my synthesizer I tuned into the same frequency that they were whistling at, and then modulated it both up and down, which basically took what I considered at that point the regimentation of the population – there was some resonance with German history – and fragmented it, and lo and behold, to my surprise, at that point the entire audience was basically won over, and enjoyed the rest of the performance.
NL: But as I said a moment ago, particularly with the Grateful Dead, that interaction and understanding with the audience, and feedback with the audience, was critical to me, it was critical to Phil, it was critical to Jerry, and it was critical to the entire family.
DG: Now, a fellow on Dead.net who’s posting here in the Chat Room, or maybe it’s in the Conference, said that he was at the show at Roosevelt Stadium in August of ’74, which I played on this program a few months ago, and said that you and Phil scared the bejeezus out of him.
NL: (Laughs) Well, I’m laughing… I’m not surprised. As I said, some of this music comes from the Vietnam War; and it comes from other deep, psychological and psychic sources. And it’s meant to do that. There is music – you know, if you go back to things as classically cliched, in a sense, today, as Wagner, there are things that were frightening to audiences when originally played. Some of Stravinsky’s music caused people to riot and throw chairs at the stage, as did, hard to believe, Debussy.
Music – I can’t do the quote exactly, but – calms the savage breast. Well it also can inflame the savage breast. It can also bring back memories, collective unconscious memories that may evoke fear.
Mountain Girl used to tell me… every time she saw me she’d bring up the same thing. She’d say, “You know, when I play ‘Seastones’ there’s a point when I think that people are breaking into the house! Or driving up the road. And it frightens me.” And then something else translates that into a different space. But she remembers the effect that it had on her, and it has nothing to do overtly with the sounds that she’s hearing, it has to do with the emotions that are at play in her heart and mind. And she hears that.
DG: That’s interesting. On a similar note, my wife and I were out record shopping a couple of weeks ago and she picked up one of the Coltrane at the Village Vanguard CDs, and we listened to it when we went to bed. And I was almost… you know, I was in that place were I was just asleep, it was almost a lucid dream place, and something about the saxophone solo just jolted me right back into wakefulness. And it was this cry, this incredibly intense emotion, sort of suffering, coming out of this. I think it might have been the “My Favorite Things” jam.
NL: Uh-huh. Again, I was very lucky to have grown up in New York, and from the early 60s on, before I was able to drink or drive or anything, to go to New York and hear a lot of this music. I spent half my time during the days at the Museum of Natural History or the Museum of Modern Art, and half my time in the jazz clubs, listening and meeting all these players. And Coltrane, even when he was playing things that were still relatively melodic, tonal and rhythmic – “My Favorite Things,” for example – had the cry of the slave, and the cry of the beast, and the cry of pain.
The whole black avant-garde jazz movement affected me greatly. That’s Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor and, again, Coltrane and, of course, Ornette Coleman, and many others. And when I had my jazz program on WTBS in Cambridge when I was going to college, before I started broadcasting “Live from the Jazz Workshop,” a lot of the music that I played was from the black avant-garde. And people need to understand, again, from the “Seastones” perspective, that that’s a lot of what was going on in the 60s that went into a lot of people’s music. That they felt that they needed to respond to their environment, whether it was the burning of the cities or the war that was going on, or the civil rights struggles that were going on. And it set music free.
That, to my knowledge, really hasn’t occurred again since that period of time. But it set the stage for a lot of the people and a lot of the things that we hear today.
A lot of that music is still around, notwithstanding Ken Burns and the show on TV. That music has been assimilated in some way, and those feelings are still there, and, as I said before, it’s gratifying to hear that people still remember “Seastones,” ‘cause “Seastones” in my mind was, and continues to be, a part of that period, and to express those emotions.
DG: Now, the “Seastones” album that came out on Round Records in ’74 was reissued on Rykodisk in ’91, with some additional music. One of the other comments that came in over the net was, “he should put out some CDs.”
NL: OK. First of all, the Round Records release in 1975 came out at a time when the Grateful Dead were moving from Warner Brothers, and then through Round Records and Grateful Dead Records to, eventually, United Artists. And just a few weeks after that record came out, we were transferred to United Artists, who really didn’t have an understanding of “Seastones.” So the first pressing was somewhere between 14 and 20,000 LPs, and that was sold out, and then it was never really replaced in the stores.
Ryko approached me, I guess around 1990, and with a very limited budget they wanted to re-release the album. So the album was not remixed. A second version of “Seastones” was added. But a lot – maybe five or six times the length of that CD of material, much of it more minimal and more tonal – has never been released.
In addition, there was one fatal flaw in the Ryko release, which was the seven sections that were clearly delineated on the LP were mastered down in L.A., but never appeared on the CD. So the CD appears as just two tracks: one very long “Seastones” and one shorter “Seastones.” Which is unfortunate, because there are several sections and, as I said, it’s a process piece, so the order as it was in performance was meant to move around as a Calder mobile.
And so now you have the technology and the CD players to play, at random or by choice, these modules in different order. Unfortunately, the CD is not mastered that way. So it’s my hope that at some point in time that we release that music and release other “Seastones” music, some of which is more tonal, some of which is more minimal, and some of which is more accessible, and some of which is less frightening. But to release a lot of the music. And to remember the music that we’re listening to tonight is a result of musicians, including John Cipollina and David Crosby and others coming into the studio to do more work on “Seastones”-type material that was never released. Some of it was used as performance tapes at the Palace of Fine Arts and at Dominican College, but much of it has never been used.
Finally, I think the person in the chat room was also interested in whether this music would be released. And I have thought about that, and we’re gonna think about how to do that. I would like to release it with the profits going to, believe it or not, a cat charity… a feral cat charity. I lost – he passed away a few months ago – a cat of only eight years of age, who taught me a whole bunch about grace and gentleness and dignity and courage. I adopted him as a feral cat. He was a totally wild animal. I kept a cage in the living room as a jail when he misbehaved. He was raised by squirrels, believe it or not, he would climb trees up and down like a squirrel, not like a cat. He loved acorns. But by the time of his passing, and actually long before then, he had taken on a character that was far different from a feral creature. He had, as I said a moment ago, the grace and dignity and courage and gentleness that makes him one of my heroes. And, well, I don’t want to talk too much about cats (laughs). I’ve been thinking recently about releasing this birthday music of mine in his honor, and having the profits go to a feral cat charity.
DG: I’m guessing there are a lot of people that would happily support that effort.
NL: I’d like to mention one more thing. I have been a recluse for many, many years. In fact, this music hasn’t been played for 26 years, and maybe David and I’ll talk a little bit more about that later. But the way that David and I bonded was when I was telling him one of my other cat stories, which had to do with me buying a house so my other cat would have a home and a house, rather than an apartment, David said to me one of the reasons he got his house was that his aging cat would have a backyard to play in, and that instantly bonded me with him.
NL: The cat is the surface issue… David’s heart is the greater issue. And I think, for you who are dedicated listeners to his show, and if you’ve heard him perform, I hope that you understand by now who he is and what he’s all about.
I only learned that recently, ‘cause I only started interacting with you recently.
DG: I’m dumbfounded, Ned. I think we need to move on…
NL: OK! (Laughs)
DG: There’s another piece of music here from the same birthday tape… ?
DG: This is on my list as “Ned’s #4.” What would you like to say about this one?
NL: Very quickly, this is more of the jam/music laboratory/us playing for the sake of… sort of playing licks and rhythms off of each other and phasing… again, based on the out-changes to “Homeward through the Haze,” a David Crosby tune, again, and as I said, will be part, as I envisioned back then, of a jazz/”Seastones” melodic suite. A George Gershwin-esque (chuckles) “Seastones” suite. So this would be the basic material. If you heard this in what I had imagined the final form to be it would be rather different. There would be reasons to release both kinds of material, but, as I said, today you’re hearing just the raw material, and it’s “Homeward Through the Haze,” the out-changes; same cast, and us just playing.
And I’m reminded of one of the things that you like to talk about, David, and that is collective improvisation. Here, the background and foreground, the lead and the backup, are blurred a little bit more. The levels are a little bit more equal, because we’re actually all intertwining. This is an example of taking certain rhythms and just weaving them together into a cloth. Again, into a surface; into a topography, or a topology, rather than playing a tune or playing backup to a lead line or a song line.
DG: You’re listening to Ned Lagin and he’s playing some music from his personal collection that has not been heard by anybody since it was made on March 17, 1975 – his birthday – at Bob Weir’s recording studio with David Crosby, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann, along with Ned, who’s playing the piano. Let’s listen to this – another 8 1/2 minutes of very interesting music. Thanks for bringing it in, and thanks for being here.
[ Ned’s #4]
DG: Well, everybody seemed to be having a really good time with you on your birthday, Ned!
NL: It was one of the better birthdays of my short existence!
NL: As you heard, there was a lot of laughter; Jerry took the attitude at that point that it was like we were doing jazz club tunes, as it were. Just lay ‘em down.
I’m very fortunate that these cassettes actually survived in my closet for 26 years; that not only that I had the opportunity to live the music then, but to relive it again, now. And it’s just one of those arguments, again, in favor of knowing to count your blessings.
DG: I am just delighted that you are here with this stuff for us. A lot of people that are following along in the chat room at Sonic Focus, and in the topic at Dead.net Central are following along this conversation and making some very interesting comments and asking some interesting questions.
One of the questions that has been asked a couple of times out there in chat-land is, “Ned, what have you been doing for the last 25 years?”
NL: (Chuckles) That’s not an easy question to answer. I did a bunch of science. Most recently I have worked in bio-technology and computers. When I stopped doing “Seastones,” one of the things that I carried away from that experience as an artist was that I wanted to spend more time doing art, as opposed to performance. And I wanted to – as many hundreds, if not thousands of other artists, authors, musicians – I needed to find a way to basically support myself and do that. So I did that.
For the last 20 years of that time – and for those of you who want to believe that they’re a late bloomer, I’m in that category – I’ve been working on two books. One is a picture book, and the other is a novel, somewhat autobiographical, but fiction. I have been doing a lot of environmental work and, in fact, 10 years ago I started my own company that does ecological design and environmental planning and restoration work. I’m involved in preserving oak habitat and oak trees in California, and I want to urge the people who are listening in California that we now have sudden oak death disease that’s taking our oak forests. So it’s time to re-think our development policies once again, and think about preserving more. The possibilities of losing most of the oak woodlands and… the habitat that supports wide varieties of species, some endangered, is greatly threatened now. There is thought that there would be some state money and there still may be to help in this crisis, but it’s very serious. And, at the same time that it’s becoming more serious, the energy crisis that’s now afflicting California is going to take a lot more money than people ever expected to fix that.
So I’ve been working on a lot of what I would call heartfelt issues, and I’ve been very fortunate – again, counting my blessings – to find a career that pays some of the bills and allows me a lot of time to spend with my cats, and my “Seastones,” and work on my pictures, and work on my book.
DG: I want you to tell everybody what you did at Hamilton Field.
DG: I think that is just one of the coolest things.
NL: You’ll have to…
DG: The shelter question.
NL: Oh! Oh… Some of you, if you’re local… I guess there’s a couple of quick stories inter-related here. I was going to work one morning 10 or 12 years ago, and somebody handed me a leaflet about Warner Creek in Novato. And I thought they were environmental groups. I was just on my way commuting somewhere and so I got waylaid, and eventually formed this committee to save freaks, and from that ended up in politics – county politics and city politics – and served as a city official. Chair of the Planning Commission, Chair of Economic Development and Chair of Downtown, and some other committees, for almost 10 years in Novato.
I’ve stopped doing that now except for my environmental work, but people ask me, “what is the best or the greatest thing that you feel you’ve accomplished?” And I worked on very large projects – new hospitals, new roads, large developments, small developments… and stopping things that I thought were an abuse to the public or to the landscape or to wildlife.
But the thing that I am most proud of is that the county homeless shelter was slated to be developed at Hamilton. And when it came before us at the Planning Commission, I created a requirement that the developer and the people who were putting the homeless shelter together found actually very intriguing. And that was that I thought that there should be an animal shelter as part of the homeless shelter. Because often the homeless… their last friend in the world may be a dog or a cat or, believe it or not, a lizard or a bird. And to face either living on the streets or in the woods with your animal, or going into a shelter and having that animal put in an animal shelter where it has a 3-day limit before it goes to heaven…
So Novato has built a homeless shelter, or is in the process of building a homeless shelter, where the homeless cats and dogs of the homeless people have a place to stay, as well. And so that bond of friendship, companionship, love – the spiritual bond – for people who are down on their luck will be preserved.
I was told by the homeless service providers that this is the first place in the United States that it occurred, and now it’s going to be used as a model elsewhere for that. And so, of all my political or environmental accomplishments, that’s the one I’m most proud of.
DG: I just think it’s a great thing, you know?
NL: On TV, when I said it I tried to be as diplomatic and, in a sense, if you know politics, as cryptic as I could be, ‘cause I wasn’t sure of the response. So I said “…and a place for domestic companions,” and – dare I say it on here? – but someone thought I was talking about hookers.
DG: You’re kidding!
NL: No (laughs). There’s no end of how people can be interpreted or misinterpreted, whether we’re talking about music, or politics or life in general.
DG: Amazing. So, your current occupation, then, is environmental consulting?
NL: Yes. Well, my current occupation that makes me a living. My real occupation has been all of my life as an artist and a composer and a musician. Secondarily, as an artist now, in a sense that I’m really writing a book and I’m working on pictures, and I haven’t worked on music in a long time. But it’s there.
DG: Well, that was the next question – are you playing any music at all?
NL: Not really. And what’s very funny and ironic about this is that Jerry, if you know his history – Jerry went from being a picture person, and he went from being an artist, musician as a second, into becoming an important global musician. And in a certain way I can’t say that I have any importance, but I have gone, in some ways, in the reverse. While I was always an artist, I spent the last 20 years making a lot of pictures, a lot of photographs and a lot of paintings, and get a great deal of satisfaction out of that. And one of my books is a composition in pictures that is as detailed and complex, in some ways, as “Seastones” is a musical and literary and poetic work.
DG: Is this something the public is likely to see any time soon?
NL: Not really. The written book I hope to finish and publish. The artist book – the picture book – is something that may get published, but I actually have been doing it for myself. The people who do my photographic printing have been arguing with me for years over whether they think it should be shown. But more importantly, there’s the old argument about whether you do art for yourself and the cosmos, or whether you do it for other people. And I’m one of the people who believe that you do it for both, and different art is aimed at different places.
Having come from MIT, again, and having grown up in MIT, in the quantum mechanical universe or world, and particularly in the “many worlds” viewpoint of quantum mechanics, the fact that I’m doing it is sort of the butterfly effect. In other words, me doing it has an effect on what’s going on in the world, whether it’s published or not. And again, for the listening public, whatever anybody’s doing with their heart, it’s not necessary that other people know about it, or you make money at it, or people see it. It may give you personal satisfaction, and if it does, go for it. But lack of access or venue or public acceptance or access should not keep you from interacting with the universe as deeply as you can. And happily as you can.
DG: Very inspiring words, thank you. So let’s talk about some of the other times you played with the Grateful Dead, ‘cause there were times that you were there but we don’t necessarily know it’s you, or didn’t necessarily get to hear you.
NL: Well, recently, because of a couple of friends coming up to me and asking about that very question, I got this Compendium of tapes; the two volumes of the three-volume set. And I find a lot of it excellent reading, as far as I’ve gone. And, of course, you know, in my own self-centered way (laughs), I had to look at all the places that I knew I had played and see what was said. And the book guesses that I did start playing with the Grateful Dead, or the first time I performed with the Grateful Dead, was at Boston University in 1970. That is true, I can’t be heard and that is because while I was heard onstage and in the immediate present, I was not plugged into the P.A.
That was a concert that was in a gymnasium at Boston University, and there had been counterfeit tickets sold. So before the concert started, as they just started letting people in, it was realized that there were more people than there was room in the hall, and a short riot ensued, where the band was trapped onstage and people were basically running amok. And, in fact, the Boston Tactical Squad – the riot squad – was called out to straighten things out.
That was the only time that I had a musical encounter with those officers. I had many other encounters as a protestor and strike leader and civil rights and Vietnam activist.
In any case, that was the first time. There were several other times where the same thing is true – that I can be minimally heard or not heard ‘cause I wasn’t plugged into the P.A. The times that the band returned to Boston in ’71, I played or sat in at the Music Hall. When I came out in ’70, ’71, and ’72 – ’71 in particular at the Berkeley Community Theater – I’m also playing.
I had an interesting and close relationship with Pigpen, which has never really much been talked about. Pigpen has this aura of the blues musician and the Hell’s Angel relationships. But he was a very, very interesting and interested person. And as I said, when we were hanging out at MIT Pigpen was there hanging out. He thought I was like the Mr. Wizard science kid. But he read a lot and knew a lot, and we hung out together. And he – like at Berkeley Community Theater and at Portchester and other places – if I was standing next to him on the organ and they were gonna go into “The Other One,” or “The Eleven,” or some of the other larger, longer jams, he would have me sit down at the organ or he’d push me into the organ. A lot of times I was in the shadows.
But it was just a great deal of fun, and at that point in time it was very open. This was in the period of time when T.C. had left the band and it was before Keith had joined the band. And there has never been a lot of discussion about that. But “Seastones” came along while it was being worked on as a composition, and David and Phil and Jerry had helped me – and Grace, as well, Grace Slick – had helped me move it along to performance and recording.
My interests were also working and playing other kinds of music and sitting in and guesting with the Grateful Dead. And make a contribution musically and stylistically. And sometimes it shows or comes through in spirit.
DG: Shall we go to Alexandra Palace?
NL: Would you like me to tell you a little bit about it?
DG: I would indeed, because you have described this to me as a peak experience, in many ways.
NL: Yes. We went to Europe – the Grateful Dead family and the band – went to Europe. And this was just after the tour that we had done – that I had done with Phil and the Grateful Dead – where there were a number of marvelous sets. Some of them just Phil and Ned sets between Grateful Dead sets, and some of them blending Grateful Dead and Phil and Ned sets. And so we got to London, and there were three nights scheduled at Alexandra Palace. And Phil and I were supposed to do our sets in the middle of the Grateful Dead sets, or coterminous with the Grateful Dead sets.
And the first night the Grateful Dead played for a very short period of time, starting late and ending early, because there wasn’t the right power equipment. And it was really a very frustrating experience for the band and the family and the promoter and the audience. And I’m not sure, again, having looked at the Compendium, the length that’s there appears to be longer than I remember. Because I remember only 45 or 50 minutes, or maybe an hour and 10 minutes at most. And my memory is usually very bad on some things, but very good on others. This is one of the things it’s a little better on.
And the second night was the same way – a little longer but, again, the frustration of poor equipment and poor coordination. And on the third day, there was a band meeting that afternoon where we promised each other a whole bunch of things. And moved our spirits, I’d like to say back in time to a little bit earlier in the 70s than where we were chronologically.
And that night turned out to be an exceedingly high night. Some of the people from Pink Floyd were there to hear what we were doing with computers and electronics, and to hear the Grateful Dead. Some people from Apple Records – the Beatle record label… and we came out and all of us just, I think, just played phenomenally.
Phil and I did an interesting “Seastones” set (which you’re not gonna hear tonight). And Phil and Bobby and eventually Billy joined us. And you’re gonna hear now when we pick up, when we go into “Eyes of the World.”
I want to add a little bit more about jazz playing and horn lines and lead lines, because Jerry, I think, was influenced by a lot of jazz and horn players. And horn players were influenced, in turn, by a lot of vocalists. So you hear a lot of declamatory lyricism in Jerry’s lines. And, as I said, I was very lucky and fortunate to have met and/or played with a lot of people who influenced me. And Jerry was one of them. And this night I was given the opportunity to actually play lead several times, including in the beginning of “Eyes of the World” on electric piano. Which was just astounding, and I’ll never forget the wide-eyed wonder of the people in the front rows as they were hearing this.
As you’ll hear, again we talked about laughter in the birthday tape; well, at the end of this long sequence which is “Eyes of the World” into electronic jam playing, and out into “Wharf Rat,” I’m left at the end – I was set up right behind Jerry and we played very closely that evening – I’m left again with the great gift of hearing Jerry – and I hope it’s audible on the tape that you’re gonna play tonight – of Jerry just laughing, not a laugh but a prolonged loud belly laugh of how happy that evening and that moment was.
I’m also left with… he handed me the guitar pick – he set it down on my electric piano – that he played that night. It’s one of the few things that I kept from that experience.
I should talk a little bit more about sequences. There were sequences that everybody felt comfortable, one tune going into another, and if you follow the Grateful Dead or the tapes of the Grateful Dead you’ve seen that. Well, very often you’ll hear, in the Winterland concerts that I played on, or Berkeley Community Theater, where we go from “Dark Star”… one of the tunes that I feel very emotionally strong about, and it comes back in a sense in that homeless shelter, a story I told you about a few minutes ago, is “Wharf Rat.” “Wharf Rat” is a very, very powerful tune to me. And so, like my birthday tape that we just played, I felt very fortunate to once again contribute to playing a beautiful “Wharf Rat.”
Also, “Eyes of the World” is another one of those tunes that I really love to play. It reminded me of my days in Greenwich Village again, listening to the first Bossa Nova Stan Getz gigs that he played with Astrid Gilberto. To somebody that may be a reach, but there was always that Bossa Nova light, rhythmic feel to “Eyes of the World,” which I really love.
So here, again, I was very fortunate to get an opportunity to play and, in some sense, lead, in “Eyes of the World,” and lead into “Wharf Rat,” and play all the way through. And I hope everybody enjoys this; I’m not sure that this has been played very widely.
DG: I played it actually on this radio show sometime in the last couple of years.
DG: I know – it was right after the time some other parts of this concert were released in a Dick’s Picks record in the last couple of years, and I played a bunch of the rest of it… sort of the outtakes.
DG: So, it’s nice to be able to play it again, and to have some of the background on the story. Fasten your seatbelts, kids, you’re in for a treat.
NL: Play this one loud, too, if you’re at home and listening. Play it loud.
[Eyes of the World-> jam-> Wharf Rat 9/11/74 Alexandra Palace, London]
DG: Well that’s quite a maniacal giggle you got outta Jerry at the end of that jam, Ned!
NL: There was sort of a belly laugh, I remember it pretty clearly.
DG: You all sound pretty peaked right there! (laughs) September 11, 1974 is the date; Alexandra Palace in London is the venue; third of three shows. A lot of stuff went on in that three-day run, and it all ended that night with a pretty high performance. And what you just heard was sort of the middle, the Phil and Ned thing, that sort of became an entire Grateful Dead thing with Ned. I love the way you push Jerry in the beginning of that “Eyes” jam, too, man.
NL: Thank you.
DG: Nice of him to let you start by playing lead, there.
NL: Yes. When I first came to California Jerry was very nice to me. He invited me over to his house and he taught me all the tunes. I remember he was living in a tract home in Novato where I live now, in just a really straight tract-home neighborhood, and he had a piano in his garage. And he was very nice to me through the years. But right from the beginning he just taught me the tunes and we played together and we shared – you know, I had all these transcribed solos from jazz musicians, piano players and horn players – and I showed it to him and we played through them. Phil was the same way, so was David. As I said before, you gotta count your blessings, and amongst them are the people that you play music with, and your friends and, dare I say it? your cats and your other loved ones. (laughs).
DG: A volunteer wanted to find out if you ever got your sheet music back. What the hell is that about?
NL: I think he’s referring to… this plea went out on the radio in Marin County. I had a Haliburton camera case that was filled with sheet music; a symphony that I had written, and string quartets and big band jazz music – I played in a big band jazz group, and a quintet-sized group. But a lot of music. And it was stolen out of my car. I think somebody thought it was a camera. And so my friends put it out over the radio for people to look around for it in garbage cans, ‘cause once they realized it wasn’t a camera, whoever stole it would probably just throw it away. But that stuff was never recovered.
But that went out over KTIM, and there is one other really beautiful little story that goes with that, and that is that I was invited to play on KTIM, which was a Marin County radio station back then, with David T., late at night; I think twice. But one time that I remember clearly he allowed me to plug my Arp synthesizer into his board and play directly live, out to people, with the warning that they shouldn’t drive off the roads or become crazy in some way or other because of what they were hearing. And one of the most profound responses I ever got for my music and for “Seastones” came that night with a lady who called in, who was blind, and who had heard the “Seastones” record and wanted to impress upon me how touched she was by the music. As I had said, the music was very tactile; it was composed for a very tactile, three-dimensional space. And it was very gratifying. And if she’s still listening I want to thank her again; it was very gratifying to know that I had touched someone that deeply with my music.
And so the net result of having my music stolen was actually to find out how deeply I had touched someone, and so in some ways I lost something, and in other ways I actually gained something that I still carry with me.
DG: The universe sure works in some interesting ways, doesn’t it?
DG: We’ve also gotten a lot of messages on-line and on the phone from various people who were at MIT. There seems to be a correlation between MIT attendance and love of the Grateful Dead.
DG: So now Allen Baum was asking what dorm – I think we got that answer already.
NL: I’ll answer that again for those people who are listening…
DG: Oh that’s right, it wasn’t on the air.
NL: East Campus (laughs).
DG: That’s where you brought the Dead back to your dorm room?
NL: Yes, and we hung out for a couple of hours.
DG: And Dave Spitzer, who’s a frequent contributor to this marathon – who also sent me some photos for my book, “Conversations with the Dead,” – Dave gave me some shots of the quad, the Kresge Plaza concert.
NL: Yes, and he’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who was at my MIT Chapel 8-track concert, that Mickey and Jerry and Phil came to, and that’s where they invited me to California. And he actually, I believe, photographed the Grateful Dead concert out at Kresge Plaza that Kent State weekend…
NL: Also wrote about it in the newspaper, the MIT newspaper. And, again, those were very, very amazing times. David, of course, wrote songs about Kent State. To spend time with those people, and have them hear my music, and hear their music, and come together over that sad, tragic, unfortunate circumstance is something that we all carry today.
DG: Ned, I’m gonna let you go.
DG: It’s been a wonderful few hours with you here. I thank you so much for bringing this music out. Do you want to tell us a little bit about this book you’re working on?
NL: Not really…
NL: (Laughs) I don’t want to disappoint people. I think it’s gonna take another year for me to finish. What I don’t want to disappoint people about is that it’s not really about the Grateful Dead. It is fiction, somewhat autobiographical. And what I tell people – I don’t mean to be cryptic – but it’s a living gift to me, the book, just like “Seastones” was, and just like my musical life was, and probably will be again. And it’s a love story. It’s about magic and it’s about honor, and mostly it’s about redemption.
I wanna thank everybody for listening, and I can’t tell you how gratified I’ve been at the response in the chat room and in the call-ins, a lot of which, of course, hasn’t been heard out over the air during the process of these couple of hours.
And I guess I just want to say to everybody that you are the Eyes of the World, and you guys are the Song that the Morning Brings. We’re here to help KPFA; they’re one of the buttons in my car that I can push and hear what I hear from KPFA. So help them out and, as I said, thank you again, it’s been very gratifying after 26 years of being away to see that you’re remembered and you’ve touched some people. So David, I want to thank you very much.
DG: It’s been a pleasure to work with you on this, and I hope we’ll hear from you again soon. And there seems to be a great amount of encouragement out there for you to get some of your music out into the world, so if I can help with that in any way, I’ll be glad to. Let’s go back and listen to the first piece we played again, a little reprise of Ned’s #1, here. This is recorded March 17, 1975, your birthday.
DG: David Crosby, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Billy Kreutzmann and Ned Lagin.