May 5, 2005
by BOB DORAN
DAVID GANS [photo at right] SPEAKS WITH THE RELAXED AIR OF AN UNDER-ground FM deejay. It's no surprise since that's what he is: the host of a nationally syndicated show, The Grateful Dead Hour, as well as Dead to the World, a weekly show on Berkeley's KPFA. He spent years as a rock journalist, coauthored Playing in the Band: an Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead, and adding to his Deadhead credentials, he coproduced the 5-CD Dead box set, So Many Roads (1965-1995).
As we begin a phone conversation Gans apologizes for not having a photo of Guilty Pleasures, the group he's playing with Friday night at Six Rivers in McKinleyville.
"We have never played together in this configuration," he explains. "It's basically a gathering of old friends who decided to do some gigs together just for the total fun of it."
Gans is a guitar-playing songwriter, but the focus of Guilty Pleasures is not on his music. "What we are is a bunch of old Deadheads. We all have our own original material and our own musical paths, but the thing we have in common is playing Grateful Dead jams together. We have a lot of fun doing it. It's a guilty pleasure since we all should be doing our own thing."
The ad hoc combo came together when Gans, who has a regular gig at The Sweetwater in Marin County, invited Zen Tricksters bass player Klyph Black to join him. The jam ultimately spawned a four-day tour with a band including another Trickster, keyboardist Rob Barraco, who played with The Dead and Phil Lesh and Friends, plus pedal steel master Barry Sless from The David Nelson Band (another of Phil's illustrious Friends), and on drums, young Deadhead Adam Perry.
Even after 20 years of "putting the Grateful Dead's best foot forward on the radio," Gans admits he sometimes gets defensive about his passion for their music. "There is a segment of the elite literati who think that it's a substandard genre, and it can be true. There's a lot about Grateful Dead music that's to be forgiven: like bad singing, poor harmonies and self-indulgent jams, especially as they got older and more tired.
"A lot of us stuck with it because of the family and the culture. There were times toward the end, when Jerry was failing and the rest of the band was working hard to take up the slack, when it was heartbreaking, but our community was there. And the rest of the band was like, `OK, we'll be there. If Jerry is ready to play, we'll play with him.'"
What is it about the music of the Dead that inspires such unlimited devotion? "It's wonderful music if you like it, but the vast majority of people on Earth don't like it and don't get it. Some of them in fact aggressively think it sucks, but those of us who appreciate it like to play it. It's fun.
"One nice thing about my job as a radio host is getting e-mail from kids who are too young to have ever seen the Grateful Dead, I mean Jerry's been dead almost 10 years now, but kids out there hear the music on the radio; they explore it, buy the CDs and really get into it."
Gans notes that unlike some bands from the hippie rock era, the Dead stuck to their '60s ideals and somehow became a powerful force both culturally and commercially. "You had this $50-million-a-year touring band coming to town and all these kids coming out and hanging out in the parking lots. They created an attractive nuisance and painted a gigantic bull's eye on their back because there was this drug-consuming, veggie burrito-vending culture that followed them around whether they liked it or not.
"Much of the trouble this country is in today is because the counterculture threw such a scare into the establishment and the religious right in the '60s that they began this long, deep stealth project to take over the country. People who were visibly having fun incurred the wrath of those who wanted to control everything. The idea that LSD might free people's minds or pot might make people think for themselves scared the hell out of some people and they've been steadfastly working to squash that sort of thing ever since. And in some people's minds the Grateful Dead are representative of that kind of scary stuff."
Despite the close ties with a band he obviously loves, Gans would like to be considered as more than the ultimate Deadhead. "I listened to so much other music before I got into the Dead, and my own musical style is certainly not limited to that stuff," he proclaims. "What I fight against is that people tend to assume things about my music because of my association with the Dead. In fact, my songwriting style owes as much to Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan and John Prine as it does to Jerry Garcia. My stuff is more folky and I write more topical stuff that's more straightforward in certain ways than [Dead lyricist] Robert Hunter. The assumptions people make based on my connection with the Dead worries me a bit."
That said, he concedes that he has basically crafted a career for himself as a professional Deadhead, and this trip north is for a Dead jam. "So I really should shut up about it," he concludes with an audible shrug.
Guilty Pleasures jams at Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville on Friday, May 6, starting at 9 p.m. Admission is $15. For more on David Gans, go to www.trufun.com.
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