photograph credit score: Gillian Garcia
There is a corny previous enviornment rock trick we have all seen, whereby a performer throws pink meat to their followers by informing them that they are “an important members of the band”, or some such. Relating to the Grateful Useless and their offshoots, although, there may very well be one thing to it.
Entire cottage industries have grown across the Useless through the years, all created as a present of devotion, a method to unfold the Good Phrase. These artisanal hordes descend upon the open-air “Shakedown Avenue” markets that pop up in each Useless-related present’s car parking zone to ply their wares: streetwear referencing the band, enamel pins, and “blotter artwork” (prints made on the perforated sheets of paper usually used to distribute LSD), amongst an awesome many different issues, are provided on the market or commerce. These people, one may argue, are the true caretakers of the band’s standing within the tradition at giant.
Most significantly, albeit much less profitable by design: over five-plus a long time, the band’s legacy has been largely secured by the numerous hours of bootleg dwell tapes traded amongst rabid followers. This apply, lengthy tolerated by the band so long as the tapers weren’t cashing in on it, has perpetuated a well-liked notion that the Useless’s exploratory dwell recordings are of higher worth to listeners than any of their studio information. Many more recent followers could forego the analog route in favor of streams on archive.org or the various apps devoted to jam band dwell recordings, however the central impulse is kind of the identical.
Round 2010, conceptual artist and sculptor Mark A. Rodriguez, himself a teenage Deadhead, began to build up bootleg tapes once more, each to revisit his youthful obsession and to assemble supplies for an intensive artwork mission. This resulted first in documenting the tapes’ fan-designed tape covers (“j-cards”, in cassette tradition parlance) as Useless Tape Collector on Tumblr and Instagram; later, the tapes have been compiled in a collection of assemblage sculptures, made up of big cassette racks containing 1000’s of the tapes. Mentioned tapes ranged from pristine grasp copies to dubs in growing phases of degradation (many dubbed by Rodriguez himself), thus the titles of the items within the collection: 1st Gen, 2nd Gen, and so forth.
Now, Rodriguez’s ongoing mission has yielded a espresso desk ebook, After All is Mentioned and Carried out: Taping the Grateful Useless, 1965-1995, out September 20 from Anthology Editions. Past compiling photos from a whole bunch of customized j-cards, Rodriguez gives up a wealth of taper-centric data: up to date interviews with the likes of Dave Lemieux (the band’s audiovisual archivist and legacy supervisor) and David Gans (cohost of Tales from the Golden Highway on Sirius XM’s Grateful Useless channel), classic interviews with Jerry Garcia and Useless tape archivist/uber-collector Dick Latvala (of “Dick’s Picks” fame), even early assembly notes documenting the band and their group discussing the taper phenomenon. Garcia’s daughter Trixie even provides a foreword, giving Rodriguez’s mission an implicit seal of band approval.
We sat down with Rodriguez lately through video chat to debate the ebook, his historical past with the band and with taper tradition, and the way fellow Deadheads have reacted to the conceptual artwork side of his ongoing mission. Right here, edited for size and readability, is that dialog.
AllMusic: How did you first come to the Grateful Useless? Had been you drawn extra to the iconography, the music, or one thing else?
Mark A. Rodriguez: I used to be drawn to the Useless as a tweenster, and based on my sometimes-faulty reminiscence, I feel it was extra for the music. There was a little bit of mystique with their visible references, however I haven’t got that widespread story of getting an older sibling displaying me the “steal your face” factor and getting me into what they have been into.
I grew up within the midwest, which is the world of traditional rock, and being the curious particular person I used to be, I spent loads of time trying by my mother’s information. She by no means collected Grateful Useless information, however she did go to see a bunch of bands on the Fillmore East and went to Woodstock. She had a narrative of speaking to Phil Lesh at some present in Buffalo, however Jerry was asleep or one thing… she had a bunch of tales like that. So, after I was at an age to buy music, I obtained curious and obtained the What’s a Lengthy Unusual Journey It is Been set.
So, I sort of obtained into them alone, with no information. Bob Weir’s voice was very bizarre to me at first, however I additionally discovered it compelling; Jerry’s voice additionally appeared odd to me! There have been simply odd stress factors, I would by no means heard singers like this. There was loads of forwards and backwards on whether or not I preferred it or not on that stage, however I nonetheless felt like I may get into the music.
I used to be actually younger within the early Nineties, so I could not actually go to live shows. As a substitute, I did loads of analysis: I used to be all the time on the library, taking a look at books on the historical past of music. My aunt gave me a ebook about “favourite albums of your favourite musicians”, and Phil Lesh contributed a bit about John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass. It was kind of a long-term analysis mission that expanded into every kind of music, and digging in greenback bins at report shops.
AllMusic: Proper, catch as catch can. I relate to that very strongly. I spent years crouched on my knees within the greenback bins at report shops.
Rodriguez: You are youthful, you do not have as a lot disposable revenue. That impacted how I obtained into the Useless, too, although, as a result of it was such a gradual accumulation of information.
Within the web 1.0 period, although, all this stuff got here alongside that sped up the method: message boards, Useless.internet, all that stuff. From there, I obtained into tape buying and selling.
AllMusic: Deadheads have been very early adapters to net 1.0, so far as utilizing it for dialogue and tape buying and selling, so it appears applicable that that may pull you in deeper! After All is Mentioned and Carried out is a fairly deep dive into that bootleg tape tradition surrounding the Useless, which entails loads of handmade, distinctive artwork. As an artist your self, did which have something to do along with your entering into the tape buying and selling side of the band?
Rodriguez: Not after I first obtained into it as a child, no. The tape buying and selling was simply an attention-grabbing factor to participate in, and I wasn’t actually associating it with artwork.
If we’re speaking about starting the mission that result in creating the ebook, although, the reply is rather less clear. I used to be trying extra at find out how to use these objects as a cloth. The tapes had seemingly misplaced their efficiency at that second in time, round 2010. It’d been 15 years since Jerry died, and whereas there have been totally different iterations of the band and the entire jam band scene was going ahead, it was thought of sort of laughable by lots of people at the moment, like third wave ska.
AllMusic: Yeah. Being in a jam band in 2010 wasn’t going to make you the cool particular person on the get together.
Rodriguez: No. The members of the Useless have been nonetheless working, too, however had sort of petered out for a couple of years between the early 2000s and their fiftieth anniversary exhibits. So, these tapes did not have as a lot perceived cultural worth as they as soon as had, or as they’d sooner or later, however I would determined to begin gathering them once more.
It turned on the market have been a lot of individuals on Craigslist all throughout the nation with 200 bootleg tapes or no matter, and so they simply needed them to go to an excellent residence. I might contact them and clarify what I used to be doing, and through the years of gathering I would discover all these attention-grabbing new points to use as an artist.
AllMusic: What questions do you suppose you have been attempting to reply with the Gen collection? What was the motivation?
Rodriguez: It took me 4-5 years to determine I used to be going to begin one thing, as a result of there’s an inherent battle in there: how far do you go along with the gathering? Do you get to the place it is a full assortment? At that cut-off date, that wasn’t actually attainable, and even now there are nonetheless round 160 tapes lacking. I am on yr 12 within the gathering a part of the mission; I may conceive of it taking one other 12-15 years to chip away at that checklist. So, when would I begin the precise artwork half?
There was additionally a query of how I might match this into my bigger artwork apply. There are loads of themes of repetition in my work, and replicating Americana in a method the place my hand is ideally not that noticeable. That is how I developed this strategy of dubbing from one assortment to the following.
The general idea, although, was creating a group and performing the sisyphean activity of gathering each accessible Grateful Useless present on tape. Inside that, there is a simultaneous effort on my half to degrade the knowledge because it’s being generated as a group. That is kind of the principle crux of the mission. I simply wanted to determine find out how to finest current it to an viewers visually.
From there, there have been loads of different questions: what concerning the artwork on the tapes? How do you current that? I in the end selected to copy Napa Valley cassette cabinets and simply make a extremely massive model of that, and show all the pieces in a deceptively mundane sort of method.
So, there have been loads of totally different questions happening. Loads to meander over!
AllMusic: That appears applicable for a band as famously meandering because the Grateful Useless.
Rodriguez: Sure, nevertheless it in the end wraps up right into a neat package deal. Hopefully, I make it look simpler than it was, however there have been years of thought going into it earlier than I even began the sculpture a part of the mission.
Even with the ebook, there have been so many informational paths to decide on. The Grateful Useless has so many various connections to totally different varieties of individuals all around the world; a lot of subject material can discover its method into it. I knew that folks would count on loads of tape covers, and there’s a lot of that, however what was most attention-grabbing to me was to carry out much more analysis, and to get to speak to folks I have been studying about for years and ask them about trivia that they did not actually keep in mind.
AllMusic: As you’ve got sort of implied, loads of Deadheads who had actually prized their tape collections at one cut-off date began surrendering them as CD-Rs, archive.org, and the like turned accessible. Is there one thing that you simply’re particularly drawn to about cassette tapes, past their utility in your work?
Rodriguez: I have been grappling with that internally. Trying again on the mission at this level, I ponder if it is partly me contending with my highschool self. I do not know fairly but: there could possibly be a consolation in revisiting that point in my life, after I was tape buying and selling as a youngster. I am unsure what I am accessing there, nevertheless it was extra of a carefree time for me.
After I began a Tumblr web page in 2010 to get the phrase out concerning the gathering finish of the mission, it bolstered my pleasure about it, as a result of I used to be speaking with Heads once more. It was gratifying to have the ability to strategy the topic as an grownup, slightly than as a spaced-out child.
So far as how I really feel about tapes now: they’re an superior medium. A few of the tapes in my assortment are from the Seventies and nonetheless sound superb, after most likely going by every kind of climate and storage environments. The expertise itself may be very strong, however its continued existence depends on this small group of individuals believing within the expertise.
So, there’s this private narrative I’ve with tapes, however there’s additionally this appreciation I’ve as somebody working with the medium. Typical artwork stuff: “as I used to be working with the medium, I got here to respect it because it subsumed me and took over my life”.
AllMusic: Between the truth that the Gen items are made up of recordings of 1 band making their artwork, and the objects themselves are graced by designs by fans-turned-folk-artists, have you ever caught any flak for being appropriative in your work? In that case, what would you say to such a cost?
Rodriguez: I’ve gotten extra flak for going in opposition to the unstated settlement amongst Deadheads of not promoting the tapes. I knew very nicely that I would be entering into that, although.
Within the artwork world I occupy, that is probably not an accusation that goes round at this level. You begin with Duchamp and transfer on by Warhol, Koons, Kaws… it is simply probably not an argument. After I first began this mission, throughout the artwork world it was virtually laughable that I used to be working with the subject material of the Grateful Useless, however that modified with the resurgence of acknowledgment of the Useless inside popular culture. So, what had been a joke to some inside that group was them attempting to narrate to me by speaking concerning the Grateful Useless, however with out their understanding lots of the intricacies of the historical past across the band and the subcultures round that.
In the meantime, after beginning the Tumblr, I used to be additionally functioning throughout the Useless neighborhood as a fellow fanatic. I used to be having extra real conversations across the band in that context, the type I would been used to as a Deadhead teenager, however that neighborhood did not actually know concerning the artwork side of what I used to be doing.
What ended up taking place that was controversial is that this: I confirmed two of the Gen items, two tape racks, on the Frieze Artwork Truthful in LA in 2019. I actually needed to do this, so as to present what was happening with the mission conceptually. I truly needed it to be three, the purpose being that the viewer would see three tape racks, perceive that they are separate entities, then begin to query why there are three very related issues hanging at this prestigious artwork truthful having to do with giant portions of Grateful Useless tapes.
The mission began to get loads of press, which was superb, but additionally created some points for me, as a result of some Deadheads began questioning my motives. They thought that I used to be discounting the historical past of this stuff and being untrue to the unstated settlement to not promote them, and so they did not actually take the conceptual or sculptural ingredient into consideration. They only noticed it as utilizing sacred objects for my very own egocentric functions.
AllMusic: All artwork is fabricated from sacred objects, although, proper? In case you made artwork out of a chunk of wooden, to any individual that tree was a sacred object.
Rodriguez: Heady! I prefer it. However yeah, it simply is determined by the viewers and what line of communication they’re utilizing. On this case, I used to be getting flamed on Instagram as a result of the worth of one of many items was revealed on some weblog, so it was sort of this traditional cliche of “Hey maaan, the music is sacred and free! It may well’t be owned by anybody!”.
I am fairly jaded on that stage, although: the Grateful Useless is a really industrial car, and has been for a very long time. They nonetheless do good issues, and donate to righteous causes and people and the like, however there is a clear industrial side.
AllMusic: They’re an especially standard band that performs stadiums, and who had a line of pricey neckties within the Eighties. It isn’t an anarchist commune.
Rodriguez: Proper. So, it was attention-grabbing, however annoying. Being public with it was not my favourite factor, although it was a pinnacle I needed to achieve with the mission. It is gotten higher, however hopefully it does not occur once more with the ebook. Hopefully, folks recognize my attempting to make one thing that is actually heady and informative.
AllMusic: I’ve obtained yet one more, extraordinarily necessary query: favourite “Darkish Star”?
Rodriguez: Oof. For me, I’ve by no means taken the path of “I will take heed to EVERY “Darkish Star”, although I can now. I will hear moments I actually love after I’m dubbing, however I am not organized sufficient to do any of it from begin to end. Like, the John Oswald album Greyfolded (an album wherein the “plunderphonics” artist took hours of dwell recordings of ‘Darkish Star’ and edited them into an “final” model) is an incredible mission in that regard… I solely hope the ebook will be one thing that bizarre and attention-grabbing!
That mentioned, “Truckin'” on 11/6/77 at Broome County Veterans Memorial Area in Binghamton, NY, which was launched as Dave’s Picks Vol. 25 a pair years in the past, is especially superb. The tape that I heard it on, although, was this nice viewers recording: the viewers goes apeshit, the crescendos are so intense and elongated… they’re clearly having an incredible time enjoying that night time. Moments like that reinvigorate my religion in tapers capturing magic to be handed right down to youthful folks.
Mark A. Rodriguez’s espresso desk ebook, After All is Mentioned and Carried out: Taping the Grateful Useless, 1965-1995, will likely be accessible on September 20 from Anthology Editions.