these Grateful Dead songs, there should be a "fake book." Like the way when I" was coming up at Berklee, people would have "Ornithology," "Autumn Leaves," "Days of Wine and Roses.
These were forms for musicians to play on that gave everybody a synchronized place to play music. They knew the forms—if you know the forms you can play over them. Grateful Dead music is like an empty amusement park and each song is a different amusement park, or each song is a different ride. These fantasies of like kids breaking into an amusement park or breaking into a mall and like running around. It's like, that's what it's like.
"Ramble On Rose" is like, to me, this beautiful MC Escher drawing where you get to climb down the stairs but go up, and up the stairs but go down. The song is a Charleston, sort of. It's like you're playing over a D, you gotta play in D: [sings melody]. But now it moves to an E which is technically a modulation, you can't play in D anymore, you'll be done. These aren't jams [...].
DD: They do modulate, absolutely.
JM: You now have to play in E for the next next part. And then the next chord is an F-sharp minor, now you can play in D again if you want to but you should play in F-sharp minor. Once you learn these forms everything else feels like watered down kool-aid. It's like, once you get Grateful Dead in your system—and I think, to a certain extent, you don't have to play the music to have that same feeling. You just don't know why, you just don't know why it feels like it feels. I also I think I understand genetically kind of why it is what it is underneath it—musically I go, Well that's also—and I still sit and listen.
I heard a "Eyes of the World" from 1974 yesterday and Jerry's solo was so slow. We often think about "Eyes of the World" as [sings fast melody]. And he was like [sings slow melody]. And it was beautiful. And it freaked me out again like, Oh I don't have to play that fast. And then you'll hear one from ‘81 [sings fast melody].
DD: Oh, ‘81 cooking! Yeah, yeah, yeah!
JM: [Laughs] So it's like, the thing about it for me as a guitar player is that it's an ever elusive rule book. Just when you think you've figured it out there's a version from 1970-X that comes out and you go “you can do it that way.” Oh, you know what I was thinking the other day? I’ll say two things. Number one:
Jerry's only—I feel like it's weird saying Jerry—Jerry Garcia's only way of thinking was like play the chords, but you could play the chords any way you want. So just as long as you play the letter of that chord you could play it any inversion anywhere up and down the neck. So I'll just keep hearing ways of playing songs—it was like, Oh he never had a set way of playing any song.
DD: That's wild.
JM: Sometimes he would just play like "Fire on the Mountain" the way a beginner guitar player would playing an A chord and a B chord, instead of some inversion up the neck. What that day made him go “I'm just gonna play this like a Mel Bay book B chord and an A chord?” And I listen to it I go “that's right you could be that simple if you want it to be.” Right?
DD: I trip out on "Terrapin Station". Like when you guys played it — the first time I saw you guys play it, I go “how do you even remember this?” It just keeps building, you're like, “what is this?!”
JM: Yeah, the inspiration part is a little bit of a math problem.
DD: It's bizarre to me. And there's Bob Weir remembering it no problem.
JM: Oh, it is in his bones. It is—remember, these guys didn't have teleprompters. We had prompters up on stage for the lyrics because I'm not an alien. I’m not an alien. I mean I can learn music pretty fast, I wouldn't know how to sing 150 songs lyrically. But these guys—the Grateful Dead were touring without teleprompters.