Throughout a career spanning over 50 years, Mickey Hart has been an innovative and inspirational leader in musical research and performance. Known as “The Rhythm Devils,” Mickey and Bill Kreutzman were the driving force behind The Grateful Dead – particularly during their extended jam experiences. It is only fitting that Mickey’s latest venture - Mysterium Tremendum – is ground-breaking and entertaining at the same time. Mickey and his band weave together a host of musical styles and influences, including world music, electronic wizardry, hippie rock, and psychedelic trance.
In this article I will personally review Mickey’s latest CD project. I will include selected lyrics – written by Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter. After that I will summarize some other CD reviews, as well as reviews of the band’s live performances. I have abstracted some recent interviews with Mickey and several band members – bassist Dave Schools and producer/keyboardist Ben Yonas. After that you can read about some of Mickey’s innovative, interdisciplinary research projects, as well as some of the awards he has received. He is truly an interdisciplinary musical scholar who has written some really fine books.
I find the fact that Mickey has been a lifelong musician, who has also explored cutting-edge science to be personally and professionally very inspirational and unique. I just spent almost three decades in academia earning degrees in Biology, Journalism, and Sociology (Ph.D. Iowa State University in 1986.) I worked as a Professor of Sociology and Food Science at North Carolina State University from 1987 – 2010. For the last 15 years I have again been playing a lot of music (guitar, mandolin, and percussion) – something I had done a lot between 1965 and 1980.
Click Below to learn “all you need to know” about Mickey Hart’s life-long and continuing contributions to the evolution of music (and society.)
The above picture shows the Grateful Dead (circa 1966.) Clockwise from upper left are: Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzman, “Pigpen,” Mickey Hart, and Jerry Garcia. This article is Deadicated with Love and Peace to Jerry Garcia (on right below) and Rod “Pigpen” McKernan (on left below.) Click on links to read my tributes to these two musical legends.
My Review of Mysterium Tremendum
This is one of the most innovative and interesting albums I have heard in a long time. Mickey and his awesome band break new musical ground and show us the future of music. This album combines a variety of sounds, rhythms, and styles in a way that takes the listener on a journey to the beginnings of the universe. As expected, this CD has an infectious beat – turn it up loud and groove.
The Mickey Hart Band’s latest project will appeal to a wide range of listeners. You will find shades of psychedelic trance and new age; blended with world music and rock. As expected the album is infused with pulsating and provocative rhythm. The songs embrace a wide range of tempos and styles. This album truly adopts an international and ancient perspective on music.
Singing is powerful and positive. Harmonies are amazing. Songs flow together seamlessly. Just like a Dead show each songs grooves and cooks for a minute or more before the singing starts. Songs generally fade out in the same improvisational style made famous by Mickey’s partners over the years. The production and mixing are really clear and clean. Ben Yonas and the band spent months getting the sound perfect . You can hear everything clearly with no unwanted noise or distraction.
This album will work well for many settings and moods. The music gets you up and moving and lets you chill out at same time. I have played this energetic music while driving or writing – it is a perfect mood setter. I also have enjoyed jamming along on my guitar or whatever percussion instrument is at hand. This is complex and sophisticated music – that remains accessible. It stands up well after repeated listenings.
Some smart university should give Mickey Hart a position as Professor of Musical Innovation and Social Change. He has experienced so much of the counterculture and had a front-row seat to the hippie revolution. His latest project is a grand opus from a man who never stopped growing as a musician and a scholar. He takes music to the ultimate beginning of life and time – The Big Bang.
Actually we should not expect anything other than continuous growth and achievement from a man who was “The HartBeat of the Grateful Dead.” He was blessed to have grown up like Steve Jobs, in an unbelievable and unprecedented social milieu that was the ultimately become Silicon Valley. I hope that everyone will go to his website and buy a copy of his latest CD. You also need to go see this band when they are in your area (I truly regret that I missed them here in Carrboro, NC)
Review and Lyrics for Selected Songs
In this section you will find lyrics for some of the CD’s songs that I find most compelling. Full lyrics for all songs are available from Mickey’s website (where you can also get autographed CD and record packages.) Robert Hunter who has been the voice for a movement wrote complex and compelling lyrics. This section also contains the few pictures I could find of Robert Hunter – long-term friend and musical partner of Mickey Hart and Jerry Garcia. His official site is known as the Robert Hunter Archives.
Slow Joe Rain (Lyrics by Robert Hunter)
This is truly a Deadesque song. I can almost imagine Pigpen singing it. Slow Joe Rain is truly an outlier who has struggled throughout his life. He used to be tough, but now seems to have been overwhelmed by a lifetime of struggling against the system. The harmonies are wonderful (reminding me of Crosby, Stills and Nash.) The percussion is particularly powerful. This song has an infectious techno-style that really cooks and builds.
I’m Slow Joe Rain from Lake Champlain, I like my oysters raw
I like my women fat and mean, I don’t obey the law
I didn’t come to stand around and practice on my grin
When I’m knocking on your door, get up and let me in
I’m Slow Joe Rain from Lake Champlain, a thistle in the wind
I’m Slow Joe Rain from Lake Champlain, I won’t tell you again
This is not my story, which it would not do to tell
This is not the history of my nine foot chain in hell
It’s just my observation you can take it for what it’s worth
If you can’t fix a busted heart, don’t try to save the earth
I got no ambition but to get an honest break
And try to give back just as good as I might ever take
When it comes to lovin’, I’m jealous in my pride
That’s why I walk my way alone, with no one by my side
REPEAT CHORUS TWICE AND FADE
Cut the Deck (Lyrics by Robert Hunter)
This is my favorite song on this CD. Robert Hunter songs are filled with personal meaning and social relevance. He speaks of the 99 percent of the people who keep our society working. All he asks in return is some love and respect. People do what is right and get screwed in the process. This song is autobiographical for Robert, Mickey, Jerry, Pigpen and others who tried so hard to make this world better through music! Each line is rich in meaning – dealing with growth and change. Like “Deal,” “Friend of the Devil” and other Dead songs, Robert uses the metaphor of “Life as a game of chance,” which is so true. Listen carefully to the metaphors (e.g., fire of the match and cold water.)
And I built your house, I laid your floor
Carried your flag, I fought your war
I swear by the toes of the Jones above
All I ever wanted was some of your love
I was born one American spring
Where love didn’t matter and birds didn’t sing
Rolled from my cradle and picked up my drum
Crawled to the highway, stuck out my thumb
Slept in the forest of shut my mouth
Awoke with the sun and cut due south
Didn’t know nothin’, I was starting from scratch
I needed hot water, I invented the match
The match wouldn’t strike, I invented the glass
And drank cold water thinking “all things pass”
Rode on a black horse, rode upon a white
Whistled up the wind and taught it how to bite
Gambled with the boneman one black night
49 cards, we were three jacks light
I couldn’t tell an ace from a deuce by feel
Boneman said, “shut up and deal”
I’ll cash my chips one American night
One thing I learned, I learned it right
Say what you say, say what you like
Snakes always rattle before they strike
The match wouldn’t strike I Invented the glass
And drank cold water thinking “all things pass”
Rode on a black horse, rode upon a white
Whistled up the wind and taught it how to bite
REPEAT CHORUS TWICE
Just some of your love
Some of your love (7 X)
Starlight Starbright (Lyrics by Robert Hunter)
This song employs elaborate electronics, along with exotic rhythms. With a trippy, sixties vibe the music includes tribal chanting. Robert’s lyrics are particularly impressive and interesting. This song reflects and represents Mickey’s ongoing research into the role of sound during the origin of the universe (i.e., the Big Bang.) This song reflects the latest in our ongoing quest to understand the universe – and our role in it (which is pretty minimal by comparison.)
Life is nothing, not a thing
Nothing less than everything
What force propels the shooting star?
The blood of suns is who we are
Music of the spheres
Beyond our mortal ears
We can hear you in the soul
Where the bells of heaven toll
Starlight star bright
First star I see tonight
No selfish wish have I to make
Shine on, shine on, for your own sake
Vast and ancient distant star
How I wonder what you are
Solemn mystery you reveal
Only life alone is real
Floral gardens in the sky
Eternal blossoms flashing by
Galaxies of columbine
Nasturtium, rose and clinging vine
Haunting voices free of form
Babies crying to be born
A brook beside yon garden runs
Galaxies of streaming suns
Big bang trickles to an end
Falls in upon itself again
Like a sailor’s concertina
For his lovely ballerina
REPEAT CHORUS TWICE AND FADE
Shine on, shine on, for your own sake
Djinn Djinn (Lyrics by Mickey Hart)
This dreamy and drifting song combines many musical elements (particularly from the Middle-East.) Crystal Hall’s deep voice is both bluesy and angelic. Djinn is Arabic, and means “genies 0r supernatural creatures.” Referred to often in Arab folklore and Islamic mythology they occupy a parallel world to ours. The Qur’an mentions that Jinn are made of smokeless flame or “scorching fire”. Like human beings, the Jinn can also be good, evil, or neutral. The Arabic root means “to hide, conceal.” Djinn can be either male or female. They would often appear wearing vests and sashes, with long hair. Jinn could exist independently or be bound to a particular object.
Sweet scented jewels, of my land, where hidden treasures flow
From invisible hands, that touch the stones, only spirits know
Seven drinkers of the wind, gather round the fire
The sun beats down, upon the sand and fills our hearts desire
Inside my golden tent, tethered horses by my door
Tell me long lost stories, eat my bread and want no more
From your sweet tongue, heart of gold, the spirits find us here
With beauty beyond words I know, that paradise is near
In the shadow of the sun, when the water runs dry
The whole world dances and the desert cries
The whole world dances and the desert cries
Djinn, djinn, djinn djinn
Djinn, djinn, djinn djinn
The earth is rusty red, the weathered rocks as white as bones
The truth of men, from ancient time, still sits on golden thrones
Hot dry days and long, long nights beneath the crescent moon
The weeping desert wind will wash our sorrows from these dunes
Smile on us oh Sultan king, shine on us like the sun
Tie our hearts together so the two can beat as one
In a distant land, only desert flowers grow
Two jackals made of stone so that together they will know
REPEAT CHORUS TWICE AND FADE
Supersonic Vision (Lyrics by Robert Hunter)
This is dreamy world music with a powerful, pulsating beat. The vocals are soulful and sophisticated. Like other Hunter songs, this has biographical elements that many listeners will relate to. It also continues with Roberts fine tradition of songs including seafaring references and imagery.
Sailor, sailor, sailing on a dark and distant sea
Supersonic visions of a foreign galaxy
Supersonic vision fast as words it flies
Into the heart of music and takes it by surprise
Parallel dimensions of your own reality
Sailor, sailing all alone across the outer sea
By living inside out I mean living in between
Piebald clothes but no-one knows the colors you have seen
CHORUS (Repeats twice)
Supersonic vision fast as words it flies
Into the heart of music and takes it by surprise
I know what you want of me, don’t have to ask me twice
Let’s sit beneath the apple tree and hear the wind’s advice
Into the heart of solitude and out the other side
For a social interlude there’s not much to confide
REPEAT CHORUS TWICE AND FADE
Time Never Ends (Lyrics by Mickey Hart)
Mickey Hart wrote the lyrics for this compelling and complex track. It reminds me of the latest types of electronic pulse or trance music. Big difference is that this band includes three or more humans playing percussion on each song. The mixing and stereo effects are wonderful. The lyrics are meaningful and mystical.
Steppin’ thru the midnight sun to a life that never ends
Snowflakes fall and winter comes, time to make amends
God of wind, God of time, I give my heart to thee
Take me to a better place, let my soul fly free
A wizard guided me beyond the moon,
Beyond the stars, beyond the galaxy
A secret place, a gentle space, a land beyond pretend
Where time stands still and always will
A world of never end
Where time goes on forever, time never ends
Where time goes on forever, time never ends
Footprints in the sea of time, we watch and do our thing
All we leave behind us is the lovin’ that we bring
Mother nature, northern lights, all that life can bring,
The mountain spirit dancers and the evening owl sings
Oh God of dreams, of life supreme, come to me tonight
Guide me to a better place beyond this starry night
Take me to a better place on golden spirit wings
Where time stands still and always will
Where gods and angels sing
Where gods and angels, gods and angels, gods and angels sing (5 x)
Time goes on forever
Time never ends
Through Endless Skies (Lyrics by Mickey Hart)
This song is uplifting and inspirational. Mickey’s lyrics stress the love and respect we all need to have for nature and the cosmos. Dave School’s bass parts really stand out and drive us along (as they do on all tracks.) The guitar soars – reminding me of Quicksilver Messenger Service. All these songs get more meaningful and relevant with repeated listening.
She comes to me from a secret place
Beyond the world of time and space
Stronger than the wind, hotter than fire
She brings to me my heart’s desire
Like a door to a secret world
We know together we’ll go
Through endless skies, you and I
Let’s pretend that we can fly
Close your eyes and we will fly
Let’s fly away – hand in hand
Through endless skies
Through endless skies
We live our life, we love we cry
We share our love and then we die
And when we die for what it’s worth
I’ll love you more than here on earth
Like a door to a secret world
We know together we’ll go
Like a door to a secret world
We know together we’ll go
REPEAT CHORUS AND FADE
What Others are Saying about New CD and Tour
The rest of this article includes a broad overview of Mickey Hart’s current band and CD, along with some of his important and innovative scientific investigations. One of Mickey’s most important contributions involves his continuous search for an in-depth understanding of how music contributes to all aspects of human life and the broader universe.
Practically born with drumsticks in his hands — both of his parents were champion rudimental (marching band-style) drummers — Mickey Hart committed to percussion from the beginning. After experience in both high school and military (Air Force) marching bands and a brief stint working for his father at a drum shop, he encountered Bill Kreutzmann one night at the Matrix. On September 30, 1967, he sat in with the Dead… and joined the band. His influence over the next year was to push the band into complex, multirhythmic explorations. A student of Ustad Allah Rakah (Ravi Shankar’s tabla player), he added various strains of non-Western music to the Dead’s general atmosphere. Over the years, he has been involved in many musical and archival projects, most notably the band Global Drum Project, and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress’s “Endangered Music Project.” He is the author of several books, including Drumming at the Edge of Magic and Global Drum Project.
Mickey Hart is best known for his nearly three decades as an integral part of an extraordinary expedition into the soul and spirit of music, disguised as the rock and roll band the Grateful Dead. As half of the percussion tandem known as the Rhythm Devils, Mickey and Bill Kreutzmann transcended the conventions of rock drumming. Their extended polyrhythmic excursions were highlights of Grateful Dead shows, introducing the band’s audience to an ever-growing arsenal of percussion instruments from around the world. Exposure to these exotic sounds fueled Mickey’s desire to learn about the various cultures that produced them.
His tireless study of the world’s music led Mickey to many great teachers and collaborators, including his partners in Planet Drum. Planet Drum’s self-titled album not only hit #1 on the Billboard World Music Chart, remaining there for 26 weeks, it also received the Grammy for Best World Music Album in 1991– the first Grammy ever awarded in this category. Planet Drum is one of twenty-nine recordings released on Mickey’s the WORLD series on Rykodisc. The WORLD offers a wide variety of music from virtually every corner of the globe with releases like Voices of the Rainforest from Papua New Guinea and Living Art, Sounding Spirit: The Bali Sessions. In 2002, Mickey established The Endangered Music Fund to return royalty payments from many of these recordings to the indigenous people that produced them, and to further the preservation of sounds and music from around the globe.
Mickey’s experiences have paved the way for unique opportunities beyond the music industry. He composed a major drum production performed by an assembly of 100 percussionists for the opening ceremony of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Additionally, Mickey has composed scores, soundtracks and themes for movies and television including Apocalypse Now, Gang Related, Hearts of Darkness, The Twilight Zone, the 1987 score to The AmericaÍs Cup: The Walter Cronkite Report, Vietnam: A Television History, and The Next Step. In 1994 Mickey was inducted with The Grateful Dead into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Mickey has written four books documenting his lifelong fascination with the history and mythology of music. These include Drumming at the Edge of Magic, Planet Drum, Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music, and Songcatchers: In Search of the WorldÍs Music. Long a social activist, Mickey appeared in August, 1991 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging, speaking on the healing value of drumming and rhythm on afflictions associated with aging. Since joining the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at Beth Abraham Hospital in 2000, Mickey is continuing his investigation into the connection between healing and rhythm, and the neural bases of rhythm.
In 1999, Mickey was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress where he heads the sub-committee on the digitization and preservation of the Center’s vast collections. In October of 2000, the Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center conferred an honorary doctorate of humane letters upon Mickey for his work in advancing the preservation of aural archives.
Those who have followed Hart’s creative output know that his solo works fall roughly into two categories. Records like ‘Diga Rhythm Band’, ‘Planet Drum’ and ‘Supralingua’ are beat heavy excursions that joyfully dive right into experimenting with percussion lineages and trance traditions from all over the world while other albums like ‘Mystery Box’ are more structured and song oriented. ‘Mysterium Tremendum’ falls somewhere in between with its mixture of heavily rhythmic instrumental tracks and a selection of more conventional songs with new lyrics by Robert Hunter.
The music itself is fabulous, compelling and complex. It was during the Dead’s 2009 tour, that Hart first became fascinated with sounds and images of the cosmos he’d accessed from NASA, and he began to incorporate some of them into the ‘drums’ segment of the show. This album is an extension of that interest with Hart using ‘the billion year old orchestra of planetary motion’ as a kind of reference or backbeat that grounds each of the songs on ‘Mysterium Tremendum.’ If that sounds too far out, don’t worry. Every composition on the album flows together to form a seamless journey that never loses its groove or momentum. The combination of cosmic sounds, electronic and hand percussions, and conventional rock instruments are interwoven to create a sonic ambience that is completely contemporary and enveloping. …
Time and culture never stand still, but after so many decades of great music, the last few years have been tough for old fans of the Grateful Dead. Not to knock Furthur. They play with passion and are great in so many ways, but until they start to write and perform some new material, they are in danger of becoming viewed as little more than a nostalgia act. So, who would have thought that it would be the drummers from the Grateful Dead would be the visionaries to carry the spirit of the band forward? 7 Walkers offered the first sign of hope, and now with ‘Mysterium Tremendum’, it’s clear who’s back in the saddle, looking forward and riding the cutting edge. Thanks Mickey!
Some amazing friends and Bay-Area neighbors lent their unique tones to the universally-themed record but at press-time were not listed, including guitarist Steve Kimock, percussionists Zakir Hussain and Giovanni Hidalgo, and bassist/Tulsa-native Reed Mathis. “There’s a lot of emotion in the playing and performance, both on the record and live,” Hart reflects. “I love the zone and it’s a brand new universe, singing its own tune; music of the world, of the Earth.”
But the man who spent decades on the road with one of the greatest American rock ‘n roll bands in history offers up clues that lend to the music’s vast parameters. “These sounds appear from above and beyond the moon, and interdependently operate on their own recklessness on occasion.” However chaotic or calming these vibrations may appear musically, Mickey called on non-other than the Grateful Dead’s longtime collaborative lyricist, Robert Hunter, to marry words to his otherworldly compositions.
“Usually when I write with Bob (Hunter), there would always be a real theme and he’d know what I was hoping to get across lyrically. He took the concepts for Mysterium Tremendum and went away to his cabin in the woods and just nailed it. He’s so irreplaceable in my life,” Hart says warmly, “Much like the musicians I’ve created with through time. He’s at the top of his game.” Mickey Hart is not only an iconic piece of America’s positioning in the global musical realm, but he’s also a philanthropist and a believer in music’s potential to heal people. Those who purchase tickets to any of the Mickey Hart Band performances through his website, http://www.mickeyhart.net, will be making a contribution to Music Therapy Research.
“Music is medicine therapy,” explains the rhythm king, “a lot of people have used it to its maximum power to help cure or ease the symptoms of everything from depression to Parkinson’s. Music is vibration(s), which effects the neuropathways and its inhibitors; it’s become a real science all its own – exploring what sounds do what.” And it’s that essence – exploring what sounds do what – that keep Mickey Hart and millions others around the world searching for the sound, even as far away as deep space. “Music is life and life is music; that’s all there is to it,” Hart offers. “Be aware of everything around you. Vibration is everything. Einstein did his best work on music; he’d grab his violin and then he’d be opened up to everything, have major breakthroughs in forming his theories and thoughts.
Mysterium Tremendum, the latest release from the Mickey Hart Band, has the former Grateful Dead drummer digging yet deeper into his ever-expanding knowledge and love of sound for another fine record. Hart’s merry band of musicians plays along to sound waves transformed from electromagnetic radiation given off by the sun, planets, stars and galaxies. While most tracks, including the opening “Heartbeat of the Sun,” “Through Endless Skies” and “Supersonic Vision,” have a prominent cosmic feel to them, Mysterium Tremendum is a well rounded record, both musically and vocally. The famed Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter wrote the words on more than half of the tracks, adding yet another level to the depths of quality on this album.
“Who Stole the Show” shines lyrically in terms of world music, almost tribal-style vocals on top of Dave Schools funk bass-line and bending guitar riffs. Hart unleashes an arsenal of percussion throughout the record, courtesy of himself, drummer Ian “Inx” Herman and Sikiru Adepoju. Vocalist Crystal Monee Hall bleeds romantic soul on “This One Hour” and “Starlight Starbright,” while Tim Hockenberry’s dark, whispery vocal style (a bit reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s sound) takes command of the mic on “Slow Joe Rain” and “Cut the Deck,” the latter of which is truly a Hunter tune if there ever was one.
“Heartbeat of the Sun” (Mickey Hart, Ben Yonas, Crystal Monee Hall, Sikiru Adepoju, Giovanni Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain) – 4:50
“Slow Joe Rain” (Robert Hunter, Hart, Babatunde Olatunji, Andre Pessis, Yonas) – 4:54
“Cut the Deck” (Hunter, Hart, Cliff Goldmacher, Yonas) – 7:39
“Starlight Starbright” (Hunter, Hart, Pessis, Yonas) – 6:47
“Who Stole the Show?” (Hart, Adepoju, Pessis, Yonas, Tim Hockenberry, Steve Kimock, Dave Schools) – 3:52
“Djinn Djinn” (Hart, Goldmacher, Hall, Hockenberry, Hussain, Yonas) – 5:35
“This One Hour” (Hunter, Hart, Hall, Hockenberry, Yonas) – 8:16
“Supersonic Vision” (Hunter, Hart, Goldmacher, Hall, Yonas) – 7:07
“Time Never Ends” (Hart, Yonas, Hall, Hockenberry) – 6:49
“Let There Be Light” (Hunter, Hart, Pessis, Yonas, Hall, Hockenberry, Schools) – 4:12
“Ticket to Nowhere” (Hunter, Hart, Yonas, Hall, Hockenberry, Kimock) – 6:38
“Through Endless Skies” (Hart, Pessis, Yonas) – 7:22
Personnel – Mickey Hart Band
Mickey Hart – drums, percussion, vocals
Sikiru Adepoju – talking drum, djembe, shakers
Crystal Monee Hall – vocals, guitar, percussion
Ian “Inkx” Herman – drum set
Tim Hockenberry – vocals, keyboards, saxophone, trombone
Gawain Mathews – guitar
Dave Schools – bass
Ben Yonas – keyboards
Additional musicians on CD (selected tracks)
Chalo Eduardo – drums, percussion
Greg Ellis – drums, percussion
Giovanni Hidalgo – drums
Robert Hunter – guitar
Zakir Hussain – tabla
Steve Kimock – guitar
Reed Mathis – bass
Vir McCoy – bass
Babatunde Olatunji – drums
Nick Phoenix – drums
Jonah Sharp – drums
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – ghatam
The Mickey Hart Band’s just-released album, Mysterium Tremendum, is a musical marvel and a sonic masterpiece. Over the course of 12 songs stretching to about 74 minutes, the eight-piece band, together in this form less than a year, sounds like old pros who have been playing together for ages. …
There are literally hundreds of rhythms pulsing through the album, and not just percussion—though there’s plenty of that, between Mickey’s acoustic/electronic setup, talking drum master Sikiru, traps drummer Ian “Inkx” Herman, and guest appearances by Mickey’s other Global Drum Project mates, Zakir Hussain and Giovanni Hidalgo. MHB lead guitarist Gawain (pronounced “gow-an”) Matthews contributes a fantastic array of rhythms (and leads) with his arsenal of axes, too— long, liquid slide here, funky wah-wah there, chopped chord bursts somewhat reminiscent of U2’s Edge. Widespead Panic bassist Dave Schools brings a dependably deep bottom to the proceedings, as well as lines that occasionally sing, and Hockeberry and Ben Yonas drop various keyboard textures into the mix. (Hockenberry also plays atmospheric trombone on a couple of songs.) Other guests include, on one song each, bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green) and guitarist Steve Kimock (who has often played with Mickey over the years).
Also layered into the dense “weave” (as Mickey calls it), are countless electronically triggered samples, encompassing everything from unusual instruments, to bits from Mickey’s enormous collection of “ethno” recordings (such as Mbuti pygmies), to more than two dozen of his much-publicized “sonifications” extracted from the far reaches of the universe. You know Mickey—he’s always got something strange and wonderful up his sleeve (and at his fingertips). In this case, outer space waves and pulses have been captured by radio telescopes, and through a complex process few of us could hope to understand, been converted into sound waves and made “musical.” Everything from solar winds, to the orbits of various planets in our solar system, to different galaxies and cosmic microwaves become part of the dense tapestry of rhythms and melodies on the album. …
In late February, while the album was still being mixed, I had the opportunity to go up to Mickey’s fabulous Studio X, in rural Sonoma County, to talk with Mickey, Ben Yonas and Dave Schools about the band and the making of the album. What follows was pieced together from separate interviews at the studio that day.
BEGINNINGS OF THE ALBUM
Dave Schools: I guess this album really began with the elements of space sounds, a lifetime of Mickey’s recordings, including his [ethnic] field recordings, and then hours and hours of crazy fun in the studio with people like [Steve] Kimock and myself. It was a bunch of us playing around with sounds and jamming, and at that point not really knowing where it was going to go. …
Blair Jackson: How did you hook up with Mickey originally?
Dave: I moved here around five years ago. Mickey and I shared a manager, Brian Schwartz, who was working with the Rhythm Devils. Mickey and I had played together a few times, but we’d never met as neighbors—I live about five minutes down the road. Anyway, we started to get together for some jam sessions. I have a reputation as a lover of space bass, and he’s right in there with that, of course, so we had a lot of fun. In fact, the first time I came over here to play, I just plugged in and then he took a pedal board with a whole bunch of effects, put them in his lap, and I just played along with these grooves. He was twisting knobs like a mad scientist! All these jams with me and Kimock and Mickey and his lifetime of recordings got cut up and reworked, and these songs [on the album] evolved from those 20- and 30-minute grooves. That’s what we had before Ben [Yonas] and the others came in. …
Ben Yonas: The perspective I brought in was, “OK, let’s go through these beds and see if we can turn them into songs.” Mickey was sitting on a vast pile of Hunter lyrics, so I was encouraging Mickey to go and pair them with some of these musical ideas, and then we just started writing. I love to build a team around a project, so I just called some of the best songwriters I know, like Cliff Goldmacher and Andre Pessis. My own strengths are more as a piano player and producer and arranger. I’m not really one to pair lyrics with song and melodies. So it was really Mickey and Andre and Cliff who got the ball rolling shaping the songs. But this isn’t a conventional song world. We weren’t restricted to four minutes and we weren’t trying to write a “hit,” so the chorus didn’t have to happen 30 seconds into the song. From the beginning, we wanted the songs to have the space to breathe. It’s all about finding a balance. We wanted to create music that lasts and that people can sing along to. When people sing along on the chorus the first time through the song in a new town, that feels really great. …
As for (guitarist) Gawain, I used to live with him. I convinced him to move to the Bay Area. He’s from Wales originally, but he grew up in Utah. I was totally blown away by his playing when I met him years ago. He can really play anything and he never plays it the same way twice. He’s got huge ears. Does he sound like Jerry Garcia? No. He’s not trying to sound like Jerry Garcia. He’s just trying to do what he does. If I’m making a record, Gawain is the first guy I call if I want layers and textures. He’s one of the best studio players I know. He’s a sound designer, the same way Mickey is a sound designer. Gawain takes it really seriously. He’s turning knobs and dialing up space and all these sounds—his pedal board is the most complicated thing I’ve ever seen.
We didn’t audition lots of people. We just started collaborating. It wasn’t, “Here are 12 songs, learn these.” It was, “Here are some songs that are sketched-out; do your thing with them,” and it was also, “Here are some songs that aren’t even finished.” Crystal and Tim both wrote big chunks of this record. A lot of the melodies are their melodies. That’s one of the areas where we all connected in the creative process. …
From the beginning, our approach was an organic one: Let’s create a project, let’s create something that we can go out and tour and write some great songs for and shape the material together. But everything was created out of the world that Mickey built. He started the whole process, because he’s out here making music every day. He’s the hardest-working guy I’ve ever met. Fourteen hours into a day he’ll say, “OK, let’s get going; let’s work!” [Laughs] And I work hard, too, so we go to bed at 4 in the morning.
How important was it that some of Hunter’s lyrics tie into the cosmic sounds that started as the basis of the album?
Mickey Hart: It was very important. Normally when I interact with Bob—or “Robert” if you prefer—I usually just give him the grooves and he comes up with the words. I don’t like to try to influence what he writes, because every time I try, he comes up with a better idea anyway, so I just gave up! [Laughs] In this case, though, the theme was about man and the universe, so I was looking for things that might tie into that.
Well, that’s pretty broad!
Mickey: Yeah! Well, and also these cosmic events and what our relation is to all these events. What he told me is, he stepped away for a couple of weeks and really got inside the project and the music, and let it wash over him. Then he delivered the mother lode! It’s just like with all those Garcia-Hunter songs for the Grateful Dead—they define a certain cosmology, though you can’t really put your finger on what it is exactly. That’s what he’s doing with these songs, too. Although they’re certainly not all about space, by any means. And you’ve written some lyrics, too. …
Mickey told me that the main sessions for the album went incredibly quickly, which surprised me, given his reputation for spending weeks and months and years in the studio.
Ben: It’s true. Eighty percent of this record was done in three days, which is how I usually make records. You focus on pre-production and on developing great material. You rehearse it and tour it, and then the studio is here to pull out and capture that energy. We try to create a vibe that’s similar to what happens onstage when we’re all smiling and looking at each other and not thinking about recording, but instead just playing and interacting.
If so much of the record was done in three days, what has the last six months of work on the album been about?
Ben: The last six months has been shaping it. This was not like other records I’ve ever made, where we arrange the song and decide the guitar solo is 16 bars because its going to be a four-minute song. “Endless Skies” was recorded live in the studio as a 17 minute song. Most of these songs came in at 10 to 12 minutes. One of the debates we had was, “Is an 80-minute album OK?” We just said: “We want these songs to breathe.”
We’re not making this to be played on the radio by some triple-A [format] radio guy. If they want to do that, they can cut out the intro and the outro and take the four minutes in the middle! There will be radio edits. But it’s not about that. It’s not about creating music for the industry. It’s about Mickey’s intention as an artist and going with that and trying to channel his approach.
I’ve learned so much from Mickey about sitting on a groove and getting into a zone and into a space and embracing it, and then doing what Mickey does better than anyone I’ve ever met, which is playing into the processing [echoes, reverbs, chorusing effects, etc.]. When you listen to his records, so much of it is sound design—using sounds in interesting ways and using lots of uncommon sounds and processing. …
All of us have learned about Mickey’s world and gone after it. The singers did not have harmonizing delay effects machines before Mickey Hart. If you listen to the sound of this band, almost everything is processed. I guess Gawain was pretty processed already, but most were not wired with that approach. Most singers don’t think, “With this button I can sound like a Tibetan monk chanting, and over here I’ve got a seven-part harmony that’s been stacked and arranged for the chord of the song, so now I can be a choir.”
Dave: Mickey has dragged me kicking and screaming out of a 10-year cycle of refining my bass playing mostly down to fingers and amplification. I used to really be into processing and weird effects, but I started moving out of that around the time [late Widespread Panic guitarist Michael] Houser got sick; I don’t know why. I started using flat-wound strings and playing four-string basses for all my other projects, and going for a real traditional Led Zeppelin II kind of big, boofy bass sound, and that’s where I was when I came into this. And then Mickey shows up with a pedal board and he’s saying, “Get that six-string out!” and I’m showing up with these antiquated [four-string] jazz basses. “Where’s the Modulus [bass]? Let’s send you down to Meyer!” [Laughs] It’s been cool. I like it. Here I go, off on another turn.
THE ALBUM TITLE
I think I first encountered that phrase—“mysterium tremendum”—reading Mircea Eliade in college, The Sacred and the Profane.
Mickey: Right, Eliade. Though [German theologian] Rudolph Otto used it before him. It means a few things. It’s the trembling you experience when you come into contact with the great mysteries, or the divine; whatever you want to call it. I thought it fit in with what we’re doing because what is this thing? Is it the song of the universe? Dancing with the cosmos? It has a resonance with the mysterium.
Ben: From the beginning we knew that this band needed to focus on a new body of work and create an album. That’s where we had put all our energy, but now we’re embracing more of the Grateful Dead songbook. Yesterday we worked on “Morning Dew” and “Stella Blue.” Crystal does such an amazing job on these and “Brokedown Palace,” which we’ve been doing for a while. People freak out when they hear that—this church girl from Virginia singing her heart out.
We’re not out there trying to compete with the Dark Star Orchestras of the world, and we haven’t gone in and studied how Jerry played the guitar on this or that song. We’re trying to reinvent them with the musicians we have, enjoying them—a lot of these are new for most of us—and embracing them.
Dave: I’ve been helping coach people on the Dead stuff, but it’s more of a philosophical thing I’m trying to get across. I tell Gawain: It’s not how you play the lick, it’s how you approach the playing of the lick and the theme and the variation. You have to become—I’m going to make up a word here—a “meloditician”—like a mathematician, except with melody. It’s like turning on a spigot. The vocabulary has to flow like the way we converse, and it has to be done musically. It’s a poetic way of conversing and passing ideas around. I think I understand the philosophy behind this music, so when we do play Grateful Dead songs, we can approach them with the right intent, as opposed to copying it. You know, I can play Grateful Dead music until the cows come home, but I can’t play it like Phil—no one can. I like to say he’s an “un-bassist.” I’m a bassist. Most bass players don’t think like Phil. If you’re copying his licks, you’ve missed the point already. It’s about letting music play you and through you.
Mickey: I like playing Grateful Dead music, and I really like playing it with this group because we play it a little different. The dragon can come out with this band. They all listen really well, so they get my nuances and we lock in together. I don’t want Gawain to imitate Jerry, but there are certain things Jerry came up with that make that song that song. Even though “Fire on the Mountain” is jammy, it has certain themes that make it “Fire on the Mountain,” so you can play with that and around it. Gawain does a good job and pays proper respect, but he’s not a Jerry clone. So what we’re giving people is a different context for these Dead songs. And we’re picking songs that play to the strengths of this band.
And we’re open to doing other stuff, too. The other day we played “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and we just killed it. This band is flexible and young and they like to play long. They have the energy for it. I just had to train them and let them know it was OK, so when we’d be going for 20 or 30 minutes on a tune and they’d want to end, I’d say, “No, no, no! You’ve got to find the song, and then it becomes a part of you and you a part of it.” That’s the name of the game with this kind of music. Fortunately, they’re young and corruptible. [Laughs]
Mickey Hart enjoying the ride: Grateful Dead drummer’s new music is a conversation with space BY Tim Parsons – January, 19 2012
Mickey Hart’s sonification collaborator is George Smoot, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for his work on the Big Bang, undisputedly the universe’s greatest and most seminal hit.
“This band was chosen for a certain kind of a mission. I’ve been taking light waves from deep space through radio telescopes and transferring them into sound and then using them as the basis for our music. I’ve been looking at the history of sound in the universe. Everything in the universe that vibrates starting with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago has a sound component as well as a visual component.”
Hart has studied sonification with a cadre of scientists, including Smoot, who Hart says are excited to document and contribute to a new physics curriculum.
“(The Big Bang) actually sounds like a low-flying airplane — it’s not a bang. It sounds like a big jet flying real low. George carries around the wave forms for the first million years on his computer. These astrophysicists are really serious about their work but the sonicness is new to them and it fascinates them, and they like to play in this playground.”
Hart, of course, is all about playing. He first joined the antecedent jam band with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir in 1967, leaving for a while before returning for good in 1974. Now he is part of another coalescent. But what should this new musical genre be called? Roots is already taken and too earthen, anyway. Rhythm and blues has been established, so how about algorithm and black holes?
“It’s a combination of universal and global music. The name hasn’t popped up yet but that’s what it is. We’ve only played it a few weeks out there in the world. It’s just beginning. We’ve only been playing about a month. A lot of it is improvisation, of course, but a lot of it is form, just like the Grateful Dead. It feels like we used to feel in the old days when we were free and we didn’t know the songs so well. The Grateful Dead, we would play stuff for six, seven, eight years on the road before we would even record it.”
“We have three drummers. Sikuru Adepoju, who’s been with me on all my excursions on the talking drum, and Inx Herman from South Africa and myself on electronics and space and monochord and a bunch of drums — it’s a new contraption. And of course Gawain Mathews on guitar and Crystal Hall and Tim Hockenberry on vocals. These guys, they’re just like angels. There’s two voices that are really in tune, very adventurous and not afraid. They are really in the spirit of the whole project.”
“I am sampling the sounds of the cosmos and having a conversation with it. These intrepid travelers, my band mates, are coming along on the ride. They are pioneering a new form of music. Sometimes I’ll tell the audience, ‘Strap in, enjoy the ride.’ That’s what it is. We’ll never repeat it. It’s become a ritual now. Pretty much like the Grateful Dead used to be.”
Former Grateful Dead member Mickey Hart has always been an artist identified by his progressive music, both as a percussionist for the iconic Grateful Dead band, along with his 3 time Grammy Award-Winning albums, and innovative sound excursions with his group the Mickey Hart Band.
Mysterium Tremendum is the Mickey Hart Band’s new album in 2012. Call it progressive rock, pop, adult contemporary, new age, world, or whatever you like, but identical to their new Mysterium Tremendum release, The Mickey Hart Band’s music is unlike anything you have previously heard. There is a variety of innovative sounds matched with great instrumentals and vocals.
During the Mickey Hart Band Tour – 2012, they perform a number of songs from their fantastic new album Mysterium Tremendum, just released on April 10, 2012. It’s a great album that shines by a contrasting fusion of music genres during every one of the 12 songs total. Possessing deep percussions, vocals and heavy rhythms, the divergent mix is extraordinary.
Can you envision the Mickey Hart Band will be among those in the New Age or World music categories in the GRAMMY® Awards in 2013? If there were an innovative music category, the Mickey Hart Band would definitely be the winner! Mickey Hart is a constantly evolving musician with no final conclusion in sight for the former Grateful Dead drummer who has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and earned the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.
Mickey Hart and his band walked out at about 8:45, launched into the Grateful Dead classic “Samson and Delilah,” and did their best to “tear the whole building down” with thundering drums and monster bass bombs (courtesy of Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools). As the band raged behind her, Crystal Monee Hall stood front and center and amazed the crowd with a powerfully soulful voice that fit the song perfectly. In all honesty, this opening tune was the highlight of the night for me.
From the familiarity of “Samson and Delilah,” the band turned toward the depths of space with a couple of tunes from Hart’s recent release Mysterium Tremendum. The first, “Slow Joe Rain,” started slow and featured Talking Drum guru Sikiru Adepoju communicating with Hart in a way only two master drummer can. As the song built, multi-instrumentalist Tim Hockenberry joined in on Trombone and vocals and the song developed a new age rock edge to it. …
In the past when I’ve seen Hart perform with his own bands, I have been impressed with the way he approaches the music of The Grateful Dead and puts his own distinct stamp on it. A Mickey Hart Band show is so much more than a cover band. This is a man that has surrounded himself with world class musicians who all believe in musical exploration and they feel free to use the familiar canvas of songs like “Fire On The Mountain” and “The Other One” to experiment.
Overall this show delivered much more than I expected. From the opening notes of “Samson and Delilah,” to the closing strains of “We Bid You Goodnight,” the band was on fire and loving every minute of playing together. When I got home after the show the words Hart said at the end of the first set stuck in my head: “I told you it was going to be good, now you gotta go tell your friends what they missed!”
Set 1: Samson and Delilah, Slow Joe Rain, Starlight Starbright, West L.A. Fadeaway, This One Hour, Cut the Deck > I Know You Rider
Set 2: Let There Be Light > HeartBeat Of The Sun > Fire On The Mountain > Supersonic Vision > Other One > Jam > Time Never Ends > Not Fade Away
Encore: Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad > We Bid You Good Night
Stage Presence: B+
Set / Light show: A-
As a Grammy award-winning musician, author and ethnomusicologist, Mickey Hart is coming up on half a century “at the edge” of music, art, science and culture. It’s a journey that has taken the globally revered drummer/percussionist from the band room at Lawrence High School in the late 50s and very early 60s, to the deepest psychedelic grooves of the Grateful Dead for 30 years, to every corner of the world in the quest for global rhythm, to the sonic origins of the cosmos and now back to his home and recording studio in Sonoma County, California. …
“He knew that I wasn’t going to be a mathematician, geography major or an English major. He knew I was going to be a musician. And he fought the fight; he fought the battle for me. He put his reputation on the line for me many, many times. Arthur was the catalyst.”
Through these formative years and throughout his legendary career in the Grateful Dead and numerous other polyrhythmic projects, Hart has always been determined to push the boundaries of his own curiosity and capabilities. That sense of adventure and courage has manifested in his latest project—an extension of his “Universe of Sound” experiments, which started several years ago and have culminated in a new band, a new album and a new tour that will include stops this August in both Brooklyn and Patchogue.
“For a few years now, I have been ‘sonifying’ the epic events in the cosmos, starting with the Big Bang. We’re changing light waves into sound waves. I’m making music from—and having a conversation with—the cosmos. This band was built to play with the cosmos.”
Hart has enlisted long-time Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter to write words for these intergalactic soundscapes and he’s also been working closely with American astrophysicist, cosmologist, Nobel Laureate (and Deadhead) George Smoot to usher this incredible vision from dream to reality.
“It’s hard for me to stay in my own skin,” Hart said of the excitement he shares over this epic undertaking. “I wake up every morning and I cannot wait to get to it. Playing with the moment of creation of space and time is more than I can bear. Now we have a sound for the moment. I’ve always known it intuitively, but now we have a sound for the sun, we have a sound for the moon, a sound for Saturn and the stars and the pulsars. That’s what this band is about.”
Through his multiple sonic experiments and extensive travels as an ambassador, archivist, preservationist and conduit for the “world beat,” Hart has arrived at a sincere and assured understanding of the potential role music can and should play in our collective future consciousness.
“The entertainment value will always be there, but the medical uses of music are the most exciting frontier. Whether it is to uplift the spirit or elevate the consciousness, or in treating dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s…music is universal. There is no culture that does not have music. It is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s one of the things that make us human. Music therapy is science being used in music and music being used in science. That is the future of music.”
The Lumberjack( LJ): How was it collaborating once again with Robert Hunter [the main lyricist for the Grateful Dead] on lyrics?
Mickey Hart (MH): Glorious. Glorious. Hunter is a genius, visionary [and] poet, and he got this project; he really nailed it. Normally Hunter and I work in a different way, where I give him the music and he writes the words. His suggestions usually are much better than the ones I’ve given him over the years. His thinking is so much more far-reaching, as far as lyrically, than I can ever imagine, so he does it all. For this particular project he concentrated on man and the universe. Once he gave me the words, then it all came together and the songs were born. What we have is improvisational music combining the celestial sounds and what you’d call world music, you know, is my music I normally play.
LJ: You have been drumming for over four decades now. What is it about this particular instrument that continues to captivate and inspire you after all these years?
MH: Only four? No man, I’ve been drumming a lot longer than that. I think you should put that at maybe . . . 65 years. It’s the rhythm, stupid. It’s the rhythm, stupid. It’s all about the vibrational world. That’s my job; that’s what I love to do. I like to identify and play with time because of the vibratory world. Drums are the best way of laying down rhythm; nothing against flutes and guitars and all that, but drums are made, their short and sharp sound bites really leave a trail, as opposed to the other elements of music which are harmony and melody. Drums make rhythm, real good rhythm. So, that’s always been my connection through drums; I like the way they sound, but it’s not really about drums and drumming. That’s just tools; it’s about entraining with the vibratory world; that’s the whole thing behind drums and drumming and music.
LJ: You’ve recorded musical scores for numerous feature films, television shows and events. Do one or two of those experiences stick out in your mind as being particularly profound or memorable?
MH: Apocalypse Now. It’s got to be Apocalypse Now. It has got to be napalm, the making of napalm, the sounding of napalm. That was a great moment. Napalm isn’t easy to make, synthesize or create. We did it on the monochord, the Korean monochord, which I’m playing now, better known as The Beam. That’s one of my most thrilling instruments to play, which now has grown up and is the new incarnation of the monochord. If Pythagoras could be with us, he would be smiling from ear to ear. …
LJ: Through your career you’ve immersed yourself in the study of international music and percussion. You’re a noted ethnomusicologist who has helped save venerable music traditions by working with both the American Folklife Center and Center for Folklife and American Heritage. What first piqued your interest in world music?
MH: That’s interesting. That’s an interesting question. But it’s also easily identified. It would be the pygmies from Africa. I was nine and my mom had inherited a collection of Count Bassie records, and in the middle of it [was] ethnic music from around the world. I would listen to them constantly. They just grabbed my imagination; it was music from out there that nobody had ever really heard. It wasn’t on the radio; you didn’t go into stores to buy it, so this was a strange, new and magical music. I got the magic of these lovely voices in the rainforest and that’s what started it. …
LJ: After Mysterium Tremendum is released this April, do you have any immediate plans?
MH: Well, my next big project is the sonification of the Golden Gate Bridge for its 75th Anniversary. I’m sonifying the Golden Gate Bridge. I have the seismic information and I’ve started the sonification process. May 27th I’ll be performing the bridge in Crissy field, if everything goes right, if schedules work. The plan is to be there that evening to let the bridge hear its new song. To bring it into our range of our hearing, I see it as a giant landmark, now we’ll know not only what it looks like but what it sounds like.
LJ: You’re donating 100 percent of all online ticketing fees from MickeyHart.net to Music Therapy. How long have you been involved with the organization and why did you decide to donate to them specifically?
MH: I noticed years ago, in maybe the ‘70s or ‘80s, that music had some kind of innate energy power to stimulate people who had motor problems – dementia, Parkinson’s, autism, so forth. I had played my drums for my grandmother, who was in advanced Alzheimer’s. [Before that,] she hadn’t spoken for about a year. She said my name, and that singular event put me on to the thought that, ‘Hmmm, I’ve seen people go in and out of trance; music is a hearing agent; being able to clear those neural pathways with music and rhythm, to be able to recollect what was broken.’ Simple drum beats can do that. That’s what started it.
I got deeper into it in 1991 when I testified in front of the Senate about the power of rhythm and its healing properties. Harry Reid was the Committee Chairmen at the time, back in ‘91, [and] Harry understood that there were powers in music that we needed to know about and use. So that’s how it started, and it has progressed over the years until here we are. I want to bring attention to all these skilled men and woman who are using music as medicine. They need support; they need money; they need to be honored for their skill. We need more people like hospitals, and hospices all over to make music for people to stimulate the connecting tissue that has been broken. That is my interest in Music Therapy.
LJ: You are a member of a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame band, you have won multiple Grammies, you have been involved with a rich and eclectic mix of musical projects and you’ve carved out your own little piece in music history. Do you ever stop to congratulate yourself or are you too busy enjoying the ride?
MH: You can’t look back. Well, you can, but only briefly. It’s not what’s back there; that’s already done. It’s what’s here and out there, not back. The grand plan, there is no grand plan, and that’s what makes the open road so much fun, to be able to go where your bliss takes you. Wherever your heart and passion is, being in the Grateful Dead has been a boom in that respect, because I was able to do anything, still am, that my creative spirit allows me. I was actually encouraged by the rest of the band on all those projects. Jerry was with me in Washington, Bobby and Jerry went to rainforests, wherever it takes us. So now I’m here. And I’m going there, out there now. It seems like that’s what I’m here to do right now.
Mickey Hart on the Grateful Dead: ‘We Weren’t a Girl Scouts Troop’ – Drummer’s new band plays ‘sounds of the universe’ by Benjy Eisen – April 16, 2012
As the percussionist in the Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart explored the outer reaches of American popular music. As a musicologist with the Smithsonian Institute, Hart has explored historical rhythms from around the world. But in recent years, Hart has been exploring music from outer space – quite literally. Space itself is a vacuum where no sound can escape, so Hart commissioned a team of scientists to measure the properties and light waves of certain celestial bodies – from planets and stars to entire galaxies and nebulae – and convert them to sound waves using advanced algorithms. …
Before launching a national tour, Hart sat down with Rolling Stone at his studio in Sonoma County, California to discuss why – while he misses the “brotherhood” – there could never be another Grateful Dead.
Do you ever feel burdened by the pressure to still play at least a few Grateful Dead songs every time you play live?
I don’t feel burdened at all – I birthed this music! These are my babies. And certain songs really play well into this band. Not all of them. The sensibilities just aren’t the same as the Grateful Dead. But there are certain songs that this band could just completely kill, and so we slowly bring it into the repertoire. And I love playing Grateful Dead songs the right way – the way I think the energy should be. This band doesn’t really know about the Grateful Dead. This is wonderful. They don’t have to copy Jerry [Garcia]. We don’t have a Jerry clone or a Phil [Lesh] clone or a Bob [Weir] clone – God forbid. There can’t be two of them!
The Grateful Dead still release so many archival concerts. Archivist David Lemieux said that he doubts anybody in the band actually listens to the finished CDs, but your band-mate Bill Kreutzmann told me that he personally does. Do you?
No, I don’t think we really listen to them. Mostly. I’ve already done it and it’s in the past and it’s for everybody else now. It’s like reliving your artwork. Looking at your artwork over and over again. I’m moving on to the future. I’m trying to become a better musician. Because when I hear us, the Grateful Dead, I hear a lot of mistakes, things I would’ve done better, this or that. Every once in awhile I’ll listen to it, sure. But it’s not something that when I get a new release I go to the speakers and listen to it. Like I say, it’s for everyone else to enjoy, take with them and do good stuff with it.
What do you think it is about the Grateful Dead’s music that makes it still so important to so many people and still so relevant today?
Well, I think it’s a combination of who we are. That’s one thing. I think it’s also the passion and the energy and the commitment that we made to the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead was our life. It was part of our DNA. It was like a mission from God . . . It seemed like destiny. I don’t think there could be a Grateful Dead now. I mean, considering the laws of the country. We were a bunch of outlaws running about the country, ingesting psychoactive drugs, playing this amazing music from another time and space. So we were exploring a new musical topography. It would be really hard to get away with that these days, especially going through airports and everything – borders. Let’s think about the reality of being the Grateful Dead: We weren’t a Girl Scouts troop. So it had its dangers. But the upside was more than the dangers of being in it. And everybody loved each other.
There was a real love and respect and community within ourselves and we knew that we were doing good things, and we knew that we were certainly uplifting our consciousness and certainly uplifting the people that were in this sphere. In a way, it was a social experiment, and so it was a duty for us to do this to get people high. To go to places where they needed our juice, our sound, to make a better world, to create more kindness.
The Grateful Dead were very kind. It was Santa Claus. It did good things. It allowed other people to benefit. The benefits that we played were enormous, and we played free. So you’ve got a band that loves to play free, and that was a wonderful thing. We played free so beautifully because we didn’t owe the people anything, so we just played out of our heads, and we just played whatever came into our heads and into our soul. There were very little restrictions. People didn’t blame anybody for making a mistake. There was no such thing. No one got yelled at when they got off the stage. Most of the time we never even talked about the music. We’d get into the van and we were talking about anything, but not normally the music. That’s magic, and it’s really hard to talk about something that’s invisible. And music is invisible. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. You can hear it and you can feel it – you can be touched by it.
The way you still talk about the Grateful Dead, there’s a lot of heart and soul in it. Do you miss the band, on a day-to-day basis?
Oh yeah, of course. I certainly do. Are you kidding? Yeah, I miss the Grateful Dead. I miss that groove. I miss the brotherhood. Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it. …
If Jerry Garcia had been able to clean up his act and get healthy, do you think the Dead would’ve continued, even if they had to take a break for a while?
Yeah, I do. I really do. I think that if the organism was healthy and Jerry was healthy – which was very important, because he was a guiding light. He really was. And his guitar said more than just a note. It was not just a note, it wasn’t a song, it was some kind of passion and meaning that was quite deeper, and that’s why his sound was so special.
There were many times during our career when he could’ve quit and done something else. But he knew that his power was with the Grateful Dead. He didn’t want to go solo. Jerry was a groupist. He loved to group. And with mutual respect, ultimate total respect, for each other. Which I still have, totally, with everyone in the band. It’s just now we go our own ways, we explore our inner orchestra and find out what our dreams sound like.
We know what the Grateful Dead music sounds like. We’ve done that. I speak for myself. I mean, you can reinvent it and reinvent it forever. And I like to do that too, sometimes – and I do that with this band. But we’ve done it.
For Mickey Hart, it’s a psychedelic trip to the heart of being human. “The beginning of life is rhythm. When you’re in the womb your mother’s heart is beating at (about 90) decibels until you hit the air and you’re exposed to other rhythms,” Hart said. “We were born of vibration 13.7 billion years ago with the explosion of the universe.” Hart is no stranger to the far out. After 24 years with the Grateful Dead and taking an interest in global music, Hart has turned to scientific collaborations. He worked with Nobel Prize-winning physicist George Smoot at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to convert light and electromagnetic waves from the Big Bang into music. That ongoing project resulted in 2010 in Hart’s “Rhythms of the Universe.”
Hart also is recording the sounds of the Golden Gate Bridge’s movement for the structure’s upcoming 75th anniversary. “You can understand data by perceiving it another way,” Smoot said. “Mickey’s creative and he gets excited about this stuff.” In his work with the Gladstone Institutes, the Sonoma County resident hopes to go from the vast matter of space to the vast molecules of inner space. “These are great mysteries worth pondering,” Hart said, adding that there is a lot of anecdotal information about how music can stimulate some people to better health. “When rhythm and vibration are put back into the system, we know it works, but we just don’t know how.
I’d like to start this blog with a confession, I’m a Deadhead—and as such, I have very strong opinions on all things related to the Dead, that may, or may not, have any basis in anyone’s reality except mine. That said, my experience was that behind Jerry Garcia, pushing constantly into new space, was Mickey Hart.
Infamous for being one of the two drummers of the Grateful Dead—Hart tapped into something in the late 1970s—while he was playing the infamous Beam—that propelled the Dead into even further corners of deep space for the next twenty years. At a time when the drums sequence of a show meant that the legion of fans stepped to the hallways to take a bathroom break—Hart reenergized that segment of the show with talking drums, master percussionists and an impassioned playing. Something was taking place, and it was if, Hart had dialed up the universe on the drums and was having a public conversation in which everybody who was still listening could add their two bits.
Hart is, and always has been a pioneer in sound, championing the rarely heard music of indigenous cultures, and synthesizing his own weird mix of tribal fusion. On the phone, Hart comes across as a renegade from another dimension, interspersing his language with statements that sound as if Spock said them. Take for example, “I’m trying to fill in the timeline from the beginning of creation—sonically speaking.” What this means to us journeymen is that Hart has something very special planned for us on this tour.
From his treks across the globe that were preserved in a 25 disc release by Smithsonian Folklife (an imprint of the Smithsonian Institute), to his recent recordings of the Golden Gate Bridge that will be played during the 75th anniversary on May 26th and 27th, 2012, Hart is a man in motion. The new band is eclectic and electric combing members of the Bay Area music scene and the sounds of Pulsars, Quasars, and the seminal big bang into an alchemical version of musica universalis. Kicking off the tour in Santa Cruz at the Rio Theatre this Thursday—it’s going to get weird!
MICKEY QUOTES FROM INTERVIEW
This is not for everyone. We’re going into new space here. Literally, new space—it’s a new musical topography. Dancing with epic events from our ancestory—what makes this show really special is dancing with the sounds of deep space. Not a science fiction version, not some Twilight Zone—interacting with sounds that emanate from the beginning of space, some 13.7 billion years ago. Those are the seed sounds that blew us into creation.
I use science in my art—we all do with computers, and so forth. Musicians in the last twenty years have started to use science. Music itself can be looked at as science being made up of vibrations. And music and vibrations all come down to math and mathematical formulas. The light and radiation that comes to us from these incredibly distant celestial objects that is picked up on radio telescopes on earth. The radio telescopes read it as light waves and then I change that into sound—it’s called sonification. I take that and sound design it and make it into art and music that we can share with whole earth music. That’s the kind of music we play on this planet—whole earth music. Anything heard between us and the moon, or sub-lunar, I call whole earth music. This project has little to do with sub-lunar sounds. I do sample the radiation coming from the earth and use that in composition as well. I’m trying to fill in the timeline from the beginning of creation—sonically speaking. The history of the sound of the universe—sonically. I’m taking different events in the universe not a full chronology.
The Mickey Hart Band, a new group fronted by the former drummer for the Grateful Dead, offers a solution to getting your groove back. The band combines an uplifting spirit with complex polyrhythms, performing both Grateful Dead songs and originals, many of the latter co-written by long-time Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The Mickey Hart Band has two lead singers, but the music centers on long, improvisational excursions that entrance and carry listeners on a musical journey.
Hart, calling from northern California, is fighting a cold and is eager to return to the recording studio. But his life-long obsession with playing and studying music lead him to give extended, scholarly explanations about interests that include astrophysics, music therapy and ethnomusicology. For Hart, music and drumming are much more than something you play. He says he sees all life in rhythmic terms. “Music is a miniature of the vibratory universe. We don’t know how it works. Every culture has its own music. It is a mirror of the human condition.”
For three years, Hart has been working with NASA and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to convert light waves that originated with the “Big Bang” origin of the universe. The signals come from radio telescopes all over the world. Light waves, much faster than sound, are converted into sound waves, a process called sonification. Hart says, “I then feed them into my computer and sound design them into music. A lot of [the raw material] is just noise.” The resulting sounds and rhythms are used in the Mickey Hart Band.
This sounds more than a bit esoteric, but the new music is easily accessible to jam band fans. The groove is generally mellow, with interlocking beats topped by effects-laden guitar work that is reminiscent of the late Dead leader Jerry Garcia. The 68-year old Hart had parents that were both rudimental (marching band) drummers. After meeting Bill Kreutzmann, he joined the Grateful Dead in 1967 as the group’s other drummer and percussionist. The two were called The Rhythm Devils and became known for their extended “Drums/Space” duo performances during Dead sets. …
Hart’s books “Drumming at the Edge of Magic” (1990) and “Planet Drum” (1991) describe the history of drums in cultures around the world, and tell how music and rhythm can be used for healing and spiritual transformation. He believes that music therapists are now beginning a revolution in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, autism and other conditions.
“Music therapy discoveries are popping up all over the place. It has become a very specialized field, and an exciting one. Music is medicine, beyond entertainment and art. It has its own innate power. The mind has a special place to process music.”
Hart has been involved with world music for years, although he is not fond of the term, insisting, “There’s no such thing as world music.” He won the first Grammy ever awarded in that category for his “Planet Drum” album in 1991. In October, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings re-released the “Mickey Hart Collection” of 25 CDs (the original recordings were on a variety of labels). They include chants by Tibetan Gyuto monks, songs of Great Lakes Indians, songs of rainforest people of South America and the Caribbean, and other endangered music.
Other CDs include “Dafos,” Hart’s collaboration with percussionist Airto and vocalist Flora Purim, and the soundtrack for the film “Apocalypse Now,” which Hart composed with fellow Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. Hart donated his entire collection to Folkways, so many more releases should follow.
Hart has been involved for years in efforts to preserve recordings of indigenous people from around the world. “The most stable medium is magnetic tape, but they have also been done on wax, tin and wire. Each has their own problems.” Hart has made many recordings of his own, and has used tape for years. Now, he says, “The difference between digital and analog is much smaller. The digital machines have gotten much smarter, and there is a very realistic live sound from the high end.”
Hart says that for centuries, music has been taken away from people as a means to subjugate them. “The church took away their music and gave them a Bible and polyphony,” he says. In his books he describes how drums were forbidden to many Africans after they were captured for the slave trade. “Taking away a culture’s music is cultural and spiritual genocide,” he says.
Mickey Hart, the former percussionist for the legendary San Francisco jam band Grateful Dead has never met a world beat he didn’t like. And that’s reflected in the new Smithsonian Folkways world music series that he’s curating, “The Mickey Hart Collection,” that will be released October 11.
Comprised of 25 albums, the series includes music from regions that span the globe, including Sudan, Nigeria, Tibet, Indonesia, Latvia and Brazil. Listen to the albums in this series and no doubt you’ll come away having heard genres and instruments you’ve never heard before, like the ngoma, oud, bouzouki, darabukka, or the dungchen. The album series includes Hart’s solo projects, plus other artists’ productions, as well as re-releases of out-of-print titles.
But how did the drummer for a counter-culture jam band become entranced with rhythms from around the globe? It turns out he’s been worldly for some time. “I was entranced as a young boy by the rhythms of West Africa by way of Cuba, Haiti,” Hart told Smithsonian Folkways in a recent interview. “They all were the rhythms that spawned the music of American music, because they were everywhere and you could dance to them. They were polyrhythmic. They were dance music. And I loved the music that made you dance.”
While living in the Bay Area during the late 1960s, Hart recorded exotic musicians like sitarist Ravi Shankar and sarodist Ali Akbar Khan. Though the musicians weren’t household names in the United States at the time, Hart respected their virtuosity. “I treated each recording as if it would sell a million copies,” Hart recalled to Smithsonian Folkways. “I always recorded it at the highest resolution and had it mastered at the same place I was mastering Grateful Dead material.”
Mickey Hart Awarded Library of Congress Living Legend in April 2000
For nearly three decades, Mickey Hart was percussionist with the Grateful Dead. He is also a social activist concerned with the problems of the aging, the relationship between rhythm and healing, ecology and the environment, and most recently the plight of deteriorating and at-risk ethnographic field recordings. He created the Endangered Music Project to issue, in easily available CD form, field recordings of world music from the Archive of Folk Culture, and is currently on the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center. Author of two books on the history of drumming, Hart won a Grammy in 1991, in the world music category, for his album “Planet Drum.”
Established during its Bicentennial celebration in 2000, the Library of Congress’ “Living Legend” award is selected by the Library’s curators and subject specialists to honor artists, writers, activists, filmmakers, physicians, entertainers, sports figures and public servants who have made significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific and social heritage. The professional accomplishments of the Living Legends have enabled them to provide examples of personal excellence that have benefited others and enriched the nation in a variety of ways.
The Smithsonian Folkways Mickey Hart Collection
“Our new technologies are part of a powerful civilization which is rapidly transforming the world around us. It changes the environment, often in ways that endanger the delicate ecological balance nature has wrought over the millennia. It also brings radical change to other cultures… Sometimes that change is empowering. But all too often it endangers precious human ways of life, just as surely as it endangers the environment within which those ways of life flourish…. This series is dedicated to the hope that with education, empathy, and assistance, imperiled cultures can survive. Proceeds from the project will be used to support the performers and their cultures and to produce future releases.” – Mickey Hart and Alan Jabbour, Director/American Folklife Center
Alongside his work of nearly 30 years as a drummer with iconic rock band the Grateful Dead, MICKEY HART has flourished as a solo artist, painter, bandleader and the author of several books. His lifelong interest in ethnomusicology, along with his travels and love of all things percussion have led him to amass a remarkable collection of instruments, and to collaborate with musical masters the world over.
Hart became interested in percussion as a grade-school student. Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji performed at schools around the country in the late 1950s and had the students try out the drums. Hart had been one of those students and he never forgot the experience. Olatunji later taught Hart and collaborated with Hart and the Grateful Dead on a regular basis.
INNOVATORS IN MUSIC was fortunate to spend the better part of two days at Mickey’s home and studio in a remote area of northern California. Mr. Hart generously shares his thoughts about music, art, space, vibrations, percussion, the Big Bang, the Grateful Dead, and the impromptu miracle of true collaborative improvisation.
He gives us a tour of his painting studio, expounds on the benefits of growing Japanese Bonsai trees, and reveals the secret foraging methods that led to his discovery of a spectacular set of petrified Redwood Deadwood. We also see his recording studio, home to the world’s largest private collection of drums. Listen and watch as Mickey is joined by Indian tabla master Zakir Hussein and Nigerian talking drum guru Sikiru Adepoju for an exclusive session of music recorded for INNOVATORS!