Grateful Lifeless Tape Collector Mark A. Rodriguez Talks Tape Buying and selling, Conceptual Artwork, and His New Guide

picture 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 “crucial members of the band”, or some such. In terms of the Grateful Lifeless and their offshoots, although, there may very well be one thing to it.

Complete cottage industries have grown across the Lifeless over time, all created as a present of devotion, a method to unfold the Good Phrase. These artisanal hordes descend upon the open-air “Shakedown Road” markets that pop up in each Lifeless-related present’s 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 massive.

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 follow, lengthy tolerated by the band so long as the tapers weren’t cashing in on it, has perpetuated a well-liked notion that the Lifeless’s exploratory dwell recordings are of larger worth to listeners than any of their studio data. Many more moderen followers might forego the analog route in favor of streams on or the numerous 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 in depth artwork undertaking. This resulted first in documenting the tapes’ fan-designed tape covers (“j-cards”, in cassette tradition parlance) as Lifeless 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. Stated 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.

Dead Tape Collector Instagram

Now, Rodriguez’s ongoing undertaking has yielded a espresso desk e book, After All is Stated and Completed: Taping the Grateful Lifeless, 1965-1995, out September 20 from Anthology Editions. Past compiling photographs from a whole bunch of customized j-cards, Rodriguez provides 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 Lifeless channel), classic interviews with Jerry Garcia and Lifeless 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 undertaking an implicit seal of band approval.

We sat down with Rodriguez just lately by way of video chat to debate the e book, 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 undertaking. Right here, edited for size and readability, is that dialog.

AllMusic: How did you first come to the Grateful Lifeless? Had been you drawn extra to the iconography, the music, or one thing else?

Mark A. Rodriguez: I used to be drawn to the Lifeless as a tweenster, and in accordance with 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 basic rock, and being the curious particular person I used to be, I spent a variety of time wanting by my mother’s data. She by no means collected Grateful Lifeless data, 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 acquired curious and acquired the What’s a Lengthy Unusual Journey It is Been set.

What a Long Strange Trip CDSo, I sort of acquired into them by myself, with out a 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 rigidity factors, I might by no means heard singers like this. There was a variety of backwards and forwards on whether or not I appreciated 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 concert events. As an alternative, I did a variety of analysis: I used to be all the time on the library, books on the historical past of music. My aunt gave me a e book 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 undertaking 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 acquired into the Lifeless, too, although, as a result of it was such a sluggish accumulation of information.

Within the web 1.0 period, although, all this stuff got here alongside that sped up the method: message boards, Lifeless.internet, all that stuff. From there, I acquired 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 acceptable that that may pull you in deeper! After All is Stated and Completed is a reasonably deep dive into that bootleg tape tradition surrounding the Lifeless, which includes a variety of handmade, distinctive artwork. As an artist your self, did which have something to do along with your stepping into the tape buying and selling side of the band?

Rodriguez: Not after I first acquired 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 undertaking that result in creating the e book, although, the reply is rather less clear. I used to be wanting extra at 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 completely 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 social gathering.

Fare Thee WellRodriguez: No. The members of the Lifeless have been nonetheless working, too, however had sort of petered out for a number of years between the early 2000s and their fiftieth anniversary reveals. 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 might determined to start out accumulating 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, they usually simply wished them to go to a superb dwelling. I’d contact them and clarify what I used to be doing, and over time of accumulating I might discover all these attention-grabbing new features to use as an artist.

AllMusic: What questions do you assume you have been making an attempt to reply with the Gen collection? What was the motivation?

Rodriguez: It took me 4-5 years to resolve I used to be going to start out one thing, as a result of there’s an inherent battle in there: how far do you go together with the gathering? Do you get to the place it is a full assortment? At that time limit, that wasn’t actually attainable, and even now there are nonetheless round 160 tapes lacking. I am on yr 12 within the accumulating a part of the undertaking; I may conceive of it taking one other 12-15 years to chip away at that record. So, when would I begin the precise artwork half?

There was additionally a query of how I’d match this into my bigger artwork follow. There are a variety of themes of repetition in my work, and replicating Americana in a manner the place my hand is ideally not that noticeable. That is how I developed this technique of dubbing from one assortment to the following.

The general idea, although, was creating a set and performing the sisyphean activity of accumulating each obtainable Grateful Lifeless present on tape. Inside that, there is a simultaneous effort on my half to degrade the data because it’s being generated as a set. That is kind of the primary crux of the undertaking. I simply wanted to determine greatest current it to an viewers visually.

From there, there have been a variety of different questions: what in regards to 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 very huge model of that, and show every thing in a deceptively mundane sort of manner.

So, there have been a variety of completely different questions occurring. Rather a lot to meander over!

AllMusic: That appears acceptable for a band as famously meandering because the Grateful Lifeless.

Rodriguez: Sure, however it in the end wraps up right into a neat bundle. 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 undertaking.

Even with the e book, there have been so many informational paths to decide on. The Grateful Lifeless has so many various connections to completely different sorts of individuals all around the world; a lot of subject material can discover its manner into it. I knew that folks would anticipate a variety 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 trivialities that they did not actually keep in mind.

AllMusic: As you have sort of implied, a variety of Deadheads who had actually prized their tape collections at one time limit began surrendering them as CD-Rs,, and the like grew to become obtainable. Is there one thing that you just’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 undertaking 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 teen. I am unsure what I am accessing there, however it was extra of a carefree time for me.

After I began a Tumblr web page in 2010 to get the phrase out in regards to the accumulating finish of the undertaking, it strengthened 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 method the topic as an grownup, somewhat than as a spaced-out child.

So far as how I really feel about tapes now: they’re an superior medium. Among the tapes in my assortment are from the Seventies and nonetheless sound wonderful, after in all probability going by every kind of climate and storage environments. The know-how itself could be very strong, however its continued existence depends on this small group of individuals believing within the know-how.

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 might be moving into that, although.

Within the artwork world I occupy, that is not likely an accusation that goes round at this level. You begin with Duchamp and transfer on by Warhol, Koons, Kaws… it is simply not likely an argument. After I first began this undertaking, inside the artwork world it was virtually laughable that I used to be working with the subject material of the Grateful Lifeless, however that modified with the resurgence of acknowledgment of the Lifeless inside popular culture. So, what had been a joke to some inside that group became them making an attempt to narrate to me by speaking in regards to the Grateful Lifeless, 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 inside the Lifeless neighborhood as a fellow fanatic. I used to be having extra real conversations across the band in that context, the type I might been used to as a Deadhead teenager, however that neighborhood did not actually know in regards to 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 wished to do this, in an effort to present what was occurring with the undertaking conceptually. I truly wished it to be three, the aim being that the viewer would see three tape racks, perceive that they are separate entities, then begin to query why there are three very comparable issues hanging at this prestigious artwork honest having to do with massive portions of Grateful Lifeless tapes.

Mark A Rodriguez Gen Project

The undertaking began to get a variety of press, which was wonderful, but in addition 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, they usually did not actually take the conceptual or sculptural component into consideration. They simply noticed it as utilizing sacred objects for my very own egocentric functions.

AllMusic: All artwork is fabricated from sacred objects, although, proper? If you happen to made artwork out of a bit of wooden, to any person 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 value of one of many items was revealed on some weblog, so it was sort of this basic cliche of “Hey maaan, the music is sacred and free! It may possibly’t be owned by anybody!”.

I am fairly jaded on that stage, although: the Grateful Lifeless 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 a particularly in style band that performs stadiums, and who had a line of pricy neckties within the Eighties. It is not an anarchist commune.

Rodriguez: Proper. So, it was attention-grabbing, however worrying. Being public with it was not my favourite factor, despite the fact that it was a pinnacle I wished to succeed in with the undertaking. It is gotten higher, however hopefully it would not occur once more with the e book. Hopefully, folks admire my making an attempt to make one thing that is actually heady and informative.

AllMusic: I’ve acquired yet one more, extraordinarily vital query: favourite “Darkish Star”?

Rodriguez: Oof. For me, I’ve by no means taken the path of “I will hearken to EVERY “Darkish Star”, despite the fact that 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 a tremendous undertaking in that regard… I solely hope the e book will be one thing that bizarre and attention-grabbing!

That stated, “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 wonderful. 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 a tremendous time taking part in that evening. Moments like that reinvigorate my religion in tapers capturing magic to be handed right down to youthful folks.

Mark A. Rodriguez’s espresso desk e book, After All is Stated and Completed: Taping the Grateful Lifeless, 1965-1995, might be obtainable on September 20 from Anthology Editions.