Dennis McNally: Cultural Catalyst
AAJ: Absolutely. It was a great concept and great execution.
DM: It was amazing, if I may say so, and if I could interject another commentI'd been in Lowell before the previous fall, but it was a typical gig day. I never left the motel, as I was working my ass off. So this was the first time I'd been in Lowell in thirty-one, thirty two years. The last time I'd been in Lowell was in the summer of'75 or '76I can't even rememberwhen I was researching the Kerouac book, and then I left for California. I finished writing the first draft in 1976 and then immediately left for California.
And let me tell you something: in the summer of '76, in the mid '70s, Kerouac was not greatly respected in Lowell. And, in fact, Lowell was economically flat on its back in bad shape. Some of the stuff, like the park downtown, was part of an overall economic resurgence for the city and a resurgence of the attitude about Kerouac because there's a big memorial to him now. It was amazing to come back to Lowell and to see the Kerouac celebration. When I was there in the '70s, every window in those mills was broken. They were hulks, they were abandoned, and Lowell was a grim gritty depressing place, to be honestpretty tough. It was startling and quite wonderful to see it looking great.
AAJ: In 2006, the local paper in Lowell ran an interview with Louie Perez [drummer/guitarist/songwriter and singer for Los Lobos]. It just so happened it was two weeks in advance of their latest album called The Town and The City (Hollywood, 2006), which is also the title of Kerouac's first novel). Most of the interview he did with the local paper had to do with Jack Kerouac and how his writing influenced Louie as a songwriter.
DM: I had no idea about that. I know Louie because we toured with Lobos and they are great guys; I loved hanging out with Steve Berlin. But there's a conversation I missed.
AAJ: Were you involved at all in the arrangements for the concert in support of Barack Obama?
DM: No, because that's a Dead thing and I don't work for The Dead. I was initially involved. To summarize a fantastically hilarious story, thougha long time ago, I got deeply involved with Deadheads who worked in Washington DC. There was what I perceived as a potential crisis, so I decided consciously, as the Dead's publicist, to find ourselves some political allies, and over the course of time we developed some allies, some friends in Washington.
AAJ: Is U.S. Senator Pat Leahey from Vermont one of them? [Laughs.]
DM: Pat is our favorite. Pat isin addition, to being an extremely well-respected politician and person with whom I agree on most things, but by no means allhe's absolutely one of the more genuine human beings that I know. He's realreally real, which is hard to believe that you could stay that way after twenty years in the Senate.
Anyway, as a result of all those connections, I introduced Bob to Senator Obama's chief of staff this summer, and out of that that evolved Deadheads for Obama. Did you see the listing for the October 13th benefit concert? It's all individual names, because to list it as "The Dead" or "The Allman Brothers," that's a corporate entity and if they work together, that's called bundling and that's illegal. How the Republicans get away with it, I don't know! At any rate, it's tremendously complicated [to arrange such a concert] but I'm very happy and I truly hope we can save our country.
AAJ: It was so gratifying to see how Bob showed up and played with Phil at the Warfield shows this May. I thought that was great because they have had their philosophical differences over the years
DM: You could say that!...
AAJ: But the fact they can still enjoy playing together is a great sign of faith in music.
Dennis McNally, Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America (DaCapo Press, 2003)
Dennis McNally, A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead (Broadway, 2002)
Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels (Riverhead, 2007)
Jack Kerouac, On the Road: 50th Anniversary Edition (Viking, 2007)
Jack Kerouac, The Town and The City (Harvest 2007)
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2006)
Grateful Dead, Road Trips Vol. 1 No. 4 (Grateful Dead/Rhino, 2008)
Grateful Dead, Rocking the Cradle Egypt 1978 (Grateful Dead/Rhino, 2008)
Los Lobos, The Town and the City (Hollywood, 2007)
Grateful Dead, The Complete Fillmore West Recordings 1969 (Grateful Dead/Rhino, 2006)
Grateful Dead, Beyond Description 1973-1989 (Grateful Dead/Rhino, 2004)
Grateful Dead, The Golden Road 1965-1973 (Rhino/Warner Archives, 2001)