This article was originally posted in our Dick Latvala Forum
David Gans and I went up to see Dick Latvala yesterday in the hospital. I didn't know what to expect -- the word "coma" implied a lack of activity to me; I feared I'd walk in and see an inanimate shell in the bed, a vacated meat house wherein once dwelled a spirit I loved. This has all been sudden and terrible. I spoke to Dick last Tuesday to wish him a happy 56th birthday. He told me he'd had the kind of birthday he really wanted to have: slept all day, getting up to watch Imus from the night before. He loves Imus -- for a sweet guy who often lets others call shots, I can see why he gets a kick out of an unapologetic asshole who dominates everyone. Imus is Dick's id unchained.
Dick was in a great mood on Tuesday. He asked me what era he should aim for with the next Dick's Picks (not a special honor, he asks everyone), and I told him either the mid '80s, the late '80s, or the very early '90s. One of his candidates fell within one of those time-zones, so we talked about that show. It sounded great. Dick's greatest pleasure is to blow the minds of Deadheads out there who he imagines are as into having their minds blown as he is. He can listen to tapes for six hours straight and still get beside himself when an especially asskicking version of some tune, *any* tune, gets laid down. "This is the best version of [insert title] there's ever been!" he'll rave with absolute seriousness, like a kid discovering not a bike under his Christmas tree, but a jetpowered Harley with a space helmet. It doesn't matter whether it actually is the best version technically speaking -- for that moment in Dick's life, there is nothing else. It's a kind of clear-creek Zen at the core of his ragged life, not dwelling in frets or future aspirations. The shape of wow, over and over again. And being a scholar, Dick writes it all down, on hundreds of notebook pages -- a handwritten high-resolution map of the topography of the Grateful Dead continent.
"The Great Way is simple," Dogen-zenji advised. "Avoid picking and choosing." As head picker and chooser, Dick manages to juggle both minds at once -- wonder and overview -- without ever losing the ability to just soak it in, when the words don't matter anymore.
The right of visitation is parcelled out in the ICU: if two people come to see a loved one in this difficult place, one must wait outside the swinging door. David let me go first.
Whatever I was ready for, however much I'd tried to prepare myself or not think about it, I was still shocked when I walked in. I didn't even see Dick at first -- his son Richie and his first wife Carol were there, and an old friend from Dick's commune days named Charlotte, clustered in a circle of love around the bed. Dick was the small presence at the center of the circle, with tubes running out of his nose and mouth. He looked exposed, vulnerable, like a kid laying on his back, barefoot, under a green hospital gown. Mechanical sounds: pingings, the apparatus that has completely taken over Dick's respiration after his own nervous system stopped adding breaths to the 12-per-minute cycle of the machine after the first day.
What I wasn't ready for was how active Dick's face was. He knit his brow, he grimaced, his mouth -- his poor old-man's teeth removed -- fought to spit out the tube jammed down his throat. Richie held Dick's left hand while Carol cradled his left foot and stroked his leg, while Charlotte gently touched his furrowing forehead. He appeared not to be at rest, but engaged in battle in one of those perilous in-between places the Tibetans call the bardo. (According to their Book of the Dead, what happens there, what you do after you're dead, is very important: it's where you slot yourself into your next incarnation, or where the White Light appears, if you've brought good karma, or a sharp practice of mindfulness, into that no-Place.)
Dick's hands were warm, and he had good color in his face. Distressingly, his closed eyes were tearing, I was afraid to ask what that meant. There *did* seem to be a presence in him. He was no empty shell. When Richie spoke to Dick, he reacted with a little flicker of activity to his son's voice. I thought of the kitties that Dick puts food out for at the Dead's studio early every morning, making a special trip to feed them; I didn't mention them, fearful of triggering some nightmare of guilt in his mind, where ever he was now. Richie looks like his father when he was young and beautiful, and the emotion radiating toward the man Richie calls Dad was pure and life-sustaining. It sounds sentimental, but the love from Carol and Richie and Charlotte shone like a golden light around the bed, their voices soothing him. (In Hell there are angels, and they're us.)
Carol grinned as she told me that when the hospital chaplain had come in, asking if there was anything he could do, Dick had let loose with a thundering explosive fart. We agreed that that indicated that Dick was still Dick, using any means of communication at his disposal.
I looked down at Dick and didn't know what to say, not wanting to talk about him in the third person, not sure how to speak to him directly. Finally, I figured I should talk to him as I normally do: "Dickie, sweetie, get up, it's me, Diga Baby!" I said, and took his hand. That's how I always talk to him: there's little standard refrigerated male distance between us: we babble happily to each other in babytalk and nicknames for hours on the phone, one young middle-aged guy and an older middle-aged guy who agreed years ago simply to like each other without a lot of dire preliminary tests or barbed wire. I know just why he gets up at dawn to feed those cats, and he knows I know, and we don't even spend all of our time talking about the music, because I figured out a while ago that the only way Dick was ever going to be iron-clad sure that I wasn't loving him for his tapes was to never ask for any. I love him, and that love outlasted even my craving to get more tapes; and knowing that together has nourished me more in the last 6 years than all the Scarlet > Fires I could have wheedled out of him.
I held Dick's hand for as long as I could, but left to give David a chance to have time with him, and then the big EEG cart was wheeled in, calling off all visits until the tests were done.
In the backyard of the hospital, David and John and Annie Cutler and Dick's roommates and Richie sat at a table in the sun, not saying a lot, feeling everything.
Later that day, David and I went to Club Front to continue work on the "So Many Roads" project that has become, without anyone saying it yet, a tribute to Dick. We ran into Nancy Mallonee, the Dead's chief financial officer, who told us the Dead-office family had joined in the focusing of healing beams toward Dick at noon that was organized by somebody on the Internet. She explained how they'd given their prayers an extra burst of Dick energy: "We touched the vault!"
With angels like that rooting for him, Dick has a lot of help finding his way in the bardo. May he choose wisely, and if it's right for him, may our old friend come back to us soon.
Steve Silberman co-author, "Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads"
The following article was originally posted by David Gans, Truth and Fun, Inc.
This was written by my friend Michael Nash, who wrote the liner notes for the 12/29/77 Dick's Picks release...
I first met Dick in the mid-80's, when I called to interview him for an article I was writing. This was well before the advent of Dick's Picks and, in turn, Dick's notoriety, so he was rather astounded that someone wished to interview him at all. He was certain I'd made a mistake. Assuring him that I hadn't, he was elated and and it was an animated first meeting, to say the least.
He'd also apparently read something I'd written about a show which he felt was, as Dick put it, "a pivotal moment in the history of the universe," and thus decided I was a kindred spirit. So began my friendship with Dick.
In the course of the years that followed, he would routinely invite me to his home - beginning with an Albany high-rise apartment which overlooked the Bay, then to a house in the Berkeley hills where we'd play croquet in the backyard, and finally to his pad in Petaluma - for momentous listening sessions which could easily last six hours at a stretch. After insuring that I was in the proper state of mind, so to speak, Dick would instruct me to hold on to the couch because he was about to play me something which, in Dick's words, "IS GOING TO BLOW YOUR MIND RIGHT OUT THE WINDOW AND HALFWAY TO HAWAII!" or perhaps "IS THE GREATEST EXAMPLE OF COLLECTIVE IMPROVISATION IN THE HISTORY OF WESTERN CULTURE!" or maybe "CONTAINS THE MOMENT WHEN THE UNIVERSE AS WE KNOW IT WOULD IRREVOCABLY CHANGE ITS COURSE FOREVER AND COMPLETELY!"
He would offer these descriptions, and countless others, in that crazed and wonderfully hyperbolic yet profoundly earnest way that was the essence of Dick describing what gave him joy. Thereupon, he would push the play button on his tape deck and turn the volume up to such extremes that I was certain neighbors would soon be axing down his door, police would be dispatched to cart him away or perhaps the walls would just tumble down like Jericho. None of these things ever happened, though. Instead, the music would play on and Dick's predictions and reflections somehow came true - mind blown, culture impacted, universe altered. And when it was over, there was Dick wearing his silly grin.
Dick didn't speak when the music was playing and you weren't supposed to either. It was for LISTENING, for him sharing with you what he'd spent so much time exploring and discovering. He wanted you to know it,too, to savor the buried treasure he'd found. That gave him great pleasure.
Between the music, there was plenty of time to talk and Dick told me endless tales, reflecting on moments that he felt changed his life (if not the universe) or ruminating over his concept of what he called "Primal Dead." This he did with both the exuberance of a little kid and the gravity of a seasoned academician. After all, this was his life work. He loved it and considered it important. He always told me it was "an honor and a privilege" to have me visit and he meant it. Within his often raucous exterior lived a gentle soul with extraordinary heart and humility.
I would do him small favors now and again which, in his eyes, were monumental. I once bought him a poster for a run of shows from the Fillmore West in the spring of 1969 - shows that meant the world to him - and he was just thrilled beyond thought. He framed it and put it on the wall of every house he lived in over the years I knew him.
Dick loved gospel and R&B and once told me his favorite tune of all time was called "Stand Up On The Mountain." It was his Holy Grail and he lamented that he'd never been able to find the record. Months later, after rummaging around in the back of Village Music, I found an old 45 of the song, gift wrapped it and presented it to Dick the next time we met. He absolutely lost it, put the 45 on his turntable and sang along at the top of his lungs.That day I attained sainthood in the eyes of Mr. Latvala and he never let me forget it.
Somewhere along the line, once Dick's Picks became a reality, he'd decided that if and when he ever released a certain show from Winterland which we both loved (12/29/77), I would be the person to write the liner notes. Having shared our memories of that night, he was convinced that I was the only man for the job. So, one day in the winter of 1997, the phone rings and I answer to hear Dick's voice booming on the other end: "TODAY'S THE DAY! THEY'RE BAKING THE TAPES! START WRITING!"
He made the gravity of my task quite clear, because to him this was a mission and he was recruiting me to help carry it out. And though there's a side of that which is clearly humorous, the flip side is dead serious - Dick indeed had a mission and with it a great deal of integrity about how it was to be accomplished. My ultimate reward was a copy of Dick's Picks 10 upon which was Dick's handwritten note, telling me that I'd done great justice to a tremendous night and thanking me in words and languages that he said need not be voiced to be understood. Mission accomplished.
I never thought that less than two years later, he'd be gone. I realize I'm rambling on a bit, but lives are too short and words never enough to even signpost their depth and complexity. I just wanted to share a few of my experiences with Dick, because that what Dick was about - sharing. Anyone who knew him knows that.
Dick was an eccentric and an individualist of the highest order. He was out of his mind yet remarkably grounded. He was prideful yet remarkably self-effacing. He was a complicated character but ultimately pretty sweet and simple. Given the politics which evolved within the odd world where he did his job, he managedto stay pretty damn true to himself. He lived as he chose to live.
David Byrne once sang, "If your work isn't what you love, then something isn't right." Needless to say, he wasn't singing about Dick Latvala.
Thanks, Dick, for always treating me with kindness, respect and gratitude - how rare and remarkable that is in anyone! Thanks for making me laugh, for getting me high.Thanks for playing me some incredible music, music made all the more incredible by the sheer delight you took in playing it for me. Thanks for adding your unique hue and tone to the world, a world that looks and sounds all the richer for it. Thanks for your time and energy. See ya, Dick. You're gone way too soon.
The first letter I got from him, dated 12/15/77. I was writing a "Dead Ahead" column for BAM (a music magazine in California), and Dick wrote me a letter that began our 22-year friendship. I have posted the letter as a pair of (approximately 500K each) JPEG files at http://www.trufun.com/latvala.letter.html
Transcript of our first radio interview, conducted 10/5/93 at my house and broadcast on the GD Hour to announce the first of the Dick's Picks series. You can read it at http://www.trufun.com/latvala.931005.html
Another interview, at http://www.well.com/conf/gdhour/latvala.970226.html
(The original article is here)
Grateful Dead tape archivist Dick Latvala, who amassed what is believed to be the largest single-band collection of live concerts in the world, died in his Petaluma home Friday following a heart attack. He was 56.
Grateful Dead spokesman Dennis McNally said Mr. Latvala was an "amateur" tape collector who "went pro," actually getting a job with the band in 1985.
As the official Grateful Dead archivist, Mr. Latvala was the gatekeeper of the band's vault, which includes full taped recordings of about 1,500 of the band's 2,400 live concerts.
"This is a guy who totally lived and breathed music," said Blair Jackson of Oakland, a friend of Mr. Latvala's for almost two decades. "He got up in the morning and put on music, then he listened to it all day long."
The Grateful Dead, which stopped touring after band member Jerry Garcia died in 1995, had a unique approach toward live shows - fans were allowed to "bootleg" the concerts, as long as the tapes weren't used commercially.
"When we're done with it, you can have it," Garcia once said of the band's music.
Following Garcia's words to the extreme, Mr. Latvala started collecting recordings of live Dead shows in the early 1970s, just a few years after the advent of cassette tapes in 1969.
By the mid-80s, his living room walls were lined with tapes.
His notoriety within the community of Deadheads led to a job offer from the band.
In the years since Garcia's death, 14 CDs from the archives, entitled "Dick's Picks," have been released, selling almost 1 million copies.
"He was utterly committed to the vision that the Grateful Dead is the best thing you could spend your time with," McNally said.
Mr. Latvala graduated from Albany High School in 1961 and from San Francisco State University about six years later.
But his real education came at live shows in San Francisco in the 1960s, where he followed bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Mr. Latvala once said his first experience with LSD was perfectly legal - he was paid $500 to take the drug in 1965, as part of a research project in Menlo Park.
"He told me that in 1966, he did nothing but take acid and go to shows," Jackson said. "He told me that's what he was put on Earth to do: get high and go to these shows."
The ultimate high came in 1965, when he saw the Warlocks, who later would change their name to the Grateful Dead.
In a 1993 interview with David Gans, who hosts a Grateful Dead show on KPFA, Mr. Latvala said he discovered live tapes in 1974.
"Once that happened, the only thing that became important to me was getting the tapes and finding people who made them, and collecting them," Mr. Latvala said.
While Mr. Latvala lived in Hawaii during much of the Dead's nearly 30 years on the road, he spent much of his "vacation" time in the Bay Area.
"I've had this kind of sentiment and a fantasy going since I first discovered live tapes in 1974," Mr. Latvala told Gans. "And now it's a reality . . . it seems like the pinnacle. You know, I can't go any higher."
Mr. Latvala is survived by his son Richard; his mother, Sylvia Latvala; his sisters, Kathy Rogers and Pat Church and "by loving Deadheads everywhere," McNally said. Services will be private. In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations to the Petaluma Hospice.
©1999 San Francisco Examiner