Acid Test Productions
An Interview with Stacy Kreutzmann Quinn

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Acid Test Productions
An Interview with Stacy Kreutzmann Quinn
By Toni A. Brown

Having one of rock's most famous drummers as your father isn't always easy. Unlike most of the other children born to members of the Grateful Dead, Stacy Kreutzmann Quinn has decided to forge a career publicly. She recently formed Acid Test Productions, a publishing company that will release a number of books, many of which will realistically chronicle an often misunderstood time.

Quinn's intellect is surpassed only by her enthusiasm to set the record straight, as it were, on just what the psychedelic movement meant and its remaining legacy. She is passionate about what the '60s inspired, and her intention is to cut through the mainstream media's abstract view of hippie society, the Grateful Dead and its subsequent subculture of Deadheads.

Born to drummer Bill Kreutzmann in the formative years of the Grateful Dead's history, Quinn, 32, has been on the inside of one of this century's most enduring carnivals. While it was not always a simple life, it well prepared her to carry on as part of the next generation.

How was growing up around the Grateful Dead?

It was like being raised by the circus. There was a lot of concern when I went to kindergarten about how I would do. This bohemian kid, the stories of sleeping under the drums, the stories of being at acid tests. I was very sophisticated, precocious. I knew about everything. I've always been very streetwise. I think the best gift coming from the Grateful Dead is a sense of tolerance, love and openness of spirit, because that really did exist. It's not just a myth. I think if we can raise kids with that sort of value system, the problems of the world won't exist because there's this freedom. If you put it in Christian [context], it's like Jesus said, "There's many roads to my father's house." I'm not a Christian, but it's kind of the whole hippie mentality of "There's room for everyone, the party's great. The pool's wonderful, jump in the water." So that spirit is really part of it. I don't understand racism. I don't understand people having trouble with gays or lesbians. I don't understand this whole coalition that's saying women should get back in the home. I don't understand hatred.

I've heard that Pigpen was your first baby-sitter. Do you remember him at all?

Not really. But I have a deep, everlasting love of rough looking Hell's Angels kind of guys that are into the blues. The harder, the heavier, I just always had this warmth, and [other] people would be scared. I had a deep love for him. My mother said he was a very gentle, tender guy, and she really trusted him a lot. He was always very tender with me.

The recent Garcia v. Garcia court hearing was very confusing. It is an antithesis to what we were all raised to live by and believe. I became paranoid that my perceptions of what the culture is existed only in my own mind.

Well, I think Acid Test's mission is to take the peace, love and tolerance of the '60s into the next millennium and really carry it forward. Like Kesey said, "We have a lot of work here people. Let's not get lazy." One step forward, one step back. In my opinion, we're in the one step back time, right now. And the court case just shows that. I couldn't even watch it. Garcia must have been rolling over. It's so wrong.

People are checking their wills and working out their estates now.

After the Bill Graham fiasco, my dad went in and changed [his will] to a living trust so that we would never have to go through the humiliation that [Bill's son] David Graham had to go through. So I was surprised that Garcia never got around to it. It's amazing. Like my husband, Michael, is fond of saying, "Garcia was the true hippie of the bunch." So the fact that he never worked it out makes perfect sense 'cause Garcia didn't care about money. He didn't care about all the structure of our everyday life. It didn't mean that much to him. He really existed in a sort of a Buddhist, share-it-all-around way. He wouldn't have given five million? Of course he would have. He would give the shirt off his back.

You're in publishing now. What did you do before that?

I was selling printing for high-end catalogs-the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, some publishers, I did science fiction, fantasy.

I met [photographer] Herb Greene and I said, "I'd love to do some books on your stuff someday, so if you want me to do any printing, let me know." Then we started talking about [his book] Sunshine Daydream, which was floundering over at Chronicle Books, and we had the idea of repackaging it as Dead Days and selling it as a soft cover in the market. Acid Test started with Dead Days. And then Patricia Harris at Grateful Dead Merchandising said, "Why don't you do our calendar this year?" I wanted to do it as a joint venture. I kept saying we're not going to be a publisher. This is just a side thing for printing. Then after Garcia died, it kind of took on another dimension.

How do new projects come to you?

They're just coming to me. People are calling. There's a lot of synchronicity. We started talking with Coco Pekelis and David Dalton about Everything I Know I Learned On Acid, which at that time was called The Deadhead's Guide To Life. So that was our next project. Then Greg Shaw sent us a manuscript on The Doors. We were interested only because it was the complete chronological history of every show The Doors ever played with set lists and reviews. Very much like DeadBase. It's an archivist's book. So that's how we got into The Doors' book.

When Jerry died, the calendar (Acid Test Productions put out the 1995 Grateful Dead calendar) went mad. It went through three or four clonings. It gathered a lot of energy after he died, and when Kesey was talking at the funeral about passing on the torch to the next generation, I suddenly felt this change. Bob Greenfield (Dark Star) said, "The legacy of Garcia is our inheritance." It's all of our inheritance, and when someone that powerful passes on in your life, it's a mutation, you change. A complete catalyst. When you come out of the experience, you're not the person you were before. The sad thing is, somebody has to die before you get that inheritance. After that, we were off to the races. I used to joke, "You know, Garcia's really shaking shit up in heaven." Life isn't the same anymore. There's sort of before Garcia's death/after Garcia's death. It's two different worlds. I heard Weir say that on MTV, and I thought how bizarre! We all have the same thoughts. It's a different world. How do you even compare it?

You're working on a number of books soon to be released...

Dr. Ralph Ziegler (Get Out Of Town) is a friend of the Grateful Dead family. He's one of my dad's closest friends. Everybody's got somebody doing something. And I called Jerry Pompili and I said, "Let's do some archiving of the Bill Graham stuff." So we're doing a book on the Fillmore posters. I went to [Pompili's] place and saw a lot of Bill Graham's scrap books and felt, "This is hot stuff." So what's really been guiding me is what I sense as what's hot and what isn't hot. I just feel it as I go.

I kept coming across references to the Festival Express train ride, and I said, "This was the best kept secret of the '60s. This is damn hot!" Get away from Monterey and Woodstock. They've been totally overdone. Let's hear the story behind the Canadian Express train ride. So that's hopefully going to be a book. We picked up on this movie to come out in '98 by Green Light up in Canada, and I met with Eddie Kramer. He's mixing all the music for it. I tried to get out of him which Dead songs they were putting on the CD, but he wouldn't tell me.

They said the Dead sound great. They've got some stuff with Jerry, Janis and a blues guy. They taped the video with DAT tapes. So we're gonna do a book on that.

And then there's [the] Janis project. It's gonna be really special. Laura Joplin and I just really hit it off. I said, "Laura, I don't know why, but I gotta do a book on your sister. I got this sort of guidance, this destiny sort of thing."

You're in a unique position to know what would be of interest to a certain culture, and that culture needs to be perpetuated. It has to be documented in order for our kids to really understand it.

We're not doing any bios. On the Janis one, Greg Shaw has every article in print that was ever done either by Janis or for Janis.

So you're doing accurate historical perspectives.

I don't mind input, but I don't want David Dalton's Piece Of My Heart editorial slant. I don't want Myra Friedman's. Not that those aren't important, but I'm just trying to clear away the writer's perspective and just let the story speak for itself. I don't want slant. Maybe because of my background, I'm really able to put all the bullshit aside and get right to the story, so that's helping me a lot. I seem to have this innate ability to get to the heart of the matter. So it's served me well.

We also hope to do a catalog on blotter acid, with Mark McCloud stuff. It's beautiful artwork and we're gonna include a little history of LSD and maybe some really special trips that people have had, life changing experiences. Like one time I went back to the beginning of time. Everybody's got the quintessential coming-of-age LSD story that altered their lives, hopefully for the better. That'll be a wonderful story. Then we want to do a whole art catalog to go around with the art pieces to a national art show. So it will be drugs as art.

What approach are you taking to the Fillmore poster art book?

Psychedelicized by Gayle Lemke. It is the Fillmore poster numbered series from 1966 to 1971. It will be large reproductions of the images. Gayle interviewed Ida Griffin [Rick Griffin's wife] and whoever was alive or related to various artists, and it's going to have the essence of the Fillmore- quoting Garcia, Weir, stuff like that. There's some reviews about the Fillmore. It's fact filled, but it's going to be fun. We're trying to make all our books like you were there. We wanted to be evocative of the time period.

My goal is, like with the Janis book, when you put it down, I don't want you to remember she was a heroin addict. I don't want you to remember she slept with a lot of men. I don't want that to be what people take away. I want them to feel like, "Wow, she was fabulous. I wish I'd known her, and I love her." When I finished The Doors' book, I said, "You know, they were goddamn hot musicians. They were so hot, and what happened to them in America is a shame." I put the book down and I said, "I love Jim Morrison. He was a complete pioneer. He will never be appreciated in my lifetime for what he did." I mean, like Van Gogh, these people are so far ahead of their time that I don't know that we'll even live to see their contributions' far-reaching effects. But what I want to provide is some documentation so someday my grandkids can pull it up and find it. It took Greg Shaw five years of research, of listening to hundreds of bootleg tapes to pull this all together. Ray Manzarek was so impressed, 'cause they can't remember. They couldn't have done it. And eventually, those tapes will be lost. And I know it's important. I'm just being guided by my heart.

Do you have any long-term plans for Acid Test Productions?

We're going to be licensing a big jewelry company in Berkeley for Everything I Know I Learned On Acid jewelry. I'm trying to market the company as a lifestyle, a way of life and kind of add some legitimacy to it as an ongoing lifestyle.

I would like to eventually go into CD ROM, multimedia, but the technology doesn't really exist yet. Go the same place that the Dead want to go with these holographic amusement park museums where you can go and relive things, and when we're able to finally do it, you're gonna need all these details to recreate it authentically, so it will be like period piece movies, but you'll live it. It's gonna be so bizarre. My absolute dream is to recreate the Juke Joints from the South. They were so neat.

It comes down to that the next generation has to step in to keep it fresh and vital. When Jerry died, the question everybody hit me with was, "Is it over?" I'd say, "No. I'm still alive, and it's not over for me!" But we have to find creative ways to keep it alive without exploiting it, and I don't see you as being exploitive. You're not using the fact of who your dad is and I think, in your case, in spite of the fact of who your dad is, you are able to create a life for yourself.

Well, that's my favorite quote from Everything I Know I Learned On Acid. George Bernard Shaw: "If you can't get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance." I finally realized that if I could not get out from underneath the shadow of the Grateful Dead, I needed to turn around and make it work for me-that whole Chinese philosophy of you don't resist anything, you don't fight anything. If it's a problem, take it in. I've been hearing all this for years now. So I decided I could have had a far worse fate than being Bill Kreutzmann's daughter. A far worse fate. So I needed to stop being a sniveling, snot-nosed brat, I guess. Even though I liked the music and everything, I'm having my own life over here. As you know, the Dead thing is so tight. So I tried banking, I tried a lot of things to be different from the Dead. And I've had criticism, you know, "You're cashing in on your name." And I say, "You know what? I can't get away from my name. I was born with it."

Did you give up a lot of privacy as a kid?

You give up your family life. That's what you give up. And that's the sacrifice from the family's point of view. So I'm glad that the music will always speak for what they did because I missed a lot.

With the death of Garcia came an avalanche of books including several intimate portrayals. Rock Scully shed more light on the inner band experience than the public may have needed to know…

Like Robert Hunter said, "It's like eavesdropping from the next room on a private conversation that you were never intended to hear." Hunter described how it broke his heart. I found that to be the experience of reading several different rock 'n' roll books. It was very painful. You know we have a saying in California, "More than I needed to know. Thank you."

The sacrifices are great that people make, especially people that are working for a larger cause. Whoever. The family suffered, the individuals suffered, but they're helping out millions of people, so I know the prices that were paid. And now everybody else does too, 'cause they read about it. But I want it to have been worth it. I don't want their lives to have been in vain. I don't want it to end like, "Janis was just a junkie." I don't want that to be it. That wasn't the right story. I don't like that Garcia might be remembered for some wives fighting over his millions. It's excruciatingly painful because how I translate it is that what my father did isn't worth shit. And if it isn't worth shit, then why did we give up our entire private family lives for it? So I'm on this quest-it was worth it, and I'm gonna find out why. And I'm gonna make other people, whether they like it or not, come to their senses 'cause I'm tired of being told "You're father and his friends are a bunch of idiots that ruined my kids' lives because now my kid does drugs" or "The '60s are the reason why our culture's in this complete state of chaos and disintegration."

I'm tired of the Grateful Dead being blamed. And I take it personally. I can't help it. I quietly tried to live my own life. But then the '60s bashing started again, and they said that Jerry was a junkie. And I said, "You know what? I am deeply offended. I am not going to be the silent person about it anymore because you know what? I've got a lot of stuff here, and my kid's gotten a lot of great stuff and my lifestyle's fabulous." And I just get so worked up and tearful because fascism is a problem. Pot-smoking hippies that like to go to shows and not work 9 to 5 jobs is not a problem.

Did you go to shows as a kid?

For many years I did not go. My mom remarried, and we moved around a lot. So I spent ages five to fourteen being raised by my stepfather and my mom, and we did this whole other family trip. Then we moved to California from Singapore when I was thirteen. Billy and I, he always liked being called Billy, and he hates being called grandfather, let me tell you that (laughter), we got reconnected, and I fell in love with the music. I went back to [school in] Boston…a huge Deadhead community. So I started cutting class and we'd go on tours, and I was fairly rowdy. And Billy was getting worried. I started wearing the skirts, I'd go up and dance barefoot in the chicken grease in Hartford, Connecticut. I was totally into it. I couldn't tell him I was going to shows 'cause I was quitting college and he'd be like, "You should be back in school studying for your exams."

So I would call Eileen (Law) for tickets, and I wouldn't tell him. And when they'd play, I'd sneak back for a beer for me and my friends, and I'd go back out in the audience and he'd never know I was there. But I became very proud of that way of life and what they did, and even though I was never a hippie, I embrace it and I love it. But you can express it in a lot of different ways.

Then I moved back to California and went to San Francisco State. I saw the Dead at Berkeley Community Theater before they were so hot. It only sat 3,000 people. I was so sad when it became this huge stadium thing, Oakland Coliseum, and when they had to give up [playing] the Frost in Palo Alto. Then they had to give up the Greek. It was such a drag. So, gradually I quit going to so many shows because the whole intimacy got lost. And that was too bad.

Nancy Reid, the intellectual of the bunch (at Acid Test Productions), compares this to the French Renaissance period. She keeps reminding me, "You guys were lucky it lasted 30 years." I mean, most things could not have sustained itself as long as that did.

Why do you think it did?

Because of the love? Garcia came back from that coma because of the love. Don't tell me there's not God in every one of us. All that energy healed him. I get goose bumps. When he came back and played that show in December, I was so spiritually moved by the love. You could feel it! He was up there; we will survive. It was just one of those moments in life. I never knew what 18,000 people loving somebody felt like. Now I do. It's so powerful. So I think when he died, that was part of the sadness-that our love couldn't sustain him. All those years after the coma were bonus years. They were extra years on his life that he really wasn't supposed to have. But because everyone loved him so much, no one wanted to let him go. So, he came back.

That might sound hokey if you were being interviewed by the mainstream press, but Relix readers can identify with your insight.

It's part of my private issue about going public 'cause people make fun of it. I've been made fun of my entire life, so I'm extremely sensitive to it. "That Grateful Dead kid. You hippies, you're so touchy, feely." All that kind of degrading stuff. I hate that saying, "It was the end of an era." If I never hear that again for the rest of my life, I'll be okay with it.

You know, [when Jerry died] it was so hard to have to deal with private grief on such a public level. I was not prepared. It was this huge, gaping river. And my heart was broken, and now I have to somehow talk to the whole world about this. I've really shelved a lot of the grief and haven't dealt with it in a very healthy manner because it was like this public thing that you had to deal with. So that Monday after, when I got 20 phone calls in a row saying "I'm sorry," I walked out of the building hysterical. Then I had to close my heart and say, "I'll deal with this later because I'm not going to be able to pick up the pieces and go on." I said, "You know, it's like the Pope died, and the Catholic Church decided to disband. That's how it feels to me. I've completely lost my center. My center is gone and I'm spinning out in the galaxy, and I'm not going around the sun anymore. So what do I go around since I'm not going around the sun?"

I also tried to explain that Garcia wasn't the Dead, and the Dead wasn't Garcia. The misconceptions have been really difficult. It was as if I lived under a rock for 30 some-odd years, and somebody decided to lift the rock up and shine a flashlight in on us and criticize us at the same time while we're mourning the death of somebody. What else could I do except turn around and fight back? So it's what has to be done. And the Court TV stuff will run its course and people will forget. The entire country's got A.D.D. (laughter).

"It's just like any other day that's ever been." That song has been lodged in my head since Jerry died. "Sun coming up, sun going down and my friends, they come around." And the song that it just switched to this past month was "Box Of Rain." Every day I wake up and the lyric runs through my head-"such a long, long time to be gone, and a short time to be there. It's just a box of rain."

For information on upcoming publications, you can write Acid Test Productions, 2447 Petaluma Boulevard North, Petaluma, CA 94952. Email them at

This article originally appeared in Relix Magazine, Volume 24 #2 (April, 1997).

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