As one half of the Grateful Dead’s Rhythm Devils drumming tandem, percussionist Mickey Hart has caused legions of dancing Heads to search out their tribal roots and immerse themselves into altered states via rhythm. In his third book, Spirit Into Sound—The Magic of Music, Hart has compiled hundreds of quotes about music by everyone from Thoreau to Janis Joplin. He’ll be signing the book at Borders Westbury on Thursday. He recently pounded on the head of Ian D’Giff:
You’ve written a lot about sound and healing. How large a part did sound play in Phil Lesh’s speedy recovery from his liver transplant?
That’s science. Sound is vibration, and vibration connects us to our inner self, our vibratory universe that lives inside. It becomes a healing agent. It becomes something that we can relate to and resonate with on a basic molecular level. So that’s the science of it. Now the physiology of sound is that it vibrates and we vibrate. The coming together of those two vibratory worlds is where you find the power. Science is starting to weigh in on auditory driving—what part of the brain is effected by harmony, melody and rhythm and what is the difference in the brain wave after being exposed to sound vibration. We know the shamans used it. We know the church used it. Rhythm is the bottom line for trance. So in the trance, or in the altered state, we find the power of well-being. All of these things lead us to believe that music is not for entertainment, really, but for healing. It’s very much like a hot spring or massage or meditation.
What is the strangest place drumming has taken you?
Well, literally and not metaphorically, I would have to say the Sahara in the Sudan was perhaps the highest solo encounter with rhythm that I’ve ever had. Alone, in the desert with a single membrane, that was it. I went three weeks down the Nile and recorded the music of Upper and Lower Egypt.
That was after the Dead’s infamous shows at the Giza pyramids?
Exactly. I had some solo time, so I headed out. I met some very old drum makers who were blind and had brilliant insight.
What is the secret to tandem drumming?
Three things: love, passion and an ability to listen to what the other person is doing. Both Billy [Kreutzman] and myself sacrificed a lot to play together. Tandem drumming is not for everyone. You have to be able to give of yourself without being selfish, to give into the rhythm and make it happen. We did it because we loved it. Love is really the bottom line. We loved to play together and breathe together and when things happened right it became very special. It was pure magic.
MICKEY HART 7:30pm, November 11 at Borders, 1260 Old Country Rd, Westbury, 516-683-8700. Free.