Jon McIntire, manager of the Grateful Dead in the 1970s and 1980s, died of natural causes yesterday, February 16, 2012, in Stinson Beach. He was 70.
Once a promoter really screwed up in front of Jon, and asked how he could demonstrate his sincere regrets. “Pheasant under glass would be nice,” said Jon. He got it, and sat backstage in some dumb coliseum catering area thoroughly enjoying himself. Another night, in the mid 1980s, the Dead traveling party went to an extraordinarily high-class restaurant called Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia. Dinner – and wine, lots of wine - cost $10,000. As various somewhat cruder members of the entourage got louder and wiggier – party favors were ordered from somebody on the wait staff - Jon presided over the scene like a tall, blond, handsome and benign prince, charming to the core and always terribly civilized. He was a very special part of the Grateful Dead.
He was born August 13, 1941, in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and grew up in Bellville, across the river from St. Louis. He was a charter member of the Early Music Society of St. Louis, performed as a child pianist, and acted at the Gateway Theater there. He attended Washington University. Joining the early-sixties procession to San Francisco, he attended San Francisco State, concentrating on the history of ideas, studying things like German phenomenology and expressionist poets. He met a fellow student named Rock Scully. “It seemed strange to me,” said McIntire, “that Rock, to me a serious scholar, should be into rock and roll bands.”
McIntire, it turned out, got into Rock’s band too. With his partner Danny Rifkin, Rock was dropping out of State to manage the Grateful Dead. Jon described himself as having a Taoist view – he tended to follow things, and the Dead just “sort of swept me in.” “We were all psychedelic revolutionaries, and we all became great friends during that time,” Jon told The Golden Road magazine much later. “We were willing to try anything.”
Jon had been working as a systems analyst at the Fireman’s Fund insurance company, but then one day in early 1968 his life changed. He’d been anticipating having to return to St. Louis to deal with a court case about a car accident, and then got a telegram saying he didn’t have to go. Suddenly free, he wandered down to the Dead’s brand new venue, the Carousel Ballroom, to help chef Annie Corson clean the kitchen to prepare for opening the place.
He’d just begun when one of the Dead’s many managers at that time, Jonathan Riester, walked in and said, "McIntire! What are you doing?" "Well, Jonathan, I'm going to take this fry grill and I'm going to put it in that water, and I'm going to scrub the fuck out of it." "No no no no no, you can't do that, that's not a job for you." "Why?" "Because you're going to manage this ballroom with me." "Jonathan, I'm an actor. What do I know about managing a ballroom?" "McIntire, I'm a cowboy, what do you think I know?" "I don't know." "Besides, what do you have to do for the rest of your life?" "Well, as of a few hours ago, nothing." "My point exactly."
“At this point,” Jon recalled, “Annie's staring at us with daggers of hate, knowing she's being left in the lurch. We walked out, and I told Jonathan that the only condition was we had to find her two guys to help, no bullshit. And he did.”
And so Jon became one of a number of managers, and by 1970, after the departure of Lenny Hart, the manager. With Rock Scully doing the promotion, he guided the Grateful Dead through the era of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. He was sweet, civilized, a little proud of his intellect, and very different from the rowdy crew that set the tone around the Dead, but his graceful intelligence paved the way for much of their success.
When the Dead notified Warner Bros.’ Joe Smith that they wanted to call their 1971 live album “Skullfuck,” it was Jon who told Joe. When Joe cried out “How could you do this to me?” it was Jon who replied, “No, Joe, it’s all of us who are doing this to you.” The result was a meeting in which the entire GD community went down to Los Angeles for a meeting with Joe to discuss it. In the end, they changed the name and got a promotional budget that paid for many live radio shows and made that record, Grateful Dead, their first gold album.
By 1974, as the band grew burned out with their giant sound system, The Wall, and decided to take a hiatus, Jon did too. He worked with Bob Weir’s solo projects, like “Bobby and the Midnites.”
In 1984, Danny Rifkin, who’d been managing things for a while, decided to take a sabbatical in India. Jon returned as manager – cumulatively, he probably ran the GD circus longest of all the managers -and was on board as they found their greatest commercial success with “Touch of Grey” and In the Dark. In the process he’d brought in Cameron Sears to be road manager, and after a period of training, was glad to hand over the reins to him and leave rock and roll. He returned to St. Louis where he acted, and also worked as a counselor for women who were victims of domestic violence. In later years, he worked in the theater in Newport Beach, California and New York City before returning to Northern California in 2011.
“He would always light up a room when he walked in,” said Cameron Sears. He had a sunny, funny, fussy disposition that made him unique in the Dead scene, and he brought a dignified, civilizing elegance to the mix that had a very special impact. When the Dead’s biographer asked him what books would explain the intellectual sources of the Grateful Dead, he listed Friedrich Holderlin, Thomas Mann, Martin Heidegger, Georg Hegel, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, an unfinished novel in three volumes by Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, and what he called “the surrealist bible,” Les Chants de Maldoror, by the Comte de Lautreamont (Isidore Lucien Ducasse). He said they “taught us to start from the point of unlimited possibilities. We have not gone into the modern age.”
He did his level best to help the Grateful Dead do just that.
Dennis McNally, author of A Long Strange Trip/The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, was the Dead’s publicist from 1984 on.
For Jon McIntire, a Word or Two
What word will do
to gesture toward
the dark gathering
of mutual mystery,
said of the unseen
by saying nothing?
hoping to be heard
by a keener ear,
before any word
was ever spoken,
dies broken like night
by a single shaft of sun.
Silence past Summer,
Winter, mute, or that
other season: Humanity
wherein we dwell,
to mere appearance.
Not far to go,
a simple step
into forever. . .
Off then, goodnight,
into sheer light
beyond any season
known to the moon.
February 16, 2012 Robert Hunter