Jon McIntire 1941 - 2012
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
So many memories of McIntire, back in the day, a lot of them from 1969-1970, back east. He's responsible for my love of Jaguar automobiles, and I remember playing air chess with him in the band room at Fillmore East, me aged 16 or so. He used to beat me in eight moves. Him buying me breakfast after we all staggered out the door at Fillmore midway through the Dead at Midnight series, talking about Plantagenet England over pancakes. He swore he was descended from them. Lord knows, he looked like Richard the Lionheart.
One of my fondest, funniest memories of Jon was a gig at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, November or December. I'd missed the last train back to the city, it was blowing up into a howling blizzard, and I was swearing piteously, because the Port Chester depot had a tiny waiting room that was locked up at one a.m., and it was now past that. Outside we were already in near-whiteout conditions and the temperatures were in the low twenties.
So Jerry offered me a lift. "Oooh!" said I, "you're going into Manhattan, YES PLEASE, thank you thank you."
"No," Jerry told me, a little too casual. "We're actually going north, to New Paltz. We rented a house up there."
Yes, well. I was 16. I honestly didn't get what I was being, um, offered. "Well, that's the wrong direction for me - can I catch a train to NY up there?"
Jerry rolled his eyes. McIntire was standing there, trying not to laugh. "I don't know, Deb", Jerry told me, nice and patient. "Why don't you check with McIntire?"
So I trotted dutifully over to Jon. "Jon, do you know if I can catch a train back to NY from New Paltz? Jerry said to ask you."
At which point Jon patted my shoulder. "Honey, the only thing you're likely to catch in New Paltz tonight is the clap."
I spent five hours freezing my butt off on that bloody train station. Minor frostbite in both feet.
Damn, I miss Jon already.
EDIT: talking with a friend who was at the entire Port Chester run of shows, she corrects my date (later than I thought: February 1971) and the location of the house I was being invited back to (Not New Paltz, but North Salem). Ah, the memory of forty one years gone by...)
May he rest in peace.
starting with the ones from Dennis and Hunter...
I only met the guy a couple of times and didn't really know him, but my tale was much the same--he was always sweet to me, and charming and funny. I've always had the sense his good vibes made a big difference in the scene.
Sounds like a great guy, wish I had had the chance to meet him.
So it was Lenny Hart who was demanding cash before The Boys would go onstage for their Woodstock experience? I had always wondered who was doing that and why they totally got left out of the album and the movies footage, even the Dorector's Cut edition.
The sound isn't that bad on the Woodstock show and the picks were pretty good, considering they felt like they were getting electrocuted. If I remember correctly it was: Mama Tried>High Time; Dark Star>St. Stephen?
No, wait -- Ahhh yes: St. Stephen>Mama Tried; Dark Star>High Time; Lovelight
But anyway, thanks for the bio on Jon. So sad with old friends passing. All is impermanent...
Jon, thanks for keeping the bus running smoothly throughout the 80s. R.I.P. traveler.
Scrib, thanks for the memories.
Hunter, you always pen so beautifully. Thank you.
Ever since I heard the news of Jon's passing, I've felt like I've been standing too close to a set of railroad tracks with trains periodically roaring by in both directions, creating horrendous noise and kicking up dust - the sadness and the joy taking turns. And In between, moments of awful silence in which I could not deny the truth of the news.
I am so sad to know that now, I won't again sit with Jon and have one of those meandering conversations that went from reminiscing to (his) expounding to discussions of restaurants to deep philosophy to a sudden burst of laughter when we both got an unspoken joke.
And yet I experience joy to have been his friend for so many years, and to have shared some great times, most notably his taking me to France in '71 to interpret for him at the Chateau d'Herouville.
He could be persnickety and difficult, true, but very few people I've known have had a bigger heart than Jon McIntire or a more enthusiastic joie de vivre.
R.I.P. Jon - you will be missed.
I never met the gentleman, but now wish I had. Thanks to Dennis and Robert. RIP, Jon.
I met Jon maybe five or six times at parties hosted by a mutual friend. I was fairly young and a bit shy amongst the crowd but Jon came over to talk to me and immediately put me at ease. He was unpretentious and extremely gracious with me and I always appreciated him for that. From what I could tell he was a good man.
Mr. McIntire helped make the whole trip a lot smoother for all of us. I will remember that when I listen. Can we start a petition or something to get his autobiography published? I don't think anyone will care if it's not finished...
such a gentleman... and a gentle man. I loved the guy!
The last time I spent any significant time with Jon was a year ago January (2011) when Regan and I drove out to Stinson so I could interview him for the big essay I was writing for the Europe '72 box. He had recently moved to a big domed home right off the beach, and he was lovin' being back in Northern California! We had lunch in the village and then sat around his dining room table for a couple of hours as he spun tale after tale about that magical trip. We ended the day with a long walk down the beach on what was a warm January afternoon. He was funny, erudite, compassionate and a great thinker, full of interesting and cool ideas.
One of the first things I thought of when I heard the news this morning was that when we spent that day with him, he talked a lot about the autobiography he was working on, which was going to talk about the ways that his studies in philosophy and his experiences with psychedelics and the times he lived through had affected his journey. Perhaps we'll see some of it some form some day? I hope so.
Thanks to Dennis M. for a beautifully written elegy for our fallen friend. He captured Jon beautifully!