Grateful Dead’s Drummer Mickey Hart: “The Brain Is Rhythm Central”

For Mickey Hart, passion brings purpose. "I like it when there's a lot of rhythms going on and a lot of mental and physical activity," he insists. "Being able to follow the muse is a real privilege."

While he may have gained fame for his decades-long tenure as a drummer for the Grateful Dead and its various offshoots, Hart no longer fits the mold of the hero and heretic once cheered by the counterculture. Indeed, for the past 20 years or so, he's made a daring leap from the band's communal trappings to embrace traditional world-music rhythms and scholarly endeavors, garnering him involvement with such esteemed institutions as NASA, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and even filmmaker George Lucas.

Indeed, in the years since the 1995 death of the Dead's godfather and lysergic visionary, Jerry Garcia, the 69-year-old Hart has managed to sow some common ground between the worlds of music and science.

Even though he led a steady succession of shifting ensembles and continuing collaborations with various Dead alumni, he's also pursued experimental initiatives with some of the world's leading scientists and scholars. With his more recent efforts, undertaken in tandem with noted neurologist Dr. Adam Gazzaley, he explored the possibilities of encapsulating brain activity by visualizing its natural rhythm. They looked at the potential these pulses hold for counteracting the onset of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, schizophrenia, ADHD, and depression.

"Rhythm and vibrations are the basis of all life," Hart explains."The brain is rhythm central. It tells us what to do and what not to do, and it all has to do with interacting rhythms. Each part of the brain is putting out pulses that interact with your whole body. I'm a rhythmist, so I'm interested in the sound of the brain. I want to know how to control rhythm and use it as an interactive sound tool. And now I can hear my brain waves and see them in real time using this contraption that I put on my head which reads what my brain waves are doing and then makes sound out of them. This becomes music. This is my brain on rhythm."

Hart's seemingly insatiable desire to uncover the inextricable connection among life, rhythm, and the origins of existence has led him into a number of different arenas, but inevitably it affirms and inspires his musical pursuits. His 1991 album, Planet Drum, took the top spot on Billboard's World Music chart for a solid six months and later garnered the first Grammy ever awarded in the World Music category. His subsequent initiatives include his Rhythm Devils collaboration with fellow Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart's Mystery Box, and the Mickey Hart Band, as well as his efforts at encapsulating field recordings from Africa, South America, Tibet, Latvia, and Indonesia. These have made him a favored presence on both the jam-band circuit and in academic circles.

"Music is very powerful, but we don't know the code." Hart says, speaking by phone from his home north of San Francisco. "There's only one way to break the rhythm code, and that's through the brain. All these things have led me to this cutting-edge science, and it opens up all of these exciting ways to become one with the vibratory universe, which finds drumming and rhythm and music right at the center of it all."

Hart's latest album, Mysterium Tremendum, released this past April, is also a product of that ambition. Channeling the light waves and vibrations that infuse the universe with a common pulse, Hart and his bandmates — singer Crystal Monee Hall, Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, Grammy-winning percussionist Sikiru Adepoju, drummer Ian "Inx" Herman, guitarist Gawain Matthews, keyboardist/producer Ben Yonas and recent recruit, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Joe Bagale — have produced a set of songs with an obvious celestial sheen and New Age awareness. It's the so-called music of the spheres scientists and philosophers have alluded to for centuries. "I picked these musicians because they were of the willing," Hart says. "The most important thing is that they get it and they're willing to go there. That's what I look forward to, the hunger."

While Hart insists he doesn't dwell on the past, specifically his tenure with the Dead ("I live in the moment. I've already been there once. You've got to be with your music today."), he doesn't discount it either. On Mysterium Tremendum, he collaborated with the Dead's longtime lyricist, Robert Hunter. Hart says that his current band also plays a good selection of Grateful Dead material in concert. "It sounds really good," he notes. "It's stuff this band can play really well. We just go on this trip like the Grateful Dead used to do, one song into the next. It's just a beautiful journey."

By – Lee Zimmerman for Broward Palm Beach New Times