Today, Hart is using interplanetary light waves picked up by scientists to forge a new way of composing music. The noise from space, he says, bumps, grinds, chirps, pulses and swirls.
"When I get it, I put it into my computer and I make it into music," the 68-year-old said. "As a musician, as an artist, it was a no brainer."
The result: "Mysterium Tremendum," Hart's just released album, a collection of the far-out tunes. With lyrics by Grateful Dead scribe Robert Hunter, the music is at once familiar and completely new.
"It's a complex story that I've made simple," Hart said. "We created something of great value here. And, you can dance to it."
Hart is touring with the Mickey Hart Band, an impressive musical lineup including bassist Dave Schools from Widespread Panic, Broadway singer Crystal Monee Hall, percussionists Sikiru Adepoju, Ian "Inkx" Herman and others.
Hart plays acoustic drums and what he calls his RAMU, Random Access Musical Universe, a sophisticated combination of electronics. That's what produces the interplanetary noises in concert.
The typical set lists include songs off the album, plus Grateful Dead tunes.
"It's also exposing people to the world, the whole universe as an instrument," Hart said. "I hope people will take it as deep as they want to understand -- why we're here; why we are."
Hart is well regarded as a musicologist whose work has explored the very origins of creative sounds. He has written four books, including "Planet Drum." Smithsonian Folkways Recordings last year released the "Mickey Hart Collection," a sampling of Hart's recordings that cross borders and expand musical horizons.
After Grateful Dead lead singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, Hart, bassist Phil Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Bill Kreutzman, continued to tour, playing in various lineups. Today Lesh and Weir tour as Furthur (with a Seattle stop planned in September), Kreutzman plays with 7 Walkers, and Hart is doing his thing. There are no plans for a Dead reunion, Hart said.
There's been buzz about bringing back artists who are, pardon the expression, dead, ever since rapper Tupac Shakur made a beyond-the-grave hologram appearance at last month's Coachella 2012.
Would Hart like to see Garcia's likeness on stage?
"I don't even want to contemplate that," he said, laughing. "If you want to have fun with something like that, I'd ask for that $50 he still owes me."
Hart's favorite time period with the Dead was the late '60s, a crucible moment "when we were discovering what we were playing the rest of our lives."
He vividly remembers writing "Playing in the Band." Hart was playing log drums and friend Stephen Stills was accompanying on a bass made from a toilet bowl.
Another song came to being during a jam session.
"Somebody came running into the studio and said there was a fire on the mountain. 'There's a fire, there's a fire,'" Hart said, and "Fire on the Mountain" came to be.
"I can remember where the songs were birthed, not only when but where, what physical place we were when things came out," he said. "A lot of our music came out of jams. Hunter would be standing there, jumping up and down, writing songs."
The Dead toured tirelessly and was known for its long, jam-based concerts. The gigs included Rhythm Devils, when Hart and Kreutzman pushed musical boundaries with pulsing drum solos that shook concert halls.
Hart now is bringing his music to his fans, touring the country because "everyone can't come to San Francisco," Hart's home.
"This year I'm going to really take this music out there," he said.
So far, the response has been great.
"Music is a miniature of the heavens, that's what music is all about, that's why we have music," he said.
If there is a God, "It's got to be a rhythm, a vibration."
Music is important to the spiritual, he said. Vibrations formed the sun, the moon, the earth, the you.
"It's the rhythm stupid, that's really the bottom line," he said. "It's all about the vibratory nature of the universe."
See the Mickey Hart Band at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Neptune Theatre, 1303 NE 45th St., Seattle.
Tickets are $32 in advance, $35 on the day of the show at stgpresents.org or 877-784-4849.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Entertainment Headlines
Wednesday’s highlights on TV Stars at American Music Awards have Paris on their minds Upcoming author events in Snohomish County and nearby 1D wins big at AMAs; Dion pays tribute to Paris victims ‘Bond by Design’ highlights visuals behind 007 films Julia Roberts turns in best performance of her long career in ‘Secret In Their Eyes’ Album review: Kurt Cobain’s awful aftermath is a mess This week’s best-sellers from Publishers Weekly
Our to-do list full of ideas for your weekend
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.