Jerry Garcia would have been 70...

So today Jerry Garcia would have been 70 ~ what a LONG strange trip it has been, yes ~ cuz after all these years I still miss the dude.  I remember buying the first Grateful Dead album in 1967 when my family was on vacation in Webster, MA.  It was the same year that Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane came out (one of my all-time favorites to this day) and I was ready for something new.  And goddamn but didn't the Dead deliver! I still can't hear "Morning Dew" or "The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)" without getting a rush.

Anthem of the Sun came out in 1968 ~ I loved the experimental spirit but really only grooved to side two (the live "Alligator" is too much fun) ~ and then Aoxomoxoa (1969) with the beautiful "St. Stephen," "China Cat Sunflower" and my all-time favorite "Cosmic Charlie." To be a Dead fan based on those early recordings was an exercise in faith:  I loved the IDEA of the Dead often more than their music.  But then the released a series of musical master works starting with Live/Dead and followed quickly with Working Man's Dead, American Beauty and two incredible additional live albums:  Grateful Dead and Europe 72.  I spent part of a summer following them at the phase (with my sweet girlfriend of the time Megan) and once you see these bad boys in action... it is all over. I have been a stone-cold Dead Head ever since.

I wept the day Garcia overdosed. I was bringing Protestant "last rites" to a an old woman in hospice and when I came out of the nursing home and turned on the radio, I heard Howard Stern goofing on Garcia and his death. And then out of nowhere I was sitting in the car weeping as I thought, "O Lord, what a waste, what a sad, sad waste for such a beautiful but wounded artist."

Truth be told,I have missed the sounds of the Dead since that day on August 9, 1995.  I remember seeing a picture of Dylan going to the funeral ~ he was rattled ~ and I felt something of that shock, too.  Because his death reminded me ~ like the tragic deaths of so many other artists ~ that we can never really know the depth of pain inside the soul of another.  We can listen and try to be present in their pain, but finally their agony is always a mystery that we can only honor and respect ~ and try to keep a little of their beauty alive in our own lives.
Well everybody's dancin' in a ring around the sun
Nobody's finished, we ain't even begun.
So take off your shoes, child,

And take off your hat.
Try on your wings and find out where it's at
Hey hey, hey, come right away
Come and join the party every day.

I recall fondly that once, in Tucson, my daughter Jesse and I went to see Mickey Hart do a small, sweaty club downtown on my birthday.  And no sooner had we walked into the hall than we both experienced contact highs. For me it was like a blast from the past.  And today, at least in my cosmic imagination, it was somehow fitting that my daughter Michal posted a picture on Facebook of her standing at the first microphone Elvis ever used on her trip to Memphis and Sun Studios.  (Made me think of another Dead song I love...) 

So, here's the thing about the Dead for me:  they brought a jazz sensibility to American roots music - when the improvisations worked they were killer - and they encouraged everyone to enter both the beauty of life and the groove. In fact, they celebrated and nourished both beauty and groove in everything they did. They weren't afraid to take chances: sometimes it worked and sometimes it failed ~ but like those living into God's grace they dusted themselves off after a bust and tried to find the beauty again. And they did it all with humility and compassion, too.  You could see and feel and experience that in a live Dead show.

It is interesting to me that towards the end of his life, Garcia was talking and hanging with the renegade ex-priest Matthew Fox. In fact, Fox did his funeral.  And while we'll never know where the Spirit would have taken Captain Trips in his collaboration with Fox, it would have been creative.  So today I am grateful for everything he shared... and still miss him 17 years later.


Popular Posts