Jerome John (Jerry) Garcia was born on August 1, 1942, and died on August 9, 1995. That makes this week a sort of unofficial celebration of Jerry’s life. And like all things Jerry, it’s an appropriate mix of dark and light as we also mourn his loss. I’ll keep this post short and sweet as I often find nothing tells you more about an artist as the artist’s work itself. But I will say this, Jerry Garcia had many musical outlets for his talent. But the most popular and most consistent was the Grateful Dead. And what they discovered together was a form of musical telepathy, much like what happens in free-form jazz, where all the members meld together as if the music itself were playing the band and not the other way around. And it was these moments that we all, band and audience alike, were hungry to explore and experience. The following clips are, for me, a prime example of the energy bubble, that coming together of sounds that somehow grow out of something very simple and become something extraordinary. The Grateful Dead would often (especially in their second sets) weave from one song to another without stopping. The music between the songs was as alive as the songs themselves–perhaps even more so.
The two songs below are connected by that improvisational musical strand. They are from the Winterland Arena in San Francisco, 1974. We start with China Cat Sunflower, simple and beautiful with its lilting melody and ethereal lyrics that dissolve into a musical journey, an exploration of sounds and rhythms that coelesce into a moment of near perfection, a burst of cohesive energy that both the players and listeners mutually respond to and recognize as hands lift into the air and uncontrollable smiles spread across faces. It is a shared understanding, a unique relationship.
This musical journey moves effortlessly into the next song in what is a most natural progression leading to the traditional folk/blues song I Know You Rider. Here, the band finds its vocal harmonies and mixes them with the music which is already alive and inspired and maturing with each new moment.
And through it all, two small children dance on stage, swept up in a musical odyssey and reminding us that we are all children in these moments, carefree and never questioning the magic that exists in the world; a magic our day-to-day lives often persuades us to forget or deny.
Happy Birthday, Jerry. And we miss you.