It’s always fun for me to celebrate Jerry Garcia week. Even though it ends on the anniversary of his death (15 years ago now), it also ends with new discoveries of the man and his music and a healthy dose of revisits to some of my favorite memories. It’s an endless adventure and one I look forward to taking and sharing each year. How odd that this man I met only once should still, so many years later, have this hold on my heart and soul. But had I never met him, I dare say the hold would be just as strong as meeting the man himself was just the icing on the cake; another element of the adventure, but not the adventure itself.
The man, Jerry Garcia, had many problems, drug addiction being one of them. We all fight our own demons. Jerry Garcia’s got him in the end. But what he leaves behind is an expression that morphed and grew as the years passed; a universal language that, once learned, revealed truths and touched the soul in profound and inexplicable ways. So while it was a life short-lived, it was at least a life that touched many in a lasting and substantive way. Jerry Garcia was exceptional, like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane and Charlie Parker and Johann Sebastain Bach and Vincent Van Gogh and William Shakespeare and Ansel Adams and Diane Arbus and Frank Lloyd Wright and Stanley Kubrick and all the other rare artists whose work transcends, as if they were “touched” by some form of genius, inspiration, unique talent that allowed them to bare their souls in a public forum and touch us in a way far deeper than their peers and contemporaries; those who have that “something extra” that separates them from the rest. It seems that connection to the universe, both internal and external, almost always comes with a price.
So while I wish that Mr. Garcia had found a way to remain physically and mentally healthy so that he could still be with us today, continuing to share his unique interpretation of the cosmos with us, I am profoundly thankful that he was here at all and that his music lives on. And that I stumbled into its path. It continues to be one hell of a journey.
Here’s a collection of BERTHA jams someone put together starting in 1971 and continuing through Garcia’s long career until 1995, the year Garcia passed away. It’s a fascinating collection and reveals how his style, approach, voicing changed throughout the years, how the sound of the Grateful Dead changed and morphed, and how many different styles and interpretations of the same piece of music could coexist within the same man, the same band. It’s a pretty cool listen and it makes it easy to pick out your favorite era, if you have one.
I know I do.