As anyone who occasionally peruses this blog knows, the days between August 1st and August 9th mark the birth (the 1st) and death (the 9th) of Jerry Garcia. Luckily, these events didn’t occur in the same year and the world was graced with the presence, inspiration and joy that was Jerry Garcia for 53 years. And while the darker, more painful elements of his life did eventually win out, taking him from us far sooner than anyone, including Garcia himself, would have liked, his legacy and music lives on. And, I dare say, will continue to do so for a long, long time to come.
Along the journey that is my ongoing relationship with Garcia and the Grateful Dead, I have met more people who simply can’t relate to this man’s music or the scene that surrounds it, than those who “get it.” And it is, most certainly, a thing to be “gotten.” For most people, even the hardest-core Dead Heads, the music of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead was (and is) a process of discovery. I’m reminded of a scene in the film MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS (a schamltzy, saccharine film that works despite its own shamelessness) where Richard Dreyfuss as Holland explains buying his first John Coltrane album. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, so I’m paraphrasing here, but the drift is that, as a young man, Holland buys a Coltrane album because everyone is talking about this amazing new musician. Curious, Holland sits down to listen to the album and HATES it. He simply doesn’t get what’s going on with this music. But determined to understand what all the hoopla’s about, he begins to listen to the album again and again until he finds himself unable to STOP listening. He’s transfixed, mesmerized, dazzled and, most importantly, moved. Somewhere along the way, in his desire to understand, in his belief that something is there and that the only thing standing in his way of connecting to it and understanding it is, well… himself, Holland turns a corner and is forever changed. He “gets” it.
For me, the art and beauty of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead are contained in Mr. Holland’s little tale. When the Dead album BLUES FOR ALLAH hit shelves, I bolted out and purchased it, dashed home, tossed it on my turntable, and was promptly horrified by what came out of my speakers. I didn’t know what to make of this music, how to traverse this landscape. But knowing that there was “something” there that I simply wasn’t “getting,” I –like Mr. Holland– insisted on listening to the album over and over again. Today, BLUES FOR ALLAH is my favorite studio effort by the Grateful Dead and contains most of my favorite songs ever written. To me, Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing is as masterful as Coltrane’s horn. They share the same space. For me, Garcia was the Coltrane of rock, folk, bluegrass, and gospel. They explored much of the same territory, learned many of the same lessons, and created musical journeys that poured directly out of their own hearts and souls as if such things could be shared intravenously with thousands, millions of other people at once.
For those who poo-poo Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, for those who believe he’s overrated or that the allure was drugs and that, if sober, fans would suddenly realize that the music actually sucked (as the joke goes), then you’ve denied yourself a chance to discover something truly extraordinary and life-affirming. Something fantastically and breathtakingly human. And something very, very rare.
Happy Birthday, Jerry.
Today’s musical pick is from August 1st, 1973 at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J. This is a four song non-stop musical segment that closed out the second set and runs just over an hour. Enjoy…
You can find the music HERE.