We all knew that the remaining members of the Grateful Dead were probably going to do SOMETHING to celebrate the 50 year mark. I was curious and a little uncertain about how I felt at the idea of celebrating the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary 20 years after Jerry Garcia’s death. Since that epic loss, the Grateful Dead‘s remaining members have played both together and separately, but never under the moniker “Grateful Dead.” And appropriately so, in my opinion. Jerry Garcia wasn’t just a guitarist, he was one of the main reasons the Grateful Dead sound and energy existed at all.
Blair Jackson in his recent Golden Road Blog over at Dead.net asked the question “Where were you when you heard the news?”
This was my answer:
August 9, 1995. I was home and getting ready to head out the door for work when my phone rang. It was my friend Randy from back east (I was living in L.A. at the time). I knew something must have been up for him to be calling me in the morning hours. Not usual. Of course, I didn’t know exactly what. “Is it true that Jerry’s Dead?” he asked. I hadn’t heard a thing, but in that moment, my heart sank and a dread washed over me. Without confirmation, I knew the odds were that wherever Randy had heard this, it was probably true. Yet I hoped in my silence that it wasn’t, that it was all a piece of gross misinformation that Randy had come in contact with. But my heart was already pumping with nervous energy and fear. I turned on the TV immediately and my dread was fully realized. There was a photo of Jerry and, before even hearing the news report itself, I knew that day I long-dreaded had arrived.
Unfortunately for me, no one where I worked was into the Dead. Jerry’s passing, for them, was just another rock and roller biting the dust. My job at the time required that I be “on” and present. No chance to disappear into a side office and make a call to a dear friend who would understand. That came later that day (about 8 hours later), but throughout those long hours I genuinely struggled to maintain myself. Several times tears ran down my cheeks and I managed to hide them from clients. I was also amazed at the depths of my sorrow. There are family members I’ve lost whose deaths I was not nearly as effected by. Yet I had only met Garcia once and, though he was as generous and delightful as one would hope he’d be, we weren’t friends, nor even acquaintances. But through his music, through seeing him live, I felt I knew something integral about the man. And if nothing else, he had touched me, moved me, more times than I could recount. The mere thought that I would never again see him play, that there would be no more Grateful Dead shows, that this experience and this seemingly crucial and beloved part of my life –two-thirds of my life!– had come to a close, left me feeling devastated and empty, confused and lost in a way that only death can elicit.
About two days later, an envelope arrived in the mail. My tickets to see Jerry and the Grateful Dead at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion. 3rd row center.
So here I am, like everyone else, 17 years later. And Garcia is still a reigning part of my life. His presence is still felt, I’ve just managed to alter my expectations of how he and his music present themselves in my life. And there’s comfort in knowing that there are thousands of others out there who know and share this experience, this experience of mourning the loss and celebrating the life of someone we did not personally know, but whose soul managed to touch us so deeply nonetheless.
Oh, and by the way, I still have those tickets.
I will say that I fully understand that getting a slot on a talk show to perform one song is nothing like playing a concert. Most bands have no problem with this format as their live renditions of songs are not that far removed from their studio renditions and often fit nice and snug into this little arrangement reserved for the Late Night guest band.
This past Thursday night, The Dead chose to do one of the Grateful Dead’s more popular tunes from the early 70’s, Sugar Magnolia. Great song, always a live favorite and often an energetic 2nd set-closer. Sadly, this night allowed the band to play only the vocal parts of the song, thus eliminating the best part: the enormous, high-energy, dance-your-feet-off jam that leads into the second part of the song, Sunshine Daydream.
Again, I understand this is about getting people to come to the new shows and trying to show them that if they go, they will see some of those great oldies folks have come to love. But the band is sorely misrepresented by this little-dittie interpretation of Sugar Magnolia. I only wish the band had been as creative in choosing a song for the Letterman Show as they have been about choosing set lists on their tour. But I’m coming from a Dead-Head point of view and not a practical marketing one. No surprise there. Maybe what they played was smart. But it certainly wasn’t inspiring. And like it or not, what they played felt rather lackluster and a bit messy. Didn’t think the mix was very good either.
My god, I seem to have only negative things to say! I do hate that, I must admit. ‘Cause at the end of the day, I love these guys. Perhaps that’s why I hold them to a higher standard than I do most others. I’m glad they’re out there. I’m glad they seem to be having a great time. I’m glad audiences are responding.
And I miss the Grateful Dead. And I’ll just have to live with that.
Here’s the vid of the boys on Letterman. Would love to know your thoughts, reactions, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a fan.
Here’s a new video released by THE DEAD on the eve of ticket sales for their first tour in four years. While most of us who were “on tour” long before Jerry Garcia left this earth will never find The Dead truly satisfying without him, it is still nice to know that the music continues nonetheless, fans continue to flock, discover and rediscover, and that the boys still hear Jerry urging them forward and inspiring them to get weirder. With so much predictability in art these days, it’s nice to know there are still folks out there taking chances and pushing boundaries. Both on stage and off.
The remaining members of the Grateful Dead have decided to get back together once again for a month-long tour. Though they have been playing separately in their own bands and have, on occasion, gotten back together to play special gigs as The Dead, this is their first tour together in four years. Here’s a special video from the boys:
And here are the tour dates: