Even though ticket prices for the cheapest seats are lower for Dead & Company than your average concert, the prices are still considerably high. Ticketmaster is offered as an only option (with outrageous fees and surcharges), and like so much else in America, the less money you make/have to spend, the more you are penalized, marginalized and physically and statistically separated from those with more money than you. Growing up, I could pay $12.50 and get a seat in the first row. Or the twentieth row! …Or the last. All that was required of me was that I wanted to hear the music and had a desire to partake. It wasn’t an experience just for the rich and well-off. And we all sat together, intermingled, rich and poor, young and old. It was a communal experience that celebrated what we had in common, not accentuated what separated us. We weren’t isolated into roped-off sections, divergent tiers based on income. The only difference, perhaps, were those who camped out overnight for tickets (pre-internet) and those who bought them later. But that wasn’t class separation. What we have here and now is just a reflection of the attitudes and gross disparity our country has come to not only represent, but in some circles celebrate.
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.