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Ten Years On: Jerry Garcia Remembered

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Peace, Jerry On Aug. 9, 1995, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead passed away. The void left in the lives of millions of fans, Deadhead and otherwise, has yet to be filled. Spousal Unit and I spent many years attending Dead shows — we even pledged our troth at one. We bathed our spirits in the music and legend of the band’s then-30-year history, we reveled in the communal atmosphere of the concert parking-lot scenes, and we are ever grateful for all of the lifelong friends we made while riding the bus.

We especially admired and loved Jerry Garcia, the supposed leader of the band. Despite his many demons, he told us stories, taught us lessons, and gave us myriad joy and sorrow as we watched him live his tumultuous life and listened to his heartfelt singing and his singular guitar riffs. The spouse and I are so lucky: We are among those who “get it,” the Dead-inspired love-peace-kindness-and-music philosophy that ruled at the band’s shows. If you grok it, you know what I mean. That inspired way of living and thinking still provides a strong foundation for our lives. It is the thing that keeps us going and gets us through times good and bad.

When Jerry passed away in the wee hours of the morning of Aug. 9, just eight days after his 53rd birthday, Jeff and I hosted a vigil in the musician’s honor. We took over Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Park — we didn’t need no steenkin’ permit, man — and decorated it with flowers and tapestries and candles. I spread the word via the Internet and progressive-freeform radio station WRNR. Then we waited to see what would happen.

At 9 PM, hundreds of people flocked into our tiny neighborhood park. With them, they brought guitars, drums, paintings and photographs, and Dead-show tapes. Even more importantly, they brought along their indomitable spirit, their gratitude and love. Police were on hand; they had gotten the word that the Deadheads were coming to Mount Vernon. But there were no problems, even if a front-page Baltimore Sun story erroneously reported that the aroma of burning marijuana was in the air. There wasn’t, as the local TV stations reported when I appeared on “live at 11” standup reports. The Deadheads kept it real and were on their best behavior. (In fact, neighbors later thanked us for keeping the junkies out of the park that night.)

So no, there was no bad behavior. But there were good vibrations a-plenty: love and music, drumming and singalongs, laughter and tears. And miracles — one grateful attendee thanked me by handing me a tape recording of the Dead’s final performance from a month before at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Our daughter, then 7 years old, was on hand. (Interestingly, we believe our son, now 9, may have been conceived that very night.) She had never attended a Dead show and was curious to know: Was this jovial vigil anything like a Grateful Dead concert?

When she asked the question — it was long past her bedtime, which I was about to say — I paused and instead scanned the park and all of the visitors who had come from far and wide to pay their respects. The August night was crisp and unseasonably cool. The haunting strains of Dead tunes swirled in my ears. The sight of people consoling one another and hugging and laughing brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my lips. “Yes,” I replied finally, “it was very much like this.” The memory of that night — and countless similar nights before it — will never die.

As always, thanks, Jerry… for everything.

Can you believe a decade has passed? My son will be 10 on his next birthday, so it must have. Sometimes it feels as if a lifetime has gone by. Today, though, it feels like yesterday. And missing Jerry, a man I never met, but who has touched my life at its very core, well, like the music, it never stops.

Garcia’s longtime friend and colleague, musician and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, shares his very personal reminiscences in this Aug. 3 entry from his infamous journal. Enjoy. And when you recall Jerry Garcia, remember him with love:

Ten years since old Jer kicked the bucket? Seems more like fifty. Nothing about his passing seems like “only yesterday,” rather as long ago and faraway as my childhood.

From the sublime to the vicious, everything that could be said has been said and said again. Yet, the essential mystery of who Jerry Garcia was remains. What can be said with fair assurance is that he was a source, an original way of seeing the world that agreed with others in a few broad and important outlines, but which in just as many other dimensions confounded all expectations.

Jerry Garcia, 1942-1995 I wouldn’t say he delighted, in any Whitmanian sense, in what appear to be his contradictions, nor that he had control of them; predictability was not his strong suit. Not even self predictability.
He could be alarmingly kind in situations where kindness was the last response to be expected – and altogether gruff where sympathy seemed the more natural response. You could almost say he had weather rather than climate.

Few would disagree that a key part of him remained isolated, unknown and unknowable. His art is the closest thing to an available roadmap of his singularities, amorphous clues, and clues only, to the nature of his true affections. Where he entered, he dominated, generally to his dismay. He knew he was not a leader, more a scout striking out in the wilderness of his intuitions, unwittingly summoning others to tag along through virtue of his magnetic personality and apparently deep sense of inner direction, but basically antipathetic to following or to being followed. Driving back and forth across the bay from Larkspur to San Franscisco on Workingman’s Dead recording sessions, our conversations would range wide, or, sometimes, nothing would be said at all. I remember once we got to talking about directions. He professed to having none and inquired as to mine. “For the time being,” I said, “I’m just following you following yourself.” “Then we’re both lost,” he muttered.

A persistent image I have of Jerry which seems strangely resonant with his coming and going: a brilliant sunny day on a boat bobbing above the abyss of Molokini where the floor of the ocean suddenly drops off a cliff and plunges to unknown depths, I watch him check his gear then sit on the edge of the boat and tumble over backwards into the water, which is clear to a depth of several hundred feet. I watch him dwindle in size as he descends further and further, spread-eagle and motionless, until he is only a speck to the eye, then disappears
altogether from view and there is no more Jerry, only ocean.

from all facts and opinions

Aaman Lamba graciously shared a link to a marvelous unattributed drawing created in remembrance of Garcia. The lyrics come from the Dead classic “Uncle John’s Band.”


I’ll add a few more lyrics as a message to Jerry:

“Fare ye well,
Fare ye well,
I love you more than words can tell.”

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About NR Davis

  • todd

    I remember the day Jerry Garcia died, August 9, 1995, six days before my dog Jack Straw was born, the tears, the rush of the memories from shows past, friends from the road, friends of the past and the music that created a bond. Jerry Garcia created a sub culture by accident, become an icon by accident, became revered by accident and massively popular all by accident. He never set out to be anything but a pure musician who is quintessential Americana, he was just happy to play. A man who centered his life around the music. No real political agenda was ever outwardly shared, no brazen acts of self importance, just a musican who by accident became a legend simply because he truly loved his craft and the joy it brought to so many.

    Unfortunately, being Jerry Garcia was a burden to heavy and Jerry’s demons could not be layed to rest. His years of drug abuse to quiet the demons ultimately took its toll on a body that had been rode hard and put away wet.

    In spite of his demons, Jerry, I am sure has gone on to a place he belived in. He was a very spiritual man with a true sense of goodness about him. He was gregarious and charasmatic yet humble and really self doubting about his musical prowess. Truly an inspiration whose loss is still felt in the hearts of millions.

    So when I hear the lyrics, “two-bit piece dont buy no more.. not so much as it done before..” I say, row, Jerry row… row, row, Jerry row. Thanks for the ride Mr. Garcia, Godspeed

  • Great piece, thanks. I loved Jerry, and he angered me so as so many of us saw this coming. I have been in another Dead kick the last couple of months (they come and go) and spend lots of time listening to his bluegrass material he did with Grisman. It is phenomenal, maybe even better than his rock work.

    I don’t think people realize how influential Garcia is as a guitar player. I have thought a lot about this over the years, and I think he was the best rock player ever. EVER. Yup, better than Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

    I too remember the day Jerry died. The last time my girlfriend (now wife) had gone to see the Grateful Dead they were so terrible we walked out of the show, which I had never done before. I mean, it was terrible – it was one of the UNLV Silver Bowl shows. Anyhow, I was laying in bed and I thought I heard the radio dude said that Jerry had passed. I woke up my wife immediately and told her. We both ran to the TV to check with CNN. It was the last story they ran on their half hour cycle. It was like ‘in our entertainment minute, Jerry Garcia is dead’.

    I mention that last point specifically because by the end of the day Jerry’s dead was the headline story on every channel in every cycle. The president of the united states even took a few minutes to remember Jerry.

    We miss you, Jerry. We miss your fat, beautiful, wasted face. You were the greatest.

  • Rob

    Jerry Garcia was a great musician. Inspirational, influential, he doesn’t get enough credit. I just loved his “I just want to play” attitude. I always thought that he played because he loved to. I miss him, but he’s left a huge library of music to draw on.

  • Taloran

    As they used to say, “there was nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.” I no longer often think of Jerry’s passing, but when I do it still brings a tear to my eye. Thank you, Natalie, for the lovely reminder of a great musician who we all thought of as a friend.

  • Oh yeah! I can’t believe I forgot about this, because it was both two days after my 21st birthday and the very same day I almost died in a car accident.

    So there I was in a morphine haze watching the teevee and – it’s important to know that in college I was a real a-hole, not like the witty, urbane peacable gent I am now, and me and some guys had a band with a song called “I’m Kurt Cobain’s Ex-Lover” (which we wrote, by the way, before he lunched on shotgun, tho’ we did retool the lyrics afterwards), so what with the punk rock and the accident and the bad angry summer of ’95 spent washing dishes and smoking Winstons and drinking gin my head was in this particular space to think this kind of thing, on top off all of which I really hated the goddamn Dead and all their smelly righteous hangers-on (these were my college punk days, realize; I’m more mellow about the Dead now (though I still hate me some dirty hippies!)) – anyway, as I lay there watching the teevee in a painkiller cloud, hating the day and hating my life and hating the son of a bitch who was doing 85 through the blinker the intersection of Ohio Routes 88 and 330 out in Freedom Township, I saw that Jerry Garcia died, and, hating the day and hating the Dead, the thought sprang unbidden to mind: “Goddamn it, they’re gonna replace that fat pigf***er with a robot and we’re gonna have to endure twenty more years of that Dead shit.”

  • …and then I spent the next several years simultaneously feeling bad about thinking such a thing about the departed and wondering whether Jerry had been replaced by a robot, only back when he first got kind of thin, on the hypothesis that a skinny robot would be cheaper to build and maintain than an obese one, and who knows what the CIA’s ultimate motive was, anyway?

  • Um, quite a memory, Mr. Johno, but you need to get over your stereotype of hippies. Some of us are meticulously clean.

    Thanks for all the shared thoughts, folks. They mean a lot.

    Another thought occurs that is relevant to above reminiscences about Jerry’s demons: I spoke with Bruce Hornsby a couple of days after the passing — an interview for a magazine. He had some great stories to tell from his days subbing with the Dead, and some not-so-nice stories too… We were both still sad about the loss, but neither were we surprised. Jerry’s body just couldn’t take anymore. I like to recall young Jerry and also his early-’90s incarnation, when, after coming back from a diabetic coma and having to learn to play guitar all over again, he looked much thinner, much more fit, and so much more alive and inspired than I had seen him in years. Gave me a lot of hope. Shame it couldn’t last.

    This is cool: I just got off of the phone with my son, who is in New Jersey. Last week, he made his own Grateful Dead tie-dye shirt and plans to wear it all day today in honor of the musician. He is coming back home next week (yay!) and his plan is that when I pick him and Spousal Unit up at the train station, we are all to wear Jerry-themed tie-dyes. Good plan: I have my Captain Trips tee at the ready.

  • Nat, don’t worry – I know not all hippies are filthy. I myself am a crunchy Moosewood/Dr. Bronner’s/DIY-bread-cheese-beer kind of cat. It’s just so much fun since I live in Massachusetts to revel in the crass stereotype since I so often have occasion to see the filthy subset in Cambridge, Boston, and the Pioneer Valley.

    And, hardcore punk and anti-jammer that I am, I have to admit to a very soft spot for the ’70s Dead sans Gaudchauxes, with Bruce Hornsby, and generally after Jerry got skinny. Jerry was a good guy, a hell of a guitarist, and just a great, great musician. Thanks to my sister, I have a number of live bootlegs in my collection, and they have given me some very good hours indeed.

    One final note: it was the accident and the ensuing “Jerry is a robot” paranoia that finally convinced me to clean up my act. Jerry Garcia helped me stop smoking and cut back the gin to manageable levels, for which I am eternally grateful.

  • That’s good to hear. BTW, it is not cool to refer to a total stranger by a nickname without an invitation to do so.

  • We were in a pub in Bangalore called the Pecos that is very special – only plays 60s/70s rock, small hole-in-the-wall, many memories,serves popcorn with the beer,… we closed the pub shutters and stayed indoors for most of the night, drinking beer, and playing Grateful Dead stuff…

  • With your permission, I would like to add an image from flickr to this blog that I chanced on long ago.

  • I would certainly like to see it, Mr. Lamba. If memory serves me correctly, the site doesn’t permit posting within comments, but if you email me the pic or send me a link to it, I can post it.

  • Done, and thanks.

  • Sorry, Natalie. The interweb fosters bad habits and lazy typing.

  • Does it now, Mr. Johno? Then by promoting forethought and civility, we can improve the situation and make a contribution to the worldwide Internet community. Although that doesn’t seem to be working so far…

  • Eric Olsen

    very beautiful Nat, what a brilliant image you end with! And I agree he seems much farther away than 10 years, more like from another millennium (well, he is, but you know what I mean)

  • myjk

    Hmmm. I’ve been up all morning reading blogs, posts and newspaper articles related to this sad anniversary. I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said. I know that I too am mystified at that fact that it has been ten years already. A whole decade. A lot has happened in that time, some of it I am kid of glad Jerry wasn’t here to see.
    10 years I barely knew anything about the Dead. I had 1 tape and it wasn’t even traded for. I had a girlfriend at the time who was a hippie in every sense of the word. Funny, but since 8/9/95, I’ve come to the point where at times,despite all the wonderful music out there, all I listen to is Dead, too the point of burn-out, and she don’t listen to them no more. I remember ’bout three weeks b4 Jerry had passed on that a silly ban thyat been here in place in Toronto since there seneca colleg show in ’77 had finally been lifted and there was to be a show in October at the Skydome. It would have been my 1st Dead show! All of the circle that was hanging back, while being full-fledged deadheads, didn’t seem all that enthused, whereas I couldn’t stop thinking, or talking about it; griping when another one of us backed out, and complaining about acoustics at the Dome. The say Jerry hated stadium shows, not intimate enough, etc. He would’ve been appaled at the Dome, and don’t think Cutler(or Healy for that matter) would’ve been able to grasp the cavernous pisspoor acoustics. In the end though, not of that mattered, cause it was the good ol’ Graetful Dead we was goin’ to see, and if even just 1 succinct, emotive Garcia solo occured in all its splendid glory, it would’ve been worth it.
    Requiescat in pace, Jerry.

  • manwich74

    I was in Okinawa, Japan August 10, 1995 with my Navy unit (NMCB 74) on just another hot ass summer day in Japan. (we were 14 hours ahead of the States). My LPO told me at morning quarters about it and I was amazed and in a state of disbelief. The story made the Stars and Stripes and I think even when we tuned into the Today show on AFRTS all of the news people wore tie-dyes and talked all about him. My friend Booker and I built a little monument to him out of some cardboard and a little toy doll-turned-idol from Burger King. We added a guitar for the little Native-looking-shamanic figure and painted the little cardoard house tie-dyed colors. The Deadheads in my company told stories and we all laughed and were all sadenned all at the same time. That memorial stayed up for weeks. I worried that the Dead’s scene would die and wither. I could not have been more wrong. We turned on to Phish and countless other bands over the last 10 years and I still travel to festivals and shows all over the country. His death expanded my music scene and rightly so! I saw my first Dead show in 1993 and took my first dose that weekend in downtown Albany, NY while in college. My mind and my views on life were never the same since. Rock on Jerry Garcia and thanks for all tunes 🙂

  • Maybe it’s a California thing, but I can’t think of anybody I’ve met it years who doesn’t prefer that I use his first name or objects to nicknames (I sometimes refer to Chinese people as Mr. So-And-So, but that’s mainly on account of the other parts of their names are weird (I will add gratuitously, which seems to be the thing to do, that I speak fluent Chinese, but I still think their names are weird). In fact, when I want to disparage some jerk, I’ll refer to him as, say, “Barger” or “Olsen.”

    I have lately been finding small grains of worth in the Dead. It’s not a good sign.

  • I think people who refer to people on here by their last names (like Senator Barger’s “Mr. So-and-So”) are trying to be dismissive and disrespectful under the guise of being genteel and traditional.

    Dirty hippies smell bad — I think it’s the patchouli oil.

    Manwich, I love your story. You’re like a gung ho war machine hippie. I love it.
    You epitomize the cultural contradictions of modern capitalism, you sexy GI you.

    I like your writing, Johno. It seems like you’ve been around a while but I’ve never noticed anything you’ve said before.

    My own story of Jerry Garcia’s death was when I was a young BABsie at a geeky high school summer camp at a remote, boring Ivy League campus. One of my instructors, who was in his mid 20s and reputed to be a big smoker and just getting off of the acid habit, made some big theatrical display when someone told him Jerry Garcia died. He had to excuse himself and we didn’t see him again for two days. When he came back, he somehow had obtained a cassette tape of a Grateful Dead bootleg and insisted that we all listen to it. Somehow, I don’t think he was really all that broken up about Jerry dying — I think he just wanted an excuse to veg out for a couple of days away from us grade-grubbing, high-achiever brats. The worst part of it was that we had to pretend to be like really emotionally moved or something by the death of some guy we weren’t familiar with so as to be sensitive to our instructor’s imbalanced, drug-induced emotions.

    I don’t think anyone’s really a fan of the Grateful Dead’s music, just the experience. That’s even more so for Phish, which was a horrible band. At least the Dead wrote music that somewhat approximated pop and blues. And I guess their fans are closer to actual no-good, burn-out, socially useless pseudo-counterculture hippie types than the soulless yuppies that “party” and take a vacation from their 401Ks at Jimmy Buffett and Dave Matthews concerts. So I give them credit for having some integrity and consistency in their ridiculous lifestyles.

    The Dead’s music isn’t unpleasant on record, although I hear it was excruciating to sit through some of the guitar solos (but nowhere near as bad as Phish’s 18 minute rambling circle jerks). But it’s wholly unremarkable — the only song of theirs I even remotely like is “Touches of Grey,” which was their big sell-out pop crossover hit, aimed at people with no attention span like me.

    That is all.

  • Oh, I forgot to add, HI NAT NAT NAT!!!!

    That is all.

  • The Duke

    Wow Natalie….

    I love you. Peace sister.

  • Peace to you too.

  • Conguero

    If ever the Dead needed a Conguero… it was me.

    I was ready to step up to the plate….

    met them in Boston… at an ice hockey rink in ’75….

    they were tearing into to the lockers of the semi pro team who practiced there….

    They were HUGE sports junkies.

    Got a set of tickets…. saw them and Gerry Garcia band a number of times after that… mostly in and around the D.C. area…

    RFK with the Allman bros….

    Baltimore Civic Center

    Hampton Collisium (2x)

    Bay Area…

    They needed some flippin’ percussion.
    But they never called.

    Sorry guys… you missed out.

  • Taloran

    Bob A. Booey, I’m sorry for you that you missed it. It was wonderful.

  • Hell, yeah. (Though Mickey Hart did a helluva job with Kreutzmann…) Saw my 1st show at the Baltimore Civic Center. Saw them at the Hampton Coliseum once. RFK too many times to count (including the Allmans show!); that’s where Spousal Unit and I got engaged in 1992. Lemme see… Maryland’s Capital Centre for multiple runs, University of MD, Red Rocks, Meadowlands five times, several Philly Spectrum runs, Madison Square Garden twice, Boston Garden… and the list goes on. GOD I NEED A SHOW! Serious withdrawal going on…

  • Missed what, Taloran? Their live show?

    That is all.

  • Taloran

    Bob A. Booey – The whole stinkin’ hippy, free love, followin’ the band, groovin’ to the vibe thing. Not something I’d care to repeat as a family man in my 40s, but a wonderful, enlightening experience for a carefree young man exploring the world and discovering his place in it.

  • I don’t think anyone’s really a fan of the Grateful Dead’s music, just the experience.

    think whatever you want. however, i can certainly provide a counterexample as i never attended a single Dead show….and i love the music.

  • The shows with Jerry have been over for 10 years, yet the music survives. That’s got to means something. My 9-year-old listens to the LPs and show tapes and knows and loves all the songs. For him, and for many other people, it is about the music.

    “Keep on dancin’ through to daylight.
    Greet the morning air with song.
    No one’s noticed, but the band’s all packed and gone.
    Was it ever here at all?

    But they keep on dancing.
    C’mon, children. C’mon, children,
    Come on clap your hands.

    Well, the cool breeze came on Tuesday,
    And the corn’s a bumper crop.
    The fields are full of dancing,
    Full of singing and romancing,
    ‘Cause the music never stopped.”

  • Music Editor Temple Stark picked this for an Editor’s Pick of the Week. Go find out why HERE and grab a button.

    Paired it with Earvolution’s piece on the same subject.

    Thank you.

  • Rondo

    I truly thought that when Jerry first slipped into his diabetic coma that we’d never again be graced by his presence and music… Here we are (everywhere as they say) more than ten years after his actual death (in the flesh), and his presence AND music are still alive both by way of the incredible archives that exist AND by way of those souls he touched during his time on earth and still. The Fat Man STILL ROCKS!!!

    Long live the Dead!!!

    p.s. Thanks to EVERYONE in the band and with the band for keeping the spirit alive in the family, that live in the house (band) that made all the fans, a part of the plan, isn’t it grand?

    He was the MAN!

    He was a friend of mine…

    though we never met, I knew him well.

    Grateful Still,

    Ron Havill

  • dylan

    Jerry Garcia was my favoriote guy i remember going to the deadhead shows with my dad and when he died it felt like i lost apart of my life because he was a great guitar player and singer,writter and a great guy

    where ever you may lie
    rest in peace
    your fan Dylan the deadhead

  • gonjaman 4:20

    Jerry Garcia is the best man ever to to lie here on earth he is a man of his dreams and everybody will allways remeber him as a great hippie and song writter,singer,guitarest and guy

    rest in peace
    rest in peace

  • Wait a minute. Jerry died? Ohhh maaann.

  • I think this is the thread where someone asked about tie dyes. If Not, sorry.

  • I sure miss Jerry. Still wearing my tie dyes though!!!

  • Bruce Illig

    RIP JG.

    Unfortunately, the Dead was not a band, and did not play music, contained no competent or inspired musicians.

  • Bruce, you could have saved some typing and just wrote “I know nothing about music”