Saturday, August 9, 2008

13 Years

I'm running late already, and I'm supposed to be in Asheville sometime today, but I had to write a (very) quick post to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death. If I had more time I would write a long statement that I'm sure would convert the most ardent detractor of this man's importance to the popular culture of the 20th century. But there just isn't time today, and there are far better articles, columns, and books that do justice to the legacy of this icon. "Icon" seems like such a trite word for this, but it'll have to do for now.

I have issue 717 of Rolling Stone right next to me. A very intense Jerry stares out at Herbi Greene's camera in salt-and-pepper magnitude, and all the top caption reads is "Jerry Garcia 1942-1995." My copy is worse for the wear, and when I opened it this morning I found that I had placed clippings from the NY Times, New Yorker, Time, and an editorial from our local paper inside the front cover. As I was flipping through it, I welled up. Dammit, not supposed to get weepy...buck up kid!

I've been listening to a lot of Dead this week. Not really consciously, it just happens that these phases come around every now and then. Now I realize that it is the August solstice, the 9 days between Jerry's birthday, August 1st, 1942, and the day of his death, August 9th, 1995. I've mostly listened to tapes from 1970 when the Dead were part bar-band, part transcendental oracles and part folk balladeers. Jerry drove the majority of these concerts with relentless, some might say endless, guitar solos. But listening to each tape I'm amazed at how many variations the man was able to produce with just five fingers and a dozen or so frets (oh, and yes, probably lots of inhebriants). He could be sweetly lyrical one moment and turn on a dime to produce scary crunchy fuzz, then riff off blues licks and decunstruct everything into feedback and wonking noises and then find his way back to the lyrical melody.

I don't really know where I'm going with this. I just know that I'm remembering this day particularly intensely this year. There is so much about the Grateful Dead that produces fodder for the morality police, not to mention the folks who want their songs to be about love and last no more than three-and-half minutes. Not knocking those folks, but if freedom of speech and expression is still a collective value, the Dead and Garcia proved how powerful that basic human right can be. Furthermore, to many of their fans, they also proved the profound transformative power of this practice .

1 comment:

Emily Barton said...

It's hard to believe that was 13 years ago. I remember that day so vividly. Bob was on his way up to Rhode Island to visit friends, and he called me from the road, because he'd heard the news on the radio, and he knew I'd be upset.