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"Jerry's dead."

A half-dozen street kids came up the sidewalk, chanting, "Jerry's dead, Jerry's dead." It was barely noon, I was awake but not widely, and the scene seemed surreal. For just a moment I wondered whether this was a dream. No, this was Telegraph Ave, which is always a little dreamlike.

Next I wondered whether street kids are a reliable source for the news of someone's dying, and lastly I wondered which Jerry they were on about.

The Jerry of Ben & Jerry? He's made my life better, and I'd be sorry to hear he's left the ice cream business.

Jerry Lewis? He's not funny and I'm not French, so my grief would be only momentary.

Jerry Lee Lewis? Isn't he already dead?

Jerry Rubin? Jerry Falwell? Jerry Mathers? Jerry Rice? Jerry Brown?

The vendor next to me said, "No, Jerry Garcia," so I must've been talking out loud. It's a bummer, babe. Of all the world's Jerrys, Garcia from the Grateful Dead might be the only one I'd miss. Damn it.

You have to have seen them in concert to call yourself a deadhead, and I never have, but I've heard them in concert. Local performances of the Dead are sometimes broadcast live on non-commercial radio, at least here in SF, so I've had that pleasure. Guess you could say Jerry Garcia pleasured me.

There's no money at KPFA and no commercials. If the station paid for broadcast rights, it must've been less than ten dollars, and I'll bet it was nothing. Is there any other band that would allow that?

Truly I am saddened at the news that Jerry's dead, as reported by street kids and confirmed on Telegraph Avenue.

Mr Testosterone was especially in mourning. He's a local head-case whose habit is to stand on the sidewalk and roar like the MGM lion, or the Incredible Hulk. He's a bare-chested, rather ugly hairy-headed and muscle-bound psychotic — harmless, but when he's roaring at random every few minutes, you can enjoy watching pedestrians jump. His roaring today was certainly sadder than its usual loud.

Soon a news crew came, in a van marked BBC News. Several people got out, and I watched as they worked their way up the Avenue, sticking their camera in people's faces. Berkeley was a good choice for gathering person-on-the-street responses to Jerry's death, I thought, until they approached me.

It was a moment when the fish stand had no customers, and BBC News isn't a joke like ABC NBC CBS et al, so when their reporter, a woman with an English accent of course, asked if she could ask me a few questions, I smiled and said, "That's one."

I wondered what I could say about the passing of the late, great Mr Garcia, but instead the reporter said, "Have you read any of the Unabomber's manifesto, and do you agree with his principles or his practices?" Their camera was focused on my face, and the video must've shown a fat man in great confusion as that bogus question rolled around inside my ears.

"Did the BBC send you across the ocean to Berkeley, hoping to find some idiot who might be sympathetic to a murdering lunatic?" Then I went on to say that sure, I've read some of the Unabomber's maifesto, edited to fit the Tribune, and it's as boring as any bullshit political speech. And yeah, I probably do agree with some of it, but bombing random people is despicable, and who does he think he is, Henry Kissinger?

That's when the reporter said "Thank you," and signaled for the cameraman to shut off his machine. I wasn't the man on the street they were hoping to hear from, so don't bother looking for me on the Beeb tonight.

From Pathetic Life #15
Wednesday, August 9, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

13 comments:

  1. I never cared for the Dead, but I have a very clear memory of when I heard that Jerry Garcia died. I was on my road trip with Natalie, the year before I moved to SF. We were somewhere warm and it was the afternoon, and heard the news on the radio, I think.

    That's it. Not a traumatic memory or anything, I just happen to remember that moment.

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    1. Do you ever Google Natalie's name, after all these years?

      I was not a fan of GD either, until those free concerts on the radio snagged me.

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  2. I have looked for her probably 5 times over 10 years. I know her name, college, town she lived in back then. I got nothing. No news, no facebook, no obituary. And I am NOT paying for any extra services.

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    1. Sorry, man. Most of us lose our first love, but losing her without trace has to be worse.

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    2. I don't say this much, but yeah, she is the first true love I ever had. First one that I felt actual pain over, I think. Not knowing literally anything sucks, but ehhh.

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    3. Hug from Doug.

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  3. I also had little to no interest in the GD but do remember, for whatever reason, clearly when he died.
    -César D

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    Replies
    1. Their music is AOK, never bad and sometimes quite good, and I've listened to it lots over the years. What I've always admired most about Garcia and the Dead, though, is that they never tried to stifle or stop bootleg recordings.

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  4. From a listening perspective, there are two Grateful Dead bands. They are made up of exactly the same musicians, but are stylistically quite different.

    1) Live Dead, a sequence of long songs lead by Jerry Garcia that would go off into long jams and never sound exactly the same night to night. The songs might transition from one to the other seamlessly or abruptly or after a short break. These songs lasted five minutes to 45 minutes. Every Dead performance was recorded by the band and by fans (Deadheads) in the audience and compared with similar jams in other venues. There are a number of live Dead albums, and every live performance was slightly different.

    2) A very tight, sophisticated series of studio recorded songs, compiled into albums for fans of the Dead who weren't as interested in the minutiae of differences among six or seven different extended performances by the Dead of their songs.

    Obviously, there were live performances and albums where these two very different styles mixed and meshed, and there were Dead fans who enjoyed both styles, but you'd never confuse them with one another.

    So someone who is approaching the Dead ex post facto can easily get confused about whether this is a jam band or a slightly more standard country rock band. The answer, of course, is that they were both, and, to complicate matters even more, every member of the Dead had side projects (other bands they played in) contemporaneous with their time in the Dead, e.g., New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Jerry Garcia Band, Phil Lesh and Friends, Heart of Gold Band, and many more.

    I was more interested in the tight studio album band, and I'll give you a list of my favorite songs in part 2 of this comment.

    John

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  5. Part 2: The Grateful Dead: The tight country rock band. . . . .

    If you're only familiar with Casey Jones and a the few cuts of the Dead that got AM and Popular FM play, the best way to find the Dead is through what I believe is their masterpiece: Workingman's Dead. This album and their next studio album, American Beauty, contain most of the songs you've likely heard on the radio.

    Workingman's Dead is a genius album of eight songs, all tight and beautiful, all under six minutes, and all expertly played and sung (with beautiful harmony). "Uncle John's Band" and "Cumberland Blues" would be classics in any imaginable universe, and the rest of the album is nearly as good. This is what country rock was meant to sound like. The band is in its prime (although Pigpen has only three years to live) and they demonstrate why they were considered the best of the west coast jam bands.

    Their next album, American Beauty is slightly better known and contains Casey Jones and is wonderful, but the band never topped Workingman's Dead.

    Grateful Dead albums you should hear . . .

    All of Workingman's Dead, every cut

    All of American Beauty, they're not all great, but they're all at least good

    All of From the Mars Hotel, all solid and "Scarlet Begonias" is my favorite Dead song

    From In the Dark, "Touch of Grey" -- I listened to this song every day I was recovering from my Heart Bypass (11 days in the hospital) and I genuinely believe the song, along with some skilled surgeons gave me an extra seven years of life and counting

    These are the high points for me. You're unlikely to go wrong with any studio album Dead song, but these are the best.

    Of course, these are the "tight band" songs I love so much. For a looser, jammier experience, the Dead have a number of live albums that you can get way inside. I'm not a Deadhead, but a Deadhead could make recommendations about the best live Dead albums.

    John

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    1. I have faded away from the Grateful Dead, but I'm gonna follow your trail of breadcrumbs back via Workingman's Dead and maybe the other albums.

      They were a stoner band, and I wasn't a stoner, so I was never much of a fan until their bootlegged concerts were on the radio in Berkeley. Dang fine music with no commercials? Yessir.

      So I became a fan belatedly, and for a lot of years about a dozen of their songs were on my playlist. The playlist back then only had about fifty songs, so eventually I got tired of them and now I haven't done any GD listening in years. But my playlist is no longer on cassette tapes, so I reckon there'll be room to restore the GD to their rightful place in my ears.

      Did you ever attend a show?

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    2. Never made it to one. Oddly, it wasn't my crowd, even though I loved the band. Like a lot of other people, I figured I still had time. I didn't.

      John

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    3. Nor I. The concerts on the radio were fabulous, even though I was reading a book or zine at the same time...

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