Jerry and Jesus

Once a month like a bad habit, a big, loud family of Christians show up on the Ave, boring everyone with sermons and hymns. They've pissed me off before, and I've written about it before, and here we go again.

It's child abuse that they make their kids into pint-sized preachers. 

And all the family's preaching and singing is amplified electronically, which ought to be illegal. The Constitution says freedom of speech, not freedom of amplified speech in public spaces.

In Berkeley, though, tickets for being a public nuisance are for panhandlers and homeless and hippies, never for people who's intent is to be a nuisance to the public.

I worked near Umberto, and we were the only ones who heckled the preachers and singers, at least for the first hour or so, but wow, others joined in when one of the preachers said something sticky and icky about the late Jerry Garcia. My notebook wasn't handy and I hadn't really been listening — when the preachers preach, I try not to pay attention — but the gist of it was that Garcia had led a generation of America away from the One True God and into lives of hedonism and drug abuse.

The remark instantly roused several of the street kids. "Hooray for hedonism," came a shout from behind me. Pretty soon catcalls were coming from a dozen voices all around the Avenue, street kids and even people who looked respectable.

The preacher heard the hollering, and doubled down from the microphone: "Jerry Garcia was not someone you should look up to," he said sternly, as the boos grew more enthusiastic. "This man that you worshiped is dead!" he argued at the crowd.

"So's Jesus!" screamed a street kid near me, and I laughed, and Umberto shouted, "Amen!" Several more street kids were getting riled, saying "Don't mess with Jerry," and such things. The Telegraph vibe had quickly and tangibly changed, and then came a moment that seemed almost miraculous.

The preacher looked around, and saw the same busy street scene as a few moments earlier, but now people were actually watching and listening to him, and lots of them were angry — at him. The preacher and his family are probably accustomed to being ignored, even some slight heckling, but this wasn't slight

He wisely ended his sermon without finishing it, and signaled to one of the other men in suits in his bunch. The other guy twisted a knob to lower a microphone, and within moments one of the children started singing a grisly song about a man being nailed to lumber, while two adults backed her with bass and guitar.

The song was awful in its own way, but it calmed the crowd and the street went back to laid back.

"Fuckin' A," said one of the street kids, and we talked for a few minutes. He's a kid I've spoken to before, and he might've been high, or maybe he's been high so much it's his ordinary altitude. He was Bill or Ted, maybe both, and everything was excellent or awesome.

Jerry's name came up, of course. It's weird but cool, that the literally unwashed youth of today have such high regard for a dead fat man three times their age.

Generally, I like the street kids on Telegraph. Sure, a lot of them are stoners or addicts, annoying in their own way, and you gotta wonder where they'll be in 2006 or 2016. Here in 1996, though, they're teenagers and young adults who've said "No thanks" to normalcy, and that's a good thing. Telling normal to fuck off ought to be normal.

The preachers, meanwhile, were still preaching, but after hours that seemed like days, they began clicking their PA system off, and packing their not-at-all-Garcia-like guitars.

Happy to see them leaving, I shouted, "But who will save us heathens?"

"Jerry will save us!" said the kid I'd talked to earlier, and a few of his friends echoed, "Jerry saves!" and "Jerry lives!" and "Jerry resurrection!" 

In Berkeley, you don't talk trash about the Grateful Dead. That's the lesson the preacherman learned.

I like the music, because what's not to like? When it's on the radio the dial stays where it is and the volume goes up. I don't have any tapes of the Dead, though, so I've never listened on a loop like their admirers do.

Maybe I should. Without even hearing the music, today made me more of a fan, and I know a guy who'd probably let me borrow a tape.

And I'm thinking, to whatever extent it's true what the preacher said, that Garcia led a generation into hedonism and drug abuse, well, that's a life well lived and a fine eulogy.

From Pathetic Life #23
Saturday, April 20, 1996

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.

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