See here how everything
Lead up to this day
And it’s just like any other day
That’s ever been
Sun going up and then
The sun going down
Shine through my window
And my friends they come around…

Had he lived, Jerry Garcia would have turned 70 today.  Born on 1 August 1942, Garcia was the warm and charismatic figure whose seemingly effortless guitar solos flowed like water through the Grateful Dead’s performances.  He was born in 1942, in San Francisco, the son of a Spanish immigrant, Jose Garcia, who had been a jazz clarinettist and Dixieland bandleader in the 1930s. In the spring of 1948, while on a fishing trip, Garcia saw his father swept to his death in a California river.

When Garcia was 15, his older brother Tiff- who years earlier had accidentally lopped off Jerry’s right-hand middle finger while the two were chopping wood – introduced him to early rock & roll and rhythm & blues music, and Garcia began to play.  His early appearances on the San Francisco music scene in the early sixties  were performing mainly bluegrass, old-time and folk music in bands with names like the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers,  Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, and the Warlocks.

By 1965, Garcia had fallen in with most of the other musicians who would form the Grateful Dead: Robert Hunter (who wrote most of the lyrics), Phil Lesh the bass player, Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir.  The band was renowned for the dazzling interplay between Weir and Garcia in extended jams, and had a reputation for never playing a song the same way twice.

As the band evolved from being blues-oriented towards psychedelic and experimental extemporisations, and to absorbing country and folk influences, Garcia’s guitar remained the distinctive element of their sound. His partnership with songwriter Robert Hunter led to many of the band’s most memorable songs, including personal favourites of mine such as  ‘Uncle John’s Band’, ‘Sugar Magnolia’, ‘Playing in the Band’, ‘Truckin’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’, and ‘Ripple’.

Garcia and the Dead became central to the San Francisco hippie counter-culture of the late sixties where LSD had gained popularity. Garcia first began experimenting with LSD in 1964, and asked later by Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone how it changed his life, he answered:

It just changed everything you know, it was just – ah, first of all, for me personally, it freed me, you know, the effect was that it freed me because I suddenly realized that my little attempt at having a straight life and doing that was really a fiction and just wasn’t going to work out.

Through the turbulent sixties and seventies, Garcia remained an ardent advocate of mind-expanding drugs, but increasingly he struggled with drug addiction, weight problems and diabetes all of which contributed to his physical decline.  Addiction to heroin and cocaine began to affect his musical abilities, and on several occasions other members of the band would insist that he check into a rehabilitation centre.

It was in his room at a California rehabilitation clinic that Garcia’s body was discovered on 9 August 1995. He had died of a heart attack.

There were days, and there were days
And there were days I know
When all we ever wanted
Was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
We told them where to go
Walked halfway around the world
On promise of the glow
Stood upon a mountain top
Walked barefoot in the snow
Gave the best we had to give
How much we’ll never know

In 1967, in a CBS News special that featured an interview with Jerry Garcia and other band members, anchorman Harry Reasoner made these observations about the hippie scene in San Francisco:

Most of these people are young. Most of them come from middle class homes. On the average, they are well educated, or could be if they wanted to. But they do not want that, or much else in our civilization, except on their own terms. In many ways their own terms have the glitter and the attraction of the bright and bold and noisy, but it appears to be style without content.

They object to the ills which beset society– war, social hatreds, money grubbing, spiritual waste… but their remedy is to withdraw into private satisfactions. When one thinks of the problems of our day which cry for attack and imagination and youthful energy, this seems like the greatest waste of all. The movement appears to be growing. Use of drugs appears to be spreading. There is the real danger that more and more young people may follow the call to turn on, tune in, drop out.

‘Ripple’ live in 1980

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near, as it were your own?

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go, no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

2 thoughts on “Jerry Garcia: No simple highway

  1. Jerry and his music has survived long after the patronizing tones of the voice over merchant, thanks Jerry for some beautiful times and songs to live with on the road we go through today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.