Monday, August 9, 2010
Fifteen years ago today, or probably yesterday or so by the time you read this, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead passed away after a long battle with diabetes. I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the news…in the break room eating lunch at Speedy Car Wash in Panama City, FL where I worked summers, etc between 1990 and 1995. My reaction upon hearing this news was a burst of laughter. Terrible, I know. But that was me as a 21 year old kid, and to a certain extent even now, to scoff in the grief of those mourning the passing of a rock icon and an all around super nice guy. And yes, I was certainly aware of the former, but back then it was cool for all us alterno-indie kids to hate hippies and classic rock…you know, the whole kill your idols deal. But even before then, when Led Zeppelin was the greatest band ever and I even sorta liked hippies, I was “taught” that the Grateful Dead were a horrific band and only complete idiots liked them. And I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of being a Deadhead (sticker on a Cadillac), but I will say that 15 years and a few less musical prejudices later, I can not only respect the Grateful Dead for who they were and what they did, but I can even get into a bit of their music.
Doing so was a conscious effort on my part, starting back 10ish plus years ago when I realized that Keith Richards is about 1000 times more punk than Sid Vicious (suck on that, JT) and was re-embracing classic rock – picking up again all the old Zeppelin albums I’d spurned at age 18, realizing the Stones actually wrote some fantastic tunes before becoming parodies of themselves, and taking the plunge into the Beatle hype simply because I felt like I should. (FYI, I never shunned the Doors, not even for a second.) Around the same time I discovered Love, the C. A. Quintet and a host of other obscure 60s bands, I decided I’d at least read up on the Dead and see if I couldn’t find a couple of albums to give a listen. What I came up with was Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, two of their heavy folk albums that many folks will argue are their greatest, and which certainly contain many of their best known songs. I won’t argue the former simply because I’ve hardly explored much beyond these two albums, but I will say that both were good enough for me to realize that there was much more to these guys than endless jam sessions and doped up hippies stumbling all over each other. But it still didn’t make me think they were worth all the legendary hubbub.
Next, about two or so years ago, Damn Fine Day had the Cream Puff War as their song of the day and I said, “Yes sir, this indeed is very much what it’s all about,” ‘cos that song is a prime example of 60s psychedelia at its tip top best. After that I decided that I was going to pick up their first album and give it an honest listen. In a word, brilliant - and dare I add, a blueprint of psychedelic music both then and for retro revivalists over the next four decades. And I realize that while this album garners loads of great reviews and is considered a classic, it’s not what most fans would nod to as the Grateful Dead’s most important era. And that’s fair enough, because I’m still not a Dead fan, but I can certainly tell you that I not only acknowledge and appreciate what they did, but I thoroughly enjoy it whenever I get around to giving an album a listen (which admittedly isn’t often enough). And so looking back 15 years, I’m thankful that I remember where I was when I heard about the passing of a true music innovator (and I realize here that I’ve not really talked about Jerry Garcia at all, just my own experience with his band), who was so much more than a trippy guru or psychedelic shaman, but one who explored and cultivated several genres from folk to blues to jazz to country, with a unique style and vision that cared for nothing more than creating art through music and sharing it with anyone who cared to listen.
So Jerry, wherever you are hanging with Jimi and B-Jones and Mama C, I hope they let you bring your guitar and that your long, strange trip is just beginning.
Also, here's a You Tube clip of the song that made the light bulb click on.
BTW, I like hippies even less than I did 15 years ago. Exponentially less.