THE FIRST THOUGHTS that crossed my born-in-the-’50s mind after reading Eddie Dean’s report on the vigil on the evening of Jerry Garcia’s demise (“O Captain! Our Captain!,” The District Line, 8/18) was “Could he be related to Newt Gingrich?,” and I contacted him by phone to put the question to him directly.
I really felt that Dean was sneering at the death of “yet another druggie counter-culture derelict” (not quoting anyone in particular, just paraphrasing what a Gingrich, a Gramm, a Buchanan, or a Dole might say). Now I realize that Dean was instead sneering at those who idolized Garcia.
Yes, to idolize anyone is perhaps a bit foolish and childish, and it can border on mindlessness—but there is no denying that Garcia was not only charismatic, but he was also a talented, down-to-earth, amusing, exuberant nonconformist. His appeal and the Grateful Dead’s music reached a wider group of people than almost anyone I can think of since the Beatles.
Sigh! It is no longer possible to run away with the circus or become a hobo, there are not many desert islands left untouched by civilization, and now the option to follow the Grateful Dead tours has likely passed into history. We are all somewhat the poorer for no longer having these options.
To some, Jerry Garcia was something of a Buddha figure. I will certainly miss him as a symbol of free-spirited fun, and, be it foolish or not, I probably did somehow think that he would live forever. Now that he has passed on, it seems to me as appropriate to say “Garcia lives” as a previous generation said “Trane lives.” However, insinuations that his fans encouraged him to destroy himself are somewhat ridiculous. Nobody killed Jerry Garcia but Jerry Garcia, largely due to his own inattention to his physical health.
Whatever Dean’s statement that “For chrissakes, Moby Grape had three guitarists as good as Garcia” has to do with any of this I can’t imagine, although I certainly always liked the tune “Omaha,” and did not know before my chat with Dean that the Grape’s former lead guitarist now lives in a dumpster in San Jose, another victim of who-knows-what. How about a story on this, Eddie? Is there a story? Roky Erickson’s has already been pretty well publicized. The only conclusion I can draw from this reference is that crowds do not seek out and eagerly flock to scenes of pathos, although they may gawk when they happen upon them. We Americans worship success, even the success of a Dillinger. While most of the “supergroups” of the late ’60s fell apart or blew apart after a few years in the spotlight, the Grateful Dead were a gigantic success story for 30 years.
I hope that the Dead’s followers will use the time they formerly spent on tours to make a positive difference in this society. Maybe some of the new Deadheads will revive the old Merry Pranksters. We could all use some creative acts of nonviolent anarchism now, to counter the continued attempts of the fanatical political right to eliminate individuality and enslave us with their narrow-minded social norms. Is there still hope that they will fail?