Thursday, August 18, 2005

Elegy for Garcia & Mantle

From the NYPress:

Remebering Mantle and Garcia, ten years later.
By Mark Zaitchik

Mickey Mantle. Jerry Garcia. Baseball. Rock 'n' roll hybrid as good Nebraska corn. A native couple. We performed their funerals in sweet juxtaposition, coffin to coffin. Then American shiva, a democratic cavalcade, mourning, praising, remembering, homage in every key, eulogy from every field. Exactly what enchants our people when times demand bereavement's song. Despite the epochal yak, its electric circuit of creation and murder, creation and murder, nary a foul word from the bastard press, no off-pitch spit from mouths paid to spit and run. In August 1995, 10 years ago this week, the dead were left to Destiny. A moment of thriving public life.

Mic-key Man-tle. A four-syllable bounce. A four-bag trot. Like ancestral Nat-ty Bum-po, out of nowhere, weaponstick in hand, a dream in the field, Oklahoma mine-bred, not much at home when he had to visit the Big Town. Blue-eyed. Blond. Beautiful. The age had not yet exchanged archetypal communion for sociology. Low self-esteem had not yet made it to the Front Page. From the beginning, what we all saw was Baseball's Platonic Face.

I was eight when Mickey hit the Show; a Boston boy who hated the Yankees. I loved Mickey Mantle. I loved him with a child's love, our endogamy cemented by the idea of the endless homer, by the aura of his gait, by the green cheer of the multitude who still could love hot dogs and Crackerjacks in seats they could afford.

So what if Mickey drank for 40 years, like some dazed Israelite bound for the Promised Land? So what if he would not attend to his mortal knees any more than Achilles could baptize a pagan heel? So what if he died short of the magical .300-lifetime, symbolic commission of freedom's central felony, failed potential?

We are tired of public unmaskings, tired of the hypocrite's lecture on the unrealized life. Until we inscribe our hero into the book of myth, identity is memory, and memory must steal absolution from the darkness of hours by a joyful forgetting. The hero can be no felon. He is his best promise. Our best promise. Essence of strength. Of speed. Of grace. Mickey Mantle, center fielder, umbilicus, like baseball itself, out of time.

Not like Jerry Garcia. Who lived in rock 'n' roll, a metronomic place where time insists itself and the electronic beat drives your body down the fast lane fast. If you choose to make the trip, you're old quick, forever. Jerry Garcia, beloved pop icon, prophet of immoderacy and the unreasonable life, our permission to have a helluva good time, chill out, be mellow, and convert memory to acid mystery. Jerry Garcia, his guitar a wand for endless hours over endless years, his spell the magic of transformation, Duration became sublimity. Camaraderie became art. A lazy hedonism became the soul of tranquility.

Yet banded together, we watched Tranquility's Scapegoat complete the true spectacle of the Dead: swelling, congestion, addiction, divorce, exhaustion, disintegration, coma, aging, aging, aging, public dying, the clogging of the heart's desire. All the while, without cease, he supplied us that comfortable amusement without which the prosperous voyeur must look inward. Well-preserved, middle-aged political fools, with mouths but little ear joined talking heads, required to talk but not listen, in proclaiming his unique, timeless music, his unique, generous anarchy. It was music and anarchy which cost them nothing, save vicarious participation in raunchy self-destruction. Better he than they.

As for the abandoned young, aptly X, Jerry Garcia was the possibility of happiness in a tragic age. If they lacked the wetness of love, he was at least there to sing for them, unhurried, saturated in apparent well-being, the plain-spoken incarnation of a storied past preserved for them live, rather than in the Braggart recollections of a Narcissistic Age.
Jerry Garcia survives his long tour. But not because Nostalgia can survive truth, or public relations forever shape and reshape good for sale. Or even because popular culture has gained power to redefine the nature of the beautiful. As musical entertainment, Garcia will be soon enough forgotten. As commodity, he is no longer useful. The clients of marketing have little interest in the souls of the dead.

No, Jerry Garcia survives his long tour because he was absolutely nothing special. Under the lights, he revealed himself as the mystery of the universal average. In and out of tune, lazy, intense, affable, flappable, he was another passenger of the ferry. Just like you and me. He labored for a living, pursued his music as an easy-going demon. Pursuing it, he sought happiness. But he knew his music did not make him a legend out of his own time. And it could not find him a place in folklore without the imbuing kiss of out own deepest needs.

Garcia's Requiem Mass is democracy's chorus of comfort. In sacred irony, he is the true Madonna of our age: the ordinary human being, claiming no superiority, going about his business, completing his journey, alone, in the wee hours of the morning. We celebrate his mobbed concert as we celebrate each single member of the happy crowd.
And so we pass Mickey Mantle and Jerry Garcia on to the next generation. In doing so, we pass on the twin impulses of our culture, the blessed contradiction of America. Genius and Equality. Grace and Work. Mantle and Garcia. In August 1995, neither cold technology nor the hot concupiscence of cool media could make stick the perjury of news at six o'clock. Two American heroes triumphed over small talk. There is hope for us yet.


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