Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ten years gone, Garcia still has us in his grip



From the Kansas City Star:

Ten years gone, Garcia still has us in his grip
By DAVID BARTON Sacramento Bee

From the time he first stepped on stage with the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, dubbed “Captain Trips” by his following, exhibited the kind of charisma that would make him a revered cultural figure.
Even after his death at 53 from heart failure 10 years ago this week, his influence echoes among the younger musicians and fans of the booming jam-band genre. The same is true for older fans who sport J. Garcia ties with their business suits and drink J. Garcia wines at suburban dinner parties.
His prolific musical output plays on in archival releases that include the Grateful Dead and his own Jerry Garcia Band. Prints of his paintings sell through art galleries, a line of designer rugs has debuted, and J. Garcia Birkenstocks are on the way.

“Shakedown Street,” an off-Broadway show based on the songs Garcia wrote with Robert Hunter, opens Saturday in New York City. An amphitheater in McLaren Park in San Francisco was renamed for him.
And then there are the fans, like this one who posted feelings on a “10th anniversary” discussion thread on the Web site www.jerry garcia.com: “I find myself wondering how different things might be if he were still around. Would we still have a war?”

But while Garcia’s impact as counter-culture guru, jam-band avatar and guitar legend has provoked endless books, Web sites and late-night rap sessions, those who knew him agree on one thing.
He couldn’t handle the legacy thing.

“As soon as I hear ‘impact,’ I hear pomposity, and I think, ‘Jerry would hate that,’ ” says Dennis McNally, the Dead’s publicist, a longtime Garcia confidant and author of the 2004 book A Long, Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead (Broadway Books; $30; 683 pages).

“He never, ever felt worthy of the adoration,” says David Gans, another longtime chronicler of the Dead’s 40-year saga. “He thought of himself as a regular (guy).”

As McNally recalls, “His standard line was, ‘So what the ... do I know?’ He knew about his own normal self, the ways he couldn’t function.”

He was certainly from a humble background, and though he was a considerable visionary in some ways, his first and foremost passions were music and art.

He was born in the Excelsior section of San Francisco’s Mission District, a fifth-generation San Franciscan on his mother’s side. He was the son of a musician, Jos, whose parents had come from Spain some years before, and a mother, Ruth, of Swedish and Irish background.

His dad died when Garcia was 4, drowned while they were fishing on the North Coast. Garcia, guided by his maternal grandfather into music, started playing guitar in his teens, before discovering the banjo, about which he became obsessive. He eventually started teaching it and formed a jug band with fellow teachers. They became the Warlocks and then the Grateful Dead.

Formed 40 years ago this month, the Dead became the house band for the LSD-induced “acid test” experiments of the mid-’60s, which grew into the San Francisco psychedelic scene that came to rival “swinging London” in the mid-’60s. The Dead far exceeded them in longevity and ultimately became the most consistently successful American touring band of the 1980s and early ’90s. It made as much as $50 million a year touring, though McNally says Garcia spent as much as he earned and was waiting for his next paycheck the day he died.

“His reputation is overblown among Deadheads, who can be uncritically admiring,” author Gans says. “But much of it is merited. He had a vastly open mind, extremely catholic tastes, and he was a brilliant synthesizer of styles.
“They say he’s the greatest guitarist who ever lived, but Jerry would be the first guy to say, ‘Get a grip.’ ”

1 Comments:

Blogger A Dark In The Light said...

Who will play for us? Who will sing out and play those lonesome notes that fly up over the fields and trees and echo into the sky? God, is there anybody out there who needs that kind of thing as much as me?

Monday, December 15, 2008  

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