Read an Excerpt
Back Bay BooksCopyright © 1999 The Editors of Rolling Stone
All right reserved.
Introduction"My way is music. Music is me being me and trying to get higher. I've been into music so long that I'm dripping with it; it's all I ever expect to do." -Jerry Garcia, 1969
I HAD JUST LEFT my first Rolling Stones concert at the San Jose Civic Center and, my ears still ringing with "Satisfaction," somehow ended up at an old Victorian house by the campus of San Jose State. I opened the door to discover a hundred people my age and older wandering around with heads full of acid. A band had set up in the living room, playing electrified blues and free-form jams. I remember the music being very enchanting and very strong. During a lull I walked up to one of them - Bob Weir, I believe - and asked, Who are you?" He answered, "The Grateful Dead." My reply: "Faarrr-out."
This was 1965. The party turned out to be one of the first of Ken Kesey's now legendary Acid Tests, unscripted multimedia happenings at which the various elements in the San Francisco scene came together in a spontaneous, psychedelic incubator. The Grateful Dead served as the house band for the Acid Tests. They were the ideal group of musicians for those formless rituals, being conversant in everything from Beat Generation literature to all kinds of indigenous American music, including folk, blues, jazz, bluegrass and rock & roll. It was this collage of music, literature, lifestyle and philosophy that laid the groundwork for the emerging hippie culture, and the Grateful Dead embodied it in toto.
It was a movement of such persuasive power and passion that I felt moved to document it journalistically by founding ROLLING STONE in I967. Because the Grateful Dead were a driving force behind the San Francisco scene, they figured prominently in ROLLING STONE as well. I wrote about their drug bust at the house at 7I0 Ashbury in the Haight in the very first issue. My account accompanied a two-page spread of photographs that found the band cavorting on the stoop of their house, seemingly unperturbed by their legal troubles. I remember interviewing them, as it were, hanging out in the kitchen.
We wrote about the Dead before they got big because, quite simply, they were one of my favorite bands. I used to see them play almost every weekend at San Francisco's psychedelic ballrooms, and I got to know them from those shows and through mutual friends. Jerry would talk to me about what he'd like to see published in ROLLING STONE. He was very inquisitive and literary-minded, so he always wanted more interviews in the magazine. He loved to talk, to qualify and explain and describe things. Musically, I recall being struck by his versatility and skill with the guitar. Sometimes I'd stand next to him onstage or just to the side of the stage and mention a guitar player's name while he was in the middle of a performance. Without missing a beat, he'd shift into that guitar player's style.
I saw them a lot in the early years, when Pigpen was still around and they were a bit more blues based. They had a tremendous reverb sound that sounded great in the dance halls. I loved it when they did hard-core rhythm & blues like "In the Midnight Hour," "Good Lovin'," "Viola Lee Blues" and "Walkin' the Dog" and when Jerry would sing Bob Dylan songs. I liked them as a performing band then and as a recording band circa Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, which were classics of philosophy no less than songcraft. By this time, of course, the Grateful Dead were earning extensive coverage in ROLLING STONE on their own merits, based on their popularity and significance as a band. (Incidentally, Garcia - with and without the Grateful Dead - has made eleven cover appearances, which puts him in a group that includes Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger, with and without the Stones.)
Throughout the formative years of both ROLLING STONE and the Grateful Dead, Jerry and I would compare notes on our respective organizations and try to learn from what the other was doing. The Dead were an ongoing experiment in social organization, guided by Jerry's philosophy of letting things evolve without imposing too much authority or structure. Eventually, they became the most successful touring rock band in musical history - which is undeniably ironic, coming from the perspective of San Francisco in the mid-Sixties. I don't think anyone, myself included, envisioned them as a big-time national band. The Jefferson Airplane had an early hit single, and the Steve Miller Band and a few others landed major-label contracts, but the Dead were "our band." It just seemed they were going to be resolutely on the lowest rung in terms of commercial success. They looked funky, the music was strange, and on and on.
The triumph of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead is that they succeeded entirely on their own terms. A mass audience found its way to them, feeding off the Dead's music and the philosophies they espoused. Over the years, I have been constantly amazed by the Deadhead phenomenon. I think it stands for a number of things that are good and wholesome, principally a desire that the world be a gentler place or at least that there be a space in it where the Dead can play and you can go and groove with your brothers and sisters. It's really the hippie ethos, alive and well and surviving over the decades.
The last time I saw Jerry was in 1991 at Bill Graham's funeral, which was the first time I'd seen everybody from the San Francisco scene en masse in years. Three years later I helped induct the Grateful Dead into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, giving an "I'm proud to be a Deadhead" speech. I still feel very much like a Deadhead. I remain very connected to that past and my early memories of San Francisco, knowing those guys and enjoying those shows at the Fillmore and the Avalon so much. I can recollect them all clearly and feel very grounded in that place and time.
I am sure that much the same allegiance holds true for every Deadhead, regardless of the point at which he or she came aboard during the band's long history. It's a tradition that's been handed down. More than that, however, it's an environment where certain ideas and values that the Dead promulgated about life could be found and could be lived. The seeds they've sown have taken root all over, extending beyond concert settings into people's daily existences. This, as much as any notes he played, is Jerry Garcia's legacy.
-Jann S. Wenner
Excerpted from Garcia Copyright © 1999 by The Editors of Rolling Stone. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.