Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Today is the tenth anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death. That's some heavy shit. Back when I was a wee teenager, I loved the Grateful Dead. I started seriously listening to music early on, around 4th or 5th grade. Back then, my main musical obsessions were Bobby Brown and the other members of New Edition, Milli Vanilli, and anything that George Michael was involved in.
Later, my tastes got more "urban". Tribe blew my mind, as did more R&B-ish acts like Jodeci. I recall listening to Power 99FM (Philly's then and possibly now hip-hop station) in the back bedroom of my mom's house on summer nights, following the segue from regular programming to "The Quiet Storm", four hours of slow-jamming/love-making R&B from 10pm until 2am. I can not count the number of self-induced orgasms that began with Babyface singing "I only think of you/on two occasions" or SWV harmonizing on "Weak". If PM Dawn's "I'd Die Without You" came on, I'd be in full-blown rapture in seconds.
But eventually, divine inspiration came to me in the form on three albums I first listened to in 8th grade: Eric Clapton "Unplugged", The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper", and the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty".
And then it was on. I became obsessed with the Dead and the enigma that was Jerry Garcia. I wore all the t-shirts and collected all the cds. The music blew me away. I had never gotten high in my life, yet I could sit and listen to the entire twenty-three minute version of "Dark Star" from "Live Dead" without moving a muscle. I glowed with a profound contentment when Jerry sang, "Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile" on "He's Gone", a song that to this day I listen whenever I lose a loved one or before I go to a funeral - its therapeutic powers can not be captured on paper. And I'm lucky enough to be one of the few people I know my age who's actually seen the Dead too, as my second concert (my first? Paula Abdul and Color Me Badd).
And when Jerry died, I was crushed. I had seen him on the second to last tour and sure, he looked terrible, bent awkwardly and uncomfortably over his guitar, seeming to barely hang on, but the guy was an icon. A god, even. He was in terrible shape, struggling with his weight, diabetes, and his heroin addiction, but I never thought he would die. Indeed, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had outlived me (even at a young age, I was presciently aware of my own fragile mortality, even though it hasn't been a problem - yet).
And so, like a bunch of other hippies, on the day of Jerry's death I went down to Independence Hall park in Philadelphia, where an impromptu gathering of Dead fans was held. There was singing and dancing and general comforting. There was sadness, but also great joy. A celebration, not a vigil. I took home the candle that I held that night, bought all the papers the next day and cut out all the articles about Jerry and his death, including the pull-out poster in the Philadelphia Daily News. Then I covered the articles and poster in contact paper and hung them above my bed, putting the candle just below them, creating a make-shift memorial that would remain there until I left for college.
I look back now and think as I re-read this, "Damn - that's crazy." And it was a little crazy. But that doesn't mean that I was affected any differently. I can't see myself now being so moved by a music group or so shattered by the death of a musician. But 16 year-old me sure was. Those teenage years are an awkward time, especially to a plumper who falls in love with every girl he sees but is condemned to a life of celibacy because he sucks at basketball and kinda likes TS Eliot. Music, especially the music of the Grateful Dead, was what kept me going and is in large part responsible for what I am today: a fat, mildly successful jerkoff with a solid grip on reality (who also has excellent taste in music).
I can end this in any number of cheesy ways, like exclaiming "Thank you Jerry!" as tears roll down my cheeks or writing a pertinent lyric from a Dead song. Instead, I'll close by saying what I'd love for someone to say about me at my funeral (on August 31, 2009): Jerry Garcia was really fucking awesome. Rock on, man. Rock the fuck on.