A Lifetime of Inspiration
by David Gans
Halloween 1995, just before midnight
I don't have any poetry to offer here. I lost that facility long before Jerry Garcia's death. I know too much that's prosaic, unfortunate, unpleasant. I think I, and many others, had been mourning Jerry for years before he formalized his departure.
I have no desire to undermine the gorgeous benedictions of my friends and neighbors whose relationship with Jerry was uncomplicated and whose sorrow at his loss is unmitigated. On the ninth of August I would have traded everything for a taste of the pure tears that flowed all around me. I ache for an innocence I lost years ago.
I have lived for some time on the border between "inside" and "outside," technically a licensee but really just a presumptuous Deadhead who made a career from my love of this music. When I came into the scene I saw myself as a scholar, and it broke my heart over the last ten years that I was unable to gain access to Jerry for an interview. I was allowed to put the music on the radio but I was kept at much more than arm's length. In the Grateful Dead it is impossible to separate the personal from the professional, and I will never know whether it was me or what I represented - or some other factor altogether - that exiled me to this twilight zone. I had no choice but to live with the complexities.
The more I saw of the "inside," the more I breathed the air around Jerry Garcia, the more miraculous it all became. If Jerry were the saint he is widely believed to be, and if the other band members and their teammates were as enlightened as we tend to give them credit for being, then the magic of the Grateful Dead culture would be much less of a mystery than it is. But Jerry was not a saint - he was irresponsible, undisciplined, plagued by demons (as we all are), isolated by fame, and apparently unable to control his own behavior well enough to save his life.
Jerry had so much good will directed at him in this world that he couldn't buy so much as a sour look from most people. And I saw him try a few times. It was hard enough to move around, and produce valid stuff, in a world well-stocked with people who appreciated his work; when he found himself surrounded by people who wore his face on their chests and traveled the world just to camp in the parking lot but knew and cared little about the true nature of his art - well, it's easy to see how a sensitive soul could lose his priorities. When you can't tell your allies from your idolaters, you're well and truly fucked.
Don't get me wrong - I loved Jerry Garcia's music and his charm and his generosity of spirit. Those are the things that drew me in and compelled me to learn more about the people who played the music, thereby making me part of this magnificent community of ours. I can't imagine where I would be and what I would be doing today had I not been brought into that world in 1972. The job I do to pay my mortgage, the friends with whom I spend my most pleasant hours, the music I make on my own stages - every aspect of my life and philosophy is refracted through the lens of the Grateful Dead.
You don't need me to polish metaphors for you; you have your own perfect understanding of that universe. Jerry's greatness is self-evident: it drew us to him and kept us in orbit for years, and we remain here in his firmament, wishing that crashed dark star were instead a comet whose return must simply be calculated.
The funny thing is, the particulars of my life didn't change that much when Jerry died. The Grateful Dead Hour is of the archive, not of the tour; reduced to fundamentals, the radio show has lost its source of new material but it would take years to play all the tapes that already exist. And I was out of Jerry's picture already, which in a way forced me to put him out of mine. I was angry and hurt and disappointed about that, and I was worried about Jerry because he had ceased to be a compelling performer for the most part, and I missed getting my mind blown by him. But that had been going on for years: the last time I remember being dumbfounded by his guitar playing was (ironically) "Death Don't Have No Mercy" at Shoreline 9/29/89. So I was wishing him well and fearing the worst for several years; his death was a relief to him, I believe, and in that sense it was a relief to me.
Please don't think me unsentimental. I'd give my eyeteeth to be sentimental about the death of Jerry Garcia, but life isn't like that for me. My professional relationship with the Grateful Dead has been a challenge and a character builder. I've gotten a lifetime's worth of inspiration from Jerry Garcia; I'll be untying knots and digging up buried treasures from those experiences for the rest of my life. And I'll be jonesing for a show pretty soon, and I will cry from time to time, and as the years go by I'll remember less of the shadow and more of the glow.
I did make one gesture, abetted by my wife, to acknowledge his immense presence in my life and times: I got vanity plates for my car. I couldn't get THNX JER, but I came pretty close.
(Published in Garcia: A Grateful Tribute)