65 years ago today, Jerry Garcia was born. A musician of incomparable talent, Garcia also became the seemingly de-facto poster boy of the hippie idealism, even while his wealth placed him alongside more materialistic ilk, particularly considering his later-in-life Marin Country residence.
At the same time, Garcia was also known as being generous to a fault; filling the Grateful Dead payroll with loyal employees who would have had difficulty in finding jobs in the private sector.
And regardless of how his personal wealth increased, Garcia never seemed to be able to shake the demons that prompted him to use narcotics.
I had a chance to see Garcia at the final Grateful Dead show he performed at. The crowd in Chicago that night seemed oblivious at what was a less-than-stellar set and an obviously encumbered Garcia. Throughout the performance, Garcia missed lyrics, flubbed guitar parts, and struggled to appear even remotely interested in performing in front of a sold out Soldier Field. I would pretend to know that Garcia would end up dying a few short weeks later, but I will admit to feeling a little unease at his appearance.
Because of this, it wasn’t a huge surprise to learn of his passing, and it wasn’t until the following summer (when at least the possibility of catching one more Dead show) that the reality of Garcia death really hit home.
It’s beyond me to suggest that I should be considered a full-fledged Deadhead or that I even attended that many Grateful Dead shows (the total Dead concerts for me stands at a mere five performances). However, I have more cds by the Grateful Dead in my own collection than any other artist and every one of those concerts provided me with an experience that I never had at with other bands. It was a complete escape from the realities of modern life and it involved a community that shared an unachievable utopian ideal under the banner of one band’s music.
And at the helm of that band was Garcia, a gifted yet flawed musician who couldn’t seem to find the peace that seemingly came so easy when he played guitar.