Jerry Garcia And The Rest Of

Jerry Garcia: And The Rest Of “The Grateful Dead” Essay, Research Paper

Jerome John Garcia was born in 1942, in San Francisco’s

Mission District. His father, a spanish immigrant named Jose


Garcia, had been a jazz clarinetist and Dixieland bandleader in the

thirties, and he named his new son after his favorite Broadway

composer, Jerome Kern. In the spring of 1948, while on a fishing

trip, Garcia saw his father swept to his death by a California river.

After his father’s death, Garcia spent a few years living with

his mother’s parents, in one of San Francisco’s working-class

districts. His grandmother had the habit of listening to Nashville’s

Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts on Saturday nights, and it was in

those hours, Garcia would later say, that he developed his


for country-music forms-particularly the deft , blues-inflected

mandolin playing and mournful, high-lonesome vocal style of Bill

Monroe, the principal founder of bluegrass. When Garcia was ten,

his mother, Ruth, brought him to live with her at a sailor’s hotel and

bar that she ran near the city’s waterfront. He spent much of his


there listening to the drunks’, fanciful stories; or sitting alone


Disney and horror comics and pouring through science-fiction


When Garcia was fifteen, his older brother Tiff – who years

earlier had accidentally chopped off Jerry’s right-hand middle


while the two were chopping wood – introduced him to early rock


roll and rhythm & blues music. Garcia was quickly drawn to the

music’s funky rhythms and wild textures, but what attracted him


most were the sounds that came from the guitar; especially the

bluesy “melifluousness” of players such as; T-bone Walker and

Chuck Berry. It was something he said that he had never heard

before. Garcia wanted to learn how to make those same sounds

he went straight to his mother and told her that he wanted an


guitar for his next birthday.

During this same period, the beat period was going into full

swing in the Bay Area, and it held great predominance at the


Beach arts school where Garcia attended and at the city’s

coffeehouses, where he had heard poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti

and Kenneth Rexroth read their best works.

By the early Sixties, Garcia was living in Palo Alto,


hanging out and playing in the folk-music clubs around Stanford

University. He was also working part-time at Dana Morgan’s


Store, where he met several of the musicians who would


dominate the San Francisco music scene. In 1963 Garcia formed


jug band, Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. Its lineup

included a young folk guitarist named Bob Weir and a blues lover,

Ron McKernan, known to his friends as “Pigpen” for his often

disorderly appearance. The group played a mix of blues, country,

and folk, and Pigpen became the frontman, singing Jimmy Reed


Lightnin’ Hopkins tunes.

Then in February 1964, the Beatles made their historic

appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and virtually overnight,


culture was imbued with a new spirit and sense of identity. Gracia

understood the group’s promise after seeing its first film, A Hard

Day’s Night.

As a result, the folky purism of Mother McCree’s all-acoustic

form began to seem rather limited and uninteresting to Garcia and

many of the other band members, and before long the ensemble


transformed into the Warlocks. A few dropped out, but they were

soon joined by two more; Bill Kreutzmann, and Phil Lesh.

It was around this time that Garcia and some of the group’s

other members also began an experiment with drugs that would

change the nature of the band’s story. Certainly this wasn’t the first

time drugs had been used in music for artistic expression or had

found their way into an American cultural movement. Many jazz


blues artists had been smoking marijuana and using various


to intensify their music making for several decades, and in the


the Beats had extolled marijuana as an assertion of their non-

conformism. But the drugs that began cropping up in the youth


music scenes in the mid-Sixties were of a much different. more

exotic type. Veterans Hospital near Stanford University had been

running experiments on LSD, a drug that induced hallucinations in

those who ingested it and that, for many, also inspired something

remarkably close to the patterns of a religious experience. Among

those taking these drugs was Garcia future songwriting partner

Robert Hunter. Another that later joined the band was Ken


author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a


Notion. Kersey had been working on an idea about group LSD

experiments and had started a loosely knit gang of artists, called


Merry Pranksters, dedicated to this adventure. This group included

several rebels including Garcia’s future wife, Carolyn Adams.

These Acid Tests became the model for what would shortly

become known as the Greatful Dead trip. In the years that


the Dead would never really abandon the philosophy of the Acid

Tests. Right until the end, the band would encourage the sense of

fellowship that came from and fueled the music.

Throughout all the public scrutiny it was still the Greatful

Dead who became known as the “people’s band” ; the band that

cared about the following it played to and that often staged benefits

or free shows for the common good. Long after the Haight’s


had passed, it would be the Greatful Dead, and the Dead alone,


would still display the ideals of fraternity and compassion which

most other Sixties-bred groups had long ago relinquished and


rock artists did not use in favor of more incisive ideals.

The San Francicso scene was remarkable while it lasted, but


could not endure forever. Its reputation as a youth haven hurt it


because of this the Haight was soon overrun with overrun with

runaways and the sort of health and shelter problems that a

community of mainly white, middle-class expatriates had never


to face before. In addition, the widespread use of LSD was


out to be a little less ideal than some people actually expected.

There were nights where on such bad “trips” that the emergency

room could not hold all of them. By the middle of 1967, a season

known as the Summer of Love, the Haight had started to turn ugly.

There were bad drugs on the street, there were rapes and murders,

and there were enough unknown newcomers that arrived in the

neighborhood without any means of support and they were


the scene to feed and nurture them. Garcia and the Dead had seen

the trouble coming and tried to prompt the city to prepare for it.


long after, the Dead left the Haight for individual residences in

Marion County, north of San Francisco.

By 1970, the idealism surrounding the Bay Area music scene,

and much of the couterculture, had largely evaporated. The drug

scene had turned fearful; much of the wild dream of a Woodstock

generation, bound together, first by the Manson Family murders, in

the summer of 1969, and then, a few months later, by a tragic and

brutal event at the Altamont Speedway, just outside of San

Francisco. The occasion was a free concert featuring the Rolling

Stones. Following either the example or the suggestion of the

Grateful Dead, the Stones hired the Hell’s Angels as a security


It proved to be a day of horrific violence. The Angels battered

numerous people, usually for no reason, and in the evening, as the

Stones performed, the bikers stabbed a black guy to death in front


the stage.

The record the band followed with, Workingman’s Dead, was

the Dead’s response to that period. The album was a statement

about the changing and badly corrupt sense of community in

America. the next album American Beauty, made it plain and

apparent that they were not breaking up even though the first


put doubts in the minds of fans, called Deadheads.

It was the sort of standard fan club pitch that countless pop


had indulged in before, but what it set in motion for the Dead


prove remarkable: the biggest sustained fan reaction in pop- music

history, even bigger than the Beatles. Clearly the group had a

devoted and far- flung following that, more than anything else,

simply wanted to see the Gratful Dead live. One of the slogans of

the time was “There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead show,” and this

claim was very much justified. On those nights when the band was

performing, propelled by the double drumming of Mickey Hart and

Bill Kreutzmann, and the dizzying melodic joining of Garcia’s


along with Weir’s, and then Lesh’s bass; the Grateful Dead’s

imagination proved matchless.

It was this dedication to live performances, and a penchant


near-incessant touring, that formed the groundwork for the Dead’s

extraordinary success during the last twenty years or so. Even a

costly attempt at starting the bands own record company in the


Seventies plus the death of three consecutive keyboardists;

McKernan, of alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver, in 1973; Keith

Godchaux, in a car accident, in 1980, a year after leaving the band;

and Brent Myland, of a morphine and cocaine overdose in 1990;

never really took away from the Dead’s momentum as a live act.

After the 1986 summer shows with Bob Dylan and Tom Petty

and the Heartbreakers, Garcia passed out at his home in San


California, and slipped into a diabetic coma. His body was not

agreeing with all the years of road-life and drug abuse. When he

came out of the coma the Dead made a tribute song to growing old

gracefully and bravely, “Touch of Grey.”

Unfortunately, though, Garcia’s health was going nowhere


downhill, and according to some people so was his drug problem.

He collapsed from exhaustion in 1992, resulting in many

cancellations in their tour that year. After his 1993 recovery,


devoted himself to a regimen of diet and exercise. At first it


and he wound up losing sixty pounds. There were other positive

changes at work: He had become a father again in recent years and

was spending more time as a parent, and in 1994 he entered into


third marriage, with filmmaker Deborah Koons. Plus, to the


of numerous Deadheads


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