Another Time’s Forgotten Space - Garcia: An American Life (2000)

Garcia: An American Life (2000)


Another Time’s Forgotten Space

a Coruña is a small, picturesque seaport on Spain’s rugged northwest Atlantic coast. This isn’t the sun-drenched Costa del Sol glamorized in postcards and guidebooks—that’s hundreds of miles to the south on the Mediterranean. Geographically and climatically, the north coast has more in common with the rocky and rainy parts of western Ireland or Cornwall or Brittany than it does with most of the generally dry Iberian Peninsula. In ancient times the region was populated by small Celtic tribes who had migrated there from central and northern Europe. The Romans conquered the territory, which they called Galicia, in the second century B.C. The city now known as La Coruña was a small but important trading post for the Romans for several centuries. The collapse of the Roman Empire left the area vulnerable to invasion from outside forces, and over the course of several hundred years, hordes of Visigoths, Normans and Arabs swept through and controlled the area for long stretches.

By the beginning of the sixteenth century foreign invaders had been banished from the Iberian Peninsula and the various Christian kingdoms that had sprung up began to consolidate under more centralized rule. Galicia was always a bit isolated from the rest of the land, both politically and culturally (the inhabitants, known as Gallegos, spoke their own language, which has much in common with Portuguese), and even physically to a degree— Gallegos tend to be fairer-skinned than their neighbors to the south.

As a trading center, La Coruña has absorbed cultural influences—and sailors—from ports far and near, and it has also served as a point of emigration for thousands of Spaniards heading west to the Americas. The Gallegos themselves emigrated west in huge numbers, beginning with the first New World settlements at the end of the fifteenth century, for Galicia has historically been one of the poorest regions of Spain and the sea has always held the promise of a better life wherever mighty sailing ships could go. Even today there are more Gallegos and their descendants in Buenos Aires, Argentina, than there are in all of Galicia.

If you were to scour the streets and alleys of La Coruña, you might well encounter a Garcia who can trace the lineage of Jerry’s family back many centuries. But in the United States, where two branches of the Garcias settled in the second decade of this century, we must rely on the memories of the lone surviving sibling from the original transatlantic voyage, Leonor Garcia Ross—still spry at ninety—and on family lore passed along to Jerry’s brother and cousins.

Though Leonor considers La Coruña the family’s ancestral home, the Garcias who emerge from the family’s oral history in the mid-nineteenth century actually came from a nearby coastal fishing village called Sada, on an inlet called the Ría de Betanzos. Jerry’s great-grandfather Manuel was a solidly middle-class entrepreneur who ran his own drayage business in the area, carting goods for merchants in a large wagon pulled by six workhorses. He had four children—two boys and two girls—and though tradition dictated that at least one of his sons would join the business and eventually take it over, the eldest son (Jerry’s grandfather), also named Manuel, was not interested in his father’s trade. “He was an adventuresome type who wanted to go to sea,” says Jerry’s cousin Daniel, “so he became a seaman and traveled all over, leaving for months at a time. In fact, he bought my grandmother a dry-goods store to keep her occupied, because he was away so much of the year.” On his rare stays home, Manuel and his wife, Aquilena (who was from a comfortably middle-class La Coruña family), managed to start a family: Manuel (Daniel’s father; it was traditional to name the eldest child after the father) was born in 1901; Jose (Jerry’s father, named after his mother’s father, Jose Lopez) was born in 1902; Leonor came along in 1908; and in 1912 Lena (short for Aquilena) completed the brood.

Eventually Manuel’s wanderlust subsided, and by the time World War I swept across the continent he had decided that what he really wanted was to settle down with his growing family in America. Although he’d traveled extensively to ports in Europe and South America, “Like so many people around the turn of the century, he believed that America was the place to come for economic and other reasons,” Daniel says. “He was in New York a few times, but he made trips to San Francisco and he liked it better there.”

“He thought the climate in San Francisco would agree with my mother more,” adds Leonor. “It was much more like La Coruña than New York, which was so terribly cold in winter. And also, because San Francisco was still being rebuilt after the [1906] earthquake and fire, there were more job opportunities there than in New York. My father’s sister and her husband moved to New York first, and I know my father visited them there, but he didn’t like it much.”

And so, in early 1918, Manuel Garcia traveled alone to San Francisco, rented a furnished apartment on Filbert Street, half a block off tree-lined Washington Square in the bustling, mainly Italian North Beach section of the city, and quickly landed a job working for one of the railroads in the area. When he felt sufficiently settled, he arranged to have Aquilena and the four children—then ranging in age from six to seventeen—join him there. In the late fall of 1918, they sailed by steamship to Havana, then on to New York, where they were “processed” at Ellis Island before traveling by train to California. “We brought quite a few things with us on the boat,” Leonor remembers, “but this cousin of ours, Antonio Dalmau, wanted to come with us, and he was slightly crippled—he’d had polio as a child—so when we got to Ellis Island they wouldn’t allow him into the United States and they sent him back. It was sad. And he had a trunk of my mother’s with all her prize possessions in it, as well as his own things, and it was sent back to Spain with him. We lost a lot of family mementos; we never saw any of it again.”

The trip across America by train in the cold of December seemed long and hard, and Leonor says that when the travel-weary family arrived in Oakland and looked across San Francisco Bay to their new home, her mother exclaimed, “Oh my God, do I have to go to sea again?” Fortunately, the voyage took only about an hour, and according to Daniel Garcia’s telling of the tale, Manuel “picked them up and had a hot meal waiting for them on the table at home.”

“We lived in North Beach the first three years,” Leonor says. “During that period, North Beach was like a Little Italy; almost everybody was Italian, though there were also a few Spaniards. In fact, my father got upset because he thought we were learning Italian instead of English. None of us spoke English when we got here, of course. In Spain, the second language you learned was French, which didn’t do any good here. But my brothers went to both regular school and night school and they learned English much faster than I did.”

“My grandfather was very much for education,” Daniel says, “and my father took well to it and went into engineering. My uncle Joe [Jerry’s father] didn’t like school that much; he was much more interested in music. My grandfather had insisted that they both learn an instrument. My father studied piano and was quite good at it. And Uncle Joe studied clarinet [after initially learning piano basics]. They had a teacher there in North Beach who was a real Italian maestro and he drilled them on the scales and gave them good fundamentals of music. They continued to play for a while, but my dad kept on with school and my uncle hooked up with a group of musicians and ultimately left the area.”

In 1922 the family left North Beach and moved across town to the outer Mission district, settling in a house on Precita Avenue, which in those days was nearly at the city’s southern border; beyond was sparsely developed ranch land, although that would change in the late ’20s and early ’30s. Today the Mission is mainly populated by Mexican and Central American immigrants, but “it was totally different in the ’20s,” Daniel says. “The area was settled by Irishmen and some Spanish; there were no Mexicans at all. They came later. San Francisco was a very ethnically divided city in those days; no one mingled with anyone else much. It was even that way when I was a boy in the ’40s.”

It was always Manuel Garcia’s intention that he and his family become fully integrated into American society. He applied for U.S. citizenship almost immediately after arriving in California. In the early 1920s he landed a job as a steam engineer for Pacific Gas & Electric and ended up working there for more than forty years. “My grandfather was a patriot from the word go,” Daniel says. “Spain could sink into the ocean as far as he was concerned. He was a great believer in Roosevelt and the New Deal and [in the ’30s and ’40s] he used to keep a picture of Franklin Roosevelt on the wall; in those days a lot of Americans did that. Those were days of fierce patriotism. He loved America.”

He came to speak English well (though with a heavy accent), but his wife “didn’t want to learn English,” says Jerry’s older brother, Tiff Garcia. “My father, on the other hand, would not teach us Spanish. He was totally into America and wouldn’t speak Spanish, even to his mom. I remember she’d be speaking to him in Spanish and he’d be saying back to her, ‘No, you mean the key, the car, the stove.’” To solidify his own American credentials, Jose Garcia became Joe Garcia to both his family and friends; on city and county documents his name was listed as “Joseph” Garcia.

According to Leonor, her brother Joe became consumed by music in his late teens, “and he was very, very good in no time at all. All the kids in the neighborhood started taking lessons from him, and he decided, ‘Hey, this is pretty good.’ My father had future plans in mind for all of his kids and he had wanted Joe to be a machinist, but very early Joe said, ‘No way I want to be that,’ because once he started playing the saxophone that’s all he wanted to do—just like Jerry and the guitar. Joe decided he wanted to be a musician, and after a while my father came to accept that.” (Jerry once described himself as a “black sheep of a black sheep,” but actually Joe Garcia’s parents and siblings were supportive of Joe’s music career.)

Leonor remembers Joe playing clarinet and saxophone in small groups at Sunday picnics in city parks and at dances in various ethnic halls around town. He also worked in local clubs, playing jazz mainly, but also the popular music of the day—standards, show tunes, vaudeville pieces—and during Prohibition, like many musicians, he took his share of jobs playing speakeasies. While still in his mid-twenties, Joe traveled across the country as part of an orchestra sponsored by the then-thriving Orpheum Theater chain. In fact, it’s likely that he even played San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater—site of numerous Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band shows in the ’70s and ’80s. (Leonor says Joe definitely played a couple of blocks down Market Street at the Warfield Theater, another venue later used by both the Dead and the Garcia Band.)

“He was hip for his day, apparently,” Jerry said in 1984. “I’ve looked at some of the arrangements that his band played. I remember poking around and looking at them and I thought they were pretty hip. I would have liked to have been able to experience his music because he was a musician who was interested in American music, also. He was a genre player, like I am; an idiom player.”

As the Roaring Twenties gave way to the Great Depression, Joe Garcia settled for two or three years in Los Angeles, where he played in a small combo known as Lada’s Lads, and also worked for an orchestra that played music for films; “talkies” were suddenly all the rage, and music for the movies became a growth industry for a while. Joe worked on several films for a studio run by screen great Mary Pickford, and, Daniel Garcia relates, “My dad was in the movies one day in San Francisco watching a film and the camera panned to the band, and my uncle Joe was in the front row. My dad jumped up and shouted, ‘That’s my brother! That’s my brother!’ He was so impressed that Joe was in a movie.” Adds Leonor, “We were all so proud of Joe, and he was very excited because he got to meet Mary Pickford. That was a big thing back then!”

While working at a nightclub in L.A., Joe fell in love with a young blond dancer named Sunny (Leonor doesn’t remember her real first name or her last name) and the two were married for a brief period. Daniel Garcia recalls his father, Manuel, referring to the woman as a “floozy”; Tiff says with a smile, “I like to think she was like Carmen Miranda, but she probably wasn’t.” Whatever the case, Joe wanted to start a family, Sunny wanted to remain a dancer, and they soon divorced. Joe headed back to San Francisco, where he lived for a period in the family house on Precita Avenue and worked hard to reestablish himself as a band leader in an increasingly depressed economy.

“It wasn’t just the economy, though,” Daniel says. “My father said that one of the things that killed the music business was ‘canned music.’ Records started to become very popular and people stopped going to live performances as much.” Still, Joe Garcia’s band was a fairly popular group around the city in the early ’30s. “One of his main ‘instruments’ was actually the baton, since he was a band leader,” Tiff Garcia says of his father. “He had a case for all his batons, plus he had all sorts of reed instruments—saxophones, clarinets. Even after he stopped playing professionally, he kept all his instruments around the house, and he’d play them pretty often.”

Sometime in 1934 Joe met the woman of his dreams, a twenty-four-year-old nurse at San Francisco General Hospital named Ruth Marie Clifford. Ruth also had deep immigrant roots stretching back even further than the Garcias’: Her grandfather Patrick Clifford was born in Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century and emigrated to California, where he married another Irish expatriate named Ellen Callahan. Ruth’s father, William Henry Clifford, was born in San Francisco in 1883. In his twenties he got involved in the laundry business and married nineteen-year-old Tillie May Olsen, whose ancestors had sailed to California from Sweden around the time of the Gold Rush. Shortly after they were married, Bill and Tillie bought a newly built home on the fringes of the Excelsior district. The house at 87 Harrington Street, where Jerry would spend much of his youth, was built in 1908. In June 1910 Jerry’s mother, Ruth, was born at that address. She lived there until she married Joe Garcia.

By the time Joe and Ruth became serious about each other, Joe was already having some doubts about continuing on in the music business. “He wanted to have kids and have a stable family, and you couldn’t do that as a musician,” his nephew Daniel says. Joe and Ruth were married on April 29, 1935, and moved into a small, one-story four-year-old house at 121 Amazon Street, about a mile south of Harrington Street in the Crocker-Amazon district. Then (and now) the area was a bright, clean, ethnically diverse middle-class section of the city—in those days it was Spanish, Italian and Irish, with some German; today it is mainly Hispanic and Asian. All three of Joe’s siblings lived nearby, and he always kept in close contact with them. Ruth quit her job at the hospital and became a housewife, as was typical in that day, but she always kept her nursing license up to date, and indeed, she would return to that profession twenty-five years after she married Joe. In April of 1937 Ruth became pregnant with her first child, news that was greeted with great excitement in the Garcia clan. (Before this, the four children had produced just one grandchild for Manuel and Aquilena—Manuel Jr.’s daughter Anita, who was born in 1932.) Unfortunately, also around this time an incident occurred that forced Joe Garcia to quit playing music professionally. In Jerry’s recounting of the story in a 1971 interview, “I understand there was some hassle: He was blackballed by the union or something ’cause he was working two jobs or something like that—some musicians’ union trip—so he wasn’t able to to remain a professional musician.” Tiff Garcia is shaky on the details as well, but Aunt Leonor says she remembers the particulars of her brother’s exit from the music world very well:

“He’d been out of work for a little while, and then he was offered a good job: There was a big, new nightclub being opened in San Francisco out at the beach [perhaps the Nut Club], and they asked him if he and his orchestra would like to play, and of course that was a big break, so he said sure. They told him they wanted to put him on the radio to show people what a great orchestra he had, but they told him, ‘We won’t pay you the first time you play; we just want to see how it turns out.’ Joe was very ignorant about this kind of stuff and they did play for the radio for free and then when the club opened they played there for free the first time, too. When the musicians’ union found out he’d played for free they suspended him for six months and fined him something like $1,500, which was a lot of money in those days. Joe was shocked. He didn’t know he had done anything wrong. So he said, ‘To hell with this,’ and he quit playing and he and a friend opened up a bar down at the waterfront, a seaman’s bar with a hotel upstairs—a dollar-a-night kind of place. It did really great, and he stayed with that for quite a long time; he was in that business until he died. I think he liked it, too—not the same way he liked music, but he was happy there.”

Joe and his partner opened their business in the summer of 1937. The bar/restaurant, called Garcia’s, was at the corner of First and Harrison Streets in downtown San Francisco, on the site of what is today the beautiful and stately WPA art deco-style Sailors Union of the Pacific building. In the ’30s and ’40s that section of the city was a rough area whose (low)life centered on the nearby docks. In fact, Rincon Hill, where the bar was located, had been the site of bloody battles between striking maritime workers and local police just three years earlier. Run-down seamen’s hotels and cheap restaurants dotted the area, and, sailors being sailors, there was plenty of nefarious activity to be found. The cheery, well-scrubbed boulevards and cedar-shaded parks of the Crocker-Amazon district must have seemed paradisiacal in comparison.

Joe had only been in the bar business for about six months when, on December 20, 1937, his first son, named Clifford Ramon (after Ruth’s maiden name and Joe’s middle name), was born at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. By all accounts, the Garcias had a very happy home life. Though the bar business was extremely time-consuming, Joe and Ruth managed to keep in close touch with their many relatives in the area, and large family dinners involving various Garcias and Cliffords were common. “The Cliffords were lovely people,” Leonor remembers. “We all got along very nicely and they were very fond of my parents, so we’d get together quite often.”

On August 1, 1942, Joe and Ruth’s second son, Jerome John Garcia, was born at Children’s Hospital. He was named after the great American composer Jerome Kern, whose bright, tuneful songs and music for the Broadway stage and Hollywood musicals made him a legend in his own lifetime. There’s no question that Joe Garcia would have encountered Kern’s sumptuous melodies during his own musical career; Kern’s music was an integral part of American popular culture from the late ’20s (when he wrote his best-known musical, Showboat, with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II) until his death in 1945.

During the first few years of Jerry’s life the family lived together in the small Amazon Street house. Clifford, who was forever branded with the nickname “Tiff” after his toddler brother’s mispronunciation of his name, went to Epiphany School, in the shadow of the majestic Church of the Epiphany about six blocks up Amazon, while Jerry stayed home with his mother; or if she was helping out downtown at the bar, he might spend the day with his mother’s parents over on Harrington Street or at one of his aunt’s or uncle’s houses. Tiff recalls going on a couple of family vacations when Jerry was still very young—to Las Vegas by train, and on a tour of some of California’s missions by car.

The whole Garcia clan often got together on Sunday afternoons down in Burlingame, just south of San Francisco, where Manuel, the family patriarch, had moved during the late ’30s. “He was a very bright guy,” his grandson Daniel says. “He spoke broken English, but boy, he could talk about any political issue, and those were the kind of discussions that were held around the table when Jerry and I and all of us were little kids. I think it’s part of the reason Jerry was an articulate guy. There were hot and heavy discussions, arguments even, between my grandfather and my dad and Uncle Joe. That was before dinner. Then after dinner there would inevitably be singing. Mostly it was songs from the flapper era—the ’20s and ’30s. We’d all be sitting around a big supper table, all the cousins and the aunts and everybody, and we’d sing for hours. It was a big deal. We’d sing American songs mainly—George M. Cohan, show tunes, popular tunes from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s.”

Tiff and Jerry both took piano lessons when they were young—Jerry was four or five when he started—“but we both hated it,” Tiff says. “Even though I was older, Jerry was better than me, but neither of us liked to practice, so we never got very good.” Ironically, years later Jerry composed some of his most memorable songs on the piano, though he never did become more than a rudimentary player.

Although Joe Garcia’s days as a professional musician were over, he still played music whenever he could. He entertained the seamen who frequented his bar with the mellifluous strains of his saxophone and clarinet, and he also played regularly at home and at family gatherings. Ruth played piano fairly well, but her taste ran toward Chopin rather than popular music. She listened mainly to classical music on the family phonograph. Joe liked swing music—Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and others. “There was always music in the house,” Tiff recalls, “either records or my dad playing. He had played clarinet mainly with his group, but I feel like I saw him playing saxophone more at home. There are pictures of me and Jerry with his saxes and clarinets.”

Jerry once said he had only fleeting memories of his father, but the sound of the clarinet wafting through the Amazon Street house was ingrained in his memory: “The clarinet is a wonderful instrument. It has a nice, sonorous quality. I remember the sound of the clarinet more than the tunes. The clarinet had that lovely wood quality, especially in that relaxed middle register. And that sound is very present in my ear. Sounds linger in my ear; I can recall ’em. Some people can recall smells. I can recall specific sounds—I can hear a sound and all of a sudden it will transport me to places.”

“I was in awe of Uncle Joe,” cousin Daniel says, “He would take out the saxophone and play for us and we’d sit there completely mesmerized.” Daniel remembers his uncle as “a very mild, kind, decent guy. I never heard him say a bad word about anybody. In a way Jerry reminded me of him. But Jerry’s mom was that way, too—very nice and sweet and kindhearted.”

Tiff says that both of his parents could be stern disciplinarians, too: “My dad once burned my hand to teach me a lesson because I accidentally set fire to the neighbor’s house. Actually, I set fire to some papers under a garage, but the guy happened to be a cop. Big mistake.”

The family was nominally Catholic. According to Tiff, “We went to church every Sunday, and later, when we moved down to the Peninsula, we went to church there. But my parents never came, my grandmother never came. They’d just push us out the door and say, ‘Go!’ Sometimes we’d go and sometimes we’d cut out and go get a milkshake.” In later years, Jerry recalled being alternately spooked and transported by the impenetrably mysterious Latin mass that echoed through all Catholic churches until 1962, when the Vatican II council authorized switching to the vernacular.

In 1945, when Jerry was three, the Cliffords and Garcias bought a small parcel of land and built a summer house in Lompico, an undeveloped, heavily wooded part of northern Santa Cruz County, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of San Francisco in those days. Ruth’s handyman father, Bill Clifford (known as Pop), and Joe Garcia built the redwood cabin on West Drive over the course of a couple of summers. In the early years it had no electricity. “We used lanterns, and the kids all bunked together,” Daniel says. It was hard to beat the location—just steps up the hill from Lompico Creek, which was dammed in the summer to create a swimming area, and Lompico Lodge, which was the main gathering place and watering hole for the summer revelers.

It was behind the Lompico cabin, in either the summer of 1946 or the spring of 1947, that one of the formative incidents of Jerry’s early life occurred. As Tiff tells the story, “Jerry [who was four] and I were chopping kindling outside near the fire pit—they didn’t call them barbecues back then. He would put a piece of wood down, take his hand away and I would chop. He’d put another one down, I’d chop it in half. These are long sticks, redwood branches. We got into a rhythm, him pushing the sticks with his finger and taking it away as I chopped, but in a split second we got confused and wham!—I hit his finger. It wasn’t cut clean off but we couldn’t get him to surgery fast enough and so they had to amputate it.”

“My mother had my hand wrapped in a towel, and I remember it didn’t hurt or anything,” Jerry recalled, “it was just sort of a buzzing sensation. I don’t associate any pain with it. For me, the traumatic part of it was after the doctor amputated it, I had this big cast and bandages on it. And they gradually got smaller and smaller, until I was down to, like, one little bandage. And I thought for sure my finger was under there. And that was the worst part, when the bandage came off. ‘Oh my God, my finger’s gone!’ But after that it was okay, because as a kid, if you have a few little things that make you different, it’s a good score. So I got a lot of mileage out of having a missing finger when I was a kid.”

And so the middle finger on Jerry’s right hand was amputated down to the second joint, thereby creating what would in his later years become another iconic symbol: the unmistakable Jerry Garcia handprint, seen on T-shirts, bumper stickers and car window decals. “It was a total accident, of course,” Tiff Garcia says, “but deep down I felt I was responsible. I was the older kid and I was the one who actually did it. I don’t think Jerry ever held it against me, though.”

In the summers, Jerry, Tiff, their mother and various cousins and aunts would typically spend weeks on end in Lompico, while the working men in the family—Joe and Manuel Garcia, Pop Clifford and his son, Bill, who was a San Francisco fireman—mainly came down on weekends. In the last week of August 1947, Tiff went down to Lompico to spend some time with his cousins, while five-year-old Jerry accompanied Ruth and Joe on what was to be a weeklong fishing vacation up in the wilds of Humboldt County before Jerry started kindergarten. Joe loved outdoor leisure sports like fishing and golf; Tiff says their garage at home was filled with his father’s sports equipment.

On Sunday, August 24, Joe, Ruth and Jerry began the long but scenic drive north to Arcata, about 275 miles up the coast from San Francisco. They probably spent the night somewhere off Highway 101; the next day they made it to Arcata, where they were planning to stay for the week, and then drove about 30 miles inland to an area near the tiny logging town of Willow Creek so Joe could fish for steelhead in the clear, sparkling waters of the Trinity River. That part of the Six Rivers National Forest is breathtakingly beautiful, with dense forests covering the foothills of rugged mountains that range from 3,000 to 5,000 feet near Willow Creek to 7,000 feet or more in the nearby Trinity Alps. The Trinity River is rocky and wild, its currents unpredictable.

At about 5:30 in the afternoon on the twenty-fifth, Joe Garcia was in his waders, fishing in the river, when he slipped on a rock and was swept into the raging waters. Although he was a good swimmer, he was no match for the fierce current, and within a matter of moments he was pulled underwater into a deep hole and pinned there. A couple of youngsters playing on some nearby rocks saw Joe go under and immediately went for help. Three vacationing fishermen rushed to the scene and managed to pull Garcia from the water, but only after he’d been underwater ten to fifteen minutes. By coincidence, shortly after the three men brought Joe’s seemingly lifeless body onto land, a Humboldt county medical officer happened by, and for the next five and a half hours he attempted to resuscitate the victim, even using a pulmotor brought in by ambulance from Arcata. The struggle was futile, however, and at 11:15 that evening Joe Garcia was pronounced dead. He had turned forty-five ten days earlier.

(Though in a few interviews Jerry claimed to have witnessed his father’s drowning—“I actually watched him go under; it was horrible”—Tiff, based on what his mother told him, questions that. The detailed newspaper account of the drowning the following day in the Humboldt Times makes no mention of either Ruth or Jerry being on the scene; indeed, Jerry is misidentified in the story as Joseph Garcia’s “small daughter.” This is not to minimize the impact of the death upon Jerry, however.)

The next day, Joe Garcia’s body was shipped from the Chapel of the Redwoods in Arcata down to a mortuary in San Francisco. That same day, Tiff says, “My grandfather [Pop Clifford] had to drive down to Lompico from the city in his old Model A panel truck laundry wagon to tell us, because we didn’t have a telephone. He never took that wagon out of town, so we knew something was wrong when he pulled up in that. It was crushing, to say the least. It was the first death in that generation.”

“That was the biggest tragedy we’d ever had in our family,” Leonor says. “We couldn’t believe it. It took us all a long, long time to get over it.” Adds Daniel Garcia, “My father and his brother were very, very close so this was just devastating.”

Though Jerry was only five at the time, he said in 1984 that his father’s death “emotionally crippled me for a long time. I couldn’t even stand to hear about it until I was about ten or eleven. The effect it had on me was really crushing, maybe because it affected my mother a lot and I sensed that. And also, it was something I wasn’t allowed to participate in, and I think now that that was a real problem. They tried to protect me from it. That was the reason I was sent to live with my grandparents after my father died.”

Without warning—like some monstrously cruel twist of fate in a nineteenth-century English novel—everything changed for the Garcia family. Tiff briefly moved in with his uncle and aunt—Bill Clifford, the fireman, and his wife, also named Ruth—while Jerry stayed with his mother in the Amazon house. Tiff was taken out of Epiphany School and moved to a nearby public school, Guadaloupe. That’s also where Jerry spent his first six months of kindergarten. Manuel Garcia (Joe’s brother) and his family lived right near Guadaloupe, so Jerry and Tiff would usually go there after school, and then later someone would drive them back home.

“Then my mom sold the house on Amazon, so she could get into the bar business, buy out the other partner, and Jerry and I ended up moving in with my grandmother and grandfather [Pop and Tillie Clifford, known in the family as Nan or Nana],” Tiff relates. “We lived there at 87 Harrington Street, and my mom lived across the street in a cottage that my grandmother and grandfather also owned. So we lived close to my mom still, but we didn’t see her much, except on weekends. She’d take us out for dinner, or make us dinner, or we’d go out somewhere, but my mom never drove—in fact, I got my driver’s license before she did. She tried to drive after my father died, but she crashed up a couple of cars; she was a terrible driver. So for Jerry and me, our main role models for a long time were my grandparents, which was not bad.

“Before my father died we used to visit my grandmother every weekend and we spent a lot of time there, so it wasn’t that new a thing to be there year-round. In fact, it was kind of nice because we got to go out after school and play, and my grandmother worked late and my grandfather would read the paper and drink his beer—he was the type who made his own liquor during Prohibition. He was very dapper, with a vest and a chain watch. My mom was a whole lot like him; she was very neat.”

According to Leonor, most of the Garcia side of the family disapproved of Ruth’s decision to stay in the bar business. “She had been a nurse making good money, so we thought that would be better for her,” she says. “We thought the bar was kind of a rough place for a woman to be, but she wanted to stick with it, and she did for a few years. We didn’t see as much of her or the children after Joe died. Mostly they were with their grandparents, the Cliffords.”

Tiff says that shortly after he and Jerry moved into Harrington Street, Ruth bought them the first television on the block “and also this big freezer, with a complete food program. I guess she felt a little guilty that we had to stay with our grandparents. But she was only paying twenty-five dollars a month rent for the house across the street.”

In Jerry’s posthumously published book Harrington Street, a slender but beguiling collection of paintings, drawings and writing about his youth up until about age ten (he described the book as “auto-apocrypha, full of my anecdoubts”), he talks about how Bill and Tillie Clifford seemed like such a mismatched pair. She was vivacious, spunky, “a ball of fire; she was really hot.” Pop was “so dull. He was such a quiet person. This was one of the Irish guys that didn’t have the gift of gab.”

Tillie was a bright, active, very independent woman. Bill had been a laundry worker most of his adult life—he was a laundry driver mainly—and he supported his wife, but it was Tillie who made a mark in that business. She helped organize the laundry workers’ union in San Francisco, and she spent more than two decades as its secretary-treasurer. She traveled extensively in that position, attending and occasionally speaking at labor conventions. She was modern in another way, too, Tiff says: “She had a boyfriend for like twenty or thirty years that she would travel with when she took trips; he’d go along and he was a single guy and didn’t have a family. My grandfather knew, but the guy never came to the house. It was a discreet situation.”

Outwardly at least, Tiff and Jerry’s years at their grandparents’ house were fairly normal. They attended Monroe School on Excelsior Boulevard, the same school Ruth Garcia had gone to when she was a child living on Harrington Street. It was Jerry’s third-grade teacher at Monroe, Miss Simon, who first “made me think it was okay to draw pictures,” he said. “She’d say, ‘Oh that’s lovely,’ and she’d have me draw pictures and do murals and all this stuff. She was very encouraging, and it was the first time I heard that the idea of being a creative person was a viable possibility in life. ‘You mean you can spend all day drawing pictures? Wow! What a great piece of news!’ She enlarged the world for me.”

“Jerry and I used to like drawing together,” Tiff says. “I was really into drawing structures, and Jerry was more into drawing characters. When we were growing up at my grandfather’s house we used to draw on these laundry pads we had all over the house. We’d draw a little house, then get a razor blade and cut the window out of the house and go into the next page and cut another little slot for the door and so on and make these flip books.

“We also used to make instruments out of my grandfather’s antique cigar cases, which he used to keep his tools in. We’d make little ukuleles that were actually playable. We didn’t know chords or frets or anything. But we’d string them with fishing line. We went through periods where we’d make dozens of them. We were always fashioning our own little toys. My grandmother had a rumpus room under the house on Harrington Street and with my cousin [Daniel] we’d all sing and bounce around the room, and have parties.”

It’s not surprising to learn that thoroughly modern Tillie Clifford played the oh-so-’20s banjo-ukulele—“Four strings, short neck, strung like a banjo,” Tiff says. “She didn’t actually play it in our time. In fact when Jerry got into bluegrass, I gave it to him. He probably traded it somewhere along the line.”

Jerry often said that one reason he eventually got into playing country music was that Tillie listened to broadcasts from the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights, but Tiff firmly says, “She wasn’t into country music. Jerry is fantasizing all this. We knew about it because of her tours she would take and when she’d go to these conventions. She’d bring back memorabilia from these various places. She’d been to the Opry, but she didn’t listen to it on the radio.”

Of course in the early ’50s everyone heard country-pop crooners like Tennessee Ernie Ford and Vaughn Monroe, and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were going strong still. There was also a fellow in the Bay Area named Rusty Draper: “He had a kids’ show on in the afternoon when TV first came out,” Tiff says, “and in fact, one of the first 45s Jerry ever bought was a song [Draper recorded] called ‘Gambler’s Guitar.’ It was sort of countryish and it had some riffs in it, little guitar solos, and I think that’s part of what got him and myself interested in that kind of music.”

Down at the bar, the jukebox was mainly filled with a mix of big band music and sentimental ballads—a reminder of Joe Garcia’s days around the place. Sometime in the late ’40s, the Sailors Union of the Pacific bought the corner lot where the bar and hotel were located so it could erect its moderne granite-faced meeting hall. “So they made a deal for my mom to have the property across the street, which at the time was an abandoned Curtis Candy Company factory, with a hotel on top called the Claremont Rooms. It had been a funky old seamen’s hotel. Jerry and I used to go upstairs and clean out the rooms for my mom and we’d look at all the girlie magazines they’d leave.”

“It was a daytime bar, a working guy’s bar, so I grew up with all these guys who were sailors,” Jerry said. “They went out and sailed to the Far East and the Persian Gulf and all that, and they would come and hang out in the bar all day long and talk to me when I was a kid. It was great fun for me.”

In late ’40s-early ’50s San Francisco, kicks were easy to find for kids. The streets were relatively safe, so Tiff and Jerry roamed the city freely, taking advantage of the long leash their grandparents gave them. “You could take a bus or streetcar downtown, or ride your bike,” Tiff says. “The trolleys had stopped going on Mission Street, but they were still on Market. They had trolley buses that we used to climb on the back of. We went all over the place: we’d go out to Sutro Baths [a defunct indoor swimming pool next to Ocean Beach in San Francisco], and Playland [an amusement park] was out there. You could go down there and spend all day. Sometimes we’d go to Fleishacker’s—it was such a beautiful pool; it was like a lake. We’d go to the zoo [also out at the ocean], too.”

Closer to home there were inexpensive movie theaters and plenty of small parks and playgrounds to keep the kids busy. Jerry spent much of his playtime in the late ’40s and early ’50s with his brother and older cousins Daniel, Diane (the daughter of Bill and Ruth Clifford) and Dave Ross (Leonor’s son). Hanging with the big kids undoubtedly exposed Jerry to many things other kids his age hadn’t experienced, but the influence wasn’t always positive.

“I remember there was a police station over in the Ingleside district, next to Balboa Park, below City College, where they used to board horses; there was a big corral in the back,” Tiff says. “This must have been ’48, ’49. Jerry, myself and my cousin Diane were in the back there and we noticed all these broken windows and a lot of rocks around, so we started breaking windows. We figured there were so many broken ones, what difference would it make? We were bored. And it was fun—until the cops came running out from all over the place and rounded us up. I don’t remember them having weapons—Jerry liked to say they did, but I don’t know—but they scared the shit out of us. So my parents had to pay for some of the damage and we were in big trouble at home. It was a big deal to me at the time. I was very impressionable. You know—first run-in with the law, twelve years old.”

Daniel Garcia remembers another run-in with the SFPD around the same time: “Right around the corner from Harrington Street, on Mission, there was a barbershop that had one of those turning barber poles out front. It had some kind of keyhole or something at the bottom and Jerry, Tiff and I put a cherry bomb in it. Obviously we didn’t realize the power of it because it blew this thing off the wall. Glass came down; it was a mess. Of course the barber came out and he chased us down the street and then the cops came by and picked us up and put us in the back seat of the car. Then, while the cop was talking to Tiff, Jerry opened the door and jumped out and ran away, and I did, too. [In Tiff’s version of the story Jerry even kicks the policeman before running away.] We went down to Tillie’s house and Jerry was wheezing like crazy from his asthma; he even turned a little blue. It was scary. He couldn’t run for more than half a block without wheezing. I remember that well because we used to run away from stuff that we did.”

Jerry’s asthma flare-ups were infrequent, but fairly debilitating when they occurred. The typical treatment in those days consisted of getting a shot of the bronchial muscle relaxant epinephrine and then staying in bed for a few days. “He liked to say he had a sickly childhood, but that’s bullshit,” Tiff says. “He had asthma once every couple of years, and it would last for maybe a week or two. And every time he got sick, he got something. I remember he got his first 45 record player and some records when he got sick.”

But Sara Ruppenthal, Jerry’s first wife, says that Jerry once “told me a story of being sick in bed with asthma. His mother came to visit and then left before he was ready for her to leave. There’s this image of him looking out the window as she leaves, and having a massive asthma attack—making that connection between the abandonment and the illness.”

Though by all accounts Ruth Garcia tried to be a good mother to her children, the fact is she was not around much during these formative years; the bar took up most of her time. Then, in 1949, Ruth married a carpenter-piledriver named Ben Brown, who’d been working on the Sailors Union construction project, and she saw the kids even less for a while. “It only lasted a year or two,” Tiff says. “But they were friends for a long time after that. He was a drunk, but he was an okay guy.”

In 1953 Ruth married her third husband, a merchant seaman named Wadislof “Wally” Matusiewicz, in a modest ceremony in Reno, Nevada, that was attended by both Jerry and Tiff. (In fact, the two kids got stuck in a hotel elevator during this trip and had to be rescued by the fire department.) Wally had grown up in Bayonne, New Jersey, the son of Polish immigrants (which didn’t stop seamen from dubbing him “Russian Wally”). He was seven years younger than Ruth and had never been married before. When they got married, Ruth and Wally jointly decided that Ruth should take a greater role in the lives of her children, so Wally took over most of the day-to-day operations of the bar.

“Then Union Oil decided they wanted to put their office building where the bar was,” Tiff says, “so the business moved across the street again, to another corner. There was a seamen’s hotel there, too, and on the ground floor there was the 400 Club. The original 400 Club had been a bawdy seaman’s bar, but my mom turned that into a typical ’50s nightclubish-type place with the emphasis on the little restaurant. It had red Naugahyde stools and a solid mahogany circle bar. It was classy, a nice place considering the other one she had. So my mom had the daytime bar business there with a little restaurant. At the time, she had the biggest day business of any bar in the city. They were selling beer at six in the morning. You had to peel some of these guys out of the bar at night. They’d go up to a hotel room upstairs. People would rent these rooms for months at a time.

“When I was in the service [in the late ’50s], my mom turned the top floor into this real flashy apartment—three bedrooms with a total view of downtown and the Bay Bridge. She had a doberman pinscher named Rusty and you could see him running around the roof as you drove over the bridge into the city.”

With the 400 Club booming, the family made the same radical move as hundreds of thousands of other middle-class American families in the early ’50s—they bought a ranch-style home in the suburbs; in this case in the town of Menlo Park, about thirty miles south of the city in San Mateo County.

“We moved to the Peninsula [as the area is known] in that furious rush to get kids out of the city—sort of a half-hearted attempt by my mom,” Jerry recalled. “I was being a kid in San Francisco. I later became a hoodlum [there]… . The thrust of her thinking was to get out of the city, so we went to Menlo Park, a real nice place which was just bursting out of the ground at that point. Everything was new there.”

The Matusiewiczes’ nice, if nondescript, home was on a quiet cul-de-sac off Santa Monica Avenue, half a block east of Middlefield Road, one of the main arteries that cuts through the Peninsula. Across the street were the sprawling grounds of St. Patrick’s Seminary, and close by was the Golden State Dairy. Santa Monica Avenue has no sidewalks, so the overall feeling of the neighborhood is sort of rural-suburban. Certainly it was a much different world than the Excelsior district of San Francisco, which was the point, of course.

“The house was right out of Sunset magazine,” Tiff says. “We moved down there and none of us knew anybody. Still, we were pretty excited. We got all new clothes, new furniture. We had a new beige Cadillac. My mom really set this guy Wally up! He’d been a first mate in the merchant marine, but when he married my mom he became a bartender.

“But it was a culture shock, big time. There was nothing familiar. My mom was on this fetish about getting her family back together. She had a new husband, she had her kids back, she had a successful bar business. She wanted to be a housewife, really. My mom even started making some of our clothes, not because she had to, but because she wanted to. She did all this drudgery and loved it.

“My father’s side of the family was really crushed when we moved down there. We still went up to visit my grandparents on weekends, and as soon as I got my driver’s license I’d go up almost every weekend.

“Before my mom took me to the Peninsula, I was raised, if I can call it that, by my grandparents, who left me largely unsupervised,” Jerry said. “I think that probably ruined me for everything—or made me what I am today. They were both people who worked and they were grandparently. They didn’t have much stomach for discipline, so I was pretty much unsupervised and I was used to having things exactly like I wanted them. I was used to getting up and doing things, doing what I wanted, coming in when I wanted and going where I wanted and not asking anybody if they cared. I was much too much that person by the time my mom tried to get us down to the suburbs. It was really too late. But the change did me a lot of good for other reasons.”

Jerry moved to Menlo Park when he was ten and was there through early adolescence, from part of sixth grade through eighth grade, which he had to repeat because of poor grades. “I was too smart for school,” he said in 1984, a chuckle in his voice. “I knew it; I don’t know why anyone else didn’t know it. I went to school; I just didn’t do any work. It’s not that I had anything against school or even learning. The point was I was reading things and I had my own education, my own program going, and I was really, really bored with school. I already had things decided for myself. I had things I wanted to do, I had plans, and I had my own interests and my own rate of learning and I couldn’t see slowing down or stopping and wasting my time for schoolwork.”

Alienated though he was from the day-to-day of school life, “I had incredible luck with teachers,” he said. “I had a couple of teachers that really opened up the world for me. I was a reader, luckily, because I was sickly as a kid. I spent so much time in bed because I was sick, so I read; that was my entertainment. That separated me a lot from everybody else. Then when I got down to the Peninsula, I had a couple of teachers that were very, very radical, absolutely far-out. I was lucky.”

In interviews, Jerry often cited a teacher at Menlo-Oaks Middle School named Dwight Johnson for broadening his outlook on life and learning. “He’s the guy who turned me into a freak,” he said. “He was my seventh-grade teacher and he was a wild guy. He had an old MG TC, and he had a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle, the fastest-accelerating motorcycle at the time. And he was out there. He opened lots and lots of doors for me. He’s the guy that got me reading deeper than science fiction [Ray Bradbury was Jerry’s favorite writer]. He taught me that ideas are fun.”

It was through the influence of teachers like Dwight Johnson, too, that Jerry was admitted to what he called “a fast-learner program” in school, sponsored by Stanford University in nearby Palo Alto. “So I had the advantage of this elaborate accelerated program at school and a couple of far-out teachers who were willing to answer any questions and turn me on to where to go—‘If you want to find more, this is what you read.’”

When he wasn’t devouring George Orwell’s 1984 (a favorite of his) or more complex tomes by European philosophers, Jerry was engaged in typical adolescent stuff. Through Wally he developed what would become a lifelong interest in comic books; in those days he collected the ghoulish, “ultra-horrible” EC comics—Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and such—as well as Mad Comics (a forerunner of Mad magazine). Tiff was still a major influence in Jerry’s life, although he was nearing the end of his days at Sequoia High in Redwood City, and before he graduated he joined the marine reserves.

“I had a driver’s license so whenever we could we’d go up to the city and visit our friends,” Tiff says. “I remember Jerry and I hot-wired a car that was in my stepfather’s charge; a little MG roadster. We drove it up to the city from Menlo Park. My car [Tillie Clifford’s green ’42 Chevy coupe] wasn’t working so we used this one. I didn’t even know how I was going to do it—I undid a couple of bolts under the dash and I grabbed a bunch of tin foil and I zapped it up there, and it worked, although I singed my hands. We were mischievous in that way.”

On those weekends in the city, Jerry spent much of his time palling around with his cousin Daniel, who recalls, “We spent a lot of time at the movies; that was something we both loved. We used to go down and see every movie that came out about a musician. I remember going down and seeing The Glenn Miller Story on a Sunday afternoon with Jerry. We always had no money, so we’d go through Tillie’s pocketbooks to try to scrounge enough money to go down to the Golden Gate Theater, which was a movie theater in those days.

“I also remember going down to the Fox Theater on Market Street and Eleventh when they had the debut of Rock Around the Clock [in 1956] and that place was jumpin’! Jerry and I and two girls went to see it together. We came out of that movie with the burning desire to be rock ’n’ roll musicians. I remember him telling me, ‘We can do that; we can play like that.’ I remember that very clearly.”

Jerry was already falling in love with rock ’n’ roll by the time that Bill Haley and the Comets movie came out. Again, Tiff was his main influence—Tiff began listening to local R&B radio stations in the early ’50s, so by the time the first true rock ’n’ roll records came out, the Garcia brothers were primed. “I remember going out with a friend to this record store on Mission near Geneva called the Record Changer, and buying this record, ‘Crazy, Man, Crazy,’ which was Bill Haley’s first release out here—before ‘Rock Around the Clock,’” Tiff says. “I bought it on 78 and Jerry bought it on 45. He got a pretty good 45 collection, because my mom, being in the bar business, used to get all these 45s from the jukebox. We had tons. Most of those weren’t rock ’n’ roll, but there was some good stuff in there.”

Besides Tiff and Daniel, Jerry’s other early rock ’n’ roll buddy was a kid named Laird Grant, who lived a few blocks away from Jerry in Menlo Park. Like Jerry, Laird had moved to the suburbs from San Francisco—he’d lived in the outer Mission district, not far from Harrington Street. The two, who became lifelong friends, met when Jerry was in seventh grade at Menlo-Oaks.

“I met him because he hazed me,” Laird says. “That’s something that went around a lot back then, though it was usually a college thing; occasionally it trickled down. The bully kids—and I wouldn’t say Jerry was a bully, but he hung out with some kids who were, and he was rougher than your normal, average kid—would haze other kids. So there they were, smearing me with lipstick and shaving cream, and there may have even been some perfume involved, and one of the guys was trying to pants me. They’d do that and then throw your pants up in a tree. Jerry was one of the guys and I thought, ‘There’s gotta be more to this guy than this.’ After that we started hanging out together and we found out we actually had a lot in common. We hung out together because we realized that all the rest of the kids weren’t the same as we were.”

Tiff didn’t feel like he was fitting in very well either in school or at home, so after he graduated from Sequoia High in 1956, “I was really anxious to get out of the house because I felt like there was some kind of tension there,” he says. “My mom and Wally would argue—nothing too heavy, but I didn’t like it. It hadn’t felt right to me since we moved out of the city, so as soon as I was eighteen I was ready to get the hell out of the suburbs. I wanted to go back to the city. Instead I went into the marines. The Korean War was over by then, but you still had the drill instructors who were Korea veterans; a tough bunch, boy. Mean. But I thought if I was going to be in the service I was going to be in the tough one. I wasn’t going to be in the army or navy.”

Laird spent a fair amount of time at the Matusiewicz house (and later, at the bar) and he remembers Wally this way: “He was kind of like Popeye. He had a set of forearms on him—man, the last thing you wanted to do was piss this guy off because he’d reach out and grab you with a couple of canned-ham hands. He could get pissed off and rant and rave, but I never saw him raise a hand on anybody. He could go off—BAM!—like a firecracker, and then two minutes later he was cool.”

“Wally was a no-nonsense, hard-nosed guy,” adds Daniel Garcia. “He had a temper but he also had a great sense of humor. He used to get pissed off all the time because Jerry and Tiff wouldn’t do enough work around the house.”

And with Laird Grant in the picture, Jerry spent even less time at home than before. The Peninsula was their playground, and they darted around constantly—on bike, on foot and in buses, day and night. One of the duo’s favorite late-night activities was to sneak out of their houses and break into the nearby Golden State Dairy. “People at the dairy would be packing up the trucks for morning with ice cream and chocolate milk and all that stuff,” Laird says. “It was really easy to climb up these pine trees, throw a jacket over the cyclone fence and climb over into the place. We’d get chocolate milk and ice cream. The ice cream trucks were hard to get to, but we could always get chocolate milk.”

In 1957 the family—minus Tiff, who was taking abuse from D.I.s down at Camp Pendleton in San Diego—moved back to San Francisco. They settled briefly in the Westlake district, on a steep hill overlooking the Pacific—“in the fog zone,” as Tiff calls it—before moving back into Harrington Street, and then into the large apartment Ruth had created above the 400 Club. Jerry was enrolled at James Denman Middle School, a notoriously tough place then and now. “Denman was sort of like an intermediate penitentiary,” says Daniel, only half-joking. “Then they’d parole you to Balboa [High] next door, which wasn’t much better.”

Jerry said that Denman and Balboa in the late ’50s were “razor-toting schools. It was a matter of self-preservation. Either you were a hoodlum, or you were a puddle on the sidewalk. I was part of a big gang, a nonaffiliated gang. At that time in the 1950s, San Francisco was broken up into two loose groups, called the Barts and the Shoes. The Shoes were the white-shoe, Pat Boone- looking types, out on the Avenues among the upscale people. The working-class neighborhoods were where the Barts were—Black Bart greasers would be another expression for them. The city was divided bilaterally like that, and there would be incursions into other neighborhoods where you’d beat everybody up, or everybody would beat you up. It was a state of war, and I didn’t last long in that. I spent a lot of time in Mission Emergency Hospital, holding my lip together, or my eye, because some guy had hit me with a board.”

Jerry Garcia, in fights? “It might have happened,” says Tiff, who was in the marines at the time. “It probably did a couple of times. Hey, it’s colorful. And there was definitely trouble to be found. When he left the Peninsula and came back to San Francisco and went to Balboa, it was a big change for him. It was going from the suburbs to the city, no doubt about it. I mean, when we first moved down to Menlo Park, I had a reputation for being a bad guy just because I was from the city. Thirty miles back then seemed like it was halfway across the state; it was just a different world. If we had stayed in the city back then, we probably both would have wound up in jail.”

Daniel Garcia’s perspective is a little different: “Jerry liked to think of himself as a tough guy, but he was anything but. He had more of his mother in him than you’d think. He was a very benign guy, in fact. I can never remember being in a fight with him, and I was in plenty of fights. Tiff could knock your lights out at the drop of a hat. But Jerry wasn’t a tough guy. He went to a tough school. Jerry was a clean-cut guy, if you want to know the truth. We were into music and we smoked cigarettes and that’s about the wildest thing he did. I don’t remember him drinking booze; that wasn’t part of our lives at all. And I don’t remember Jerry dating at all at that time. We were too shy to go to dances.”

On August 1, 1957, Jerry turned fifteen, and that’s when things really started to change for him. That birthday was the joyous occasion when his mother, finally recognizing the musician inside Jerry that was straining to be heard, broke down and got him what he’d always wanted: an accordion. Wait a minute! It’s a story Jerry told with relish to any interviewer who asked him about it: “I went nuts—‘Aggggh! No! No!’—I railed and I raved, and she finally turned it in, and I got a pawnshop electric guitar and an amplifier. I was beside myself with joy.” In another interview he said, “I [had] developed this deep craving to play the electric guitar. I fell in love with rock ’n’ roll; I wanted to make that sound so badly.”

“The accordion came from one of the people who owed my mom money; that’s how she got it,” Tiff says. “There was an electric mandolin there, and a couple of other instruments my mom had taken on from other people. So it was like, ‘Here, Jerry, want this?’ It wasn’t that big a deal. Jerry liked to sensationalize that story a bit, but that’s okay; it’s basically true.”

“I went over to Jerry’s one day and there he was fiddling with this guitar, an inexpensive, used guitar,” Daniel remembers. “He was plucking it but didn’t really know what to do with it. He knew how to hit a few notes, but he couldn’t form a chord yet. He couldn’t have had it more than three days. And I was so impressed that very day he and I went down to that hockshop on Third Street and I bought my first guitar for $25. He helped me pick it out—a lovely little acoustic guitar. So we started to learn it on our own and from a few books. We learned together and we played a lot together.”

Jerry recalled that his stepfather taught him how to put the guitar in “a weird open tuning, and I learned to play a lot of stuff before somebody showed me how to tune it [normally] and some real chord positions and things like that.” Jerry didn’t take any lessons; didn’t even know anyone who played electric guitar: “I mean, the electric guitar was, like, from Mars, you know. You didn’t see ’em even,” he said. “I was stuck because I just didn’t know anybody that played guitar… . That was probably the greatest hindrance of all to learning the guitar… . I used to do things like look at the pictures of guitar players and look at their hands and try to make the chords they were doing: anything, any little thing.”

His idols were the hot electric guitar pickers of the day—Chuck Berry, who pretty much defined rock ’n’ roll guitar in 1956-57, Gene Vincent and his guitarist Cliff Gallup, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, and though he didn’t know his name then, James Burton, who played on most of Ricky Nelson’s records. Also, “At the time, the R&B stations were still playing stuff like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Frankie Lee Sims, these funky blues guys,” he said. “Jimmy McCracklin, the Chicago blues guys, the T-Bone Walker-influenced guys, that older style, pre-B. B. King stuff. Jimmy Reed actually had hits in those days.”

Jerry had always loved to sing—it was a singing family, after all—and he and Tiff and Daniel used to try to sing doo-wop and R&B tunes they heard on records and the radio, just like thousands of other kids across America in the ’50s. In fact, street-corner harmony became something of a national obsession among young people for a while. It didn’t require any instrumental proficiency, and everyone, it seemed, knew the songs of the day.

“I remember teaching Jerry harmony to a commercial for S&W Foods,” Daniel says with a laugh. “Their slogan, which was sung, was ‘S&W Foods / S&W simply wonderful / S&W foo-oo-oods.’ It had this big Broadway ending and the last two lines were harmonized. So that was one of the first songs I used to illustrate harmony. That and some of the songs the family used to sing, like ‘Down by the Riverside’ and ‘In the Evening by the Moonlight,’ an old Stephen Foster song. Jerry and I spent a lot of time harmonizing on that.”

* * *

Two other seminal events in Garcia’s life occurred shortly after he got his first guitar—he discovered pot and he went to art school.

“I was fifteen when I got turned on to marijuana,” Jerry said in a 1972 interview. “Finally, there was marijuana: Wow! Marijuana. Me and a friend of mine went up into the hills with two joints … and just got so high and laughed and roared and went skipping down the streets doing funny things and just having a helluva time. It was great, it was just what I wanted … that wine thing was so awful, and this marijuana was so perfect.” In the late ’50s scoring pot was fairly difficult, but he and Laird Grant occasionally managed to buy skinny little joints for fifty cents apiece. More commonly they dabbled in pills of various kinds—uppers and tranquilizers of indeterminate origin and potency; the gamble was part of the adventure.

Jerry’s mother might not have known about his occasional weekend pot and pills escapades, but she did know that Jerry was doing badly in school and was getting harder to discipline at home. He kept his own hours, ignored most of his schoolwork and sometimes disappeared for the weekend with friends without warning. Ruth’s occasional attempts to crack down on his bad behavior were largely unsuccessful. He wasn’t exactly hostile to her; it was more his style to figure out ways around her attempts to control him by being charming for a while and then going back to doing what he wanted.

And he wasn’t completely rudderless. After all, he spent hours diligently trying to learn how to play guitar, and in the summer of 1958 he suddenly became serious about studying art, too. “I was thinking I was going to be an artist, ’cause when I was a child, that’s where I showed the most talent,” he said. “As I grew up, most of the encouragement I got was, ‘Well, be in the arts. You’re obviously gifted.’”

A teacher at Balboa spotted Jerry’s interest in art, and that summer, “He and a friend of his named Mike Kennedy came over to the Art Institute [then called the California School of Fine Arts] as part of a program that the Institute had to provide summer instruction for high school students who had been referred from their own school because they had some real aptitude in that area,” says Wally Hedrick, an artist who was teaching at the school then. “I remember these two guys walking in one morning and they became part of the class and immediately both of them began to paint up a storm. They were really quite good for their age. Of course at that time, to me, Jerry Garcia was just another student. During subsequent semesters he took more classes, not only with me, but other faculty members.

“At that time there were two major directions the school was going, stylistically,” he continues. “One of them was abstract expressionism. But Jerry was more taken with the so-called California figurative style, which hadn’t been named at that time, but several people on the faculty were sort of known for starting it. He studied with at least one of them—Elmer Bischoff. But even before he did that, I think the idea of the figurative style was more evident in his work. I was on neither side, so whatever happened was fine with me.

“Jerry never became a full-time student, but he did become a personal friend and we’d invite him over to our parties and various social activities.”

The California School of Fine Arts was a vital bohemian hub in a city that was exploding with creativity of every kind in the 1950s. The wild, rapturous brushstrokes of the CSFA’s abstract expressionists found their musical analog in the soaring bebop flights of sweaty saxophonists blowing hard and free in a dozen big and small nightclubs around town. In the bold, imaginative forms and striking colors that burst or oozed or coolly glided off the canvases of the school’s great figurative painters, there was the same vivid sense of life and rhythm and release that flew like hot sparks off the pages of Beat poets working on broken-down Royal typewriters and ink-smeared notebooks and napkins at North Beach hangouts like Vesuvio’s, Caffe Trieste and the Place. Then there were the “Funk” artists at CSFA, whose constructions and contraptions and mixed-media whatevers had some of the bite, wit and absurdity of hipster word jockeys like Lord Buckley, Ken Nordine and the incomparable Neal Cassady.

Wally Hedrick, Jerry’s mentor at CSFA, had been in the thick of the city’s bohemian renaissance since he arrived at the school as a promising painter at the dawn of the ’50s. As early as 1953 he experimented with a sort of proto-light show machine that projected splashes of color while he played music on a keyboard. The following year, he and Deborah Remington turned a former auto repair shop on Fillmore Street into a combination gallery/ performance space called the Six Gallery. It was there on October 13, 1955, before an audience of about a hundred cognoscenti and illuminati, including Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Beat paterfamilias Kenneth Rexroth and scores of others, that Allen Ginsberg gave his first public reading of “Howl.”

By the time Jerry arrived at CSFA in 1958 some of the early Beat energy had dissipated or moved elsewhere, but there was still very much a scene in North Beach. Laird Grant remembers, “We’d hang out in front of the Anxious Asp, the Green Street Saloon, the Co-Existence Bagel Shop, Coffee & Confusion, and we’d go to parties here and there—there was a lot of action around; this is still before they drove the beatniks out.” Jerry, Laird and their friends also devoured the latest books by Beat writers—a dog-eared copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was eagerly passed around as if it were some secret mystic text.

* * *

In the winter of 1958 Jerry’s mother had bought a vacation home for the family up on Austin Creek near the Russian River town of Cazadero, about sixty miles north of the city. Tiff Garcia, who visited the house only a few times while he was on leave from the marines, says the house was “rustic but modern. It had a nice big living room, a lot of windows; it was in a really pretty area.”

Daniel Garcia recalls, “We used to go up to Cazadero and sit in the family room and smoke Bull Durham cigarettes and play our guitars for hours. Hours and hours until my fingers literally bled. We’d play Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, everything.

The family still went down to Lompico for part of each summer, too, though for shorter periods, and Tiff remembers a time at the Lodge there in the late ’50s when “Jerry and my cousin Danny and I played some Wilbur Harrison tunes up on the dance floor. They were playing guitars and I think I was beating on a cymbal and a box. It used to be the place for the kids to hang out, and for adults there was a bar, so they would go in there and get blasted. It was really quite a busy place; crowded.

Daniel says that he and Tiff and Jerry practiced and played together on a number of different occasions: “I seem to remember we called ourselves the Garcia Brothers among the bunch of us. Jerry and I played lead guitar and we’d argue about who was going to play what. Jerry used to kid me—‘Hell, I play better with four fingers than you guys do with five.’ Tiff would play bass sometimes. Mostly we played by ear and copied records.” Daniel also says that in Lompico he and Jerry would practice their guitars at a nearby dam “and a couple of times we’d even get a little group around us and people would actually clap when we were done, which surprised us.

“When we were first learning, we used to go up to Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park and practice out there. We also practiced a lot at my mom and dad’s house, because they’d put up with it.”

Jerry’s younger cousin Dennis Clifford recalls a big Garcia-Clifford Thanksgiving bash in ’58 or ’59 where Jerry entertained the families with his guitar playing. “I know he was self-taught,” he says, “but he was really pretty good.” Daniel Garcia also remembers a “family reunion at [Aunt] Lena’s house in San Francisco where Jerry and I played. Boy, we knocked ’em dead! They hadn’t heard us before and we played ‘Donna’ by Ritchie Valens.”

During this period Daniel and Jerry also wrote a few simple songs together. “I still have a book where we wrote down the fingering and lyrics,” he says. “They were typical love songs. One was called ‘Fly Trap’—‘words by J. Garcia and D. Garcia.’ But mostly we played standard stuff—‘Church Bells May Ring,’ ‘Whispering Bells,’ Everly Brothers songs.”

Sometime in the middle of 1959 Ruth decided that it would be in Jerry’s best interest to get out of the city, so they moved up to the house in Cazadero full-time and that fall Jerry was enrolled at Analy High School in Sebastopol, a thirty-minute bus ride away. Jerry was not pleased about this turn of events, though he acknowledged once that “things were just getting too intense for me in San Francisco. Then I started cutting school up there at Analy, and I’d steal my mother’s car and I’d go down to the Peninsula—I had a girlfriend down there [in Redwood City].”

When the fall semester ended at Analy in late January 1960, Jerry decided he’d had enough. He was unhappy in school, unhappy at home and had no notions of getting a job, either. After bumming around for two months, splitting his time between his girlfriend’s house and various friends’ pads in San Francisco, he made a decision that obviously came more out of desperation than rational analysis: he joined the army, enlisting at a recruiting office in Oakland on April 12. Since he was still only seventeen at the time, his mother had to sign the papers; now both of her sons were in the military. At least it was peacetime.

To say that Jerry Garcia wasn’t exactly “army material” would be putting it mildly. He related more to the rebellious Brando in The Wild One than to John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima, and he wasn’t about to leave Kerouac and Chuck Berry behind just because his hair was short and he wore a khaki uniform. By his own admission, he was lazy and “pathologically anti-authoritarian,” but no doubt the military has made “men” out of tougher cases than his, and he was always such a genial and enthusiastic fellow that he probably convinced the recruiters, and maybe even himself, that this was the best move for him. Tiff says he tried to talk Jerry out of enlisting—after all, he knew both the military and his brother—but, as Jerry put it, “I wanted so badly to see the world; it was the only hope I had. The only reason I wanted to go into the army was to go someplace—Germany, Korea, Japan, anyplace.

From mid-April to July of 1960, Jerry did his basic combat training at Fort Ord, a scenic if slightly desolate base near Monterey, on the Pacific Coast 125 miles south of San Francisco. He wasn’t a total washout as an army man: at Fort Ord he earned decorations for carbine sharpshooting and for “Basic Missileman (Surface to Air Missile)” training. Clearly, though, he had things other than soldiering on his mind. There was his girlfriend, whom he visited in Redwood City whenever he could, and Laird Grant helped make sure that Jerry’s time at Fort Ord wasn’t too dull:

“I’d go on base and we’d go to the PX and get a bunch of beer and put it in my ’47 Cadillac convertible and drive around and throw beer cans at the sentries,” Laird says. “I had a whole bunch of crazy people that were dressed in weird costumes, people from Redwood City, like his girlfriend. I drove around with a leopardskin vest and cutoff patent leather shorts and a top hat with a dead mole on top of it.”

In July and August of 1960 Jerry was in an advanced individual training program at Fort Ord learning how to be an auto maintenance helper. He had always been interested in cars, but Laird Grant says, “The army said, ‘What do you want to do?’ and he said, ‘I want to do electronics,’ but instead they gave him motor pool! He told me, ‘If I’d asked for motor pool they would have given me electronics!’ That’s the way the army was in those days—if you were interested in something, they weren’t interested in you being interested in it. They want to mold you their own way.”

When Private Recruit (PV1) Garcia completed his service school training in late August, the army gave him his initial base assignment: not to some exotic foreign port of call, but to Fort Winfield Scott in San Francisco’s Presidio, “a beautiful, lovely spot overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and all that, and these neat old barracks, and almost nothing to do.” Jerry said of that period, “Once you’re out of basic training, being in the army is like having a bad job. I didn’t take it seriously. They’re very tough about showing up for the morning roll-call trip—reveille. And if you’re not there, that’s called AWOL. You pile up nine or ten of those and it doesn’t look good on the record.

“In the army you get involved in these soap opera scenes,” he continued. “I had this friend who I had met when I was in base training at Fort Ord. This guy had married the oldest sister of the girl I was going with [in Redwood City]. He was one of those incorrigible guys, one of those guys with a ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ tattoo; that kind of guy. A great guy but a total fuckup. So he was doing stuff like robbing banks and getting into tremendous big trouble, and the family was asking me to help out, because I was the way this guy had gotten into this little working-class family and [I] put him together with the sister he’d married. So [one time] I was hung up with this guy and he was threatening to commit suicide in a hotel room in Redwood City. So of course I was late the next morning to roll call. I thought it was more important to sit there and bullshit with the guy. It was stuff like that; things that I didn’t have that much control over. I didn’t do it on purpose, certainly, but the way it works is these things pile up.”

The flip side to Garcia’s relationship with this acquaintance who was, in Jerry’s words, “trouble incarnate,” is that he was a good fingerpicking guitarist and “I was totally fascinated by it.” Garcia had brought his second electric guitar, a Sears Silvertone, into the army with him, but “I was just a three-chorder then” (a slight exaggeration; by all accounts he played competent rock ’n’ roll guitar), and learning the rudiments of acoustic fingerpicking opened up a new world for him. “That’s how I got into fingerpicking the acoustic guitar, country music, the banjo, folk music, the traditional stuff, all that,” he said in 1971.

The episode in the Redwood City hotel may or may not have been the incident that actually led to Garcia’s being convicted at a Summary Court-Martial on October 19, 1960. That military court found that “On or about October 15, 1960, [JG] broke restriction to battery area.” It’s unclear how long he was illegally off-base, but cousin Daniel Garcia recalls a time during this period when “U.S. marshals came to my house looking for him because he’d gone AWOL. You can’t walk away from the army; they take a dim view of that. It scared the hell out of my mother, as you can imagine.”

According to Jerry, not long after the court-martial, “My company commander asked me in one day and said, ‘Hey Garcia, would you like to get out of the army?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that would be nice.’” What might have gone on behind the scenes to expedite Jerry’s departure from the service—did his commander simply want this insubordinate bad egg out of the army?—we may never know; that sort of information is sealed in his military records.

Thirty-five years later, Daniel Garcia is still incredulous that getting out of the military could have been that easy: “You can’t just say, ‘I don’t want to be here, bye-bye.’ Half the army would leave. It doesn’t work that way. It’s nearly impossible to get out of there unless you’re a Section 8, and you have to prove that you’re really a nutcase to get that.” Actually, there is another criterion, which might have been used in Jerry’s case: “Failure to Adapt,” which includes the category “Not suited to the military lifestyle.” Indeed.

“You’ve got to remember that this is the guy who could fall in the proverbial bucket of you-know-what and come out like a rose,” Daniel says. “If he and his brother and I would get in trouble, Jerry would get out of it and Tiff and I would get in trouble; it never failed. We once stole some Silly Putty from a department store and his mother found this big stash of it in his room and I got in trouble because he told his mother I had given it to him. But you couldn’t stay mad at him too long because he was such a likable guy. He was always getting out of scrapes like that, and the service was probably just another one for him.”

And so, on December 14, 1960, Jerry’s dubious military career came to an end, and he was out on his own for the first time—eighteen years old, with no plans, no family attachments (at last!), no commitments and no job prospects; finally free. Better take a page out of On the Road for this one:

“It was drizzling and mysterious at the beginning of our journey. I could see that it was all going to be one big saga of the mist. ‘Whooee!’ yelled Dean. ‘Here we go!’ And he hunched over the wheel and gunned her; he was back in his element, everybody could see that. We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function of the time, move. And we moved!”