Garcia: An American Life (2000)
This Darkness Got to Give
ifteen years is the chronological middle of the Grateful Dead’s performing career, but there would be few radical musical developments in the group’s sound after that point, and the basic format of a Dead show would never change again.
First sets consisted mainly of shorter songs with relatively fixed arrangements—Weir-sung cowboy tunes and blues, lighter Garcia numbers like “Bertha,” “Sugaree,” “Tennessee Jed,” “Dire Wolf” and “Ramble On Rose”—and one or perhaps two extended numbers toward the end of the set, but rarely anything that matched the long, exploratory versions of “Playing in the Band,” “Here Comes Sunshine” and “Scarlet Begonias” that had graced many a first set in the early ’70s. With the exception of “Bird Song,” most of the so-called first-set tunes that opened to extensive improvisation were Weir’s: “Cassidy,” “Feel Like a Stranger,” “Let It Grow,” “The Music Never Stopped,” “Lazy Lightning” > “Supplication” and the combination of “Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance.” Garcia had a handful of knock-’em-dead set-enders like “Deal,” “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” and “Might As Well,” but he always saved most of his heavier material for the second set. First sets were usually about ten songs and a little over an hour, a far cry from the marathon fourteen- to seventeen-song first sets that were common in 1972-’74. Garcia often talked of the first set as being a “warm-up” for the second set. That became increasingly true in the early ’80s.
The structure of the second set became fairly fixed as well, though certainly there was tremendous variation within the formula. The set-opener was usually an untempo tune like “Samson and Delilah,” “Shakedown Street” or various combinations that lent themselves to jamming, like “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain” and “Feel Like a Stranger” > “Franklin’s Tower.” (“Help on the Way” and “Slipknot” had been dropped in the fall of 1977.) With “Dark Star” essentially out of the repertoire since 1974 (save for two versions in 1979 and one each in 1978 and 1981), “Playing in the Band” was the most open-ended song the Dead performed with any regularity. By 1981 the song appeared only in the first half of a second set, with a reprise of the tune often coming near the end of the set. Songs like “Estimated Prophet,” “Eyes of the World,” “Ship of Fools,” “He’s Gone” and “Terrapin” were slotted in the first half of the second set as well.
Four or five songs into the second set, usually at the end of a jam, the guitarists and Brent would leave the stage and the drummers would take over for an extended percussion workout. Then, when Garcia and Weir returned, Mickey and Billy would slip away and the two guitarists would engage in some free-form sonic weirdness colloquially known as “space.” The other bandmembers would eventually return, and out of the often cacophonous but sometimes amazingly lyrical “space jam” would emerge a riff or a theme or a beat that would slowly blossom (or on occasion explode) into songs like “The Wheel,” “The Other One” or “Not Fade Away.” Then, typically, Garcia would bring the energy down again for one of his powerful ballads—“Wharf Rat,” “Black Peter,” “Stella Blue”—before Weir whipped everyone into a frenzy one last time with some high-octane rocker like “Sugar Magnolia,” “Around and Around,” “Good Lovin’” or “One More Saturday Night.” The encore was usually something fast and simple: “U.S. Blues,” “Don’t Ease Me In” or the band’s clunky but fun version of the Stones’ “Satisfaction.” If Garcia was feeling introspective, he might close with “Brokedown Palace” or Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”—songs that sent the crowd home floating instead of charged up. Second sets were usually close to an hour and a half, though about a third of that time was taken up by “drums” and “space” rather than conventional songs.
The band’s repertoire was extensive enough that they could play three consecutive shows without repeating a song if they were so inclined (though they tended to repeat their newer material more often). And though the format was more fixed than it had been previously, there was actually more variety to the sets than there had been in 1976-78, when fewer songs were in the rotation.
While Garcia and Weir, the lead vocalists, seemed content with the state of affairs in the band in 1980, the ever-critical Phil Lesh told a writer he felt the Grateful Dead were “in a holding pattern. We’re still at the same altitude, but we’re circling.” He noted that he was “kind of bored writing for the Grateful Dead. That period around Live Dead, when the music was a little more complex, was the peak for me.” But he added, “I’m not bored being in the Grateful Dead. To me the Grateful Dead is life—the life of the spirit, and the life of the mind, as opposed to standing in line and marking time in the twentieth century.”
“The whole thing with the Grateful Dead is a challenge to get something new happening, even when you don’t feel like doing anything new or feel anything new lurking around the corner,” Weir said in 1981. “To find something new in either a given treatment of a particular song or some totally new unexplored territory in one of our jams or something. We actually try to go for that every night, and to be together enough and responsive enough to do that sort of stuff, you have to really keep your wits fairly sharp and your chops together. And the band has to be a working, functioning unit. You always have to work at that, like they say you always have to work at making a marriage work. It’s a whole lot like being married.”
The fundamental musical relationships in the band had not changed significantly through the years, though each player went through periods of greater and lesser commitment to the group, as happens with every band. However, their collective musical vocabulary seemed to broaden a bit more every year as they developed as players both together and apart. Beginning with the introduction of the Beast, Hart and Kreutzmann took the concept of a drum solo places no one had ever been. And by the early ’80s Weir had evolved into an extraordinarily inventive and colorful guitarist, so much more than his inadequate “rhythm guitar” label suggested. Weir will probably never receive the credit he deserves for being a truly outstanding and original guitarist because he toiled in Jerry’s immense shadow. By the late ’70s, however, he was clearly stepping out as a player and a songwriter and it’s not exaggerating to say that his emergence helped the band immeasurably during periods when Garcia was not at his best.
* * *
By 1980-81 hippies were almost as scarce in America as they had been in 1965-66. Most of the original flower children had long since grown up and landed jobs in straight society. Long hair on boys and men was more common among Southern rednecks than Northeastern city-dwellers, and more common among fans of hard rock than any other musical genre. With the punk/new wave movement had come short hair, black clothes, skinny ties and a dislike of hippies. Yet the Dead’s following continued to grow slowly each year, as friends turned other friends on to the band through live tapes or by taking them to concerts. Grateful Dead shows became just about the only place outside of Haight-Ashbury and Santa Cruz where tie-dyed clothing was common. And though the percentage of longhaired guys at Dead shows wasn’t as high as it was in the mid-’70s (when even some television news anchormen had longish hair and sideburns), it was still much greater than at any other kind of concert except hard-core reggae shows, which always attracted lots of hippies.
“The crowds haven’t changed that much,” Garcia said in 1981. “Really, we’ve changed more than the crowds have, I would say. But 1980 and 1981 is definitely this time, now historically, and the ’60s were the ’60s. There are those kinds of differences—just the differences of the world at large. But in terms of people and why they come to our shows and what the audience is about and what the music is about, what the whole event is about, I think that situation has stayed pretty much the same. People are coming basically for the same sort of experience. And that’s kind of a nice thing. It’s an ongoing thing. We’ve seen our audience get younger, or maybe what it really means is we’ve gotten older. Our audience has maybe stayed the same age as when we started; maybe it’s gotten a few years younger.”
Since the late ’70s the number of college-age Deadheads who followed the band from city to city for part or all of a tour—usually staying in cheap motels or crashing with friends—had been increasing every year. In fact, it became something of a rite of passage for kids and young adults to be able to master the logistical, financial and pharmacological demands of partying for an entire tour. The close bonds among Deadheads that were formed on long, sometimes uncomfortable road trips added to the already strong communal feeling of the concerts, as the same Heads would see each other in different locations, months or years apart.
Another interesting phenomenon that became much more noticeable in the early ’80s was the number of older Deadheads, many of them successful professionals, who went on tour with the Dead, often staying in luxury hotels and eating in fine restaurants along the way. For these white-collar Deadheads, going to shows became a way to get in touch with a freer, looser, some might say more authentic version of themselves. By the late ’80s there were thousands of people in this category who found ways to juggle their busy work schedule to periodically take a week’s vacation away from the law firm or computer company or hospital to follow a Dead tour to a few cities. They’d go back to their workplaces tired but with their souls enriched and their spirits replenished, and most of them firmly believed it made them better, happier workers.
If Grateful Dead shows were among the few remaining bastions of hippies and ex-hippies in the early ’80s, they were also integral to the survival of the psychedelic drug culture. Pot and psychedelics remained by far the most common consciousness-altering substances at Dead shows, though cocaine and, to a much lesser degree, heroin made inroads in some segments of Deadhead society, and dealers could usually be found easily near any tour stop. It was not a coincidence that after the Dead played a show in New Haven or Des Moines or Salt Lake City the local drug undergrounds in those communities were at their most active. In the early ’80s this was not really a problem in most cities, because the number of people using psychedelics was relatively small, mainly confined to those who already had some experience with those kinds of drugs and had, in a sense, been socialized in the generally safe and supportive Grateful Dead show environment. But in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the scene surrounding Dead shows got so big that every concert attracted thousands of people—including many non-Deadheads—who hung around the bizarre bazaar outside the venues, the volume of drugs and attendant negative drug-related incidents in cities along the Dead’s tour route became alarmingly high. The early ’80s look positively quaint in comparison.
“What fascinates me is how Deadheads improvised a tradition around psychedelics and created a grassroots and extremely homey and unpretentious way of getting tens of thousands of people at a time off on pychedelics,” says Steve Silberman, author of Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads. “There were those shows in the ’70s and the ’80s, especially a Saturday night, when you’d walk around and it seemed like everyone was tripping; if not everyone, maybe two-thirds or three-quarters. And to think there’s that much intense experience going on with no chaperone—Mom’s not around, and they’re not passing out copies of Leary’s books in the hallways.
“I think it’s too contrived to say that going to Dead shows became some sort of an ersatz peyote ritual for kids,” Silberman continues. “But another ancient archetype they reiterated was something more like a kid going off into the wilderness, and because there isn’t much real wilderness anymore, the ‘wilderness’ could be hitchhiking from one town to another with very little money in your wallet, sleeping on the floor of a motel with twelve other people you just met, having sex with someone you just met, getting a ticket somehow—bartering, whatever. A lot of the kids who were doing that were children of relative privilege, so to leave a zone where they were assured of physical comfort to enter a zone where there really were wolves—DEA agents and people with really weird or even bad vibes—was quite a step.
“Deadheads gave each other a tremendous amount of freedom of literal physical movement and deportment and that ended up being a very good thing for the psychedelic experience, because if you needed to lie down on your back, even though it was a concert, even though the show was going on, it was okay if you weren’t engaged in the spectacle. The spectacle was you and all of us and wherever you were at. There was a tremendous amount of tolerance for people who were in different places than you psychically.”
Musically, too, it could be argued that the Grateful Dead had been born of and designed for the psychedelic experience. Garcia said as much: “Our second half [the second set] definitely has a shape which, if not directly, at least partially is inspired by the psychedelic experience as a waveform: The second half for us is the thing of taking chances and going all to pieces and then coming back and reassembling. You might lose a few pieces, but you don’t despair about seeing yourself go completely to pieces; you let it go.”
“The secret that ties Grateful Dead music to psychedelics,” Silberman says, “is when you take psychedelics, when you start and you’re sober, you’re starting in a familiar place—your ordinary mind. Then, as the psychedelic comes on, you leave the realm of familiar thought and familiar experience, and you go to a place where there are all these other less familiar, chaotic experiences. Well, the music would parallel what your mind was doing. It would start in a familiar place, with lyrics and a melody, then it would get more and more open to the winds of inspiration and the winds of chaos. Then, at the most extreme point of out-there-ness, Mickey and Billy would play the oldest instruments on earth, so you would hear the drums that are the traditional accompaniment to psychedelic experience on planet Earth. You would hear these instruments that spoke to the earliest roots of humanity and the roots of performance in shamanistic experience; the roots of rhythm and the roots of collective ritual.
“So in the middle of this chaos, you’re presented with this ancient signpost, and then you would come back from there, after being, you could say, primitivized or stripped of the random programming of contemporary culture—you momentarily forget the sitcom you watched the night before, and your job—and you’d be returned to this primordial human state. Then you would journey back through chaos [“space”] to some statement of philosophical reflection—‘The Wheel,’ ‘Stella Blue.’ They seem to offer you a plateau from which you can observe everything else. They seem to occur in the stillpoint of the turning world, so you can inhabit them with Jerry for a while and look out at the wheels of fate, which included your future and your past and maybe even your death. And it would also make you aware of the ephemeral nature of all the people in the room with you, including the band.”
“You’d laugh and you’d cry and you’d dance and you’d sing and you’d be terrified and you’d feel, ‘Oh my god, what’s coming next?’” says Peter Toluzzi, a keen observer of the latter-day Dead. “You’d feel awe, you’d feel that great rescued feeling that no matter how far out you were taken, you were always brought home and put back together pretty decently. So it became known as a safe place to let go and just allow your emotions to go through their flow. And I think that’s a very cleansing experience emotionally, even more than mentally. After a while people learned that they could do this and it became a safe, comfortable avenue that provided the stimulus for a familiar enough path that you could have variations on this experience again and again. And each time it would be personally revelatory in a different way, just as the music was different every time, too.”
Mickey Hart said that the Grateful Dead weren’t in the music business, they were in the transportation business. And it’s true that for many Deadheads, the band was a medium that facilitated experiencing other planes of consciousness and tapping into deep, spiritual wells that were usually the province of organized religion in this country. Psychedelics and even pot intensified the experience, but thousands upon thousands of fans “got” the cosmic connection without drugs, too. It’s been simplistically stated by some that the Grateful Dead were LSD—that the way their sets unfolded and the places the music went and the messages the lyrics proferred were so imbued with lessons learned on the psychedelic edge that the experience went beyond mere metaphor and became the real thing. This much is certain: the Grateful Dead got people high whether those people were on drugs or not. Certainly the musicians recognized this from day one and played into it, because Dead shows were their spiritual launchpad, too.
“I’ve always felt from the very beginning—even before the Acid Tests,” Phil said in 1982, “that we could do something that was not necessarily extramusical but something where music would be only the first step. Something even close to religion—not in the sense of that ‘The Beatles are more popular than Jesus’ [John Lennon’s controversial 1965 remark], but in the sense of actually communing. We used to say that every place we play is church. Now it’s not quite so all-encompassing; it’s not quite so automatic… . The core of followers is not the reason it feels like church. It’s that other thing, ‘it.’”
“In primitive cultures that state of the shaman is a desirable state,” Garcia noted. “In our society, we are somehow trying to not have that. That’s a real problem. We need the visions. A lot of what we do is already metaphors for that—movies, television, all that stuff. We want to see other worlds. Music is one of the oldest versions of it.
“In a sense, the Grateful Dead experience is that metaphor, too. It’s like, ‘Here’s the ritual that we have been missing in our lives.’ We don’t go to church anymore. We don’t have celebrations anymore. The magic has even been taken out of the Catholic Mass. English? Sorry, it doesn’t have that boom—it doesn’t have that scare.”
For a fairly sizable segment of Deadheads, however, the Grateful Dead were simply a supreme kick-out-the-jams party band that played some terrifically involving rock ’n’ roll. Some people weren’t interested in the existential tenderness of “Stella Blue”; didn’t want to hear twelve minutes of jamming after the song part of “Playing in the Band” had evaporated; and used the always challenging, constantly unpredictable “drums and space” section of the show as a time to hit the snack bar or the bathroom. It didn’t mean they weren’t true Deadheads; rather, it showed the range and power of the Dead experience. And the group was always more than willing to be the party band for those fans. It was part of who they were, too. As Garcia put it in 1980, playing in the Grateful Dead was “sort of like being New Year’s Eve; every place you go there’s a big party. But five New Year’s Eves a week is kind of a lot,” he chuckled, “so I try to lead a pretty sane life on the road. I don’t party every night or anything like that.”
By mid-1981, though, Garcia’s coke and heroin problem was escalating again. In the winter, when he had been working on the Dead Ahead video and helping put together the first of two double-LP sets from the Warfield and Radio City series—the excellent acoustic album Reckoning—Garcia seemed to be in fine form. But in Living with the Dead Rock Scully writes that by spring Garcia was reluctant to tour Europe with the Dead because he was concerned about being able to score his beloved Persian on the road. As it turned out, this was not a problem—if we’re to believe Scully, friends of the Who’s Pete Townshend made sure Garcia (and Scully) were taken care of in that regard. Though he was clearly strung out, Garcia still managed to play fairly well on the tour, which was just a week long—four nights at the Rainbow Theatre in London and a televised concert with the Who in Essen, Germany, where Townshend even joined in on a few numbers. Garcia also managed to be his usual, cheerful self for the obligatory round of interviews with the British rock ’n’ roll press.
Writer David Gans and I interviewed Garcia twice in the first half of 1981—at the end of April and during the second week of June—and he seemed incredibly charming, vibrant and together. Of course this impression bore no relation to what Garcia’s drug use was at the time, but it indicates that at the very least he was capable of appearing “normal,” which for him meant being funny, curious, engaging, self-effacing and very articulate about both the philosophy behind and the structural mechanics of the Dead’s music.
Appearances aside, there’s no question that Garcia’s drug use drove a wedge between him and the rest of the band during this period. He and Scully were in their own world to an extent, and about the only time Garcia would get together with the other bandmembers was at gigs. In 1980 and ’81 the Dead didn’t do any recording at all; in fact, these were the first years since the Dead started that the band introduced no new original songs. That made it a rough time for Robert Hunter, too, who more or less lost his writing partner to a Persian haze. The two were not particularly close during this period, when Garcia was spending nearly all his time getting high in his dark room in the downstairs of the Hepburn Heights house, or touring with the Dead or the many incarnations of the Jerry Garcia Band, where John Kahn was always a waiting co-dependent.
The Garcia Band went through numerous permutations between the fall of 1979 (after the dissolution of Reconstruction) and the fall of 1982—seven groups of varying membership and musical quality, with John Kahn the only constant in all of them. From the fall of 1979 until the fall of 1980 Garcia’s main musical foil in the band was a talented keyboardist-singer named Ozzie Ahlers, who had worked with Van Morrison, Jesse Colin Young, Robert Hunter and others through the years. In December 1980 he was replaced by two keyboardists who were polar opposites. Electric pianist Jimmy Warren was, to put it delicately, sympathetic to Kahn’s and Garcia’s offstage behavior, while organist Melvin Seals, who would play in the Jerry Garcia Band for the next fourteen years, was a straitlaced man of the church. Most of the material the Garcia Band played between 1979 and 1982 had been in the repertoire for several years, and the quality of the shows varied widely. On the road, where much was expected of them, they usually played fairly well. In the Bay Area, sets and entire shows often dragged and seemed unfocused. Rock Scully suggests that the main reason the Garcia Band played as often as it did during this period was to support Scully’s, Kahn’s and Garcia’s drug habits—which could cost several hundred dollars a day. But in truth they performed many fine shows then, and one of the 1981 lineups, with the two keyboardists, drummer Daoud Shaar (another Van Morrison band alumnus) and singers Essra Mohawk and Liz Stires, played a number of exceptional dates. Still, even John Kahn admitted that “things got kind of out of control around then. Jimmy Warren was just sort of a friend. It didn’t work out and it went on too long; it wasn’t one of our better bands.”
Kahn believed that most people had a mistaken impression of his and Garcia’s drug use: “It wasn’t a way for us to hang out; it was quite the opposite. It was an antisocial thing. It’s not something you do with a lot of people; it’s sort of private. In fact, that’s the thing that kept me and Jerry apart more than anything. It wasn’t a shared thing; it was always real private. ‘That’s your stash and this is my stash.’ He’d be uncomfortable because he wouldn’t do it while I was around, because he’d think he’d have to give me some or something like that. It wasn’t a great time for anybody. It’s just something that happened.”
Like Garcia, Kahn also believed that the Persian didn’t affect the music much. “Not in any obvious way, like the tempos didn’t get slower or anything,” he said. “The breaks got longer and we started later. I really don’t believe that drugs were as important a thing as it’s probably perceived. Everything would have been the same. We would have had a band. We would have played the same kind of music. Our relationship didn’t have to do with that [drugs] and our band didn’t have to do with that. Without Scully I don’t think it would have had any influence at all on anything. He was the one who propagated it on a larger scale. You have a manager saying, ‘They won’t go on until they have a snort,’ not musicians saying, ‘We won’t go on until we get a snort.’ That’s the truth. So I don’t think it’s as important as it’s played up to be. But peripheral things are: what it did to certain relationships and things it brought out in people—how people would fold when things got tough; how people would cop out on you and act like they weren’t your friend because it got too difficult for them. But everything would have happened regardless of whether the drugs existed. We still would have gone to Front Street all those nights and we would have made all those records.”
In Grateful Dead circles there was tremendous concern over Garcia’s drug habit, but who was in a position to say anything to him? Others were strung out on junk and cocaine, too, and some of those who weren’t had other problems—Phil Lesh once described this period of his life as “the Heineken years.” Plus there was a sort of unwritten rule in the Grateful Dead that you didn’t tell other people in the organization how to behave. Part of the reason the Dead had succeeded artistically through the years was that the bandmembers had been able to follow their creative muses to their heart’s content, and if that involved drugs, so be it.
“Classically, the band has had a laissez-faire attitude in terms of what anybody wants to do,” Garcia said. “If somebody wants to drink or take drugs, as long as it doesn’t seriously affect everybody else or affect the music, we can sort of let it go. We’ve all had our excursions.”
However, Steve Brown notes, “I think the noninterference idea was a cop-out in a lot of ways, to be able to not have to deal with stuff that maybe needed dealing with. That’s because they were an alternative, risk-taking kind of an entity, they were allowed to get away with this stuff—‘We’re not going to tell people to do anything.’ That whole philosophy came from Garcia as far as I can tell. I think he was the one who instilled it into the Grateful Dead body as the ethic of you don’t tell how people how to behave, because he was the guy who didn’t want to be told how to behave. That kind of ruled for a long time, and then it was too late by the time people started mentioning stuff.”
And even if people in the band and organization weren’t talking directly to Garcia about his problem in the early ’80s, they were talking among themselves and to each other behind his back. “People were always talkin’ to me about Jerry’s dope problem,” says Richard Loren. “And I was as much enmeshed in it as Steve Parish was. He and I were driving him to places to get clean; to doctors who could help. We saw the man suffer through withdrawal.”
Was Garcia embarrassed by his addiction? “Not at all,” Loren says. “He didn’t have fear and he didn’t have guilt. He was never a guilt-ridden person and he wasn’t intimidated by what other people thought. He knew what he was doing when he was doing it, and he was smart enough to know about it. But eventually, of course, you start needing a whole lot of it, and it gets to be a monkey on your back. It takes pleasure away, too, and you’re in pain, like if you have the DTs.”
The great majority of Deadheads were blissfully unaware of Garcia’s drug problems during this period. Some heard ugly rumors but discounted them—“Not Jerry!”—while others were simply out of the information loop. The extended Grateful Dead family was so numerous that there were always plenty of people who did hear the dirt about Garcia and others, and they in turn spread the gossip freely. But by and large the news didn’t filter out to the rank-and-file Deadheads, who continued to show up in droves at every Dead and Garcia Band appearance and dance deliriously the way fans had since 1965.
And the truth is the shows themselves were the best thing about the early ’80s Dead scene. In California in 1981 and ’82, the Dead began playing at some midsized outdoor venues that were positively magical and made every show feel special. The 9,000-seat Greek Theater in Berkeley was a wonderfully intimate cement amphitheater surrounded by eucalyptus trees, where everyone could see each other and the band played in front of bas-relief Greek columns (and for the first couple of years there, beautiful tie-dyed hangings made by Courtney Pollack, famous for his dyes since the early days of the art form). Frost Amphitheater, on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, was a genteel oasis of terraced grass enclosed by a perimeter of California trees and shrubs—incredibly beautiful and serene. It comfortably accommodated 9,000 fans, who would park and party in adjoining eucalyptus groves. And down the California coast an hour north of Los Angeles was Ventura’s dirt-floored rodeo stadium/fairgrounds, just a few hundred yards from the blue Pacific Ocean.
Between shows in those places and venues like Red Rocks, Oakland Auditorium (site of the Dead’s New Year’s bashes from 1979 to 1982), sumptuous Alpine Valley in Wisconsin, Compton Terrace in Arizona and the large but beloved Madison Square Garden, Deadheads were able to enjoy the band in some exceptional environments. No wonder so many more Deadheads hit the road to follow the band in this era.
In the midst of all this endless touring and craziness, and in some quarters, consternation, Garcia unexpectedly married Mountain Girl in a brief ceremony backstage at the Oakland Coliseum on New Year’s Eve 1981-82. According to M.G.’s account of the event in Robert Greenfield’s Dark Star, she and the kids had gone down to the Bay Area from Oregon around Christmas, and as soon as he she saw Jerry, “I knew that he was playing with dangerous stuff,” she said. “I realized that he could die at any minute. I said, ‘Look, you know you’re probably going to croak here or something bad might happen. I would feel better if we were married.’
“We still loved each other very much, but by now it was through this incredible series of impediments. I had taken the high moral ground and couldn’t come back because I couldn’t do what he was doing. And he couldn’t step out of what he was doing because by now he was really into it.”
Though Mountain Girl said she had fantasies about the two of them getting back together and living as a family with the kids, Jerry quickly put that notion to rest, saying he still wanted to live apart. There were tax reasons that made getting married advantageous to both Jerry and M.G., and that’s one reason it was important for the wedding to take place that New Year’s Eve, before 1981 became 1982. So right after the Dead had played a set backing Joan Baez (who was involved with Mickey Hart at the time), Jerry and M.G. were married in Jerry’s dressing room by a Buddhist monk friend, who performed the ceremony in Tibetan as the couple’s daughters, Steve Parish and a few others looked on. Shortly after the ceremony, Garcia strapped on his electric guitar and went out onstage for the first of three Dead sets that night. One has to wonder if Garcia’s second song choice that set was meant to be serious, ironic or funny—it was “Cold Rain and Snow,” which opens with the lines “I married me a wife / She’s been trouble all my life / Run me out in the cold rain and snow.” Whatever was going through Garcia’s head that night, he played a magnificent show, even pulling out “Dark Star” for the first time in three years to open the Dead’s last set sometime after two in the morning.
M.G. stayed for a few days at Hepburn Heights after the New Year’s shows but, as she told Greenfield, “Things were so strange and uncomfortable that I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I remember jumping up and saying, ‘Oh, it’s time to go. I’ve got to go,’ and I was thinking, ‘Poor Jerry, he has built this for himself and it’s not very nice.’ Back we went to Oregon. Jerry would come through on tour or we would go down there to see him, but we didn’t see very much of him at all. Jerry and I got married but it didn’t change a goddamn thing. It didn’t make a damned bit of difference.”
* * *
From a strictly musical standpoint, 1982 started out quite promisingly with a pair of fine benefit shows (for eleven mainly local nonprofit groups) in mid-February at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, followed by concerts in Los Angeles and San Diego. The first three weeks of April they played more strong shows on an East Coast swing that took them to two Southern states that were proving to be rabid Dead Country—North Carolina and Virginia—and some of their oldest proven markets—Philadelphia, Long Island, northern New York state, Hartford, Providence and Baltimore. Halfway through the tour Garcia and Weir appeared on Late Night with David Letterman for the first time. They performed “Deep Elem Blues” and “The Monkey and the Engineer” on acoustic guitars and chatted amiably, if nervously, with Letterman.
That spring of 1982 also marks the beginning of Garcia and John Kahn playing shows as an acoustic duet. Actually, the first acoustic show, which took place at the Capitol Theater on a night between two Dead shows, featured Garcia alone—the only time since his folk days that he had played without supporting musicians. And he hated the experience. He looked nervous and was somewhat sheepish in both his singing and playing.
John Scher, who had persuaded Garcia to play solo shows, remembers, “He went out there and he played a short first set and he came off just freaked and pissed at me, which was unusual—I could count on one hand the times he was even annoyed with me. I followed him into his dressing room and he was just fuming. I said, ‘Aw, come on. It’s not so bad.’ But he just did not enjoy it; he didn’t like playing alone. By the next night we had John Kahn out there.”
It was in fact eleven days between the first night at the Capitol and the next acoustic shows, at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, two nights after the end of the Dead’s tour. With Kahn backing him on stand-up bass, Garcia was much more confident, though frankly he never looked completely at ease playing in an acoustic duo. For Deadheads it was a chance to hear a different repertoire, one that included many of the same cover tunes and Dead songs that he’d sung during the 1980 acoustic sets, as well as a few numbers from the Garcia Band songbook—“Gomorrah,” “Reuben and Cherise,” Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”—and rarities like Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” which he hadn’t sung since the early ’70s. Because he hadn’t really kept up his acoustic guitar chops, Garcia’s playing could be a little clunky and imprecise. But when he and Kahn were clicking and the music flowed, the acoustic sets were quite powerful, especially on ballads, where the spare arrangements took on a haunting, fragile intimacy.
Back on the West Coast, the Jerry Garcia Band, with the two keyboardists, two women backup singers and Bill Kreutzmann on drums, played sporadic gigs in Northern California and Oregon in the spring. Then, beginning in mid-June, they went on a three-show Northeast tour with Bob Weir’s solo band, Bobby and the Midnites, followed by more East Coast dates and then eleven shows by Garcia and Kahn acoustic that took the duo from Washington, D.C., out to Boulder, Colorado. It did not escape the notice of those who were concerned about Garcia’s and Kahn’s drug use that these acoustic concerts netted the musicians much more money than regular JGB gigs, where the night’s take was always divided evenly by what was then a septet; all the better to feed their increasing habits. In fact, some suggested that was the main reason they played the acoustic concerts. Many of the sets they played were very short—at least by Grateful Dead standards—but in general Deadheads seemed to enjoy seeing Garcia’s playing in this stripped-down context.
Garcia and Kahn also put together a Garcia solo album over the course of spring and summer. Run for the Roses (released in early October 1982) was a rather uneven collection of material. Two songs were leftovers from the 1974 sessions for Garcia’s second album, with new lead vocals added: Clyde McPhatter’s “Without Love” and one of the must puzzling covers Garcia ever attempted, a reggae version of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” There were two new potent Hunter-Garcia songs. In the bluesy “Valerie,” which chugged along in a loping cadence somewhat similar to “Sugaree,” Garcia’s character is desperate to prove his love for a hard-hearted two-timing gal who won’t give him any satisfaction. In one verse, at Valerie’s command, “I went downtown with my pocketknife / Cut your other man but I spared his life.” In another, “I shot my dog ’cause he growled at you / Valerie, won’t you be good to me.” Tragic stuff, but Garcia’s delivery usually brought out the humor in Hunter’s hapless, whipped hero. It’s one of the neglected gems of their partnership.
The title cut, “Run for the Roses,” was a common set-ender for the JGB in the second half of 1982, a bouncy melodic number in the tradition of “Bertha.” It’s littered with several different metaphors, bits of advice, observations—a typically playful and sage Hunter hodgepodge that could be autobiographical or directed at Garcia or aimed squarely at the audience:
Reach for the rose
Get caught on the briar
You’re warming to love
Next thing there’s a fire
The trouble with love
Is its other face
You just want the cup
You don’t want the race
No, you don’t want the race …
The most interesting song on the album was a Hunter-Garcia-Kahn composition called “Midnight Getaway,” which painted a vivid noirish picture of a man lying in bed and listening to his lover slip out of the house for a secret rendezvous. There are few rhymed lines, just bursts of near-prose:
Heard you stop and turn back once
Then I thought I heard you sigh
Or maybe it was the breeze
Heard the jingle of your keys
Then you stumbled and cursed the cat
That was sleeping on the stairs under the stars
Garcia played acoustic guitar on the song, which closed with a nicely executed, open-ended jamming coda. The JGB never performed the song live.
The album’s remaining tunes were a rather turgid reading of Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (which was even deadlier in a JGB second set at one-thirty in the morning in some sweaty club) and Hunter and Kahn’s “Leave the Little Girl Alone.” All in all, a rather erratic collection that was also a commercial failure.
“That was not our greatest work,” Kahn said in 1996. “That was a bad time. Right after that record I moved to L.A. for two or three years. The scene had become such a drag. I couldn’t stand it anymore, with Scully and Alan Trist and that whole thing up at the house. I couldn’t stand Jerry’s thing with Rock, so I needed to get away for a while. The band stayed in existence; we played some gigs; not a helluva lot. I got a place in Westwood, but I hated it. I was hoping to work down there and get into my own thing again doing sessions, but it just never happened. I never met anybody interesting; I never ran into anybody. I was happy to move back up here when I did. But it was something I had to do at the time; I wouldn’t undo it.
“I had to get my own self together; that was part of it,” he continued. “First of all, I didn’t make nearly enough money to be carrying on with Rock and Jerry at their level. When I moved to L.A. there was no way I could keep it going so I just stopped doing [heroin]. I was sick for a while and then I was better, and that lasted a long time—two or three years.”
In late August 1982, at a Dead concert at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, Oregon—Prankster country—Garcia introduced two new songs he’d written with Hunter. “West L.A. Fadeaway” was a musical and lyrical departure for Hunter and Garcia. In form it was a fairly straight blues shuffle, but the main character was a creation far removed from Hunter’s or Garcia’s worlds: a small-time mob hustler on the lam. The song always had a dark, creepy edge to it that was heightened by Garcia’s ripping fuzztoned solo in midsong. “Keep Your Day Job” was musically reminiscent of both “Deal” and “U.S. Blues,” the rare Garcia song that sounded a bit like a retread. Hunter’s lyrics were undeniably clever, but the message of the song—“Keep your day job until your night job pays”—was not one most perennially free-spirited Deadheads wanted to hear.
“Day Job” was one of the few Hunter-Garcia songs to be actively disliked by a large segment of Deadheads. It was played fairly often as an encore from the summer of 1982 until the end of 1986, and it always sent many fans scrambling for the exits. Why? My conjecture is that the lyrics essentially endorsed attitudes of the straight world, a perspective that clashed with the sort of mythic universe that was constructed song by song over the course of a typical Dead show. “Day Job” was, to use the hippie colloquialism, a “buzz crusher.” In his book of lyrics, Hunter wrote, “This song was dropped from the Grateful Dead repertoire at the request of fans. Seriously.”
On that same summer tour Garcia revived three songs that hadn’t been played in a few years: “Stagger Lee” (missing since 1979), “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” (’78) and, most exciting of all, “Crazy Fingers” (absent since 1976), which magically appeared during a second set at the Ventura Fairgrounds.
On the East Coast tour that fall Garcia introduced another new song, “Touch of Grey,” which had been intended for a Hunter solo album that Garcia, Hunter and John Kahn did some preliminary work on in the fall of 1981. (Hunter wrote the first draft of the lyrics in September 1980.) That project never got off the ground, but Garcia liked the lyrics enough that he asked Hunter if he could reset them to his own music. Garcia’s music was bright and tuneful, with a steady percolating rhythm that made the song a cousin to romps like “Bertha” and “Scarlet Begonias.” Hunter once said that the lyrics were an expression of his own “intense alienation” from a Grateful Dead scene riddled with personal and financial problems, but what is communicated is a message about perseverance in the face of the negativity that bombards us from all sides every day. Hunter wants to view the cup of life as half full:
I see you got your list out
Say your piece and get out
Yes, I get the gist of it
But it’s all right
Sorry that you feel that way
The only thing there is to say
Every silver lining’s got a
Touch of grey
I will get by / I will get by
I will get by / I will survive
Coming from most writers, this sort of sentiment might be viewed as passive resignation, but everything about the music and the way Garcia sang “Touch of Grey,” with Weir and Brent joining in on the chorus, made it feel like an anthem of triumph. And then on the final chorus it switched from “I will get by / I will survive” to “We will get by / We will survive.” That took the song from being a seemingly personal declaration of faith and commitment from Garcia as he hit forty—“Oh well, a touch of grey / Kind of suits you anyway / That was all I had to say / It’s all right”—to something much more inclusive, as if the “we” were all Deadheads, or all humanity.
Though Garcia had said at midyear that the next Grateful Dead album would be out by Christmas 1982, the group never even got together to record any of their new material. In fact, it would be five years before the Dead made another record. The group’s year-end shows at the Oakland Auditorium were uneven and only occasionally inspired, though the band’s third set New Year’s Eve was a keeper. Rhythm and blues legend Etta James fronted the Dead—whom she labeled “the baddest blues band in the world”—for a set of tunes that included three songs Pigpen used to sing: “Love Light,” “Hard to Handle” and “Midnight Hour.”
Nineteen eighty-three was an odd year for the Grateful Dead. Garcia’s drug addiction made him more insular with each passing month. When he was off the road, he almost never left Hepburn Heights. Band meetings were few and far between and usually had to take place at Garcia’s house, because he no longer came to the Dead office at all. His onstage demeanor gradually changed, too. Whereas in 1980 and 1981 Garcia had still smiled quite a bit while he played and he seemed physically aware of his surroundings—interacting with the other bandmembers and occasionally acknowledging the dancing throngs in front of him—by the middle of 1983 he barely moved onstage at all; he played with his head down staring forward at nothing in particular. He rarely looked at his bandmates and he completely ignored the audience. He looked terribly unhealthy—he had put on quite a bit of weight and his skin was a pallid grayish-white, similar to the color becoming dominant in his beard and hair. Sets got a little shorter, and in the pre-“drums” portion of the second set Garcia often bolted from the stage without jamming after the song that led into Mickey and Billy’s segment. The sets at Garcia Band shows, particularly the ones in Bay Area clubs, shortened dramatically, usually consisting of just five songs. Following a shaky set of Grateful Dead shows in Ventura in late July, a brief Garcia Band tour was canceled because of an infected insect bite on one of Garcia’s feet; when he returned to the stage in late August with the Dead he was perkier than he had been in a while, though still pasty-skinned and overweight. At gigs he almost never left his dressing room, and he raced through hotel lobbies to avoid having to stop and interact with Deadheads. When he did stop, though, he was unfailingly courteous to his fans.
“In the ’80s, things sort of closed up around Jerry,” says Susan Crutcher. “You couldn’t just go backstage and say hi. It got a lot darker, and as someone who hadn’t really kept up that much, I didn’t really know why. So I basically stopped going. Then, if I did go, I’d hang out with Healy, who I always liked a lot.” But Healy, too, got swept up in the rising tide of opiate use.
“There was a time in the ’80s when Jerry was really reclusive, and I was pretty worried about him,” Tiff Garcia says. “I’d go see him and he’d be in this big house, downstairs in this small, dark room, and he’d never leave. He had everything he wanted in there—a stereo, headphones, a guitar—but he would never leave that fuckin’ room. People would come visit him and they wouldn’t go down there; they’d be afraid to go down there because they’d feel like they were invading his privacy. I almost felt guilty because he was talkin’ to me, ’cause all these other people wanted to talk to him and he wouldn’t talk to anybody. I felt like saying, ’Jer, c’mon, these people have been part of your life for a long time. Respond to them somehow. Give ’em some feedback. Yell at ’em or something!’ He wasn’t lookin’ good at all.”
“There was definitely a wall around Jerry,” remembers his old friend Laird Grant, “but I could walk through it with no questions. There were times when it was difficult, especially at shows, but on the day-to-day, I had no problem going to my friend’s door and walking in without even having to knock. Naturally, when I saw what was going on with him, I was concerned. I knew what it was; I held his hand a couple of times, and we talked about it: ‘What the fuck are you doin’, man? Didn’t you read the story about Billie Holiday?’ And like everyone who’s in it, he’d say, ‘Man, I can take it or leave it. At this point I’m takin’ it.’ It’s like what Mark Twain said about quitting smoking: ‘Hell yeah, I can quit smoking. I’ve done it thousands of times—every time I put out a cigar.’”
Despite Garcia’s plainly visible malaise, the Dead played better in 1983 than they had in 1982. In fact, they improved each year through the first half of the ’80s, as if Garcia’s deteriorating physical condition almost didn’t matter. In the early part of the year, to the delight of Deadheads everywhere, he reintroduced “Help on the Way” and “Slipknot” after not having played them since the fall of 1977. The band’s late-summer tour, which hit Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Texas, was loaded with strong and energetic shows. And at Madison Square Garden in the fall, Garcia brought back “Saint Stephen” after a five-year absence, in an arrangement closer to the late-’60s version than the late-’70s variant. (Alas, the song was played only three times that fall before going into dry dock again, this time permanently.) Garcia also tried out an unusual new cover tune: “Revolution,” by John Lennon. Predictably, Garcia opted to sing the slow version of the song (“Revolution #1” off the Beatles’ “White Album”), but could never quite learn all the words—he’d simply mutter his way through most of the verses until he got to the part of the song that clearly appealed to him, the refrain: “You know it’s gonna be all right.”
By 1984 there was widespread concern in the Grateful Dead organization over Garcia’s worsening physical condition. He had ballooned to close to three hundred pounds, and it wasn’t just a fat stomach, though he certainly had that. His legs and ankles became swollen from edema. In Living with the Dead, Rock Scully talks about how during this period, Garcia almost never slept in his bed—he’d just grab a couple of hours here and there sitting in his chair smoking Persian and base cocaine and watching television or doing nothing. His cigarette ashes burned holes in all the furniture in Hepburn Heights, and even his trademark black T-shirts had burn holes in them. He rarely showered—as his greasy hair, black elbows and strong body odor showed—and his diet consisted mostly of ice cream and other junk food. Scully’s account on this subject is probably spot-on—he witnessed it and was in his own degraded state at the time.
Len Dell’Amico recalls, “In ’84 I started hearing some rumors that I found hard to believe, because they didn’t correspond to what I knew in ’81. I was disturbed and in denial, and one day I realized I really cared a lot about this guy and I had to do something. It was one of those things where I didn’t feel like I had any choice. Coincidentally, he had Sue Stephens send me some tapes from the ’84 Greek shows, and I thought, ‘This is great!’ So I went to see him in Pennsylvania on a JGB tour and then I saw him in Long Island with the Dead in mid- to late ’84. And the rumors were true. And I was scared to death. It was a turning point for me. Now what—you wanted to find out, now you know, now what are you going do? Among other symptoms, he had some edema. When the toxins in your body reach a certain point, your tissue begins to swell. You’ll see that in an ICU ward—usually you’ve got weeks or, if you’re lucky, months.
“My analysis was that his problem essentially was boredom and that he had this amazing mind that had evolved in an unprecedented way, plus a passivity bred by being a rock star: ‘Everything comes to me so I don’t have to decide what I’m going to do. The people in the family make demands and I fulfill demands, like a Papa— We need the JGB tour. We need this … We need money.’ And there’s no point at all in telling someone superintelligent that if they do continue with the substance abuse they’re going to die. They know that. So I started proposing activities: ‘Why don’t we do a Garcia Band video?’ he said, ‘Okay, but first we’ll do the Grateful Dead, for political reasons.’ I said fine, and that started the seven-year haul that produced the So Far video, two pay-per-view events, a bunch of network appearances, the rain forest benefit, the AIDS benefit … And we never got to do the Garcia Band project.”
Others confronted Garcia more directly about his addiction, but he was always dismissive, sometimes even hostilely so. There were also attempts to rid Garcia’s inner circle of people who were deemed bad influences. In late 1983, Alan Trist, who was a serious cocaine abuser, was let go. Rock Scully was forced into rehab the following year, and even after kicking heroin he became a pariah in the Dead scene. Though he claims he was given the option of coming back to work for the band, he drifted off into other things and never returned. Unfortunately, the departures of Trist and Scully didn’t have much of an impact on Garcia’s drug use. (Trist was rehired in 1994 to help with the administration of Ice Nine Publishing, a job he holds to this day.)
In 1992 Jerry’s daughter Annabelle remembered 1983-84 as being particularly painful for her: “It got to the point where he’d call me up on the phone in Oregon and nod off while he was on the phone. There was nothing I could do except wait till he woke up and then finish the conversation. That kind of stuff is naturally really disturbing. It was a long period of time my father wasn’t himself at all. I’d go visit him and nothing would happen—I’d just sit there and watch him burn holes in things with cigarettes and fall asleep and then wake up, do some more drugs, and then fall asleep and wake up and do some more. It was really awful; really super-awful.
“When he was doing those drugs, there wasn’t much I could do,” Annabelle continued. “I felt really young and real small and he was so grumpy at those times anyway, I was half-scared of him a lot of the time—not scared for my life, but of a presence. I realized that most of the reason he was doing it was because he was so damn bored. He had his music, but that was about it. He couldn’t go outside anymore because so many people bugged him.
“But the biggest problem I had with that whole time is everybody else in the band and the roadies and all the women would say, ‘Well, why don’t you say something?’ And I’d say, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t want to sever any bonds with my father. I’m afraid that if I say anything to him, he won’t want to see me anymore.’ That was my big fear at thirteen or fourteen years old.
“That whole period of time has a real dreamlike quality and a real strange, surreal quality for me, and for everybody else, too. Because everybody felt they were walking on eggshells around him. And there were always creepy people coming on tour and making sure my dad was going to live through the tour. It was the epitome of the rock star’s mistake—the worst you can do and still not die.”
Mountain Girl, who at the time was living in Oregon “in relative poverty,” says she received panicky phone calls about Jerry: “The bandmembers would call me and say, ‘God, M.G., you’ve gotta do something.’ So I’d drive down there and try to do something and it was just extremely difficult because he didn’t want to do anything about it. He was really strung out for a long time.”
“I was pretty out there,” Garcia said in the late ’80s, “but I was still mainly a maintenance junkie. I never enjoyed sitting around smoking freebase. If I didn’t have heroin and freebase, I didn’t want freebase. For me, I liked the heroin much better, but I liked to be able to stay awake to enjoy it. So the heroin and freebase thing was about right for me, but I never got that high. I just developed a huge habit; but it was still a maintenance habit.
“The drugs I was taking were escape drugs. It was like a long vacation. It worked good; I mean, I got my ‘vacation.’
“For a long time there I sort of lost heart. ‘I don’t know if I want to do this. I don’t know what I want.’ It was that thing: ‘Fuck. Is this right? Is this good? Is this the thing I should be doing?’ For a long time—about eight years—I felt like I wanted to get away from everything somehow. But I didn’t want to just stop playing, or have the Grateful Dead stop because that’s what I wanted to do. And I didn’t even know consciously that that’s what I wanted. I don’t think I really realized it until lately [late ’80s]. Looking back on it I see certain patterns.
“Part of my nature is deeply pessimistic. And it’s something I have to fight with a lot. Part of me is overconfident, too, so it’s these two polar opposites.”
In another late-’80s interview Garcia noted, “Drug use is kind of a cul-de-sac. It’s one of those places you turn with your problems, and pretty soon all your problems have become that one problem. Then it’s just you and the drugs.
“I was never an overdose kind of junkie. I’ve never enjoyed the extremes of getting high… . For me, it was the thing of just getting pleasantly comfortable and grooving at that level. But of course that level doesn’t stay the same. It requires larger and larger amounts of drugs. So after a few years of that, pretty soon you’ve taken a lot of fucking drugs and you’re not experiencing much. It’s like a black hole, really.”
But life went on apace, and the summer ’84 Grateful Dead tour contained a number of powerful shows. Weir reintroduced the band’s late-’60s (non-disco) arrangement of “Dancing in the Streets” and sang “Love Light” for only the second time since Pigpen’s death. “Dark Star” made a rare appearance at the Greek Theater in July—played as the encore, as slides of space scenes were projected on screens behind the band. At a few shows, Phil gamely attempted to sing Paul McCartney’s raucous “White Album” novelty “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” with hilarious results. And at Red Rocks, Brent and Garcia sang Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” for the first time, and the words sounded as if they could’ve been written for Garcia:
Dear Mr. Fantasy, play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything, take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy
You are the one who can make us all glad
But doing that you break down in tears
Please don’t be sad if it was a straight life you had
We wouldn’t have known you all these years
Former road manager Jon McIntire had been away from the Dead scene for several years and was living in St. Louis when a friend persuaded him to go see the band’s show in Kansas City that July. He hadn’t spoken to anyone in the organization for more than a year, but reports of Garcia’s condition had made it to him. McIntire said he found the concert “very depressing. I felt there was a great deal more energy coming from the audience to the stage than there was from the stage to the audience. I didn’t think there was anything new going on. It was wonderful seeing my old friends again, but the actual concert was disturbing to me.”
The next night at dinner, Weir asked McIntire if he would come back to work for the band because Danny Rifkin was planning to take some time off to be with his wife and the baby they were expecting. McIntire was nervous about getting involved, as the band seemed to be in such desperate straits, but a couple of months later, after talking to Phil, longtime road-crew chief Ram Rod, Rifkin and Hunter—all of whom said that things seemed to be taking a turn for the better—he agreed to return as road manager, beginning with the fall ’84 tour. Once McIntire got out on road again, he quickly glimpsed the Dead’s dark underbelly, and like everyone else was heartsick about Garcia’s condition.
In November 1984 Garcia and Kahn and opening act Robert Hunter played a ten-show acoustic tour of the East Coast. According to Hunter, “The Grateful Dead were on the financial skids in ’84 and things were not looking like they were going to get better. No new album for many years; [Jerry] wasn’t interested in writing. This tour looked like a moneymaker with no appreciable overhead—just Jerry, John and me traveling by bus with a skeleton crew.” But ten days before the tour began, Hunter had been part of a meeting where Garcia’s drug problem was discussed at length, and the specter of doing an intervention on him—in which the band and roadies would confront him and insist that he get treatment—was raised. “Hard to know what to do. Hard to know what not to do,” Hunter wrote in his journal at the time. “Hard, hard, hard. Classic conundrum. Personal paradox.”
Hunter said he undertook the acoustic tour with Kahn and Garcia “with misgivings, persuaded by many who thought I might be the only one able to get through to Jerry. I wasn’t so optimistic. Phil called the morning I left and wished me ‘Godspeed’ in the mission.”
Alas, near the end of the tour Hunter wrote that he’d had almost no contact with Garcia during the entire two weeks and that “the humanitarian side of this venture is a total failure. He goes in his compartment at one end of the bus journey and stays there till the destination. At least I’ve seen with my own eyes what has been told me.
“There is no cry for help here—just a powerful individual doing what he damn well pleases. The loyalties he commands are staggering. He is, of course, more than a person—he’s an industry.”
Even Garcia’s most ardent admirers acknowledged that the tour was uneven at best, with the moments of leaden and uninspired playing outweighing the good parts at several shows. John Kahn said he talked to Garcia about his drug use during this period, “and he’d say, ‘Leave me alone. I’m fine.’ But I had to say it anyway. People said that to me at one time or another, and I said ‘Fuck you’ to them, too. He felt people should stay out of his business. And I agree.”
By January 1985 the die was cast, and the band decided to proceed with the intervention. In Garcia’s rosy telling of the event later, “everybody came over to my house and said, ‘Hey Garcia, you got to cool it; you’re starting to scare us.’” Hunter’s recollection, in his on-line journal in 1996, is probably closer to the truth: “We went en masse to Jerry’s house. Knocked. He opened the door and said, ‘Get the fuck out of here!’ We refused. Into the lion’s den we boldly entered, steeled to the deed to be done. He listened, anger slowly relenting… .” Garcia was told that he had to choose between drugs and the band and that if he didn’t get help the group would disband or go on without him. They tried to persuade him to enter a program immediately, but Garcia managed to convince them that he would go in for treatment in a few days.
“It was really organized and everybody participated,” Mountain Girl recalls. “We got twelve people to go over there. A lot of people didn’t want to do it, but we talked them into it. I remember how awful it was, and how he ducked it. We were trying to get him into this program over at Lake Merritt [in Oakland], because that seemed like the most humane program in the Bay Area; I checked them all out. I had spent four or five days making all these calls, using a phony name, finding out about different treatment programs and what they cost and all that.”
On January 18, a few days after the intervention and the day before he had said he was going to enter a rehab program, Garcia was busted for possession of heroin and cocaine in Golden Gate Park. He was sitting in his BMW near Metson Lake, off Middle Drive, adjacent to the Polo Fields, smoking some Persian, when a policeman happened by and saw that the registration tags on the car had expired. When he approached the car he smelled something burning, and he found Garcia holding “a piece of tin foil paper which had a brown sticky appearing substance on it,” the officer wrote in his report. Garcia quickly shoved the foil under his seat. There were more pieces of tin foil with burned brown residue on them sitting in an open briefcase, along with twenty-three paper bindles—some empty, some containing small amounts of heroin and cocaine—assorted drug paraphernalia, lighters and, for a reason we’ll probably never know, a seven of hearts playing card.
Garcia was arrested and briefly jailed in a downtown San Francisco precinct. A few hours later, bail of $7,300 was paid for him and he was released on his own recognizance. Of course the story was immediately all over the local television news, and a photo of Garcia being arraigned appeared prominently in the next day’s paper.
Many Deadheads had been aware of Garcia’s drug addiction for some time, but many thousands had no idea Garcia was a junkie, and the distressing news of the bust was the first they heard of it. “I think after the bust he got really embarrassed and he suddenly realized, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not invisible. People are looking at me,’” M.G. says.
“I’m the sort of person,” Garcia said later, “that will just keep going along until something stops me. For me and drugs, the bust helped. It reminded me how vulnerable you are when you’re drug dependent. It caught my attention. It was like, ‘Oh, right—illegal.’ And of all the things I don’t want to do, spending time in jail is one of those things I least want to do. It was as if this was telling me it was time to start doing something different.”