Dawn Is Breaking Everywhere - Garcia: An American Life (2000)

Garcia: An American Life (2000)


Dawn Is Breaking Everywhere

y the end of the first of the three December ’86 Grateful Dead comeback shows, it was clear that Phil Lesh’s speculation that the band was going to shake up the format of their concerts wasn’t going to happen immediately, if at all. The old songs were in the same slots they had occupied before Garcia’s coma, but no one was complaining—the format almost felt new just because the band played with so much verve and spunk. Garcia in particular seemed like a new man onstage. He smiled often, gestured and emphasized lyrics with his picking hand, swayed and bopped the most he had since the late ’70s. And he seemed to go out of his way to make eye contact with the other bandmembers, who appeared to be nearly as amazed by their comrade’s demeanor as the Deadheads pressed up against the front of the stage.

Certain lyrics suddenly took on new meanings in light of Garcia’s fall and resurrection. In “Althea,” a huge ovation went up when Garcia came to the line “There are things you can replace, and others you cannot / The time has come to weigh those things / This space is getting hot.” He delivered “Candyman” with such gusto there was no question that when he sang the lyric “Won’t you tell everybody you meet that the Candyman’s in town,” he was singing about himself. The bridge of “Wharf Rat,” which had sometimes seemed eerily ironic during Garcia’s worst junkie days, now sounded hopeful and sincere:

But I’ll get back

On my feet some day

The good Lord willing

If He says I may

I know that this life I’m living’s no good

I’ll get a new start

Live the life I should

I’ll get up up and fly away …

Garcia imbued ballads like “Stella Blue” and “Ship of Fools” with rare passion, and the life-and-death mysteries at the core of “Terrapin Station” felt richer and more personal. And “Black Peter” now seemed strikingly autobiographical:

Fever rolled up to a hundred and five

Roll on up, gonna roll back down

One more day I find myself alive

Tomorrow maybe go beneath the ground

For the rest of Garcia’s career, “Black Peter,” so often dirgelike in the early ’80s, would be one of his most powerful tunes, no doubt because it now had a special resonance for him. This was an obvious example of a phenomenon both the bandmembers and Deadheads experienced often through the years: a lyric coming into sharp focus as it became associated with a specific personal event. In the case of lyrics that seemed to address Garcia’s illness and recovery, Garcia and the audience got to experience cathartic epiphanies together, which served to further strengthen the bond between him and his fans. Raised on a steady diet of heavy songs about mortality, Deadheads had faced the metaphorical End many, many times at Dead shows; but now these songs were addressing something that was an undeniable part of their collective reality.

At the first of the three Oakland shows, too, Garcia introduced a pretty but mournful new Robert Hunter ballad of existential loneliness called “Black Muddy River”:

When the last rose of summer pricks my finger

And the hot sun chills me to the bone

When I can’t hear the song for the singer

And I can’t tell my pillow from a stone

I will walk alone by the black muddy river

And sing me a song of my own

I will walk alone by the black muddy river

And sing me a song of my own

Hunter explained, “The black muddy river is a dream I’ve had maybe three or four times over my life, and it is one of the most chilling experiences that I’ve had. It’s enough to turn you religious. I’ve burrowed under this incredible mansion, gone down into the cellars, and I find myself down at this black, lusterless, slow-flowing stygian river. There are marble columns around, and cobwebs. It’s vast and it’s hopeless. It’s death. It’s death with the absence of the soul. It’s my horror vision, and when I come out of that dream I do anything I can to counter it.”

Yet, typical of Hunter’s writing, the composition is not all dark. By the last verse the singer not only takes solace in being able to “sing me a song of my own,” but also to “dream me a dream of my own.”

“‘Black Muddy River’ is about the perspective of age and making a decision about the necessity of living in spite of a rough time and the ravages of anything else that’s going to come at you,” Hunter said. “When I wrote it, I was writing about how I felt about being forty-five years old and what I’ve been through. And then, when I was done with it, obviously it was for the Dead.”

The other new song Garcia unveiled at the comeback shows was much lighter. Musically, “When Push Comes to Shove” was in the same loping tradition of “Ramble On Rose” and “Tennessee Jed”; musically, it was not one of Garcia’s more original pieces. But lyrically, it was a hoot, a song about being afraid of everything, including and especially love. Evidently something about the song didn’t ring true for Garcia after a while, because he never sang it after the summer of 1989. Two and a half years was a very short lifetime for a Garcia song.

Almost immediately after the Dead’s year-end concerts at Kaiser Convention Center Garcia plunged into two projects that had been in limbo for a while—the long-form video, So Far, and, finally, the Dead’s new studio album, In the Dark.

Actually, it was some of the early work on the video that suggested the approach for recording the new album: they returned to the stage of the Marin Veterans Auditorium and cut the basic tracks for the LP there live (i.e., all playing together at once), with no audience, as they had for the video shoot. Then, vocal and instrumental fixes and overdubs would be recorded at Club Front.

For the first time since Blues for Allah in 1975, the album’s production was handled in-house—Garcia and engineer John Cutler co-produced, with plenty of input from the other bandmembers. Though Garcia said at the time that he normally didn’t like being forced into “the cop role” on Grateful Dead projects, his leadership and well-known attention to sonic detail was needed to bring the album to fruition. As he noted, if others were willing to defer to him, he was not afraid to make decisions.

“It’s one of the things I’m good at,” he said without a hint of boastfulness, “because first of all, I have some sense of what the Grateful Dead’s point of view is. The next part is that I won’t let things go past unless I’m sure everyone in the band sees them or hears them. So I know enough about what the potential for political nightmares are. You want everybody to like it, and you want everybody partcipating in it fully, and that means everyone has to believe in the project.

“But you have to be able to say, ‘This is it. This is the way it’s going to be.’ I’m flexible about what it’s going to be, but once all the news is in—in other words, once everyone’s put in an opinion—I take it into account and make changes and then I can say, ‘Okay, this is it.’ Nobody minds talking to me about it, and I don’t mind hearing about it from anybody, so that’s part of why it’s fallen into my hands.”

Over the course of three weeks in January, the band cut basic tracks on ten of their unrecorded songs: Hunter and Garcia’s “Touch of Grey,” “West L.A. Fadeaway,” “When Push Comes to Shove” and “Black Muddy River”; Weir and Barlow’s “Hell in a Bucket,” “Throwing Stones” and “My Brother Esau” (which only made it onto the cassette versions of the LP); and Brent’s rollicking train anthem, “Tons of Steel.”

Meanwhile, Garcia and Len Dell’Amico had resumed work on So Far. By the time Garcia fell ill in the summer of ’86, the duo and John Cutler had put together a seamless fifty-five-minute soundtrack that moved gracefully from “Uncle John’s Band” into “Playing in the Band” into “Lady with a Fan” (from the “Terrapin” suite), followed by a segment of “drums” and “space,” and closing with Weir’s anti-political rant “Throwing Stones” into “Not Fade Away.” The audio track consisted of material recorded at Marin Vets in 1985 with some live material from the Dead’s 1985 New Year’s Eve telecast. With that musical foundation in place, Garcia and Dell’Amico then began to explore various visual approaches to the soundtrack.

“We did a lot of brainstorming, just thinking, ‘What kind of images do Grateful Dead songs conjure?’” Garcia said. “Well—nature, powerful forces of various sorts, volcanoes erupting, tornados, lightning, strong winds, the ocean and other archetypal things like fire and that sort of stuff. Then we got into [collecting footage of] human endeavors—everything that people do. And then we went off in a completely abstract space—okay, the music may not directly suggest these things, but these things are suggested by things that are suggested. So then we got into things like architecture, stained-glass windows, tanks, that sort of stuff. It was really a sort of free-associative thing that took place over several months, just collecting lists and lists [of images].

“Most Grateful Dead music lacks a literal quality,” he continued. “Most of the lyrics don’t go anywhere, exactly. Some of them have really powerful images in them, but rarely do they have specific stuff. I sort of wanted to steer away from being too literal. That got to be a byword in the studio—‘Too literal! Too literal!’”

Ultimately, Garcia and Dell’Amico decided to give each song a different look. “Uncle John’s Band” was mainly just the group performing at the Marin Vets, with a patchwork quilt of photos of frontier America and the Old West gliding across the screen toward the end of the tune. “Playing in the Band” was dominated by film images of dancers from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, edited in time to the music and often altered by high-tech video manipulation—legs multiplied and distorted and split into intricate patterns, taking on new, unrecognizable forms—“kind of like a tantric carpet, pulsing and moving,” Garcia said. “Lady with a Fan” received perhaps the most ambitious visual treatment, with elaborate (for that era) 3-D computer-generated images of tarot cards drifting through a surreal landscape dominated by a chessboard.

“If you’re going to do something, it’s important—for me, at any rate—to shoot high, even if you miss, or even if you’re accused of being pretentious,” Garcia noted. “We were after the idea of electronic mind-altering and consciousness-altering, and I think on that level it’s pretty successful.”

Work on the video continued up until the Grateful Dead went out on their first post-coma Eastern tour the last week of March 1987. Not surprisingly, Garcia’s return was greeted as a veritable Second Coming by his fans. The ovations he and the band received every night of the tour were long and deafening, as if each Deadhead had to show his or her appreciation for the miracle of Garcia’s (and the band’s) survival. The Dead responded by playing a tour filled with high-energy shows that were perhaps a bit short on jamming—the big songs generally weren’t as fully developed, and transitions between tunes in the second set were sometimes a bit awkward and forced—but long on joie de vivre, which was right in keeping with the celebratory mood of the crowds.

One thing the Dead hadn’t counted on when they booked the tour was the thousands of people who showed up outside every venue they played, some hoping to score tickets for the sold-out concerts, but most quite content to hang out in the huge shopper’s bazaar that materialized in the parking lots and surrounding streets in every city on the tour. As late as 1983-84 there had still been only a few merchants who went on tour with the Dead to peddle T-shirts, stickers, incense, handmade jewelry and food items such as premade veggie burritos and chocolate chip cookies. In that era, most of the vendors had been Deadheads who wanted to earn enough money to go on tour and see as many shows as they could. Their success, coupled with the laissez-faire environment in the parking lots, encouraged others to try their hand at selling outside Dead shows, and as the number of vendors increased, so did the number of people hanging out around the bazaar. Then, because the scene was so big and colorful, it attracted the attention of newspapers and television crews in nearly every city the Dead traveled to, and these “news” reports inspired hundreds and sometimes thousands of people, many with no particular interest in the Grateful Dead, to come down and check out what was, at least on the surface, a joyfully anarchic party. It was relatively easy to score drugs there, and you could usually find a few different kinds of bottled beer for a buck.

Even in the Bay Area, where Dead fans were considerably more blasé about their heroes simply because the band played there so often, there were signs at the mid-December ’86 comeback shows, at the New Year’s series and at the Mardi Gras concerts at Kaiser in early March that things were starting to get a little crazy outside the shows. But that was nothing compared with what greeted the Dead on the East Coast. Now there were hundreds of vendors outside every show, and the majority of them were people who had no intention of going inside the arenas to see the band. Whereas in the early ’80s it had been common for solitary vendors to sell their wares out of their backpacks, by 1987 people were setting up large display tables, jewelry cases and even giant metal-framed booths to sell everything from tie-dyes to imported Guatemalan clothing to every variety of drug paraphernalia. Instead of offering a couple of dozen shirts, the larger operations brought in hundreds of pieces of clothing to sell, racks to hang them on, full-length mirrors and even Visa and MasterCard processing equipment. Still, for every one of those big operators, there were probably ten subsistence-level vendors who simply liked living on the road in the Grateful Dead environment.

Almost everywhere the Grateful Dead carnival parked itself there were problems between the crowds attracted to the bazaar and people who lived near the venues, who suddenly found strange people tramping through (or even camping on) their property, using their yards and the streets as bathrooms and having loud parties into the wee hours of the morning. This, naturally, brought more police into the areas where the Dead played, and led police chiefs, mayors and angry city officials to complain to the Dead, who, it should be said, were just trying to do what they had always done: go out on the road and play music to earn a living. The band took the heat, and in what should have been their most glorious moment—sold-out houses! positive vibes rippling through the scene in the wake of Garcia’s recovery!—they found themselves facing the possibility that they would be permanently banned from many cities because of the behavior of a small group of people outside their concerts. In fact, some municipalities did tell the Dead to take their circus elsewhere.

And this was all before the release of what everyone fully expected would be a very successful new album. What would happen if the album was a bona fide hit, bringing in thousands of new fans? “I don’t know,” Garcia told me in an interview that spring. “If this translates to unheard-of record sales or something—some enormous number of records—then we’ll have a serious problem. We’ll have the problem of where are we going to play? We already have that problem to some extent. John Scher says he has to ‘de-promote’ us. We don’t spend any money on advertising anymore. So where do we have to go? At this point, the Deadheads and the Grateful Dead have to get serious. We have to invent where we can go from here, because there is no place… . It’s an interesting problem to have—the problem of being too successful. It’s one of those things that completely blows my mind.”

On a personal level the spring ’87 tour was a supremely uplifting one for Garcia. Even though he had been the focus of intense devotion by thousands of people through the years, the spring tour was really almost like a celebration of him, a chance for Deadheads to express their love and appreciation. And though touring again was physically quite taxing for Garcia, his mood was very upbeat and he felt energized by the crowd’s response.

Garcia was the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper profiles during this period, most of them overwhelmingly positive accounts of how he had returned from the brink, left drugs behind and been given a new lease on life. However, if the mainstream media thought that Garcia was suddenly going to become yet another recovery poster boy for Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, they were mistaken. Not only did he never renounce drugs, he continued to openly sing the praises of psychedelics and pot, and he advocated the legalization of all drugs in order to eliminate the criminal component of consciousness-altering.

The other angle the media just couldn’t resist was Garcia’s ascension to ice cream immortality. In late 1986 the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company of Vermont started producing Cherry Garcia (vanilla ice cream with chocolate-covered chunks of cherry), and it became one of the rising company’s best-selling products. Unfortunately, the ice cream was named and launched without Garcia’s permission. But after a minimum of legal wrangling, Ben & Jerry’s agreed to pay royalties to Garcia. For a while, complimentary shipments of the confection filled the freezer in the fridge at the Dead office, until saner health practices prevailed.

Garcia handled his new megacelebrity with characteristic grace and self-deprecating humor, knowing full well that this moment in the sun would pass and that in a year or two Deadheads would probably be the only ones who cared about him again. Asked in 1987 how he dealt with his near-deification among some extremely fanatical Deadheads, who saw his survival as a mystical Sign from Above, Garcia said with a laugh, “I ignore ’em. I know better, you know? I mean, no matter who you are, you know yourself for the asshole that you are. You know yourself for the person who makes mistakes and is capable of being really stupid. And doing stupid things. On this earth, nobody is perfect, as far as I know. And I’m right there with everybody else. I don’t know who you’d have to be to believe that kind of stuff about yourself; to believe that you’re somehow special. But it wouldn’t work in my house, that’s all I can say. My kids would never let me get away with it. So far it hasn’t been a problem. If I start believing that kind of stuff, everybody’s going to just turn around and walk away from me—‘Come on, Garcia!’ And my friends—nobody would let me get away with it; not for a minute. That’s the strength of having a group.” (Asked in another interview about whether he minded being the religious focus of a segment of Deadheads who dance at Dead shows like the whirling dervishes of the Near East, Garcia quipped, “I’ll put up with it until they come to me with the cross and nails.”)

* * *

Sometime after his coma, Garcia joked to a member of the Dead road crew that if he wasn’t going to get into trouble with drugs, he would probably get into trouble with women, in part because heroin kept his strong libido somewhat in check. It was on the spring East Coast tour, in Hartford, that Garcia hooked up romantically with a twenty-seven-year-old Deadhead from New Jersey named Manasha Matheson, with whom he had had a casual friendship for several years.

Manasha first saw the Dead at Watkins Glen in 1973, when she was just fourteen. “I went with some friends and then we separated at the show and then it was me and my clothes and nothing else,” she recalls. “But I met these wonderful people from Massachusetts and they sort of took me in, which was my first exposure to that level of kindness that you hear about with Deadheads. That was overwhelming for me. I wasn’t really a fan of the Grateful Dead at that time, and I didn’t really connect with the music at that show. But I do remember hearing Jerry’s guitar at one point during the night and it sounded to me like it was alive, like it was a living thing. And I had this kind of primal feeling about it. It was a beautiful sound.”

Five years later, when the Dead came to the Uptown Theater in Chicago in November 1978, Manasha presented a carved pumpkin (with a map showing Terrapin Ridge, Illinois, stuffed inside it) to Garcia as he arrived onstage, and after she retrieved the pumpkin following the show, someone from backstage invited her and her roommate to have lunch with Garcia the following day. So the two of them met Jerry at the White Hall Hotel in Chicago, had a pleasant chat for a couple of hours, and that night, after her roommate had departed, Manasha went to the Uptown show with Jerry.

They kept in touch a bit through the years, mainly by phone and occasional backstage visits. Jerry sometimes provided tickets for her, and they were able to communicate silently whenever she was close enough to the stage that he could see her. As she told Robert Greenfield, at one concert in San Francisco in the mid-’80s she even cut off her long hair during the show, much to Garcia’s amusement. “I’d had a class back at college in living art—Fluxus, Yoko Ono, John Cage. I did it in the spirit of that kind of avant-garde weirdness.”

With her hair shorn, she took to wearing shawls everywhere (she still does) and became a ubiquitous figure at West Coast Dead shows after Garcia’s illness. She was still living with her parents in New Jersey and was studying art, but she spent long periods in Northern California, where she had many friends. The first time she saw Jerry after his coma was when she accompanied her onetime paramour Hamza el-Din to a Petaluma Schools benefit concert featuring Olatunji, Garcia and Carlos Santana in February 1987. “I said, ‘Jerry, do you remember me?’ And he said, ‘Manasha, you’re unforgettable,’ which was so dear, and then he took my hand delicately and held it for a minute, and it was real special,” she says.

It was just a month later that Jerry and Manasha got together in Hartford. She then accompanied him for most of the rest of the tour. According to Manasha, Garcia told her that his relationship with Mountain Girl was platonic; otherwise, she said, she would not have gotten involved with him.

After the Dead finished their spring 1987 tour with three concerts at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in Orange County, California (where there was a near-riot outside the venue and a successful gate-crashing by a sizable mob during the Saturday night concert), Garcia returned to work on the album and video. He and Len Dell’Amico spent the last two weeks of April in Los Angeles overseeing the postproduction on So Far. While Jerry was in L.A., he flew Manasha into town and put her up at the Park Sheraton hotel, where he was staying. A few weeks later Manasha revealed that she had become pregnant—news that did not sit well with M.G.—but Manasha says she did not want Jerry to leave Annabelle and Trixie, so she elected to keep living alone in San Anselmo, seeing Jerry whenever it was convenient for him. According to Manasha, Jerry had initially suggested that she move in with him, M.G. and the girls—a bizarre notion to say the least. Beginning that summer, however, Manasha openly accompanied him on tour.

In mid-May Bob Dylan flew to Northern California to begin rehearsals with the Grateful Dead for a series of stadium concerts that summer in which the Dead would serve as Dylan’s backup band—as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had in 1986—as well as playing their own sets. Planning for the tour, which Garcia said was a long-held dream of his, had begun around the time of the Dead’s comeback shows in December 1986. Dylan secretly slipped into the Bay Area in March to finalize tour plans and attend the Dead’s Mardi Gras concert at Kaiser Convention Center, where he was photographed with them backstage by Herb Greene. Dylan was spotted in the audience that night swaying to a version of his own song, “Quinn the Eskimo,” which Garcia chose to open the show.

Bootleg tapes of the May ’87 Dylan-Dead rehearsals have been in circulation for many years, but at the time there was a thick veil of secrecy about what was going on at Club Front. Dylan’s paranoia about publicity was legendary: in March he had even threatened to cancel the summer tour after a San Francisco deejay announced some details of it. And though keeping secrets in the Grateful Dead world was always next to impossible (discreetly dispensing privileged information showed how close people were to the band, which translated to assumed power), not much information leaked out about the rehearsals other than the fact that the musicians had played a huge number of different songs, including many unusual cover tunes.

“Dylan was in ecstasy at the abuse he got from the crew,” says Len Dell’Amico. “He’d come in and they’d say, ‘Oh, hi, Bob,’ and then turn away. And he loved that. He just blossomed because they treated him like they treated anyone else. They called him Spike because the Dead already had a Bob. But he got the crew treatment, like ‘Who the fuck are you?’ And he loved it. Because who’s a bigger star than Bob Dylan? And he probably hated it more than anybody. And he just fit in so well with that sense of ‘We’re all just guys hanging around here.’”

The material Dylan and the Dead rehearsed covered an astonishing range, from old folk songs like “Stealin’” and “The Ballad of John Harding” to contemporary songs like Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” and Dylan songs from every era, many of which Dylan had either never performed live or hadn’t played for years. “We’d just try ’em out,” Garcia said. “[Dylan] said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ and we said, ‘Well, we have a small list here of our favorite Dylan tunes.’ And he said yes to just about all of them, so we just started working on them one by one.”

Garcia noted shortly after the rehearsals that playing with Dylan was quite a challenge: “You really have to pay attention to him to avoid making mistakes, insofar as he’s doing what he’s doing and everybody else is trying to play the song. If you don’t do what he’s doing, you’re doing something wrong,” he laughed. “In that sense, he de facto becomes the leader of the band… . I don’t know whether two weeks with us [on the tour] is going to be able to change twenty years of that kind of conditioning.”

It would be a month and a half before the Dead and Dylan would get together again.

The Dead began the summer of 1987 with impressive concert stands in Ventura and at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, then traveled east to Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin, which had become perhaps the most popular venue for the Dead in the Midwest. At each of the three concerts at Alpine Valley, more than 30,000 people packed the facility, and thousands more jammed the campgrounds outside the gates and clogged nearby roads, a pattern that repeated itself at nearly every stop on the Dead’s summer tour.

Around the time the tour hit Alpine Valley, Arista Records released “Touch of Grey” to radio stations, in advance of In the Dark, which was to come out on July 6. “Touch of Grey” was an instant smash on rock radio all across the country, generating countless news stories about Garcia’s comeback and the Dead’s miraculous saga of survival and transformation into the country’s most popular touring band.

Then MTV got into the act. In early May, Gary Gutierrez had shot a video for “Touch of Grey” in which life-sized puppet skeletons of the band “sang” and “played” the song in front of thousands of cheering Deadheads; then, near the tune’s conclusion, the skeletons were magically transformed into the real Grateful Dead. (The video was shot at night after a Dead concert at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area near Monterey, California, using Deadheads who were camping there overnight, and anyone else who was interested, as the crowd.) MTV’s execs loved the video, which was so different from the network’s usual fare—in those days, most seemed to feature scantily clad women being subjugated by male rock stars, lots of fog effects and things breaking in slow motion—and the video was put in heavy rotation. Toward the end of the Dead’s summer tour, MTV put together a daylong marathon called “Day of the Dead,” adding to the hype that had been building since the spring tour. It was the biggest national television exposure the Dead had gotten in many years, and some believe that it mainly served to make the already overpopulated scene outside the shows even more unmanageable.

Aside from the problem of too many folks without tickets showing up to party in the parking lots, the atmosphere inside the shows changed, too. Many young people in the huge influx of 1987-88 did not understand the subtle dynamics of the Grateful Dead concert experience and hadn’t gone through the natural socialization and education process that fans who saw the band repeatedly had experienced. Some of these neophytes—disparagingly labeled “Touchheads” and “In the Darkers” by veterans—came to Dead shows just to get drunk or high and to hear “Touch of Grey,” which, the Dead being the Dead, the band did not play at every show (though they did at all six of their football stadium concerts on that tour). There were thousands of new fans who did not want to hear the gentle, folkish strains of “Peggy-O,” who couldn’t lose themselves in the sweet, sad beauty of “Stella Blue” and who were put to sleep by “drums” and “space.” To be fair, there were also thousands of other newcomers who definitely “got” what was special about the Dead’s music, immediately felt part of the scene and became true-blue Deadheads from that point on. So the success cut both ways.

But it wasn’t just young rockers who turned out in force for the Dead’s stadium shows that summer. Dylan concerts traditionally drew an older audience, and the combination of Dylan and the Dead on the same bill seemed to attract many people who might not go see either group alone, plus fans who had long since stopped going to rock shows regularly but were intrigued by the pairing or seduced by the hype. No doubt some showed up expecting to see a re-creation of a ’60s concert, with the Dead and Dylan faithfully parading through their “hits.” What they got was something considerably different.

Depending on the depth of their knowledge of the Grateful Dead, these fans probably heard enough songs they recognized to keep them happy. There were always several familiar early-’70s touchstones like “Truckin’,” “Playing in the Band” and “Uncle John’s Band” sprinkled in the Dead’s sets. The Dead also made an effort to play more uptempo material than usual—ballads and slow shuffles were few and far between—and because they were also playing a full ninety-minute set with Dylan, their own sets tended to be more concise and accessible, for better or worse. At the first two Dead-Dylan shows, the Dead broke with tradition and played only one long set alone, much to the consternation of many Deadheads. By the time the tour reached Giants Stadium, however, the Dead were back to playing two sets by themselves—the New York crowd probably wouldn’t have let them get away with doing only one!

The sets with the Dead backing Dylan varied tremendously in quality from song to song. The long stretch of time between the rehearsals in California and the first show had at least one negative consequence: “We rehearsed up to eighty songs, and we couldn’t even remember the songs we’d rehearsed,” Weir said with a laugh shortly after the tour. Garcia added, “When we went on the road we didn’t have the slightest idea of what we were going to do!” In the end, the Dead and Dylan eschewed all the interesting and odd cover tunes they’d worked up in practice and instead played only Dylan songs, albeit an impressively large selection of popular and obscure ones. Besides tackling acknowledged classics like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Maggie’s Farm,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “All Along the Watchtower” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” the group also played lesser-known numbers like “John Brown,” “Man of Peace,” “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” “Dead Man, Dead Man,” “Joey” and “The Wicked Messenger,” to name just a few.

From their first moments onstage with Dylan at Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, on July Fourth, the Dead had their work cut out for them trying to keep up with Dylan’s unusual phrasing and oddly atonal mumbling. Though the Dead had to work hard to keep the music together, they appeared to have a great time backing Dylan. The Dylan portion of the show always saw a slow but steady trickle toward the exits by people who were either burned out from the Dead’s sets or didn’t like Dylan, but those who stuck around were generally very attentive and willing to follow the musicians down every road they chose. And though Dylan was the ostensible “star” of this segment of the concert, Garcia’s solos consistently drew the loudest cheers, and the biggest ovation usually came at the point in the show when Garcia sat down behind a pedal steel guitar (which he hadn’t played in public since the early ’70s) to pick a tune like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” or “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” Most Deadheads had never seen Garcia play steel onstage before.

For his part, Dylan almost never acknowledged the Dead’s existence onstage with him and seemed to be off in his own world, which only occasionally intersected with the Dead’s. Still, when the partnership really clicked—such as on the Dead’s striking arrangements of “All Along the Watchtower,” “Slow Train Coming,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile” and a few others—the results were spellbinding and showed how truly magical the collaboration could have been if they’d rehearsed more, played more shows or if Dylan had made a greater effort to listen to what the Dead were playing behind him moment to moment. Even so, most fans went away satisfied. It helped that at five of the six Dylan-Dead shows the encore found Dylan joining the Dead for exuberant renditions of “Touch of Grey,” which was followed at four of the concerts by either “Watchtower” or “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Meanwhile, in the culture at large the Dead were suddenly big news. There were innumerable articles in the press about the neo-hippie movement the Dead supposedly presided over, and much to the Dead’s own surprise, most of what was being written about them was favorable. “We’re sort of like the town whore who’s finally become an institution,” Garcia joked. “We’re finally becoming respectable. I also notice there’s turnover in the press. There’s a whole bunch of different journalists than there were even ten years ago. There are probably a lot more of them who’ve grown up with the Grateful Dead as part of their—if not foreground cultural material, at least certainly something they’ve all heard of.”

In another interview he noted, “Back in the ’70s, we had the same phenomenon of all these young kids [coming to shows]. But now those are the people who are in medical school and law school; they are college people and professionals. They still come to the shows. So now there are Deadheads everywhere. They’ve kind of infiltrated all of American society—everybody knows one: ‘I’ve got a cousin who loves you guys!’”

Predictably, there was also some ’60s-bashing in the press, with some writers criticizing the Dead for being merchants of nostalgia, and dismissing the group’s young fans as would-be hippies caught in a time warp. But Robert Hunter wondered, “Can you have nostalgia for a time you didn’t live in? I think some of our music is appealing to some sort of idealism in people, and hopefully it’s universal enough to make those songs continue to exist over the years.”

On the same subject, John Barlow said, “I find it sort of curious that there’s a pejorative attachment to the fact that there are people who refuse to let go of a certain time and place—especially when the values that that time and place represented were the best we’ve seen in our lifetime. These are soulless times now, and I don’t see anything wrong with people who want to fix themselves on times that were a lot more enriching.”

No doubt about it, the summer of 1987 was the Dead’s Big Moment in America. When they had been popular in the early ’70s they were still largely an underground phenomenon, supported by an unusually large counterculture. In 1987 the Dead brushed up against the mainstream in a way they never had before. They were practically inescapable that summer, between the radio and TV popularity of “Touch of Grey” and the tremendous media coverage of the Dead-Dylan tour. “Touch of Grey” became the Dead’s best-selling single ever, eventually making it up to number 9 on the Billboard singles chart. It even hit number 15 on the Adult Contemporary chart. In the Dark made it as high as number 6 on the Top 200 album chart and became the first Grateful Dead album to sell more than a million copies in the year it was released. The So Far video, too, was hugely popular, staying on top of music video sales charts for fifteen weeks (and later winning the American Film Institute’s Best Music Video award). The Dead also made the cover of Rolling Stone for the first time since the early ’70s. Mikal Gilmore’s story was the first to talk candidly about Garcia’s drug problems through the years.

“Nineteen eighty-seven was like one straight peak experience,” says Len Dell’Amico. “I worked every day, morning till night, in 1987, trying to help further this thing that was happening with the hit album, the tour with Dylan, the long-form video, the short videos. Obviously this was their moment to go mass. And nobody ever said, ‘Well, now we’ll have to do stadiums.’ Nobody was really thinking of the consequences of that kind of mass success. Because nobody was planning it. It was just what had to happen. Nobody was foreseeing it or planning it, but you couldn’t resist it, either. Everybody was in the same boat, just working, working, working all the time, but loving it; it was a real high. And it emanated from Jerry’s rise from the ashes.”

Though Deadheads were thrilled that the band had finally achieved an unprecedented level of success, many were also understandably concerned about what long-term effects mass success might have on the already overpopulated Dead scene. As Robert Hunter observed, “Over the years, it seemed a blessing that we were able to work and be dynamic and stay down there out of public view. That sort of attention eats people, and it eats groups; anybody who reads Rolling Stone knows what happens… . Are we going to be eaten now? Who else ever had an underground swell as large as ours and had it meet with another wave of aboveground approval? Look out: This is critical mass.

“I’m excited about it, and I have misgivings. I would like the world to know about the Grateful Dead; it’s a phenomenal band. But I don’t think the Grateful Dead is going to be as free a thing as it was. That’s the devil we pay.”

While Garcia also acknowledged that mass success “presents itself as just a new level of problems,” he admitted that the group’s new popularity was “a happy surprise,” and added, “it’s gratifying to have an audience.” In several interviews he also indicated that he was pleased that the Grateful Dead provided an alternative reality for large numbers of people disenchanted with the passionless, “lame America” of the Reagan years.

“We represent some part of the modern adventure in America—like Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac—and just hit the road,” he told the British rock magazine Q. “You need an excuse to be out there, and I guess the Grateful Dead is a pretty good excuse. It also provides a lot of support; there are always a lot of Deadheads traveling around, and they represent a kind of moving community. They’ve become more sophisticated through the years, with the older Deadheads hanging in there and younger Deadheads coming in and discovering all this stuff. I guess in the ’30s, when people used to ride the rails, you’d have to learn from the old hobos how to do it, and the Deadhead traveling thing is sort of along those same lines. It’s one of the last American adventures you can have—to follow the Grateful Dead on the road somewhere.”

In between Dead tours, Garcia stayed extremely active. He, Weir and Brent sang backup vocals on a Robert Hunter-Bob Dylan song called “Silvio,” which came out on Dylan’s Down in the Groove CD in 1988. (A second Hunter lyric, “The Ugliest Girl in the World,” was also set to music by Dylan and appeared on that record.) And Garcia contributed heavily to a Robert Hunter solo effort called Liberty (recorded in 1987 but released in the spring of ’88), laying down bright, tuneful solos on nearly every song—it was the most Garcia had ever played on one of his partner’s albums. The experience obviously had some lasting impact on Garcia, too: a few years later he rearranged the playful title number and performed it with the Dead.

Sometime late in the summer of 1987, Jerry, Mountain Girl and the girls finally moved out of the house on Hepburn Heights and into more spacious digs on Reservoir Road in San Rafael. “It was apparently a famous house in San Rafael for parties,” M.G. says. “Some big-shot developer had owned it and had major, ritzy parties in there. It was pretty big—about four thousand square feet—and it had a great pool that Jerry loved. But it was definitely kind of funky, too, so the kids couldn’t ruin it. It was a wonderful house; we had a good time there. Jerry was even doing his runs on the treadmill; he was really trying to stay in shape, though it was very brief—you would have had to have been there,” she chuckles. “We had an exercise bicycle, but it was very difficult to get him to commit to anything like that, so basically I boiled it down to trying to give him good food, vitamins every day, fresh juice, lots of salads.”

M.G. says that for much of his adult life Garcia was afflicted by severe sleep apnea, a condition that would cause him to stop breathing for short periods while he slept. Being asthmatic as a child probably led to his later apnea, which was also exacerbated by his lifestyle. “He definitely had obstructed airways,” M.G. says. “He would get into these patterns of deafening snoring that made him kind of hard to live with sometimes. As he got older it got worse. And it definitely got worse if he was smoking a lot. And it was also worse if he was really tired or fucked up. He’d be snoring away and all of a sudden he’d just stop. And a minute would go by. And then he’d almost sit up and take a huge gasp; it would be a struggle to get it in, and then he’d go back to his regular breathing pattern for several minutes and then he’d do it again.

“He used to have terrible nightmares, too, which I gather is common with sleep apnea. Your brain is trying to tell you to wake up and take a breath, so it startles you awake.”

Sandy Rothman, who lived on Reservoir Road with the Garcias for a couple of months in the second half of 1987 (“basically because I was homeless living out of my car, and so Jerry said, ‘Why don’t you stay here?’”), clearly recalls Garcia’s fitful nights, too: “I’m a night owl and he isn’t, and he’d usually go to sleep long before me. My bedroom was right across the hall from theirs, and I could hear him waking up ten to fifteen times during the time I was in there reading before I fell asleep. So then sometimes his light would go on, and maybe he’d read for a bit, have a cigarette and then fall asleep again, and this could go on for hours. I felt bad for him because he wasn’t getting much sleep at night.”

Fortunately, Garcia never had much trouble napping on planes or backstage at gigs or just sitting in front of the TV, so he caught up on his sleep a little that way. The downside of that was that sometimes people suspected he was nodding off because of drugs rather than innocently napping.

Rothman says that when Garcia was off the road and at home, the two of them spent time listening to Jerry’s huge record collection, which took up an entire wall of the house. “We’d listen to old gospel vocal groups a lot; really, all sorts of stuff. He had very broad taste.” They also sat around picking acoustic instruments from time to time, which no doubt influenced Garcia’s return to playing string band music that summer and fall.

Actually, Garcia first seriously expressed interest in playing acoustic music again shortly after he arrived home from the hospital in the summer of 1986, following his illness. Rothman and David Nelson, instruments in tow, visited Garcia at Hepburn Heights and the threesome ended up picking and singing one old folk and bluegrass tune after another deep into the night, Garcia plucking a banjo and singing trios with the others. Then, on Thanksgiving night in 1986, Garcia, Nelson and Rothman played informally at the annual turkey bash of the extended Dead family. That year it was held at the American Legion’s Log Cabin, a wonderfully cozy, old-style redwood lodge in San Anselmo. The trio mostly played old-time country favorites, much to the delight of the gathered family. “One of our traditions,” Rothman recalls, “was trying to remember all the verses to ‘Little Glass of Wine,’ a Stanley Brothers number. That night was no exception—David and I were impressed by how many of them Jerry could remember.”

The following spring, the threesome, along with John Kahn on acoustic bass, played a few songs at a benefit concert at the Fillmore Auditorium to raise money for a coalition of ’60s San Francisco poster artists who were fighting against Bill Graham and Chet Helms to gain some control of the copyrights of their posters. Garcia had always felt a kinship with the artists—particularly Rick Griffin, Kelley and Mouse, and Victor Moscoso—whom he viewed as fellow travelers on the psychedelic highway. The group’s six-song miniset was very well received by the Deadheads who packed the Fillmore to see Garcia’s first appearance there since the ’60s, but the most enthusiastic person at the club that night just might have been Bill Graham, who came backstage after the group’s set and raved about how great he thought it was. David Nelson recalled Graham saying, “‘This is such a great thing. I’ve got to take this somewhere. I’ve got to put this on somewhere. But I don’t know where. I need an idea.’ Jerry went, ‘Uh, take it to Broadway, Bill.’ And we all went, ‘Yeah, right.’ It was just a joke. And Bill went, ‘Broadway!’ He left the room and the next thing I knew we were booked to do eighteen shows at the Lunt-Fontanne theater.”

Actually, the historic Broadway run took place seven months after the Fillmore gig, and during the interim the acoustic group performed only once, at a sunbaked hippie-fest on the banks of the Eel River near French’s Camp, in rural Humboldt County, three hours north of San Francisco. This concert was a benefit, too—for the Hog Farm collective, which maintained a large piece of land in nearby Laytonville—and it began a tradition of Labor Day weekend Hog Farm benefits that continues to the present day. The Jerry Garcia Band was also on the bill, so the string band, sometimes a quintet with the addition of JGB drummer David Kemper, opened the show with a nine-song set; then the JGB came out and played two sets of electric music. This would provide the model for Garcia’s Broadway shows, which were billed as “Jerry Garcia, Acoustic and Electric.” (On Broadway the JGB played only one set per show.)

It’s putting it mildly to say that Broadway and the Lunt-Fontanne had never seen anything quite like the scene that surrounded Garcia’s eighteen-concert run, which stretched from October 15 through Halloween night 1987 and included five days where the groups played both a matinee and an evening show. The Lunt-Fontanne is one of the city’s most historic legitimate theaters—in seventy-seven years it had hosted everything from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 to The Sound of Music and Richard Burton in Hamlet. For Garcia on Broadway, Bill Graham’s troops hung Grateful Dead flags on the outside of the theater and decorated the lobby. Tickets, at thirty dollars apiece (expensive by Dead standards, but cheap for Broadway), sold out in just a few hours, breaking the theater’s single-day box office record. This, naturally, guaranteed that swarms of Deadheads looking for tickets would congregate outside the theater every night—quite a sight for straight theatergoers on their way to nearby productions such as Cats, 42nd Street and Les Misérables. The series had its own Playbill program, featuring a photograph (by Herb Greene) of a smiling Garcia dressed in a magician’s cape and conjuring his electric guitar out a black top hat, cartoon lightning bolts zapping out of his outstretched fingers. Generally speaking, Deadheads were very respectful of the lovely theater, though a few people smoked pot discreetly in their seats, and there was lots of sitting around on the floor of the lobby before the show and between sets—a time-honored Deadhead tradition.

The acoustic band, which was augmented by the fine New York bluegrass fiddler Kenny Kosek, a friend of Sandy Rothman’s, opened the evening with an easygoing forty-five- to fifty-minute set of old-timey, folk and bluegrass tunes. Garcia played lead guitar; Nelson, rhythm guitar; Rothman, dobro, mandolin and banjo; Kosek, the only Broadway veteran in the bunch, having played in the house band for the hit musical Big River, played fiddle; John Kahn played his big string bass; and David Kemper sometimes came onstage to keep time on a snare drum. Garcia sang lead on all but a couple that were handled by David Nelson, and the three-part harmonies by Garcia, Nelson and Rothman were consistently soulful and often more on-pitch than Grateful Dead harmonies. The acoustic repertoire consisted of thirty songs (ten of which were performed each night), covering a tremendous variety of folk styles, from ageless mountain tunes to bluegrass to blues. Among the American greats the band drew from were the Blue Sky Boys (“I’m Troubled,” “Short Life of Trouble”), the Stanley Brothers (“If I Lose”), Flatt and Scruggs (“Gone Home”), Mississippi John Hurt (“The Ballad of Casey Jones,” “Spike Driver Blues”), Big Bill Broonzy (“Trouble in Mind”), Jimmie Rodgers (“Blue Yodel #9”), Elizabeth Cotten (“Oh, Babe, It Ain’t No Lie”), the Monroe Brothers (“Drifting Too Far from the Shore”), Webb Pierce (“I Ain’t Never”), Leadbelly (“Goodnight Irene”) and Riley Puckett (“I’m Ragged but I’m Right,” which sort of became the group’s unofficial theme song). The group also played “Ripple” at three shows—to no one’s surprise, that tune fit in neatly with the classics from earlier eras.

Garcia appeared to relish his time onstage with the acoustic band, perhaps because it tapped so deeply into his own pre-Grateful Dead roots. He happily shared the solo spotlight with the other players—Kosek’s fiddle playing and Rothman’s instrumental work were especially impressive—and he seemed completely comfortable onstage in this group setting, which was not usually the case when he and John Kahn played acoustic shows together.

The electric sets by the Jerry Garcia Band on Broadway drew from completely different musical traditions than the acoustic sets. There were no new additions to the repertoire, but the selection of songs was already broad and deep, encompassing reggae (“The Harder They Come,” “Stop That Train”), funky R&B (“Think,” “Get Out of My Life, Woman”), Dylan tunes (“Forever Young,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” “I Shall Be Released”), gospel-flavored R&B (“My Sisters and Brothers,” “Lucky Old Sun”), a dash of Chuck Berry (“Let It Rock”), the Beatles (“Dear Prudence”) and Los Lobos (“Evangeline”), and a healthy dose of Hunter-Garcia songs (“Run for the Roses,” “Gomorrah,” “Deal,” “Mission in the Rain,” “They Love Each Other”). By the end of each performance, Deadheads had usually heard songs from every decade of this century, all filtered through Garcia’s guitar playing, singing and the strong ensemble work of his mates. It was no less a Broadway revue than Ain’t Misbehavin’ (which featured the music of Fats Waller) or Side by Side by Sondheim; just a little looser and less predictable from night to night, since the repertoire constantly changed.

All in all, it was quite a heady couple of weeks for Garcia and his bandmates—“definitely one of the coolest things we ever did,” John Kahn enthused. “I thought it would be tiring and that maybe it would be tough switching back and forth between electric and acoustic, but everyone was so relaxed, and the crowds were so great. It was the most fun I ever had playing in New York, that’s for sure, and I think Jerry had a lot of fun, too. I know he and Steve [Parish] would wander around and do stuff, and for whatever reason—maybe people were giving him his space—the New Yorkers weren’t in his face as much as usual.”

* * *

On December 20, 1987, Garcia became a father for the fourth time when Manasha gave birth to a girl, Keelin Noel Garcia, at her house in San Anselmo. By all accounts, Jerry was thrilled to be a dad again, and he pledged that he would be more involved with the child than he had been with his other three girls.

The year ended on another high note, with four Dead shows at the Oakland Coliseum, the last of which—New Year’s Eve—was broadcast nationally on radio and televised on pay-per-view. Once again the Dead got into the spirit of the event by allowing themselves to be mocked and humiliated in a series of skits written mostly by Tom Davis. Garcia appeared as Santa Claus at one point, and wearing a chef’s hat in a Cooking with Jerry segment in which he shared his recipe for pigs in a blanket. Not exactly Oscar-worthy, but at least he was game.

The Dead played much better this New Year’s Eve than they had for their televised concert in 1985, and the difference in Garcia was like night and day. The show ended in the wee hours of the morning, January 1, 1988, when members of the Neville Brothers—one of the opening groups—joined the Dead onstage for a short third set that mixed New Orleans and Caribbean flavors (“Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” “Iko Iko,” “Day-O”) with old-time rock ’n’ roll (Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance?”) and a sobering and reflective final choice that somehow managed to bring the entire miraculous year into focus: Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which Garcia sang straight from the heart.

Come wipe these tears from my eyes

I won’t shed them anymore

The sun is setting in Western skies

And I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

Just like so many times before …