A Broken Angel Sings from a Guitar - Garcia: An American Life (2000)

Garcia: An American Life (2000)


A Broken Angel Sings from a Guitar

he hopeful mood in the Dead scene spilled over to the band’s first two concert series of 1993 at the Oakland Coliseum. At the Chinese New Year shows at the end of January, Carlos Santana sat in with the band one night. And during the final night of the February Mardi Gras series, Ornette Coleman, whose band opened the Fat Tuesday concert, played screeching, mind-bending sax on “space” and “The Other One,” then added tasteful lines to “Stella Blue,” “Lovelight” and “Brokedown Palace.” Earlier, Garcia had played on the final number of Ornette’s set. The real news from the February shows, though, was the introduction of several new songs, including three by Hunter and Garcia.

“Lazy River Road” was one of the warmest love songs the pair ever wrote, a nifty fingerpicking tune that sounded like a cross between an Elizabeth Cotten or Mississippi John Hurt folk blues and an early pop-jazz tune such as “Russian Lullaby.” No doubt it was influenced musically by Garcia’s acoustic guitar outings with David Grisman during this period; it was certainly of that genre. It was the only song from the Hunter-Garcia Hawaii writing sessions to be completed, and anyone who was aware of the relationship between Garcia and Barbara Meier couldn’t help but be struck by the sentiment of the lyric:

Thread the needle right through the eye

The thread that runs so true

All the others I let pass by

I only wanted you

Never cared much for careless love

But how your bright eyes glowed

Way down, down along

Lazy River Road

The second new Hunter-Garcia song was a musical rewrite of an existing Hunter lyric—“Liberty” had been the title track of Hunter’s 1988 solo album, which Garcia played on. Garcia junked Hunter’s “Scarlet Begonias”- like melody and reset the words in an arrangement reminiscent of the Dead’s version of “Samson and Delilah.” The lyrics were like an anthem for libertine misfits; perfect for Garcia, who loved to think of himself as an incorrigible and untamable noncomformist rebel, which he certainly was to a degree.

Say what I mean and I don’t give a damn

I do believe and I am who I am

Hey now, mama, come and take my hand

Whole lot of shakin’ all over this land

If I was an eagle, I’d dress like duck

Crawl like a lizard and honk like a truck

If I get a notion I’ll climb this tree

Or chop it down and you can’t stop me

Then Vince and Bob would join in for the sing-along chorus:

Ooo freedom, Ooo liberty

Oh, leave me alone

To find my own way home

To find my own way home

Whereas the mood of both of those songs was light and uplifting, the haunting ballad “Days Between” had a reflective, almost melancholy tone. This turned out to be the last song Hunter and Garcia wrote together, and it was one of their most powerful efforts. “I wrote a verse while Jerry was working out something on piano,” Hunter recalled of the song’s genesis. “I gave it to him, he said he liked the rhyme scheme and idea, and began working out the melody. As he was doing that I wrote the rest of the verses. An hour’s work.”

Enigmatic and highly evocative, “Days Between” is painted in an emotional chiaroscuro, at once fond and foreboding, filled with promise and dread. In one verse, “Summer flies and August dies / The world grows dark and mean.” But in another “a hopeful candle flickers / in the land of lullabies.” One part of the final verse has “Hearts of summer held in trust / still tender young and green,” then immediately offsets that with “left on shelves collecting dust / not knowing what they mean.”

“‘Days Between’ joined the Grateful Dead oeuvre right at the time—1993—when old-time Deadheads were asking themselves if Garcia and Hunter were still capable of creating art that had a primordial, frightening intensity: the beauty at the edge of terror that Rilke described,” comments Steve Silberman. “As the other songs written roughly in the same period seemed to mine well-worn images and attitudes—almost reveling in their seasoned facility to create an archetypal mood, like ‘Lazy River Road’—‘Days Between’ slipped between your clothes and your skin like a chill wind out of a grave. I think it’s the most uncompromisingly adult lyric Hunter ever wrote.

“The verses present a panorama or mandala of existence in which each thing is in its place, but no place is completely safe. It’s a world where both the sighs of young passion in springtime and the lonely horseman, leaving only his torn song in the world as he vanishes—as the singer himself was about to vanish—coexist and inform each other, together creating a universe of joy and horror side by side. ‘Days Between’ was the final battlefield where the Dead dared to face the elementary questions of existence, and refused to flinch. It has the same fated, tragic majesty that bears witness to the life force in all truly great art.”

Hunter offered this tantalizing glimpse of what inspired the song in a “letter” to Garcia, written on the first anniversary of the guitarist’s death and posted on the Internet:

“Obviously, faith in the underlying vision which spawned the Grateful Dead might be hard to muster for those who weren’t part of the all-night rap sessions circa 1960-61—sessions that picked up the next morning at Kepler’s Bookstore, then headed over to the Stanford Cellar or St. Mike’s to continue over coffee and guitars. There were no hippies in those days and the Beats had bellied up. There was only us versus ’50s consciousness. There were no jobs to be had if we wanted them. Just folk music and tremendous dreams. Yeah, we dreamed our way here. I trust it. So did you. Not so long ago we wrote a song about all that, and you sang it like a prayer. ‘The Days Between.’ Last song we ever wrote.”

There were days

There were days

And there were days I know

When all we ever wanted

Was to learn and love and grow

Once we grew into our shoes

We told them where to go

Walked halfway ’round the world

On promise of the glow

Stood upon the mountaintop

Walked barefoot in the snow

Gave the best we had to give

How much we’ll never know

Never know

The song did not have a conventional pop structure. There was no chorus, no bridge; just four long verses that started with spare and simple accompaniment and then built in intensity as the instruments played increasingly grand ornamental fills. Vince Welnick described it nicely: “It would go from this poignant but intense space to this big, majestic thing that would just pour out. That song and ‘So Many Roads’ really meant a lot to Jerry; you could tell.” In its early versions, the song had no solo break between the verses, but it had a moody and unusual open-ended instrumental coda that wasn’t tied to the melody of the song, but rather spilled off in other more musically abstract directions.

Garcia’s relationship with Barbara Meier, so filled with hope and promise in early 1993, fell apart during the beginning of the Dead’s spring tour that year. Barbara had observed that Jerry had periodically gone through moods when he seemed dark and distant, and at the Dead’s first tour stop in Chicago he seemed “cold and withdrawn,” she said. According to her account of the breakup, Barbara learned that Jerry was using heroin again and confronted him about it, stressing that she would stick with him through thick and thin. But Garcia reacted angrily, and out of the blue asked her to leave. Before the tour, at the urging of a hypnotherapist who was trying to help him quit smoking, Jerry had admitted to Barbara that he was having “thoughts” about his old flame from the ’70s, Deborah Koons, whom he had encountered outside a health food store in Mill Valley a few weeks earlier and secretly contacted afterward. At that time he had insisted he wanted to be with Barbara, but now, out on the road, he acknowledged that he was in love with Deborah. “I cannot tell you how weird, brutal and shocking it was to hear all this,” Barbara says. Nevertheless, she and Jerry spent the next day and night together, and they parted sadly but without rancor. After that, Barbara never saw him again.

She left hurt, confused and disappointed that heroin exerted such a strong pull on him and transformed him from an open, loving person to a brooding, emotionally closed loner. Did Barbara understand what Garcia got out of heroin? “Absolutely—oblivion,” she says. “He had let things slide so terribly for so long that to do the kind of fine-tooth combing one needs to do to set things straight—make amends, tie up loose ends, complete things, have closure, just tidy up your psychic emotional life—was too daunting for him.”

She was disillusioned to learn that the Dead’s touring retinue seemed to accept Garcia’s addiction as a fact of life. “I can remember raving to Steve Parish that I couldn’t believe how enabling and co-dependent the whole scene was with Jerry,” she says. “And Steve said, ‘Listen, man, you know we’re just going, and we gotta go forward. This is moving down the road and we’ve gotta move it down the road, okay? And we’re gonna just do it the way we gotta do it.’ It just felt like there was this machine—the gears were in gear—and there was no way to stop it.”

In fairness to Parish, it should be noted that Barbara was probably unaware of how many times over the years he and everyone else on the road crew had tried to help Garcia take steps to conquer his addiction. There was no lack of compassion there; more a resignation born of futility. As Bob Bralove put it, “I think the reality is, there is only so much you can do. If you respect all these freedoms, you can state your concern. But you can’t lock somebody up because they’re doing something bad to themself. You can’t make somebody stop those bad behaviors. You can take them aside and tell them you’re concerned, but beyond that, what can you do? I know some of that went on with Jerry. Should it have gone on more? I don’t know. How many interventions are you doing to do? If you’ve put yourself out several times over thirty years and you get slapped down each time, and it doesn’t seem to do anything, and then you stop doing it, is that noninterventionist?”

By the end of the spring tour Jerry had brought Deborah out on the road to be with him, and their relationship continued to deepen back in Marin County after the tour was over. The news that Garcia had broken up with Barbara and was back with Deborah spread quickly through the Dead organization and was, frankly, greeted with disapproval and disappointment in some quarters. There were a number of people in the organization who simply never liked Deborah—some even referred to her as Black Deborah because of her penchant for wearing black and what they perceived as a malevolent streak in her. Others who did not know her at all in the ’70s had heard negative stories—some perhaps true, some undoubtedly groundless—that had become part of the Grateful Dead oral mythology. This was always an extremely gossipy scene in which people who fell out of favor for whatever reason were branded as pariahs and privately scorned. Deborah, who had spent much of her time since the late ’70s establishing her own documentary film company, Signs of Life Films, reentered the Dead world with two strikes against her in many people’s minds: She was viewed as the woman who had broken up Jerry and M.G.’s supposedly idyllic (but actually very complex and troubled) relationship in the early ’70s—a gross oversimplification at best—and now Deborah had come between Garcia and the widely liked Barbara Meier, the golden girl who was going to once and for all bring Jerry the personal happiness he’d been seeking his whole life. But the fact is that heroin was starting to come between the two of them before Deborah did, and on some level Jerry resented the idea that he would have to “change” for anyone.

Deborah had her share of supporters, too, mostly among people who had known her in the ’70s. “I think it was as much destiny as anything else that brought them back together,” says Richard Loren, “and you know what—I don’t think the circle was complete with them when they broke up. Sometimes in your life something gets interrupted and it’s left a semicircle, and I think with them it was a case where it wasn’t finished.”

Emily Craig, who maintained a close relationship with Deborah through the years, says, “I think that in the ’70s and again in the ’90s Deborah had a lot to do with with Jerry getting in touch with his authentic self. I know she was a good influence on him. Because he was so happy with her he didn’t need everybody else as much, and that made her a threat in some people’s eyes.”

“Deborah is a really special person,” comments Thayer Craw, who had been in or on the periphery of the Dead family since 1969. “I’ve never seen Jerry happier than he was with Deborah, either go-around. I’m not really clear what happened the first time when she was no longer around. It was too bad because they seemed to have something really special then. In my opinion she couldn’t have been a better match for him; they really set each other off well. You could tell he was head over heels in love with her.”

Despite the turmoil in his personal life, Garcia played well on the spring tour. His new songs garnered mainly favorable reviews from Deadheads, particularly “Days Between,” which had such a different feel from Garcia’s other heavy second-set ballads; it truly felt new. On that tour Garcia introduced two new cover songs, which he slotted as encores. The Beatles’ 1967 psychedelic classic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” immediately became a sing-along favorite among Deadheads. But the Bobby Fuller Four’s oft-covered “I Fought the Law” was derided by some fans for its brevity. It contained no solo and usually clocked in at under three minutes, making it the shortest song in the Dead’s live repertoire.

An offstage highlight of the spring tour for Garcia was his visit to the White House during the Dead’s series at the Capitol Centre. Garcia, M.G., Phil and Jill Lesh, Mickey and his wife, Caryl, and a few others were even escorted into the Oval Office (alas, the president was elsewhere). Then they had a private meeting with Vice President Gore, followed by more than an hour chatting with the veep’s wife, Tipper. “They were both really, really nice,” M.G. reports. That members of the Grateful Dead—the acid band, fathers of the counterculture—would be invited to the White House with nary a ripple of protest after the fact showed how much respect the band commanded by the mid-’90s. Jack Ford, the son of President Gerald Ford, had been a Dead fan, but it was unimaginable in the late ’70s that the group would be allowed anywhere near the White House. Garcia liked Gore because the vice president was a strong environmentalist, but in keeping with Jerry’s lifelong distrust of government and those who seek power, he didn’t vote in the 1992 election. The Dead were approached about playing at one of the Clinton-Gore inaugural balls in January ’93, but the band politely declined. Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman did play at an event called the Reunion on the Mall, and Garcia noted with a laugh, “If Clinton doesn’t fuck up too bad in the next four years, maybe we can go back and play his second inauguration!”

Two weeks after the end of spring tour, Garcia took part in another uniquely American ritual. He, Weir and Welnick sang an a cappella version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Candlestick Park in San Francisco to celebrate the opening of the San Francisco Giants’ 1993 baseball season. It’s difficult to estimate how many Deadheads attended the game mostly to see Jerry, Bob and Vince, but the singers received a loud and long ovation for their efforts. Though Garcia was understandably a little nervous before he went out to sing, he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the Opening Day spectacle, and he was thrilled to meet the man who served as their “opening act” at the stadium—Tony Bennett, who crooned “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to the adoring throng. The sight of members of the Grateful Dead singing the national anthem was incongruous enough that the event received coverage from media all over the country.

In July 1993 Jerry, Deborah and a couple of friends vacationed in Ireland, which Jerry had been keen on visiting for many years, as he had strong roots there on his mother’s side. By all accounts he fell in love with the land and its people, and it was refreshing for him to be able to travel unmolested—very few people recognized him, and the few who did didn’t bother him. Garcia relished these moments when he could be like everyone else; they brought home just how weird his day-to-day life was under the microscope in America. To her credit, Deborah always tried to get Jerry away from the pressures and celebrity of his Grateful Dead life. Whenever he did make the time for real rest and relaxation, whether it was in Hawaii or on other travels, he thrived, but finding those windows of opportunity for vacations was difficult because he allowed himself to be pulled in so many different directions by his myriad musical loyalties.

By the summer of 1993 the Dead had more than enough unrecorded original songs to fill a CD, but the group didn’t seem to be in any rush to make an album, even though it had been nearly four years since Built to Last had come out. Garcia’s excuse was that he wanted to have even more material for the group to choose from. “I’d like to spit out another five or six tunes this year, and hopefully it’ll happen,” he said in the summer of ’93. “Really, it’s pretty easy: all Hunter and I have to do is get together. I find it hard to write without being in his presence, but when we’re together, it starts snapping. But it’s also the hardest thing to do, because writing music is probably my least favorite thing in the world. I mean, I’d rather throw cards in a hat. Anything is more interesting than the idea of writing.” (This was a theme Garcia returned to often in his later interviews: “Writing is one of those things … I’d rather fill in all the ‘O’s in the phone book,” he said with a laugh to one writer. He told another he’d rather feed the cat than work on a new song; quite a change from the Garcia who could barely keep up with the new songs that spilled out of him in the early and mid-’70s.)

With the Dead album still on the back burner, Garcia continued to record sporadically with David Grisman at the mandolinist’s casual home studio. Initially it appeared that the follow-up to their successful first album might be another eclectic mélange, but then Grisman zeroed in on a completely different approach: “Me and David are working on a children’s album right now,” Garcia said that summer. “It’s something I never would have thought to do.”

The material they ultimately chose for the CD Not for Kids Only was a far cry from what was on most of the kid-oriented albums coming out at that time. Many of the tunes were old folk songs that had been rediscovered and recorded by the New Lost City Ramblers in the late ’50s and early ’60s; others, such as Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train” and the folk standard “Shenandoah,” were well-worn numbers plucked from the folk music ether. There was a splendid version of “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” and the infinitely weird “A Horse Named Bill.” On the duo’s first album, Garcia had handled nearly all the vocals, but on Not for Kids Only Grisman harmonized with Garcia on most tracks. And on a few—such as “Jenny Jenkins,” “There Ain’t No Bugs on Me,” “Hot Corn, Cold Corn”—the two dexterously engaged in some nifty wordplay that practically begged to be sung along to.

In interviews promoting the album, Garcia said he thought it was important to make a children’s album with some edge to it. He believed too many kids’ records and videos had been “made to be as inoffensive as they could possibly be… . Kids like weird shit in there. They like crazy stuff lurking around, things with teeth, crazy people. They’re realistic. They know the world is full of weird stuff and kids sort of prefer weird stuff; they rejoice in it. It’s no big thing, but it’s nice to be able to throw some music back in there that’s originally from that world; bring some of the weirdness back, take a chance a little. I mean, it’s sort of trusting the kids, that they can handle something more than terminal niceness,” he added, laughing.

After Garcia and Grisman had recorded enough tunes for the album, Jerry went on the road with the Dead for a couple of tours, so Grisman finished up the record without him, bringing in all sorts of other players to complete the arrangements. Their version of “Teddy Bears’ Picnic,” for instance, was fleshed out with another guitar, bass and a Dixieland-style trumpet-trombone-clarinet trio. A few songs featured sawing fiddles; others had twanging jew’s harps. The lovely, intentionally soporific “Shenandoah Lullaby” (got to get those kiddies to sleep) was augmented by piano, oboe and a small string section that included Garcia’s daughter Heather. And Grisman added all sorts of sound effects that perked up this music for wee ones—buzzing flies and mosquitoes, birds, even the chugging locomotive for “Freight Train” (courtesy of Joe Craven’s percussion and mouth).

It was all a very low-key affair that was meant mainly for a young audience and their parents; it certainly wasn’t designed to show off Garcia’s and Grisman’s instrumental prowess. When it was released in September 1993, it received overwhelmingly favorable reviews—including ones in such unlikely sources as Parenting and Family Life magazines—and it sold very well. It’s also worth noting that the cover illustration by Garcia, which depicts him and Grisman picking and singing for an audience of eight distracted rug rats, is Jerry’s only published self-portrait. A limited edition of five hundred lithographs of the cover illustration was sold through the album to raise money for the Carousel Fund and the Nordhoff Robbins Music Therapy Clinic.

It was an up-and-down summer and fall for the Grateful Dead. On the plus side, crowds on the summer tour were large but well-behaved. At first, many Deadheads wondered if having Sting, the jazzy popster with new wave roots, as the opener for the stadium shows would be an odd match, but it proved to be a good fit. As always, Sting had a great, tight band that could also jam, and he mixed up his set lists from show to show so the touring Deadheads wouldn’t be bored with the same set all the time. Garcia, who dubbed Sting “an A-list guy,” jammed with Sting’s group at a few stops on the tour, and sounded surprisingly at home on Sting tunes like “Tea in the Sahara,” “Walking on the Moon” and “Consider Me Gone.”

Bruce Hornsby brought his accordion down to the Dead’s two dates at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and Garcia obviously enjoyed having his old mate beside him again. At Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon, Huey Lewis blew harp on a few tunes one day, raising the energy level of the set a couple of notches. On the September East Coast tour, Edie Brickell turned up onstage at Madison Square Garden one night during “space” for some some vocal improv noodling. And at the last Garden show, the progressive young jazz sax player David Murray added some wonderfully inventive squeaks, squalls and bleats to “Bird Song,” “Estimated Prophet,” “Dark Star,” “Wharf Rat” and a few other tunes. (Later that autumn Murray also played an entire show at the Garden with the Garcia Band.)

But there were also stretches of Grateful Dead music in the fall that sounded listless and uninspired, and in the crowd there was considerable antipathy for some of the band’s new material, particularly Phil’s “Wave to the Wind,” Vince’s “Way to Go Home” (which was the most-played Dead song that year) and Weir’s cumbersome “Easy Answers.” Garcia’s singing and playing was fitfully uneven. He had been historically guilty of lyric lapses, but these increased on the fall tour to the point where he rarely made it through a song without a flub. Instrumental errors by him became more common as well, leading many in the crowd to suspect that he had fallen back into some of his bad habits. Reports of Garcia’s sloppy performances also followed him on the JGB’s three-week tour of East Coast arenas that November.

Nevertheless, friends said he seemed to be happy at year’s end. The Dead’s shows in Los Angeles and San Diego in early December had many good moments, with Deadheads especially buzzing about appearances by Ornette Coleman and Branford Marsalis on consecutive nights at the L.A. Sports Arena.

The end of 1993 might have been an ideal time for the Dead to take the break from performing they’d talked about a year earlier, but it was impossible to slow down the momentum of the organization. Arenas and stadiums had to be reserved nearly a year in advance, and anyway there didn’t seem to be much support within the Dead to take a break. Garcia was notorious for being out of touch with his own health needs, and he also now had a new set of financial realities that no doubt played into his own desire to keep working. He was paying nearly $21,000 a month to M.G. as part of their divorce settlement; he’d agreed to give $3,000 a month to Barbara Meier for three years; plus he was responsible for child support for Keelin and a huge mortgage for Manasha and Keelin’s new house in northern San Rafael.

In January 1994 the Grateful Dead were inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. This was actually their second year of eligibility for the honor, which is bestowed annually by a panel of rock critics and music biz veterans, but incredibly enough, they were beaten out the first time by the likes of the short-lived (but highly influential) band Cream, Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Dead had long been ignored by the country’s hip critics, who believed the group was a quaint and irrelevant anachronism playing for an army of drugged-out zombies, so the slight was not surprising; just myopic. All of the bandmembers except Garcia attended the black-tie induction ceremony at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel ballroom. At an accompanying press conference, Garcia was represented by a life-sized cardboard-cutout photograph. The media were told that Garcia didn’t attend because he had a cold. He may well have been under the weather, but it was also common knowledge in the Dead scene weeks before the awards that Garcia was planning to skip the event. Generally speaking, Garcia disliked awards and was embarrassed by such public recognition.

Healthy or not, this was a good period for Garcia’s relationship with Deborah Koons. They went diving in Hawaii and Deborah occasionally accompanied Jerry on tour (though he always insisted on having his own room to retreat to). Sometimes when she would be on the side of the stage during Dead shows, Jerry would play to her and smile, and more than a few Deadheads observed them cuddling and smooching behind the band’s equipment between sets. They undoubtedly had chemistry.

Even so, many people in the Dead family were surprised when Jerry and Deborah decided to get married on Valentine’s Day in 1994. The twice-married Garcia had told each of his two previous girlfriends—Manasha and Barbara—that he wanted to marry them, so he was definitely the marrying kind, so to speak. But Jerry and Deborah had only been a couple for a year at that point, and he wasn’t in very good health in early 1994. Some members of the crew and in the Dead office expressed considerable concern about him, and the Deadhead rumor mill was filled with supposedly reliable reports that Garcia’s opiate use was on the rise. (For her part, Deborah claimed to have no knowledge of Garcia’s drug use until much later.)

The site of the wedding was kept secret until the morning of the event. Then, the invited elite—about seventy family, bandmates, crew and office folks, and a few of Deborah’s friends from Ohio and the East Coast—called a number and were instructed to convene at Christ Episcopal Church in Sausalito, a cozy, beautiful, brown-shingle redwood church high in the hills above San Francisco Bay. The Reverend Matthew Fox, a former Catholic priest who had become well-known in New Age circles, presided over the ceremony. David Grisman and his guitarist bandmate Enrique Coria played “Ave Maria,” and JGB singer Gloria Jones sang Stevie Wonder’s “You and I” for the couple.

Garcia wore a dark suit but no tie; Deborah was dressed in a traditional, flowing wedding gown. A friend of Deborah’s named Jamie O’Meara told the Cincinnati Post that Jerry “took one look at [Deborah] walking down the aisle and he couldn’t keep his hands off her all during the ceremony. It was cute.”

For the reception at the casually tony Corinthian Yacht Club in upscale Tiburon, “We popped in our limos they had rented for everyone, and had a dinner of ten vegetarian dishes,” O’Meara said. “I’d never seen so much champagne in my life. There was no wild partying. Deborah rarely touches alcohol and I didn’t see [Jerry] drinking.” Jerry, Deborah and the other happy revelers danced the night away to an Irish band, and the festivities went on until about 11 P.M.

“It was a thrill to see them so happy and dancing at the wedding,” Thayer Craw says. “They were doing all the traditional stuff; it could have been any couple in the world. Jerry was way into it—you could tell it wasn’t just Deborah putting on the kind of wedding she wanted. He was a full participant. It couldn’t have been sweeter.”

There was no time for an extended honeymoon—Grateful Dead shows at the Oakland Coliseum the last week of February had been booked for some time; then, as always, the Dead’s schedule was paramount. After the wedding, Jerry and Deborah continued to maintain separate residences, she in Mill Valley, he on Red Hill Circle in Tiburon. A few months later Garcia moved to more spacious digs just up the hill from Red Hill Circle, on Audrey Court. This rented contemporary house had an even more spectacular view of Richardson Bay, San Francisco Bay, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tamalpais. The mother of actor Paul Newman was one of his neighbors in the decidedly upscale but unpretentious neighborhood.

When he was home alone, Jerry’s house was like a multisensory playground for him. “The TVs were on in his house almost all the time,” says Vince DiBiase, his personal assistant and art liaison during this period. “At Audrey Court he had a TV in his living room, his bedroom, his exercise room, in the den and in the little bedroom—five televisions, and a lot of times all five of them would be going and on different channels. He had two satellite dishes. I think he had every English-speaking channel in the world.” Vince says that Jerry was particularly fond of watching movies from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

“He was more in ‘the now’ than anyone I’ve ever met in my life,” Vince notes. “He was always creating. He couldn’t turn it off. He always had half a dozen sketch pads around, a number of books he was reading—a couple of mystery thrillers, the Oxford English Dictionary, health books, esoteric books, music books—as well as magazines and newspapers. He’d have his main computer on in one room and he’d be working on something in there. He’d have his laptop on his bed and he’d be working on something else in there. He had a couple of guitars and a banjo lying next to the bed he might pick up. He had a synthesizer in another room with other guitars, plus another dozen guitars lying around.”

“He would take catnaps throughout the day and night,” adds Gloria DiBiase, who took care of the household. “He snored like a bear, and if he stopped breathing [from the sleep apnea] I would wake him up.”

“In my opinion he was overworked,” Vince says. “Too much traveling, too many tours. And the art business was picking up, with more demands for Jerry to show up for openings and do art interviews. Then, when he was home, everybody wanted him for something—play on their album, do this, do that. People were always groping at him to work on their projects and he couldn’t say no. Some of them were musicians he’d known for twenty or thirty years, and how do you say no to those guys, especially when he wanted to play with them?”

On the Dead’s tour of the Midwest and East in March and early April 1994, Garcia was once again highly erratic—muffing lyrics, missing cues and, most disturbing, seemingly unable to execute certain musical passages that required a high degree of fingering dexterity. On fast runs he sometimes resorted to a sort of guitar shorthand in which he’d simply play fewer notes than he usually did in that situation, or else he’d play chords instead of clusters of individual notes. Even when he could get his fingers to play complicated parts—such as on “Slipknot” or the speedy instrumental interludes in “Samson and Delilah”—he occasionally lagged a split second behind the rest of the band, so everything would either be slightly out of sync, or the other players would have to slow down to play at his pace. But Garcia’s malaise was completely unpredictable. He might play brilliantly on one song and then seem inept and even disoriented on the next. By and large, he was best on his ballads—there were versions of “Stella Blue” and “Days Between” on the spring tour that were overflowing with emotional singing and sensitive playing. And at many shows the rest of the group played well enough that Garcia’s deficiencies were not apparent to the casual observer.

Most of the grousing among Deadheads came from hard-core fans who followed part or all of the tour and could see the disturbing pattern in Garcia’s performances. Not surprisingly, most of the critical Deadheads were concerned that Garcia’s lapses were a result of his drug use. It appears more likely, however, that there were physical reasons for his slide. For several years he had been afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome in his left hand and forearm which had caused him to periodically lose feeling in the tips of his fingers. This is actually fairly common among musicians, and Vince, Bob and Mickey also complained of the problem. Garcia’s condition was exacerbated by the heaviness of his guitar, which pulled down on his left shoulder, and by the hand position he had developed for his left-hand fingering through the years.

While Garcia said in a 1993 interview that he felt his problem was in check, by the following year it had started to bother him again, and the numbness had even traveled up the underside of his arm to just below the elbow.

“Having something like the carpal tunnel is not something one is pleased to announce,” says Bob Bralove, “so I would think it was probably even worse than he indicated. It must have been scary for him. It would scare me.” According to Steve Parish, by the middle of 1994 the problem was serious enough that he and Garcia were looking into getting Jerry a more ergonomic guitar. Garcia also saw a hand specialist, who recommended certain exercises.

“Jerry told me he was losing the feeling in his hands,” Vince Welnick says. “I think some of it was carpal tunnel, but he also had diabetes on top of that, and it’s a very common side effect of diabetes to lose the feeling in your extremities.”

Garcia did nothing to curtail his busy schedule after the spring of 1994. In the second half of April he played a series of shows with the Jerry Garcia Band at the Warfield Theater, and in mid-May the Garcia Band went out on another Western tour, playing five shows in large amphitheaters in Southern California, and one in Phoenix. Actually, he only played half a show in Phoenix. Garcia was so sick when he went onstage at the Desert Sky Pavilion there that he only made it through five songs in the first set before he took a break and collapsed backstage. The rest of the show was canceled, and though some of those close to Jerry urged him to go the hospital because he looked so bad, he refused and instead flew back to the Bay Area that night.

“It was pretty awful,” John Kahn remembered. “He was sick and weird and he was playing bad, and if there’s anything he hated it was that. He knew he was in terrible shape, but he would never ditch a gig in a million years. I finally went and asked him if he wanted me to set it up so he could split, and he said, ‘Yeah.’ And it was to save him from having to play bad; that was part of it. I was worried about him. I knew there was something wrong with him. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it wasn’t a drug thing.

“I caught crap from everyone. The band hated me for losing the money. The Grateful Dead hated me; I should think they would have liked that we canceled the show for his health. But I can see why they wouldn’t like it, because they should have done that a lot of times in the past. He played [Dead] gigs where he had to piss in a garbage can on the side of the stage, he was so sick. But they’d never cancel a gig for him.”

There was considerable antipathy between some people in the Dead organization and John Kahn because they believed Garcia’s drug intake increased whenever he gigged with the JGB. Vince Welnick is unusually blunt on the subject: “I swear to God, if it would’ve been up to me, John Kahn would’ve been out of the picture a long time ago. I don’t know if that would’ve saved Jerry. A lot of people say that Jerry would’ve done what he did with anybody he could’ve done it with, but there was something about Kahn I felt was bad news. More than a couple of times I thought of dealing with John on my own; I’m going to leave it at that.”

A more sympathetic view is expressed by Annabelle Garcia: “Yeah, Dad did drugs with John and Linda [Kahn], but that was just the way it was. They offered my dad a safe haven—a place he could come to get some drugs if he wanted it, and a place to sleep if he needed it, and the company that he needed. Dad was one of those classic lonely folks who had a lot to talk about and talked a lot, but he didn’t have that many super-close friends when it came to really talking about his feelings. And I think that John and Linda offered him a place to really let out his feelings. And even though drugs were involved, I can’t really condemn that, because drugs were always involved. In my mind, I can’t separate the old man from that, ’cause it’s one and the same. It’s just the way he was, for almost as long as I can remember. John and Linda were very sweet people and I know at least they made my dad feel comfortable.”

Once Garcia was back home from Phoenix, his doctor, Randy Baker, determined that Jerry was was suffering from a recurrence of the diabetes that had nearly killed him eight years earlier. Garcia bowed out of a scheduled trip to Ireland with Deborah (who went anyway), and Vince and Gloria DiBiase moved into Garcia’s house for about a month in an attempt to help restore the guitarist’s health. Dr. Baker devised a health regimen that included certain medications and herbs, and he suggested various diet and lifestyle changes, which Jerry paid lip service to but largely ignored.

The Dead’s summer touring schedule began in early June, when Garcia was clearly in no condition to be onstage. Before the first concert at Cal Expo in Sacramento, one member of the sound crew wondered aloud whether the summer tour would finally be the one on which Garcia would keel over onstage. Another complained that the band was running on inertia and that the only reason they were out on the road was to make money. Many Deadheads were alarmed at Garcia’s ghostly pallor and slumping posture at Cal Expo. His playing rarely rose above the ordinary, and at times it was simply awful. True, there were some hot musical moments in Sacramento and at most of the dates on the summer tour, which took them to amphitheaters and stadiums in the East and Midwest. But Garcia was obviously struggling to keep up with the other members of the band, and at points he seemed either bored or spaced out (or both), unable to muster enough will or energy to bring many of his songs fully to life. Again, he seemed most comfortable and engaged on his ballads—perhaps because they were his most personal songs, with their intimations of mortality and existential longing.

“I think except for Jerry the band was playing great,” Bob Bralove says. “I think they also knew they had to play great to get a performance across. If they didn’t deliver it, there was no guarantee. I think everyone was worried about Jerry and that they all rallied on some level. I also think that what you do as a friend to somebody who’s having trouble with a dependency problem sometimes is say, in effect, ‘Look, we’ve got this to offer. We’ve got a cooking band here. Why don’t you come play with us, man?’ Give him some place to be inspired to clean up for. Not that I think they were just playing well for him—they were playing well for themselves and the fans, too.”

Among Deadheads, the summer ’94 tour was probably the most negatively criticized tour the Grateful Dead ever played. Many of the fan reviews on the various Internet computer bulletin boards devoted to the Dead were quite harsh—but at the same time nearly everyone expressed great concern about Garcia.

There were several shows on the summer tour that were fairly solid, with flashes of real brilliance. Even so, the word of mouth about the summer tour was so bad that when the Dead went on the road again in late September, for the first time since anyone could remember the group’s shows at Boston Garden and Madison Square Garden did not sell out in advance. The band’s spokesperson chalked this up to playing too many shows in the Northeast in too short a time span, but privately bandmembers admitted that they needed to play better if they were going to keep the fans coming back. And on that fall tour they rose to the occasion more often than not. The biggest difference was in Garcia, who seemed more alert than he had been at any time since the spring of ’93. There were several excellent shows on this tour—with colossal versions of “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain” in Boston and New York, for example—prompting more than a few Deadheads to believe that Garcia’s troubles were behind him. But closer inspection of Garcia’s playing revealed that there were still periods in which he had difficulty getting his fingers to do what his mind wanted them to, and other times when he seemed to be playing on autopilot—noodling aimlessly with no clear intent of where he wanted to go in a jam.

In November the Dead finally began work on their new album at a secluded studio in the wilds of West Marin called the Site. The Dead worked on basic tracks for nearly all of their unrecorded songs, but after about twelve days of sessions they didn’t have much on tape to build upon. Garcia seemed distracted and out of sorts much of the time. He arrived late for some sessions, left others shortly after arriving and skipped a few altogether. But the problem wasn’t just with Jerry. In Vince’s opinion, “We weren’t getting a good sound in the studio. Here we were in this great studio, great view, great equipment and it just didn’t sound good.

“It was frustrating that we couldn’t get a decent take,” he continues. “We’d do the song and somebody would inevitably ruin it, which was kind of like how the way we played live came back to haunt us. You can get away with that onstage, but when it’s supposed to be for keeps, that can be tough. I mean, I have a rehearsal tape of us doing ‘Days Between’ that sounds much better than any of the thirteen takes or whatever we did of it at the Site.”

Despite the largely positive word of mouth the Dead’s fall East Coast tour had received, Bay Area Deadheads were apparently still wary about the state of the band: only one of the group’s four shows at the Oakland Coliseum in early December sold out, and at the last two there were thousands of empty seats. Even news that the band soundchecked “Saint Stephen”—which they hadn’t played in eleven years—before the penultimate show in the run wasn’t enough to fill the coliseum the next night. (Some cynics suggested that the sound check was actually a ploy to sell tickets for the last show. At the sound check the band didn’t perform the entire song, and they didn’t play it at the show, either.)

Besides the poor ticket sales, the other major topic of Deadhead conversation at these shows was the band’s use of video monitors to help the singers remember the words to their newer songs. This wasn’t unprecedented in the rock world—the Rolling Stones used lyric monitors on their 1994 tour. And Garcia had employed a discreet music stand with sheets of lyrics for his appearances with David Grisman (nothing easy about remembering all the verses of those old sea chanteys and murder ballads) and for a couple of songs at ’94 Dead shows, such as “Days Between” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” But the move still raised a few eyebrows, and most people assumed it was primarily a face-saving measure for Garcia. The monitors did make an immediate difference in the group’s performances of their ’90s songs, but they did nothing to stop the musical miscues, and Garcia still suffered from lyric amnesia on his older songs, which were not programmed into the monitors.

In strictly financial terms 1994 was the Grateful Dead’s most successful year ever. The band played eighty-four shows and grossed $52.4 million dollars from touring alone, making them the fifth most popular road act that year, behind the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Eagles and Barbra Streisand. (The previous year the Dead was the number one touring attraction in the United States, grossing $45.6 million dollars on the road with weaker competition.) Add to that the income from merchandising and CDs and you have an improbable corporate giant—a millionaire band that still had a hippie image in the straight world. And Garcia’s income was augmented further by his work with the JGB, recording royalties and money he pulled in from his artwork and line of ties.

Despite the overflowing coffers, which, as usual, translated to generous bonuses throughout the Dead organization, there wasn’t much jubilation in San Rafael as 1994 turned to 1995. True, by December most of the next year’s touring schedule had been preliminarily sketched out, and it promised to bring in even more cash than the group had earned in ’94. But there was a deep-seated concern about Garcia’s health and well-being that gnawed at everyone, from the bandmembers to the good folks who staffed the Dead’s ticket operation. A sense of fatalism gripped some people—a few even began quietly investigating job possibilities in preparation for that dark day they believed might be a tour or two away if Garcia didn’t get into shape. Others hoped for the best and took comfort in the knowledge that there had always been a return from the brink before. But even the optimists admitted that something had to give.