There’s Nothing You Can Hold for Very Long - Garcia: An American Life (2000)

Garcia: An American Life (2000)


There’s Nothing You Can Hold for Very Long

f the Grateful Dead had been a typical American show-business phenomenon, they would have turned 1995 into a yearlong celebration of their thirtieth anniversary, and earned tens of millions of dollars on top of what they would ordinarily make on the road. They would have finished their new album and released it in June in time for a big thirtieth-anniversary stadium tour, sponsored by a giant corporation. The group, at the urging of some high-powered New York publicity firm, would make strategic television appearances to support the album and tour—The Tonight Show, the Late Show with David Letterman, maybe an MTV Unplugged appearance that could later be spun off into a CD and commercial video. Or they could have gone the classier cable TV route—half a million people in Manhattan’s Central Park for a free concert broadcast live on HBO; a Woodstock of the ’90s. They probably could have played the White House for the ultimate ironic photo op. A world tour would have taken them across Europe, Asia and Australia, culminating on New Year’s Eve with a meticulously planned pay-per-view event from some exotic locale—the Great Wall in China; Ayers Rock in Australia; Easter Island!

Instead, the Dead basically chose to ignore the anniversary, as if they knew that with Garcia’s tenuous health a threat to their future, there was no reason to be popping champagne corks or attracting global attention when they weren’t playing their best. To the outside world, which understood the Dead only as a successful sociocultural phenomenon and couldn’t be expected to have tracked Garcia’s subtle musical decline, the Dead appeared to be sitting pretty. They were more than just survivors of the rock ’n’ roll wars; they were living icons whose very existence in 1995 was symbolic of the durability of some of the ideals of the ’60s. Garcia generally disavowed the ’60s mantle, but Phil Lesh noted in 1994 that the Grateful Dead were “the last holdout—the last piece of that culture that really exists in this era. It’s history, and for some, I suppose, it’s nostalgia. But it’s very much alive—that’s the key… . If it is the only remnant of the ’60s, thank goodness there’s something left. Because there really isn’t much else that survived the ’60s intact.”

Garcia’s first three gigs in 1995 were Jerry Garcia Band shows at the Warfield Theater in mid-January. He seemed to be in fine spirits at these concerts, which broke no new musical ground but were fairly well played. By this time Garcia could do JGB shows at the Warfield in his sleep—and there are those who will tell you he did nod off at a few gigs there. The atmosphere around those smaller shows was always more relaxed than at any Dead concert. People’s expectations were perhaps lower, too, so they were rarely disappointed.

On January 19, four days after the last JGB show in that series, Garcia was involved in a frightening single-car accident on busy Highway 101 in Marin County. Driving a $32,000 loaner BMW 525i while his own larger BMW was in the shop, Garcia lost control of the car, smashed several times into the center divider on the highway and spun around before coming to a stop facing the opposite direction. He was shaken up but not hurt, and he told police he wasn’t sure how he’d lost control. Vince DiBiase says that Garcia was not high at the time, and though the police at first believed some hand-rolled cigarettes Garcia had in his briefcase might contain marijuana, they turned out to be an especially pungent type of tobacco. (Had Garcia been busted following the accident, who knows how events would have unfolded in 1995?)

Two days later the JGB went into Fantasy Studios in Berkeley to record two songs for the soundtrack of Wayne Wang’s film Smoke, a fine, character-driven art film centered on a Brooklyn smoke shop. Wang, the acclaimed director of Chan Is Missing, had a personal connection to Garcia—he had worked as a roadie for the Garcia Band in the mid-’70s. He had long wanted to use Garcia on one of his soundtracks and Smoke finally seemed like the right vehicle. Wang chose the ’30s Jerome Kern song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” which Kahn and Garcia rearranged with a reggae lilt. It is possible that this was the only time Garcia played a song by the man he was named after. Kahn suggested the JGB’s other tune on the soundtrack, the hazy ballad “Cigarettes and Coffee.” Even though this was the JGB’s first appearance in a recording studio, “The sessions went amazingly fast,” Kahn said. “We did it in a couple of days and had a great time. I kind of wish we’d had the time to do a whole album with that band.”

In some ways, the hectic pace of Garcia’s life in 1995 wasn’t much different than it was in 1971, when he was playing with both the Dead and the New Riders, jamming regularly with Howard Wales at the Matrix and showing up at his friends’ recording sessions around town. Then, as in 1995, he was obsessed with playing music in as many different contexts as possible. He never lost that desire, but the particulars of his life had changed completely over twenty-five years.

The enormity of the Grateful Dead juggernaut had become burdensome for him—it was almost as if he were the de facto CEO of some multimillion-dollar corporation, at once responsible for both the company and the product. The demands on his time were overwhelming. He did only a fraction of the things asked of him, and who knows how many hundreds of other projects and ideas he would have been bombarded with if he hadn’t had a protective wall around him? Some have been intensely critical of the Grateful Dead road crew’s role in supposedly isolating Garcia through the years, but it’s abundantly clear that he was at times desperate to stay away from the frenetic hordes who wanted him to do something with them or for them. The isolation—and heroin—provided him with some measure of peace and relaxation, but took their toll in other ways. By 1995 he had been a junkie for much of the past seventeen years, an experience that had periodically weakened his body and soul. Once the proud possessor of an iron constitution, he was now racked with physical ailments, including chronic bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, recurrent diabetes and, as we later learned, advanced heart disease.

But health be damned, he seemed constitutionally unable to slow down. So he toured with the Dead and JGB, did sessions with Grisman and others, went to Grateful Dead business meetings, sat on the Rex Foundation board and consulted about his art and the J. Garcia clothing line (which was expanded from ties to include scarves, blouses and more). He had a personal financial burden to match his workload, too. Now, in addition to paying $20,800 a month to Mountain Girl, $3,000 a month to Barbara Meier, child support and mortgage payments for Manasha’s and Keelin’s upkeep, he was also spending about $22,000 a month to pay for Deborah Garcia’s rather extravagant lifestyle; this despite her mid-six-figure income from her family trusts.

According to John and Linda Kahn, Garcia was unhappy about Deborah’s apparent obsession with his finances, and he disliked her attempts to regiment his life. “She had him backed into this rigorous schedule of meetings and all these various things, which he ditched all the time—he had a trainer and he’d show up there like eight hours late and be there for fifteen minutes,” John said. “She had him boxed in where he had to be places at certain times. So it ended up the only time I’d see him would be like four in the morning or something; that was the only time he could get away.”

“The last couple of years he was at our house every night he was in town,” Linda says. “He’d come over to our house after he’d leave [Deborah’s] house… . He was just real lonely. He thought he was getting married to have a partner to hang out with and it didn’t turn out that way. He came over to our house a lot of times almost in tears. It was real sad. He didn’t understand the way he was being treated.

“He said she didn’t have any faith in him. She wanted money in the bank because she didn’t think he could go out and make it. She didn’t have faith in his ability, and that really hurt him. He’d say, ‘Linda, haven’t my girlfriends always had everything they wanted?’ Which was true. He gave all his money away to his girlfriends, always.”

Annabelle Garcia comments, “Here was another situation where he was looking for that true love that everyone’s looking for and it turned out again that here was someone who wanted to manipulate his life more for their own purposes than he was comfortable with. I think he really wanted someone who would roll over and let him live however he wanted. But he was a tough match. I’m not sure he ever quite got matched properly.

“I think he had a long history of letting the ladies in his life say, ‘C’mon, Jerry, let’s clean you up and get you off drugs, let’s get your life together.’ And he’d say, ‘Sure, sure, sure, you betcha,’ and then he wouldn’t help them, and he’d go off in the middle of the night, get what he needed, not come back for a couple of days. Then he’d kind of make the effort again and drop it when they weren’t looking. He really didn’t want someone making him do something [to clean up], even though that’s what he needed. And he would never do anything on his own. That’s the common thread with all these ladies: ‘Well, he said he wasn’t taking drugs, but he was and then I didn’t know what to do.’ He was extremely stubborn.”

In early February 1995 Jerry and Deborah took a belated honeymoon trip to Bonaire, a Dutch island off the northern coast of Venezuela famous for its many diving spots. When he returned he had planned to play a series of JGB shows at the Warfield to warm up for Dead shows in Salt Lake City and Oakland. The night of the first show, the Warfield was packed as usual with expectant Heads. But as showtime rolled around, Garcia informed Steve Parish and BGP production chief Bob Barsotti that he didn’t think he could play. He said he’d been stung in the hand by a jellyfish while he was scuba diving and later slept on his arm while it was in an awkward position. Now he was having difficulty moving his hand and fingers. Parish also noted that Garcia was experiencing carpal tunnel-related problems that made playing problematic, so it’s hard to say how much of his acute condition was the jellyfish sting and how much was a result of a general health decline. Whatever the cause, Garcia was in no shape to play, so Barsotti told the crowd that Garcia was having trouble with his hand but that he expected to be able to play tomorrow’s concert, and that tickets for the canceled show would be honored two nights later. However, in the end Garcia didn’t recover enough to play any of the shows, so all the tickets had to be refunded.

Between the auto accident and the cancellation of the JGB gigs, Deadheads had a lot of bad Garcia news to deal with in the first weeks of 1995. But with Jerry again able to play, the Dead pressed on with their Salt Lake City concerts in the third week of February, and received generally favorable notices from most Deadheads. Garcia revived two songs he hadn’t played in many years—the perennial crowd-pleaser “Alabama Getaway,” absent from the repertoire since 1989; and Dylan’s haunting and cynical “Visions of Johanna,” which Garcia had sung only twice in 1986. The latter song became a real powerhouse in this later incarnation. Thanks to the new lyric monitors, Garcia delivered the song’s long, complicated verses and dense swirl of images and shadowy characters with unbridled passion. There was obviously something about the song’s bleak settings and the sense of confusion and foreboding mixed with ennui that Garcia related to personally.

In late February Annabelle came to the Bay Area from Eugene, Oregon, to have a heart-to-heart talk with “the old man,” as she often refers to him, about her future. “I had called him and told him that I’d gotten engaged and I was getting married and he was extremely excited about that. He was really looking forward to the ol’ walking-the-daughter-down-the-aisle. So I took Scott [McLean, her fiancé] down there to meet him, and we met with him over a couple of days and he gave us these big, drawn-out lectures about how to make a marriage work. And it basically boiled down to ‘Don’t live together, don’t see each other. Have separate houses and have somebody to take care of all your stuff.’ I’m like, ‘That’s very realistic, Dad, thanks! You want to lend us twenty million dollars so we can do that?’ But he was totally serious. It was funny but it was also sad that that was what he had learned.

“He was very energetic, but I think he was very nervous as well, because here’s his daughter bringing in some guy who wants to marry her. That’s a big deal. And he was expected to do some fatherly thing, and he was always terrified of that kind of stuff—having to lecture or give opinions or advice. He was very hands-off and this was putting him on the spot a bit. I gave him a big hug and a kiss and I noticed he was really, really skinny—his arms and legs seemed tiny. He was still kind of round around the middle. But he seemed short to me; kind of small. He seemed frailer than I’d ever seen him before, yet his inside stuff was really lit. He was very excited about stuff in general. He was excited about me getting married and he talked about playing with Grisman—that was the one thing that I know made him supremely happy. Whenever I talked to him about that, he’d talk ten times faster, which was a sure sign that he was excited.

“Then the day after we saw him I had a weird dream about this old horse of mine that had passed away, and in the dream I was riding the horse around the field. It seemed like the next day Dad was dead.” Actually, Garcia died months later, but this was the last time Annabelle saw her father alive.

The Grateful Dead’s three-week spring tour took them mainly to Southern destinations, including Charlotte, Atlanta, Memphis (where they hadn’t played since 1970), Birmingham and Tampa. The big news on this tour was that after twenty-three years of fan requests, Phil Lesh finally played “Unbroken Chain” onstage with the Dead. (In the end it wasn’t because of the fans’ pleadings; rather, Phil’s son Graham asked him to and he obliged.) Phil made a point of playing the song once in each city on the tour (except Birmingham), and it was ecstatically greeted each time, particularly by older Deadheads who’d worn out copies of the Mars Hotel album in the era before Dead bootleg tapes became widely available, when records were still the main medium for listening to the Dead. A convoluted composition with numerous dynamics and tempo shifts, “Unbroken Chain” proved quite a challenge for the band. Garcia in particular appeared to have some difficulty negotiating the tune’s many twists and turns, sometimes lagging a little behind the others. It’s one of those songs that probably would have evolved into something quite magnificent after a couple of years of tinkering onstage, but as it was it never developed much beyond the album version. Even so, hearing it was a highlight of the year for many Deadheads.

The band’s fortunes on spring tour went up and down with Garcia’s condition, which remained unpredictable. In Philadelphia he seemed full of energy most of the time, and in Charlotte he was clearly buoyed by the presence of Bruce Hornsby, who played grand piano the whole night. Hornsby, rather than Garcia, was the dominant melodic player at that show, pushing the other bandmembers the way Garcia used to but now seemed nearly incapable of.

Garcia played what turned out to be his final shows with the Garcia Band near the end of April at the Warfield. Once again, his playing seemed painfully uneven—inspired one moment, inept the next—and even John Kahn could see the writing on the wall.

“Our band was all but finished by the end,” he said. “We were working very little; he basically wasn’t allowed to work with us. That’s the impression I got. We were going to do a tour in the fall but it got canceled before it even got booked because Steve [Parish] and all the Dead people didn’t think he should go out with us. Our band was stretched to the limit where we were on the verge of not being a band, and it was starting to sound like it. We had been doing pretty well before that year; I think we’d reached a sort of a peak and were now maybe on the other side of that. I didn’t know what the reason was—if he was sick or what—but I could tell Jerry was sort of falling apart, and our band was falling apart as well. The rest of the people weren’t playing as well, either, which is something that happens.

“It was like he lost interest,” Kahn continued. “That’s what I was talking about with our band—it was headed nowhere. We weren’t rehearsing at all. We weren’t learning any new songs. He stopped caring, or something.” Why? “I think he wanted out. He wanted to change his life around. I don’t exactly know how. But the last conversations I had with him, I don’t think there was going to be a Jerry Garcia Band. We would still find stuff to do, him and me. He had talked about doing Old and in the Way again, which would have been a pretty all-encompassing thing. That’s more than just a little side thing—it involves a lot of work, and it also involves a degree of health. He was saying he wanted to do it after he was healthy again, which never happened. But he was talking seriously about that a couple of weeks before he died.”

On and off the road, Garcia did have one project that seemed to bring him a great deal of pleasure. The book Harrington Street was to be his memoir of growing up in San Francisco in the ’40s and ’50s—a pastiche of recollections accompanied by sketches and paintings illustrating events from his early life and his childhood fantasies. In early 1994 he had signed a six-figure deal with Delacorte Press to produce the book, and he and Deborah spent many hours probing his memory and trying to shape the book. As with many of his later artworks, he scanned his ink drawings into a computer and then manipulated and colored them using a computer “paint” program. This occupied him hour after hour, and it was something he could work on in hotel rooms on tour, whether he was writing in his distinctive, messy calligraphic scrawl, or using a laptop computer. As Deborah wrote in the preface to the book, which was completed by her and published posthumously, “He was a big kid, with a beard. Of all the ways someone might go back and explore childhood, the one Jerry chose suited him ideally: create a marvelous picture book.”

In May the Grateful Dead went back to the Site to work more on their new album, but once again the sessions, which lasted ten days, were disappointing. Garcia seemed unfocused and uninterested much of the time. Vince Welnick recalls, “Jerry was there, but nobody in the band would press upon him to complete his guitar track or to put down a definitive vocal track. Occasionally Jerry would say, ‘I’ll get back to it later,’ or, ‘I’m going to sit it out because I’ve gotta hear what you guys are doing; I haven’t decided what I’m going to play.’ We didn’t get a whole lot done.” Indeed, when Phil Lesh listened to the session tapes after Garcia’s death to see if there was anything salvageable he came up empty-handed.

The band’s Western tour stretched over the second half of May and the beginning of June, and included stops in Las Vegas (where the group’s annual three-show run at the Silver Bowl on the outskirts of town had become a pilgrimage point for Deadheads all over the West), Seattle, Portland and Shoreline Amphitheater. As had been the case on most of their tours in the mid-’90s, the quality of the shows varied widely from night to night, set to set, even song to song. Though almost everyone agreed that Garcia didn’t look very good—his skin had taken on a slightly unreal yellow pallor and his complexion appeared waxy—he seemed fairly energetic most of the time; or at least until “drums” in the second set, after which he usually flagged a bit.

* * *

June 2, 3 and 4 at Shoreline Amphitheater turned out to be the last three Dead shows I ever attended, twenty-five years and more than 350 concerts after my first, at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, when I was sixteen. There were plenty of sixteen-year-olds at Shoreline in 1995, as well as babes in arms, ten-year-olds, twenty-five-year-olds, fifty-year-olds (the Dead’s contemporaries), sixty-year-olds and beyond. Like many others, I had gone into the shows feeling some measure of trepidation because Garcia had been so inconsistent at other concerts I’d attended in ’95, and the rumors of his ongoing drug dependency preceded him.

So it was heartening to find Garcia in such a positive mood and playing so well at the first two Shoreline concerts. His song choices on the opening night of the run hit all sorts of stylistic realms. There was a rousing “Alabama Getaway,” with its Chuck Berry riffing (this just a few days after Berry opened for the Dead in Portland); the loping “Candyman,” like something off the stage of the Dodge City Music Hall; “Ramble On Rose,” puttering and backfiring like a Model T Ford; a jazzy, at times dissonant musical flight into the unknown via “Bird Song.” And that was just in the first set. In the second set Garcia served up sparkling, imaginatively played renditions of “New Speedway Boogie”; Paul McCartney’s little half-song “That Would Be Something,” which became a launching pad for a lengthy group jam; a stately but not somber “He’s Gone”; “Standing on the Moon,” sure and emotional; and the feel-good encore of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” complete with the 20,000-voice Shoreline chorale on the choruses.

But the concert’s most magical moments didn’t come from the band. During “drums,” ten maroon-robed members of the Tibetan Buddhist Gyuto Monks, who had a long association with the Dead, mostly through Mickey Hart and Danny Rifkin, came onstage and electrified the crowd with their hypnotic, guttural chanting. What does it say about a Grateful Dead concert that the band could surrender the stage to a group of Tibetan holy men for fifteen minutes and nobody in the crowd thought it was the least bit out of place? To the contrary, the audience was transfixed, and the appreciative roar when the monks slowly filed off the stage had the Tibetans beaming and waving. Whether it was Olatunji or Ornette Coleman, Carlos Santana or Edie Brickell joining the Dead onstage, Deadheads were always open to new infusions of interesting energy from whomever or whatever. It was all in the noble service of blowing minds.

At the second Shoreline show, on Saturday night, Garcia was in fine fettle again. In the first set he was the earnest but convivial storyteller, regaling the throng with atmospheric pieces about three very different women: “Althea,” Delilah Jones from “Brown-Eyed Women” and Delia DeLyon, the heroine of “Stagger Lee.” The second set opened with a perky, neatly executed “China Cat Sunflower” segueing (as usual) into the always uplifting “I Know You Rider.” Through all his ups and downs, Garcia almost never played a bad version of “I Know You Rider.” Musically and lyrically, the old folk blues tune was one of the simplest songs in the Dead’s repertoire and that’s precisely why it was always so effective. Every person in the arena, amphitheater or stadium—from the bandmembers to the Heads spinning in the farthest reaches of the venue—could relate to the song’s determined optimism, as Weir sang the second verse, straight out of American mountain music:

Well, the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday

You know the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday

March winds gonna blow all my troubles away

Then Garcia would step up to the microphone, and his verse, which he always delivered with as much passion as he could muster, tapped into everyone’s natural wanderlust:

I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train

I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train

I’d shine my light through the cool Colorado rain

Later in the set Garcia led a triumphal sing-along on “Uncle John’s Band,” and in his post-“drums” ballad slot he offered a spellbinding version of “Stella Blue” that was filled with heart. Garcia seemed completely inside Hunter’s lyric that night—the giant video screens showed his face in extreme close-up and he couldn’t have looked more clear-eyed and present. When Garcia was truly in the moment on his ballads, he was able to communicate the most complex feelings and emotions with a directness and simplicity that could touch almost any soul. He was singing about life and death, “broken dreams and vanished years.” It was sad and beautiful, especially when he came to the last verse. The music dropped to a whisper—the silence between each note palpable—and the crowd hung on every word as he sang

It all rolls into one

And nothin’ comes for free

There’s nothing you can hold for very long

But when you hear that song

Come crying like the wind

It seems like all this life

Was just a dream

Stella Blue

And he smiled ever so slightly, recognizing that the crowd and band had experienced a moment of the soul together—had walked in the same shoes and seen from the same eyes, if only briefly. It was that kind of enlightened moment, a shared reality full of spiritual nourishment and humanity, that kept Deadheads coming back for more. I’ll always carry with me the vision of Garcia, his eyes scanning the crowd, desperately trying to connect with every person at Shoreline, and in the process drawing them into the depths of his own soul.

The show ended on a bright note with “Liberty,” Garcia charging through it with delight and gusto, rocking back and forth on his heels to the beat and seemingly as full of energy as he’d been during the evening’s first song. I was ready to believe that bright days were ahead.

But Sunday afternoon’s show was another story altogether. Garcia was distracted by equipment problems for much of the first set, and spent an inordinate amount of time conferring with Steve Parish about the vexing sound gremlins. His attention appeared to wander at times while he was singing, and his playing lacked the crispness of the first two nights. During “Victim or the Crime” in the second set, he sounded completely lost, hitting “clams” and wrong chords left and right, and even during “Unbroken Chain”—which was the first version ever played in California—he wasn’t in sync with the rest of the band and his melodic fills sounded perfunctory. He rallied enough energy to deliver “Eyes of the World” at a robust clip, but basically he’d run out of gas by “drums,” and the late-second-set “Days Between” was mostly a shambles. Still, “Brokedown Palace” was a sweet and nicely played encore, more in the spirit of the first two concerts than the disjointed and occasionally disturbing third. And as fate would have it, the last words I ever heard Jerry Garcia sing were a moving good-bye:

Fare you well, fare you well

I love you more than words can tell

Listen to the river sing sweet songs

To rock my soul

June was the last time Mountain Girl saw Jerry, too—they sat across from each other at a Rex Foundation meeting. “We had a really nice chat,” she reports. “He was kind of pale; his color wasn’t good. I noticed that his shoulders were a lot thinner. When he was swimming a lot he’d develop these big swimmer’s shoulders; he just loved our pool [on Reservoir Road] and of course he liked swimming in Hawaii. But his spirits were good.”

It was around this time, too, that Deborah Garcia came to grips with the fact that Jerry was strung out on heroin again. As she recounted to Rolling Stone after his death, “I said to him, ‘I know you’re doing drugs. I want to tell you that if you want to keep doing drugs for the rest of your life, I will love you anyway. We will deal with it, and at least it won’t be something you have to hide or be afraid of. But do you want to stay on them?’

“And he said, ‘No, I don’t. It’s a pain in the butt.’ That’s exactly what he said. ‘I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.’ It was right before the summer tour. We decided it would be better for him to go to a treatment place.”

But first Garcia had to make it through one more tour—a monthlong trek that took the Dead to stadiums, amphitheaters and arenas in the East and Midwest, and paired them with Bob Dylan’s band on five of the first seven concerts. (Dylan opened the shows and never played with the Dead.) It would be the Dead’s final tour.

In the summer of 1994 the Dead had played a very successful concert in a giant field surrounded by beautiful pine-covered hills in Highgate, Vermont. The show had drawn about 60,000 people from all over the Northeast, and though there were some logistical problems with the site—the traffic jams coming and going were horrendous—it proved to be a mellow setting for such a big event. The Dead began their summer ’95 tour at Highgate, with Dylan opening, and this time there was trouble. More than 100,000 turned up and there was an ugly gate-crashing episode in which some fences were knocked down, injuring a number of people in the process, and thousands of rowdy fans swarmed into the concert site.

The Dead later determined that there was a large element of party animals who were not necessarily Deadheads who had decided on a lark to be part of the madness at a big outdoor Dead show and didn’t think twice about the consequences of their disruptive behavior. It was widely reported by fans that Garcia was in poor shape at this show, blowing lyrics and not doing much on the guitar.

By the next concert, three nights later at Giants Stadium, Garcia was playing a little better, but he still went through periods during the show when he seemed zombielike and out of it. Bob Bralove remembers, “There was a moment where he got caught in the beginning of ‘Wharf Rat’ and he didn’t seem to be able to get out. He got lost; he couldn’t find his way out. And that’s when I started getting scared: ‘Is this drugs? Is this physical? What’s goin’ on?’”

The sound at the show was terrible, in part because Garcia kept the volume of his guitar turned so low he could barely be heard at times, so the group sounded unbalanced. This was a problem at numerous Dead shows in 1994 and 1995—on nights when he lacked confidence, Garcia would turn himself down in the mix, and as a result the sound seemed to have a hole in it. Mixer John Cutler was powerless to control it from the soundboard; it was Garcia’s choice, and it frustrated his fans to no end.

From Giants Stadium the caravan moved on to Albany, New York, where there was another (much smaller) gate-crashing incident outside Knickerbocker Arena that culminated in numerous arrests and a few injuries to fans and police. The scene outside hot, humid and occasionally rainy RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., was less chaotic, but there was weirdness there, too: three fans were struck by lightning before one of the concerts (all survived). Bruce Hornsby played piano with the Dead a final time at the first of the two RFK shows, but he seemed unusually restrained. Garcia, on the other hand, was surprisingly lively, and he even joined Bob Dylan at the end of his set for a bluesy reading of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and a festive romp through “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” that had nearly every person in the stadium shouting out the famous refrain: “I would not feel so alone / Everybody must get stoned!”

Things went well during the next three shows on the tour. Like Knickerbocker Arena, the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan—home to professional basketball’s Detroit Pistons—felt like a relatively intimate venue for the Dead in the midst of their stadium tours, and they usually played well there. This summer was no exception: though Garcia had trouble with lyrics on both nights, the level of his playing was generally high. Even with Jerry playing respectably (but not consistently) at most of the tour stops, backstage there was great concern about his health. His breathing was often labored, he looked uncomfortable much of the time and it appeared to be a struggle for him to get from place to place.

“During the summer tour we were all aware he was pretty sick,” Vince Welnick says. “I was actually worried that he was putting himself in a position where he would become incapacitated or unable to play. He was unhappy, he was tired, he was asleep a lot. When he wasn’t asleep he was kind of grouchy. He seemed a little bit disoriented and he wasn’t the happy-go-lucky Jerry. He was obviously suffering. And you know the guy had enough money to buy whatever drug he wanted to make him feel right, but that wasn’t working. I think he knew he was dying, and I guess the truth of it is he was. But I think everybody in the band thought, ‘Well, let’s just get through this tour and it’ll all be better.’”

Was there ever any thought of not doing the tour? “No, because when we went out, it wasn’t that apparent. In the spring tour prior to that it wasn’t that noticeable.”

After a stadium show in Pittsburgh, the tour went to Deer Creek amphitheater in Indiana, which was probably the most popular Midwestern venue for the Dead since the band had stopped playing Alpine Valley after 1989. The band had a history of playing good shows there, also, and because it was a lovely, midsized venue, holding 20,000 people in seats and on a sprawling lawn in the back, the demand for tickets was always extremely high. The previous couple of years when the band played Deer Creek there had been the usual hordes of ticketless fans outside, but there hadn’t been any real problems. That changed on July 2, 1995.

Unbeknownst to the thousands of people attending the show, Garcia had received what everyone in the Dead camp regarded as a very serious death threat from someone who claimed he was going to gun down the guitarist. On a tour plagued with disturbing violent episodes, this was the last straw.

“That was scary,” Vince Welnick says. “I remember Phil wanted to pack up and leave right then and there, and then we decided, well, if it’s Jerry’s life, let him call it. And Jerry said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let that stop me; hell no.’ He said, ‘I’ve been getting crackpots all my life.’ But if he hadn’t said that, we absolutely would have gone home, because Phil was already packed.”

Both the local police and the FBI were put on alert, and metal detectors were quickly set up at the gates to the venue. “We didn’t know about the death threat at the time,” says Peter Toluzzi, who attended the show. “And the scene outside was fairly mellow before the show. There were an awful lot of people with no tickets, but that wasn’t particularly unusual. It’s interesting in retrospect that during the band’s sound check that afternoon, which we could hear outside, Garcia played the first verse of ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy,’ which they hadn’t played since Brent died. Then he stopped it and went into ‘Visions of Johanna’ and then ‘Here Comes Sunshine,’ which they opened the show with.

“The metal detectors made it so it took a long time for most people to get inside,” Toluzzi says. “Then, once the show started, I thought it was strange that there were so many security people up in the catwalks and in the front rows. We didn’t know what that was all about.”

If Garcia was nervous, he didn’t show it. In fact, he provided his own ironic commentary on the situation when he chose to play “Dire Wolf,” with its chipper “Don’t murder me” refrain. (This closely mirrored a night in 1979 at Madison Square Garden when he received a death threat and played “Dire Wolf.”)

But two-thirds of the way through the set, while Phil was leading the band through his arrangement of Robbie Robertson’s moving “Broken Arrow,” something very disturbing happened. Thousands of ticketless kids broke down the rear fence of the venue, pushed aside security guards and swarmed onto the back lawn, as many fans inside cheered them on. At the perimeter of the amphitheater, police used tear gas, pepper spray and German shepherd attack dogs in an attempt to keep order, but the fighting continued for some time. Within a couple of hours of the incident, CNN broadcast video footage of the Deer Creek riot, and those pictures then popped up on news programs all over the country.

The inundation of ticketless rowdies made the amphitheater crowded and uncomfortable for many people, and the security forces inside realized that the breach of security could have let in a potential assassin, so tensions were high backstage and in the area in front of the stage. “The whole thing was really very weird,” Bob Bralove says. “You look out [from backstage] and the lights are on and you’re watching everybody and you can see the guys with the bulletproof vests on and all the security people are looking so serious. It was very creepy. It was a shock to look out at this sea of faces that had been a source of nothing but positive energy—you know, the dark, warm, fuzzy area out there—but it was brightly lit and you were looking for people with guns. Then you look up at the fence and people are pouring over it, so there goes your security.”

In the face of this frightening anarchy, it’s amazing Garcia was able to play at all, much less play quite well in spots. The house lights were left on during the entire second set for security reasons, adding to the strangeness of the event. Obviously distracted, Garcia sang only one of the three verses of “Fire on the Mountain” during the second set, but his guitar work on the song was quite intense; darkly inspired. In this setting, his struggle through “New Speedway Boogie” seemed like a plaintive entreaty, and the celestial harmonies of “Attics of My Life” washed over the chaotic scene like a soothing balm.

The next morning, after consulting with police and the management of Deer Creek, the Dead decided to cancel the second scheduled show there. The next stop on the tour was Riverport Amphitheater near St. Louis three days later, and when Deadheads arrived they found a massive police presence awaiting them, complete with dogs and extra barbed-wire fencing.

Things were peaceful, even subdued, the first night at Riverport. There was obviously some residual weirdness from the Deer Creek debacle; it was in the air. The house lights were left on during the show again, which added to the constrictive vibe of the event. Even though the show went on without incident, there was bad news this first night. A couple of hours after the concert, about 150 Deadheads were injured—some seriously—when a porch at a campground collapsed under the weight of too many people. This incident, on top of the Highgate and Deer Creek disasters, also became a national news story. The band dedicated the next night’s show to the injured Heads, and put in a solid performance. By the second set that night the house lights were turned out, and most believed that things were returning to what passes for normal at a Grateful Dead show.

The Tour from Hell, as it was dubbed by many Deadheads, limped into its final port of call, Chicago’s venerable Soldier Field, on July 8. Even though the Dead had played the stadium without incident the previous four years, the negative press from the tour got some city officials in such a lather that Mayor Richard Daley had to reassure them that extra security precautions would be taken. Outside the show, a number of Deadheads took it upon themselves to spread the word about responsible behavior at Dead shows. One group sold black-and-yellow GATECRASHERS SUCK! bumper stickers.

Inside, the mood was considerably more festive than it had been in St. Louis. The Band opened the two Chicago dates, and their hit-heavy sets were very well-received. This wasn’t exactly a reunion of two of the titans of Watkins Glen—both groups were ragged and on the other side of their best years—but their shared history added to the warmth of the event.

The Dead’s sets at Soldier Field weren’t much better or worse than most of the ones that preceded them on the tour. Garcia flubbed lyrics left and right but occasionally turned in a great performance of a song; the rest of the band sounded comparatively strong and confident. The first night, Jerry’s standout was the one song where he was aided by the lyric monitor, “Visions of Johanna.” He dug into Dylan’s words with tremendous feeling, even pumping his fist into the air to punctuate the line “Mona Lisa must’ve had the highway blues / You can tell by the way she smiles.”

Although no one knew it at the time, the July 9 concert at Soldier Field would be the Grateful Dead’s last. For that reason it has taken on a perhaps unjustified historicity, with some scouring the tapes for clues to prove that Jerry knew he was dying and was playing his final show. This much is clear: by that last night, Garcia was spent. He looked pale and drawn, he had trouble even getting up the stairs to the stage and some backstagers observed that he appeared fidgety and uncomfortable. Did he know that exactly one month later he’d be dead? Certainly not. Otherwise, why would he reaffirm his commitment to clean up after the tour? Why open his final concert with “Touch of Grey”? Not for irony’s sake.

His most vital and revealing number that night was “So Many Roads,” with its compelling mixture of weariness, resignation and, ultimately perhaps, acceptance. “So Many Roads” is a song aimed at someone in the late autumn of life—not at a typical fifty-year-old—and it seemed more meaningful to Garcia each time he sang it. That final set at Soldier Field, he sang the repeated ending refrain, “So many roads to ease my soul,” with as much verve and passion as he could physically muster in his obviously weakened state. He changed the phrasing each time through, and built to a crescendo in which he was nearly shouting the words, like some testifyin’ preacher. This was Garcia’s soul laid bare, and the audience responded by cheering him on, empathizing with him, struggling with him. Many people were in tears by the end of the song, and the deafening ovation it received showed that Jerry and most of the crowd had truly connected and experienced the song together. This mystical union of artist and audience was at the core of the Grateful Dead’s appeal. There was always a sense that the band was using these songs—this immeasurably rich body of tunes that encompassed cautionary tales, swirling seas of metaphors and allegories, little bursts of wisdom at every turn, black comedy, fantasies, surrealism and the down-home “I know you rider, gonna miss me when I’m gone” blues—in the same way the crowd was: as constantly shifting touchstones for their own lives.

Garcia’s final musical statement at Soldier Field couldn’t have been more appropriate for the ultimate outcome of the Garcia saga—the darkly existential “Black Muddy River,” played as the encore. The moment that song ended, Phil launched into a powerful, hope-filled version of “Box of Rain” that lifted everyone’s spirits. But the poignant last words of that song work as a closing quotation mark on Garcia’s life journey: “Such a long, long time to be gone / And a short time to be there.” Fireworks exploded over the stadium as the crowd filed out, and no doubt there were thousands of animated conversations about catching some or all of the next Dead tour.

The mood of the band was considerably more serious. “I was just glad we got through it,” Vince says. “I thought, ‘Thank God that’s the last date!’ There was always something cool about playing Soldier Field, especially with the fireworks show and everything. But when you play for that many people, you always want it be spectacular and all you could really say about that was, ‘Thank God it’s over.’”

Once he returned home to the Bay Area from the summer tour, Garcia had a week of leisure before he went down to the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, California, near Palm Springs, to go through their famous detox program. In his many years of battling heroin addiction, this was the first time Jerry had ever agreed to try a multiweek residential facility. It was at Deborah’s urging, and his acquiescence showed that he knew he was seriously ill and strung out. The move caught many in the Dead scene off guard because it was such a radical departure for him.

“I was pretty surprised when he went into Betty Ford,” said John Kahn, who also offered this unorthodox minority view: “I don’t think he was hooked on drugs at the time, to tell you the truth. I really doubt that he was. He didn’t have a very hard time down [at Betty Ford] on that level. The drugs were the least of his problems.”

On July 16, exactly a week after tour’s end, Garcia played on his final recording session—a version of the Jimmie Rodgers song “Blue Yodel #9 (Standing on the Corner)” cut at David Grisman’s studio for a Rodgers tribute album spearheaded by Bob Dylan. The band that day consisted of Garcia on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Grisman on mandolin and banjo-mandolin, Kahn on stand-up bass, jazz drummer George Marsh on percussion and Bay Area string band veteran Sally Van Meter on dobro.

“Jerry said he was getting over a bronchitis cold,” Van Meter says, “but his spirit was totally there. He was completely professional and in a good mood and really very friendly. Very talkative. Obviously very intelligent. Actually, when John Kahn arrived, I thought he looked worse than Jerry did.”

Shortly after the session, Garcia flew to Southern California accompanied by Deborah and Steve Parish and checked in to the Betty Ford Clinic for what was to be a monthlong detox program.

“The first week he was there,” Deborah told Rolling Stone, “he called and said he really liked all the people there and that he was really sick—he had a pretty serious jones going. But he was very committed to getting off [heroin], and he did—the hard way. He suffered physically.

“Then, after two weeks he called me and said it was really hot, he hated the food, he wanted to come home. So Parish and I went down. Jerry came out, and he looked just great. He’d lost weight and he was smiling. He was doing really well, and he was strong. He was clean. You’re supposed to stay a whole month, but he wanted to come home. So I said, ‘You can come home if you continue in the recovery stuff.’”

Parish suggests that once Garcia was clearheaded and apparently on the road to physical recovery, he was turned off by the Ford clinic’s rehab rhetoric and generally stifling milieu. And though Parish acknowledges that Garcia’s decision to leave before his program was completed was potentially dangerous, he supported the guitarist’s urge to continue his rehabilitation in a more pleasant and laid-back environment. So Garcia got his wish, and he was able to spend his fifty-third birthday back in the Bay Area.

Over the days that followed his release, Garcia lay low, attending a few AA-style meetings and talking with a couple of recovery psychiatrists “who he felt understood him,” Deborah said. A number of people in the Dead scene had their last encounters with Jerry during the first week of August, and to a person they reported that he was extremely warm and optimistic about the future. At the same time, they recognized his physical frailty.

Steve Parish says that Jerry went to the Dead’s brand-new recording studio in Novato and talked excitedly about building a special guitar room there. Vince Welnick was there that day and he heard Garcia’s upbeat rap about the guitar room, too. Vince adds, “He was in a great mood. He was telling these old ‘war stories’ about being in the clinic. He had a Kentucky Fried Chicken sack with him; yup, he’d been to the Colonel! Anyway, he was one of the main proponents for building Club Front 2. He was very enthusiastic.

“But I could tell right away his guts were fucking with him, which could be expected. He looked like he was in pain. You could sort of hear the fluid on his lungs when he talked. But if he knew he was dying he was fooling everybody, because he was making plans like he was going to live. I don’t think he knew he was dying; I think he just felt particularly cruddy, which could be expected from just getting out of rehab.”

On August 4 Jerry called his old friend Bob Hunter out of the blue. A couple of weeks after Garcia’s death, Hunter attempted to reconstruct this last conversation in his journal (and later shared it with the world on his personal Web site). Parts of it went like this:

RH: Hey, Bozo!

JG: Hey, Hunter, it’s Garcia. I just got out of the Betty Ford Center!

RH: How was Betty?

JG: She was a great fuck, man!

RH: Did they wean you off or what?

JG: Naw, it’s strictly cold turkey. They give you some pills to help the sleep and convulsions, but basically it’s the shits. And the food—aargh—it makes airplane food seem like gourmet dining. It’s a good thing I wasn’t hungry! I think the plan is to make you so miserable you don’t ever want to go back. The only good thing was this old guy who watched the ward at night—he used to play with Django, man! You shoulda heard his stories. I sat up all night talking to him a couple of times; I couldn’t sleep anyway, and it was incredible. I’ll tell you about it later.

Garcia mentioned his excitement about working on the Harrington Street book, even recounting an episode from his childhood that was part of the book. Then he told Hunter:

JG: … What I called about was I’m feeling real creative and I’m hot to get writing. I got to thinking about all the stuff we’ve done while I was at Betty Ford. I don’t seem to be able to get to it without you—somehow when we get together the ideas start coming. You know, I’ve been singing some of those songs for over twenty-five years, and they never once stuck in my throat, I always felt like they were saying what I wanted to be saying … It’s like they’re … It’s like they’re …

RH: Real songs?

JG: Yeah, that’s it! Real songs! And besides, I miss you, man.

RH: Hey, don’t get sentimental on me … Get your ass over here and let’s start crankin’.

JG: All right! I’d come over now but I think the wifey has some plans for the weekend.

RH: What’s a couple more days? We got forever.

Hunter and Garcia never did get together for that songwriting session. Racked with pain, Garcia turned to heroin for relief again. Then he unilaterally decided that he needed to go into another rehab program to get the medical help he knew he needed.

“Jerry said that when he was in Betty Ford, they were giving him medication for his heart, for his cholesterol, for everything the whole time he was there,” Linda Kahn says. “And when he left they told him he should go to a doctor and have those medications continue; that if he didn’t take them he’d die. But I guess instead he went to some holistic doctors or something.

“That’s why he went to Serenity Knolls [a drug rehab facility in Forest Knolls, in northwest Marin County]. He was originally planning on going up to [a program in] Napa for three months. He hadn’t picked out a place, but he was so scared because of what they’d said at Betty Ford about the medication that he hadn’t been getting, that he went to Serenity Knolls thinking that he would get it there. But it wasn’t that kind of a place.”

John Kahn recalled, “I saw him at my house a couple of days before and he didn’t seem very well at all. He told me he was an old man. He was trying to explain to me how bad he felt. I was saying, ‘Naw, c’mon. It’s not that bad. You’ll be okay.’ And he was saying, ‘No, really.’ He put it in terms of being a seventy-year-old man in a fifty-year-old body. I know he’d lived a lot of life. But there was something really wrong with him. He wasn’t getting enough oxygen. He told me the hardest thing was just getting out of bed in the morning.

“He told me he was going to go somewhere where nobody could find him, and then he’d let me know. I know he had a big argument with his old lady the night before he went in—a big fallout. She really hurt him in a lot of ways—things about money. I felt for him. It was kind of sad to be hassling about that.

“I really got the feeling that he was going to cut a lot of things loose,” Kahn continued. “He didn’t exactly say what; my feeling was everything—the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, his wife, drugs. He really wanted to get away from everybody. That was the last thing he told me. That was the way he thought he could do it. I guess he got away.”

Garcia told John and Linda Kahn that one reason he chose Serenity Knolls is that it used to be a Boy Scout camp where he and the band had crashed occasionally in the mid-’60s. Garcia planned to stay at the facility for twenty-one days. He told very few people of his plan; most people in the Dead organization believed he was going to Hawaii. He even kept the news from Deborah, who found out shortly after he’d checked in on the afternoon of August 8, and, according to Linda Kahn, was very angry about having been kept in the dark. She received permission from Serenity Knolls to take Jerry out to dinner, and the two dined together at a Mill Valley Italian restaurant called Piatti. Then she drove him back to Serenity Knolls, a twenty-minute drive.

A Serenity Knolls counselor passed by Garcia’s room at around 4 A.M. and heard him snoring loudly. Twenty minutes later the counselor passed Garcia’s room again, and this time he didn’t hear any sound. When he went into the room to check on Garcia, he found him dressed in a blue polo shirt, gray sweatpants and white socks, lying on top of his bed, his eyes open slightly, apparently lifeless. The orderly called in a staff nurse and Marin County paramedics and they tried to resuscitate Garcia, to no avail. Jerry Garcia was pronounced dead at 4:23 A.M. on August 9, and the county coroner was called in. Pending the results of an autopsy, the cause of death was listed as a massive heart attack.

Deborah Koons Garcia later wondered if Jerry’s chronic apnea had contributed to his death: “It’s when you’re sleeping and you can’t breathe. You stop breathing and then you snap out of it. He’d had it for thirty years. And I think he was too weakened to breathe through it. He just stopped breathing. They tried to revive him, and they couldn’t.”

Garcia’s body was moved to a Marin funeral home, and Deborah went over right away. “It’s strange to say, but he looked so peaceful,” she said. “And Jerry had this smile on his face. I said to the guy at the funeral home, ‘Look, he’s smiling. Did you do that to him?’ And he said, ‘No, that’s exactly the way I found him.’ His face was so at peace. At the funeral we decided to have an open casket because he looked so good.”

* * *

Word of Garcia’s death spread quickly through the media, and the many Grateful Dead conferences on the Internet were inundated with stunned fans looking for comfort and sharing their feelings and memories. By the time Garcia died, most hard-core Deadheads had already heard through the Grateful Dead grapevine about his stay at the Betty Ford Clinic, and there was a widespread feeling of optimism that Jerry was beating his demons and raring to get healthy again. The last year of his life there was no concealing how sick he was—he wore it on his face—yet when the end actually came, nearly everyone professed shock and disbelief. Garcia seemed like one of those guys who, despite his reckless and abusive lifestyle, would probably outlive us all. He might have believed that, too.

In San Francisco a couple of thousand grieving fans crowded onto Haight Street, some banging on drums and playing flutes, while others kept a silent and respectful vigil outside 710 Ashbury. A large group of mourners headed over to the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park for an impromptu get-together at the site of the Human Be-In twenty-eight years earlier. In New York City, about a thousand people gathered in Central Park at Strawberry Fields—a shrine to another fallen rock star, John Lennon. In cities all over the country, from Philadelphia to Chicago to Portland to Los Angeles, Deadheads gathered to console each other, to mourn and to celebrate Garcia’s legacy.

Garcia’s death received prominent coverage on the national news broadcasts that evening, and the next morning the story was front-page news in many of the country’s largest newspapers, including the New York Times, which ran a fond but sober headline: JERRY GARCIA OF GRATEFUL DEAD, ICON OF ’60S SPIRIT, DIES AT 53. Within hours of Garcia’s passing, television, radio and the news wires were cluttered with fond remembrances from Garcia’s musical peers, from friends, admirers and even President Clinton, who said that he and his daughter, Chelsea, represented two generations of Dead fans, and that he wore J. Garcia ties and gave them away as gifts. “He was a great talent; he was a genius,” he told MTV. “He also had a terrible problem that was a legacy of the life he lived and the demons he dealt with. And I would hope that all of us who loved his music would also reflect on the consequences of self-destructive behavior.”

The most heartfelt tributes came from musician friends past and present, and Jerry’s counterculture peers.

Carlos Santana: “He was a profound talent both as a musician and as an artist, and he cannot be replaced. I take solace in the thought that his spirit has gone to join the likes of Bill Graham, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis and other greats who have left us too soon.”

David Crosby: “Musicians and people who love music have lost one of the brightest, most articulate minds of this generation. He was a great man, a friend and the creator of an incredible amount of wonderful music.”

Ornette Coleman: “Jerry Garcia was one of the original American icons. He played naturally and beautifully.”

Branford Marsalis: “There is not a sentence in the world that could respectfully do justice to the life and music of Jerry Garcia.”

Paul Kantner: “The universe is a cold, indifferent place if you don’t believe in Jesus. As Jerry Garcia said, ‘[Rock ’n’ roll] provides what church provided for in other generations.’ The Grateful Dead went a long way toward providing something appropriate to this current universe that worked. Jerry was the master of that particular paradigm. He was an exquisite man despite all his faults, many of which we all have. Let us all remember exquisite men.”

Maria Muldaur: “He had a flock. He didn’t choose it. He didn’t say, ‘I want to be a big icon and guru’ to what is now several generations. But I think it was because in his own unassuming way he made himself completely an instrument of higher good energy, which is the real reason people need music so much. They don’t get their money’s worth most of the time, but with Jerry Garcia, they sure did.”

Ken Kesey: “Jerry was a great warrior. If he was a good leader, then we don’t need him anymore; it should be time for people to become active and follow instructions, and his instructions were fairly simple. He’s just a straight-out Christian acidhead, speaking of love and mercy and mischief, all those wonderful things from the ’60s.

“Jerry knocked a chink out of the wall and let the light shine through, and it’s up to us to keep that light shining through, or someday we are going to have to answer to him.”

But perhaps the most moving and eloquent tribute of all came from a man unaccustomed to public pronouncements—Bob Dylan: “There’s no way to measure his greatness as a person or as a player. I don’t think eulogizing will do him justice. He was that great—much more than a superb musician with an uncanny ear and dexterity. He is the very spirit personified of whatever is muddy river country at its core and screams up into the spheres. He really had no equal.

“To me he wasn’t only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know. There are a lot of spaces between the Carter Family, Buddy Holly and, say, Ornette Coleman, a lot of universes, but he filled them all without being a member of any school. His playing was moody, awesome, hypnotic and subtle. There’s no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep.”

The surviving members of the Grateful Dead made no official comment at first. The three who were in the Bay Area at the time—Mickey, Phil and Vince—got together briefly and shared their grief with others in the Dead organization. Bill Kreutzmann was out of town on vacation when he got the news, and Bob Weir was in New Hampshire with his side band, Ratdog. Weir went on with his scheduled performance that night at the Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, telling the shell-shocked crowd, “If our dear, departed friend proved anything to us, he proved that great music can make sad times better.”

The funeral service for Garcia took place at St. Stephen’s (no irony intended) Episcopal Church in Belvedere, in Marin County, on August 11. The location of the ceremony was a closely guarded secret to keep away curious fans, but members of the press found out and showed up in force to gape at the mourners as they entered and left the church. About two hours before the funeral, a retinue of Hell’s Angels roared up on their Harleys, went inside for a few minutes, then came out dressed in black suits to help with security. The guest list of about 250 was controlled by Deborah Garcia and included all the current and former bandmates, Grateful Dead staff, Jerry’s three grown daughters, his ex-wife Sara, Barbara Meier and assorted friends and colleagues ranging from Kesey to Dylan to Bill Walton. Among those pointedly left off the list were Mountain Girl, Manasha and John Kahn, mean-spirited exclusions that were roundly criticized later by many in the Dead community. M.G. had the opportunity to see Garcia in repose, dressed in a black T-shirt and sweatpants, at a wake the night before. In Living with the Dead Rock Scully recounts a conversation in which Garcia supposedly said he didn’t want his body to be on display after he died, and art dealer Roberta Weir recalls a remark Jerry made to her in early 1994:

“I told him that I’d always been sort of death-obsessed, that it was in my own [art] work a lot. And he said he thought it was too bad that death had been mystified for people, because dead bodies were taken away and people didn’t get a chance to see them. He said, ‘If society wasn’t hiding the bodies all the time people would realize that the body is just a hunk of meat.’ I said, ‘Well, what do think about practices that delay burial so that people can talk to the body?’ Like in Buddhism there’s the idea that the confused soul lingers around the body. And he looked down at himself, he pulled his shirt out from his belly and he said, ‘Hang around for this? You’ve got to be kidding. When I’m dead, I’m outta here!’”

“It was weird seeing him like that at the funeral,” said John Kahn, who showed up with his wife, Linda, anyway and stood in the back. “I crashed the funeral, because I wasn’t invited. I just said, ‘Fuck it,’ and went anyway. It was so ridiculous. I went late after everybody was in and just walked in the back door. They could have stopped me, probably. I went there with the attitude, ‘This is the last I’m going to see any of these people, because I’d just as soon not see them anymore.’ I was kind of pissed off at them about Jerry. The Grateful Dead was really hassling Jerry at the end—all those people, his wife, the Grateful Dead. He wasn’t very happy there at the end and it pissed me off.”

The Reverend Matthew Fox (who had presided over Jerry and Deborah’s wedding) conducted the service, which lasted about an hour and a half and featured a number of speeches, many of them laced with humor, from friends and family. It was an open-casket funeral and several attendees later noted—with affection and not a trace of disrespect—that they’d seen Jerry look much worse. Reverend Fox called Jerry “a wounded healer” and sprinkled quotes from Heidegger, Jung and St. Thomas Aquinas in his remarks. “Jerry is in a place where the ancestors gather, his musical ancestors,” he said, “and one can only imagine the jamming going on there.”

Kesey praised Garcia as a warrior, and Steve Parish spoke movingly about his friend who had treated him and others so well through the years. David Grisman and Enrique Coria played “Amazing Grace” and the ancient Hebrew melody “Shalom Aleichem.” Gloria Jones and Jackie LaBranch of the JGB sang a spiritual called “My Living Shall Not Be in Vain” backed by Melvin Seals on piano. Annabelle Garcia, beaming a pranksterish grin, noted that Jerry “may have been a genius, but he was a shitty father.” This widely reported remark was viewed by people who don’t know her mischievous sense of humor—so much like both her father’s and mother’s—to be out of place at the funeral, but everyone in attendance knew what she meant and took it in the spirit she intended.

Toward the end of the service Robert Hunter stood in front of the mourners and with shaking hands but a strong voice read a poem he’d written for the occasion. As usual, his eloquence struck the perfect chord for the event. It read, in part:

Jerry, my friend,

you’ve done it again,

even in your silence

the familiar pressure

comes to bear, demanding

I pull words from the air

with only this morning

and part of the afternoon

to compose an ode worthy

of one so particular

about every turn of phrase,

demanding it hit home

in a thousand ways

before making it his own,

and this I can’t do alone.

Now that the singer has gone,

where shall I go for the song? …

… May she bear thee to thy rest,

the ancient bower of flowers

beyond the solitude of days,

the tyranny of hours—

the wreath of shining laurel lie

upon your shaggy head,

bestowing power to play the lyre

to legions of the dead.

If some part of that music

is heard in deepest dream,

or on some breeze of Summer

a snatch of golden theme,

we’ll know you live inside us

with love that never parts

our good old Jack of Diamonds

become the King of Hearts.

I feel your silent laughter

at sentiments so bold

that dare to step across the line

to tell what must be told,

so I’ll just say I love you

which I never said before

and let it go at that my friend,

the rest you may ignore.

At the end of the service Reverend Fox asked the mourners to give Garcia one last standing ovation, and they obliged, tears flowing from most eyes. As they left the church, many filed by the open casket, pausing for a moment to say good-bye one more time.

After the funeral some of the crowd repaired to a gathering at Bill Graham’s former hilltop mansion in Mill Valley, known as Masada, while others, including M.G., went to Robert and Maureen Hunter’s house. Sara Ruppenthal says, “We had a wonderful time at Hunter’s. And for that whole week there was this extensive sort of house party going on, with Hunter taking care of people who needed to come and connect with each other. It was extraordinarily nurturing.”

Two days after the funeral, at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park, there was an official public celebration of Garcia’s life. The day broke sunny and warm, and by 8 A.M. thousands of Deadheads from all over the Bay Area, and scores more who had flown in or driven long distances to be part of the event, had congregated on the field in the bright morning sunshine. Bill Graham Presents had set up loudspeakers and erected a small platform with a rostrum and a single microphone surrounded by enormous sprays of flowers. Multicolored triangular banners flanked the stage, and an arch of purple and green balloons blew silently above the stage in the early morning breeze. From outward appearances, it could almost have been a stage set from a latter-day Dead show except for the main element in the scene: a striking thirty-foot painted cloth portrait of a smiling Garcia, guitar in hands. In front of the stage there was a makeshift shrine which over the course of the day became filled with thousands of personal mementos from Deadheads—photos, old Dead T-shirts, poems, flowers, stuffed animals, ticket stubs, messages to Jerry—all sorts of big and little items.

At 10 A.M. a Mardi Gras-style funeral parade passed slowly around the edge of the field, led by a Dixieland band playing from the back of a flatbed truck. Among those in the procession were a dozen or so people carrying Grateful Dead and Tibetan prayer flags, and the Hog Farm’s Chinese New Year dragon, Flash, who’d been part of so many Grateful Dead shows. By late morning there were about 25,000 people on the field—about the same number that attended the Human Be-In there. Clusters of Deadheads who’d been to untold numbers of shows together assembled on blankets and bedspreads as if they were at a show. Children chased each other and blew bubbles. There were hugs, more than a few tears, but mostly smiling faces.

The great Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, dressed in a flowing white African robe, was the first to speak before the crowd. He offered words of consolation, urged those gathered to celebrate Garcia’s spirit and led everyone in call-and-response chanting that echoed across the giant field.

Then Olatunji introduced Deborah Garcia, who lifted the crowd’s mood when she came to the microphone and said, “What a great guy Jerry was! He would have loved this; he is loving it! He was a big-hearted, generous, wonderful, hardworking man. I want everyone to know that he died in his sleep with a smile on his face. He was working hard to purify himself, and we thought it was going to be for a good long life, but it was for another journey. And he loved his life. He loved all of you. And what I learned from Jerry was to open my heart and live fully in the moment. And for that, and for everything else, and for all the beauty in his life, I want to say thank you, Jerry, I love you.”

Annabelle Garcia lauded her father as “one of the greatest Americans ever born” and urged Deadheads “to respect each other and love each other. And think to yourself when something’s wrong: What would Jerry do? And keep it up, you know? You gotta keep together, and be grateful.”

Fighting back tears, his voice breaking with emotion, Bob Weir thanked Jerry for “showing me how to live with joy and mischief. And so, what I want is to give some of that back to him now, make him complete, make him whole.” With his arms outstretched, his hands open toward the sun, he asked the crowd to “Take your heart, take your faith, and reflect back some of that joy he gave you. He filled this world full of clouds of joy. Just take a little bit of that and reflect it back up to him, or wherever he is, just shine it back to him.”

Steve Parish, a private man with a tough exterior, said simply, “You’ve seen us up here scurrying around all these years. I wanna just tell you we did it because we love you, too; all of you, you were great! You’re the best people there are!”

Then the other members of the band spoke.

Mickey Hart told the crowd that the Grateful Dead had empowered them and that now, “You have the groove, you have the feeling. We’ve been working on it for thirty years now. So what are you going to do with it? That’s the question… . This means a lot to all of us, and you kept us going; you were the fuel. You were a part of it; a big part of it… . We all love you for that!”

Phil Lesh called Jerry “my brother. He was a wounded warrior. And now he’s done with becoming. Now he is being Jerry, God bless you. Go with God. I love you.”

Bill Kreutzmann noted that “the highest moment of my life was when the band was playing and cooking … with Jerry and these guys behind me. That’s the best.”

And Vince Welnick said, “The first time I ever laid eyes on Jerry I believed in Santa Claus. He could be ornery at times, but that was his body talking, not his soul. Because I never met a kinder man in the whole world. Everybody’s asking the big question, and love is the answer. And I’ll always believe in Santa Claus.”

The last speaker was John Barlow: “They asked me to come up here and speak a word, and rarely in my life have I had so few of them. And so I’ll just speak one: Love.”

For the entire afternoon, David Gans and Dick Latvala played Grateful Dead tapes over the huge sound system, and thousands of Deadheads danced, swayed, sang along and cheered as if it were “the boys” themselves up there, beneath the smiling Jerry portrait, cranking out rock ’n’ roll and space music and heartrending ballads. The crowd whooped during “Scarlet Begonias” and “Sugar Magnolia,” seemed scattered and confused during a long, painfully loud psychedelic jam from a ’68 tape, and looked appropriately somber during “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.”

As the shadows from the towering cypress trees that ring the Polo Fields grew long in the late afternoon, an unmistakable air of sadness floated over the field. The last few songs brought back tears once more: the gentle strains of “Box of Rain” from American Beauty; the band, circa 1968, struggling to keep their harmonies together on “We Bid You Goodnight,” the lovely a cappella spiritual the band closed so many shows with in the late ’60s; and finally, the soothing orchestral version of “Greensleeves” that Bill Graham loved to use to gently usher people back out into the real world after shows at the Fillmores and Winterland. The day had been a celebration and a wake; a perfect day with only one thing missing: Jerry Garcia