THOUGHTS ON GARCIA: DON'T LET GO

DENNIS McNALLY :: GRATEFUL DEAD PUBLICIST & BIOGRAPHER


Dennis McNally
1. How would you say the music of Jerry Garcia and/or the man himself has influenced your music, your craft, and/or your life path?

I spent at least twenty-five years listening to the Grateful Dead a lot; everyday. So you could call that an influence. Thanks to Jerry I got the intellectual opportunity of a lifetime to write the book I wanted to write. I got the job of a lifetime, which has basically been my life career, and through Jerry – and the wider ramifications of the Grateful Dead – I met my wife and daughter, and the great bulk of my friends, it's fairly completely influenced my life; and in almost universally good ways. Other than my birth-family, it's everything – it didn't just influence my life, it filled it up!

2. What is your fondest memory of Jerry Garcia?

When the Grateful Dead did the National Anthem for a Giants game, we did sound check at ten and then the game/show/song wasn't until one and because of the traffic no one could leave the stadium. So I had these bored musicians I had to entertain from ten until one and at some point I saw some very famous ex-Giants, and you have to remember that Jerry grew up as a kid in the Bay Area, he wasn't a huge sports fan, but he was enough of a sports fan to know who Willie McCovey was, and he was very impressed to meet Willie McCovey. Now Willie McCovey is a natural born gentleman and they schmoozed for a while and that was all cool. Then I went up to Willie Mays and I said, "Mr. Mays can I introduce you to Jerry Garcia, he's going to be signing the National Anthem?" Now Willie Mays is notoriously grumpy, and he said, "No!" and called out to the other players – there was some kind of Giants alumni gathering before the game – and he said, "Come on you guys I want to get to the party" and they left. And Jerry cackled! First he was talking about how cool it was to talk with Willie McCovey, it touched a part of him that was sixteen, and then he just laughed almost till he cried at how wonderful it was – and he meant it – to be snubbed by Willie Mays. Not because it was personal, Willie Mays didn't want to talk to God at that point, but it was normal, and frankly, Jerry liked being treated normally.


Jerry Garcia by Jay Blakesberg
Melvin Seals tells a story about when he auditioned for the band; he didn't know who Jerry was. And Jerry loved that! You know how most famous people, "Don't you know who I think I am!?" Well in this case it was, "He doesn't know who I am? Great! We're just jamming, fine, I'm another musician.

One of the cooler New Year's Eves that the Grateful Dead ever played was with Etta James. And there was this great moment, and it was very much a normal showbiz moment, Etta came up and she leaned her arm on Jerry's shoulder as he's playing, I think she even gave him a little hip-bump. And I was thinking, in most Dead Heads mind's you don't touch Jerry as he's playing! The Grateful Dead didn't go in for any showbiz stuff! And I could imagine them being shocked. Jerry was obviously gassed, he loved it. This was Etta James for Christ's Sake. So I made some remark about that after the show and I said something to the effect of, "At that moment you looked like you could have been very happy just being the backup musician in some anonymous band." And he said, "Absolutely!" And he gave my wife away; he acted as the Father of the Bride. Those were the moments, it was the normal stuff where he didn't need to be Jerry Garcia with a capital "J" "G," he was just Jerry. That was my blessing, that's what I got. Because he was a sweet boy, at his grumpiest he was always basically civil. And it was only right at the end where he was just miserable-among other things, from diabetic mood-swings and he wouldn't hang out. Most of the time he just loved smoking a fat one and raving.


Jerry Garcia by Jay Blakesberg
3. What would you say is the most significant thing Jerry has given the world?

Jerry Garcia is the greatest success story of all time. It just depends on how you measure success. He lived his life on his own terms, some of them weren't the smartest terms, so he ended up not being physically healthy – and that's dumb – and he was dumb about that. But on the whole he wanted to devout his life to music and to honoring music; and he did that. And he and the Grateful Dead got this incredible success despite the fact – in fact in part because – they did everything the wrong way. They did things for musical reasons not financial reasons, and they ended up being able to live life on their own terms; what could be better than that? All he asked out of life was the ability to keep playing.


Do you have a memory of Jerry you'd like to share? A moment that influenced your life? A meeting with the man that left an impression? If so, please use our Comment box below to share.

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