Happy 75th Birthday Jerry Garcia: Jerry Talks
Jerry Garcia was born on August 1, 1942 in San Francisco which would make today his 75th birthday had he not tragically died on August 9, 1995. Garcia co-founded the Grateful Dead in 1965, a band he helped name when the guitarist came across an entry in the Britannica World Language Dictionary. The Grateful Dead went on to play more than 2,300 concerts over the course of an illustrious 30-year career. Jerry also participated in a dozens of other projects including the long running Jerry Garcia Band, bluegrass act Old & In The Way and soul-rockers Legion Of Mary.
The influence of Jerry Garcia is still felt today in the jam scene and beyond. His music has been performed in recent years by an incredibly diverse group of acts that includes Norah Jones, The National, Jimmy Buffett, the Dave Matthews Band, Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, The Dean Ween Group, Tom Petty, Courtney Barnett and Thievery Corporation.
Jerry was not only a top flight musician, but he was an eloquent and loquacious speaker who often gave frank and thoughtful responses as an interview subject. In honor of Garcia’s 75th birthday, we’ve rounded up a handful of interesting quotes from throughout Jerry’s all-too-short life in which the beloved musician discusses a variety of subjects. Here’s Jerry in his own words …
On The Importance Of The Beatles
They were real important to everybody. They were a little model, especially the movies – the movies were a big turn-on. Just because it was a little model of good times. The Fifties were sure hurting for good times. And the early Sixties were very serious too – Kennedy and everything. And the Beatles were light and having a good time and they were good too, so it was a combination that was very satisfying on the artistic level, which is part of the scene that I was into – the art school thing and all that. The conscious thing of the artistic world, the Beatles were accomplished in all that stuff. It was like saying, “You can be young, you can be far out, and you can still make it.” They were making people happy. That happy thing – that’s the stuff that counts – something that we could all see right away.
On “Let It Rock”
That’s Chuck Berry’s most economical tune. It only has three short verses and no catchy refrain that made some of his other songs so popular. It’s just a direct, hard, simple narrative. It really says what it says and it’s dynamic. It’s just a beautiful piece of rock and roll poetry, whatever that is. The lyrics are just incredible.
On Live Dead vs. Studio Dead
I prefer playing live as opposed to playing in a studio for sure just as an experience it’s definitely richer. It’s continuous, you play a note and you can see where it goes, you can see what the response is, what the reaction is. There’s some recipricating. In a studio you can also do that, but you’re doing it with the other musicians. When you have a group of musicians in a studio it’s not unlike having a room full of plumbers. What we might be interested in as musicians might not relate to anyone else. That’s the difference if there’s a real big difference.
On Whether He Votes
Vote for what? Even looking for decently believable input from that world is a scene. So I haven’t developed that much interest in the motions of the rest of the world. I’m mainly interested in improving the relationship between the band and the audience, and I’m into being onstage and playing.
They’re actually real good people. They’re game. It’s hard not to like people who like you. Our commitment is like there’s. We’re the same sort of people as them really.
The shows are never the same ever. Not even ever. When we’re done with it they can have it.
On His 1986 Diabetic Coma
For me it wasn’t one of those near-death experiences. It was very weird, it had a sort of science-fiction quality to it. But it wasn’t painful, it was cerebral. The weird part of it was that it took a while for me to get to the point where I was understood. I had to fish for everything.
It was like everything was in random access, I know all the words, but I can’t get it out of myself. So for the first few days it was mostly sort of Joycean inversions of language, and then after a while I started to remember how it worked. But I had to do that with everything. They had to teach me how to walk again, and playing the guitar, I had to do that stuff all over again. But it was all there. I mean the bits and pieces where all there, but I didn’t have ready access to all of them.
On His Memories Of Monterey Pop
[The Who] smashing all their equipment. I mean, they did it so well. It looked so great. It was like, wow, that is beautiful. We went on. We played our little music. And it seemed so lame to me at the time. And [Jimi Hendrix] was also beautiful and incredible and sounded great and looked great. I loved both acts. I sat there gape-jawed. They were wonderful. I remember Phil’s bass got stolen in L.A. the day before we played.
On The Brotherhood Of The Grateful Dead
We’ve had people born and people die, and kind of all the things that blood families have, and probably, like Bob says, more intense in a way. Our family has the same thing that blood families have in that you don’t really choose who your family is. It’s like you get them, and that’s what you get. I know that my relationship with the Grateful Dead family is way closer than anything I’ve got with any of my blood relatives, such as they are. I barely see them. In fact, my brother is a member of my family because he works in the Grateful Dead community more than the fact that he’s my blood brother. He’s part of that world. Otherwise, I’d never see him.
On His Love Of Scuba Diving
Scuba diving is my one physical thing. It’s the one physical thing I do and I really love it. Anyway. So that’s the next level. By then it’s the middle of the show and it’s time to sort of get away from that. You can address the show knowing that everything is working now. Boom. Now we go back and then it’s time to actually do the thing. And sometimes we talk it down, figure it out. Well, let’s do this and this and this. See what happens. And it all gets us up to that place where it’s absolutely free, but…
On The Death Of Brent Mydland
Yeah, as a matter of fact we did. About six or eight months earlier, he OD’d and had to go to the hospital, and they just saved his ass. Then he went through lots of counseling and stuff. But I think there was a situation coming up where he was going to have to go to jail. He was going to have to spend like three weeks in jail, for driving under the influence or one of those things, and it’s like he was willing to die just to avoid that.
Brent was not a real happy person. And he wasn’t like a total drug person. He was the kind of guy that went out occasionally and binged. And that’s probably what killed him. Sometimes it was alcohol, and sometimes it was other stuff. When he would do that, he was one of those classic cases of a guy whose personality would change entirely, and he would just go completely out of control.
You think, “What could I have done to save this guy?” But as you go through life, people die away from you, and you have no choice but to rise to the highest level and look at it from that point of view, because everything else is really painful. And we’re old enough now where we’ve had a lot of people die out from under us. I mean, [artist] Rick Griffin just died.
On Meeting Bill Kreutzmann
He was 17-years-old and he was a teenager, just a kid. I played a few shows with him and stuff like that. Then when me and Weir talked about putting together an electric blues band, or something of that sort, the only drummer that I really played with in that area that I thought had a really nice feel was Bill. By then we was 18, so I talked to him and he was just as weird as ever. I really didn’t understand anything he said. [Does imititation] I said ‘what!?’ [Does another imititation] I asked him if he wanted to play and he was delighted. He was just all over the place. So we played and it was great, he worked out fine. I didn’t realize what a truly strange person he was until we started getting high together. A whole other Bill jumped out. That Bill was a total imp.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1APJNMkfiys