Blair's Golden Road Blog - Where Were You When You Heard the News?
by Blair Jackson
Summer flies and August dies / The world grows dark and mean…
—Robert Hunter, “Days Between”
On the morning of August 9, 1995, I was driving to my job as an editor at Mix magazine, listening to our local classic rock station and caught the end of “Uncle John’s Band.” A nice way to greet the day, I thought. But when the DJ came on right after and very solemnly intoned, “In case you haven’t heard…” Well, I hadn’t heard. Then came his unbelievable announcement that Jerry had died earlier that morning. I practically ran my car off the road. My wife, Regan, was on her way to work in San Francisco, so I couldn’t reach her (this is pre-cell phone for me), so I kept driving to work, flipping the radio dial to see if I could learn more. Through the years I’ve talked to many people who said they were not surprised by the news at all, that they’d actually expected it for some time. But I was completely shocked.
There had been warning signs, of course. Jerry seemed listless and out of it during a lot of 1994, and he looked terrible. That autumn, I was sufficiently depressed by a frighteningly bad Garcia band show in Oakland and a pair of concerts at Madison Square Garden that I abruptly backed out of an agreement with a major publisher to write a book of essays about the Dead, celebrating their 30 years together. In the first 1995 issue of Dupree’s Diamond News, I wrote that something was clearly wrong with Garcia—Was it physical? Drug-related? We didn’t know. Even so, I remained hopeful that he could bounce back from whatever maladies were afflicting him, as he had after the coma in ’86 and the second scare in the summer of ’92.
The shows I saw in ’95 were a mixed bag. The three February Oakland Coliseum shows were so-so; the third special because it featured another festive Mardi Gras parade and an appearance by saxophonist David Murray (who, alas, was not miked well). The June Shoreline Amphitheatre run was better, with the first two good enough that I felt more hopeful about the future of the band than I had for some time. From afar, we followed the infamous summer ’95 tour, with its seemingly unending disasters—the gate-crashing in Vermont, fans hit by lightning in D.C., the death threat to Jerry at Deer Creek, a porch full of Dead Heads collapsing near the group’s Missouri venue. It all had a nearly Biblical, wrath-of-God feeling to it.
Shortly after the tour, word spread that Jerry had gone into rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic in Southern California, which I took to be excellent news. No more of those “Honest, Doc, I can kick it on my own, just leave me alone” cures. Maybe this would be the program that could really whip him into shape and convince him to change his ways. As we all know, however, he didn’t stay there as long as was recommended, he came home, fell back into his bad habits, then checked himself into another facility—Serenity Knolls in West Marin—and died of a heart attack his first night there. It still hurts to recall it.
Back to that day. I arrived at work, and one by one my colleagues stopped by my office to talk about the terrible news and to console me, as if I’d lost a family member (that’s not far off). I talked to Regan by phone at the San Francisco Chronicle, were she worked, and she was understandably shaken up. She wanted to come home, but as the resident Dead Head on the copy desk, instead had to answer questions from Chronicle reporters covering Jerry’s passing and then copy-edit their stories. No escape.
I’d only been at work about an hour before I got a call from someone at the San Francisco public radio station KQED, asking if I would appear on the NPR program All Things Considered to talk about Jerry. Joining me were my friends and fellow Dead scribes David Gans and Steve Silberman. As I recall, they were brilliant and articulate, as always, and I chimed in just a few times, offering nothing particularly profound, as my brain was mush at that point. I derived quiet satisfaction from the fact that the local TV news seemed to be all-Garcia that night. It wasn’t just important to us. Family members back East and in the Midwest called that night to offer their condolences. They, more than most, knew what the Dead and Jerry had meant to me.
Over the next couple of days, I was corralled into doing a whole bunch of short radio interviews with various news and music stations to talk about Jerry and his legacy. In retrospect, I have no idea how any of these interviews came to me—maybe Dead publicist Dennis McNally, who was inundated by press in the days and weeks after Jerry died, suggested my name. Whatever the case, it was all very surreal, and I never felt like I was saying what I wanted to say or what I thought needed to be said. If only my words did glow…
I also felt as though I couldn’t really let Jerry’s death sink in, because I was constantly having to be even-keeled and analytical about it, rather than emotional. People were falling apart all around me, but I didn’t allow myself to. At that point I was more numb than anything else.
All that changed five days after Jerry died. With our 4-year old son, Kyle, and his 1-year old sister, Hayley, in tow, we joined a few thousand other Dead Heads at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park for a big public memorial celebration. An enormous, colorful portrait of a smiling Jerry playing his guitar hung above a stage that had been erected beneath the tall cypress and eucalyptus trees that ring the field. An impromptu shrine collected hundreds of flowers, photos and objects of every variety (jewelry, stuffed animals, odd knick-knacks that had special meaning to the givers). A giant sound system pumped out one Dead tune after another (chosen by Dick Latvala and David Gans) and people smiled, danced and sang along as if the band were playing. We saw many folks we knew, shared hugs and stories, and vowed we would stay connected.
There were uplifting and heartbreaking speeches from Jerry’s family and each band member, and momentarily the overwhelming feeling of community on that field pushed back the grief. You had to believe we would get by, we would survive, if only because we had one another.
There was plenty more Grateful Dead music as the late afternoon sun started to cast long shadows across the field. Our young children were getting a little antsy, so we reluctantly decided to depart. But I vividly remember the four of us stopping for a couple minutes on a grassy berm above the Polo Fields and looking down longingly at the sea of tie-dye and swaying dancers, Jerry’s portrait and assorted banners waving gently in the wind. The music was still clear as a bell, wafting on the breeze, carrying so much joy, mystery and, yes, sadness on its flight to the heavens. In my very hazy recollection, some intense Anthem of the Sun-era tune gave way to the aptly dubbed “Beautiful Jam” from the 2/18/71 “Dark Star,” and I remember in that instant feeling the remarkable continuity of the Dead’s history, from the Human Be-In, in that very spot in January 1967, to this sad, sad day in 1995. This was my tribe, in happiness and sorrow.
That’s when it hit me. The finality. Nothing like this will ever come our way again. It’s over. Nothin’s gonna bring him back.
And for the first time in five days I cried.
My friend Ian came up to Alaska for a visit from CA. Our annual fair was about to start with the David Nelson Band performing that afternoon. I had just biked to work and got a call from my friend Jenn, who I toured with in Europe 90, and she broke the news to me. We turned on KHNS our local NPR station and JP was the DJ that morning playing Sugaree and more. We all went to UMASS Amherst together and took in many east coast shows. We headed out to the fairgrounds in the afternoon for the DNB. They came out on stage and with tears streaming down from every band member, opened with Ripple. That Sun night we started at midnight on the radio and played Jerry tunes till 6 in the morning. David Nelson came in and talked about his time with Jerry.
It was the summer of '95 when I heard the news of Jerry's passing, and I was preparing to enter high school. I honestly don't remember it very well, though I think it was all too surreal at the time. I'd only been listening to the Dead for a few short years--I bought my first Dead tape, "American Beauty," when I was in 5th grade--so the true impact of Jerry's death didn't have as much meaning then as it does now. There was a full two-page spread dedicated to him in that my high school year book, though, which just goes to show how much he meant to his fans, even all the way out in Columbia, MD.
.... was at work when my wife called crying, to tell me the news. It's hard to process news like that, the words 'Jerry died' are so mundane, the implications so profound. it takes time ....
A couple of friends of mine at work came around. They knew I was into the whole scene. They kind of stared at me for a while too, I guess wondering if I was going to have a psychadelic meltdown or something.
That night my wife and I took the kids (13 and 11) down to Philadelphia where there was a gathering of a few thousand people at Independance Park, where the Liberty Bell is. Chatted up with a bunch of stranger/brothers/sisters .... talking about Jerry and this and that .... met an orthodox Jewish kid decked out with his tallis and yarmulke, reciting the Viduy (prayer for the dead).
Like everyone else, there was this sense of loss and then grief. I hadn't really felt anything like that since John Lennon died.
I first saw the Dead in 1970, I was 19, at the legendary Capitol Theater in Portchester, and saw Jerry and the boys play there twice in 70 and once in 71. How absolutely fabulous!
My older brother saw the first show they ever played in NYC, at Tompkins Square park in 67 .... and I took my kids to see the boys three times while Jerry was still with us .... kind of a Deadhead family. my daughter, now 30, will tell her Phishead friends how she actually saw Jerry Garcia play .... Instant Status!
sad that it had to end .... and yet how blessed we all were to have this extraordinary being in our lives. Nothing lasts forever, so we should be grateful for the time we did have with him, cause as his buddy said, there's nothing you can hold for very long. We got to hold Jerry and the cosmic existence he created for a little while.
We can still enjoy the music and reminisce, and even more than that, keep the mother rolling .....
I don't believe in God, or an afterlife, or any sentimental stuff like that. I believe we come into the world from nothingness, and pass back out of the world into nothingness and that's it .... but if I was wrong, it's nice to belive that Jerry is watching us from somewhere and enjoying all his music being played by new generations of musicians, and being enjoyed by young people. My Dad, who passed away recently, used to tell me that you can tell who is a great musicians because their music stands the test of time. I am quite sure that Jerry's music will be around for many centuries, and more.
yours in happiness and sadness,
I got up early ,around noon,and was rideing my bike to Chico Natural Foods for breakfest . I was cutting across the liquor store parking lot when i turned around to look at the newspaperracks.There were 3 on the bottom 4 on the top, 6 of them had the same picture ,almost ,of Jerry ,hand up like ending a song with differant captions,all the same ,and i got off my bike and cried like a motherfucker,right there in the parking lot,and i never realized how much i loved the whole world that i got to be a part of. I went home and cried n got fucked up and went downtown n crie dwith a lot of other people n then we started laughin n saying Phuckin Jerry but Nooooooooo,n i realized there was nothing anyone ,or i could do to change it . I was fortunate to go to the city in the park,for what i thiought was a real family GD meeting of people and i was so thankful that someones thought to put this on, for everyone It was a great healer for all..When Bill Graham died it was the beggining of the end .and Jerrys death ended what proved to be the beginning of something new ,and the remaining members have carried on ,and gone on to make great music still ,and that is a great accomplishment ,and kept people dancing, n thinking in a higher conciosness. Its fumnny that its 2012 n im able to write here n now thank you all for keeping it going and allowing fans to post stuff , im driveing a 18 wheeler around the country,and the music never sounded so good or moveing, probably cuz im scared shitless driveing with so much responsibility much love and again thank you so much
getting ready for work, which @ the time was GDTS......our 91 year old neighbor called 1st to say he was sorry to tell us he heard it on the radio....then the phone started ringing.......went to San Rafael to work, where the rest of my compadres met up, all still in shock, as with any death in a family. We were all dazed......I remember I went upstairs & started working til someone said STOP & we all gathered in the backyard........Seems like a lifetime ago, now we have "Jerry Week" & the annual SF Giants Jerry Day ballgame....+ I play GD for the grandkids now, which they love & dance...Thank you, Jerry!......
I was visiting relatives on a little island in Lake Michigan and had played an enjoyable, competitive round (9 holes) of golf with one of my wife's cousins, a professor at Stanford (a Palo Alto connection!). We had just finished the last hole, and decided to go into the tiny clubhouse for a beer. As we sat at the counter, the news came on that "legendary guitarist and '60's icon Jerry Garcia died in his sleep last night," or some such news speak. My playing partner obviously wasn't a Deadhead and didn't seem to react much. I finished my beer, said farewell and headed back to the cottage my family was staying at. I lay down in bed and just started sobbing. My wife came in, I told her the news, and she left me alone to grieve. As many fans will say, this was hardly a surprise, but it shocked my soul nonetheless. As I have read more about Jerry's challenges and burdens since he has passed, I suspect that some of my (and other's grief) is that the joy he shared with all of us came at a high price. I would have settled for less brilliance and a longer run. Fare thee well, Jerry. As Bob says often, you are never far away.
I was in my home on an ominous weather day in new york state. Upon hearing the news, the gloomy sky reflected the state of my being. Tears did flow but it would also be days and days before reality set in. See you in another space and time brother.
I was working away from home, about to lead a workshop for 40 teachers at a hotel in Naples, Florida, having just had breakfast, when I saw the news on the hotel's hallway TV that Jerry had died. I had to step into the restroom for a few minutes and cry, then pull myself together and step to the front of the room. One of the hardest days of my life. There was one guy in the group who looked like he might have known too, and I think we connected at lunch, though my memories of that day are foggy, unlike my memories of Jerry's voice and guitar. Kept on crying later throughout the evening as I called home. I've never cried that much for anyone, not for my cats or Bill Graham or even my grandmothers... I knew a big part of my life was over.
There's a license plate I still see sometimes in Mill Valley: "IMISSJG"
I wanted to say some similar things, but could not get the words right. You capture many of my feelings very well and touch some topics avoided by many. Actually, being far from the scene (no GD visits to Europe from '81 to '90 and after '90) and without US connections, I was very naive about all that was going on. The studio albums were pretty dire, but my love for the Dead was nurtured by the wonders of Dick's Picks. I still thought Captain Trips was the leader of the band who always had it all together. Little did I know.
So yes, I too was angry and disillusioned at the stufff I heard after he died, and even more so having read some hard-to-take stuff in Blair's book. I am not angry now. I have reappraised how I feel about Garcia, no more silly notions about being a high priest or shaman or fount of wisdom....now I just let his music do the talking with help from Hunters words. That says quite enough.
When Jerry passed away, details that emerged about his addiction and lifestyle choices, and the band's slavish devotion to fans and their overhead made closure pretty easy for me, at least with regard to "the life". I wanted to move on from being a Deadhead, I knew the music had declined to the point where I had little interest in playing recent live tapes. A few good moments on tape were not enough to believe otherwise, it was work to find joy in the music at the shows. Leaving Giants Stadium in 1995 and in prior years, I had no interest in going to another show, my strong sense was that the duty call was done. I was away (in rural Maine) from almost all media when JG died, news came in a single phone call from someone who knew where to find me, and I was happy to be spared the hype. Months or weeks later, only David Gans got it right, or so I think even today. I am still angry, unable to relate JG's high intelligence and creativity with his choices and self-destruction. His poison and isolation was prolonged and deadly, as differentiated as his style, and his gifts. I don't get it, never will.
A few years on post '95 and with regard to Grateful Dead music, I had a whole other sense of joy and satisfaction about the songs, the legacy of the Band and the fans. I was proud, and I still am. We are blessed.