Tuesday, July 31, 2012

He Was A Friend of Mine: Happy 70th Birthday Jerry

“There's no way to measure his greatness or magnitude as a person or as a player. I don't think any eulogizing will do him justice. He was that great, much more than a superb musician, with an uncanny ear and dexterity. He's 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's a lot of spaces and advances 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, sophisticated, hypnotic and subtle. There's no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep.”
Bob Dylan’s press release regarding the death of Jerry Garcia’s is one of the most poignant, and perceptive pieces I’ve ever read. It always makes me feel the immediacy of Jerry’s passing as if it just happened, and I know that Dylan gets It. In that glorious paragraph, Dylan sketches the essence of Jerry Garcia, the enlightened soul who gave us everything he had.  
I became a Deadhead on January 24, 1981, after experiencing Europe ’72 in the backseat of my friend’s Honda Civic following a New York Islanders hockey game. On that evening, Michael Bossy became the second player in NHL history to score fifty goals in the first fifty games of a season. It was a thrilling live spectacle, but hearing my first Ramble On Rose on the way home stole the show. The Jerry switch in my brain was flicked on when I heard him croon,
“I’m gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime. I know this song it ain’t never gonna end.”
In Jerry’s world, the music never stopped. Songs went on and on, and they melted into exotic combinations: Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution…Playin’ in the Band  > Uncle John’s Band > Morning Dew > Uncle John’s Band > Playin’ in the Band. The jams fearlessly stormed into unchartered territory, but were seamlessly balanced  like mathematical equations. It all roles into one. 
Buddy Holly, Orrnette Coleman, Eddie Lang, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan; Jerry absorbed them all, and cherished the supernatural spirit of everything that was awesome and wholesome about music. Jerry and his cosmic band mates poured sonic inspiration into a psychedelic blender at Kesey’s Acid Tests, launching a distinctive genre of music that was true its roots—The Grateful Dead.
Perhaps, nobody appreciated other artist’s music more than Jerry. Just consider the songs Jerry Garcia Band tackled: Dear Prudence, Tangled Up in Blue, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Harder They Come, After Midnight, Second That Emotion, Tough Mama, Let it Rock, And It Stoned Me, Russian Lullaby, When I Paint My Masterpiece. I suppose that’s what love will make you do.
Jerry turned me on to Dylan. When the Grateful Dead toured with Bob in 1987, I became the happiest Dylanhead on the planet. A few years later, the Grateful Dead shared the stage with Branford Marsalis at the Nassau Coliseum. That Jerry > Branford jam in Eyes of the World enlightened me to the world of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bud Powell.
Songs were sacred to Jerry. That’s why he slowed down the tempo and prolonged the jam. I know this song, it ain’t never gonna end. Every nook, cranny, and crevice in the valley was explored and magnified. When our lives are in spirit, we want to stop time in its tracks. Jerry could stop time: 9-3-77 Englishtown, 8-27-72 Kesey’s Farm, 9-18-97 Madison Square Garden.
I’ll take a melody
 And see what I can do about it.
I’ll take a simple C to G
And feel brand new about it
“He's the very spirit personified of whatever is Muddy River country at its core and screams up into the spheres,” said Mr. Dylan. Thankfully, Muddy River country still rages in these conformist times. You can hear It on the 24/7 Grateful Dead Channel, and you can see It and feel It in every hippie living the life they love at a summer festival. It’s been seventeen years since Jerry’s passing, and  every year, the big fella  looms larger than ever. I savor his angelic voice every day. And his passionately patient solos scream up into the spheres and beyond.
Thank you Dear Mr. Fantasy. Happy 70th Birthday! You know our love will not fade away. 
Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead is available on Kindle for $5.99 to celebrate Jerry's Birthday. www.tangledupintunes.com


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