Monday, July 30, 2012

TRIBUTE: Jerry Garcia’s 70th Birthday

Jerry Garcia in 1969
Jerry Garcia in 1969 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together ... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart ... I’ll always be with you - Christopher Robin, “Pooh’s Grand Adventure”.

Every life is a story. And every story requires a soundtrack. For life is a sensual experience, and among the senses, the sounds - and, particularly, the music - that accompany life’s experiences provide a context that enriches and completes them.

Music has the unique power to evoke the thoughts and feelings that were present in an experience, even many years after the fact. And in the infinite and enigmatic wisdom that we, as humans, possess, we create musical soundtracks on a continual basis for every moment of our life, should we ever have the need to remember, truly remember, one or more of the experiences that comprise our life.

The music of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead has been the soundtrack of my life for almost 40 years. And on the occasion of Jerry’s 70th birthday, Aug. 1, 2012, I feel compelled to pay tribute to the man who provided a marvelous musical context for millions that has endured for more than 50 years, including the last 17 years following his untimely, but hardly shocking, death.

The Grateful Dead was hardly the first and certainly not the only musical soundtrack of my life. In my early childhood years I came under the spell of the ancient music of my Jewish heritage - the joyful blessings over the Chanukah candles, the haunting melodies of the liturgy in the synagogue, the celebratory Klezmer tunes from Eastern Europe. 

The first records I played on the turntable in my boyhood room were classical - Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Schubert come to mind. Within a short period I was listening to 45s of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Monkeys and countless others. Then came my marching band years, with ultra-patriotic military band melodies such as John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

All of that set the stage for the summer of my 20th year, when I first began listening to the Grateful Dead’s “Skull and Roses” album. There was a spirit and joy in the music, particularly the melodious and innovative lead guitar parts played by Jerry Garcia, that moved me in a way that I had never been moved before. 

And when I relocated to the Bay Area in central California and became steeped in the “hippie” culture that was still very much thriving there in the mid-70s, I became fully immersed in the music of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead and adopted it thematically as the predominant soundtrack of my life.

Exactly what it is about Jerry Garcia that has moved so many is a subject that has filled countless pages. But as the 70th birthday of this legendary figure has grown imminent, I have given the matter some thought. 

Indeed, Jerry and his enigmatic and enduring legacy were on my mind recently as I was listening to “Scarlet/Fire” (an often-played medley of the otherwise unrelated Grateful Dead tunes “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain”) from the famous May 8, 1977, Ithaca show, while enjoying a classic ride from Boulder to Jamestown and back. 

What came to me is the talent that Jerry had for creating an elegant balance of non-conformity and community building - a seemingly oxymoronic notion.

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