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.
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.
I was just home from the hospital, having had my spinal discs shaved and realigned. A friend called and asked me if I had heard. Heard what, said I, and she told me the news. Another friend lost to his demons. I was thankful for Jerry& the band for all the music and fun since my first Fillmore East show in 1968, for being able to take my wife to her very first show in Glens Falls, NY in 1980, and for taking my teenaged daughter to her one and only show the last time they played at The Knick, in Albany. I've lost a few friends to drugs & alcohol, and it never gets easier to accept...but some folks just can't kick, no matter how hard they try. Jerry's gifts of music, art and his one of a kind sense of humor have sustained millions of people. My late wife wanted to hear Box of Rain as she departed this plane...such a long long time to be gone, but she was taken too fast.
I was a forecaddie at the time at a resort golf course and went into the clubhouse at the ninth hole like I normally did - and someone, I don't remember who told me that Jerry had died. I went numb and was a zombie for the rest of my round. Met with a bunch of head's at the local pub that night and smoked some joints to try to remember to forget. I wish that day would've never happened and I think about all the time. Thank you.
I had just come home from work, turned on the radio and heard it in a newsflash (yes, even in Denmark!).
I sat down directly on the floor with my head in my hands and contemplated Jerry's passing and the many, many hours of gladness he had given me and so many others. I'm sure I shed a few tears as well.
A few days later I attended a quite unrelated outdoor concert (Neil Young with Pearl Jam, among others), and there was a turnout of Grateful Dead T-shirts like I have never seen before or since in this part of the world. An unspoken homage to the big man.
Seems like yesterday. I can still tell you the exact spot of ground I was standing on when I got "the phone call" from our friend in California. It was about 10:00am here in New York, he was driving home and called from his cell phone and said rumors are coming over the radio that they had discovered Jerry's body at the rehab center. Of coarse I told him f*ck you don't even make a joke about that. He had just walked into his house and held the phone up to the tv as news confirmed the sad truth, just as I'm hearing this through the phone they broke the news on WNEW radio here.
I'll never forget that moment it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I just knealt on the floor and cried. I've had many other people I know leave this life, but no one, except when my mother died, ever effected me that way. What was it about Jerry, someone most of us never even met could effect us like that. Jerry was more than just a musician, the Dead were more than just a band. I listen to a lot of different music, but the Jerry and the Dead truly became part of us.
Miss ya everyday Jer.......RIP Captain!!
Peace, Love and the Grateful Dead.....................
I was driving to work when the ABC noon news came on. (yes--I was supposed to have been at work by noon . . . ) Their opening jingle segued into "Sugar Magnolia", and the second the first chord hit my ears I said, "Oh, sh." I knew that there was only one reason why ABC News would open with a Grateful Dead song, and I was sadly correct. I had given up on Dead shows after attending a lackluster three-show run at Shoreline in 1993, and had followed (with much trepidation) the ugly events of Summer '95. Something in my heart had told me that the Grateful Dead could not continue after all that nastiness (not to mention the "prophecy" of "Unbroken Chain"), but I had assumed that it would just be a simple refusal to tour again.
As the "Head" in a fairly straight circle of friends and family, the calls poured in--I wasn't certain if they were somewhat mocking me for "losing" someone, or whether the callers actually understood on some level that Jerry's music was a large part of my life. Either way--the day the music died.
i cried too bro,,i still cryin,,,,
Hal_M wrote: "I knew that day I had long-dreaded had arrived."
August 9, 1995 was like that for me too; kind of like the day when my dad died seven years earlier. I was saddened by the news, but relieved at the same time too; another long held fear had been realized.
Fairbanks, Alaska -- working for an environmental non-profit -- full staff meeting, heated arguments on stategies to protect ANWR -- middle of the meeting, "humble Bob" comes rushing in w/ a fax saying Jerry had passed. At first, I thought "please let this be a false rumour . . . maybe he just got busted again or was just admitted to the hospital or rehab or something less devestating." Then it we got confirmation. The meeting simply disintegrated, went quiet -- all the heated stategizing came into perspective -- that we were making a mountain out of a molehill. That afternoon, no one worked (btw -- only about half of us were heads to one degree or another, the other half knew who Jerry was and just liked him, though not into the GD). My gal cried -- I didn't know how to react -- I lost the best friend I've never met but who played an enormous role in my life. I just kept remembering the one time Jerry smiled at me in between tunes in the first set at Providence -- I don't know how or why he picked me out -- I didn't believe it at the time until I smiled back at him, he grinned wider, nodded and went back to his amp. That little gesture 25 years ago this September still means the world to me. Jerry had the light and he shared it selflessly and generously. I try to do the same . . . I love ya, brothah and will continue to keep you in my thoughts and prayers, and I look forward to meeting you when the good Lord says it's time -- the circle will be unbroken bye and bye.
PS Dorobace -- Congratulations, m' friend -- You know Jerry (as all of us in this thread and elsewhere) are proud of you. Keep the faith, brothah!
I was in a in-patient treatment center for my own Heroin addiction.....I was a resident for over a year and detoxed . I was clean for a year on that date as 8/9/95. Its not to hard for me to forget this day.....I spent 27 months in "treatment" and have been clean for 18 years.....and thats where I was when I heard the news!!!