Grateful Dead

Blair’s Golden Road Blog — IWAAJ, Or Was It?

“It Was All About Jerry.” If you’ve prowled Deadnet Central or other Grateful Dead message boards/sites through the years, chances are you’ve encountered “IWAAJ.” During what has become known in Dead Head circles as “The Days Between” (Garcia’s August 1st birthday through the day of his death, August 9th), I seem to see that abbreviation pop up in discussions even more, as folks weigh in and ponder Jerry’s passing and his impact, etc. But year-round, fans drop “IWAAJ” into online conversations in a variety of situations, perhaps most often as final punctuation in discussions about the relative merits of post-Garcia bands—as if that abbreviation, in and of itself, explains why RatDog or Furthur or any other group doesn’t possess that fully magical Grateful Dead X-factor; i.e. because Jerry is not part of it.

Well, duh! There’s no question that Garcia was the dominant creative force in the Grateful Dead. As an improvising guitarist without peer, passionate singer, chief songwriter, de facto spokesman for the group and possessor of an incredible mind and wit, Jerry left shoes impossible to fill. He is the major reason I spent 25 years and untold treasure going to see him at every opportunity, and why I have scribbled more than a million words (literally) about his exploits. I echo the sentiment of the bumper sticker I see occasionally: “I MISS JERRY EVERY DAY.”

But I don’t believe IWAAJ. One song into my first Grateful Dead show back in 1970, it was abundantly clear that there was a very special chemistry going on within the band and that each player was an integral and original part of the group’s overall sound. I had never heard another bass player like Phil Lesh, nor a so-called “rhythm guitarist” like Bob Weir. What the drummers were doing behind them was unlike the standard rock rhythms most bands trotted out. It was deeper and more complex. As I saw the band more often (13 times in those first two years), my appreciation of the uniqueness of each of the players and his contributions to the overall gestalt grew exponentially. And while that was happening, I was also learning that the Grateful Dead’s following was an audience unlike any other in music and that the atmosphere the band and crowd created together was its own wonderful thing. As the years went by, the specialness of the Dead audience (compared with other bands’ fans) and its bond with the band became even more apparent.

One reason Dead Heads are so obsessed about sound is because it was not AAJ. I clearly recall griping after some shows (especially at Winterland) that the band played great but I couldn’t really hear Phil as well as I’d like, or noting that Healy had Weir turned down way too low at many shows in the early ’80s. (Alas, the tapes confirm that assessment.) Sit on the extreme right or left of a hall during the later Healy era and you risked either being deafened by Brent or losing him for the most part. I always wanted to hear every instrument clearly and balanced, not just Jerry, and I certainly wasn’t alone in that sentiment.

When other players in the band had “off” nights, a spectacular night by Jerry helped but usually could not completely elevate a show to true greatness — all parts had to be in sync and moving smoothly for that to happen. Conversely, having everyone in the band playing really well except Jerry — as happened so often during the more disturbing portions of 1994 and 1995 — didn’t really do it, either. But I give the guys major points for heroically trying not to let his diminished capacity drag the music completely down. At a lot of those shows, it was AAEE — “All About Everyone Else.”

So, now we’re 16 years into the post-Garcia era, and there are still many folks who have no interest in hearing the ex-Dead members playing together, or they’ve checked it out and been disappointed (by its lack of Jerry-ness!). My feeling, though, is that so much of the Grateful Dead’s essence and Garcia’s spirit is ingrained in each of the surviving players, and within the songs themselves, that it isn’t at all hard for me to accept those players in new combinations reinterpreting this music I love, sometimes in radical ways. In the early days after Jerry died, it was the original Missing Man Formation lineup of Vince Welnick, Steve Kimock, Bobby Vega and Prairie Prince that first showed me I could feel that Grateful Dead spark again—that it didn’t take Jerry being there to get me off. So I’ve always tried to be open to whatever new lineups of players have come down the pike investigating and exploring the Dead’s musically egalitarian methodology (everyone is important!) and seemingly boundless repertoire. (It’s too bad it took Jerry’s death for us to hear everything from “The Eleven” to “Viola Lee Blues” to “The Golden Road” to “Mountains of the Moon” splendidly reinvented for modern times.)

All of the guys in the band are still playing fantastically well and seem to be dedicated to constantly reinvigorating the Dead canon. I’ve left shows by The Other Ones, The Dead, the Mickey Hart Band, Phil Lesh & Friends, RatDog, Furthur and other Dead-connected groups positively glowing, and that’s all the proof I need to believe that great as he was, and as much as I loved him, it was not AAJ — for me. And the crowds by and large remain a source of joy and inspiration, as well.

God, I miss Garcia! But I’m so happy that those he left behind didn’t just fold up the tent, close shop—whatever the appropriate metaphor is—and leave their shared history behind. The evolution continues, without Jerry, and it’s still putting smiles on faces and offering, to quote a recent Phil-Hunter tune, an invitation to the dance.

“Uncle John’s Band” asked, “Will you come with me? Won’t you come with me?” Yup, I will! Wherever it goes.

How ’bout you?


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Mike Edwards's picture
Joined: Jun 17 2007
It's the shoes.

From McNally's A Long Strange Trip, page 24: "Garcia limped away with a broken collarbone and bruises after being blown through the windshield by a crash so violent and furious he would never be able to recall it. All he knew was that he had been seated in a car and next found himself squatting barefoot in a field. A hundred feet away he could see the car, a lump of twisted metal which closely resembled a flattened beer can, sod and dirt drilled into its roof. His shoes were underneath the front seat."

Dude got blown out of his shoes. Sounds like tagged to me.

Joined: Feb 28 2011

No reason why not to weigh in. For me, it was "The Music played the band".
Jer was a splendid instrument who fell into disrepair fairly often but came back except for the last "go-round". Just like all of us.
The rest of the musical crew and even the infrastructure family good and less good were instruments played too. Otherwise none of it would happen. Path integral -dependent reality. Sum of all histories.

I play audience and am damn good at it by now. I learned from the music and the community.
Cosmic banjo or harp unstrung, it is still works.
When they play colors and dynamic fractals fill the soundscape. Infinite was visual qualia for a few heartbeats. None of us were THERE. We were EVERWHERE. Recordings can connect the neuronal cascade correctly fairly often.
Successor bands can get there from time to time. The audience has to be in for their part.
Skeptic stance is assumed. Open mind required.

I always wanted David Hidalgo for another guitar/songster for the Band.
HE's a good instrument.
Didn't happen.
And Daveed is still on the right side of the grass

Pax Jer'

It MUST have been the Roses
Bear xiv

Joined: Apr 13 2009
Definitely AAJ

It was AAJ, with all due respect to the other members of the band. The Grateful Dead never could have existed without Jerry, period. That doesn't mean that the other members didn't make significant contributions and have all carried on heroically since his demise, but let's face it, take him out of the band and what do you have? A band that never would have been. I can give you a specific example of why I believe it was all about Jerry, and you can all check it for yourselves; in fact, I'd like to know what people think of this because this is a controversial point of view but one that I think should be aired. If any of you have the book " A Long Strange Trip," by Dennis McNally - and I bet a lot of you do - turn to page 23. It describes the Feb. 20, 1961 car crash that involved Jerry and Alan Trist, among others. Jerry had just been discharged from the army in January of that same year, and by February he was hanging out with a very hip crowd that included Alan Trist. Read page 25. Towards the top of the page the paragraph starts, "It was a normal afternoon in the spring of 1961 at St. Michael's Alley... Vern Gates, the owner, was tired of Jerry Garcia, Alan Trist, and their new friend Robert Hunter..." McNally goes on to describe how Trist was "enjoying a year off between prep school and Cambridge," and had the benefit of a $25 per week allowance. Later on in the book, on page 383, McNally talks about Alan Trist's association with the Tavistock Institute, which has been accused over the years of being involved in some fairly sinister mind-control type activity. One thing McNally doesn't mention in the book is that Alan Trist is the son of Eric Trist, who was a prominent member of the Institute. Which brings me to my point: is it possible that Alan Trist wasn't just bumming around the Bay Area in the winter and spring of 1961 and happened to bump into Jerry, but rather that he was deliberately sent there by the Tavistock Institute in the early pre-dawn of the Age of Aquarius to find charismatic musicians that could be groomed as possible leaders of the coming counter-cultural movement? Jerry certainly fit that bill, but how did Trist know how to find him? Did they have a dossier on him from his time in the Army? My point is, of course, that Jerry had been tagged to have a band assembled around him long before the Dead came into existence. But who tagged him, exactly, and why? There's no doubt that he was a musical genius, which is certainly why, in my mind, he was chosen. But how did they know?

Joined: Nov 1 2010
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

That's a great quote from Jerry, MaryE. It's a similar dynamic in any kind of jazzy ensemble playing. Take the John Coltrane quartet on Love Supreme. Coltrane drives the train, but the destination and scenery would not be as beautiful without McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. The same with the Miles Davis sextet on Milestones. Miles is the leader, but he also has Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers to help him paint the musical picture. Like a great jazz ensemble, the Grateful Dead was not about one person. As Bolo24 mentioned, it was a group effort.

In a live concert setting, not only does it take a group of highly connected people to uncover and expose the music, but it can't be elevated if the audience isn't prepared to receive it. It takes a great cycle of energy between the band and their family on and off stage and in the audience to get to the omega state -- the ecstatic group oneness that lifts everyone higher. As much as Jerry meant to the music, I don't think it was all about Jerry. Even though I didn't know Jerry, the music he helped create has touched me deeply and I still miss him every day.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
yeah really

lovely image, and so true!

No problem, Jaime, and yeah, it's essentially the raw transcript because I figure many people will find that worth the slog; I could have posted a much tighter edit, but you lose interesting little things that way.

uponscrutiny's picture
Joined: Jan 18 2010
Hey Mike Edwards

My pleasure and thanks for the compliment

Mike Edwards's picture
Joined: Jun 17 2007
right on

> [Jerry] played us all very well. Like a fine tuned cosmic banjo.

That's really quite beautiful, uponscrutiny. Thank you for letting me see it that way.

Joined: Sep 4 2007
nice interview shared by Mary E .


Thanks for posting that really good interview from late 1987 . I got through the 1 st page ,and saw its 4 pages long !!! I ll finish reading tomorrow probably

In the 1st section you and Jerry really get into some detail on his takes on , for example how him and R Hunter would like or not like certain songs or what each one wanted it - the song - to be . That was really nice . Thanks for sharing

Jaime Andrés G

* To not want to leave anything out , the RK user in the beginning of this post , where he gives his idea as to what the IWAAJ meant to him is really worth reading . Thanks much Blair .......

uponscrutiny's picture
Joined: Jan 18 2010
Of course it was ...

all about Jerry.

It just happened that we were fortunate enough to be pulled into his orbit
and hit by his coronal mass ejections in we's craniums.

That includes the band.

He played us all very well. Like a fine tuned cosmic banjo.

Joined: Jul 24 2011
To say it was AAJ is like

To say it was AAJ is like loving one of you children more than the others. The GD was a family and to show more love to one particuler member defeats the essence of the meaning of family. Sure, perhaps Uncle Jerry levitated a little higher than the others.(pun intended) However, every member did their part and brought something unique and special to the table. This is called synergy. And as a previous poster noted dont forget about Hunter and other lyric writers who added another layer of depth.


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