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?
I m more optimistic about 1994 and 1995
Obviously , there was a lack of ' something ' . Which is Jerry s health being in optimum conditions to play 100 % well
recently i reflected upon the intriguing venture it d be to have a best of Cd of the February SLC and oakland shows ( 1995 } . Another compilation of the Spring tour from the Philly shows , up to the April memphis , Birmingham etc performances ...
And nice it d be to have a well combined stab of the may NV , Seattle and portland shows . there was great inspitration in those shows , especially May 21 , and May 29 ( and May 26 perhaps with the HSF opener and Scarlet B - Fire on the mtn which people hailed as good } .
Although Jerry was haggard , really haggard during many passages of this period , we need to see what GDP s artistic thoughts are in regards to that year , and also 1994 . Thanks
* From 1994 i think in 17 years ive heard ALL shows on tape . Spring tour is OK . We all know whats good from there . Summer was Really happening . No need to indicate which shows .
Fall and winter need really close examining . The Sept 29 show in Boston and other intriguing moments really stand out .
"As for me, all I know is that I know nothing". Socrates
I gotta listen to that soon.
Searching for something, er, transformational to listen to last night, I came across Hundred Year Hall and that 36 minute "Cryptical Envelopment" (really Other One). Great Googly Moogly! There's five engines driving this beast--sometimes one kicks in and the whole thing thrusts recklessly and unflinchingly forward into chaos/cosmos, then just as suddenly another one pulls back and the whole organism pulls back and settles into stillness and quiet beauty. That's the Grateful Dead, not one musician or the other.
If Garcia had jumped ship in '67 and gone and joined the Airplane, this music would not have happened, I feel confident saying. I can't imagine any other group of musicians who would have had the, hmm, fearlessness? trust? lack of good sense and caution? to take this music where it went. I agree that Garcia is providing the major spark through much of this composition, but I submit that the context of the Grateful Dead enabled Jerry to take his playing as "far out" as he did; also, that the musical personalities of the other musicians sent the music in directions that Garcia wouldn't have taken it on his own, and in the process pushed him creatively.
Glad to have the honor of settling the debate. ;) (Not that I want the conversation to end!)
I'll tell you one thing that this topic has prompted me to remember-a Providence concert in the late fall with the Jerry Garcia Band-my wife and I in the first few rows right in front of a very sweaty but smiling and happy Garcia. In the midst of a song Jerry looked over to the side of the stage and waved at his little daughter who was presumably going to be tucked in for the night. This was around 1990-1991 if memory serves. What a great scene and experience. Another great memory was Jerry literally bringing down the house at Boston Garden with an amazing version of "Standing on the Moon". Now lets go run and see!
I think it is always going to be about Jerry - for everyone - and there is no getting around it. He was and still is an incredible conduit. That spark, that chemistry is a quest for the players, the audience, the songwriters, the crew.. I am always interested to see what is coming out of this incredible community of humans and definitely grateful "those left behind didn't just fold up the tent" including the audience and the families who allow for the weave to keep threading.
Oh, and loved the posts from NYsteve, Underthevolcano, gratefaldean, nafoster1, puroshaggy, bolo24 and that spacey little badger!!! I enjoy reading evryone's but those stood out.
Pigpen for me would be the grease! (or maybe that splash of wine when no one was looking).
That was an interesting second post; reading it i think i can safely say that we agree on most things.
Rather more dubious was your remarks "seeing some of the comments, I see some people think they're Deader than Thou and can define what others feel or not feel because of some internet statements they make." and "IWAAJ doesn't mean because, you have decided to take a definition about what I am saying and ignore a lot of the rest that I've written about, that you are "Deader than me" and I haven't experienced the magic."
You've obviously completely misunderstood what i wrote; at no point did i say or even imply a "Deader Than Thou" attitude. In fact, i think you just made that up in order prove some unrelated point of your own. What happened, my comments bring out the worst in ya did they? (Interesting that you felt you had to prove how equally Dead you were by letting us all know about the big 100).
I could care less about how may shows you've seen; matters not one jot. But thanks for being concerned about it though.
Many Deadheads never got a chance to see Jerry and i'm sure that some of them were touched on a much deeper level than a dude who traveled for 10 years, clocking 200 shows and getting wasted all the time. It is not patronising or displaying any snobby attitude to call the waves of people who descended in the '90's and maybe earlier, who only came to get trashed, showing complete disregard for the people around them. Witness Bobby in the Festival Express film getting agitated at the fools who gatecrashed and started attacking policemen. Fuck them.
My idiot comment was aimed at the silly people who repeatedly bang on about Jerry as some kinda God figure; who get hysterical and break down in floods of tears at the mention of his name and take the "It Was All About Jerry" mantra seriously. As i wrote, i did not know Jerry personally but reading his views and from interviews from Bob, he was appalled at the idea.
Now Jerry probably wouldn't have called someone these people idiots (even when at his most cantankerous and displaying his known lack of patience! Phil probably woulda though!) I think it's pretty safe to say that that eyebrow of his woulda raised up, and a cheeky wry grin would have appeared to force back the vomit.
As i said, if someone's main focus was Jerry, if it was him that really gets you off when listening to the Dead, his playing and singing that gets you juiced, that's wonderful. Personally, being a drummer, i love Bill & Mickey; not all i concentrate on of course but my ears hover in their direction and their interplay with the other members a lot of the time.
But if i said the Grateful Dead - "It's All About The Drummers" i would be an idiot. And the same with Jerry. Factually correct methinks.
Many others here have said the same thing; bolo wrote a great piece that pretty much summed it up.
Loving someone dearly and more prominently is not the same as having everything revolve around them. The comment that Phil made about the importance of Jerry could easily have been reciprocated. I doubt Jerry would have had the inclination to continue had Phil died earlier on.
But anyway, the majority here thankfully are mentioning the music, the writers and fans as making it so special. I completely agree.
I realise this is The Days Between and it hurts me too. They'll never be another like him but let's not be silly about it.
We still have the music and the memories and no one can take that away from us.
Right, i'm off to break out a Dead show; got me a taste for some 10/30/73 Kiel Auditorium action! I'll skip the Garcia tracks though.........................!
continuing the food analogies......
I take some fresh eggs, unpasteurised cream from the local farm, a dab of unsalted butter, some freshly ground Kampot black pepper, some fleurs du sel, freshly cut chives and parsley from the garden, add a pinch of pimenton, heat the pan and make a damn fine omelette. All those ingredients meld together perfectly. Deeelicious.
Then I add some grated black truffle and transform a damn fine omelette to an omelette from heaven. So lovely that after each mouthful I have to stop and wonder at its delights. The truffle enhances each ingredient of the omelette and add its own unique, rich yet subtle flavours.
Now for sure it would not be a heavenly truffle omelette without the chemistry of all those top quality eggs and herbs and stuff, but in the end it’s the truffle that makes the difference.
Jerry is the truffle in my Grateful Dead omelette. You can work out for yourselves who the other ingredients are , but maybe Pigpen should be the black pepper.
Gotta say, I'm sitting here listening to some '77 JGB and just lovin' it. I do listen to Garcia everyday of my life; be it in the good ole Grateful Dead, the JGB, Legion of Mary, Saunders/Garcia, Grateful Dawg. For me, I find enough variety in the man's music to satisfy my given tastes on any morning. I try to stay ahead of the curve of the music I've downloaded by listening to it before I forget its there. There's something in every show that gets me off (sometimes twice). I strongly agree that both Hunter and Barlow were influential contributors in this long strange trip. I'm enjoying my Nine Days of Jerry 2011 by celebrating the man's life and music.
I've seen The Dead, the O1's, Furthur, PLF (the Q), Ratdog; and while I enjoy the live music it is not something I play in the privacy of my own home. I've tried repeat listenings but they lack the GARCIA factor. "I'll take a simple C to G and feel brand new about it!" "someday he'll be gone"
So, if logic holds true...
I just listened to Dick Picks 1 and 10 today and depending on the song and/or jam, I was enthralled with either Jerry and his indescribably tortured riffs (during 10's Estimated), or Bobby's deliciously weird chords and arpeggios (during 1's WRS) or Phil's Out of Left Field bass runs that pushed whatever jam they were in to a completely different space (especially during 10's Playing). To say that it was all about Jerry is fine- I have no problem with that- because on the surface, he is the attraction that allows the intimidated to slowly ease themselves into the deep deep Dead waters. Once in there, though, completely submerged and allowing oneself to relax, you realize just how much of a band- a true band- the Grateful Dead was.
IWAATM- It Was All About The Music!
Author of "The Hallucinogenic Bible" available on Amazon.com