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 remember walking into some Grateful Dead shows and just about being knocked over by Jerry's vibe. It was Jerry, as you said, who made the Grateful Dead.
I've been to all the different combinations after Jerry and there was still an x-factor but it was much more inconsistent than with the Grateful Dead.
I like Furthur but it turns into a cacophony at times, not everybody is playing together with a shared memory. But I'm still very grateful that they are playing together. The crowd scene has degenerated a lot. Don't kid yourself, it's not about psychedelics anymore. It's very partly an opiate culture now. I think Jerry had something to do with that, also.
Like people missing a precious relative, I understand those who will not attend any post-Jerry line-up. It's a very personal thing.
If IWAAJ, then why do I still listen to the GD daily, but the JGB much less frequently? Perhaps those who claim IWAAJ mean that It Was Largely About Garcia In The Context Of The GD (IWLAGITCOTGD) but for me, NYsteve gets it right: it was all about the music.
A multiheaded being. Electric/electronic chamber ensemble. The whole greater than the parts. The chemistry of the combination. This was certainly a great part of it all. Was it all Jerry then? No of course not but it could not have been w/o Jerry nor could it have been w/o Phil or Bill and later somewhat perhaps w/o Bob and don't forget Mickey and Pigpen( in the beginning). The surviving members and bands all have something of greater or lesser value to me as a fan. None of them however truly have the gravatas of the Grateful Dead just like Jerry solo bands mainly (with some periods of exception) don't have the same gravitas. But do I enjoy JGB, Furthur, 7 Walkers, Mickey Hart, Phil & F, You Bet. Now lets go run and see!
In the blog you talk about people not wanting to see the post Jerry bands. I've seen Rat Dog 3 times at the Landmark Theater in Syracuse NY and they were great. Their studio album Evening Moods is a diamond in the rough. I miss Jerry and being at the Rat Dog shows was a way of sort of being in his presence in a weird way. In a guitar magazine interview Bob stated that sometimes on stage with Rat Dog it felt like Jerry was there, suggesting certain directions in the music.(Paraphrasing.)
Thank God for the Sirius/XM Grateful Dead Channel and my own music collection. Jerry's never really far away when you can hear the music. And for that matter Pigpen and Brent and Keith as well.
....it was all about the music...
The single thought shared by all the players finding their special spot in this thought and seeing where they could take it THIS time....
The living beast that became a 'tune' that all the players tapped into, from the musicians to the wordsmith to the audience.....the symbiotic relationship shared by NO other group
I miss Jerry every day also but I do see Furthur, Ratdog & P&F (when they toured), The Dead...
...it was/IS always about the music........and always will be.....
and finally...YES, there will NEVER be another Garcia and that makes me happy....he's the BEST!
..even a blind man knows when the sun is shinin'...you can feel it!..
We have played an integral part as well as any. We molded and created a scene for which the band could grow, play and prosper. Think of all those great shows......and then think of the 30 years of studio releases. Why are the shows soooo good and the albums so lacking. The band members didn't change. It was the audience and the feedback, we provided each night.
We didn't force them to play their hits every night. We had hits? In the latter years, we even excepted the blown lyrics,as the "norm".
Sadly, It was also,Deadheads, who threated are very existence. Venues after years of enjoying our monies, simply said "no". It wasn't because they didn't like the music.
Our masses forced stadium shows,a taping section, the wharf rats, the deaf zone, The dead head hour and the best sound systems ever.
Grateful Dead has always been about: "The sum being greater than its parts".
While Furthur may not be for everyone, cause Jerry is not there. However, The Grateful Dead "trip" is about the music.
I leave you with the thought of a bumper sticker I saw on some Furthur equipement. It read: Jerry would love this band
Tweedy and Cline, now that would be some shakin' up of the old tree. Certainly better than Ryan Adams hanging with Phil.
So...I just wrote a long post here and had it disappear by some mysterious mis-keystroke that wiped it out while I was doing a little teeny edit. I hate that! I'll need to come back to it later...
Regarding the post-Jerry projects, that there's some interesting points, blairj and lovecraft.
As i've mentioned in the Going Furthur topic a while back, the Grateful Dead is no more. Respect paid to the soul of a dean man.
The best way to keep it's influence alive, i believe, is through it's spirit not it's sound. Which in large part those other projects have done; the loping, laidback feel to Ratdog, the psychedelic swamp of 7 Walkers (easily the best Dead related group), the multi-limbed flow of Mickey's bands of percussive brothers. Phil & Friends a real delight with certain lineups.
But, maybe for different reasons lovecraft, i'm with you concerning Furthur. I check in regularly through youtube, TRI and vimeo posts; keeping my hand in as it were. But alas, the spark has yet to catch. Of course, i'm only going from footage/recordings not the live experience as being based in London, soon to be Japan, barring some kinda miracle, until i can afford a trip the US it ain't never gonna happen!
It's both drums and guitar for me. I've never forced the issue; i was incredibly excited when the news of Furthur broke but i'll be buggered if they just just don't leave me apathetic. Pretty much no feeling at all which is mighty odd as 7 Walkers, Ratdog, Rhythm Devils, Scaring The Children, Phil & Friends etc. i immediately warmed to.
I don't lay the blame at John & Joe's door either, i assure you; maybe it's the general set up, the "modus operandi" you could say that ever so slightly damns it somehow. I don't know.
I just think it's not different enough. With a seven piece out there touring and looking at transcendence it keeps it feet firmly rooted in the earth of the mundane.
I personally, would've liked to see a real left turn; now THAT would be keeping with the Dead (not they are aiming for that of course).
God knows i've thought about the guitar situation enough and am still at a loss; closest thing i could find would be the Jeff Tweedy (for those wonderful vocals and additional rhythm and guitar lines) and Nels Cline to add some stratospheric dimensional blasts into the unknown.
I guess a good dance is enough in these difficult times. Just somehow left wanting a wee bit more, that's all.
That's a damn good, incredibly important point, Deadheadbrewer!
Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow are absolutely INTEGRAL to the Grateful Dead experience. You are so right.
The words that guided our deepest trips. Bless them both.
Love your comments, jonapi!
And I always go back to the thought that without the two wonderful lyricists, the GD would have lost enough bite that we might not all be sitting here dissecting their every move all these years later. A large part of what makes these songs so terrific even after many, many listens is the lyrics. The stories, the characterization, the mysticism, and the eloquence of Hunter's and Barlow's lyrics adds worlds of depth to chord changes that in and of themselves are not always so captivating. Had Jerry and Bobby penned all their own lyrics, I'm afraid that much of the Dead's music would not have stood up to repeated listenings as well as it has. So to chime in on the side of it's NOT AAJ, I salute the wordsmith duo that gave us some rock-n-roll that did not utilize trite, sophomoric lyrics and overwraught sentimentality.