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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Anna rRxia's picture
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Joined: Dec 25 2009
i agree about slower tempos

but phil & bob are getting on in years and this slowdown is not unexpected, don't blame jk or chimenti for this. look at the t-shirts closely. see those two names? it is what it is. i like it for the nostalgia of the entire experience. they aren't breaking any new ground here and, frankly, i would be amazed if they did.

still, i have enjoyed myself quite a bit relaxing in a shady, uncrowded spot at a furthur show and letting the music softly play over me. i have also enjoyed the parking lot scene. even jawing with the chaperones closely hovering around their kids. the whole thing just makes me smile in a lazy way.

i'm glad i caught the real thing back in the day. it makes reflecting on the current scene quite pleasant without the feeling that i've missed a single thing.

enjoy it if you can. it won't be around much longer...

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Joined: Dec 2 2008
Never too late

For me the surviving members have never come up to the level of mystery that they did with Jerry.

Also after having seen them all numerous times post Jerry my opinion is only Kreutzmann seems to be able to play at the level they did when Jerry was alive.

Further, don't get me started. For all the young guys in that band they play slower then the Dead ever did on a night Jerry was off.

I really think the Americana music awards should give The Dead, esp Jerry an award because I think without them blazing the way the genre would not be what it is today.

jonapi (not verified)
a short fuse held in check

more patient than me, certainly, ha ha!! funny to see him get a little vexed at the start but he soon warmed to the subjects. gotta let it go i guess but man, what a drag is must be to reiterate the same ol' same ol'. part of the job i suppose but never should it be! nice to see him get excited about the Acid Test era and Cassady.

don't forget to check ya private messages PalmerEldritch; i've sent you some links to free stuff that'll blow ya' Mind!!! have a good weekend, man!

PalmerEldritch's picture
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Joined: Jul 25 2011
Yeah!- thanks again jonapi.

Yeah!- thanks again jonapi. I'm thinking that's among the very best interviews with Jerry I've ever seen or heard. But, yes, what boneheaded and unprofessional interviewers! Hehe! Glad Jerry was so patient...

jonapi (not verified)
jerry berry

hey, you didn't miss it!!!

the classic myinnereyemike1 channel on youtube only posted it 6 days ago! always amazes me how things can surface when you least expect it! great isn't it? i always check regularly on various sites; vimeo, dailymotion , youtube etc. an for months there's nothin'! and then suddenly......! glad you liked it!

PalmerEldritch's picture
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Joined: Jul 25 2011
Wow, what a great interview.

Wow, what a great interview. How could I have missed that one all these years. Thanks for posting, jonapi!

jonapi (not verified)
on the edge of reason

highlights the reason for my exasperation:

interview with Jerry Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9tg3h0q-ms interview with Jerry Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuqPlKqL-mo&feature=related

god alone knows how he had the patience; this is 1994 FOLKS!!!!!! and he's still asked these idiotic questions? a less patient man would've demanded the interviewer to crawl away into a hole and hibernate indefinitely. IWAAJ? case closed.

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Joined: Aug 18 2011
Ironically, Jerry probably would have said IWAAP

So glad to see a few nods to Pigpen in this thread...it really was all about the music, and about the SF Bay Area in the '60's...and so many other things...no question Jerry was key, even The Key, but Pig was so important while he was still with us...just watching the rest of the band being entertained by a Pig rap, then launching into a jam...those jams are treasures that owed so much to the soul/humor vibe Pig brought to the show..that particular inspiration was lost forever when we lost Pig...and wasn't Jerry quoted as saying "there lies the Grateful Dead" standing over Pig's coffin? Anyway, love all the later variations, up to and including Furthur...love all the players and writers and deadheads...everyone had/has an important role in the music and everything surrounding it, and the peace and love it brings. May the four winds blow you safely home.

Mr.TheEleven's picture
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Joined: Nov 28 2010
No, it was not AAJ

IWLAJ, namely, It Was Largely About Jerry. He was clearly the creative leader of the Grateful Dead But Phil, Bob, Pig, Billy and later Mickey (and all the others) completed Jerry musically. Sorry, without that perfect configuration, no GD, a musical collective. And of course, without Jerry, no GD ether. If IWAAJ, the JGB Band would be held in as high esteem as the GD, and who's willing to go there? Jerry would have been embarrassed by IWAAJ. (And remember, there are those older heads - older than me, even, jeez - for whom IWAAP, meaning It Was All About Pigpen. In their view, anything post-Pig's death was not the "real" Grateful Dead.) IWAAJ seems to me to be the product of those who came to the GD in the 1980s, influenced perhaps by the mainstream media's lazy, cliched portrayal of Jerry as King of the Hippies, who didn't come up with the band in the 60s and 70s and who knew they were just that, a band, not Jerry Garcia and his sidemen, the Grateful Dead. The Jerry-on-a-pedestal, hero-worshipping IWAAJ, arguably contributed to Jerry's death. He didn't want that kind of stressful idolatry and tried to escape it with harder and harder drugs. We all know where that led. While I can respect those with believe IWAAJ and refuse to see any post-Jerry configurations such as the Dead, Ratdog and Furthur, I disagree with them. While those lineups clearly are not the GD, they channel the GD's music and more, and honor Jerry's legacy in the process. Ultimately, IWAAJ is self-defeating.

Once in a while you get shown the light In the strangest of places if you look at it right.

Linder's picture
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Joined: Mar 7 2009
Golden interview by Marye!

Thanks so much...! I am in awe with the content, connection, flow. I read it the day it was posted and was lost for words and wanted to hold off on my gratefulness as I was not sure anyone would post from that point on... ya both never stopped rockin ;) :) :)

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