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?
IT Was All About Jerry because he died first.
There's no doubt he was a true visionary; those liquid lines guiding the spirit towards rippling epiphanies. Enlightenment at times. Probing the inner-mind, encompassing the revelatory, the scary, the playful and the heart-wrenching drag through our personal deep waters.
However, he was also perfunctory, dull, uninspired, lazy, and casual.
And that's why i loved him so much.
We all know he'd be mighty embarrassed at this talk, dissection and dissemination; his throaty chuckle turns into deafening roar. The last thing he wanted. Unfortunately, the first thing he always got.
This silly attitude and the accompanying pressures that plagued him contributed to his early death and indifference at times to the Dead and to the scene it created.
It was NOT IWAAJ; (Jesus-fucking-Christ, these abbreviations are lame. Let's face it, if you use these in posts online it's YOU who are complicit).
ALL players made the Dead special. mzkjr you are absolutely right; it is thoroughly demeaning to everyone.
rkeshavan, obviously Jerry did it for you and he became central to your experience of the Dead. I can understand that. And you're right, it is all opinions at the end of the day.
I think what this debate will highlight is how people actually respond to the Dead's music. Or to music in general for that matter.
If you think it was all about Jerry you are an idiot. You are into the Dead because of the scene or the partying. The music obviously did not truly touch you. You are only lying to yourself.
He was not a deity. I don't miss Jerry everyday. I can go for weeks and months without even thinking about him. Not once. I didn't know him personally and neither did the vast majority of you. I only "know" him through his music and those cherished, all too fleeting moments when
that extraordinary music connected with a soul that was open and receptive and made you feel you were inhabiting his mind. I've had the same experiences with Bill, Mickey, Phil, Bob, Pigpen, Keith, Donna, Brent and Vince.
I'm always incredibly suspicious when such complete devotion is given to any singular human being. An almost hysterical outpouring that only shows the sad state of affairs our heads are at. It is not healthy ladies and gentlemen. Look at the embarrassing displays of grief afforded Princess Diana by complete strangers who knew nothing about her. No one is that special. And neither is Jerry.
All this is not to belittle his creativity of course. He was a visionary talent. All this is not to belittle some of you out there who were touched by his voice, his solos and his songs and the life-force it gave you in your darkest depths. He did that for me too.
But no Bill, no Phil, no Mickey, no Bob, no Pigpen, no Brent, no Keith, no Donna, no Vince = no Grateful Dead transcendence.
You speak for me, and I suspect many others, with what you write. I have always appreciated your honesty and integrity. Thanks for putting all of that into words.
It was All About All Of Them!
When I first saw the GD, in 86, shortly before "the coma," Jerry was not i the best of shape. I Fremember wondering to myself "so this is the guy everyone is always raving about?" For my money, it was Bobby and Brent who shouldered the bulk of the front-line players, and it was the drummers -especially during Rhythm Devils- that convinced me it was worth spending money to see the band again.
Of course, the following Spring, at Hampton, Jerry was back with a vengeance, and I finally "got it" in terms of what a fiery Jerry performance could mean.
But as someone who was largely inspired to play the drums because of the GD, and who was fortunate enough to run with that influence and experience some small measure of musical success, I can still say that it was all about ALL of them.
Of course, I'm still firmly in the "No Fake Jerry" camp, which leaves me out in the cold as far as Furthur goes. Jerry's playing MEANT something, because he cultivated his own style and approach, and his playing was a reflection of his life's experience; someone who simply stand's on the shoulders of a giant and imitates Jerry does not speak to my sould -or from his own sould- the way Jerry could and did.
That's why I much prefer to hear players who have cultivated their own sound. Joe Russo, Furthur's drummer, is a really talented cat, and he's not trying to "be" Mickey or Billy; he simply plays like Joe Russo. I jst wish they had found a guitarist who had hos own thing....
The GD might not have been only "all about Jerry", but he surely made the GD what they were.
Phil and Bobby completed the unique GD sound (Bill, too, but that combo of string players was the foundation.)
The thing of it is, is, Jerry was the soul of the GD. the KEY.
happy belated birthday, Jerry.
Thanks for writing that Blair, and copying my text in there. May I also submit this bit of conversation?
Anyway, we're both saying much the same thing, overall. Probably the main difference is that we don't see the same value to the bands that came later...
Jerry wasn't the Grateful Dead, and the Grateful Dead was not a backup band for Jerry. The Grateful Dead was Jerry, Bob, Phil, Billy and Pigpen, and, of course, the subsequent lineup changes (especially Mickey). They soldiered on after Pigpen, hitting highs many times, especially during the first half of the band's existence. But, to me at least, to say "IWAAJ" is demeaning to the Grateful Dead and the group mind experience of their best work.
The Sky Was Yellow And The Sun Was Blue
People Stopping Strangers Just To Shake Their Hand.
If Jerry and Bob don't getcha, MICKEYPHILBILL (thanks to Tracy)
Jerry Garcia Band wasn't even about JerBear.
And to each his own, nobody likes everything,
but for Deadbands the rule is the exception
Many fine players dedicate themselves to bringing
the music to life, everytime they play,
Here in SoCal we have Cubensis,
Up in Chico we had Dog Named Blue
In Stanford they had Jerry's Kids
and There's always DSO
Futhur is a different animal
(check out the Shoreline sets from June)
If the crowds are any indication this is
some serious shit.
So the naysayers can whine and moan and bitch all they want
I'm dancin' my feet off every time I hear them play.
Keep On TRUCKIN'
The Sky Was Yellow And The Sun Was Blue
People Stopping Strangers Just To Shake Their Hand.
I'd like to further spark the discussion with this very thoughtful rumination on "IWAAJ" that popped up in the Garcia conference on Deadnet Central a day or two after I'd turned in my post. The author is Rango Keshavan, whom some of you may know from his years as a pillar of the Dead community. Take it away, rk!
Of course, it's all opinions.
For me, the reason IWAAJ isn't, as some people are trying to box me into the corner of, that other members of the band didn't bring a LOT of vitality to the table, of course they did. It's all obvious and of course doesn't really need to be mentioned.
But, without Jerry there, I submit it would NEVER have gotten to where it got to. The guy was the heart and soul of the band. Phil was the intellect, in fact, it's very obvious that he approaches the music in a very structured manner, when you go see P&F, that's what you get, a really psychedelic structure, highly complex, but intellectual, without a lot of heart and soul in the mix. He brought that to the GD, but with the GD, it was tempered by Jerry's bending of those structures. The band played this thing, we're all trying to "define" what it is, but many of us experienced, and continue to experience in our individual listenings, what "IT" is, and the entire band definitely played it. But, from what I hear, they played it because of Jerry Garcia's intent. Jerry knew what he was doing, musically, spiritually, whatever you want to call it, he knew he was bending minds, and he took on that responsibility in the strongest of ways, and was getting people HIGH, by playing the music right, by making sure the music was being played right. Not by whipping the boys into shape by forcing them to play in a particular way, but by giving them the latitude to play in a certain way, and the PLAYING his music in that structure, which lent the tremendous heart and soul that could be felt in the air, that would leave a ringing resonance that could be cut with a knife as the set ended, and leave one like they just had a mystical experience that rivals any mystical experience to be found in the world. But, this was found inside a steel and cement structure, which, for that evening, was transformed into a space ship that would rocket you into a whole new reality.
IMO, that was Jerry doing that. That was Jerry opening the doors in the minds of people, including the members of the band, to be able to do that. And, when you get your mind into a certain state of consciousness, you can do that too. So, the entire band started doing that, and the crowd themselves totally grooved on it and started doing that themselves, not having the vehicle to do it with a musical instrument at the time, we would do it in our minds and our bodies and our interactions with each other in the concert hall.
It was something to be experienced, and it's not something that seems to be happening at that level anymore.
But, that can be experienced in the primal fury of the music of the late '60s. Take my favorite Dark Star. Entire band is there. But the highs that are taken, that's Jerry at the head of that space ship there, taking your mind into realms deep within and without. Yes, the entire fucking band is with him, but he's got the reigns, man. He's leading that charge. In the subsequent 11, his guitar is blasting, Phil is blasting with him, Weir is hanging on for dear life, the drummers are blasting away the structure.
In 1972-1974, the band hit a very different and unique moment, they became a much quieter band, bringing in a lot of Jazz influences into the band even more than before (though it's quite obvious that shit was there in the primal era, that stuff is straight out of the school of Coltrane in many cases, amongst others). Watch the GD Movie outtakes, for example (hell, even the GD Movie). It's quite obvious that Jerry has the reigns. Okay, he's not telling people what to do, visually, and it's all about the group mind thing going on, but look at the depth of bliss he's exhibiting in as the UJB gets going. Or that great jam where Phil and Bob go hang with Billy and jam with him as Jerry leads it into to the weird.
And then, let's take the great, great renditions of Morning Dew, of Stella Blue, of Black Peter, etc…
IWAAJ there. Plain as the sun shining over head on a hot cloudless summer day.
Let's look at 12/31/78. Watch what's happening on stage there, say, in the Terrapin. Entire band together, Jerry in the center of it, it's revolving around him. The Scarlet Fire. The Ramble On Rose. Entire band is playing there, Jerry's in the center, swirling around the music. Even Bob songs, like Miracle. Like NFA. etc…
Let's look at 1/15/79's second set, one of my favorites. The transition from Miracle to Shakedown. The entire Terrapin > PITB > Serringhetti > Space jam > PITB sequence which takes that show to another level. Jerry. Okay, the drums, he's not there, but he took them into that space and left him there.
I've stood in the 2nd row and fixated on each and every member of the band and grokked what they were doing. Whole fucking band is playing lead at the same time, listening to each other and playing completely off each other. Including Jerry. But, he's driving that. He's got the keys and saying, dude, we're in this together, but I'm guiding the fucking ship. Your mind is safe with me, baby, but dude, your mind is going to get truly fucking HIGH.
And it did.
I remember in '93, maybe? Standing at the Boston Garden watching the space. Jerry's taking it out there. Most of the fucking audience is oblivious, there's a roar of conversation going. I'm standing there in the 2nd balcony transfixed as Jerry's guitar is taking my mind higher and higher and higher and higher. It's a matter of hanging on, but he's got that thread going with his guitar, and it's taking me higher and higher.
Then this DB taps me on the shoulder and asks me to sit, and then continues to talk.
But, IWAAJ then.