Grateful Dead

Losing Jerry

In the time since Jer shuffled off his sorry old meat and flew away, I have found myself incapable of writing about it, or even talking about it very much.

I’ve been silent as a flat coon on this, one of the most important deaths of my death-shadowed life. I’ve received hundreds of e-messages from my fellow bereaved, nearly all of them more eloquent in their grief than I could be in mine, despite their never having personally known the guy.

These folks never had the delight of engaging him in mind-play, where he was as light and agile as a child Baryshnikov on springs, perfectly capable of juggling concepts taken evenly from Kirkegaard, Coltrane, and comic books into the same sentence or three. They never experienced the great skeptical arch of his eyebrow, never benefited from his uncanny talent for popping the self-inflated, even while extending to those thus reduced his most enthusiastic support for their real talents and virtues. They never heard him exclaim in delight, “That’s a fat trip!” when he himself was the fattest trip there was. They never heard his acerbic cackle. Never watched close up the cycles of his wild internal weather, rolling in and out, blackness and radiance, winter and spring, until finally spring promised, then failed to return, as we all know would happen someday.

They hadn’t lost these personal things like the rest of us here inside the Village of the Dead, and yet they mourned their loss far more movingly than I have been able to do.

Of course, in some dimensions, we have all lost the same things. We have all lost the glistening, piercing soar of those notes he played, dancing like electricity over the dense sonic jungle arising from his fellow Dead. We’ve all lost the redeeming sorrow in his straining wail, the brief but bottomless silence between his notes.

We’ve all lost the Grateful Dead

Something may or may not assemble itself out of these perfectly great spare parts he leaves. The living Dead might play again. If they do, they may even have the ability to invoke the Holy Who-Knows which sometimes was there in the space between the Deadheads and ”The Boyz.” Hell, it might be as good, whatever that means. It might even be better. But it won’t be the Grateful Dead.

Losing the Dead is terribly hard. The Grateful Dead have been my tribe for 30 years. Their religion, where the only dogma was music, was my religion. They’ve been the only thing that was always there. Through many other beginnings and ends, and many other deaths, the trip just got longer and stranger. Now we don’t know what is coming. It’ll be a trip, undoubtedly strange, possibly long, but it won’t be that trip.

Even having lost all this, I can’t seem to feel it properly or weep over it like I want to, or find the right thing to say. And it’s not like I don’t have practice. Seems like I’ve been practicing for this event a long time, eulogizing Pigpen, Keith, Brent – whose absence still tears at me hard – and a lot of others, inside and out of this dangerous place with death in its very name. It’s not at all like me to say nothing at the funeral of someone I loved. Or remain silent later.

Somebody asked me, in an interview right before he died, what it was like to know Jerry Garcia. The question hit me strange. I thought about all the ways in which he and his various manifestations had woven themselves into my life over the last 30 years, and I said, “God, I can’t imagine what it would be like not to know Jerry Garcia.” Now I’m there. I should be able to imagine it easily now that it’s real, but I still can’t. It’s too big. I can’t wrap my mind around it. Or my heart.

In a way, it feels as if my inability to mourn him as I have others is appropriate. Jerry would not want to be mourned. He hated the fuss he generated in life. He would have been appalled by the fuss made over his death. He kept his emotions for his music.

But still, I miss him. I miss him in the ways it will take me years to figure out.

-John Perry Barlow

This passage is an excerpt from GARCIA - A Grateful Celebration, originally published in 1995 by Dupree's Diamond News. To learn more about Dupree's Diamond News or how to obtain a copy of GARCIA - A Grateful Celebration, click here.

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marye's picture
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Oakland, CA
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Joined: May 26 2007
"I miss him in the ways it will take me years to figure out"

yup.

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