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History Of The Grateful Dead Essay, Research Paper

Throughout the years The Grateful Dead was forced to overcome many obstacles to arrive at the point in which they are today. In San Francisco, on August 1, 1942, Jerome John Garcia was born. This marked the beginning of a long strange trip (Mokrzycki 4) Jose Garcia, Jerome’s father named his son after his favorite Broadway musical composer, Jerome Kern. Tired of the name Jerome, Jose and his family began to call him Jerry.

Garcia was surrounded by music as a child. His father would play him to sleep at night, the clarinet’s lovely melodies echoing in Jerry’s dreams. His mother listened to opera and his maternal grandmother loved country music. Family gatherings tended to be musical, too, for his father’s side of the family would gather round and sing songs together. (Troy 3)

Young Jerry and his family took a trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, when he was four, he and his brother who he called “Tiff” were given the job of splitting firewood for the family that night. Horsing around, Jerry and “Tiff” were teasing each other while chopping the firewood. Jerry accidently placed his hand in the way of the axe, lost half of his middle finger on his right hand. “He screamed. I screamed. We both screamed. It was an accident. I didn’t do it maliciously. I was a kid. I was eight and Jerry was four. We were little guys” ( Greenfield 5). Missing half a finger, Jerry had to press through life learning different types of instruments. He used his disability to his advantage by striving harder.

A year after the loss of Jerry’s finger, tragedy struck the Garcias’ again. Fly

fishing in a river when the current was too strong to be wading in, Jose Garcia suddenly lost his footing and was swept away by the raging current. Fortunately Jerry did not witness his father’s death, he only heard the stories that his family members told him. This tragedy took Jerry and his

pp 2

family much longer to overcome.

After his father’s death Garcia’s life changed forever. Moving in with his grandmother who had a strong passion for country music gave Jerry a huge influence for that style of music.. Living with his grandmother, Garcia was beginning to admire country and folk music more and more.

Turning fifteen, Jerry got turned on to marijuana. “Me and a friend went up into the hills with two joints, and just got so high, laughed and roared and went skipping down the streets doing funny things and just having a helluva time”, said Garcia. ( Troy 11) Garcia’s moving in with his Grandmother had given him too much freedom for a child his age. Garcia took full advantage of his grandmother’s permissive ways, by skipping school and staying out late.

The San Francisco Beatnik era can trace its beginnings to the literary parties that the radical poet Kenneth Rexroth had been throwing in San Francisco since the 1940’s. After school, Jerry and a buddy would walk into the city and explore the whole beatnik scene. “I was going to art classes on Saturdays and some summer sessions. This is when the beatniks were happening in San Francisco, so I was in that culture, I was a high school kid and a wannabe Beatnik”(Troy 14). Engaging in the Beatnik counter culture gave Garcia a feeling of togetherness and an outlet for his individuality and creativity.

Jerry witnessed his first live performance of a rock’n roll concert, at a place called Studio 13, the musicians performed some type of early jazz. Jerry watched intently and was wondering if he could do what they were doing. Jerry would play rock’n roll on his mother’s piano and sing with his brother “Tiff”. Surprisingly, on his fifteenth birthday, his mother bought him an accordion. Acting ungrateful towards his mother, he told his mom he really wished for an electric guitar instead. pp 3

Getting his wish, his mom went to the local pawn shop and bought him his first electric guitar. Jerry was in awe, he was beside himself with joy.

His guitar was a Danelectro electric with a tiny Fender amplifier. His stepfather would tune it for him, and he ended up playing in a weird open tuning for about six months. Jerry taught himself how to play the guitar, after he learned a couple of things from his cousin Danny who knew some rhythm and blues. Garcia said, “I was fluid in a permissive way… but the most important thing I learned was that it was ok to improvise: ‘Hey, man, you can make it up as you go along “( Troy 15). That is why he is Jerry Garcia, because he had the ability to make it up as he went along.

Dropping out of high school, Jerry decided that school was not for him. He just wanted to play his music and be with his friends. Deciding that his life was heading in the wrong direction, Jerry wanted to prove to his family that he could make something of himself ,doing so he enlisted in the United States Army. Treating the Army like school or a bum job Jerry would be late for everything, he would miss roll call and just screw off. Going “AWOL” (away without leave) eight times, which is a serious offense in the Army, gave Jerry a dishonorable discharge. Enlisting in the army actually benefitted Jerry to a degree, he met a couple of finger picking guitarists that enhanced his fascination with folk, bluegrass, and banjo music.

After his discharge from the army, Jerry migrated to a San Francisco coffee house where the beatniks and musicians hung out. The coffee house helped Jerry’s interest in music and art grow. Jerry opted not to have the American dream, a career, but he opted toward the beatnik dropout who failed to bow to authority or conform to society’s norms.

Jerry was a Beatnik wannabe who shunned the conventional attitudes of his parents and

pp 4

the conservatives of the 1950’s. Jerry decided not to go back and live with his mother, maybe

it was the army or the food, but something had toughened him up. About that time Garcia’s appearance began to change. He began to sport a trim mustache and a beard that made him resemble a Spanish Duke. You could tell by his appearance that he was not part of mainstream society.

Moving back to Palo Alto, Jerry met his soon to be song writer Robert Hunter. At first they would just run into each other a lot, then they would repeatedly bump into each other at St. Michael’s Ally, a place they both liked to hang out. Hunter and Garcia had a lot in common; both had just recently got out of the army and had a love for music. Soon after they met, they were both living out of their broken down cars in an empty lot in East Palo Alto, California.

Garcia remembered, “ Hunter had these five or six big tins of crushed pineapple that he had gotten from the army, and I had this big glove compartment of plastic spoons, and we had this little cooperative scene, eating crushed pineapples day after day and sleeping in the cars”(Troy 24).

In late 1961 one of Garcia’s friends turned him on to The New Lost City Ramblers, a bluegrass style band. When Jerry started studying bluegrass music it seemed very familiar, he believed it was because of going to his grandmothers house when he was a kid and listening to country music all night. His fondness for bluegrass music gave him the incentive to learn how to play the five- string banjo. Garcia took up the banjo with a vengeance, and just a short time later he was known as the banjo picker of Palo Alto. Garcia’s mastering of the banjo was a clear indication the he had the ability of becoming a professional musician (Troy 29).

Also in 1961 Garcia met another future band member named Phillip Chapmen Lesh. He was a serious musician who had played classical music since the third grade, studied theory and harmony

pp 5

in high school, took up the trumpet at the age of fourteen, and played in the college of San Mateo’s jazz band. They coincidentally met at the Palo Alto Peace center, a gathering place for students, Beatniks, and others.

Lesh explains, “ I’d never yet heard anyone play the banjo like that. It was the most inventive, most musical kind of banjo playing you could ever imagine” ( Troy 33}.

Although these guys were serious musicians, they still liked to have fun, which also included the experimentation of drugs. Smoking marijuana soon became part of the culture of the 1960’s. The large increase of marijuana started when large numbers of teens began questioning their parents social values. The use of marijuana could change the view or perspective a person has on life. Experimentation of marijuana and LSD (acid) brought a change of consciousness,

that brought up the values of peace, honesty, equality, individuality, and sensuality.

Marijuana was also quite common in the music world. Musicians believed that it enhanced their ability to perform and write songs.(Troy 44)

Being well known for his banjo playing, Garcia was gaining a tremendous amount of experience playing with a number of bands. They would play coffeehouses, bars, local clubs and bookstores throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

It was New Years Eve and Garcia was at Dana Morgans music store where he had been working, giving music lessons to students. Being New Year’s, no one showed up for their lesson. Garcia had been wailing away on his banjo to pass time when Bob Wier, another future band member stumbled in. Wier recalled, “ It was Garcia, we recognized him from the numerous

bands that he was playing in at the time… He was the local hot banjo player. He was in there playing

pp 6

banjo waiting for his students to show up”( Troy 53). Weir persuaded Garcia to let him use a guitar from the store and they started jamming. By the end of the evening they decided to assemble a jug band.

Needing another member for their band they enlisted Ron McKernen, a local harmonica player, better known as “Pigpen”. Pigpen grew up listening to his father’s blues collection, and learned how to play blues piano and sing the blues.

The name of their band was called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. Hunter had the biggest part in naming the band. To the dislike of Garcia, Pigpen brought a lot of his own style to the band, which was radically different from the folk bluegrass style brought forth by Garcia. Far from being a conflict for Garcia, it became a source of musical growth.

Mother McCree’s stayed a jug band for almost a year, then by Pigpen’s influence they went electric. With Garcia on lead guitar, Weir on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Pigpen on harmonica, keyboards and vocals, all the band needed was a bass player and a drummer.

Arriving back at Dana Morgan’s music store they ran into Bill Kreutzmann, a drummer, who was at the time teaching with Garcia. Garcia asked him to join the band and he replied, yes. Needing a bass player they were desperate, so they asked the owner’s son, who was playing bass for only a short period of time.

Although, together the band members had been playing for a long time, they were all basically teenagers. In fact, both Kruetzmann and Weir had to get fake ID’s because they were too young to play in clubs that served liquor. They were all serious musicians and took the band seriously.

It was right before New Year’s when the band went electric, renaming the band The

pp 7

Warlocks. The band used the equipment from the music store that Garcia and Kruetzmann had

been working at. They began to work on a set of cover tunes, which are songs already written by a previous artists.

The Warlocks began to get discouraged because of their lack of gigs, but they never even thought about giving up. Their first gig was a pizza parlor which they played three nights every other week. Eventually, word got out because of their unique rock n’ roll blues sounding music and other gigs were calling.

The original set up of the Warlocks didn’t last long because Garcia asked their bass player Dana Morgan to leave and hired his friend of long time named Phil Lesh. Although Lesh had never actually played the bass, Garcia knew he was a talented musician, so there was never any doubt. Within two weeks of acquiring a bass, Lesh was playing in the band. Garcia’s notion to bring Lesh into the band was a giant step for the evolution of the band. (Troy 35)

Reading about other bands, Garcia found another band named the Warlocks. It was evident that the band had to change their name, they did not want to be confused with any other band. Fumbling around for two to three weeks the band could not find a suitable name. Brainstorming for an idea, Garcia was thumbing through an Oxford dictionary when he saw the

phrase Grateful Dead. At first no one liked it, they worried that their fans wouldn’t like it. Despite their worries, they decided to keep it, and became the Grateful Dead.. You had Kruetzmann the hard swinging drummer, Lesh the intellect, Garcia the folkie, Wier the eager kid, and Pigpen the blues loving biker. They were a strange bunch of mismatches, but they had one thing in common, they loved their music.

pp 8

A group called the Marry Pranksters, a group of psychidelic practical jokers put together public parties called acid tests, where they served Kool-aid mixed with LSD, which at the time

was legal. The Dead would play, people would dance, and the Beatniks would spout poetry from the sound systems, and at the same time watch the walls melt. Performing the acid tests enabled the Dead to stray away from their traditional folk, blues sound and become a little more free form. (Tracy 40).

In 1966 The Grateful Dead were regular performers at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmor West Auditorium. Earning more money, the band members decided to move in with each other, they moved into an old victorian mansion in the center of Haight- Ashbury in the bay area of San Francisco. The place was filled with girlfriends, friends and friends of friends. There was constant people stopping by day and night, including fans wandered in through unlocked doors. The Grateful Dead’s relationship with their fans was unique, they appreciated them, it was all starting to turn into one great big family. It was apparent to the rest of the world there was something happening in San Francisco, it was the hippie movement.

During the 1970’s the Grateful Dead’s audience kept growing and growing. The Dead put on over one hundred shows a year. The concerts were starting to turn into marathons lasting four to five hours long. The Grateful Dead were no longer selling out clubs and ballrooms, they were

selling out stadiums by word of mouth.

Tragedy also gave the Grateful Dead another obstacle to overcome. Their keyboard player Ron “Pigpen” McKernen died from alcohol abuse in the winter of 1972, at the age of 27. This harmed the Dead significantly , because “Pigpen” had a lot of influence in the bands early style of

pp 9

music. This called upon Garcia’s lead guitar to strengthen the band. Drafting a new keyboard player, and with the fans positive feedback gave The Dead new energy to continue The Dead recognized early on that their fans were faithful. Realizing their fans were faithful the Grateful Dead wrote a letter to all their fans, stating Dead Freaks Unite. Who are you , where are you, how are you. Send us your name and address and we’ll keep you informed. At first, the band only received 350 replies, but eventually grew to over 150,000. (Greenfield “secret life”.42).

Most of the 1980’s Deadheads were not baby boomers, but the baby boomers children, wearing tied-died t-shirts looking for the spirit of the 1960’s. Grateful Dead concerts became a tribal phenomenon. Deadheads would arrive early in the parking lots selling t-shirts, illicit drugs,

home cooked food, and a giant selection of old concert tapes. Deadheads would travel like gypsies, from city to city, state to state to see the Grateful Dead. Taking long leaves of absences

from work or school, the Deadheads would pile into a van and travel across the country. To the fans, the Dead was something to depend on, a rock institution, the Grateful Dead had created their own world. Deadheads thought as if it was one great big family, and that’s exactly what it was, a family ( Hochman 34).

Misfortune struck Garcia and The Grateful Dead once again. On July 10, 1986 Garcia lapsed on stage into a near fatal diabetic coma. It lasted for five days. As a result of his coma, Garcia was forced to re-learn the Guitar. On the positive side, when Garcia awakened he experienced a new depth of affection from the deadhead community. Although Garcia lost his guitar skills, he did not loose his passion for music. Practicing for nearly six months, Garcia was finally ready to tour once again. On December 15, 1986 The Grateful Dead was back on the concert scene. When Garcia

pp 10

appeared back on stage the deadheads greeted him with an energizing standing ovation, giving Garcia the second wind he needed (Willman 12).

After Garcia’s coma The Grateful Dead needed something to put them back on track. Returning back to the studio for the first time in over ten years, The Dead worked long and hard

to produce a hit record. During the summer of 1987 the Dead went to the top of the charts with their recording titled “In The Dark”. In The Dark was their first top ten record in history, climbing to number six with their song called “Touch Of Gray”. Their top ten hit brought on a whole new generation of Deadheads. Everyone was a Deadhead, from the politicians to the kid next door. Deadheads were appearing everywhere.

The new arrival of Deadheads was as good as it was bad. The parking lot scene was tuning into a mob, rather than a family. The authorities started arriving under cover in the parking lots, arresting hundreds of hustlers and people out of control. In result, The Grateful Dead were almost banned from touring in certain states. The Dead felt responsible, so they recorded public service announcements asking people to become more responsible (“Memories” 52).

At the same time drugs were taking it’s toll on Garcia and the band. Garcia went from LSD, to cocain, to a potent form of heroin called persian white. Garcia told Rolling Stone Magazine that he felt the band was running on inertia, meaning that he was slowing down. In late 1992, Garcia passed out from exhaustion, reflecting his physical condition. Garcia agreed to get himself in shape and off of drugs, because everything was getting worse.

Garcia tried to regain his health back, and he did for a short period of time. But once again Garcia was using heroin. While performing on stage Garcia started mumbling his lyrics, it would

pp 11

sometimes happen very frequently. It was evident that Garcia was going down hill. After The Grateful Dead’s last shown at Soldier Field in Chicago, on July 9,1995, Garcia quietly checked himself into the Betty Ford Drug Rehabilitation Center. Two weeks into a month long treatment Garcia checked himself out of the hospital. Realizing that he couldn’t go on like that, Garcia knew he had to do something. Battling a reoccurring heroin addiction, Garcia wanted more help.

He checked himself in at Serenity Knolls’s drug treatment facility in Northern California. Waiting for his test results, the Marin County Sheriff announced that on Wednesday, August 9,1995 at 4:23 a.m, Jerry Garcia was found dead lying in his bed, from a heart attack (Memories 52).

Garcia had a vision of how he wanted people to remember him. Garcia explains, “Ideally, I would just like to disappear gracefully and not leave behind any legacy to hang people up. I don’t want people agonizing over who or what I was when I was here when I’m not here anymore. I would like to be thought of as a competent musician. That would be good. I’d like that”. (Burton 6) Garcia didn’t want to be remembered as an icon, he just wanted people to know what kind of musician he was.

In memory of Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Mayor Frank M. Jordan of San Francisco ordered city flags at half mast. Massachusetts governor William Weld, not only mourned the loss of Garcia but said, “It’s a loss to both my generation and my children’s. I had tickets for a scheduled concert September 16, and would still go if the band decided to soldier on.”(Willman 10) Also President Clinton stated at a live press conference that the death of Garcia was a loss to the entire country. Many political figures came out of the closet after the death of Garcia.

August 11, 1995 two days after the death of Garcia, a ceremonial gathering was held at

pp 12

Golden Gate Park for the remaining members of The Grateful Dead and their fans. Deadheads traveled from all over the country to pay their respects, and to find out that the Grateful Dead was no more. People were giving speeches, trying to reach over the sobbing and tears. At the end of the ceremony the remaining band members and their family went to spread the ashes of Garcia off the Golden Gate Bridge, into the San Francisco Bay ( Burton 7).

Annually, since the death of Garcia and The Dead, there has been an annual Further Festival, a summer tour with the remaining band members and their own side bands. Deadheads arrive early in the parking lots, with uncontrollable energy and anticipation to see the use to be Grateful Dead. Although there is not the sound of Garcia’s soft, soothing, high pitched guitar, Deadheads as a whole know Jerry is overtop looking down (Perkins 4).

The Grateful Dead, who for over 30 years was a icon of the 60’s did not change with the times, but brought the times along with them. They played 36,086 songs, 2,317 concerts, 298 cities, 30 years, 11 members, and 1 band, are the statistics the Grateful Dead have earned over the years. Not only did Garcia and The Grateful Dead accomplish the nearly impossible, they gave music a new level, turning their music into a way of life for thousands of dedicated fans (Mokrzycki 1).

The Grateful Dead’s music was not just music, but also an environment. Although Garcia and the Grateful Dead had many obstacles to defeat, they made it to the top. Garcia earned his childhood wish of becoming a professional musician, to such a level of greatness that he is uncomparable. Jerry Garcia can rest in peace, knowing that he did something to music that no one else will probably ever do. He gave music his heart and sole, and music gave him it’s heart and soul. Garcia’s death brought an end to perhaps the single most remarkable run in the history of

pp 13

rock n’roll. All in all, The Grateful Dead were not the best at what they did, they are the only ones who did what they did.

The Rise and Fall of The Grateful Dead

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