Building a Library: The Grateful Dead
---Ken Kesey, Funeral for Jerry Garcia, 8/11/95
"That which is non-existent can never come into being, and that which is can never cease to be. Those who have known the inmost Reality know also the nature of is and is not...
"That Reality which pervades the Universe is indestructible. No one has power to change the changeless.
"Bodies are said to die, but That which possesses the body is eternal. It cannot be limited, or destroyed. Therefore you must fight."
---Bhagavad Gita (footnote 1), as read by E. Cohen at Funeral for Jerry Garcia, 8/11/95
We were on a small airplane flying out of Madison, Wisconsin, snow and wind buffeting our craft, when Jerry Garcia came up with Drumming on the Edge of Magic as the title of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart's autobiography. The Edge: that's where, on a good night, the Grateful Dead's music allowed you to go.
The Dead's music is about the way your heart opens when you truly have the courage to listen and see. As I listen back through the years, their albums remind me how the role of recorded music in the Grateful Dead has always served to get me into the moment---kick me, so to speak, "out of the door and onto the street all alone" (footnote 2). That's why creating the "taping" section at Grateful Dead concerts, for the use of amateur tapers, was one of the best examples of marketing in the information age. It was also a simple acknowledgement of reality---give 'em a taste; give 'em virtual reality, and they'll want the real thing.
At this point in time the Dead's music is associative; it's difficult to separate thought from feeling. Thoughts fall apart and regroup just like a Grateful Dead composition: a wedding, births attended, Grandma Tessels' ruggalah and Hammentashen, the Carnegie Deli at dawn, long runs on Mt. Tam, roaming the archives of the Smithsonian in asbestos-protection spacesuits, Sandhill Cranes at the Dead's Bar Cross Ranch, learning how to drive a tractor, college graduations---family values in its truest sense. And then it becomes clear for a moment: the Grateful Dead were always about letting life in, inviting it to your door, and joy---trust and fun with an attitude of grace.
I've been wondering why it's been so hard for me to write this piece. Perhaps the frantic pace of early autumn has served as a balm to soothe the loss of Garcia, and a reminder of the abundance of life and its drive to move on. Change defined the suppleness of the Grateful Dead's music; each concert was an invitation to the muse, and at times a convocation of mind, body, and spirit: the dance of life, an open system, not very well behaved, where there were always partners in adventure, explorers on the edge.
Footnote 1: "The Song of God," Bhagavad-Gita, Swami Prabhavsnanda and Christopher Isherwood, translators. Vedanta Society Mentor edition, 1972.
Footnote 2: "Truckin', " by Garcia-Weir-Lesh-Hunter; from American Beauty.