Building a Library: The Grateful Dead SIDEBARS 6 and 7

SIDEBAR 6: Jerry Garcia, 1942-1995

Jerry Garcia, best known as the founder and pivotal member of The Grateful Dead, died at the age of 53 in a Marin County, California drug rehabilitation center during the early-morning hours of August 9, 1995. The guitarist/singer had been plagued with health problems in recent years, but remained active as a touring musician up until a few months before his death.

"Deadheads," as the faithful followers of The Grateful Dead are known, considered Garcia the spiritual as well as artistic leader of the legendary rock band. Perhaps most importantly, Garcia was a well-rounded musician whose thoughtful, melodic guitar style worked equally well in rock, country, bluegrass, and jazz. His range was particularly wide; he even made an appearance on a late-1980s recording by jazz innovator Ornette Coleman.

With a career that spanned just over 30 years of touring and more than 20 albums with The Dead alone, Garcia always went his own way, eschewing the glamor of the pop lifestyle. What seemed to most endear him to his fans was his down-to-earth, unassuming, gentle nature.

Favoring an unhurried, spontaneous style, Garcia's solos were typically focused, logical, and lyrical, although frequently expansive. His guitar playing, both acoustic and electric, was a virtual divining rod for The Grateful Dead's lengthy, slowly evolving concert improvisations. In the studio, Garcia's creativity was best expressed on the Dead's superlative, early-1970s Workingman's Dead and American Beauty albums---both of particular interest to audiophiles due to their superb sonics, and both of which best summarize and encapsulate the country-rock style of the times.

While a number of live albums were released over the years, none seemed to fully capture the magical sense of community or spirited good vibes of the band's shows, despite the excellence of late-'60s/early-'70s releases like Live Dead, Grateful Dead, and Europe '72. The Dead's music is often wrongly stereotyped as "music to take drugs by"; in fact, their message is positive, non-threatening, and life-affirming, with an appeal extending far beyond the fringes of the drug culture. No one embodied the music's positive qualities more than Garcia.

In addition to his prowess as a musician, Garcia was also a savvy businessman, with his own line of self-designed silk ties and numerous marketing connections via Grateful Dead merchandise. In the final analysis, Garcia will surely be best remembered as the soft-voiced singer and fluid guitarist at the heart of one of rock's most enduring groups from the "peace/love" era.

It's conceivable but unlikely that the remaining members will continue performing as The Grateful Dead. Garcia was so inexorably tied to the group's sound that it's difficult to imagine them without him. His death marks the end of a long, colorful, and rewarding chapter in rock history. Jerry Garcia was one of America's most beloved musicians; his passing will be mourned by music fans and Deadheads all over the world.---Carl Baugher

SIDEBAR 7: Jerry Garcia, 1942-1995

So, Jerry's gone. I only managed to see the Grateful Dead live in concert once, at London's Rainbow Theater in 1981, but the experience was staggering. And thanks to the band's liberal policy on taping, I captured it binaurally on a Sony TC-D5 portable cassette deck, using the same pair of omnidirectional microphones with which I recorded the Formula 1 track on [Stereophile]'s Test CD 3.

A curious thought assails me: What music in 2095 will have survived as the pinnacle of late 20th-century music-making? The show music of Bernstein? The symphonies of Hovhaness, Diamond, or Corigliano? The minimalism of Reich, Glass, or Part? The iconoclastic and eclectic music of Frank Zappa? The jazz of the Marsalis brothers?

Or could it be the huge recorded legacy of the Dead? Jazz is a music where the musician needs all of music theory at the fingertips in order to decide what the next note should be. And the one area where the Grateful Dead surpassed all others was in the art of group improvisation. To attend a Dead concert was to realize that what seemed to be the entire breadth of Western music-making (if not quite always the depth) was available for immediate recall by Jerry's band o' men. I assume the band will continue, though personally, I don't see how they can. But thank goodness for the tapes! -- John Atkinson