It was 17 years ago today (August 9th, 1995), that Grateful Dead singer-guitarist Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack at age 53. At the time, Garcia was at the Serenity Knolls drug-treatment center in Forest Knolls, California, where he was trying once again to get on top of his chemical dependencies. Perhaps more than any other member of the Dead, Garcia was the focal point, although he never sought that role, nor did he wear the title easily. To him, it was a band and a family, and he was a member, which is what he always wanted.
Garcia's death had a profound impact on many people. His fans, collectively known as "Dead Heads," mourned his loss, while also realizing that so long as the music existed, he was never really that far away. His bandmates took a while to sort through things before announcing that they could not go on without Garcia. On December 6th, 1995, they released this statement, which said it all: "After four months of heartfelt consideration, the remaining members of the band met yesterday and came to the conclusion that the 'long strange trip' of the uniquely wonderful beast known as the Grateful Dead is over."
Garcia's death also had commercial reverberations. For many years, the Grateful Dead had been one of the biggest touring acts in North America, and promoters and concert venues always knew they'd make money when the Dead came to town. While the surviving members of the band went on to their own projects, none of them has been able to draw the massive audience that the Grateful Dead always produced.
Over the years the surviving members have dipped their feet into the reunion waters originally touring as both the Other Ones, and most recently embarking on a full-scale, sold out tours as the Dead.
Former Grateful Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux told jambase.com, "(Garcia's) philosophy was so woven into his music that I don't think they can be separated. He had more capacity to communicate 'high' things than anyone I have ever known, both in music and when he spoke. I was always amazed at how naturally he did this, and at the unassuming way he carried himself given the adoration of so many. . . He did all this with a guitar and wonderfully scraggly voice. Amazing."
On the 10th anniversary of Garcia's death, Garcia's songwriting partner Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter broke his silence on Garcia. His online journal at the official dead.net Website included the update saying, ". . . Nothing about his passing seems like 'only yesterday,' rather as long ago and faraway as my childhood. From the sublime to the vicious, everything that could be said has been said and said again. Yet, the essential mystery of who Jerry Garcia was remains. What can be said with fair assurance is that he was a source, an original way of seeing the world that agreed with others in a few broad and important outlines, but which in just as many other dimensions confounded all expectations... Few would disagree that a key part of him remained isolated, unknown and unknowable. His art is the closest thing to an available roadmap of his singularities, amorphous clues, and clues only, to the nature of his true affections."
In 2009, the Dead appeared on ABC's The View and Bob Weir shed some light on how he personally dealt with Garcia's sudden death: "Well, that was a body-blow for sure. I, I know that I personally just went on the road and stayed on the road. That was my grieving process. Y'know, 'cause he was a dear, dear, friend -- a brother, all that kind of stuff. A loss like is tough to. . . So like I said I went on the road and stayed on the road. (Joy Behar) You just kept moving. (Bob Weir) Yeah." (:20 OC: . . . kept moving yeah)
Garcia was extremely close to the members of fellow San Francisco legends the Jefferson Airplane. Garcia is credited on the band's landmark 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow -- which he named -- as "Spiritual Adviser." Remembering the era, Grace Slick recalled that the moniker is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek honor: "The business of 'Spiritual Adviser' is just to honor him, sort of. He didn't come in with a T-shirt that said 'Spiritual Adviser' on it. I mean, he was just around. And we liked him and he'd come in. Sometimes he'd hang out, sometimes he'd play. . . sometimes there'd be downtime in the studio, one of the machines would break, and we'd all just hang out and. . . y' know, he was a friend. 'Spiritual Adviser' is just sort of a jive title that we put on there."
Carlos Santana, another longtime friend of Garcia's, continues to feel the loss, but tells us that he believes that the guitarist is with friends in a better place: "We're all still healing, y'know. . . The best thing that I can say is that it reaffirms what the healers say, the old people, y'know, who live in the hills . . . They say, 'To live is to dream. To die is to awaken.' We're still dreaming, you know, and I'm glad that Bill Graham, Miles Davis, and Jerry Garcia made me part of their dream. We come from light and we'll return to light, and he's dancing in light, casting a shadow along with Janis Joplin, and Jimi (Hendrix) and Miles, Bill . . . So, I realize it is we who get bruised, because we want them here. But they have ascended to another octave and in reality, they are swimming in the sea of light. It's a beautiful garden over there, and I can only imagine the music."
Available for pre-order on August 31st is the latest Grateful Dead box set, Spring 1990, which captures over half a dozen performances from the band's Spring tour of that year, including stops in Landover, Maryland; Hartford, Connecticut; Hamilton, Ontario; Albany and Uniondale New York; and Atlanta, Georgia.