Jerry: The Music Never Stops

Happy Birthday Jerry Garcia!

Happy Birthday, Jerry. One of the true joys I’ve experienced is sharing the music of the Grateful Dead with my now-6-year-old. She loves to dress up when we go to shows and dance with her Daddy. We even have a favorite passage to sing together:

Sometimes the light’s all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it’s been.

When I hear or say those last few words, I often flash back to my own high school yearbook.

My graduating class was small — barely 60 people — and we each had a full page for a self-selected photo and a written message. Many people included song lyrics. One of the more popular ones: What a long, strange trip it’s been.

That line carries the same weight it did nearly 40 years ago. To hear my daughter say it, to hope it eventually becomes one of her favorite phrases, is yet another one of the special bonds we share.

She recognizes Jerry Garcia’s picture whenever she sees it. One reason might be a piece of artwork that hangs at the bottom of our stairs.

It’s the color slick from the Philadelphia Daily News published the day after Jerry’s death from a heart attack in 1995. Large, bold letters: FARE THE WELL with a wonderful picture of Jerry at Three Rivers Stadium during that final nightmare tour.

It’s exquisite. When a friend who worked at the Daily News gave it to me — he tracked it down and grabbed it because he was a fellow Dead fan — I spent a few bucks to have it professionally framed, so it would be Built to Last.

When my daughter looks at that picture, she see Jerry Garcia and realizes he’s a very important person to Daddy. And while she remains unable to fully grasp the concept of death — like anyone her age — she realizes he is a person who was loved and is loved but is no longer with us.

I see more when I look at it. The friend who thoughtfully gave that to me died several years ago, also of a heart attack. He left a school-age child among his three children. Mortality’s a b*tch.

We go to shows and Jerry is everywhere: T-shirts, artwork, even stuffed dolls.

In some ways, it might help her understand the frailty and limited nature of life on this planet. It’s like asking Daddy about his grandparents, how they were loved people who aren’t here anymore but will always exist in our hearts and our memories.

She understands, to a certain extent, that Bob & Phil carry the legacy of the Dead and draw in new generations. I’m happy to believe she is among the young people who grow up with the knowledge of Jerry Garcia, a love for his music, and an appreciation of the man he was.

Jerry carried a heavy load during the last couple of years. Many, many people relied on him for their livelihood. It made it impossible for him to walk away and play music the way he always loved to do it. Go back and listen to some of his sessions with Merl Saunders, or the original Jerry Garcia Band, or David Grisman, or Old and in the Way … there are any number of forums and formats where he found a musical home, without the crushing pressure of a popularity he never asked for.

Thank you, Jerry. And Happy Birthday.

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