From the early 1980’s
I wonder if I can still capture what I experienced last night. I went to Palo Alto to see the Jerry Garcia band perform.
After two years of some intense hippy de-programming, I find myself actually frightened by the scene in the bar where the show is to take place. Hundreds of people in peasant blouses, hippy beads, and tie-dyed shirts. And hair, my God, I’ve never seen so much hair in one place! It is as though I’ve stepped into a time machine. I feel like a stranger amongst them. I quickly order a glass of white wine with some ice, so as not to appear too “sophisticated” to ask for the wine on the rocks, with a wedge of lemon I usually request.
Talk to these people? Heavens! What do I say? “Jerry’s sure put on some weight, hasn’t he?” He may well have been fat for years. And that question could get me put out on the street. You never mention Truckin’, Casey Jones or Sugar Magnolia, any of their “hits.” Which are really the only songs I know. I am one of those rare breed that feel neutral about the Grateful Dead. They are all talking about drugs and the last show and the New Year’s Show and the show before that . . .
Finally, about 11:30, Jerry comes out. People are screaming and whistling. Jerry is leaning over the amp, memorizing lyrics maybe, or choosing songs. He could be snorting a line of cocaine, it’s hard to tell. He is a big man, with lots of hair and a large beard.
You can feel everyone in the place getting off with him. I, myself, have been “dosed” by my date, with some herbs that are supposed to be like cocaine and marijuana mixed. Sounds like a conflict of interest of me, but it appears that high is the common state. Maybe this is a gentle way for me to participate.
10 or 15 minutes after his arrival on stage, he finally starts to play. It’s part of the trivia game to note what he opens with, I am told. People are up on their feet with a hysteria you don’t usually see until the last two or three songs.
Jerry is one of the more interesting guitarists. Of course, it’s entirely possible I have no idea what I’m talking about, having engorged myself on too many Neil Young leads. The bass player must be pretty good, though. Anyone that can keep up with Jerry’s space outs, must have something going for him. He has one of those funky fretless basses. There are two backup singers who probably have a broader range. Here they do little more than echo what he sings or plays on the guitar. I am glad that most of the songs are bluesy. I can sway back and forth in my seat and look like I am one of them.
But the music is not the big draw here. The interesting factor is the audience. I’m not familiar with LSD, but I would swear at least 85% of the people here are tripping. There is the muscle boy in his tank top, stomping away to some ancient rhythm he feels deep inside, having nothing to do with the music in the bar on planet Earth. How about the lovely ballet boy, flailing his arms and long blond hair everywhere? Or the cyclist at the next table, with an IQ of about 2, somehow finding the beat?
With all this energy and excitement flying around the room, Mr. Garcia has his head down. The wild hair and abundant beard make him look like a mass of hair sitting atop a rotund body with a guitar stuck to it. Every once in a while he picks up his head, steps up to the microphone and says something unintelligible that sends the crowd into squeals of joy. While he plays, except for the movement of his fingers, he’s absolutely still. His lips don’t move, his body does not rock. I have to wonder where he goes when he is playing. At one point, I look up because the girls have stopped singing unexpectedly. The drummer, too, is silent and looking confused. Jerry is out there on some weird plane of tripdom and only the bassist and the die hard Dead Heads can follow him.
I’ve decided that Jerry is actually an enigma. He exists only within the confines of his guitar. Perhaps he’s just sitting around his living room, drinking beer and playing guitar. The image of Garcia on stage is only a hologram projection.