Today is Jerry Garcia’s 70th birthday. The head of The Grateful Dead, The Dead Heads, a primetime player in The Merry Pranksters, and brilliant business man – Jerry’s uncompromising stance on authenticity is legendary. He never sold out.
Though I never met him, the spirit of Jerry’s generosity was all around me as my first job in music allowed me many evenings hanging out with Ken Kesey, one of Jerry’s best friends. Kesey was a larger than life character living on his family’s farm just 20 miles or so down the road from where I grew up.
True to the values of his generation, Garcia’s best PR strategy for The Grateful Dead — for himself — integrity.
In a New York Times “Message to Jerry” Kesey wrote:
You could be a sharp-tongued popper of balloons when you were so inclined, you know. You were the sworn enemy of hot air and commercials, however righteous the cause or lucrative the product. Nobody ever heard you use that microphone as a pulpit. No antiwar rants, no hymns to peace. No odes to the trees and All Things Organic. No ego deaths or born-againness. No devils denounced, no gurus glorified. No dogmatic howlings that I ever caught wind of. In fact, your steadfast denial of dogma was as close as you ever came to having a creed.
The Dead played music for their fans instead of themselves. Their fans were part of the Tribe, and treated like family. In turn, the Tribe took to heart the old proverb, “many hands lighten the load.” They were true blue loyals with a love so deep, that light shines just as brightly today as it did throughout the Grateful Dead’s career.
There were no ivory towers as far as I can tell in Jerry’s life. There are plenty of experts out there on the man and the brand, I don’t espouse to be one. However, I think so many emerging artists of all disciplines could benefit from Jerry’s common sense, every man for himself approach. Instead of sucking up all the junk we are spoon fed about what’s going to work in a marketplace that changes daily, take stock in the world and what works to your benefit daily.
You can’t buy love, integrity or charisma. Jerry just naturally had more of these ingredients than most men can hope to earn in a lifetime.
Thanks to Bob Minkin for use of his photo. View much of Bob’s work at: