Wit and Wisdom of Jerry Garcia

One of my favorite BLOGs are the tributes that I pay to musicians and others who have had an enormous influence on my life. This BLOG was originally posted on May 17, 2007 at my MySpace Blog. Hope you enjoy the lessons and love!!

“There is a human drive to celebrate, and we provide ritual celebration in a society that doesn’t have much of it.”

As you know I have some heroes and spirit guides that are totally part of my life. It is a creative and spiritual experience that is exemplified when I jam along with the great musicians whom I have loved for decades. One of my key mentors is Jerry Garcia (heck people even say I look like him.) The cool thing is that Jerry (like my other musical gurus) was a brilliant philosopher and social critic. As a key catalyst and observer of the sixties counterculture, he knows more about society and spirituality than any other more traditional educator, minister or musician.

I also am trying to emulate Jerry’s approach to music as a spiritual channel. I also have always admired his abilities as song stylist (e.g., “I take a melody and make something new about it.”) I have reproduced some of the more theoretical and spiritual passages from a far-ranging interview with Jerry Garcia that took place just a couple years before he died. BTW, in the following transcript, Rebecca refers to “Rebecca McClen Novick” and David to “David Jay Brown.” These are the two authors of these amazing books. The whole interview and those with many others can be found in two online books which are listed at the end of this BLOG.

Introduction about Jerry Garcia

When you’ve had a street named after you, then you can congratulate yourself on a certain notoriety. But when you’ve had an ice cream named after you — well, that is the kind of recognition which dreams are made. After thirty years of playing with one of the most successful bands in rock and roll history, Jerry Garcia finds himself at the age of fifty-one, at the zenith of his popularity. The Grateful Dead the sixties-gone-nineties rock band hers recorded over a hundred albums and plays more live shows than almost anyone anywhere. And their concerts are always sold out.

With its own magazine, Internet status, and booming merchandising industry, the group is a musical phenomenon of mythical proportions. But Jerry Garcia shrugs his shoulders with genuine innocence in the face of it all. Is it the band that has spawned the semi-nomadic tribe whose members roam the country like medieval minstrels, living on veggie burgers, psychedelics, love, and of course, the promise of a ticket to the next show? Or is it that the aspirations and values of the sixties just refuse to die, and the Grateful Dead is simply a conduit for their continued expression?

Jerry Garcia began playing with the Warlocks in 1965, and in the same year the Grateful Dead was formed. He developed his improvisational style at the infamous “acid tests, ” where the Grateful Dead was often the house hand. The Jerry Garcia Band, formed in 1975, is as popular as the Dead. It has a more blues-oriented, gritty sound, but maintains Jerry’s distinctive psychedelic edge.

Garcia is almost supernatural status got an extra boost when he journeyed into the jaws of Death and back, after falling into a diabetic coma. He has reached a point in his career where, if he were half-asleep and out of tune, the audience would still hang on every note with a reverent sigh. Who is this man who has catalyzed peak experiences in young and old for three decades. He describes himself as a “good ‘ol’ celebrity,” although at shows you’re likely to see at least one starry-eyed youth coddling a sign declaring that “Jerry is God. ” Many fans are convinced he is not from this planet.

The interview took place at the Grateful Dead’s homey headquarters in San Rafael, California With his full, white beard and wise-owl eyes, Jerry Garcia looks ready to pass out the clay tablets, yet when he smiles, the Old Testament prophet is transformed into a self-parodying garden gnome, who has walked the yellow-brick road of success simply by doing what he loves.

Rebecca: What do you think it is about the Grateful Dead that has allowed you such lasting popularity which has spanned generations?

Jerry: I wish I knew. (laughter)

Rebecca: Do you think you can define it?

Jerry: I don’t know whether I want to particularly. Part of it’s magic is that we’ve always avoided defining any part of it, and the effect seems to be that in not defining it, it becomes everything. I prefer that over anything that I might think of.

David: When you say everything, do you mean something different for everyone?

Jerry: Well, that’s one way of saying it, yeah. But the other way of looking at it, from a purely musical point of view, is that it becomes a full-range experience. There’s nothing that we won’t try. It means everything is available to us. It also works from an audience point of view too. We’re whatever the audience wants us to be, we’re whatever they think we are.

Rebecca: Do you think there is a timeless quality about your music that appeals to people?

Jerry: I’d like to believe there’s something like that, but I have no idea, really. There is a human drive to celebrate and we provide ritual celebration in a society that doesn’t have much of it. It really should be part of religion. It happens to work for us because people have learned to trust the environment that it occurs in.

Rebecca: Do you feel at all disillusioned at the rate of social evolution? In the sixties, many people thought that massive social change was just around the corner?

Jerry: I never was that optimistic. I never thought that things were going to get magically better. I thought that we were experiencing a lucky vacation from the rest of consensual reality to try stuff out. We were privileged in a sense. I didn’t have anything invested in the idea that the world was going to change. Our world certainly changed. (laughter) Our part of it did what it was supposed to do, and it’s continuing to do it, continuing to evolve. It’s a process. I believe that if you open the door to the process, it tells you how to do it and it works. It’s a life strategy that I think anyone can employ.

David: How do you feel about the fact that many people have interpreted your music as the inspiration for a whole lifestyle – the Deadhead culture?

Jerry: Well, a little silly! (laughter) You always feel about your own work that it’s never quite what it should be. There’s always a dissonance between what you wish was happening and what is actually happening. That’s the nature of creativity, that there’s a certain level of disappointment in there.

So, on one level it’s amusing that people make so much stuff out of this and on another level, I believe it’s their right to do that, because in a way the music belongs to them. When we’re done with it, we don’t care what happens to it. If people choose to mythologize it, it certainly doesn’t hurt us.

Rebecca: I’m thinking of it more as a spontaneous non-causal experience which is being mediated by something greater than either yourself or the audience.

Jerry: You might think of it as a kind of channeling. At the highest level, I’m letting something happen – I’m not causing it to happen. We all understand that mechanism in theGrateful Dead and we also know that fundamentally we’re not responsible.

We’re opening a door, but we’re not responsible for what comes through it. So in that sense, I can’t take credit for it. We’re like a utility, like a conduit for life-energy, psychic energy – whatever it is. It’s not up to us to define it or to describe it or to enclose it in any way.

David: Do you feel sometimes at your shows that you’re guiding people or taking people on a journey through those levels?

Jerry: In a way, but I don’t feel like I’m guiding anybody. I feel like I’m sort of stumbling along and a lot of people are watching me or stumbling with me or allowing me to stumble for them. I don’t feel like, here we are, I’m the guide and come one you guys, follow me. I do that, but I don’t feel that I’m particularly better at it than anybody else.

For example, here’s something that used to happen all the time. The band would check into a hotel. We’d get our room-key and then we’d go to the elevator. Well, a lot of times we didn’t have a clue where the elevator was. So, what used to happen was that everybody would follow me, thinking that I would know. I’d be walking around thinking why the fuck is everybody following me? (laughter) So, if nobody else does it, I’ll start something – it’s a knack.

David: A lot of people are looking for someone to follow.

Jerry: Yeah. I don’t mind being that person, but it doesn’t mean that I’m good at it or that I know where I’m going or anything else. It doesn’t require competence, it only requires the gesture.

David: Is there any planning involved about choosing songs in a certain sequence to take people on a journey?

Jerry: Sometimes we plan, but more often than not we find that when we do, we change our plans. Sometimes we talk down a skeleton of the second set, to give ourselves some form – but it depends. The important thing is that it not be dull and that the experience of playing doesn’t get boring. Being stale is death. So we do whatever we can to keep it spontaneous and amusing for us.

Rebecca: You play more live shows than any other band I know of. How do you manage to keep that spontaneity? Is this a natural talent you’ve always had or is it something you’ve had to work to achieve?

Jerry: Part of it is that we’re just constitutionally unable to repeat anything exactly. Everyone in the band is so pathologically anti-authoritarian, that the idea of doing something exactly the same way is anathema – it will never happen. (laughter) So that’s our strong suit – the fact that we aren’t consistent. It used to be that sometimes we reached wonderful levels or else we played really horribly, terribly badly. Now we’ve got to be competent at our worst. (laughter)

David: I’m curious about how psychedelics influenced not only your music but your whole philosophy of life.

Jerry: Psychedelics were probably the single most significant experience in my life. Otherwise I think I would be going along believing that this visible reality here is all that there is. Psychedelics didn’t give me any answers. What I have are a lot of questions. One thing I’m certain of; the mind is an incredible thing and there are levels of organizations of consciousness that are way beyond what people are fooling with in day to day reality.

David: How did psychedelics influence your music before and after?

Jerry: Phew! I can’t answer that. There was a me before psychedelics and a me after psychedelics, that’s the best I can say. I can’t say that it affected the music specifically, it affected the whole me. The problem of playing music is essentially of muscular development and that is something you have to put in the hours to achieve no matter what. There isn’t something that strikes you and suddenly you can play music.

David: You’re talking about learning the technique, but what about the inspiration behind the technique?

Jerry: I think that psychedelics was part of music for me in so far as I’m a person who was looking for something and psychedelics and music are both part of what I was looking for. They fit together, although one didn’t cause the other.

David: What’s your concept of God if you have one?

Jerry: I was raised a Catholic so it’s very hard for me to get out of that way of thinking. Fundamentally I’m a Christian in that I believe that to love your enemy is a good idea somehow. Also, I feel that I’m enclosed within a Christian framework so huge that I don’t believe it’s possible to escape it, it’s so much a part of the western point of view. So I admit it, and I also believe that real christianity is okay. I just don’t like the exclusivity clause.

But as far as God goes, I think that there is a higher order of intelligence something along the lines of whatever it is that makes the DNA work. Whatever it is that keeps our bodies functioning and our cells changing, the organizing principle – whatever it is that created all these wonderful life-forms that we’re surrounded by in its incredible detail.

There’s definitely a huge vast wisdom of some kind at work here. Whether it’s personal – whether there’s a point of view in there, or whether we’re the point of view, I think is up for discussion. I don’t believe in a supernatural being.

Rebecca: What about your personal experience of what you may have described as God?

Jerry: I’ve been spoken to by a higher order of intelligence – I thought it was God. It was a very personal God in that it had exactly the same sense of humor that I have. (laughter) I interpret that as being the next level of consciousness, but maybe there’s a hierarchical set of consciousnesses. My experience is that there is one smarter than me, that can talk to me, and there’s also the biological one that I spoke about.

David: Do you feel that there’s a divine plan at work in nature?

Jerry: I don’t know about a plan. I don’t know whether it cares to express itself that way or even if matters such as developmental constructs along time have any relevance to this particular God point of view. It may be a steady-state God that exists out beyond space-time beyond our experience, or around it, or contemporary with it, or it may function in the moment – I have no idea.

Rebecca: What does the term consciousness mean to you?

Jerry: I go along with the notion that the universe wants consciousness in it, that it’s part of the evolutionary motion of the universe and that we represent the universe’s consciousness. Why it wants it, I don’t know, but it seems to want it.

Here’s the reason I believe this. If the point of an organism is survival, why go any further than sharks or simple-minded predators that survive perfectly beautifully? Why continue throwing out possibilities? So my sense is that conceivably, there is some purpose or design. Why monkeys with big heads? Because that’s the most convenient consciousness-carrier, perhaps.

Rebecca: Do you think that humans are evolving en masse to be more conscious?

Jerry: I do think there’s a drive towards more consciousness. There are huge setbacks all the way along, but all the aberrations that we see, holy wars etc.. are metaphors for more consciousness. They are expressed as conflict because we haven’t come up with enough good models to express it in other ways. We are it. We’re the same stuff as stars and galaxies, so we’re indivisibly part of it. We’re the part that speaks, that plays music, that creates abstractions.

The atomic bomb is a good metaphor for consciousness. If you are able to describe a possible way that things work in this universe with enough rigor inside some kind of belief system, you’re going to be the creator of fundamental change expressed as a huge eruption of energy.

You have to have the idea first about energy and mass. Once that idea is expressed perfectly enough then it’s possible to create something that will do it physically. So the atomic bomb is a physical model of the mind gaining control of the material world. The question is are we able to do it without blowing ourselves to smithereens?

David: Have you ever felt like you’ve been in communication with beings of a higher intelligence than humans?

Jerry: I’ve had direct communication with something which is higher than me! I don’t know what it is, it may be another part of my mind. There’s no way for me to filter it out because it’s in my head. It’s the thing that’s able to take bits and pieces of things and give me large messages. To me, they are messages as clear as someone speaking in my ear, they’re that well-expressed and they have all the detail that goes along with it.

Sometimes it comes in the form of an actual voice and sometimes it comes in the form of a hugeness, a huge presence that uses all of the available sensory material to express an idea. And when I get the idea it’s like dah! Oh, I get it! And it’s accompanied by that hollow mocking laughter. You stupid fuck! You finally got it uh? Geez it’s about time. (laughter) For me, enlightenment works that way, but it’s definitely a higher order of self-organization that communicates stuff.

My psychedelic experiences were sequential. They started at a place and they went through a series of progressive learning steps. When they stopped happening it was like, this is the end of the message – now you’re just playing around. That was when psychedelics stopped having the relevance they originally had. It lasted for about a year I’d say.

Rebecca: What do you think that the future of the human race depends upon?

Jerry: Getting off this lame fucking trip, this egocentric bullshit. There’s entirely too many monkeys on this mudball and that’s going to be a real problem. People have to get smart. I’ve always thought that the thing to do is something really chaotic and crazy like head off into space. That’s something that would keep everyone real busy and would also distribute more bodies out there.

Otherwise, we end up staying here and kill each other and damage thti planet. I’ve gotten into scuba diving, so I’ve developed a great affection for the ocean. I just don’t want to see it get worse than it is. I’d like to think we could get smart enough sometime soon to make things better than they are instead of worse.

For More Information and Cool Stuff:

Direct Source for Garcia Music, Ties, and Art

Official Website for The Grateful Dead

For More Inspiring Interviews and Insights:

This interview is condensed from an amazing FREE site that you should check out. You can find detailed interviews with some of our culture’s most important thinkers. This site has the complete texts of two remarkable books, as well as additional material for you to enjoy.

Mavericks of the Mind and Voices from the Edge contain thought-provoking interviews with over thirty of the leading thinkers of our time on the subject of consciousness. They are attempting to hyperlink each concept and person mentioned throughout the site with the best background information available on the Internet.

Full Text of “Voices from the Edge” (Garcia)

Full Text of “Mavericks of the Mind”

From The Books Introduction:

We are currently witnessing an extraordinary shift in the evolutionary winds of history. Poised on a bridge between worlds, our species swings between crisis and renaissance. Never before in the human adventure have there been so many reasons to rejoice and celebrate, yet also, paradoxically, so many reasons to re-evaluate and re-navigate. Wonderful advances in science and the interface between high technology and the creative imagination have spawned forms of artistic expression with a sensory richness inconceivable to previous generations. The imagination has never been more tangible. And yet, sad to say, never before has our own extinction via our own ignorance–hovered so close.

Within the pages of this book, through conversations with some of the most far-reaching cultural innovators of our day, we explore a variety of exciting new options made available by the cultural renaissance that is upon us and examine some possible solutions to our impending global crisis. When Rebecca McClen Novick and I finished the first volume of Mavericks of the Mind, there still remained many extraordinary individuals whom we had wished to include. In addition, friends flooded us with recommendations for potential interviewees. If that were not enough, every time we did a lecture or book-signing, we would meet people who had yet more recommendations. A number of individuals whom I did not even know called me and recommended themselves as candidates. Upon consideration of all this, we decided to do an additional collection, which you now hold in your hands. And a third volume is in the works.

Categories: Musician Tributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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