B y T o m D a n e h y
WHEN JERRY GARCIA died last week, local radio stations handled the situation in different ways, with most of the reactions being determined by the station's format and, therefore, its well-defined listener demographic profile. Some merely mentioned his passing on their morning newscasts, others dug out a Grateful Dead song to play, while a couple went into full mourning mode. It's a ritual sure to be repeated many times as Baby Boomers creep towards oblivion.
The reactions by listeners was predictable and generally understandable. Some people braved the blazing noonday heat to gather at the Reid Park Bandshell to listen to Dead songs played by KEKO-FM, while listeners of The Hog (KKHG) called in to share Dead stories. This I found almost moving. But then the suicide people started calling in and things began to deteriorate. That's just damn weird.
Why would anyone with an age and/or IQ over 12 want to croak themselves because one of their musical heroes died? Do you think he wants your company in the afterlife? Stupid-ass Kurt Cobain ate the lead sausage partly to get away from people like that. He must've been seriously bummed when some of his glassy-eyed fans followed him across the line for all eternity.
(Oh yeah, remember the talk about how Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, went into seclusion for a while to deal with his passing? Turns out she used the time to have some liposuction done and to get breast implants. Gee, another myth deflated...and inflated, as the case may be.)
The folks at KKHG handled the situation tactfully. Apparently, there were more than a couple callers who had sunken into a deep depression and were considering suicide. My question is, are we going to let these people vote in the next election?
Gotta be careful here. My mother always told me not to speak ill of the dead. That's okay, because I just plan to speak ill of the Dead, although I'll be careful not to speak ill of the dead Dead. (Which would be pretty easy in the case of the long-gone Pigpen, who was an ever more self-destructive druggie than Garcia.)
I have to say it straight out: I never got the Grateful Dead. Couldn't understand their initial popularity, was baffled by the zealous nature of their fans and was absolutely mystified by their long-term success. To me, they were always rock music's living version of "The Emperor's New Clothes." There was nothing there, but peer pressure kept people from saying so.
This isn't to show disrespect for Garcia. His passing at 53 is sad, and made even more ironically so by his having been in drug rehab when it happened. After trying to kill himself for nigh unto 40 years, the latest attempt at a U-turn toward sobriety proved too much for his system.
I never much cared for his music or his lifestyle, but in the few interviews of his that I read, I was pleased to learn that he was almost as befuddled by his god-like status as I am.
I'm old enough to have seen the Grateful Dead in their early glory days, which I did. Growing up in L.A. was cool for music lovers. There were concerts almost every night of the week, and this was back in the days when people listened to everything, before FM rock radio came along and basically raised the color curtain. But that's another topic for another time.
I saw Linda Ronstadt at the Palomino. I caught Cream's farewell concert at the Forum. I saw the Doors, Janis and Jimi (although Hendrix was another one I just didn't get). Let's put it this way: I'm so old, I remember seeing Chicago when they were hip.
I saw the Dead in the late '60s and found them incredibly so-so. I saw them a decade later and thought they had become anachronistically generic. Imagine my surprise when they would become even more popular as time went by.
A couple weeks back, I was talking with a friend of mine, Mike Pensinger, the basketball coach at Green Fields School. Mike, who's close to 50 but eerily looks closer to 30, shares my passion for the blues. He and I were discussing musical acts we had seen and he mentioned the Dead. I told him I didn't like their shows and he said, "You probably weren't drunk enough."
Never having had the displeasure of drunkenness, I clearly didn't plug into the Dead's appeal. But what good is it to be in a band whose constituency consists of people who start sentences with "Oh wow, man," and say stuff like, "You have to be high to hear the music better"? The day I have to be high for anything is the day I'll take a hit off Cobain's shotgun. Which is never.
All I got from the Dead concerts was proof positive that white people can't dance for shit.
Music is subjective; that's its charm as well as its curse. Who knows why people like what they do? I've never been able to explain to myself or anybody else my love for the Average White Band (a group, I might add, which, after a brilliant debut album, was permanently thrown off course after the heroin-poisoning death of founder/drummer Robbie McIntosh). I don't like Bruce Springsteen, but I like John Cougar Mellencamp. Can't stand Sinead O'Connor, but just about worship Van Morrison.
Still, I can't understand people's reactions. When one of my musical heroes dies (and many of them, like Marvin Gaye, already have), I'm not going to think about dying. I'm going to be glad I'm still alive and glad that they were alive long enough to leave good music behind.
I guess I just don't understand the extreme reactions of some of the Deadheads. 'Course, then again, I don't expect hairy-legged women with nose rings to share in my grief when James Brown passes, either. Oh well, different strokes. (A phrase coined by Sly Stone before drugs turned him into a lemon meringue pie.)
Let's sum things up. Drugs suck. The Grateful Dead have always been wildly overrated. Oh yeah, Cherry Garcia (chocolate chips and cherries) is probably the nastiest tasting ice cream I've ever had.
Finally, a nod for the local radio stations which did a good job under difficult circumstances. And may Jerry Garcia rest in peace.
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