The Music Never Stopped in the Year since Jerry Garcia's Death, Deadheads Still Find Reason to Be Grateful

By Green, Tony | The Florida Times Union, August 9, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Music Never Stopped in the Year since Jerry Garcia's Death, Deadheads Still Find Reason to Be Grateful


Green, Tony, The Florida Times Union


A year after the death of Jerry Garcia, Scott Sisson still

remembers his particular period of mourning.

"It was hard, for the longest time, to get through a set

without breaking up," said the drummer, who plays with the Dead

tribute band Glass Camels.

To the hard-core Deadhead, Aug. 9, 1995 -- the day the

charismatic Grateful Dead frontman died of a heart attack -- was

the next worst thing to a natural disaster.

"It's hard for someone who is not a Deadhead to understand,"

said Steve Silberman, co-author of the book Skeleton Key: A

Dictionary for Deadheads . "But for longtime fans [he's been

following the band for 23 years] the whole scene was like a

small town. And when Jerry died it was like our town was blown

away by a tornado. So the mourning that went on was not just for

Jerry, but for the community at large."

But a year after that tornado hit, the town rebuilt itself

pretty well. San Marco resident Kevin Ray still gets together

with friends to listen to music and swap Dead stories.

Functions like last Friday's acoustic tribute at Barnes & Noble

Bookstore in Mandarin draw relaxed, coffee-house friendly

crowds. The local newsletter Unusual Occurrences is still going

strong, as is the show it helps promote, WJCT-TV 7's

four-year-old Grateful Dead Hour broadcast Friday nights from 11

p.m. till midnight.

The China Cat Sunflower Fest will bring music and activities to

the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art starting at 11 a.m.

tomorrow. Life after Jerry may not be the same, but it's pretty

good.

"It's like the Dead used to do in concert," said Sisson. "If

something new comes up, you adjust. Stuff happens. It's up to

you to just take what life gives you and and jam with it."

`Flowers, calliopes and clowns'

The popular image of Grateful Dead fans comes straight out the

counterculture comics of R. Crumb: Libertine hippies. Airheaded

flower children. Drugged-out Nixon-era relics. Jacksonville

Beach-based podiatrist Turner Houston objects to it.

"Most people see Deadheads as hippies; running around barefoot

with long, wild hair," said Houston, who edits and writes for

Unusual Occurrences. "To tell you the truth, I don't know

anybody like that. Most of the people I know that are into the

Dead are like me. Doctors, lawyers, accountants."

People with lives, in other words. Which explains, why except

for the hardest of the hard-core, or those who drew their

livelihood from the Dead shows, there isn't an overwhelming

sense of "What am I going to do with my life?" angst that many

expected to see in the wake of Garcia's death.

Miami Lawyer and writer Fred Sall, who, along with his producer

brother Ralph, put together Arista's 1991 Deadicated tribute

album, has a simple explanation.

"The kids have grown up."

`I don't know, maybe it was the roses'

You miss someone less if he leaves something to remember him by.

In many ways, Jerry Garcia and the Dead have never really left.

The other members of the band have kept active -- Mickey Hart

with his group Mystery Box and Bob Weir with Ratdog, both

headlining this year's Furthur tour. Relix, the bimonthly Dead

magazine, has increased its circulation from 50,000 to more than

80,000.

But more significantly, the Grateful Dead's mainstream media

profile has increased drastically since Garcia's death.

Electronic and print media have pored over every detail of

Garcia's life -- from his heroin abuse ( Rolling Stone ) to the

contents of his will ( The New York Times ). …

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