Today, on my morning train, I paused my iPod and addressed the man across the aisle.
“Interesting reading selection for today,” I began. He replied with a puzzled look and I realized that he had no idea what I was talking about. This surprised me for a beat but I recovered, reminding myself that not everyone is dialed into the same things and this guy, despite appearing to be in his early fifties, might never have cared about today’s anniversary.
“Thirty years ago, today, John Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman who presented that book as his ‘statement’,” I reminded him.
“That was today?” He was taken aback. He looked at the cover of the book, a white jacketed paperback copy of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
“I’ve never read it,” he admitted. “I’d been meaning to get to it for a while.”
He looked at me, seemingly puzzled, and asked, “I haven’t seen anything in here that make sense as a reason to kill John Lennon.” He looked down to the open page where he’d placed his bookmark, “I’m not even sure that I like it.”
“I liked it better when I was a teenager,” I replied. “Chapman was crazy. No book can explain that.”
Silence sprouted in the aisle. I have an uncanny knack for killing conversations.
The man soon returned to his book and my mind wandered to the passage that Chapman read at his sentencing in which Holden Caulfield imagined himself as the protector of the innocents who might range too far in a field of rye and step off a cliff. Caulfield fancied that he could catch them and, in saving them, preserve their innocence. Chapman somehow hoped to save the innocence of the world by killing Lennon.
Instead, he stole another shred of our innocence extinguished a guiding star.
The train lurched toward my stop and I stood to queue at the door. Remembering my iPod, I pressed play and climbed down the steps to the closing notes of “Mind Games”.
R.I.P. John Winston Ono Lennon
b. 9 October 1940
d. 8 December 1980
This morning I received this post from a new contributor. Today, of all days, I wasn't looking for a guest blog but I couldn't resist the opportunity to share this with you all. - rj
When there are great upheavals in our lives, our culture, or our nations, they indelibly mark the calendar of this eternal time line that is the human race. For instance, anyone in the United States over the age of fifty could probably tell you where they were and what they were doing the day John F. Kennedy died. If they were forty or older, most could probably recount how they woke to the news that John Lennon had been shot. And of those, I would hazard a guess that many could probably recount how they went on to spend the rest of that fateful day. Some might even be capable of dialing in to the minutiae of the day, what they ate or the weather. These events do not have to be deaths either; they can be joyful celebrations, such as the first man on the moon. Or they could be somber reflections, such as those that settle at the conclusion of a war. Fifteen years ago today, one of these very happenstances marked a great many people, those that considered themselves part of a magical Tribe. That wonderful family carved out of chance, hope and the love of the unknown; these were Deadheads. And of course, you now know I speak of the passing of Jerome John Garcia, or as we affectionately call him, Jerry.
On that fateful day, fifteen years ago, I found myself running around Vancouver with my girlfriend, picking up groceries and supplies for a trip out to one of the islands. We had recently come off that summer’s Grateful Dead tour, one that, now looking back, had been marred with incidences and bad omens at every stop; a dark storm had been brewing. As I flicked on the radio, now stuck in rain and traffic, to my surprise the Grateful Dead’s Trucking came blaring out off the FM dial. I say surprise, because the Dead were not your radio friendly staple, especially around these parts. At its conclusion, another Dead song, Sugar Magnolia, came crunching out on the airwaves. Well, this was odd, but I chalked it up to the “daily double shot” or some other new fangled radio marketing lingo used to rile up daytime callers. But when this was followed by the tenderness that is Box of Rain, the signal rang true.
Without saying a word, I reached down and turned the tuning knob. Sure enough, the next closest rock station was playing the Grateful Dead. So this is how I would learn of Jerry’s passing, not with words but with song. Appropriate, for honestly, who would want to hear that a member of their family has passed while watching a news channel’s talking head read a teleprompter. I turned to my girlfriend to ask if she had her passport, which was needless as the entire contents of our lives were packed away somewhere in that van. Maybe I simply needed confirmation of our next move. Her welling eyes directed me to the next exit off the highway and there we were, headed for San Francisco. There had to be one last show, one last celebration; please, just one last ride……… (more…)
This post originally ran on August 9, 2007.
On this, the 15th anniversary of Jerry’s passing, I feel that it captures my thoughts well enough that I’d like to share it with you once more.
12 years have flown by since Jerry Garcia passed.
Nations have come and gone. Guitars grown silent and new players risen. Friendships and love affairs both dissolved and formed. My daughters born and one grown into a young woman, already… and too soon if you ask me. Yet, the world keeps turning.
Looking back to that day, when the news spread from phone to phone and head to head, I can vividly recall the feeling that I’ve felt more than a couple times in my life. It’s the feeling of being punched in the stomach- without the pain yet with all of the breathlessness- combined with the dizziness of a headwound and the crushing weighted sensation akin to wearing one of those lead aprons they use at the dentist’s office. I had gone to work at the record store before hearing the news and, I’d stayed because I didn’t know where else to go.
Motion seemed impossible.
Through the plate-glass I could see the world and its unceasing activity and, inside my head, I screamed for it to stop. I begged the world to freeze in place and pay notice to his passing. Didn’t they know what the world had lost?
Of course, they didn’t. Had they known, as I and so many hundreds of thousands know, they actually would have stopped and marked the day. They would have bowed their heads or lifted their arms or clenched their eyes tightly or all of the above and given thanks and voice to their sorrow for the fact that Jerry Garcia lived, gave his music to the world, and on that day, could give no more.
Yes, we saw it coming. On our less-than-blindly-optimistic days we certainly would not have expected him to live to 65. But no matter how much you think you’re ready… You never are. Not really.
That was a hard month. Not long after Jerry passed, something unexpected arrived in my mailbox. Actually, it was not so much unexpected as it had been forgotten. Earlier in the year, Jerry and his side band had recorded two songs for the soundtrack to the film, Smoke. In a mailer from The Grateful Dead or, perhaps in Relix magazine, I had spotted an offer for a free videocassette of the music video for one of the songs. Although it was noted as a very limited offer, I sent away and promptly forgot. That is, until one day, I opened my mailbox and found a mailer inside.
I rushed inside and popped in the video as I read the enclosed note. The note said that they had been flooded with requests after Jerry’s passing and that I was one of the ‘lucky few’ whose request they would be able to fill. The music started and I saw his face and I cried. It was not the first time I’d cried since that day, twelve years ago, when Jerry passed. This time, however, was the first time my tears could resolve into a smile. Things would get better. Life would go on. Tears are normal.
And it still makes me cry.
Today occasional guest-blogger Sophist jumps in with some of his thoughts. -rj
We find ourselves midweek, and it’s none other than that spell binding time of year where we honor the birth and death of one of rock music’s greatest, and most unconventional icons: Jerry Garcia. He holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons, first and foremost, his uncanny playing style has always stuck out to me, and his innovative and evolving song writing catalog is just as unique today as it was when it unfolded at each show. Garcia had a way of dancing his legato infused lines into your heart, soul, and mind. While he could make you smile, at the same time he could hit the darkest depths of your soul and channel the human condition. Garcia was and is more than music, he is an example of spreading the most carnal experiences of life through music, and this is why his legend will stand the test of time.
Musically speaking, Garcia is in a league of his own. His use of bluegrass, jazz, blues, rockabilly, and avant garde styles melt into one kaleidoscopic sound wave of sonic bliss. Garcia was always quoted for his love of leading tones, and his use of them did set him apart from other musicians of that era. His technique lives on today with a plethora of jam band guitarists emulating their fallen hero night in and night out.
What is most unique about his playing style is his tone. While other guitarists of the 60′s and 70′s where exploring the inner realm of Hendrix like dichotomies, Garcia found himself carving out a completely different sound. It was as if instead of having Jimmy Page bitch slap you with 64th notes, Garcia would caress your ears and gently lift you up into the outer hemisphere. This is what is commonly missed with non deadheads, it wasn’t about jaw dropping finger action, it was about gliding in and out of the confines of the space of the room, adding a new dimension to the venue.
Finally, we must also recognize the role model aspect of Garcia, and how he helped to refine multiple generations by infusing his philosophy world wide. At the heart of the Grateful Dead is the love, compassion, and understanding that Garcia brought to each show. He truly was and is a selfless human being. He set the standard for the hippie movement, and the individuality that permeates the dead scene. To be is to be. It is the essence of Beat. His modesty is something we should also not overlook, for it shows that even in his latter days, he still saw himself as a common man. In closing, do more than just listen to Dead this week. Recognize the beauty the fat man brought us, and go forth and make your own beauty in this crazy trip we call life.