Number 127 / September 1995:

When everyone from Roy Orbison to Bob Stinson died, friends would call me to share their shock and remorse. When Jerry Garcia died, no one called, and I can't say I'm surprised. There are a million reasons people hate the Grateful Dead, most of them coming down to a perpetual sloppiness- -of musicianship and of vision--which has no doubt led to the rift between generations of Deadheads, the older having no idea why the younger seem so much more unruly and less peace-loving (an ironic perspective from fans of a band that courted the Hells Angels).

But many of us have reasons we love the Grateful Dead. In the small Oklahoma town I'm from, the Dead symbolized a cowboy hippie community that, no matter how artificial its origins, bound people together in a way that was a meaningful counterpoint to the strict social codes surrounding us. Drugs were a big part of it--the communion shared by Deadheads is symbolized by the ritual passing of a bong--but the drugs, the fuzzy mysticism, and the music were all a means to a unity not provided in many other settings--certainly not in the socially-stratified school functions or in the rigid Sunday morning morality of our churches. In my hometown, Deadheads crossed all social boundaries--the richest son of an oil company tycoon shared a simple utopian code with the daughter of a gravedigger (literally).

Jerry Garcia's music was the vehicle. His voice, cracked and frail, was utterly human and non- judgemental. It makes perfect sense, then, that so many of the band's songs feature that voice offering reassurances from a comrade on what looks like a doomed journey.

His touch on the electric guitar was gentle and meandering, soothing fans into an exploration of the mysteries of music. Garcia's was the right touch to ease the pain, and for so many of us in a generation after what we dreamed was a time of love it felt like enough. We could explain it only in the fuzziest of language, but maybe that was the ultimate freedom the Dead offered us--the freedom not to have to explain ourselves, not even to ourselves.

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