Today marks the 25th anniversary of his untimely death
I remember being on Long Island for my birthday weekend when I learned about the death of Jerry Garcia.
I spent the whole afternoon driving around East Meadow and Hicksville that day with WNEW on the radio as Scott Muni and Pat St John were consoling listeners on their respective shifts as fans shared stories about seeing the Dead in the Tri-State area through the years and playing our favorite tunes.
Having started the Journalism Program at SUNY New Paltz that fall, Jerry’s sudden passing–compounded by the death of Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon that fall–hung heavy on campus, at my friends’ houses and at the bars that semester. And understandably so. New Paltz was always Dead Country, and the sorrow was palpable especially in the crowd I ran with back then.
The older I get, the more I have learned to appreciate the genius of Jerry as a musician and a songwriter. Going to a school like New Paltz, any sucker with a copy of Skeletons in the Closet and a Paisley tapestry on their dorm room wall considered themselves a “Deadhead.” So it actually wasn’t until I moved back down to Long Island and began receiving free copies of the Dead archive material Arista was releasing in that 98-00 era as an editor at CMJ’s New Music Report that I started to fully appreciate Jerry Garcia. That first Side Trips with Howard Wales. The Pizza Tapes. Hundred Year Hall. So Many Roads. I ate it all up, because I was so removed from it living in Nassau County and hanging out on the Lower East Side on the weekends.
And being so far removed from living in a town where folks would spew off nonsense like “Don’t bother with the studio albums, only listen to the boots” or “Go To Heaven is a shitty album” gave me such a better sense of appreciation for not only the Dead discography but Garcia’s solo work as well as his collaborations with David Grisman and Merl Saunders. I deeply regret never seeing the Grateful Dead in concert, even though friends went to every tour. That’s on me.
But 25 years after I first heard that news across the FM, I’ve dug into the music of Jerry Garcia enough in this last quarter century to never doubt the brilliance of Captain Trips ever again.
Please check out this playlist I created based on the appreciation I’ve accumulated for the music of Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead over the years.