The Blacklisted Journalist Picture The Blacklisted Journalistsm

(Copyright 1996 The Blacklisted Journalist)


[August 11 marked the first anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death and I still can't get used to the fact that he isn't around any more. It is in his honor that I offer MOON JASMINE, the story of an Interview I had with Jerry in the early '70s which I first printed as a chapter in THE BLACKLISTED MASTERPIECES OF AL ARONOWITZ, a book I published on a Xerox. I offer that chapter herewith as an excerpt from that book, copies of which, boxed, numbered and signed, are still available at $100 each from (Make checks payable to:) THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST, P.O. Box 964, Elizabeth, NJ 07208. As of September 1, 1996, there are only 142 copies of THE BLACKLISTED MASTERPIECES OF AL ARONOWITZ in circulation. Orders for this book are no longer accepted at P.O. Box 306, Bearsville, NY 12409 despite the advertisement which follows the excerpt. Said advertisement originally appeared as a full-page ad in the VILLAGE VOICE.]

San Francisco Jerry Garcia wanted me to write a story about him. That was the deal. I was managing this folksinger who needed heavy help in the studio. The folksinger had some tunes I thought he ought to record with a rock band and so I'd told him I'd get him a rock band. All I had to do was write a story about Jerry Garcia.

It was June of '72, and the folksinger had turned into one colossal pain as soon as I'd gotten him a recording contract. Me, I kept on trying, but, the kid's ego was coming out of his nose and his nose was stuck up in his ass. How was I going to make a star out of this turkey? He'd be against any idea of mine simply because I thought of it first. Even when he thought of the same idea I did, he'd be against it if I mentioned it first. He'd kick and scream and drag his feet. He'd been coming on 100 per cent folkie purist. He wanted to be rich and famous but not if it meant getting too big for the coffee house circuit. He thought rock was bullshit. He'd never sell out and go commercial. That's the attitude he copped to camouflage his lack of expectations. He was a spoiled brat of a doctor's son, lanky, awkward, with a long nose, eyeglasses and thick lips curled into a sneer that he'd sometimes try to disguise as a smile. He'd been laughed at as ugly all his life. He'd grown up a cartoon, a one-dimensional caricature of the precocious Jewish intellectual kid motivated solely by the rule that slickness gave quicker rewards than depth. In his guitar playing and in all his dealings, he was not only as fast as a pickpocket but he also had the mentality of one. With sleight-of-hand his only game, his imagination was limited to tricks, gimmicks and cheating. He had to fake soul by posing as a sensitive poet type, supersincere, as dedicated as a tunnel while still as hollow. He was a tall, bony con wrapped in stretch veneer that you could see right through like a piece of polyethylene. Secretly he thought he was Superman, but I never knew if he cracked about that to anyone but me.

"Yeah," I'd told him, "you record those tunes with a good rock band that's got its shit together and we might get a Top Ten hit. You need a band that's already a winner, a band that's been playing together for a long time so it's got a tight rhythm section, so everybody in it is into everybody else's head, a band that's got a ready-made sound you can fuse with your own music. How about the Grateful Dead?"

The folksinger'd never had a band behind him except for folkies he'd picked up along the way.

"Well," he'd answered, "if you can get the Grateful Dead, I guess that might be worth a try."



I'd only met Jerry a couple of years earlier but we'd been rapping ever since, in hotel suites, dressing rooms, recording studios, Chinese restaurants, all the places where rock and roll people got their buzz off one another. I liked his guitar. He turned out to be just as mellow. Jerry'd been the easiest for me to get to know among the Dead, acid's house band, the resident musicians of Haight-Ashbury, even before the hippies moved in, one of the rocks on which flower power'd been founded, a vertebra that gave backbone to San Francisco's freak community, folk figure heroes of America's Dope Revolution, sainted instruments of its spread. The Dead'd started out more philosopher-poets than musicians, brainy intellectuals who might've been reading poetry in bars 10 years earlier except they'd found themselves in an era of amplified communication when they could talk to millions through electric rock. The Dead had a lot to say. They wanted to be heard. They opted for rock. They'd play every chance they got. On Sundays they'd give free concerts in the San Francisco parks, a ritual of the late '60s. They'd stay onstage for hours. Sometimes six, sometimes five, but it'd take at least four for them to get off. They'd waste themselves. They'd waste the audience, too. They'd never had a hit, a single on the top of the pop charts, but through their legend, their lifestyle, their endless touring, they'd built up a cult following of druggies as devoted, for instance, as any original New York Met fan. By 1972 the cult'd grown big enough to guarantee the Dead about a half million customers ready and waiting to buy any album the Dead released. The Dead'd turned out to be rock superstars.


Nobody'd ever heard of the folksinger, except for my hype. Not even the folkies paid any attention to him until I started managing him, although they'd liked his guitar playing. I'd discovered him two years earlier, an invisible guitarist, sitting on a high stool in the dark shadows of a Greenwich Village club while he accompanied the folkie hero in the spotlight for $25 a night. His guitar playing'd impressed me. He was Mr. Humble in those days, a kicked dog looking for a kind master. That changed as soon as I started making him some money. Suddenly the women were telling him about his good looks. The tail went to his head. He was Superman, remember? Not only the most brilliant guitar player who ever lived but also the smoothest stud. How could anyone resist his charm? He could make whole audiences swoon. He could also jump off the tallest buildings. The trouble was that when he sang, he still sounded like a kicked dog. I brought my good buddy, Bob Dylan, the living legend, in to hear him. Bob ended up playing on the folksinger's first album. I brought the folksinger over to my house for Thanksgiving dinner with George Harrison. Ex-Beatle George let the folksinger write a song with him. By 1972 I'd gotten the folksinger's price up to $1,500 a night on some dates. He was starting to get known in New York but he was still a giant zero on the West Coast.

"I'm gonna get ya a billboard on the Strip in L.A.," I'd told him one day as we drove down the slope of East 96th Street toward New York's FDR Drive. "The record company'll pay for it. I've also made some calls. Garcia's gonna be off the road and hangin' out in San Francisco. I'm gonna book you on a tour of small clubs up and down the West Coast and you'll play the Boarding House in San Francisco the same time Jerry'll be around. I'll arrange for the record company to subsidize your expenses. I'll meet you in San Francisco, and I'll see Jerry, too."

"Hmph," the folksinger'd said.


I really didn't know Jerry that well but I felt a creeping kinship with him. We always had a lot to talk about. Our conversations'd crackle with energy. We both dug the Angels, respected Dylan, listened to Merle Haggard's brand of country music and knew Neal Cassady, Jerry's personal link with the Beat Generation. Jerry considered himself second generation Beat Generation through his friendship with Neal, who straddled both, the beatniks and the hippies, from the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance to the Koolaid Acid Tests, from Kerouac's buddy, the Dean Moriarty of On The Road, to the buddy of Jerry Garcia, leader of the Grateful Dead that helped give you the Summer of Love. I'd been part of the Beat Scene. I'd written about it when it was happening. I knew all those people, the living and the dead. When Jerry and I talked about them it was as if we were all relatives, cosmic cousins. I felt as if Jerry understood me, that we were fellow space travelers. We were both into the mystic, expecting further instructions from the Void, aware that some superior force'd loosed rock music to hypnotize America's young like an emerging religion. We both felt the spiritual hunger that craved this faith. We both felt like tools of this mysterious vibration. That didn't give me much leverage for hitting on Jerry but as soon as I landed in Frisco I hooked up with Rock Scully, a Dead manager, who took me over to the Downtown back alley where one of the Dead's sound wizards'd built a homemade recording studio called Olymbic. Jerry was there mixing an album for Mickey Hart, then retired as a Dead drummer.

"So, I need some rock musicians to help this guy record these tunes," I told Jerry after a day or two of hanging out. He was taking a break from his mixing and we were having a few tokes. "Wouldya like t'do it?"

"Sure," he said.

"D'ya think y'c'n round up some rock musicians?"

"Hey, Keith," Jerry said, calling over to Keith Godcheaux, the dead piano player, "D'ya feel like playing some rock 'n' roll?"

Jerry loved to play. There was nothing else he'd rather do and little else he did. He'd play any excuse you gave him and so I gave him an excuse. Of course I figured the musicians he'd round up'd be the rest of the Dead. And of course they were. All except Ace Weir, who was out hyping his own record.


"See," I told the folksinger, driving him to the Boarding House for his show that night, "if y'c'n turn the Dead on in the studio to play interestingly enough and excitingly enough, y'got all those Dead fans who'll buy your record just to hear the Dead play on it. Then, if you 'n' your tunes're good enough, y'c'n' hook those Dead fans into becoming your fans."

"I can think of a lot more interesting rock groups than the Grateful Dead," the folksinger answered.


The sessions were held a couple of weeks later at Wally Heider's Studio on Hyde Street, one flight up. On the first day the folksinger walks in with a cheap Fender electric instead of his traditional folkie instrument, his acoustic guitar. The Fender has a lame tinny quality to it like it came out of the Kiddie Department to be played by the numbers. If it's rock 'n' roll they're going to do, the folksinger's going to show the Grateful Dead how to do it.

"You're famous for the acoustic," I protested. "That's your instrument. What'd make this record interesting'd be to put your acoustic against Jerry's electric."

"The acoustic'd just be drowned out by all this electric," the folksinger answered.


I didn't know shit about record producing except for what I'd picked up from years of hanging out in studios, but I got a good drum sound. The folksinger kept trying to mystify me to death with musical terms he knew I didn't understand. Also, I had a toothache. The next day Jerry brought in some coke to kill the pain. Listening to Jerry play was a pleasure. I was determined to produce these tracks and Jerry was trying to help.

"That goddamn Fender you got sounds like a toy!" I kept telling the folksinger. "If you gotta play electric, at least you could've gotten a real electric guitar!"


Despite the problems, the tunes are getting recorded. My eyes start ringing up the royalties like I'm Sid Cesar playing a cash register.

"I can count the money already," I tell Jerry after listening to a playback.

"I wouldn't if I were you," he says.

We are getting high and staying high. The Dead always have the best dope. We get a groove going on one of the tunes, about a bellydancer, which the folksinger'd written after getting hot for his brother's girlfriend. But the folksinger has a bass player traveling with him who thinks the Dead bass player, Phil Lesh, isn't cutting it on this tune. The folksinger agrees. They ask Lesh to sit out a couple of takes.

"But you'll break up the Dead's chemistry," I tell the folksinger.

"It's OK," Phil says. "Let them try it without me."

I can tell he's pissed.


It'd been back while Jerry was mixing Mickey Hart's album at Olymbic that he first mentioned he'd like me to write a story about him. He'd mentioned it even before I hit on him to play on the folksinger's record. As a matter of fact, he'd probably mentioned it to make it easier for me to hit on him. He knew I wanted to hit on him. He was opening the door for me. He hit on me to write a story about him to let me know I could hit on him to play on the folksinger's record.

Probably Rock Scully'd told him I wanted to hit on him. Rock knew that the reason I wanted to see Jerry because I'd told Rock that was the reason. Probably Rock'd called Jerry to ask if it was all right to bring me over.

"He wants to hit on you to play on the folksinger's record," Rock might've told Jerry. "D'ya wanna do it?"

"That sounds like fun,' Jerry might've answered. "Sure, bring him around."

"But he doesn't have anything to offer in exchange," Rock might've said.

"Well," Jerry might've answered, "he can always write a story about me."


Not only was I managing the folksinger in those days but I was also dazzling a half-million readers four times a week with my Pop Scene column in the New York Post. I'd been managing acts since 1964 but I'd been a journalist since 1950. As a writer, I'd learned I couldn't just write about music people, I had to be one of them.

"Maybe you c'n write a story about me some time," Jerry'd told me at Olymbic. Was that all I needed to do to get the Dead to play on the folksinger's album? It was a sweet deal. Easy. Between takes at Wally Heider's, Jerry mentioned it again.

"Yeah, I'd like you to write a story about me. I like the way you write. It'd be interesting to see what you'd do with it."



I was flattered that Jerry wanted me to write a story about him. He made me feel like a famous writer. Already I'd gotten to know him better in the studio. There were times he'd drift into private thought when no one, not even other members of the Dead, would dare penetrate his force field to approach him. Other times he'd be sweet and loose, rapping about such concepts as the electrical frequency that everybody has, his own wavelength, as different from anyone else's as his fingerprints. Jerry believed that people hooked up with one another according to their frequencies. No matter how stoned we got, Jerry was always the alert one, in touch with the reality necessary to fulfill the day by keeping the action going, in this case recording the folksinger's tunes. It was this kind of awareness that put Jerry in command of the Dead even though he didn't want the responsibility. Adrift in acid, lost in smoke, floating paranoid through whatever ether available, they all counted on Jerry to lead the way. His instincts never seemed blunted. People'd come up to him for answers whether he had them or not. He wasn't a pretty boy but he had a kind of Pope John charisma that you could always plug into, spare tanks of energy that he'd always let you tap, a glow which'd certainly attracted the moth in me. Jerry was in touch with the cosmic consciousness. You could tell that much.

"Do you need to interview me?" Jerry said in the control booth at Wally Heider's one day. "Let's do an interview."

"Sure," I said.

"We oughta do it while you're out here."


I'd already written several newspaper columns about the Dead, but nothing intimate, nothing personal, nothing deep, nothing long. Jerry wanted to give me a chance to find out more about him. I was a music person but I was a writer first. I would've wanted to spend the interview time with Jerry even without him doing me the favor of recording the folksinger's tunes. As far as I was concerned, Jerry was getting the shitty end of the deal.

I was interested in Jerry, interested to know where he was coming from, interested to learn more about how he connected to this crazy history I was living through. Where did he get his drive, this almost chubby man with a round chin and apple cheeks hidden in his face hair, so modest, so laid back, so full of the wisdom that gets left like a tip by pain, so calm and still so bubbly, so subtle in his authority? He wasn't your usual skinny unisex of a pop star, but still they wanted to tear his clothes off. What trick of destiny'd forced this magic on him? Where did his vision of music come from? What was Jerry's story?

"Look," he said, "We're not gonna have a session on Sunday, right? We've got Sunday off. Why don't you come out to my house for dinner?"


Jerry was living out at Stinson Beach in Marin County, where daredevil houses clung to cliffs that rose like lumps in your throat while white mist spilled down from brawny young mountain tops like ghost waterfalls. Everything was high in Marin County. High and hip and up to date. PTA pot parties. Carnival supermarkets. Frontier head shops. Space colony playgrounds. Sci-fi civic centers. Even the divorce rate, the highest in America, one for every marriage in Marin County, which was pretty hip for people dumb enough to've gotten married in the first place.

The heads were beginning to run the local governments, young professionals with beards and old ladies and kids from different moms and pops and never without their stashes, the drug culture flexing muscle at the ballot box. The county was so far out that probably the Dead could've run for something. This was their turf now. Not only Jerry but all the band members plus their managers, their roadies and their little commune army each had a house on one of Marin County's Babylonian terraces or another, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, handy to San Francisco's studio scene.

They'd moved to Marin County because Marin County was the hip place to move to. Like all San Francisco workingclass kids, they'd grown up looking at Marin like a piece of magic candy behind the glass of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Shop window, out of reach across the bay, something to drool for. But moving to Marin County wasn't just a status stroke. There were real benefits, like your own acre of rugged nature to get depraved on, screened from the neighborhood noseys by maddening-scented foliage hanging thick between you and the nearest civilization. Marin gave you an added dimension, a new space, a higher consciousness, uplifted by the screaming joy you felt simply having made it as a Marin county local. Marin gave out its own licenses for craziness as if it were issuing its own paper money. Marin was a neverneverland, a wildlife refuge for dope fiends, a seceded state of mind, the new bohemia of the Middle Class West, a self-governed bin for loonies, a place you could get lost in, like a lynch mob on a panty raid. Just breathing Marin's air got you high. Marin was a resort, a vacation, a celebration. Its screaming joy was contagious. I'd caught it like a virus in 1960, falling under Marin's spell when I went out to visit Gary Snyder, then a Beat poet famous as Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bum, living in Mill Valley in a cabin shaded by giant trees and protected by mysterious spirits. Later in the '60s, the Hippies'd started driving up from their Haight-Ashbury ghetto just to use Marin's cinemascopic scenery as a backdrop for their acid trips. Now Marin'd turned into America's hippest suburbia, with a cocktail in one hand and a joint in the other, a suburbia on the most spectacular piece of real estate of any suburbia in Continental United States, excluding Alaska. Marin County was a party.


Probably what Jerry wanted was for me to write a major magazine piece about him. There'd never been one. Jerry'd never been trendy enough. But I didn't have the faintest of which magazine'd want a story about Jerry now. Probably none. Still I wanted to write one.

He was driving in every day for the sessions, about 18 miles down the coast on a road that clung for dear life to every inch of it. Jerry didn't have the reputation for being as crazy behind the wheel as the Dead drummer, Bill Kreutzmann, but he knew how to wha-wha the accelerator. For some five of those 18 miles, the road squirmed like the Loch Ness Monster slithering up and down a cliff, a two-lane roller coaster cut into the craggy face that Mount Tamalpais shows to the Pacific Ocean, with hairpin turns and recurring fog and constant rockfalls and occasional landslides. No sooner did you spin the wheel one way when you had to spin it the other, more thrills than you could buy at Disneyland, even at 20 miles an hour. The locals did the road much faster, but you never knew when you where going to come around one of those blind mountain curves and find yourself face-to-face with a boulder that'd just landed on the road the way that Bill Kreutzmann and I did one rainy day, with Bill at the wheel. Bill and I got out of his car and tried to push the boulder, but that turned out to be a slapstick act. An endless five miles of this, cut into the cliff face, and then another four miles of torture twisting across Mount Tamalpais ridge below Muir Woods before descending down the hairpins of the southeastern slope toward U.S. 101 and the Golden Gate. State Highway No. 1, this road out to Stinson Beach was called. I don't know why it was Highway No. 1. It was the last place in the world anyone would think to build a highway.

There was a big turnover of people who'd moved in that direction from San Franciso, to Stinson Beach and Bolinas and the other settlements you had to use State Highway No.1 to get to. These were people who had to be in San Francisco every day to work at offices, boutiques and other toil but who wanted to be able to go home to someplace reclusive, a hideout that wasn't easy to get to, that stayed inexpensive because of its inaccessibility, but that was also classy because it was heroic. They'd dumped on city life to begin commuting in imported cars. But after a couple of years of making that drive twice a day, of coming home in the fog and the rain and the darkness, stoned, worse yet drunk, of never knowing when the road was going to slide out from under, when they'd go crashing down to the rocky statistics on the surf below, they'd freak out and move back to the city. Jerry was making that drive every day for me, sometimes twice a day to do the folksinger sessions. Yeah I wanted to write a story about him. He was a hero to me.

"I hope you're not gonna bring a tape recorder," he said. He explained that a book'd just come out of his taped interview with Rolling Stone, the rock journal.

"I can't get into the book," he said. "I mean first of all I know what it says. It's meaningless to me to read my own quotes back to myself. That's the drag about getting interviewed. The writers sit down and we talk and they tape what I say and then when I go to read what they've written, it's all me talking. I'd like to read what I say in their words. I'd like the perspective of getting somebody else's angle on me."

"I'll bring a pad," I said.




I was staying at the Mark Hopkins. That Sunday, I went down to Fisherman's Wharf, found an artsy design store still open for the tourists and bought Jerry a house gift, a bowl that I wouldn't've minded in my own house. Then I got into my Hertz and headed across the Golden Gate, taking the roller coaster to Stinson Beach, State Highway No. 1. Jerry lived on the Ocean slope of Mount Tamalpais, his property abutting against the government reservation that covered most of the summit. A few radar domes, long cyclone fences and lots of official-looking KEEP OUT signs. The road Jerry lived on ran down the slope, straight through the middle of town, across State Highway No. 1 and right out to the rocky beach and the Pacific Ocean. Jerry didn't own a palace but he had a nice view. His grounds were overgrown, an exotic garden of dazzling greenery. I'd never learned about plants. They looked like tropical foliage, island trees, rare vegetables, mysterious herbs. Every square inch of ground was planted, as if compulsively, the way someone'd clean house at 4 a.m. on diet pill energy. The gardener was Mountain Girl, Jerry's old lady, long famous in the Dope Revolution via her publicized roamings with Ken Kesey, The Merry Doser. I noticed her as I pulled up to the house, making a brief appearance as she bent over to pick some greens. Inside the house Jerry introduced us.

"That's quite a green thumb you've got!" I told her, prattling like an encyclopedia salesman.

"I've got more 'f a brown thumb than a green one," she said cheerily. "I'm just a amateur. More'f 'em die than grow. I just decided to plant a few seeds once and then kept on doing it."

Mountain Girl, who actually came from Upstate New York, was rumored to have hidden powers. She could have played Mother Nature in my commercial any day. Her presence intimidated you. You had to like her or she'd kick the shit out of you. Psychically, physically, she looked like she could do it. She'd been cooking dinner when I arrived, a woman with long dark hair and little time for the usual pretense. She wasn't slim and foxy but she wasn't ready to wrestle polar bears, either. When I offered her my house gift, she unwrapped it with Jerry and said, "I'll put that right away."


They weren't fancy at Jerry's house. That's one of the things that I always liked about Jerry, his unthreatening plainness, his personification of the common slob, which I always considered myself to be. Knowing he'd never turn into just another pretty face, Jerry'd been unobsessed with ostentation. He was too busied in his work, too absent minded, too jammed up realizing himself to remember such misplaced vanities as his appearance. The picture of Jerry carried in my mental wallet will always show him going onstage with rumpled baggy jeans, a beer belly bulge over his belt, a worn blue T-shirt with a hole in the armpit, mussed-up hair and a shaggy black beard with a piece of white lint caught in it. That's the image which helped make the Dead so famous, the blue collar band for blue collar bandits, the workingman's Dead, class-conscious philosophers of the egalitarian lifestyle fermenting folk-diluted mystical-Marxist attitudes in the acid of their rock. A brew for people with beer tastes. Like the communist generals, Jerry dressed in the anonymous plain brown envelopes of the working class, no decorations, no medals. No pop star thread flashes for Jerry.


Jerry'd never gotten rich. I'd gathered that. The fabled profits of rock 'n' roll'd never filtered into his pockets. The Grateful Dead was supporting too big a family with too high a dope overhead for there to be much left when the band members divvied up the royalties, especially with so much of the Dead's income being plowed back into hardware, heavy armament, the band's technology, their sci-fi sound system that gave them their Panzer-like attack in battling the competition, a sound system which had to be treated as part of their act. Jerry never seemed to make more money, but always just enough to keep up with his rising nut. He didn't have any time to spend spending it because he was too busy hustling it. Is that why he loved to play so much? Because he needed the work?

"I used the advance from my album for a down payment on this place," Jerry said. He was talking about his first solo album, Garcia, which'd just been released, featuring himself instead of the whole Dead. He'd had to do the album as much to get the advance as to express himself. He'd needed to buy a house for his family.

"C'mon," he said, "let me show you around."


Poor Jerry. You live on the run, you've got to take what you can grab on the run. The house was a ranch that looked like Jerry'd bought it because he had a couple of hours to go house-hunting one day and didn't know when he'd get another chance. I mean he must've picked it out with as much thought as he'd grab a T-shirt from his drawer, something that looked like a cross between Californian Cape Cod and Californian Spanish. A nice house but an anonymous house. A plain house. Jerry the common man. I mean it was not the Taj Mahal showplace I was accustomed to visiting rock stars at. I didn't even see a swimming pool.

"C'mon," Jerry said, taking me to an out building that also served to wall in a backyard compound. This is where he was setting up his studio so he could make his own tapes, alone or with buddies.

"It's always interesting to see where a man does his work," he said. A few months later, when he visited me in Jersey, he asked to see where I worked and I didn't even have my typewriter set up.

When I went to use the bathroom inside the house, the sink drain was stopped up with hair. Mr. and Mrs. Piggy. I felt right at home. The place was wall-to-wall play pen though the kids were no longer infants, Sunshine, about 10, Mountain Girl's daughter by Ken Kesey, and Annabelle, about 6, Mountain Girl's daughter by Jerry. I didn't bother to ask if Sunshine was named after the famous LSD of the Kesey era. Her hair was golden. Annabelle's was dark. They were chirping like birds flying around their mother while she threw together a salad on a bar dividing the kitchen from the dinning room. Mountain Girl ran her family with a jolly, earthy ease. With the salad, she dished up steak, corn on the cob and muffins while stirring the dinner conversation like it was just another pot on the stove. She also handled a plate in one hand and a joint in the other with authority.

"Here!" she said, passing me a toke. We got high again.


Both Mountain Girl and Jerry knew their place in the Dope Revolution. They were for it. Vaguely I understood Jerry's philosophy to be that man, like his universe, was exploding out into infinity. The acceleration of his discoveries and the speed of his technology were outdistancing the minds that dreamed them up. Since man was the only organism in nature with the ability to fuck with nature, all man had to do was dream himself up a faster mind. Man needed a sixth sense to approach lightspeeds. A larger consciousness, an expanded awareness, an extrasensory psyche. That's why man'd begun experimenting with drugs, whether grown from the ground, like marijuana, or synthesized through research in the Roche labs, like valium. Dope was the space ship to explore your own head and maybe to get into others. One day man'd no longer fear dope. He'd learn to use it. He'd find ways around it's side effects. He'd teach it not to attack his body. In the meantime, those victimized by dope were martyrs in an age of trial, fallen pioneers of the trek into the future. Jerry didn't have to account to anybody for his doping. He loved to get stoned. So did I. After dinner he wanted to watch a documentary on the tube about smuggling grass from Mexico, mostly via light planes making drops over the border. Toking in front of the TV, we broke up over the tenseness of the caper games.

"You see the trouble they go through just for us?" Jerry said.


The dining table was round. When Mountain Girl finished clearing it, I pulled out a pad and Jerry sat next to me.

"I'd like to start at the beginning," I said. "Y'know, when y'r a kid, y'r childhood brands ya. I'd like t'know what it was like for you growing up. Y'know, y'lose a lot of keys in y'r childhood. Y'forget where y'leave 'em."


I wanted to know what made Jerry different from the other kids to've become a star. Jerry'd been thinking about what he wanted to tell me. Like a man lifting a dead weight, he started running off a string of images about growing up in the Excelsior District where he was born, just south of Mission, near Daly City, a straight-ahead workingclass neighborhood, mostly Irish and Italian at the time, with wooden houses and kids playing in the street while the San Bruno mountains loomed like sugar loaves to the South, below San Francisco. Jerry talked sure and fast, as if he'd already been out on a reconnaissance mission and was glad for somebody to report to. I couldn't write quick enough. He'd have to stop and wait for me to catch up with my note-taking.

"What about your father?" I said. I hardly had time to ask questions.

"He was a musician who ran into a bum scene with the union in the 1930s, got blackballed and opened a bar instead."

"He didn't play any more after he opened the bar?"

"He just played around the house. He died young. I hardly knew 'im."

Jerry was four or five when his father died, leaving Jerry's mother with two sons and the bar, no big deal, located at First and Harrison, near the sailors' union hall, an industrial section with gas storage tanks ruling the skyline. The elevated highway hadn't been built yet to run almost overhead. Jerry's boyhood was fixated on that intersection, almost at the other end of the city from where he lived.

"Y'mean y'didn't live there?"

"I spent all my time there. I spent that time of my life listening to old sailors rap."

There was a hotel upstairs where the old sailors lived. They'd hang out at the bar, steering Jerry's fantasies into every port on earth with their wind against his sails. Their tales made Jerry feel he was in prison. When the sailors' union decided to build a new hall and bought out the corner where bar was, Jerry's mother bought out the candy factory across the street and turned that into a bar.

"I felt very frustrated as a kid," Jerry said. "Very confined."

"But why? Was it worse for you than other kids?"

He kept on going without really answering me. Mountain Girl'd sat down at the table to listen. Then Sunshine and Annabelle.

"I've never heard some of this," Mountain Girl said.


I was still trying to catch up with my notetaking. It was a movie that Jerry was running off, shot against San Francisco's skyline, stark footage of a dismal, yearning, loner kid who didn't know where to begin to look for happiness. There were overcast skies, awesome against San Francisco's hills. There were quick cuts, blackouts, flashbacks, grimy montages. The factory gate always seemed nearby. Jerry could've ended up there, too. But the movie was confusing to me. There seemed to be some parts edited out.

"When I was 10 my life got very vague and unsettled," he said. His mother remarried and moved with her sons and their new step-father down the peninsula to Menlo Park, outside Palo Alto. But there were no closeups of the stepfather in Jerry's movie. The pictures of his mother grew murky. Jerry's brother hardly made an appearance at all. There weren't any scenes of Jerry's life in Menlo Park.

"I felt uncomfortable there," he said. "I was used to the streets. Down there they had a complicated social structure. I was never exposed to rich kids before. There was a whole new ambiance."

The movie flashed back to the bar at First and Harrison. How'd he get there from Menlo Park?

"I'd take the bus from my grandmother's house."

At the bar, Jerry'd sweep the floor, play the juke box and listen to the sailors. The movie kept showing Jerry in the bar. From morning till closing, Jerry'd be in the bar. The movie never showed him in school or hanging out with the other kids.

"The nearest kids to play with were miles away," Jerry said. "The bar was my world."


I couldn't figure it out. Jerry'd moved down to Menlo Park but he was still commuting by bus between his grandmother's, at one end of San Francisco, to the intersection at First and Harrison, at the end of San Francisco. But the movie kept rolling. He was now 11 or 12. That's when he discovered reading.

"Because I was sick," he said. Kids always find out about reading when they have to stay in bed. "I had a lot of asthma," Jerry said.

Jerry read like a mole. He just blindly burrowed through everything that was in front of him. When he'd burrowed through all the kid stuff, a history teacher turned him on to the heavyweights, Freud, Jung, Orwell, E.C. Comics. Jerry was surprised to find they were as easy as the kid stuff.

"I became aware there was an intellectual universe going on somewhere, something I didn't suspect," he said. "The history teacher turned me on to thinking. He got fired for being too controversial, talking about birth control, life, weirdness. It was reading that started me thinking, 'that's different from what was supposed to be going on, from what I learned in school.'"

When they fired the history teacher, the only teacher who'd ever taught Jerry anything important, they were just confirming what Jerry'd already discovered. The schools were lying. Everything the schools'd been trying to teach to him about history, society, the government, life was a fucking lie.


Although Jerry's movie kept raising a lot of questions in my mind, it also kept my eyes glued to the screen. Not only was I too busy with my note-taking, I was too compelled to interrupt. Relentlessly, Jerry kept the camera focused on himself. The people around him were shadows. His mother, his step-father, his grandmother, his brother. You never really saw them. Their presence was only suggested. Apparently they'd been hassling Jerry.

"I was a JD, an incorrigible," he said. That's how he was made to feel. He couldn't do anything right. Was his family coming down on him? "When I was 13, I moved back into the city."

Back from where? Wasn't he already in the city, commuting by bus between his grandmother's and the bar at First and Harrison?

"It was a different space," Jerry said. Electric Dope. The middle of the whole blackboard jungle social structure. A montage. Jerry started cutting classes, lying, getting into fights.

"I got into immense trouble," he said. "I'd get beat up by the gangs. If you ever were out by yourself at night you were a target."

Jerry was learning to be a hood. Still, he took piano lessons. He was also good at sketching and when he was 14 he took a Saturday course at the California Institute for Fine Arts.

"Heading towards some kind of artist-in-training for that art school had a completely different consciousness from the high school wino gang scene," he said.

Jerry was feeling schizoid.


On Jerry's 15th birthday, his mother bought him an accordion.

"I complained and moaned I didn't want an accordion," Jerry said. "I traded it for an electric guitar and amp. The accordion was more valuable. The bass keys had old Neapolitan fancy mother-of-pearl. But I wanted to play funky electric guitar."

He'd been listening to KWBR, the R&B station in Oakland, and to KSAN with Jumpin' George Oxford. He'd been listening to them play Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed and Guitar Slim and John Lee Hooker, black bottom blues. Also, he'd been tuning into AM radio, Top 40, KOBY.

"It was my first kind of hype trip, Marty Robbins, rockabilly, Jerry Lee Lewis." he said. "I wanted to play guitar. I was already singing three-part harmonies with my brother and cousin and I wanted to accompany myself. If not on guitar, something else. But not on accordion!"


The same year Jerry got his electric guitar, he also got turned on to the high school's pot social set. The gang war at his school was too thick to duck. I kept watching the movie for closeups of Jerry fighting. I wanted to see his style. So far I'd only caught glimpses of him getting beat up. Didn't Jerry ever win a fight? How vicious was he? Did he ever use a knife? But the camera never zoomed in on Jerry. Those parts were edited out. I looked for a way to scribble a note to remind myself to ask Jerry about that, but I was too busy taking notes about what Jerry was saying.

"A lot of fighting, race riots, all that high school shit that was so heavy in the '50s," he said. "Gangs go out cruising on a Friday night with other hoodlums, drinking wine and having fights. The tops of the hills in the city weren't built on yet. It was still like going to the country. Trees, ponds, grass, animals. We went up one day and smoked a couple of joints. After that I really got into it. And I wasn't into changing my mood, I was into getting stoned!"



Jerry was a confirmed kid pothead by the time the Beats pitched their cosmic carnival up in North Beach, San Francisco's tiny bohemia of the time. What kid could resist a carnival? The whole town was talking about the beatniks. The tube, the DJs, the newspapers, the kids on the tops of the hills, even the old sailors. Jerry pedaled up to North Beach on his bike. Lots of kids showed up there on their bikes to become beatniks, runaways from further parts of the country, sucked in by the media hype. But Jerry lived cross town. He could commute. He began biking up every day, cruising Grant Avenue, North Beach's tiny midway, hanging out with sandal makers, the artists, the poets, the musicians. He took in some readings, got to know a few of the brains. He learned they were all refugees from the same bullshit. They'd felt schizoid, too. Jerry started getting high with the beatniks. Dope became food for thought instead of just for kicks. He read Allen Ginsberg's HOWL>. He read Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD.

"ON THE ROAD was the turning point in my life," Jerry said.

"David Bowie told me the exact same thing!" I cried out.


How the fuck did David Bowie get into Jerry's act? There couldn't be anybody more opposite in the entire dope and pop scene. Here's Jerry with holes in his t-shirts while Bowie's at the end of the spectrum that's got orange hair. From straight-ahead acid rock to studded heavy leather. That was my point. ON THE ROAD'd turned on the entire English-speaking whitey youth culture of the time, from Jerry Garcia to David Bowie.

"Yeah," I said, "the night before Bowie's Carnegie Hall debut in New York, I'm sitting with him over a room service dinner in his Plaza Hotel suite while he amazes me with the story of how, when he was a teenager, reading ON THE ROAD'd been his turning point. It opened up all possibilities for him. It uplifted his spirit. It freed him to dye his hair different colors. That's why I blurted out his name."

"Far out!" Jerry said

"ON THE ROAD influenced a whole generation, just like Hemingway's THE SUN ALSO RISES created the Lost Generation. ON THE ROAD changed the way people acted. It changed the way people talked."

"Far out!"



ON THE ROAD helped Jerry reconcile the artist and the thug in himself. It freed him of guilt. It showed him how society'd legislated his consciousness to keep him from discovering its dumb lies, how society'd been trying to hammer him into a category for the benefit of a system that didn't work. ON THE ROAD not only gave him a vision of a new lifestyle but it also gave him a role model, a hero, a Dean Moriarty, the star of ON THE ROAD, the original hipster, the cross-country addict, the ultimate driver, the Johnny Appleseed of marijuana, the Beat Generation's Cosmic Cowboy, the inspiration for what was happening in North Beach.

"After I read the book," Jerry said, "I began to hear rumors that it was about real people. When I Heard that," and Jerry broke into a grin, "I had to meet them."

Jerry was still a kid on a bike. He tracked down a couple of impostors, different dudes each claiming to be the real Dean Moriarty but they were just North Beach bums. Finally he learned that the real Dean Moriarty was a local legend named Neal Cassady, but it wasn't until later that Jerry got to meet Neal, when acid gave the scene a new dimension and the Merry Pranksters were getting together, the Koolaid era, with Neal driving Ken Kesey's psychedelic bus. Jerry got very tight with Neal. Jerry got to meet all the famous surviving Beats.

"It was Neal who taught Kerouac how to write," Jerry said. "Jack was trying in very orthodox ways until Neal got him off of it. Jack learned from Neal's manuscripts. I've read them. He wrote like he talked. He could keep me spellbound for hours. Nobody could tell a story like Neal. He had the most timing. Some day his manuscripts'll all be published and recognized."

I'd met Neal when he was still in San Quentin for doing time for two joints. I'd heard him tell a story. I knew he'd helped change our culture. After Neal'd died in Mexico, where he was found in a coma near a railroad track, apparently burnt out by years of his body making deals with the devil, Jerry'd helped found the Neal Cassady Foundation to honor Neal's memory. It was the least he could do. Neal was a martyr.



I wanted to know more about Neal, how Jerry'd met him, what their adventures'd been like, but I figured Jerry'd get to it. His movie was running chronologically and it also was running ahead of my note-taking. Jerry just kept talking, pausing only for me to catch up. I couldn't remember all the questions that were accumulating. I could do a whole interview about Neal. But the camera stayed on Jerry. It showed him wandering against a backdrop full of holes.

When he was about 16, he moved up north, past Marin County, to Cazadero, near Russian River, where California started getting remote. He had to be up at 6 a.m. for the hour-and-a-half bus ride to Sebastopol High School. He joined a band, played a high school dance, and cut a demo. But after a year he split to Redwood City, where a pal named Laird fixed up a chicken coop for him to live in. Jerry picked fruit, played guitar alone in the chicken coop, hitch-hiked around and then, when he was 17, joined the Army.

"It was either go back to school or get into trouble," he said. "It was '59. There were a lot of rumors something bad might start in Germany. I thought I'd get to travel. I did my basic at Fort Ord, 60 miles south of San Francisco. Then I was sent up to the Presidio. That's what really fucked me. It only lasted nine months. I just lived at home, stayed at my grandmother's house. I'd go back to the Army every day, like a job. I was AWOL a few weeks. When I got back, they were real pissed. They court-martialed me and I violated probation. Another court-martial. They said, 'Look, do you want to get out of the Army?' The Army was fantastically dull."


With one civvie suit, his discharge and a '51 Caddie, Jerry drove down to Palo Alto and the Stanford University scene. Laird was there, living in a ghetto. When Jerry pulled up, his Caddie died. Jerry ripped out the back seat and set up housekeeping in it.

"What about your mother?" I asked.

"What about her?"

"Didn't she hassle ya?"

"About what?"

"About livin' 'n th' back seat of a car."

"She didn't have to live there with me."

"I mean, didn't she care you were livin' 'n th' back seat of a car? She didn't care you were livin' 'n a chicken coop? Who'd y' live with up in Cazadero? Why'd ya go up there t'live? Didn't your mother take any interest?"

"I never saw her or hardly talked to her at all," Jerry shot back. "I didn't start living with my mother after they moved back to Menlo Park. I lived with my grandmother. She didn't care what I was doing as long as I didn't get into trouble. I was fucked up totally with my mother."


It was at Stanford that Jerry started bathing his head in acid.

"When I got out of the Army, I got into the same scene I'm in now, with virtually all the same people," he said. "It's an offshoot of the Stanford scene, research people, faculty people, the people from Kepler's bookstore. I met Bob Hunter and Willy Le Gate, big influences on the Dead scene. It was all the same people from them on. Kesey was going to Stanford. We were beginning the whole transition into the folk trip. The post-Weavers introduction to folk music on a popular level."

Folk and acid. The Stanford scene people huddled around their acid experiments like it was a campfire on a cold night in the cosmic wind. By the early '60s a few of the artists began moving to the cheap rents of the Haight. Beat poet Mike McClure'd been living there for years. Phil Lesh, the bass player, was the first of the Palo Alto crowd to get a pad in the Haight. Then the Beatles broke. Folk music was suddenly becoming technologically outmoded.




"When I got out of the Army, I was into folk, the acoustic guitar," Jerry said. "I also was putting in a lot of time on the banjo. I even went traveling through the South, learning licks off the records. I haven't ever in my life been more paranoid. I shaved off my beard to go South. I had a little Corvair with California license plates. They were extremely suspicious about out-of-towners. I traveled around about a summer. The longest I spent in one place was Bloomington, Indiana. Bill Monroe has a place there, a little country music park. I wanted to catch two consecutive weekends. You'd go out to the music park, pay a buck, have a picnic and a generally good time. There were five bands. It was part of the blue grass circuit, one of the nicest scenes you ever want to fall into. Mostly I stayed with people. I had $300 saved up. Finally I just got into a dead end with the banjo. You were limited essentially to only one set of sounds.

"When we started playing rock and roll, we didn't have any background at all. Certainly I didn't on the electric guitar. Phil... the last music he had done was huge orchestral monstrosities. Then he played trumpet in big bands, Stan Kenton type of stuff. He was a high trumpet player. Composition was his main shit. He's been into the academic thing in music all his life.

"Playing loud rock and roll music was like everybody's dream come true. Like Pig Pen, whose whole scene was blues. The Beatles more than anyone else brought it home. Electric rock. From jug band through blues band, we were coming from a weird place, but then we moved into playing bars. There were no dance halls then. Here's a whole new world of music. It's got its own traditions. For me it was a freedom from all restrictions I'd been put into and a chance to play a lot. That's what I really dug was playing a lot."



My hand was cramped. I couldn't write any more. I'd filled a whole white-lined pad with dense pages of notes. I was stoned and tired. So was Jerry. It was getting late.

"I can't take another note."

"I am drained."

"There are a lot of holes. There are a lot of things that I have to ask you to fill in the holes. But I'm too wiped out to remember what they are and I can't take another note."

"Well, we'll get together again."

"Yeah, we may need another interview. There're so many questions I'd like to ask. I feel like I've got the first chapter. There's an awful lot there, but I feel like something's missing. It just doesn't all fit together. I'll have t'think about it for a while t'figure out how it does. Because there's a lot there."

"Yeah, there are various important things there. When we're reminiscing, we try out various events in the past. We discover new meanings to them. There's some important shit back there in the form of experience. I realized a lot of things myself tonight."

I was reluctant to leave. I felt as if I'd forgotten to ask Jerry something, but I hadn't really had time to ask him anything. Or was it something he'd forgotten to tell me? Something was missing and I didn't know what it was. His movie'd showed him cast by the waves rather than propelled by his own power. He must've put up more of a struggle than the movie'd showed. Was he being too modest? What could he've left out?

I wasn't just stoned and tired, I was bleary-eyed and exhausted. And I still had to take the roller coaster back to San Francisco, State Highway No.1. Jerry was wiped out, too, but he had another visitor coming, a friend bringing refill for his reefer. I started getting ready to split, thanking Mountain Girl for the meal, saying good-bye to Jerry. We were standing in the middle of the living room. Sunshine and Annabelle were surrounding Jerry, with Annabelle tugging at Jerry's right hand, trying to get his attention while he was talking to me. Finally he glanced at her, holding his hand.

"What, Annabelle?" he said.

Annabelle spread the fingers of Jerry's hand.

"Is that where your brother chopped off your finger?" Annabelle asked.

"No," Jerry mumbled quickly. He clenched the hand Annabelle'd spread apart.


Immediately the five of us standing in the middle of the living room were cut down like a clump of grass by a scythe, reduced to stumps wishing we could each one of us disappear through the floorboards. Even sweet Annabelle, instantly realizing what she'd done, wasn't spared the slicing pain of embarrassment. There wasn't just a silence. There was a death. I got out of the house as smoothly as I could.

I'd forgotten about Jerry's finger. Everyone always forgot about it. Apparently Jerry wanted to forget about it too. The second finger of his right hand. The second finger after the thumb was missing. It hadn't been there for as long as I knew him, or for as long as anyone I knew who knew him. It had to've happened when he was a kid. The way that he held his hand, you'd hardly ever notice it. But it was his picking hand. How could anyone learn to play guitar as good as Jerry with a missing finger? What a rotten way for a kid to have to get motivated. It couldn't've been easy. Was it his brother who did it? His older brother? It must have been an accident. How could I've forgotten to ask about his finger? People just never noticed it. You sure could never notice listening to his guitar playing.

Outside the house, in the driveway, I had to stop. The moon was full, but there was something else. A scent. A sweet, heavy, intoxicating scent hanging in the air. I stood sniffing it. The scent was getting me giddy, drunk, romantic, horny. I was already high. Where was this scent coming from? I saw a figure walking up the driveway, the friend Jerry'd been expecting with his refill. As the friend came close, I said, "Hi. Excuse me, but could you tell me where that smell is coming from?"

"What smell?"

"That scent. It must be from some vegetation. It's fantastic! It's knocking me out!"

He stopped and sniffed.

"Must be moon jasmine," he said. "That's Mountain Girl's. She planted it."

"I figured she did," I said.

"You can only smell it when the moon is out," he laughed and kept walking up the driveway. ##




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