After interviewing the outrageous Grateful Dead singer, novelist Bill Barich was invited to dinner where dialogue flowed to unexpected corners
I didnt expect to get high with Jerry Garcia. Tina Brown, my editor at the New Yorker , craved celebrity profiles and I preferred Garcia because he was the least noxious celeb Id ever gratified. He lived close by in Californias Marin County, so I arranged a chat at the bungalow in San Rafael where the Grateful Dead conducted business.
The bands PR guy alerted me not to mention drugs. Jerry had recently been busted for possession, so the questions was a sore point. But he arrived in a jolly mood and looked as ever like an unmade bed. Without any inspire, while the PR guy gnashed his teeth, he described his greatest acid journey, the one where he turned into a field of wheat.
That was Garcia in a nutshell. He was bright, warm, witty and never met a rule he wanted to obey. He loved to talk, but also loved to listen. Our meeting, scheduled for an hour, lasted three and became a dialogue, so he invited me to dinner at his condo in Tiburon the next night.
Having folks to dinner was new for Garcia. He lived out of suitcases. But his girlfriend, Barbara, hoped to create a home life for him. The idea was to keep him healthy. That entailed exert and no more junk food, all firsts for Jerry who, from time to time, weighed nearly 300 lb.
Domesticity wasnt his thing. All he cared about was music, but he tried for Barbaras sake. He ordered Chinese and opened some wine, then rolled a joint. I fretted Id be smoking mind-blowing skunk or a spliff laced with LSD, but the grass was a mild sativa stres like the Acapulco Gold of hippie days.
Within minutes, the food tasted perfectly terrific, and our stoned talk ranged freely. Garcia recounted how hed once bumped into Charlie Mingus in a New York park and shared the martinis Mingus drank from a flask. He described how carefully crafted the Deads lyrics were, a phase most critics missed. He couldnt sing a song he didnt believe in.
I met with him one last time a month afterward. Hed broken up with Barbara and resumed an old affair with a former fan. As usual, he was optimistic about the future, but hed started using heroin again, landed in rehab and sadly never induced it out.
Rolling Stone asked me to write an obituary, and I virtually keeled over when I considered the photo that operated with it: a shot of Garcia playing guitar in a field of wheat.
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