Life in the Mission District
Mission Street is literally San Francisco's original street, acting as the final leg of El Camino (the King's Highway), which linked the California Missions (including San Francisco's Mission Dolores). Today's Mission -14 would have been Jerry's primary mode of transportation, taking it everyday to his mom's bar or halfway in between to his grandmother's union office at the Redstone building on 16th near Mission, a nexus with 24th Street of the Mission's commercial core.
Juan Bautista de Anza, the leader of the first Mexican Spanish expedition to the Bay Area, was very excited to discover the fertile Mission District next to Dolores lagoon on March 28, 1776, which eventually symbolized the end point of his quest. His father, Juan Bautista de Anza, senior, was killed by Apaches in May, 1740, when the younger Juan Bautista was not quite three years of age, while trying to discover a route to Alta California. more
|Click thumbnail pics to enlarge
Since the 225th anniversary, Mission Dolores boosters and Mission Merchants have been working to move a City owned de Anza statue out of storage to the front median strip in front of the Mission more
The inner Mission's Miracle Mile, much closer to the downtown, has been a bustling metro center for numerous immigrant families since it was brought back to life from its sleepy Mission Dolores days by the gold rush of 1849. Even today, this increasingly trendy arts and Latin district contains more churches and bars per capita than any similar sized district in the state of California. Many of the former union halls have made the transition to theatres and other arts spaces. While Italians and Irish were the most numerous of immigrant communities in the '40s and '50s, it's the American dream of working for a better tomorrow for your family that unites all the generations of the Mission, including the many Spanish-speaking cultures from the Americas , which have dominated the district during the second half of the 20th century.
The inner Mission has spent most of its life as San Francisco's second downtown, the immigrant working class metro center for the region. When the downtown area began expanding along this corridor in the '60s, the politically savvy neighborhood successfully revolted and avoided being wiped out like the African American western Addition along Fillmore Street - thus preserving much of the city's history. Closer to
Jerry's home was the Granada Theater at Ocean and Mission, where Jerry would catch all
the horror films they showed. That the first novel Jerry read was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein showed his determination to pursue his enthusiasms.
The urban neighborhood had a mix of all types. For example, the largest institution in the Excelsior is the Jewish Home for the Aged at Silver and Mission, which marks the boundary between the inner and outer Mission of San Francisco. It was, and still is, a family-oriented, church-going neighborhood.
For most of his early years, Garcia was never more than a block
away from San Francisco's Mission Street.. His father, Jose, was an immigrant
like most who lived in the Mission District. His family
had arrived in 1919 from the large port City in Spain known as
Corufia (La Coruna).
It is known in world history as the place where the Spanish empire began to crum; its great fleet was defeated in 1588 by Sir Francis
Drake as it departed the port for an attack on England.
"Papuella” Garcia, earned his living as an electrician, but he insisted that his
four sons and
all his grandchildren learn how to play an instrument and sing.
Jerry: "I can't read, I couldn't learn how to read music, but I
could play by ear. My family was a singing family, on the Spanish
side, every time there was a party everybody sang." RS
Jose, or Joe Garcia, the second
son of Papuella, became a
swing-band leader who played jazz on clarinet, saxophone, reeds and
woodwinds. At the peak of his career he led a 40-piece Dixieland
orchestra. Jerry Garcia's mother, Ruth Marie "Bobbie" Clifford, also shared a great love for music, and
played piano in addition to being a registered nurse. Ruth and Garcia were married in 1935.
Their first child, Clifford ("Tiff"), was born in 1937,
and their second and last child was born on August 1, 1942, at
in the city. They named him
Jerome John Garcia, after Jerome Kern,
the brilliant composer of classic Broadway
musicals like Show Boat and Roberta. For his first five years, Jerry and his older brother Tiff lived with their parents at 121 Amazon Avenue (map) in the Excelsior section of the San Francisco Mission District.
The family enjoyed a comfortable life on Amazon Street after Joe retired from being professional musician. Jerry's recollection
is that it was a forced retirement, because the musician's union was upset that he was holding down two gigs. Joe's bar and waterfront hotel on the corner of lst and Harrison
Streets did well; it was called the Four Hundred Club, named for its
location, 400 First St.
The family took auto vacations throughout the
western states and Jerry's most vivid memory as a toddler came from a
visit to a motel's restaurant and pool in the Santa Cruz mountains (an hour-and-a-half south of San Francisco).
Jerrry "Anyway, after dessert I toddled outside and along comes a drunk who
scoops me up, exclaiming, 'Why hell these little bastards are just like
puppies ya just throw 'em in an' they swim like fish!!' and without
additional comment throws me into the pool. The deep end no less! I clearly remember sinking majestically to the bottom, the soothing
hush of underwater humming in my ears. All in all it was a pleasant
experience. My father dove in and after rescuing me, he
unceremoniously knocked out the drunk. Knocked him out cold." HS
| Jerry said he could feel dirt under the missing fingernail for
At the age of
four, Jerry had his right middle finger chopped off by his brother. He and Tiff were at the
family's Lompico country house in the Santa Cruz
was chopping wood, and Jerry may have been fooling around when he failed
to move his finger fast enough from the descending axe blade. Jerry mostly remembers the shock of a buzzing sound vibrating in
his ears during a long drive to the doctor's. Reattachment, common
today, was apparently not an option, since Jerry was surprised to discover
he had lost two thirds of his middle finger when the bandages came off in
the bathtub sometime later.
Tiff: "We'd been given a chore to
do...he'd hold the wood and I'd chop it...he was [messing] around and I
was just constantly chopping."
summer of 1947, the family went camping together near Arcata, in Northern
California. Joe went fly-fishing
and drowned in the deep water rapids after slipping. Jerry always claimed to have witnessed the sudden incident, helpless and
horrified from the riverbank. There is little doubt he remained haunted by the experience, and he was unable to discuss his father for years after the incident.
Jerry: "I actually watched him go
under. It was horrible. I was just a little kid, and I didn't really
understand what was going on. But then, of course, my life changed."
Ruth Garcia was left alone with two
rambunctious young boys to raise, and a waterfront hotel and bar to run.
Luckily, her parents agreed to
help out. Jerry and Tiff moved in with Nan and Pop
nearby at 87
Harrington Street, a few blocks away from the Amazon Street house. His mother would later move into a cottage across the street,
but Ruth's parents raised Jerry over the next five years. The street was only one block long, but it connected with the
district's two main transit arteries, Mission and Alemany, in a City
second only to New York City for public transit. (map)
Jerry naturally depended on his mother for
support after his father's death, but Bobbie Garcia was not attracted to domestic life.
An only child, she had developed a strong creative side. Her love of
music included not only new American theatrical music of Jerome Kern,
but also the archetypal musical tradition of opera. Jerry's strong
Catholic upbringing would be tempered by his mother's interest
in astrology, palm reading and the controversial scientist Velikovsky. Jerry
Garcia's many biographers generally concede he neglected his
daughters while he pursued his artistic calling, although he clearly
was himself troubled by not having gotten the love and support he
craved from his mother. Jerry's penchant for trouble as a youth was likely the familiar strategy for attention from his distracted mom.
would often take the bus to his mother's tavern, the Four Hundred Club, and
listen to sailors tell their travel stories at the bar. The spot
where the bar once stood became the Union 76 clock tower, which
dominated the San Francisco entrance to the Bay Bridge for most of the
second half of the 20th century, and now holds Band of America's most
prominent local logo.
The 76 Union
tower at the Northwest corner of the Bay Bridge was once the
home of the 400 Club, where Jerry Garcia spent most of his time
away from home as a youth. This webcam, from the same location, offers the Bay Area's
best view of traffic conditions on the upper deck of the bridge,
and can be turned to zero in on the central freeway area as
|B of A CAM is located atop the
Bank of America tower (formerly the 76 Union tower)
Nan (Tillie) and Pop
Jerry's mother's parents could trace their lineage back to the gold rush, when San Francisco became a City. Jerry's most significant mythical ancestor was his grandmother's father, Captain Olsen, who he believed was part of the gold rush of 1849 after sailing the perilous seas from Sweden to San Francisco. The maternal great-grandfather married an Irishwoman and went into the cartage (pre-trucking horse drawn cart) business.
Tillie Clifford was a
captivating and remarkable woman at the forefront of the labor
movement for women in the union town of San Francisco.
A founder and long-time secretary/treasurer of the local Laundry Workers'
Union, she was a well-dressed professional politician who seemed to
know and love everyone in San Francisco. Tillie was not to be trifled with, and in 1918 pressed assault charges against Pop. She and her husband tolerated each other, but they rarely spoke.
They were both good Irish Catholics around the community, although
she often attended out-of-town union meetings with her extramarital
Jerry would recall her as a beautiful and charming woman with a spiritual
quality, who was either "a fabulous liar or
she just genuinely loved everybody."
Jerry: "Tillie was by all accounts extraordinary - extraordinarily beautiful when she was young." ... "She was a
politician and I suppose a radical union organizer in the 30s of San
Francisco laundries. She was the secretary treasurer of the
Local Laundry Workers Union, A.F. of L. for as long as I can remember. This
was an elected post, so Tillie would run for office down at the union
hall (16th near Mission) every so often and unfailingly won in a walk
-usually by an enormous margin - I actually counted ballots once,
fabulously dull! She always won. I think she mostly ran unopposed. She
was tremendously popular, well loved, with the rank and file. [It was
reciprocal, tit for tat, and she loved her members.]"
Nan's taste in music - including her regular habit of
listening to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights - must have passed on to
Jerry, who mastered banjo playing early in his music career. Jerry's
legacy as one of the great pickers in rock and roll and jazz/bluegrass began with the long hours he spent with Nan and her music.
Pop's independent laundry delivery business brought him home early, in time to
keep an eye on the boys. Jerry
did not relate well to his grandfather, whose quiet
demeanor contrasted dramatically with his and Nan's.
Jerry: "I can't imagine what drew them
together. He was so dull. He was such a quiet person. This was one of
the Irish guys that didn't have the gift of gab. He couldn't tell a
story to save his soul.
Despite their Latin last name and Tillie's own Swedish heritage, the Garcia boys thought of their ethnicity as deriving largely from Pop and saw themselves as Mission (District) Irish, a standard San Francisco ethnic classification.
Walk Through Mission History
Early mentor Miss Simon
In third grade Jerry was fortunate to have a bohemian
Miss Simon, who inspired a vision of himself as an
accomplished visual artist. He began to read and develop his drawing
talent. He thought about his mother's palm reading insight:
" you have the hands to be an artist."
Jerry: "It was an art thing and
that was more or less my guiding interest from that time on. I was
going to be a painter and I really was taken with it. I got into art
history and all of it. It was finally something for me to do." (RS)
During eight years of piano lessons, he never learned to sight read
music and had impressed no one, including himself, as particularly
musically gifted. And so, at an earlier age Garcia seemed more likely to pursue visual art.
Jerry was well-read, but among his most wanted reading material were the comics that Tiff
brought home from Mission
Street. Among his favorites were E.C. comic books,
like the classic Tales From the Crypt,
with gory Old Testament tales of retribution and a unique
expressionistic style of graphics.
|1948's Abbot and Costello meet
Frankenstein was Jerry's all time favorite movie and
remains one of the great horror-comedy classics of all time.
Learn more at
Corpus Christi Church
and sexual guilt
the corner from Jerry's house, on Alemany, was Corpus Christi Church, (Map)
which they attended
every Sunday. As an
Irish- Spanish Catholic, the Church's
theater of hell was the necessary catalyst to instill a guilt ridden
sexuality on Jerry as it had so successfully for centuries of other
young people. More importantly it introduced him to a sense of the
higher spiritual plane beyond the material world.
"I remember worrying, with all the pious sincerity I could
muster, should I happen upon a fatally wounded pagan would I have the
presence of mind to correctly administer a baptism before seeking
medical aid so as to ensure the survival of his/her immortal soul!
Old Corpus Christi Catholic
(click pic for slide show)
So, one block, scarcely 100 yards from the door at 87 Harrington, was
God's House! In those days they still had the wonderful Latin
with its resonant sonorities and mysterious ritual movements, the
incense, the music, choir, organ, bells, candles, the muted light
through the stained glass windows."HS
"Twenty years later he would read an underground comic book called Binky
Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary and grasp profoundly that it
described exactly the hell of his early teens, as captured in the rays of
light, lust, guilt, that emanated from Binky's crotch, up toward the
Virgin, down to hell, and out toward the entire world. (DM)
In the year
before his death, Jerry composed an atypical recollection of childhood
memories in drawings and words called Harrington Street.
His most dramatic illustrations were saved for a traumatic early
sexual experience with older neighborhood girls
Jerry: "When he was very young, the up
the street, mean girls, would corner him, make him stand on a box and
take his pants down. They would look at him and laugh. It was
Stepfathers: Ben & Wally
Ruth "Bobbie" Garcia enjoyed a brief marriage to Ben Brown in 1949,
whose blond burly good looks was complemented by his construction
who Bobbie put to good use improving her cottage. Ben
did not show much interest in family life.
The extended Garcia family did not approve of the marriage, and the
support they'd offered the boys became much less.
A Long Strange Trip
and long-time associate of Jerry,
Jerry was deeply wounded by his mother's many interests
besides him and that he felt abandoned when it was determined he was
best off living with his maternal grandparents. A specific traumatic memory of being
left behind on the street one day by his mother, of frantically searching
for her until he was finally found by his grandmother.
"He was bereft, and he would always carry a feeling that he was not
loved or cared for, that he was not worthy."
" he got everything he wanted from my mom until he left home
and went into the army." "Dark Star;
While his brother Tiff remembers it differently, Jerry's first wife,
Sara got the picture within minutes of being introduced.
|"Jerry's mother, Ruth, had really wanted Jerry to be a girl. She'd
had a boy and she doted on him. Tiff was the favorite
kid. Tiff was the star. When Jerry took me
that same night to meet her in her little place in Diamond Heights,
there was a photo on top of the TV. Tiff in his Marine
suit with the gun. On top of the TV. She
watched TV all the time. I loved that woman a lot but she
and Jerry didn't have a very good relationship."
Sara Ruppenthal Garcia; Jerry's first wife
1953 Bobbie married Wally Matusiewicz and the boys moved back in with her. Wally expected his
stepsons to work alongside him on home projects; but Jerry was not
interested and had developed a smart alec mouth to go with a willful
streak while living with his grandparents. Jerry appreciated that his stepfather happened to
have stringed instruments, electrical instruments, amplifiers, and
even a tape recorder around the house but they were unable to foster
a good relationship. Jerry, at that age, was likely still
too troubled and confused over his relationship with his mom and the
trauma of his father's death to
invest in bonding with Wally.
Cliff and Jerry
on Harrington St., 1953
Tiff: "Wally was pretty supportive of me, and at
the time I thought he was more supportive of Jerry; I don’t know.
He and I worked together as seamen later on for a couple of months.
He wasn’t the kind of role model my grandfather was because he was
always working the bar, and if he wasn’t doing that he’d go out
to sea for a month or two. He did what my mom wanted him to do; she
was paying the bills. But he really loved my mom; he was crazy about
her. More so than Ben Brown, who didn’t want to be a family
person. Wally did."(BJ)
Menlo Park Years and
Like most of the
neighbors, Jerry's mom decided to move to suburbia. The trigger was
rebuilding her bar across the street after the Union Oil company
bought the building. Jerry would later regroup here when he
struck out on his own after being discharged from the Army.
"And then, my mother remarried when I was about ten or eleven
or so, and she decided to get the kids out of the city, that thing,
go down to the Peninsula, and we moved down to Menlo Park for about
three years and I went to school down there.
was kind of interesting for a few years, socially; it was very
different. In San Francisco, the school I went to and the
neighborhood I grew up in was very Catholic. Down on the
Peninsula, Catholics were in the minority and I was surprised to
learn that there were other religions; that was big surprise. 'Oh
that's interesting.' And whole other ways of doing things. And the
whole thing of boys and girls was much easier. In the city, boys
and girls were like two different worlds; they really didn't see
each other almost. Even though we were in school together, there
was no social context in which anything could happen. But down on
the Peninsula there were all these things built in—schools had
dances and all this stuff was part of a socializing program of
some kind." (BJ)
Jerry: /font>"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."
Mary Brydges: to be pretty
much "in his own world," doodling skulls and crossbones and
monsters, always funny and fun, sarcastic but not cruel,
somehow "more worldly, faster" than the rest of the kids, but also a
In the fall of 1955 he entered the Fast Learner
Program in the eighth grade at Menlo Oaks school. A history
Dwight Johnson became both a hero and mentor. He introduced his
students to the great pioneers of the unconscious C.J. Jung and
Sigmund Freud and other intellectual authors like D. H. Lawrence and
Jerry was also spending time at his grandparents in
bed, sick with asthma and reading or watching TV. Jerry was surprised to find the
difficult books as easy as the kid stuff. Jerry's family had been one
of the first in the neighborhood to acquire a TV, which was
invented in San Francisco.
Mr Johnson was an iconoclastic bohemian. When Mr. Johnson roared up
to school on his Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle or MG , he instantly
drew his students' like Jerry's attention. Mr. Johnson noticed
Jerry's gifts as an artist, and soon had Jerry was absorbed in
murals, the sets for school plays, and the school newspaper. (DM)
Jerry: "I became aware
there was an intellectual universe going on somewhere, something I
didn't suspect. 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
The chance to excel creatively at school was not
matched by an urge to please authority and he continued to annoy with
them with mock switchblade duels between classes with his buddy Laird
Grant. They responded by requiring Jerry to repeat the eighth grade
when he refused to retake certain tests..
Black Barts vs. White
Finally, in June 1957 he graduated from Menlo Oaks and moved back to San
Francisco, where he split time near school with Nan and Pop and with
his mother in her new apartment above the new bar at the same 1st and
Harrison intersection. The building had been a candy factory before
she acquired it for the bar.
Jerry spent the ninth grade at Denman Junior
High School in the outer Mission,
began keeping company with kids who carried razors for
Jerry: "We moved back to the city when I was about thirteen or so
and I started going to Denman, a good old San Francisco rowdy
roughneck school. I became a hoodlum, survival thing; you had to be
a hoodlum, otherwise you walk down the street and somebody beat you
up. I had my friends, and we were hoodlums and we went out on the
weekends and did a lot of drinkm' and all that, and meanwhile I was
still reading and buying books and going to San Francisco Art
Institute on the weekends and just sort of leading this whole secret
Denman's student body was divided
into warring camps: the Barts (shorthand for "Black Barts,"
or the "greasers" from the city's blue-collar
neighborhoods) and the Shoes (mostly upper-middle-class kids named
for their fashionable white shoes). Membership in one of these
cliques was a means of surviving in an environment where fights
erupted easily and often and spilled over into weekends. Shoes and Barts would troll each other's neighborhoods looking for fights and
settling scores with fists, boards, and razor blades.
|"Either you were a
hoodlum, or you were a puddle on the sidewalk."
And every gang member was a target.
As a Bart, Jerry often came home with a split lip or with bruises
and gashes from run-ins with the Shoes. More than once, he was hurt
badly enough to go to nearby Mission Emergency Hospital.
Jerry: "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."
Weed Days: A short troubled High
Sometime in the mid-1950s, Jerry heard rock and roll for the
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.
HIPNESS: the authentic wisdom eternally found at
the edges and bottom of the social pyramid
"An obscure street-corner tune by
the Crows called Gee set him to listening to the cream of
American popular music, and Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy
Reed, B. B. King, and Muddy Waters kept him company all day and
half the night long. Initially a solo acoustic form from the
Mississippi Delta, the blues evolved through boogie-woogie piano
and Kansas City big-band vocal shouting to Chicago, where Muddy
Waters found acoustic guitar inaudible in forties clubs. His
transition to electric guitar defined a new urban blues, which
evolved yet again into the R&B of the late forties and the
fifties. Each mode contained a high realism that knew life as a
solitary confinement sometimes comforted by sexuality or even
love but inevitably succeeded by a death sentence.
In all of American popular music, only the blues spoke
truthfully of love and death. Enthralled, Jerry absorbed not
only chords and rhythms but a certain vision.
It was not the psychopathology of Norman Mailer's White Negro
that he acquired, but hipness,
the authentic wisdom
eternally found at the edges and bottom of the social pyramid.
Performers like Bill Haley and the Comets,
Little Richard, and Elvis Presley delighted the teenager with their
rocking, rolling, howling rhythmic style, a revved-up hybrid of
rockabilly, blues, and country. Jerry fell "madly in love" with
it, listening most closely to rock and roll guitarists Chuck Berry,
Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, and Eddie Cochran. Jerry wanted
to play guitar badly
He asked his mother to buy
him one. His mother would soon understand the importance of the guitar
in the new music which was becoming her son's passion. Hoping to
salvage some benefit from the eights years of piano lessons she had
insisted upon she gave Jerry an accordion for his 15th birthday.
"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!"
"I went nuts--'Ahhhggg! No! No!--' I railed and I
raved, and she finally turned it in, and I got a pawnshop electric
guitar and an amplifier. I was beside myself with joy... I wanted to
make that sound so badly.
Jerry's mom agreed
to swap it for the Danelectro guitar Jerry had spotted in a pawnshop
window at the corner of 3rd and Folsom, a few blocks from the family
with his cousin
Danny Garcia and brother Tiff would play their guitars and sing
on corners during their teen years.
Jerry: "My brother and my
cousin and I when we were pretty young did a lot of street corner
harmonizing . . . rock & roll . . . good old rhythm & blues,
that kind of stuff, pop songs, all that. It was radio days, Lucky
Lager Dance Time and all that." (RS)
In the fall of 1958 Jerry began tenth
grade across the street from Denman at Balboa High School
Jerry: "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
"I was fifteen when I got turned on to marijuana. Finally
there was marijuana: Wow! Marijuana! Me and a friend of mine went up
into the hills with two joints, the San Francisco foothills, and
smoked these joints and just got so high and laughed and roared and
went skipping down the streets doing funny things and just having a
helluva time. It was great, it was just what I wanted, it was the
perfect, it was---and that wine thing was so awful and this
marijuana was so perfect .(RS)
Tiff: "Jerry and I smoked pot a lot. My grandmother used to
have this matchbook collection. Being in the union she used to travel
around and go to all these conventions and she'd collect matchbooks.
She smoked, but she usually used a lighter. By the time Jerry went
into the service, all those matches were gone, from us constantly
lighting roaches. "
Cazadero on the Russian River
Finally, Jerry's mother, fearing
for her son's safety, again moved out of the city, into the rural
suburb of Cazadero near the Russian River in Sonoma county and hour
plus north of San Francisco. The
30-mile bus ride to Analy High School in Sebastopol did not suit
Jerry well. He began skipping school, sneaking rides into San
Francisco to run with the same kids his mother had tried to keep him
from earlier. He often stole his mother's car to visit
friends. Tiff who had joined the Army but managed to spend time in
Cazadero often joined him in his pursuits.
Analy High is
where Garcia played his first gig. He had a five- piece combo in which
he played the guitar, and there was a piano, two saxes, and a bass.
They won a prize of being able to record their own song. They chose
Bill Doggett's "Raunchy".
Onto The Road
Jerry: "I grew up in a bar," Jerry said. "And that was
back in the days when the Orient was still the Orient, and it hadn't
been completely Americanized yet. They'd bring back all these weird
"Truth is something you stumble into when you
think you're going someplace else."
things. Like one guy had the largest private collection of
photographs of square-riggers. He was an old sea captain, and he had
a mint condition '47 Packard that he parked out front. And he had a
huge wardrobe of these beautifully tailored double-breasted suits
from the '30s. And he'd tell these incredible stories. That was one
of the reasons I couldn't stay in school [later]. School was a
little too boring. These guys gave me a glimpse into a larger
universe that seemed attractive and fun and, you know, crazy."(BJ)
"ON THE ROAD was
the turning point in my life," Jerry Garcia
His hero was Dean Moriarity the existential wanderer
from Jack Kerouac's novel On The Road who would dare anything
for the sake of experience and living in the moment. Kerouac's book
on alternative living would serve as a blueprint for the rest of
Garcia's life by also consciously connecting him to a whole line of
authors like R.W. Emerson, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman
whose guideposts for living an authentic life had
dimmed from mainstream culture. In his junior
year, Jerry dropped out of high school altogether. At 17, he was
more concerned with perfecting his version of a mellow, guitar
playing, Dean. For many years, Jerry would keep a picture of Jack
Kerouac in his dressing room.
Little more than a year later in
1959, he left his mother's house in Sonoma county. He moved Redwood
City where his friend Laird Grant had fixed up a back yard
chicken coop for him to live in. He was always welcome at his
grandmother's place in the Mission as well. Jerry read, played
guitar alone in the chicken coop, hitch-hiked around, picked
fruit in the nearby orchards, and then
at 17, joined the Army.
"It was either go back to
school or get into trouble," Jerry recalled.
Garcia does the SF Presidio
Jerry: "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 didn’t do
anything in the army, I didn’t do anything at all. But I was
very nice about it"
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." (AA)
Jerry: "It's absolutely the top of the
elite," Jerry said. "It's the nicest place to be
stationed; all the guys who are there have jockeyed and manipulated
to get in there. They don't want no trouble, you know what I mean?
Every single guy there is a guy who's got gold-plated service. They
love it there and they don't want to hear about nothin'. So if
there's anybody who's making any trouble — you know how that stuff
works: whoever the superior is, is the person who gets into trouble.
So there I was going AWOL on the weekends and screwing up left and
right, and just doing my stuff. I wasn't committing crimes or
anything like that. I was just living my life. And even doing things
that I thought were important....(BJ)
Creative Cauldron near Stanford
Nine months after joining the
Garcia was given a general discharge. Jerry drove
down the Peninsula to Palo Alto with the intention of becoming a part
of the lively alternative scene surrounding Stanford University. When Jerry arrived, his Caddie died, he simply ripped out
the back seat and set up housekeeping on an empty East Palo Alto lot
It was 1960 and Jerry had discovered a lot of people his age
who both thought like he did and were seriously creative. They were the first
generation born in the shadow of the bomb and many agreed
wholeheartedly with the pacifisim being expressed most articulately by
local antiwar activists like singer
Joan Baez and Roy Kepler who owned Kepler's books. Jerry was
only eighteen when he became convinced he needed to focus intensely on being the
best at playing his music, even if this meant his visual art work
would suffer. This decision was easier by realizing how much more
talent his friend, visual artist, Paul Speegle possessed.
Laird Grant. "He would have set the art world on its ass by the
'70s, the way he was going. He was majestic. He could make ghosts come
out of oil paint. He was working on this amazing series of paintings
called 'The Blind Prophet' series, which were these great, somber,
When Speegle failed to emerge alive from the auto accident they were
in together Jerry was deeply affected with a sense urgency.
|"I don't think people understand
that Jerry didn't have to take LSD to become Jerry. This guy was
fully formed by the time he got himself thrown out of the army.
And everybody who met him knew this."
continued taking classes at the Art
Institute located in San Francisco's North Beach
neighborhood. This was
where his hero from On the road called home and the beatnik
movement was based. Jerry saw himself as second generation beatnik.
More so, he had dedicated himself to making great music on his Sears Silvertone guitar with the purpose of
not only being a
professional musician like his father but also taking the philosophy
of the Beatniks to the next level.
He began by living out of his car next door to Robert Hunter's similar home
on a lot in East Palo Alto. The two immersed themselves in the
vibrant arts and folk music scene thriving in the cafes and
bookstore in Palo Alto. Jerry's first paying gig came with Hunter, his
future songwriting partner, performing as "Bob and Jerry", they
each earned five dollars.
The two young adults may not have possessed the
proverbial Palo Alto garage so often at the center of a Silicon
Valley's high-tech success story of the nineties but from this early
experimental period would come great things which addressed
sustenance for the soul and expansion of the mind. Their bond would
become the foundation of a lasting legacy; one of joy and
self-fulfillment for millions as the greatest live musician of his
time and a commitment to stake out the next
level of human consciousness without regard for the consequences.