Commemorations get past the pathos of Jerry Garcia


Was Jerry Garcia an unhappy man? Did his back-and-forth with the needle signal private torment? The Garcia commemorative issues from Rolling Stone, People and Entertainment Weekly don't quite provide the answer. In Rolling Stone, Garcia's widow, Deborah Koons Garcia, assures us that "the last years were the happiest," that he "had a very happy and fulfilling personal life" and that he "loved his work and the Grateful Dead and all the adventures being in the band threw his way." He only suffered physically, she claims: "He found himself drawn back, wanting to do drugs again because his body hurt so much" from withdrawal.

All three magazines do an admirable job of honoring Garcia, looking more intensely at his musical and spiritual legacy than the every-junkie's-like-a-setting-sun pathos surrounding his death. If I had to choose one, it would be Rolling Stone: It has longer, more textured and less introductory articles by high-quality authors, including Mikal Gilmore, Robert Stone, Ben Fong-Torres, David Fricke and Bill Barich, all of whom once encountered Garcia personally.

Together, the RS articles go a long way toward evoking the brief hippie glory of San Francisco in the 1960s, the Grateful Dead and their outlaw idealism and Garcia's extraordinary personality. Gilmore's homage to the "strong and interesting" darkness in the music of Garcia and the Dead is a nice touch: "Not all darkness is negative," he writes. "In fact, sometimes wonderful and kind things can come from it." And Mr. Fricke, whose descriptions of the Dead's music are amusing (he calls "Anthem of the Sun" a "twisted, lysergic dance party record and sonic splat"), appropriately mourns "the fact that Garcia couldn't find quite enough salvation in the music he played or in the joy it brought to others." Carlos Santana may offer the best comment of all: "He's awake. . . . And we're still dreaming."

While all the commemorative issues contain fantastic photos, Rolling Stone has an unusually transporting spread by Annie Leibovitz.

Entertainment Weekly for Sept. 8 is also a special issue, this one on "The Gay '90s: Entertainment Comes out of the Closet." It's a good series of articles, managing to transcend the by-now cliched view that gay is in because Melissa Etheridge is out. The "gaying of America," according to the report, is also a matter of the "gay sensibility" reaching into mainstream aesthetics and humor. "Straight audiences are not only embracing gay characters," writes Jess Cagle, "they're also laughing at the gay sensibility, which is far less easy to spot than, say, a drag queen." Cagle roots the gay sensibility -- "a dry, smart outsider mentality" -- in "the plight of the disenfranchised -- gay people are aware, as much as anyone, that life according to 'The Brady Bunch' exists nowhere outside a Hollywood soundstage."

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