Grateful Dead documentary details deification, downfall of Jerry Garcia

The first interview I ever did with the Grateful Dead was in the summer of 1973. They had just returned to Marin after playing with the Band and the Allman Brothers for a massive crowd of 600,000 at Watkins Glen, a racetrack in upstate New York.

That festival was bigger than Woodstock, and the young musicians were still awestruck by the size of it and their growing Deadhead fan base. But Jerry Garcia, the band’s charismatic lead guitarist, was already sick and tired of being famous. I don’t remember him smiling when he joked that his face was becoming a household word. It was as if he could look into his future, foreseeing the fanatical adulation that would eventually become so toxic that he would feel the need to escape through heroin, an addiction he was trying to kick when he died of a heart attack in 1995 in a Forest Knolls drug treatment facility.

A year after that 1973 interview, the Dead were so burned out from a European tour, the grind of playing 80 shows a year, the toll of hard drugs and the strain of lugging around their gargantuan “Wall of Sound” PA system, that they decided to take an extended hiatus. In fact, they were on the verge of breaking up, which would have been OK with Garcia.

“For a long time I dragged my feet over total commitment (to the Grateful Dead),” he told me in an interview I did with him in 1989. “For a while, I thought the Grateful Dead might be a CIA plot. For a long time I vacillated.”

The apotheosis of Jerry Garcia, the band’s reluctant rock star, is at the sad…

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