Speaks with Barbara Meier
Barbara Meier and Jerry Garcia were friends in the early sixties when they were part of a community of poets, pacifists, and folksingers in Menlo Park, California. Jerry went on to become a founding member of the legendary band, The Grateful Dead, and Barbara became a member of the San Francisco Zen Center under Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. In 1974, she moved to Boulder, Colorado, to study Vajrayana Buddhism with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and to be part of the Naropa Institute Creative Writing community. She is the author of a book of poetry, The Life You Ordered Has Arrived. After many years of being out of touch with each other, Barbara and Jerry had this conversation in June of 1991 when the Dead played in Denver.
Barbara Meier: I remember reading Ram Dass describe you as a bodhisattva.
Jerry Garcia: He's very kind, but I don't deserve that. I'm just a guy trying to play the right notes, that's all. If I were to think of myself in a spiritual context, however, I'd think of myself as some sort of Buddhist.
Barbara Meier: Well, music is your practice. When I hear you in concert, I feel you want to push the energy further and further, taking the crowd along with you.
Jerry Garcia: I don't do it consciously.
Barbara Meier: You must be aware of it.
Jerry Garcia: Only because of the feedback, because of the endless reportage. It's like UFOs: if enough people say "I saw one the other night; they're spinning around," even if I haven't seen one myself, I start thinking there must be something out there.
Barbara Meier: No intentionality?
Jerry Garcia: Not really. From my point of view, it's all a bead game. My finest moments have been as part of an audience in a musical situation, or as a performer, when things are unfolding in a graceful way. It's one of those moments of grace that humans get to experience. When that happens, no one enjoys it more than I do. And when it's just hard work, that works for me, too.
There are times when I feel I'm playing way below what I'm capable of, and I think, "Well, this whole evening is a giveaway. I never played at the edge of my ability." I used to hear guys like Pablo Cassals say, "If I don't play for a day I can tell, if I don't play for a week my wife can tell, if I don't play for two weeks everybody in the world can tell," and I used to think "Ah, come on. . . ." But now I recognize what they're talking about. It's a purely technical thing—something my muscles do.
Barbara Meier: I remember you practicing the guitar twelve hours a day.
Jerry Garcia: As far as I know that's the only way you get good. When you play music, you know how good or how bad you are and what you can or cannot do. And I'm still surprised more people stay than leave. That's totally baffling.
Barbara Meier: Not only stay, but keep arriving. So what is the Grateful Dead all about?
Jerry Garcia: It varies through time. We're just trying to play music; it really isn't any more complicated than that.