As intimated by its detailed cover graphics, with both flat and glossy finish on the dust-cover and a large embossing of the famous image of the man’s hand on the hardcover, Jerry on Jerry, The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews is really much more than what it’s subtitle indicates. The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews, as edited by Dennis McNally, former publicist for and official biographer of the Grateful Dead, are knitted together with photos both classic and novel, in addition to a plethora of additional artworks by the late titular leader of the iconic band. The end result of this amalgamation of content, especially in its cumulative effect as the book proceeds, is to conjure up the wide-eyed whimsy in the man’s voice as he spoke.
In his intros to the various excerpts he’s woven together, like a masterful setlist by a performing band or song sequence of a fine recording, McNally indicates the ebb and flow of enthusiasm in the dialogues here. Still, it’s Jerry Garcia’s voice, literally and figuratively, that resonates throughout these conversations, radiating the ebullience of an individual who’s almost equally pleased a fascinating thought has occurred to him and that he has another with whom to share it, then explore it further.
It hardly matters if the subject is the early days of the Grateful Dead or Robert Hunter, subjects with which Garcia’s intimately well-versed, or his early days as a musician and his stint in the army. Almost without exception, there’s a clarity of thought here, combined with and proportionate level of insight into the subject at hand. McNally has to prompt Garcia at certain points in the roving discussions of books and films, the latter a topic of particular fascination, and they banter on the timeline of epochal rock moments, such as the pivotal summer of 1965. But there’s rarely a moment either of them, particularly the subject of this book, is at a loss for words, And the ones he invariably chooses match the vibrancy of what they’re discussing.
Oddly, or perhaps not, the noticeable exception is, at certain junctures, the exploration of the essential nature of Neal Cassady. This figurehead of the Beat Generation may simply be too abstract a persona to truly explicate, seemingly because his particular performance art demanded witnessing in the moment. Nevertheless, it’s the one dialogue here less rather than more revelatory, even with the participation of cultural savant and writer Al Aronowitz; to be fair, though, it may be the nature of the subject that leaves even the usually articulate Garcia (and, to be fair, the erudite McNally himself) at a loss for the right words.
But perhaps that’s only in comparison to the detailed oratory in which Garcia talks about playing music in the moment, his lucid recollections of experiences with LSD (which he otherwise demurs in proffering as the savior of the human soul at large) or his remarkable sense of detachment from the experience of falling into the coma with which he was stricken in 1986. As much as his self-professed fascination with comic books and television renders his artwork a natural progression, even those familiar with the man’s various forms of painting, drawing and coloring will find their insertion into Jerry on Jerry eye-opening.
And not so much because the repeated images of aliens and abstracts coalesce with the topics at hand, but more so because the images represent another means of creative expression at which Garcia excelled. There’s crucial reference to how these exercises post-coma furthered his reflexes and his eye for detail, while a similarly passing citation, in the form of a photo of the man snorkeling in Hawaii, suggests how further exploration of those interests might’ve even more profoundly benefited Jerry Garcia over the course of his life.
But Dennis McNally and in her forward to this book, the musician’s daughter Trixie, engage in a combination recognition and celebration of Jerry Garcia’s mind, heart and soul, the ever-evolving nature of which is neatly summed up in the phrase arising from two of his most influential teachers who nurtured “a skeptical, iconoclastic, free-thinking young mind.” It’s a measure of the expanse of that description, almost proportionate to the influence this man continues to wield some twenty years after his passing, that even a phrase so pithy or a book like this so well conceived and executed cannot wholly encapsulate his provocative cheer.