The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Birth and Death Days

When President Kennedy was assassinated I was alive but only in elementary school with a political awareness approximating zero. However, I remember it quite vividly because it had such a profound effect on the adults around me - anything that could get the grown-ups so upset must be something really important!

Unlike most of my Massachusetts contemporaries I did not grow up to be a mindless Democrat, voting for any corrupt fool as long as they aren't Republican. Yet I still count JFK as one of my political inspirations. He had a certain charisma that transcended ideology - you just had to like the guy and his positive attitude whatever his policies were.

Because his death had such a powerful impact on the people who were alive at the time, Kennedy's family is often invited to attend commemorative events on that day. They almost always refuse, giving what I think is a very sound reason. Whatever effect the assassination had on the nation, it must have been even more traumatic for the Kennedy family, who intimately knew the person behind the media image. I don't blame the Kennedy's for not wanting to participate in activities that force them to dwell on the thoughts and emotions they must have felt that day. They usually state that they would rather have commemorative events held on his birthday, and in fact have suggested it be made a national holiday.

That may be going a bit far; I don't believe that any President should be honored with a holiday until one is given to Thomas Jefferson, and whatever his virtues, Kennedy wasn't in that league.

Anyway, what gets me thinking about all this is that I forgot Jerry's birthday! Jerry, as in Garcia, as in the Grateful Dead. It was August 1st, and he would have been 65. Actually, he abused himself so with drugs and alcohol that he looked 65 when he died 12 years ago at 53.

A lot of the music stars of that scene were self-destructive, such as Jerry's friend Janis Joplin, of which my sister Bev is a big fan. She even has a giant cloth tapestry of Janis hanging in her living room, as you could see more clearly if a certain drunken fool would get out of the way.

The day Jerry Garcia died I found out about it when I tuned in to the Dan Yorke radio show that afternoon. That night I was filling in for Dan as the host on his WGGB-TV40 talk show. My guests that night were Kateri Walsh of Springfield and Yoko Kato of Northampton. However, I devoted my opening monologue to talking about Garcia and the many times the Grateful Dead appeared in this area, and I've always been happy that I was able to address the Deadheads of the Pioneer Valley on television that night. Here is a still from a VCR tape I have of that show. Someday I'll transform the whole show to digital and put it on YouTube.

Damn, I've gotten old over the past dozen years! I used to be such an adorable little twink, no wonder the guys couldn't keep their hands off me!

Anyway, my sister also has in her apartment these framed autographs by Marty Balin and David Freiberg of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship. Next to it is a picture of Garcia playing in a field, an image that has special significance to Dead folk.

Garcia claimed that once when he was walking in a field under the influence of a powerful dose of LSD that God appeared to him and spoke to him. Unfortunately, he was never able to describe later what God had said, but that he believed it was partially deciphered just one crumb at a time everytime he played.

I invite you to contemplate this crumb of perfect poetry.


Damien Riley said...

Nice post. He made nice music while on the earth. What more can a musician hope for as an epitaph?

Anonymous said...


No, John F. Kennedy should not get a national holiday. Even still, I wish more liberals and more Democrats were like him. I could almost see them eye to eye if they were more like JFK and less like Nancy Pelosi.

On Jerry Garcia: I remember hearing about his death as well. I was a young Boy Scout on a canoe trip in the middle of nowhere in Canada. As long as I live, I will remember that trip. The wilderness was endless and breathtaking, like nothing I have ever seen before.

When we finally made it back to base camp, a bunch of us scouts snuck out to smoke a cigar. We had only been detached from civilization for a little over a week, but we were given the news of that week all at once. News item number one: Jerry Garcia was dead. News Item number two: Micky Mantle was dead.

As a couple of teenage boy scouts sneaking away from the leaders to smoke a cigar on the lake in the middle of nowhere in Canada, we dedicated our stogie to Garcia and Mantle. We wanted them both to rest in peace.

It's a beautiful memory for me. Twelve years ago seems like a long time ago...but only if you count in terms of years.


Tommy said...

Great story Ben, and Damien you are completely correct.

a.k.a. Zooomabooma said...

Jerry died like a million years ago... that's how it seems to so many of us. He's been gone for far too long and he left us way too soon. Maybe his time at Serenity Knolls would've been The Last Time and he would've finally gotten on the right path. Instead it was the last time. But the music he gave us lives on.

See ya!