The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jerry's Book

Harrington Street.

Whew, let's take a break from politics and write about the Grateful Dead!

The other day somebody gave me a present - a copy of the now out of print Jerry Garcia biography Harrington Street. It's only 76 pages long, with most of it illustrations, so it didn't take long to read.

The title of the book refers to the street in San Francisco which Jerry Garcia lived on as a boy. Garcia lived at number 87, in a house which is still standing. The current owners complain that hippies are always sitting on their steps. Here is Jerry's house as it looked in 2003.

I like this book. It is colorful, whimsical and fun to read. The problem is the book was incomplete at the time of Garcia's death. Various editors and friends tried to piece together what they could from the material Garcia left behind, but are only partially successful.

Garcia's intention was to make an illustrated biography mixing written narrative with his own paintings. Unfortunately at the time of Garcia's death he had only got as far as telling his life story to the age of ten. Naturally that leaves out a whole lot of things that were worth writing about in Garcia's life.

However, for a guy that always seemed to have starch in his grin Jerry Garcia had a pretty traumatic childhood. Born sickly, he was confined to his bed a lot as a child. At the age of two, he was nearly drowned when a drunken guest at a family party threw him into a swimming pool, from which he was barely rescued in time by his father. His Dad, a well known San Francisco musician, would himself drown to death in front of his entire family at a swimming resort. Watching his father die was a major trauma for Garcia, who for over a year later would burst into tears whenever his father's name was mentioned.

His mother never recovered from the tragedy, and Garcia ended up being raised by his eccentric grandparents, whose sterile marriage forced Garcia to retreat into art and music. He recounts two other disturbing childhood events, one of which involved a time when he tried to pursue what he thought was a kitten into the bushes but instead discovered was a rat. It reminded me of an event from my own childhood. When I was around four or five I was really fond of squirrels. One day a mean boy called me over to look at something in the gutter. When I did so I saw that it was a squirrel that had been hit by a car and its guts were all over the place. I remember I ran into the house and got sick, but when my mother asked me what was wrong, I said nothing.

Another traumatic event for Garcia was when some sadistic older girls stripped him and made fun of him while he was nude. Gosh, with all these childhood traumas, you'd think it would be enough to make somebody grow up and take drugs!

Garcia is a good writer. When telling about a seafaring ancestor, Captain Olson of San Francisco, he writes:

In truth, I only know of his existence because of a few meager pieces of evidence in the form of two anecdotes and one ancient photograph. The photograph, faded, out of focus, shows a blurred foreheady gaussian blur, as if the endless, restless motion of the sea itself had robbed from Capt. O. the ability to stand still for a photo, thereby denying the future a good look at him. Allowing him to sneak, so to speak, into the past, unseen, like the phantom he was....

Disappointingly, the book never goes past Garcia's early childhood, since he died while undergoing treatment in a California detox before he could write anymore. What saves the book from just being a dead rock star rip-off are the paintings Garica did to accompany the text. Garcia was a masterful psychedelic poster artist whose trippy mindscapes are simply beautiful to behold. If the text is maddeningly short, then the paintings provide endless fascination.

Alas, only used copies are available of this book on However if you can get your hands on a copy there or somewhere else then I recommend you do so. Not just because this is a visually delightful book, but also because it is bound to become a valuable collectors piece.

The other day I was wandering around downtown Northampton just before sunset and looking at all the posters, like this sort of Victorian one.

This wall has a whole lot of posters, mostly for musical events.

There is an old sign painted on the side of this building, but so much has peeled off I can't make out what it used to advertise. Can you?

This sign reminds me that maple sugar season is just around the corner. Once the sap starts to rise, Spring will be right behind!

So hurry the hell up and get here!


Michaelann Bewsee said...

Hey, Tommy, were you around Springfield for -- I think it was called-- "Under Your Hat" headshop on Mattoon St.? I used to make lovebeads and sell them there for pocket change (most of which I spent at Playtown)-- incense, lava lamps, and black light posters of the Grateful Dead?

Tommy said...

I do remember it. Very cool place.

Tim said...


I guess Jerry was quite the writer too, as evidenced by that paragraph on Captain Olson. I don't know anything about songwriting but with a description like that, I bet Hunter had a much easier time writing songs than I had previously thought.