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Happy Birthday, Jerry
August 1, 2006

In June of 1942, James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool. A few months later, and 1423 miles away, Jerome John Garcia was born in San Francisco, namesake of the great bandleader Jerome Kern.

By all accounts, Paul beat Jerry to the punch.

In 1957, Jerry greeted the accordion he received for his 15th birthday with such disdain, that his mother finally agreed to let him swap it for a pawn shop electric. Also as a 15-year-old, after auditioning at a church fair for John Lennon’s band, Paul penned the lyrics to ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’.

‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ wasn’t released until 1967, when the hokey clarinet number stuck out like a sore thumb on the psychedelic Sargeant Pepper’s album. Meanwhile, Haight-Ashbury was ushering in the Summer of Love, with its house band, of course, being the good ol’ Grateful Dead, who were unveiling their flagship tune ‘Dark Star’.

The rest, as they say, is history.

People still wonder, though, what McCartney, a 15-year-old working class kid, would possibly know about growing old and unconditional love.

I often wonder what Jerry was thinking when he wrote a letter to Robert Hunter right about the time Sargeant Pepper’s released, and asked him for some lyrics.

Hunter tells the story of Dark Star: “…I went out and I sat in…Golden Gate Park. I was sitting there writing…and a hippie came up and offered me a joint. I took a hit on that and he said, ‘What are you writing?’ I said, ‘This is a song called Dark Star. Remember that, it’s gonna be important.’ He said, ‘Far out’.

Far out, indeed. Jerry himself explained why Dark Star is, in fact, so ‘far out’. “The reason the music is the way it is, is because those lyrics did suggest that to me…They are saying, ‘This universe truly is far out…Great, let’s look around. Let’s see how weird it really gets.”

So now the $64,000 question: what in God’s name do the two songs have in common? Everything and nothing.
While ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ features folksy phrasings like “Will you still need me, will you still feed me”, ‘Dark Star’ has a more ethereal quality, inviting, “Shall we go, you and I while we can?”

What makes them akin is the fact that they are not shackled by temporal limits.

McCartney’s number is like a piece of sea glass. The waters of time only seem to shape it and soften it and make it more beautiful.

Dark Star, like most of the tunes Jerry did, seemed to do the same. Time and mortality wash away with the tides, but there is this ephemeral flash of seashells that remain.

Hemingway said the truth has a certain ring to it. Jerry, on your birthday, let me say that I never heard anything as truthful, and as timeless, as your guitar.

You’d be sixty-four today, and whether I can jump in the back of van and head down the highway to see you or not, that transitive nightfall of diamonds still hangs there like a celestial chandelier, and I still want to go through it.

And we go through it with you. As Robert Hunter said: “If some part of that music is heard in deepest dream, or on some breeze of Summer a snatch of golden theme, we'll know you live inside us with love that never parts, our good old Jack O' Diamonds become the King of Hearts”.

Birthday greetings, bottle of wine to the King of Hearts. Thanks, Jer. The universe truly is far out. Let’s look around. Let’s see how weird it really gets.

Yours sincerely wasting away,
The Rolling Rider

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The Road To Bethel - 7.9.06

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