by Rick Bailey
after I started teaching, I bought a couple ties designed by Jerry Garcia. They were splashy, artsy-looking things (Jerry
Garcia was an art student before he became a legendary guitar player). What was fun was to flip them over and show someone
the name on the tag. Jerry Garcia, they would say. He makes ties? Then came delight, appreciation. How about that. Which was
exactly how I felt.
seen Jerry Garcia the guitar player once, on Sunday, April 4, 1976, in a concert in Page Auditorium at Duke University. If
you had asked me at the time, I couldn’t have hummed one tune by Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead, but he was already
a very big deal. I played some guitar. I thought I ought to hear the man play.
he did. Not with The Grateful Dead that night, but with The Jerry Garcia Band, which, besides him, was not much of a band.
His playing was fluid and melodic and inventive, not the least bit psychedelic. (He and the Dead were famously from San Francisco,
so I had kind of expected it might be.) As I remember, the concert was actually
kind of boring. What was all the fuss about, I wondered.
plenty of fuss still, so much that I recently discovered I could go online and find the set list of the concert I saw that
night and also find live recordings online of that exact band, on that exact tour, within a few weeks of the concert that
night at Duke. When I clicked to play a few of those recordings, my reaction was much the same: ho-hum. What stands out in
my memory that night, in fact, is not Jerry Garcia. It’s the bass player, whose name was John Kahn. He stood next to Garcia, his right hip cocked, a crook in his left knee, all but motionless the whole night,
except every so often he would lift his left foot (he was wearing boots), really heft it, about six inches off the ground,
probably accepting a good jolt of musical electricity or putting a juicy touch on his bass line. But what it looked like,
why I waited for the move, what it looked like was that he had a wad of gum stuck to his boot, and he kept rocking back and
pulling up to see if he could get his foot free to
take a walk around.
wearing one of my Jerry Garcia ties at a colleague’s funeral many years after that concert when, slipping away to use
the restroom, I looked in a mirror and saw, really saw my Jerry Garcia tie, as if for the first time. On what had appeared
to be a splashy, artsy-looking thing, something now suddenly came into focus: a penis.
was a penis on my tie. It was unmistakable. It was a pure Gestalt moment, suddenly seeing an image, in total, for the first
time, and being completely unable to unsee it.
saw the word “Gestalt” in the title of a book Jim Williams was reading. Jim was a pal of Dan Timmons. They lived
together the summer of 1972 in a rented house on Flajole Road. Dan was riotous. He drank a lot, he smoked a lot of weed, he
laughed his head off, he laughed his whole body off, all the time. No one I knew ever had more fun than Dan.
run into him that summer at my pre-induction experience, sponsored by the United States Selective Service System. We had both
been drafted. At the break between the mental and physical exams, ever the anti-crat, he suggested we go have a drink. “This
is Detroit,” he said. “There must be a place nearby.”
him out of the facility and around the corner to the Bat Lounge, a name that pleased him greatly. It was four years since
the Tet offensive, three years since Woodstock. The US was well into its long bloody grind to the conclusion of the war. That year 49,514 men were drafted in the US (a total of 1,857,304
were drafted from August 1964 to February 1973). I ordered a draft beer. He had two whiskies. We talked about our options. I had
a doctor’s note: busted femurs full of metal. He had a plan, which was to just say no. He was totally confident.
summer nights when I arrived at the place on Flajole Road, Dan always said I had just missed the Flajole Road Marimba band.
I don’t remember seeing any musical instruments, unless a bong qualifies as an instrument. Many nights, perched on the end of the sofa, Jim sat reading his book about Gestalt therapy.
Dan was hilarious; Jim was serious. Dan was in constant motion; Jim was still. Jim had both light and trouble in his pale blue eyes, and concentrated energy. He turned his gaze
inward, concentrating on something–on himself, on enlightenment, on his trouble. Whatever it was, it absorbed him completely,
like a black hole.
is it?” I asked him one night.
like he understood the question and he wanted to ponder it.
I waited. He sat there shaking his head.
I said. “What is it?”
this thing,” he said, “about unity.”
unity, I was going to say, but just then Dan started yelling from outside, “Bottle rockets! We got bottle rockets! Let’s
blow them all up at once!”
up and ran outside, the only sensible course of action. Jim stayed back, thinking.
man we said goodbye to at that funeral was tall and lanky. He had large hands and a long acquaintance with basketballs. He
was an occasional poet, meaning he wrote poetry for occasions. Otherwise, in sensibility, in heart and mind, he was a full-time
poet. Years before his death, a stroke robbed him of some language capacity. He would speak, and in his speech, you would
hear the man, his pleasure in language, his beautiful deep voice, his infectious laugh, but when you spoke back to him, he
would say, first in frustration, then a kind of sorrow, finally with resignation, I can’t hear you. He would shake his
head, trying to explain. I just can’t hear you. As years passed, he spent long hours in the backyard, whole summer days
polishing Petoskey stones. Every one is poem, he would say. They were beautiful.
funeral, one of the eulogists got up and read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, “Dirge Without Music,” a rejection
of consolation, a controlled expression of fury at death.
answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
there wearing a tie with a penis on it. My colleague would have approved. His
eyes would have lit up. Dan Timmons would have laughed his head off. Jim Williams might have managed a mournful smile. And
somewhere, musician and fashion designer, Jerry Garcia was playing the guitar and laughing.
Rick Bailey's work has appeared in The Writer's Workshop Review, Skive Magazine, Fear of Monkeys, and The
Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.