Robert Hunter: A Decade Without Jerry

Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter collaborated together in a number of traditional and bluegrass groups in the early 1960s. In 1967, Hunter first contributed lyrics for the Grateful Dead, and he subsequently became the group’s primary lyricist.

Approaching the 10th anniversary of Jerry’s untimely death, Hunter put that pen to work again (well, keyboard I guess) in memory of his ol’ pal. Here’s his amazingly well-written journal entry from yesterday:

“Ten years since old Jer kicked the bucket? Seems more like fifty. Nothing about his passing seems like ‘only yesterday,’ rather as long ago and faraway as my childhood.

From the sublime to the vicious, everything that could be said has been said and said again. Yet, the essential mystery of who Jerry Garcia was remains. What can be said with fair assurance is that he was a source, an original way of seeing the world that agreed with others in a few broad and important outlines, but which in just as many other dimensions confounded all expectations.

I wouldn’t say he delighted, in any Whitmanian sense, in what appear to be his contradictions, nor that he had control of them; predictability was not his strong suit. Not even self predictability. He could be alarmingly kind in situations where kindness was the last response to be expected – and altogether gruff where sympathy seemed the more natural response. You could almost say he had weather rather than climate.

Few would disagree that a key part of him remained isolated, unknown and unknowable. His art is the closest thing to an available roadmap of his singularities, amorphous clues, and clues only, to the nature of his true affections. Where he entered, he dominated, generally to his dismay. He knew he was not a leader, more a scout striking out in the wilderness of his intuitions, unwittingly summoning others to tag along through virtue of his magnetic personality and apparently deep sense of inner direction, but basically antipathetic to following or to being followed. Driving back and forth across the bay from Larkspur to San Franscisco on Workingman’s Dead recording sessions, our conversations would range wide, or, sometimes, nothing would be said at all. I remember once we got to talking about directions. He professed to having none and inquired as to mine. ‘For the time being,’ I said, ‘I’m just following you following yourself.’

‘Then we’re both lost,’ he muttered.

A persistent image I have of Jerry which seems strangely resonant with his coming and going: a brilliant sunny day on a boat bobbing above the abyss of Molokini where the floor of the ocean suddenly drops off a cliff and plunges to unknown depths, I watch him check his gear then sit on the edge of the boat and tumble over backwards into the water, which is clear to a depth of several hundred feet. I watch him dwindle in size as he descends further and further, spread eagle and motionless, until he is only a speck to the eye, then disappears altogether from view and there is no more Jerry, only ocean.”

That’s friggin’ beautiful.