Jerry Garcia 8-9-95
I never saw the Grateful Dead in concert. However, I did hang out in the parking lot with friends and partake of the Deadhead circus; I could easily hear the music though I wasn’t much of a fan simply through lack of care and exposure. Eventually I came around to enjoy much of their music and they were of course an integral stitch in the fabric of The 60’s. I was living in Berkeley when Jerry Garcia died and you could the feel the Bay Area slide into a collective cultural mourning. I regret not going to see them in concert. Here’s one of my favorite Garcia moments, his beautiful improvisational piece for Michaelangelo Antonioni’s masterpiece (IMHO) ZABRISKIE POINT (1970). Here’s some background on how this unique cinematic collusion came to pass:
“Jerry Garcia did not go to Rome to record his marvelous guitar fantasia for the love scene. The Grateful Dead guitarist flew alone from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where he performed on the M-G-M soundstage there; apparently he didn’t even take a roadie. That Garcia was not Antonioni’s first choice for the job is, in retrospect, astonishing. In Garcia, the director found not only a dynamic and sensitive improvisor — a pithy melodicist whose soloing combined a thoughtful folk-blues clarity and a pungent jazz-blues attack shot through with genuinely psychedelic rapture — but also a keen enthusiast of the cinema. In the early 1960s Garcia unofficially attended film classes at Stanford University, where his first wife, Sarah, had been a film student. Garcia was certainly well-versed in Antonioni’s Italian-language work and flattered to be asked to contribute to Zabriskie Point.
“Michelangelo liked The Grateful Dead, and I had a friend who lived across the street from Jerry at the time,” Don Hall recalls. “He talked to him about the movie and we got together. It was almost done as an afterthought. Michelangelo wasn’t even in town when we did the music; he was back in Rome.
“We went into the large studio at M-G-M, which they usually used for the symphony orchestras. And Jerry sat there by himself, on a stool, laying it down. They had the love scene on a loop, and he played live while the film was running. He didn’t want to do it away from the film and then cut things in. He played right to every single shot in the scene. That’s why there are certain notes over certain frames, over people moving in the desert. He played right while watching it. It was miraculous — pure genius.”