When Jerry Garcia was 40 years old, he pretty much looked like he was 40. Sure, there was a little bit of graying in the beard. But the rapid aging process that characterized his last decade or so hadn’t kicked in yet.
When Jerry Garcia was 40 years old, I saw my first Grateful Dead concert. That applied to most of my friends in my hometown of Harrisburg, PA, and my college, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. We converged on the Coliseum at West Virginia University for the Dead’s show on April 10, 1983.
The concert was on a Sunday, and we departed the night before, for reasons I can’t remember. I do recall hooking up a couple of decent-sized speakers in the back of my VW Rabbit and listening to, among other fare, “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” by the Small Faces. The cockney narrative during the “Happiness Stan” saga really blew our friend Ed’s mind …
OK, enough with the esoteric ’60s psychedelic references.
Anyway, we arrived at our fraternity’s house at WVU, and the brothers said we could sleep in some kind of TV room. It was freezing cold, but fortunately someone had left behind a sleeping bag to spend the night elsewhere (young lady?), so I didn’t suffer from hypothermia.
We killed time prior to the concert the next day by watching television … hey, we didn’t have to move. Dudley Moore as “Arthur” was on HBO. Wowee Zowee.
Finally, we made our way over to the coliseum and discovered why, indeed, there was nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.
Among the songs the band performed was “Touch of Grey,” for only the sixth time, as far as I could tell. Jerry and the boys kind of butchered it, as later listenings to the show reveal, but we thought it was great! I remember my old roommate Mike and I discussing how, if the Dead released that tune as a single, it just might be a hit.
Four years (and one Garcia diabetic coma) later, our prediction came true.
Part of the song’s success was the associated video, which gained heavy airplay on MTV and revealed Jerry to have way more than a touch of gray in his mid-40s. I remember some high-school kids at the time saying something to the effect of, “There’s this 80-year-old guy singing, ‘I will survive!'”
Anyway, I happened to be driving through Morgantown this evening and took a quick shot of the old Coliseum just as the light was turning green. It’s a more than a little fuzzy … but so were a lot of people back on that night back in ’83.
Associated listening: “In the Dark” by the Grateful Dead (1987)