How I Killed Jerry Garcia and Lived to Become a Deadhead

Nov 13th, 2012 by Nicholas Pell in Music, Personal

I killed Jerry Garcia. Killed him deader than disco, using little more than teenage petulance and repressed sexuality. I killed him in a haze of subcultural fury and angry afternoon masturbation.

It was 1995, my final weeks of being 15, attending a summer arts camp. Previously I had done drama, but this year they offered writing, a program existing only intermittently. The prospect of scribbling my various and sundry frustrations seemed a far more appealing one than watching a bunch of my like-hormoned peers try and one up each other. So I took writing.

In what would be a life-long pattern of me doing things “I’d never do,” I took to writing poetry. This wasn’t the mournful poetry of the surly teenager. No, I saved all that energy for bleak stories about suicide and school shootings, the latter fortunately taking place in a pre-Columbine world. My poetry, on the other hand, was marvelously, hilarious dark, not unlike one of the better Tim Burton movies or MAD Magazine. A popular favorite lovingly described a fuzzy bunny, which is promptly killed and eaten in the last stanza.

What would have landed me in the guidance counselor’s office, a psychiatric hospital or prison in school won me high praise from peers. But to this day, there’s one poem that everyone remembers: The one that killed Jerry Garcia.

I can’t say that I remember much about it other than that it was a graphic description of me murdering Jerry Garcia, except that less than two weeks later he died. Got some blood in his drug veins, as the jokes went at the time. There was no remorse. On the contrary, I don’t think me and my friends could imagine anything more hilarious. Kids.

It’s in a trunk at the foot of my bed, safely locked away and no — you can’t see it. I maintain that poetry is fine, provided that you do it when you’re alone and wash your hands after you finish.

Fast forward 17 years and I love the Dead. While the musicianship and songwriting are, of course, one reason I love them, I also love the mythos of the band. Rather than pot-addled hippies all hopped up on peace, love and understanding, I think of bikers on acid. The Dead are street fighting music for street fighting men — street fighting men who can spend two years on a bike with their old lady on the bitch pad selling crank and dancing like a mad man to “Sugar Mag.”

I mean, come on, they used to cover Merle Haggard. What more do you want?

As a childhood idol of mine once sang “we become what we hate.” If you’re still liking the same things at 32 as you did at 15, there’s something seriously wrong with your development as a human being. If you’re still liking the same things at 32 as you were at 28, you’re not terribly curious about the world you inhabit. It might madden and bewilder others, but I’m proud to be a neophile, I’m proud to be flexible enough with my thought so as to prove I’m capable of it, I’m proud to not know what tomorrow might hold for me.

Frankly, I feel bad for people who aren’t like that.


You can’t, like, kill Jerry, man. He’ll always be with us because we have his music. Think about it, man.

Kissing a Grateful Dead Wines That Rock bottle

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