The two artists Jerry Garcia thought he could never compete with

If you are looking for one figure that encapsulated the psychedelic and counterculture revolution of the 1960s, look no further than Jerry Garcia. The driving force behind the trailblazing blues psych rockers the Grateful Dead, Garcia opened rock music up to entirely new avenues of creativity and mind-expanding influence. He could be forgiven, therefore, for sitting back and losing interest in the changing landscape of rock and pop music, but Garcia seemingly always kept his ear to the ground.

From their early days in the 1960s, formed out of acid tests and hippie rebellion, the Grateful Dead quickly affirmed themselves as a band like no other. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining the incredibly dedicated fanbase that Garcia and company amassed during their tenure. The chances are, if you can think of a Grateful Dead concert, it has been recorded, bootlegged, and extensively documented by the Deadheads—which is surprising, given that acid-riddled hippies are not particularly known for their organizational skills.

Although they started out in the 1960s, the Dead only seemed to increase in popularity as they went on, particularly in the United States. The group seemed to transcend musical trends and the emergence of different genres in a way that the vast majority of their counterculture contemporaries failed to do. Even within the new wave revolution of the early 1980s, the Grateful Dead still commanded huge audiences across the globe, something that came as a bit of a surprise to Jerry Garcia. 

During a 1981 visit to the United Kingdom, which saw them play four nights at The Rainbow Theatre in London, Garcia spoke of his deep-rooted appreciation for modern music scenes, particularly English artists like Elvis Costello and Gary Numan. The electro-pioneer Gary Numan was a particular favourite for Garcia during this time, revealing to NME, “I like Gary Numan a lot“.

On the face of it, Numan’s synth-driven new wave tracks seem pretty far removed from the blues and jazz influenced rock of The Grateful Dead, but their disparate styles did not seem to bother Jerry Garcia. “I think his stuff is really interesting,” he shared, “I think he’s got a real thing. I like people who have a real conviction about what they do. Convinced that they have something to say and a real way to say it“.

This unexpected appreciation for Numan brings to mind interesting ‘what-ifs’ about a potential collaboration between the two artists. After all, the Grateful Dead were noted for regularly covering and collaborating with the artists that inspired them. However, Garcia noted at the time that “I’d be intimidated by him.” He brought his love of Elvis Costello into the same discussion, explaining, “These guys all seem so much more together than I feel. I feel like someone who is constantly on the verge of losing it, of blowing it. I feel tremendously insecure”.

He later credited Costello’s sense of creative ease as a mark of awe, commenting, ”I admire Elvis Costello for his amazing output. Goddamn, the guy is so fucking prolific. For me, a good year is like writing three songs. Songs don’t come easy to me”.

Not wishing to play psychiatry, but those feelings of insecurity and unease could potentially come as a result of the copious amounts of psychedelics Garcia took over the course of his music career. “When I see people perform with such panache,” he said, “I don’t see how they do it. It takes tremendous nerve, tremendous balls”, concluding, “I admire those guys”.

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