Santa Claus had his rock ’n’ roll counterpart in Jerry Garcia: a rotund, white-haired guy with a gleam in his eye, bringing joy to lots of girls and boys.
At least, that’s the way it was when his band, the Grateful Dead, reached the height of its popularity in the late 1980s through mid-’90s.
By then, Garcia had been a fixture on the music scene for two decades, but it took MTV to propel “Touch of Grey” up the charts for the Dead’s only Top 10 hit (or Top 40, for that matter). The song’s video shows Jerry more than living up to the title’s hair color, prompting some new fans to marvel at what they thought was an octogenarian singing, “I will get by, I will survive!”
For all his wizened appearance, Garcia was just 45 years old when the video first aired, and he’d just turned 53 when he died Aug. 9, 1995, a victim of the proverbial rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. Had he resisted the temptations of substance abuse, Wednesday would have been his 70th birthday.
On his birthday, local Deadheads can pay homage to his legacy at the Settlers Ridge Cinemark in Robinson Township for Wednesday’s special showing of “The Grateful Dead Movie,” which Garcia directed for its 1977 release.
His fans – they range from folks who have been following him since the ’60s to youngsters who weren’t even alive while he was – can also celebrate by listening to the countless recordings available of him performing with the Dead, fronting the Jerry Garcia Band or lending his talents to projects by myriad other musical artists.
And in the age of the Internet, fans from all over the world will get a taste of Christmas in August with Move Me Brightly: Celebrating Jerry Garcia’s 70th Birthday, a free Webcast that starts at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.
You don’t have to wear a tie-dyed T-shirt to enjoy Jerry's music. But you never know: A candy cane and cup of eggnog just might help.