Continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no indication of success.

Jerry Garcia Life Lesson #5: Persevere

Grateful Dead formed in 1965. The band’s first hit, “Touch of Grey,” a song interestingly enough about perseverance, reached the airwaves in 1987, 22 years after the band formed. Artistically, Grateful Dead peaked much earlier, but to achieve commercial success it took decades. It’s a lesson many impatient artists, writers and entrepreneurs can learn from. No need to rush, just do what you do and keep doing it no matter what.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It’s even worse than it appears
but it’s all right.

When Jerry passed away in 1995, Grateful Dead was 30 years old. For a rock band 30 years old is ancient. Most acts simply can not stay together that long, as friendships eventually fade or fray and interests drift. How did Jerry and the boys stick together for such a long time?

For one, Jerry refused to quit even when common sense and every other sense he had told him to lay off for a while. He didn’t want to be the bad guy and let all his friends down. Grateful Dead employed close to 100 people at the band’s zenith, and frankly, had Jerry bowed out and refused to tour, he would have put a lot of people out of work. Nevertheless, I wish he had quit the band, at least for a year or two. Then he could have gone into rehab and taken care of his ailing body.

I miss Jerry, as we all do, but gratefully his music is enduring. Phil Lesh and Bob Weir both strap on their guitars and take the stage with an array of younger musicians like Joe Russo and Mark Medeski who love to play Grateful Dead songs, and who are well equipped as musicians to do the music justice. For a time there, when Phil’s rotating act solidified into “The Quintet” featuring Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, John Molo and Rob Barraco, I was hooked again. The Quintet managed to go places with the music that I’d never been to before — they grew something new from the Dead’s mulch and that’s what amazed me. The Quintet wasn’t repeating a song cycle as mimics, they were using the old material as a new jumping off point, just like Jerry used to do.

“Build to last” is another way of framing this perseverance lesson. By working intently on their music, and believing in the trueness of their path, Grateful Dead were able to make songs that meant something when they were first played, and that continue to mean something to fans today. In the case of folk ballads like “Uncle John’s Band” and “Ripple” I contend that the band’s songs will be played for centuries to come.

There’s also a “small is beautiful” message here. Jerry kept his head down and he worked hard. He didn’t seek fame nor did he want it when it found him. It’s a stretch to say Grateful Dead was a “small band” prior to 1987. They played many stadiums in the mid-1970s, but the expenses involved in transporting their Wall of Sound around the country ate up all their profits. From a business perspective, the band experienced some tough times. But they never gave up, they loved playing in the band and they kept experimenting and finding new ways to fine tune their music and their business practices.

With the final tally taken, Grateful Dead is one of rock’s all time highest earning touring bands and Grateful Dead merchandise continues to churn out healthy profits for remaining members of the band. But this source of renewable revenue didn’t occur by chance, although luck and good fortune always plays a role. Somehow, through all the ups and downs including the untimely deaths of Pig Pen and Brent Mydland, Grateful Dead persevered. So, whatever dream you are busy pursuing “keep on Truckin’ on.” There’s no such thing as an overnight sensation, not in the real world.

Previously: Jerry Garcia Life Lesson #4: Take Risks

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About David Burn

Writer, strategist and brand builder.

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Grateful Dead, Music