Jerry Garcia Life Lesson #9

by | Aug 9, 2013

Working on a team with other like-minded people, all striving to reach a common goal is the path to progress.

But it’s not an easy route.

Jerry Garcia Life Lesson #9: Collaborate

Jerry is known for his singular sound on guitar. One lick and you knew it was him. But for all his chops as a soloist, Jerry’s true strength came in group settings. Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, Old and In The Way and Garcia Grisman were all wonderful showcases for Jerry’s musical gifts, and each band was also a great fit for Jerry in that he found partners in the music to help make his own work better.

Of course, one of Jerry’s greatest artistic partnerships was with songwriter Robert Hunter. Many of the best songs in Grateful Dead’s canon were written by this duo, including “Sugaree,” “Althea,” “Ripple,” “Terrapin Station,” “They Love Each Other,” “Row Jimmy,” “Standing on the Moon,” “Birdsong” and “China Doll” to name a few favorites.

Hunter and Garcia shared more than an artistic sensibility. Like conjoined twins, they shared a brain.

There’s a great story about the writing of “Terrapin Station.”. Hunter wrote “Terrapin Part One” in a single sitting while overlooking San Francisco Bay during a lightning storm. On the same day, while driving to the city Garcia was also struck by a singular inspiration. He turned his car around and hurried home to set down the music that came to him. When the two met the next day, Hunter showed him the words and Jerry said, “I’ve got the music!”

Let my inspiration flow
in token lines suggesting rhythm

Writing is a solo act, like playing guitar. Yet, if your writing is to go anywhere– if it is to connect with other human beings — then the writer needs to collaborate and find an editor, a publisher, a filmmaker, songwriting partner, or what have you. Same with a musician. It’s not enough to be the master of your chosen instrument, you have to learn to listen, to play in a group and be part of something bigger than yourself.

The ad business, where I’ve toiled now for nearly 18 years, also requires tons of collaboration. Whatever I might have to say on the client’s behalf, has to be done artfully, but that’s not the hard part. The hard part is retaining the artfulness while dozens of people inside the agency and at the client hack away at the idea in effort to improve it and to make it partly their own. Even when I’m given a solo opportunity to create a long copy ad for instance, the piece has to fit the into a much larger framework. It has to meet the client’s objectives and motivate people to buy.

As a writer, I can be a bit touchy about people messing with my copy, but I also know that the power is in the collective. When I work with an editor or a client who consistently makes my writing better, I’m not touchy at all, I’m ecstatic.

Jerry was surrounded in life by friends and fellow musicians who helped make his work better. He was a great listener (duh!) and he worked well with people. But he could be touchy too, because he cared. There’s a funny story about Jerry throwing Phil down a set of stairs after a show because he was upset about the quality of Lesh’s bass playing on that San Francisco night. When Jerry listened to the tapes later, he heard how stellar Phil’s playing was and knew he’d been wrong about the show and his response to it.

Jerry had amazing things to offer the world. His music is going to live on for generations, possibly for centuries. Much of the credit for this goes to his ability to find his tribe and to work well with some super talented people therein. Whether he was picking and grinning with David Grisman, or working on a new song with Hunter, Jerry knew when to add a little here and give a little there. That’s art and alchemy, and it’s a large part of what helped make Grateful Dead soar.

Previously: Jerry Garcia Life Lesson #8: Do It Yourself