How Mickey Hart Commemorates Jerry Garcia’s Death
Jerry Garcia died at age 53 on Aug. 9, 1995. The guitarist’s passing left a cosmic hole in the Grateful Dead, with friends and fans alike mourning the loss.
“He was a very modest guy,” recalled Mickey Hart, the drummer who played alongside Garcia in the band for more than 30 years. “He never wanted to have his picture taken or even comb his hair. He wore T-shirts with holes in them. One time, Jimi Hendrix showed up to try to sit in with us at some small place. He showed up looking like a beautiful peacock. He sat down next to Jerry and I’ll never forget that image — there was Jerry and there was Jimi, looking so fine. Total opposites! It was the different sides of the music world.”
On the date of Garcia’s death, Hart was near his Sonoma County home in California. The drummer had walked to his nearby yoga instructor’s house when he realized something was different. The yogi, who never played music during his classes, was listening to songs by the Jerry Garcia Band.
“Right then, I knew something was in the air," Hart explained to Rolling Stone. "I knew something was really wrong.”
After the teacher informed Hart of his bandmate’s passing, the drummer immediately headed home. “It felt like someone had hit me with a hammer.”
Garcia’s health had been waning in the years prior to his death. Though Hart knew his bandmate was “living on borrowed time,” the loss was still painful. “Everybody was ready for it, but you can never really be ready for it.”
In the immediate days following Garcia’s passing, Hart became a shut-in. “I didn’t go out of my house for a week,” the rocker confessed. Even when he mustered up the courage to venture into the outside world, Hart was confronted with the reality of Garcia's death. “I was pumping gas and this gal comes up, a hippie gal, one of us," the musician recalled. "And she says, ‘Don’t ever let the music stop!’ I said, ‘Holy Christ, I just came out to pump gas and I run into this gal telling me about Jerry!’”
To honor his departed friend, Hart started a tradition — one he continues every year on the anniversary of Garcia's passing. “When he died, I planted three blue redwoods, one for each decade, on my property," the drummer explained. "They’re pretty rare. They’ve really grown in the last 25 years. They’re about 40 feet high now. That’s Jerry’s place, and that’s where we go to celebrate him. We have a barbecue and have some of the old friends over and tell jokes.”
In recent years, Hart has also advocated for the Jerry Garcia Global Moment of Gratitude. Its concept, for fans all over the world to pause on the day of Garcia's passing and "purposefully send light and love out into the universe in honor of Jerry, the music, mother Earth, and mankind.”
In the immediate wake of Garcia’s death, members of the Grateful Dead toured under a variety of monikers, including the Other Ones and the Dead. The four surviving core members — Hart, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann — joined together in 2015 for a series of performances celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary. Dubbed Fare Thee Well, these concerts were billed as the final Grateful Dead shows. Garcia's daughter, Trixie, described the performances as "powerful" and "transformative," adding that her father's presence was "absolutely" felt during the concerts.
Since then, Hart and his fellow musicians have helped keep Grateful Dead material alive via the offshoot group Dead & Company. The band notably features singer/guitarist John Mayer, but Hart is quick to note that the rocker was not enlisted as a Garcia replacement. "He's a real pro. He's a really well-schooled musician," the drummer explained of Mayer to Billboard. "He's in the hot seat and he knows that he has to have a level of whatever it takes to perform," Hart added, declaring that he'd "rather drink five gallons of Clorox" than have a Garcia "clone" in the group.
Though time has helped ease the pain of Garcia’s death, Hart still thinks about his departed bandmate often.
“When we’re onstage with Dead & Company, I think of Jerry when we play all those beautiful slow ballads — 'Black Muddy River,' 'High Time,' 'Wharf Rat.' Those songs were so well crafted and they were elegant," the drummer noted. "They get to your heart. He really liked those slow songs.”