The forward to Secret Space Of Dreams by Jay Blakesberg The Past, in Present Tense I’m a good enough guitar player to know a great guitarist when I hear one, but I had to become an even better one to begin to understand the depth and complexity of Jerry Garcia’s playing. I’ve always said that musicians play like they are, and in the case of Garcia, his performances serve as a detailed map of a man, his intentions, his desires, and his impressions of the world around him. And going by that map, Garcia was a lovely, mighty soul. I never met him, and will never understand the loss of those who did, but the vast archive of his music amounts to the makings of a starry night sky that turns listeners into explorers. Several years ago I set out not just to learn Garcia’s approach to the guitar and the songs he played, but to learn what about it has allowed millions of people who don’t play the guitar to key into it for hours on end. Soloing has been known since its inception as a kind of self-indulgent expression. Why, then, could so many listeners, myself included, listen to him do it endlessly without fatigue? To best understand what makes Garcia’s guitar playing so unique, it helps to start with what it sidesteps: though it drew from blues and R&B, his guitar approach left a few traditional elements out of the equation, he didn’t play from that wellworn feral, sexual place that traditional blues music traded in, nor did he really touch the sinister aspects that were born into the idiom. Garcia didn’t sing about wanting to rock a young woman all night long, and any of his deals with the devil existed metaphorically as mere setbacks. (What’s 20 bucks, anyway?) These changes affect the fundamental color palette of the storytelling. I’m not sure the sun ever rises in Chicago blues music, but in the musical storytelling of Garcia and the Grateful Dead, it shines so bright it hurts. On a more technical note, he played most often in a major blues scale, which added to this mix of innocence, and even joy. Minor blues notes lend themselves to the exquisiteness of pain, while major blues scales kind of explore the relief from it. Garcia played to relieve people of pain. That melodic innocence must have something to do with bringing so many people to their “happy place.” He wasn’t pulling notes from an anguished place within, he was catching them with a butterfly net as they went flitting by overhead. On a tactile level, he held the guitar with grace. It wasn’t a weapon, it was a vehicle. He took it easy. He may have played fast, but he was thinking slow. And that makes us listen with a smile. I put Jerry Garcia on the same level as Miles Davis and Bill Evans because of the intention in his performing; once you’ve learned all the notes, and the chords, and the bends and the runs, you come to the final frontier of playing which is the why of it all, and that’s where the power was and still is in his playing. He played from a real place, a place that faced out to the world, not for his own reception or gratification. He played for the joy of interacting with the band and with the music he loved. If you listen close enough to a musician, you can tell what they’re looking to get out of each and every note they make. Garcia, to me, was looking to bring music to life out of the tacit, sacred duty to use his gift. Even after learning these things, they offer very little help in sounding anything like the man. That’s because he didn’t play anything stock or repetitive. There are no “signature Jerry Garcia solo riffs” as exist with so many revered guitarists. To “sound like Jerry,” you have to make people feel like he did, and well—good luck with that. The real magic—the kind that will make the Grateful Dead music live forever—that’s in the way we carry it on in our hearts and minds. I don’t listen to Garcia and the band play—I watch it. I believe we all do, and that what we see is a blend of the music, the year in which it was played, the season and location of the show so as to understand the state of mind the band was in that night, that week, that presidency. We see it differently from one another the way we do our own dreams, but we all agree that our dreams contain these songs, and this band, those places and names. And that’s how the Grateful Dead managed to freeze time. We discuss our favorite years in present tense; we say we just heard the best version of something last night as if that was the moment it first took place. Your favorite year of their music "wasn’t", it "is." And in that way, inside that beautiful dreamscape the band created, the Grateful Dead is still up there, still playing. And Jerry is right there in front of them, and time is held in place by those who refuse to let it fade, and even as we sleep, as long as one of us is listening, the band is still playing. We lose the ones we love, we pine for those who have left, and we lament the changes of modern times. But the makers of this music dug a tunnel, and it runs beneath time and space, and we, the ones who love it like family, crawl through to visit 1974, and 1969, and 1987 and 1990. If we were alive at the time the show took place, we see ourselves as the people we were in the lives we had, and if we weren’t born yet, we get to wistfully dream what it must have been like. We only get a few minutes on earth, and Jerry Garcia gave all his minutes so that we could forever visit his life and times through his playing, and let it unravel into a new kind of now.