So now you can buy Jerry Garcia’s shitter on eBay (specifically from December 18 to 24, 2005). Oh, the humanity. In case you didn’t catch it, some guy bought a house that the man who has been, ideally, gratefully dead since 1995 lived in during the early ’90s and, evidently, gutted it. Consequently, there is the opportunity to get everything from the porcelain appliance to door pulls and other things that were within Garcia’s reach at some point in time. While the proceeds are going to a good cause, the Sophia Foundation, which helps kids from broken homes, it brings to rise the question of just how far people are sucked into the aura of stardom when it comes to musical demigods.
One could argue that if there is money to be made by selling the pot into which Jerry shat it is a far better thing than if the thing was otherwise recycled. But how far does one go into this realm?
Let’s take another, less execrable example: His guitars. Imagine that (a) you were a fan of his musical ability and (b) you had the opportunity to buy one of his axes. Would you play it, put it in a safe place, or perhaps put it on display? Would the amount that you had to spend for it change your thinking vis-à-vis its playability (i.e., if you spent $10 for it or $10,000)? If you were to play it, would you feel that it had an effect on how well you played (i.e., would something of Garcia “rub off on you”?)? Would it be like a charm?
Consider the disjectia that fills the halls and walls of the Hard Rock Cafes around the world. Consider the massive, 150,000-square-foot, $84-million, I.M. Pei-designed building in Cleveland that’s just full of all manner of rock and roll relics: Why does it exist (the stuff, not the building)? Let’s assume, for example, that sometime after January 19, 1994, the day the Grateful Dead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but before August 9, 1995, the day he died, Garcia visited “The House That Rock Built”—which, by the way, is trademarked, so be careful should you use it—and had to, well, take a shit. Would the stall that he entered somehow be hallowed ground? Could they charge addition admission to use it? Or would it be better to put a velvet rope around it?
Almost coincidentally with the announcement of the Garcia gear auction it was reported that there were some Deadheads who became a bit pissy with the band—or is that brand?—that they revere. This is because the Live Music Archive had been making Dead concert recordings available for downloading. The organization that is ostensibly known as the Grateful Dead (a corporate entity, perhaps?) asked the operators of the Live Music Archive to make the files available only for listening, not for downloading. That was like pissing all over the fan base, a base that was created in large part by a community of music sharing long before Shawn Fanning was a proverbial blinking cursor in his father’s eye. But on December 1, the band members recanted, and all is well again. (Phil Lesh even made a rather graceful apology on his website—and admitted that he, too, has found the site to be helpful.) [Not so fast! Now the rightsholders want it both ways – Ed.]
None of this, really, is about Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead. It is about two things: fans and money. Money and fans. What matters? Music? Personalities? Baggage that we bring to the music and then want to solidify through objects? Is it about trying to buy something bigger than ourselves? Is it about being marketed to? Are we being sold, or are we buying?