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Garcia Passed this Way

Some milestones have a mysterious impact. Of course, there are seismic episodes – Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John Kennedy or 9/11 – that make indelible impressions on entire generations. And then there are more personal watershed moments, like the passing of someone in public life who one way or another affected your life.

Fifteen years ago this month Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was found dead at a treatment facility in Forest Knolls, Calif. I was never a Deadhead. Though I was involved in San Francisco’s music community for a decade and was even granted a brief interview with the man (unsurprisingly, he struck me as thoughtful and openhearted), the level of reverence followers of the band maintained was alien to me.

I saw the Dead only once, and I actually have more vivid memories of seeing Garcia in tandem with master mandolinist David Grisman, dusting off some old songs and singing in a creaky voice that should have told me and anyone else in the crowd that he wasn’t long for this world.

Still, I was caught off-guard when I heard the news, piloting a pickup truck out of Hoboken, N.J., toward Providence. I was on a month-long road trip across the country at the time, and I spent the next few hours driving northeast and listening to hip deejays on left-of-the-dial stations become surprisingly emotional as they set aside the indie fare that was their stock in trade and played “Ripple,” with its verse about “a road, no simple highway / Between the dawn and the dark of night.”

You didn’t have to be a Deadhead to reckon: Here’s a moment to hold on and remember.

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