The main features of the Grateful Dead’s long-term project were formed, in utero as it were, by 1958. This was Jerry Garcia’s annus mirabilis, the twelve short months between his fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays. During this blessed interval, he received his first guitar, smoked his first joint, took courses at the California School of Fine Arts, and read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. By themselves, none of these events counts for much. Many baby boomers had similar experiences, and most haven’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But when we set these experiences against the larger cultural forces that were sweeping through San Francisco at the time, and when we consider their profound effect on Jerome John Garcia, they help us understand not only the Dead’s interest in ecstasy, mobility, and community, but also the source of the band’s sustained appeal.
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