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Landing On Mars (You Gotta Start Somewhere) By Debbie Gold (with Meg Hansen)

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Landing On Mars (You Gotta Start Somewhere) By Debbie Gold (with Meg Hansen) Empty Landing On Mars (You Gotta Start Somewhere) By Debbie Gold (with Meg Hansen)

Post  Admin Sun Jan 17, 2021 8:04 pm

I am just reposting this cool story by Debbie Gold 💙💙💙.... about meeting Jerry Garcia in 1974 and the changes in her life as a result

Good evening,

In memory of my friend, Debbie Gold, here is another one of her amazing stories she asked me to "publish" and share with her friends and family. She called this one, "Landing On Mars (You Gotta Start Somewhere)" and it's very Debbie from start to finish!

This one is long, very long for Facebook, but for Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, we can break some rules!

If you missed Debbie's other stories, please scroll down on my Facebook wall or Debbie's.

My apologies - this story jumps around a little bit - I'll do more edits as soon as I can. Also, this is the last one I'll be posting so this is goodbye.

Rest in peace, Debbie. Your friends will never forget you, your amazing spirit, your great laugh and all the fun we had together!

Love & Peace,
xoxo, meg

Landing On Mars (You Gotta Start Somewhere)
By Debbie Gold (with Meg Hansen)
c. 2016 Meg Hansen

For me, as a teenager, nothing seemed more glamourous or desirable than the idea of traveling around the world with a rock ‘n roll band. That would be the ultimate, I’d muse. I honestly did make my dream come true, and looking back now, the only tools I had were my intense passion and musical knowledge, and pure, utter determination – and I had an amazing ride.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I wanted to pull back the curtain and see how the whole thing worked. I was young, fearless, and persistent with boundless energy. I was immersed in music through my two years of college (during this time, I ran my own record store on campus), and left to follow an unknown, uncharted path that would lead me to a career in the music business. Before long, I found myself in the middle of a cyclone, otherwise known as The Grateful Dead, one of the world’s biggest rock bands.

I was lucky enough to get a job right away in my hometown of Philadelphia doing promotion and publicity at the Tower Theatre, a 3,000 seat old movie house where concerts were held. Though some may have seen the job as boring – primarily answering phones and counting advance ticket sales, I saw it as an enormous opportunity to be creative and try new and different promotions for each show, depending on what each band required.

During what turned out to be my short time there, I, having just turned 19, couldn’t wait to wake up and drive to the office each morning and I often worked late into the night, especially on show days. The shows I worked on included David Bowie, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Springsteen, among many others.

When Jerry Garcia’s show was scheduled, I took it upon myself to travel to New York to see the show at the Bottom Line, meet everyone and make sure everything went perfectly by the time they arrived in Philadelphia. Everyone seemed to notice what they referred to as my “creative work” on the show, and we all got along rather well. I didn’t think about it much then, but I hit it off with Jerry almost instantly. I automatically felt comfortable around him, and if anything was strange, it was that I had an eerie, but good feeling as though I had somehow always known him.

“Here’s our number,” I remember Richard Loren, The Grateful Dead’s manager at the time, saying, “When you make it out to California, don’t hesitate to call us.” What an opportunity, I thought; maybe next year, I’ll visit – I’ve always wanted to see California – and yes, I will call them.

Exhausted after the show, I said my good-byes and drove home feeling really great. What an interesting group of people, I thought. I’m lucky to have this job.

The next morning at 8:30am my phone rang. Still fresh out of college, I was temporarily living at my parents’ house until I found a place to live. In my sleep, I answered the phone. Richard Loren was on the other end of the line. “Debbie?” he began, rather hurriedly.

“Umm hmm,” I replied, rather sleepily.

“Listen,” he said, “I’m calling from the airport so I don’t have much time, but I just finished talking to Jerry and we bought you a plane ticket to San Francisco. You’ll leave in two weeks. We want you to work for us, booking tours and going on the road. You’ll live in a little town called Stinson Beach on the Pacific Ocean. It’s beautiful and Jerry and I live there, we all live there. We’ll pay you $75 more per week than you’re making now, and we’ll pay your rent and expenses. O.K.?”

“Huh?” I think that was all I could manage to get out of my mouth.

“You’ll really love it. I’m sure,” he insisted.

“I think it sounds like you’re making me an offer I can’t refuse,” I said.

“Exactly! We’ll see you in two weeks. Gotta go; our plane’s taking off.”

I knew I wasn’t dreaming, but I was afraid to completely open my eyes. If I couldn’t believe it, how on earth was I going to break the news to the nice, quiet, comfortable, Jewish suburban world I still lived in with my parents?! The first thing I saw when I did open my eyes, was my grandmother, who often came to visit for the weekend, sharing my room. “Great,” I thought, “I’ll practice springing the news on her.” It could only get easier from there. I sense it must have been hard not to be affected by my exuberance and I’m sure that helped soften the blow. We didn’t have time for any emotional reaction – I was moving to California in two weeks to work for The Grateful Dead!

My friends reacted in kind of a greenish-white way – somewhere between envy and shock. Most expressed thinly veiled support like, “I’m sooooo happy for you,” dripping with insincerity. I remember one high school chum exuberantly declaring, “I’ve heard of opening doors, Debbie, but these are more like the pearly gates!” My parents always encouraged me with a ‘you are capable of anything’ philosophy and the only hint of regret I ever saw were those rather large lumps in their throats the day they, along with my brother and two best friends, saw me off at the airport.

When the plane landed at 9:30pm in California, I was whisked away by Richard and his wife, who came to pick me up. They took me for a quick bite to eat and then to The Boarding House, a popular San Francisco night spot to hear some live music. A couple of hours and a couple of drinks later, dizzy and jet lagged (it was probably 5am in Pennsylvania), I remember laying across the back seat of the car for what felt like (and was) a very long, dark, steep and winding ride home over Mount Tamalpias.

The very next thing I remember was waking up the next morning, with all of my clothes still on from the night before, and the bed covers not even turned down. They dropped me off at my new temporary home at Stinson’s residential motel, “The Seakeeper Inn.” I rushed to the door and opened it wide.

Still rubbing my eyes, I started tingling with excitement. Had I really just woken up in California? Could this actually be real? When I left Philadelphia the day before, it was the end of November, and everything was cold and gray. I opened the balcony door wide and saw a beautiful flower box, with loads of multi-colored flowers; and looking to my left, was the glorious Pacific Ocean. I had no idea salt air could smell so clean!

To my right, was Mount Tamalpias which looked like green velvet to me in all of it’s splendor. As a butterfly flew by, I could only describe the experience of merely opening my door as when ‘The Wizard of Oz’ went from black and white to color. I was afraid to close my eyes. I was over the rainbow all right; only, instead of munchkins, I was soon to find out that I was surrounded by hippies – everywhere!

I’d soon hear things from some of my new Marin County friends such as, “I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet my Mom. She left an hour ago, and even though she’s hitchhiking, she should have been here by now.” And, “My Mom’s stuck in a Mexican jail.”

Trying not to act too shocked, I’d politely ask, “Why?”

“Just pot,” she casually replied, “She got caught trying to sneak it across the border. It’s a good thing my sister married the President of the Oakland Chapter of the Hell’s Angels or we’d never stand a chance of getting her out.”

“Yeah, that’s a lucky break,” I replied, sympathetically, feeling like Ronald Reagan sitting cross legged, asking, “Could you pass that joint, please?”

Here I was, my first day in California. Before I had much of a chance to contemplate anything, along came Richard’s car through the parking lot, up to my door at my temporary residence in Room #3 at the Seakeeper. Thin, around 5’8”, he could be described as a dark character, not just because he always wore a dark blue t-shirt, dark blue perfectly pressed jeans, and sometimes a dark sports jacket, or because he had dark hair. He always walked with his head down to avoid eye contact with anyone, lest he’d have to engage in small talk, which he abhorred.

Appropriately named “Zippy” by The Grateful Dead, he walked, talked, and did almost everything at a rapid pace. This was a guy with very little patience. “Good morning!” he began, “It’s 9am, ready for work?”

“Ready for anything,” I replied, not having a clue as to how foreboding my response had been.

“Great,” he answered enthusiastically, “Let’s not waste any time, which we have very little of. I might as well let you know now, I have exactly two weeks to try and teach you everything I know about booking a national tour, because you’ll be doing that job completely on your own. I have a trip planned. Two weeks from today, you’re looking at a guy who will be sailing along the Nile in Egypt. Incredible, huh?” He rattled out this information so quickly, I had absolutely no chance to respond.

“Well, that’s certainly unique,” was the first thing I could think of to say (no one went to Egypt in 1975!), “I’m sure your trip will be fascinating, uh… how long did you say you’d be gone for?”

“Only 3 ½ weeks. It’ll go by real quickly for you, and I can tell you’re smart and a very quick learner, so let’s get started right away, we have little time to waste. Ready to go?”

Stinson Beach was a tiny beach town with a population of barely 2000. Surrounded by the mountain, there was only one road out of town. It took about 45 minutes to drive up the mountain road, unless, of course, you were with any of ‘our group’ in which case it took 20 minutes – tops. There was a post office, a couple of little restaurants, and Ed’s Superette, the general store, located in the very center of town, by the town’s only stop sign. Somehow, my first impression was that all who lived here, including the little old ladies at the post office had ‘something to hide.’

Summertime brought lots of tourists, which the locals were anything but excited about. I had never even seen a mountain yet, before this one, so I was completely in awe, to say the least. I remember Richard saying something like, “I’m glad you’re not too overtaken by all this scenery, because it can be distracting, and we need you to concentrate as much as possible, considering what little time we have together.”

Our tiny office was located directly upstairs from Ed’s Superette, but we spent little time there at first, with Zippy choosing to try imparting his wisdom mostly at his house up the road, in his bedroom. There wasn’t a sexual hint about his choice; it was just one of only a few rooms in the house that was not taken over by his 3 year-old, Gus. We sat every day with books, notebooks, maps, and calendars strewn all over the bed, and at least two phones in the center.

Born and raised in New York, Zippy was very bright, well-educated, witty, and at times, wickedly cynical. He constantly had me laughing; sometimes so hard I was on the verge of tears, making the long work hours more than tolerable. I was basically instructed to ignore the many people who came by the house each day, or that we ran into everywhere, most of whom were part of the legendary Grateful Dead ‘family.’ Zippy never had time for any of those people, even when he had nothing but time. Zippy had little patience for anyone who, in his opinion, didn’t have a high enough IQ, or that didn’t serve a very specific purpose in his life.

I had to concentrate on which rock promoter controlled which city, and on how to insist on $30,000 instead of $25,000 per show, when I’d never even seen figures so huge before. And then, before I could even consider how many major cities it took to fill a 6-week national tour, Zippy was gone. I can still remember him saying, “The best wisdom I can impart to you about The Grateful Dead ‘family’ is to ignore them. Jerry is the only important one, and by far the most interesting. You work for me and him – nobody else – remember that! I’ll try to wire you, but that may not be too easy so good luck – I know you can do it!” As if in a cloud of smoke, off he went. The whole thing was hard to believe.

Zippy emphasized to trust no one, never talk about our business, and answer no questions. As far as the phones went, I was instructed when answering them, never to pass along a call if they asked for Richard using his full name, or when I heard any official sounding unfamiliar voice (i.e., any ‘collection agency’ sounding call) – I was told to say, emphatically, that I never heard of him.

Luckily, I guess I was too busy to contemplate what I had gotten myself into, so I had no choice but to jump in, take control, and pretend I knew what the hell I was doing and figure the rest out later. I had to laugh out loud when I thought about arguing with the biggest promoters in the country about figures I hardly understood yet, wondering, “if they could only see me now, at 19, in my funky little office over Ed’s…”

The legend of The Grateful Dead family preceded it. I expected a communal, extended family, which was tight, loyal, and looked after their own. It was that all right, and much, much more. Webster’s dictionary has many listings for family definitions and at the end of the day, I found the “crime syndicate” use a more appropriate description than the “nuclear,” Leave it to Beaver one. O.K., peace and love were present, they truly did care for and look out for one another but power was at the center of all that mattered in this family and there was a much darker force at work here too.

The family included the band members, of course, their wives and children (who were all quite small at the time), the road crew and their families, and a handful of office workers and close friends. A truly unique combination of extreme personalities, all thrown together. The Grateful Dead was an organization as well, which included a board of directors and frequent board meetings where all major decisions were made. All band members, management, roadies, lawyers and accountants attended those meetings.

One of the many things that made The Grateful Dead different from any other band, was that they treated their roadies equally, as if they were band members (even financially). I learned immediately that it was best to keep your mouth shut at all times, because for one, everyone was fucking everyone else’s spouses or live-ins, and not in that open, honest, ‘peace and love’ kind of way. No one was allowed to know and yet it seemed that everyone did – except for those who would be deeply hurt by each betrayal Oh, sure they were close at the time – hardly anyone was fucking anyone outside the family.

Garcia, at the time I got to town, was going through what turned out to be one of the few almost domestic periods of his life. Married to Carolyn, who was called “Mountain Girl” by everyone since her days as one of Ken Kesey’s famous Merry Pranksters, they lived together in a modest, homey house in Stinson Beach, on the hill with a beautiful view. The house was warm, full of books, and beautiful tasteful furniture, antiques mostly, and a ‘lived in’ feel with Persian carpets and beautiful quality wood everywhere.

Mountain and Garcia had an infant baby girl together, Trixie, who was named about 6 weeks after her birth. Their daughter, Annabel was 6 at the time, and Sunshine, Mountain’s daughter with Kesey was 10. They all lived together as a happy family and their home was always open to friends, who often stopped by for morning coffee, or long afternoon discussions.

At the time, Jerry was really trying to be a real ‘family guy,’ but it was difficult for Jerry, and most other musicians who spent most of their time on the road, to have a ‘normal’ family life. Several months later when, on the road, Jerry began a long on-again/off-again relationship with Debra Koons. Sadly, Mountain Girl was the last to learn about this.

‘Outsiders’ were infrequent and unwelcome in the family. As it was, The Grateful Dead family was quite big, one practically had to be born into it, and it seemed that almost everyone in Marin County secretly, or not so secretly, wanted in. It was extremely rare for someone to be brought in from the ‘outside.’

Technically, I was hired to work for The Jerry Garcia Band, a kind of division of The Grateful Dead scene, and only two roadies were specifically involved with us. They were Kidd (Bill Candelario) and Big Steve (Parish), who, not having been consulted in advance, were particularly suspicious of my arrival. So, no, there was no ‘welcome wagon’ awaiting me to show me around town. It was more their style to test people, especially new ones, to find out where they fit politically and personally.

My job itself, once Richard was gone, was more challenging than I could have imagined, and along with it, I quickly found out, came a stream of curious Grateful Dead members trying to figure out, among other things, who’s side is she on, and can we trust her at all? How far will she go? How much information can we get out of her? Almost immediately, I had the feeling I was constantly being watched – and that was accurate.

Kidd, only about 25 at the time, took pride in being an excellent game player. Stocky, but muscular, with long, thick, wavy brown hair and a twinkle in his brown eyes, he was really good looking, and quite aware of that. He constantly wore a look on his face that said he had something up his sleeve, and most of the time, he did. Right away, I had a feeling about Kidd that he was one to beware of. He felt the need to know what was going on and who was doing what and he had a sneaky way of keeping his information current. His rugged good looks sometimes allowed him to ‘get away with murder’ when it came to women and he loved that.

Both Kidd and Steve were cocky and most definitely took advantage of the power that seemed to come with their positions. I remember thinking at the time, “Boy, they take themselves very seriously for roadies,” and I asked Garcia, during one of our long walks on the road, kind of rhetorically, “What do you think they’ll do with their lives when they have to grow up and become part of the real world?” Jerry laughed, and kind of shrugged. Who could have known that 25 years later they’d still be doing the same thing only as millionaires!

Right away I noticed that I never seemed to get any direct questions from them. It was more their style to size me up and find out where I stood, or how far I could be pushed. I couldn’t trust any of them, either. That is except Jerry, who was the exception to just about any rule I’d ever heard. The power I mentioned earlier could most simply be described in two words: Jerry Garcia. He never asked for any of that, but he naturally emanated a ‘light’ that everyone was drawn to. Even though the organization was run very much as a democracy, with all things equal, everything very much revolved around him. Everyone wanted to be the closest to him.

Garcia was a different story, altogether – a warm, refreshingly brilliant, kind, compassionate, unassuming person who always went out of his way to make me, and most others, feel comfortable. He wasn’t only the most unpretentious ‘rock star’ I’d ever come across; he was about the most unpretentious person I’d ever met. I loved talking to him, and found it easy to talk about anything with him. He was very well read, and definitely the most articulate person I’ve ever met to this day, believe it or not.

Everyone, naturally, wants to do his or her best around the boss, but Jerry had a way of making you feel as uncomfortable about that concept as he did. When I’d make a mistake around him, he’d laugh with me, not at me. I was 19, and he took to calling me ‘kid,’ affectionately. We developed a special kind of big brother, little sister relationship.

When at home, The Jerry Garcia Band played regularly scheduled shows at clubs around the city. Beyond that, on some days off, Jerry would show up, unannounced, at various clubs to jam with many different musicians. On such occasions, Big Steve, Kidd, and I were always around to assist him. These shows were a lot easier for all of us, since they were so spontaneous, we could count on avoiding the huge fanatical crowd that were always around at every local gig.

Luckily, those were the first few gigs I had to work. I also had to be sneaked in the back door, and at 19, it was still embarrassing to be underage. On one such night, Steve Parish reluctantly offered me a ride into the city. Someone must have made my night’s transportation his responsibility, as it was easy to sense that this was not a pure act of kindness from him.

One of Jerry’s best friends for years, Steve was his guitar roadie since the beginning. It was a well-known fact that NO ONE was allowed to touch Jerry’s guitars, except Steve. About 6’4” with a loud, deep voice, Big Steve seemed proud to be as macho as he looked. If not for the band, he looked and acted like he may have been a Hell’s Angel. The kind of guy that most people just didn’t want to mess with, I’ve seen more than a few tremble and cower in his presence. When Big Steve got angry, we all knew to get out of his way. Having a natural tendency to be bossy, he loved being in charge, was very opinionated, and not afraid to express himself about anything. Much smarter than he looked, he was actually quite witty, well-informed, and sometimes hard to read.

As I mentioned, I was being tested, and somehow I could tell that no matter what I did, it would take a long time before I was accepted, if ever, or given the luxury of feeling any sense of belonging. Garcia, who I hit it off with so well, was never any part of this, though he was acutely aware of what went on all around him. The last thing I was going to do was go running to ‘Daddy’ when I felt afraid or alone.

That night, the gig was in such a funky club, the kitchen was the band’s backstage area, and we literally had to sit on pickle jars between sets. Once the club was empty, and the last equipment was being put away, I started to feel a sense of relief, that ‘we’ve gotten through another one’ feeling, when suddenly, the bar doors flew open and no less than seven HUGE Hell’s Angels boldly made their entrance.

Loud, and quite drunk (it was already 2AM), they were happy to see their old buddies. Lots of back slapping, hugging, and hand shaking all around, I tried keeping busy by pretending I didn’t exist. Jerry was on his way out as they came in, I think, although I don’t remember much about the next 10 minutes or so. They convinced the bartender to give them one last round, as if he would dream of denying them.

Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and I was quietly figuring out a way to Steve’s van when I heard the voice of a 350lb guy sitting next to me saying, as his huge arm grabbed me and sat me on his lap, “SO, YOU MUST BE NEW AROUND HERE. I’M TINY,” he offered, “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” he demanded, half speaking, half growling.

“Dddebbbie,” I somehow replied, trying desperately to keep my knees from shaking.

“WELL, YOU’RE AWFULLY CUTE. WHERE’VE THEY BEEN HIDING YOU?” he asked but then somehow became otherwise distracted and I managed to escape his grip and walk quickly toward the door where thankfully, Steve, and a local beach girl, Yana, who had ridden with us, seemed ready to go. As we approached Steve’s white van, and he was reaching over to unlock the passenger door, we heard big footsteps behind us and before turning around, I heard, “STEVE, WOULD YOU MIND GIVING ME A RIDE TO BAXTER’S?” No one said ‘no’ to these guys!

“O.K., Tiny,” Steve muttered. Yana flew in the back and I was seated snugly between Big Steve and Tiny. Frozen with fright, I couldn’t even think. I could only try with all my might to keep my legs from shaking and my teeth from chattering. Baxter’s, I was soon to learn, was more than 50 miles north of where we had to go. Still engulfed with fear, I starred at a new moon in the otherwise dark California sky as we continued driving with few other cars in sight at that hour. It felt ominous to me.

Not a word was spoken by anyone for about the first 20 miles. Then, Tiny leaned over toward me, put his enormous arm around my shoulder, and broke the silence by loudly asking, “DEBBIE, IS THAT WHAT YOU SAID YOUR NAME WAS?”

“Umm hmm,” I replied softly, trying my hardest not to sound scared to death.


My heart in my throat, I involuntarily tried sarcasm to conceal my terror, “Well, there was an attempt once but nothing ended up actually happening,” I managed to answer without stuttering once.

“DID YOU CALL THE COPS ON THE GUY?” he wanted to know.
“Well, no, I didn’t exactly get his name,” I replied.


Those were the last words spoken by anyone for the next twenty-five miles. We turned down a dark Novato street, and there was the house. When we pulled in the driveway, and I saw about 16 Harley Davidson choppers sitting there, I think I saw my whole life flash in front of my eyes. I saw all the guys in the driveway and pretty much knew I didn’t stand a chance.

Steve parked the car and without a word, the guys got out of the car and closed the doors. I remembered Yana was in the back. She was years older than me and had been around these guys before. She’ll know what to do, I thought. As I turned around, she said, “Pretend like you’re sick. You know, like you’re about to throw up.” I couldn’t believe that’s the best she could come up with.

As we sat in the car, frozen with fear, for the few seconds I was brave enough to look over to the section of the driveway where our ‘hosts’ were gathered, they seemed to be having some sort of conference… who’d get her first, I was thinking. It was awfully quiet up there and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Even if they tried, no one would find us for days.

After what felt like two hours, Steve returned to the car. Without a word spoken, he closed the door, turned the key, and started the engine. He carefully put his van in reverse and we quietly started our backward descent down the long, steep driveway. Assuming nothing at this point, I didn’t even realize we were safe until we were well on our way South on the Freeway.

Finally, Big Steve muttered something about the fact that he managed to save me after telling them I was newly hired to work for Garcia, and after much convincing, they realized Jerry would not take too well to what they had planned for me. They did worship Jerry, but I never would have thought of that since, at the time, I could barely remember my name. I don’t remember much of the small talk after his explanation, but I felt very lucky to have been dropped off at my door that night.

The whole group, and family, were originally formed and were always held together by the love of music, which to all involved was more important than anything else. All family members never missed a Grateful Dead show and for them, much like it became for their many fans, it was an important social, tribal gathering. When everyone was getting along, Jerry loved having the whole extended family around him. I remember many days like this, for example our friend, Sue Stephen’s wedding, where Jerry was proud to give away the bride. When everyone showed up, there were almost 150 family members.

By the end, The Grateful Dead had become the most successful live band ever. The shows were major events. Unlike any other band, there was no scene backstage. For The Dead, their family, and the few friends they saw, it all happened on stage. Each band member had his own section of the stage curtained off, and on occasion, would have guests brought inside. It was by far the most organized, together, scene in the history of rock ‘n roll. Only the main core of roadies and family were a part of the scene on stage (many who worked for The Dead had never been allowed up there). Usually, one could find about five different cappuccino machines working at one time, and everyone was VERY well taken care of. At any time before or during a show, band members and certain special guests could order dinner from a different daily 5-star menu including anything from filet mignon, to grilled salmon, to a macrobiotic meal, and be served elegantly and quickly. Infamous for over 20 years, promoters and their employees were intimidated by the road crew who were large, loud, and not shy about demanding what they wanted.

Though sometimes over-protected, Jerry loved meeting people at gigs. Deadheads ranged from grade school dropouts to nuclear physicists. At any given show, guests ranged from Hell’s Angels to some of the Kennedys to Bill Walton, and most of the NY Jets to Walter Cronkite. Most guests were well taken care of, however, the chain of command to see Jerry was so complicated, it was often impossible to get through, even for those he may have really wanted to see. Let’s not forget, these guys were intimidating, and took their jobs very seriously – nobody questioned them. As you can see, this system had a tendency to work both ways.

At the end of my first year of employment, alas, Richard Loren abruptly fired me. Lacking the guts to face this 20-year-old whom he had relocated 3,000 miles away from home, he simply left an envelope on my desk containing two checks. One was my regular paycheck (I was paid every two weeks) and another check was for the same amount, only the stub of this one read, “2 weeks severance pay.” I remember asking our bookkeeper, Sue Stevens, who, to this day, remains a close friend, “Sue, uh, sever – that means to cut, right? To cut off… so I’m fired?” I was stunned as she nodded affirmatively; everything seemed to be going so well. Sue ultimately replaced me and continued worked for Jerry for about 22 years after Richard was fired.

I began tracing my steps with Richard. Actually, he hadn’t shown up at the office all week which was quite unusual. My mind raced back to what my last conversation with him was the week before. I remember on that day, Zippy arrived at the office late, around noon. Looking around the room as he walked in the door, he seemed to automatically focus his attention on that morning’s two used coffee mugs, still sitting on my desk. “Whose mug is that?” he asked, or rather, demanded.

“Jerry’s,” I answered, “He stopped by this morning for a while.” Having coffee with Jerry was fun, as we’d discuss everything from our favorite new record to politics, and we did it frequently (obviously with Zippy). Zippy didn’t say anything else, except perhaps a grunt came out, but his whole body language immediately tensed up. He was angry.

It never occurred to me until then that the closer I got with Jerry, and our relationship got tighter all the time, the more distant Zippy became. I was in denial over this. “How could that be true?” I’d ask myself, innocently. “Doesn’t that just make Zippy’s job easier when Jerry is close to and trusts his assistant?” I’d wonder naively. Here began my first lesson in rock ‘n roll politics. The answer is always a resounding, NO, especially when the manager has a lot to hide.

At this point in time though, I really didn’t have a clue yet, and I tried to force a confrontation to get some sort of an explanation. I thought I at least deserved that. I came in the office for days after I was fired just to see him. It was becoming a showdown, as he just kept refusing to show up or take my phone calls. I was really shocked, and most of all, hurt. I really loved my job. I knew better than to get Jerry involved with this, and didn’t even want to think about when or what he’d be told. All I knew for sure was that it was over, but I still thought I deserved to know why.

Finally, days later, I spotted Zippy literally sitting in his car, in the parking lot behind the office, where it looked like he could have been for hours with his arms folded and a scowl on his face. I ran over to his car, and I guess he felt forced to release the button of the passenger door and let me in. The only words he had for me, as I got in the car – and I’ll never forget them – were simply, “You’re too smart for your own good.” The look on his face told me that was all I was going to hear, and so, still stunned, I closed the car door behind me. That was it?

As you can imagine, it took quite a long time to finally get accepted, or to even have the feeling that I fit in to The Grateful Dead scene. Of course, I would never be presumptuous enough to call myself a member of the family. As long as that took, to finally attain that sense of belonging, however, it was gone in an instant. When Zippy fired me, I knew it would literally take seconds for most of my new found friends to turn against me. It was the same group mentality that allowed them to accept me, which also instantly permitted them to ostracize me.

Even though I was wise enough to anticipate this, I was struck by how rapidly they all treated me as if they hardly knew me. There was no mistaking the fact that I was unwelcome at any of their shows, parties, or other family events. It was easy for them to make it impossible to get to Garcia – who I knew had NO part in this – and I had already suffered enough indignity to try to break through the walls they put up around him. I was crushed. I felt very alone, and though I was young and inexperienced, I knew it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that their collective rude behavior would be considered unacceptable in any circles.

After I let enough time go by, I finally mustered up the courage to make a move that might at last bring closure to the situation with Garcia (the one I cared about most). Several months had gone by since I’d been fired and I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since. I knew he was working in a recording studio in San Francisco putting the finishing touches on what was to become his first solo record, and I knew I’d better seize my moment while he was still working at that studio.

It was a Monday night, about 9PM, as I approached the studio realizing I didn’t have nearly enough courage to just walk in. I was sure there would be no less than six or seven roadies, hangers on, and other ex-associates I’d have to get through in the lobby before getting anywhere near him. I must have literally driven around the block at least 22 times before I finally parked, took a very deep breath, and opened the door. I took two steps inside, and it was already too late to turn around as the lobby was teeming with various Grateful Dead people, at least 12 of them.

Unbeknownst to me, the night I chose was the one designated for Jerry to play back his finished album to all his closest friends, musicians who played on it, and record company insiders for the first time. Needless to say, I was completely unwelcome by the looks on all of the faces I had to walk past just to be able to enter the studio where I knew I’d find Jerry. If I had obeyed what their looks urged me to, I would have turned around like the cowardly lion, and gone running down the hallway and out of the building. Since I already made it this far, I found the courage to open the studio door.

Garcia looked up first and was so thrilled to see me, much to the apparent dismay of the others in the room. He stood up, grabbed me, and gave me one of his great big bear hugs. It was an indescribably tremendous moment that I’ve always cherished. “What great timing you have, Debbie,” he said, grinning from ear to ear, “I was just about to play back my record for everyone. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it.” There were only two chairs behind the mixing board, and he grabbed the one next to his. “Here, have a seat. I want to make sure you hear everything properly,” he said, certainly sensing the rest of the vibes in the room.

The record sounded incredible, and every so often, Garcia stopped the tape to ask my opinion about various things. He purposely asked only my advice, making a really sweet moment even sweeter. The music was wonderful, and nothing could match the warmth he gave me. More than once, I’ve said that there aren’t enough great adjectives in the dictionary to describe this guy, and here I go again.

I probably don’t need to mention how quickly everyone else’s attitude in the room changed. “How have you been?” and “It’s so nice to see you again,” were a couple of the insincere questions and comments that went along with their hypocritical facial expressions. One of the many things that raced through my mind was how anyone could stand to be so translucent. But forget them; my main mission, my purpose for being there had been gloriously successful.

It wouldn’t have mattered if I ever saw Jerry again. He made me feel so good, as always, and I knew nothing would ever change between us. Of course, over the years, and until just days before his body gave out, I was lucky enough to continue to share our warm friendship and enjoy our working relationship, both of which I will always treasure.

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Landing On Mars (You Gotta Start Somewhere) By Debbie Gold (with Meg Hansen) Empty Re: Landing On Mars (You Gotta Start Somewhere) By Debbie Gold (with Meg Hansen)

Post  joshq Mon Jan 18, 2021 9:54 am

Wow - that's a pretty tremendous story, so well told, you really can't help but feel for Debbie. and all the twists and turns of the relationships within the family and peoples' attempts, both well intentioned and selfishly to build a bubble around Jerry.

It does remind me a lot of scenes that happen when great spiritual figures get surrounded by all sorts of people with various intentions. I am of the mindset that some people really let the divine shine through them.. Some are born that way, some develop it, some it happens to spontaneously. It doesn't mean they're perfect people, often far from it who carry baggage as a result of other parts of their development being neglected.

I truly believe Jerry was one such person, and not only did he shine light through his music, but through his generosity of spirit. How many stories have we heard of Jerry making eye contact with folks in the front rows, and they feel he was playing just to them! And yet of course, Jerry was human had some very real demons.

Anyhow. One story begets another.. Where Deb first met Jerry at the Bottom Line. I was reminded that my good buddy's best friend's dad when they were kids in northern Jersey was Allan Pepper, who co-owned the venue. He would bring his kids and their friends in to shows all the time. They got to see some amazing shows and didn't really realize the significance until they got older. I never got to go before it closed, but it sounded like such a great venue.

Thanks for sharing this!


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