My friend Matt Ryan is visiting, and we went out yesterday afternoon to the Boulder Creek path on bikes. When we came back to the Pearl Street Mall to get dinner, we noticed a huge gathering on the courthouse lawn, with a bunch of drums rumbling in the distance, and candles spotting the crowd.
Went to investigate, and turns out it was a (largely impromptu, I gather) candle-light vigil for Jerry Garcia. The drum circle played nearly continuously the entire time we were there. The courthouse fountain had become an altar with a big bundle (like, the size of an eight-year- old child) of incense perched atop its central spire. A big banner showing that album cover of the velvet-clad skeleton playing the violin hung from it. Around the base of the fountain little sub-alters had sprouted up comprised of candles, roses, pictures of Garcia, and little offerings of fruit, candy, cigarettes, and so on. On a wooden pole between the flagpole and the fountain flew a Dead flag, with that red and blue skull logo and a row of Jerry Bears dancing beneath.
The courthouse flags were at half-mast, and the lighted ring around the courthouse clock was half-lit.
When we finished dinner at around 8:30 pm, there were probably one or two thousand people there. There seemed to be a constant core group, but the crowd cycled steadily. I suspect that over the course of the evening, maybe as many as four or five thousand people stopped by at some point.
There were probably still a couple hundred left when we went home at 1:30 am. One really neat thing was that I didn't see a single cop until about 11:30, and even after that there were only two, and you had to look hard to find them.
A nearly full moon sailed in stately grace across an utterly clear night sky. The weather ghods were cooperated whole-heartedly, offering nearly perfect temperature, and I got the impression that the Universe had been putting this celebration together for a long time. Occassionally enough of a breeze would kick up to make the candles flutter, but it was never strong enough to make keeping them lit difficult.
This actually provided a nice opportunity: I regretted not having a candle to contribute to the altar, but I discovered that the breeze and the fountain between them would occassionally snuff a candle, so off and on I went around and relit them (if they'd been out for a while, they actually took some patient rehabilitation, as their wicks would get soaked through), which turned out to be a very satisfying meditation. Did you know, for instance, that if a candle wick is just wet enough, it pops and spatters while burning, for all the world like a little microscopic sparkler? All through the evening there was a silent communion of the people who were tending the candles.
I'm not a Grateful Dead fan particularly -- I've been to a couple of their concerts, the second of which is apparently rated as one of their best (Red Rocks in '87) and I clearly just don't Get It. But their existence definitely enhances the quality of life in my Universe, and I enjoy Greatful Dead fandom a whole lot. (Was exposed to it for the first time in Minneapolis, where GD fandom has a large overlap with SF fandom.) So, while I wasn't as devastated as some of the more devout, I certainly felt the pang of a passing of an era. I felt the much same kind of sadness I felt at Jim Henson's passing, although not as poinantly, as Garcia's death wasn't as unexpected. (I gather he's had health problems over the last several years.) They each seemed to have a spiritual dimension to their existence that somehow went beyond their artistic contribution. Their passing each seems to have left a similar rent in the fabric of the Universe....
- Two young girls (ages eight or so) walking through a crowd with a rough wood-framed picture of Garcia carefully held on display between them.
- A fellow playing "Ripple" on a bamboo flute. (I first encountered that song at Minicon music parties, and as it is one of my fondest memories of Minn-StF, it always brings up a lump to my throat.) He noticed me listening, and maybe saw the moistness in my eyes. When he finished, he caught my eye and raised his brow, and I bowed to him in thanks.
- Occassionally the drum circle would hit a groove that was almost like the pulse-beat of the World Heart breaking through into the audible for a few minutes.
- Spiral dances threading their way through the crowd.
- The Moment of Silence and the Cosmic Om that crystalized out of the middle of it. (Ever since reading about that in Spider Robinson's Time Pressure, I've hoped that I could experience one of those before I die....)
- One fellow working quietly to set four tall white tapers burning in an isolated group on the fountain rim. When he'd gotten them settled, he sat by them for a while, staring off into space and looking mournful and lost.
Altogether a very neat experience, and I am very thankful that the Universe made sure I got to participate.
--10 August 1995