Making music requires intense concentration, active listening, plus physical coordination and stamina.
Making music live in front of a paying audience is even more rigorous.
Jerry Garcia Life Lesson: Stretch
Stretching is both a physical act and a metaphorical framework.
Top performers stretch to achieve a desired state of limberness, which in turn allows them to reach much further and higher than they otherwise could. Before going on stage, Jerry used to run through scales to prepare himself physically for the challenges of playing a three-to-five hour show. But it was during his shows where his yogic mastery was truly revealed — few artists have stretched their form to its breaking point and survived the journey.
Long before Jerry became the iconic Captain Trips, he worked hard to learn the rigors of folk music. He played acoustic guitar and banjo and got his voice in strong singing shape. Add LSD and expansive of consciousness plus societal turbulence to the mix, plug it in and turn it up and you have the beginnings of Grateful Dead.
Let’s use “Viola Lee Blues” to illustrate the point. The song was written in 1928 by Noah Lewis, an American jug band and country blues musician. “Some got six months, some got one solid year.” Viola Lee Blues is a traditional ditty about a man lamenting his prison sentence. In the hands of Grateful Dead, the song gets opened up considerably, thanks to the weaving of jazz idioms into what is a very simple blues construction.
You might say Jerry and friends “stretched the shit” out of this tune. You’d be correct and it’s what made Jerry’s work and the band’s music so compelling. When your mind is stretched far and wide it can hold a lot more information, and Jerry’s held a deep reservoir of American roots music, jazz, classical, and more, which he could tap in an instant for just the right effect.
In my own life, I make sure to stretch out daily as a writer. Like Jerry, I am attracted to and capable of working in a variety of forms (journalism, advertising and literature). And like Jerry I have my main gig as a ad writer and several nourishing side-projects. The rewards of cross-pollination are found here. For example, if I write a particularly poetic line for a print advertisement, it makes the ad better and it loads commercial communications with the artfulness it desperately needs.
There’s also patience woven into the act of stretching, which I like. Stretching is what we do to prepare and that’s the key. We’re so often in a mad rush to succeed or to do this or that, but the reality is we must first stretch, breathe and gather ourselves before taking the stage. Artists who become masters make it all look so easy. But it’s not easy to become great at anything. It takes discipline, talent, and luck. Discipline is in your hands. Talent and luck are not. So work smart and stretch like a pro.
To read the entire series of Jerry Garcia-inspired articles, click here and let the good times roll. #9DaysofJerry