Deborah Koons Garcia
Deborah Koons Garcia, activist-filmmaker and widow of Jerry Garcia, had been close to the iconic musician long enough to know
In an exclusive e-mail interview, Deborah Koons Garcia discusses her late husband’s fascination with India and Indian music. Garcia had planned a trip to India after the completion of the Blue Incantation recording.
When did Jerry Garcia have his first brush with Indian music?
Jerry began listening to Indian music in the Sixties when wonderful Indian musicians began playing here in the States. He often played at the same festivals and concerts as great Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and Zakir Hussain. Mickey Hart, who also played in the Grateful Dead, was especially interested in recording and collaborating with classical Indian musicians at his home studio in Marin County outside San Francisco back in the 1970’s. Jerry was sometimes part of these sessions. I remember being at one such session in the mid Seventies.
How big has the influence of Indian music been on Jerry’s life and music?
Jerry was drawn to classical Indian music because it has a very strong tradition of highly developed craft and structure within which there is improvisation, which was his style as well. He also liked the expansion of the idea of what rhythm is and moving beyond Western ideas of scale. Plus, the spiritual component of Indian music appealed to him, the idea that certain music is played in the evening or for different purposes. The non-linear aspect of that music, getting lost and found in it, was a refreshing antidote to the pop song mentality of the music industry here. He appreciated that music and art in India are manifestations of the spiritual, that music can be a form of meditation and a kind of trance.
You came to Indian to sprinkle Jerry’s ashes in the Ganges. You returned to shoot a part of your new film in India. Has the India-connection of the Garcia family become stronger since Jerry?
Jerry and I had planned a trip to India with Sanjay and after he died I wanted to continue on. As my friends and I were getting ready for the trip, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead had a dream that we should put Jerry’s ashes in the Ganges. I agreed. Weir came to Rishikesh in 1996 and Sanjay was with us too. It was moving. A sadhu there told me that if you put someone’s ashes in the Ganges it dissolves all karma, and I figured that for Jerry, that was a good thing.
One funny thing is that back in the 1970s Jerry used to joke that if he got totally fed up with being a famous rock star, we could always move to India ”” to “the streets of Bombay”.Â That was where he envisioned being free from his identity as a rock star. But I have learned that “the streets of Bombay” would not have held the ultimate anonymity Jerry imagined. In fact, when we put his ashes in the Ganges, it was reported on the front page of The Times of India!
I went back to India this year to shoot part of my new film there, a documentary on soil called In Good Heart- Soil and the Mystery of Fertility. It is a kind of follow up to my last film, The Future of Food, which is about the changes happening in the food system today, especially those caused by genetic engineering plants. India is especially interesting because it is a land of small farmers, who are facing huge problems with debt, soil fertility, access to seeds, water and markets. The whole Organic Movement was inspired by Sir Albert Howard, who was inspired and educated by Indian farmers. For example, he learned about composting from Indian farmers. If we are not going to be able to sustain our industrial style agriculture which is so dependent on oil, and if India is able to build on and develop its own wisdom about how to treat the land so it feeds people century after century, then India will be ahead of the Industrial model, which is clearly not sustainable.Â It is a battle though, between the forces of MNCs like Monsanto and those who don’t want all the seeds, water and land to be controlled by those corporations. Some of the most powerful and eloquent voices in this battle are Indian ones, like Vandana Shiva ands Raj Patel.
I find the Indian people to be gracious with a kind of intelligence that includes and transcends intellectual rigor. It’s a wonderful land.