Grateful Dead’s Guitar Ace Now Dives for Kicks


It’s a different kind of reefer madness these days for Jerry Garcia. The man they used to call Captain Trips has become Captain Cousteau.

The unassuming singer and guitar wizard of the Grateful Dead, whose music sprouted from the “Acid Test” LSD parties of the 1960s and remains an enduring legacy of the psychedelic era, now gets his kicks underwater.

“I like the water. I like the way it feels. I like slipping around in it,” Garcia said. “I feel like a fish. It’s sort of like having an infinite aquarium to swim around in.”


Garcia is on a “working vacation” in Hawaii that included concerts Saturday and Sunday with his Jerry Garcia Electric Band and as much scuba-diving as possible. The second concert was a benefit for the Ocean Recreation Council of Hawaii, which is trying to preserve Hawaii’s coral reef by placing anchor mooring pins in ocean waters. The moorings would be used by fishing and tour boats that now drop anchor into the coral reef and damage it.

“I’ve seen what anchors do to coral,” Garcia said. “The reef is the bottom of the food chain. It provides food for the fish and so on, and the fish end up on people’s plates and so on. If you do away with the coral, you’re basically thrashing the whole economy of the islands, or at least a large percentage of it.”

Garcia is also active in the rain forest movement. The Grateful Dead has raised more than $1 million for environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network.

Garcia, 47, started scuba-diving three years ago, shortly after recovering from a 1987 coma caused by untreated diabetes and exhaustion. That illness, which almost killed him, occurred a few months after he had stopped using cocaine and heroin.

In more than one way it was a rebirth for the beloved and reluctant figurehead of the Deadhead subculture that spreads across the globe and numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

Garcia’s recovery was followed by the 1987 release of the most successful Grateful Dead album ever, “In the Dark.” The current album, “Built to Last,” also has gone gold, but never caught on with radio stations and didn’t fare as well commercially as “In the Dark.”


Not that Garcia cares very much.

“We certainly aren’t Top 40. That’s not what we do, it’s not who we are,” he said. “Our relationship to Top 40 is pretty remote. It’s almost as remote as our relationship to classical music or mainstream jazz. We’re about 90 degrees off of just about everything.”