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(The following is from Jambands.com)

Throwing Down With The Upper Crust (On The Fate of Some Guitars)

Jesse Jarnow



The auction of two of Jerry Garcia's guitars - Tiger and Wolf, both built by Doug Irwin - at New York's Studio 54 on May 8, 2002 was an event so positively rich in metaphor, so absurdly overflowing with cosmic coincidence, that it's hard to know exactly where to begin. Facts? Sure.

After Garcia died, there was some controversy as to the ownership of his guitars. He willed them to Doug Irwin, the Bay Area luthier who designed and built them. Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead organization claimed that they weren't Garcia's to give. The Dead had paid for them and, therefore, owned them. A protracted court battle ensued. In the end, two of the guitars (Tiger and Wolf) went to Irwin, and two (Rosebud and Headless) went to the Dead. Irwin, in turn, promptly put his two guitars up for auction by way of the Guernsey's auction house. And so things were put in motion.


The guitars were in New York at least as early as April 11th, when they were put on display at Theater 99, on the lower east side, for a benefit held by Relix Magazine. For $100 a pop, one could gaze at the guitars, sip wine, throw back booze, poke at cheese with toothpicks, and cavort with Wavy Gravy. (In the interest of honesty, I did three of the above five things, though didn't pay.) The proceeds from the evening were directed towards Jim Greene, a Deadhead electrician paralyzed from the neck down in a tragic accident. This was a fine, noble cause.

Something seemed inherently weird about the whole affair, though I couldn't quite pinpoint what. The first thing I could put my finger on was the wording of the benefit's advertisement. Tiger and Wolf would be there, it said, as well as other "rare and desirable" Grateful Dead memorabilia. Something about the way that was said - mostly the "desirable" part - creeped me out thoroughly.

I got to look at the guitars from up close. Shit, they really were beautiful creatures. I don't think it would spoil the ending to say that they ended up going for $850,000 (Tiger) and $700,000 (Wolf). They made Doug Irwin a (pre-taxes) millionaire. "Which, incidentally," my friend Bill wrote, "he deserves to be for making those instruments". While that may be true, the guitars didn't command that money because of Doug Irwin's fine craft. They got that money because Jerry Garcia played them.

It is an interesting chain of logic that led to that value, that fetish. Why were they valuable? Well, Garcia played them. What was good about Garcia? He was an incredible musician; and the guitars were how he made his music. But, he was such a good musician (in the eyes of some) that he became a cult legend. It's not the guitars, then, that made them valuable, but - rather - an abstraction of them. Their historical purpose. Okay, fine. To me, that's weird. But it leads to the inevitable question of just what should happen to the guitars.

Should they be played? After all, that's what they were intended for. Maybe. Like it or not, they were Garcia's guitars. More importantly, they are incredible instruments -- ones that - regardless of whether or not Garcia ever laid hands on them - would probably go for well over $15,000 on the open market. (According to Steve Silberman and David Shenk's Skeleton Key, Garcia paid Irwin "around $13,000" for Rosebud, when it was built in 1990.) If they should be played, then, they should be played by someone who deserves to play them. And, shit, how does one determine that? Does that turn Garcia's guitars into something akin to prized violins, passed from master to student? Definitely not a feasible solution, especially in this day and age. Any decision made would be a political one, and therefore a cynical one -- a result of jockeying and taste.

Like it or not, the placement of Jerry Garcia's guitars on an auction block was the most genuinely honest, stripped bare way to deal with the situation. To that end, Relix wasn't to blame at all -- or even to credit. No, both belonged to Doug Irwin and Guernsey's.


The disco ball - the fucking disco ball (and the most splendid I've ever seen) - still hung from the middle of the ceiling. Like Theater 99, Studio 54 is an old-time New York vaudeville theater reappropriated for more contemporary purposes. It's a very New York kind of place -- the modern city co-existing with the old city like an overlaying, mostly transparent leaf. Outside, a sharply dressed bouncer - in finely tailored suit, as opposed to the usual rock club muscle shirt - verbally harassed folks waiting behind the velvet rope. A Studio 54 tradition, I s'ppose.

Inside, potential bidders filled out a form and presented major identification and a bank reference. Those interested in competing for Tiger and Wolf were required to establish Guernsey's credit. (I'm not sure what, precisely, that means.) Others (like us) could fork over $30 for a catalogue, which became our ticket to the cheap seats in the balcony. Walking up the stairs, into the theater, one was immediately met with decaying reliefs of debauchery, which decorated the theater in an arch all around the room. Other than a few scant clumps up front, the vast majority of the balcony's faux-leopard skin covered seats were empty.

The balcony enclosed the theater like branches of a tree, catwalks and ladders shooting out like odd roots. From upstairs, we had a perfect view of the stage. Enclosed in brightly lit, upright glass coffins were Tiger and Wolf. Later, as more of Garcia's personal effects were wheeled out onstage for sale - including his leather jacket ($23,000) and a couple of his black tee-shirts ($6,000, $3,500) - it felt as if a seance might suddenly break out. More, though, the guitars seemed to be on trial. It was sad, too. In all likelihood, it was probably the last time those two guitars would probably ever be on the same stage, let alone in the same room.

At least as far as I know, there is no record of Jerry Garcia's singing the old folk song "No More Auction Block". As a dutiful folkie, he had to have known it, though. Dylan sure did. "When Bob Dylan sang the antebellum song of runaway slaves," Greil Marcus wrote in Invisible Republic, "or when he took its melody to fashion his own tale of repression and resistance, 'Blowin' In The Wind', a tale for the present and future, he symbolized an entire complex of values, a whole way of being with the world. But while he symbolized a scale of values that placed, say, the country over the city, labor over capital, sincerity over education, the unspoiled nobility of the common man and woman over the businessman and the politician, or the natural expressiveness of the folk over the self-interest of the artist, he also symbolized two things more deeply, and these were things that could not be made into slogans or summed up by programmatic exposition or romantic appreciation.

"He embodied a yearning for peace and home in the midst of noise and upheaval, and in the aesthetic reflection of that embodiment located both peace and home in the purity, the essential goodness, of each listener's heart. It was this purity, this glimpse of a democratic oasis unsullied by commerce or greed, that in the late 1950s and early 1960s so many young people began to hear in the blues and ballads first recorded in the 1920s and 1930s... That was the folk revival." (Marcus, 20-1)

With that, it is interesting to note number items 43 and 44 in the catalogue. The latter is a transcription, made by Jerry Garcia while working as a folkie guitar and banjo teacher in a music shop, of "Little Moses" ($2,750), an old folk tune. The former - from the same batch - is a transcription of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind" ($7,000) -- a song adapted from "No More Auction Block". Yes, one could hear Garcia moaning the song from somewhere beyond. Of course, one could also probably hear his smoker's laugh wheezing and cackling just after he finished the tune, like all that now familiar banter on his myriad recordings with David Grisman.

Yeah, Garcia was a folkie. More, he was a hippie, a downright, out-and-out hippie (at least for a time). He was a member of the Grateful goddamn Dead. He lived with Owsley Stanley, survived on red meat and LSD, and wanted to turn on the masses. (There are, of course, many other aspects to Garcia's voluminous character but we're allowed to be choosy in such circumstances.) Somewhere along the line, something happened. Who was responsible for it is another question entirely.

Another interesting item in the catalogue - one which might point us in the answer of the question - is #40, titled simply "Concert Tapes". And, as the name suggests, it was a big honkin' batch of Dead tapes -- 1800 of 'em, if you trust the catalogue (which also says next to a picture of Donna Jean Godchaux [$300], ahem, "[she] mesmerized the crowd with her soaring vocals"). The tapes were expected to fetch between $6,000 and $8,000 -- or somewhere between $3.33 and $4.44 a tape. The Dead were (and are), of course, in favor of show taping, but firmly against the sale of the material. The sale of Grateful Dead concert tape by Guernsey's auction house is not, however, the same thing.

These tapes are unique. They are their own entity. They are no longer merely mechanical reproductions of other, superior quality, sources. As an entire collection they are, in a word, an artifact. They are a piece of Americana. And they are a piece of Americana because Jerry Garcia is a piece of American history. And the reason Jerry Garcia is a piece of American history is because he was an extraordinary man -- or, if one isn't willing to grant that, he simply existed in extraordinary circumstances. He is a folk hero, somehow beyond mere celebrity, one who belongs to a freakish cast of characters. One who, I might add, fits right in with such company.

The tapes were ultimately pulled from the auction, however. It is possible, I suppose, that the seller came to his senses. Or, maybe the Dead organization threatened suit (I'm sure they're none too happy about Tiger and Wolf falling into private hands). Perhaps the auction made the seller reminiscent to hear some of the tapes he was about to unload. Possibly, just possibly, he wanted an anniversary gander at 5/8/77 - the legendary Cornell show - which happened to be celebrating its 25th birthday on the very day of the auction. (Another acceptable suggestion to honor the show would have been, of course, to bid on the rare poster for the show [$9,000].)

A custom job Grateful Dead motorcycle was wheeled to the front of the stage, ready to go. Doug Irwin took the platform, cigarette in hand, to say a few words. "It's good to know that rock and roll is still a tool of freedom," he said with a straight face. One could hear him around the theater for the rest of the evening, cackling as he signed autographs.


The auctioneer lost me somewhere in the stating of the ground rules, so much that I didn't realize they were about to start the auction. It was no matter. There was a palpable energy rush the moment the auction began. Literally within seconds, people were bidding far more money than I will make this year, bids leap-frogging $25,000 and then $50,000 at a time. People gasped. The auctioneer was strangely musical, delivering things in a sing-song monotone. She would remain on the same note for all syllables except one, where she would raise her voice and pitch slightly. "We're on THIS side of the room," she said, pointing like an air traffic controller. "Six-hundred-fifty-THOW-sand dollars," she would say.

Soon, the two serious contenders made themselves known. One of them was somewhere beneath the balcony, out of our view. The other was a slight man in a baseball cap, sitting alone at a table on (appropriately, I suppose), Jerry-side. With one hand he operated the sign he used to signify continued reentry into the fray. With the other, he cupped his mouth. He listened intently to the cell-phone piece placed in his ear. Whenever a milestone was achieved - $700,000, for example - the crowd would erupt into cheers. There was great dramatic tension, and the bidders seemed pretty aware of it. Once, the man in the hat let the count work its way down before - at the last possible second - chiming in with a bid. It was, I will say, rather exciting to watch.

When the man in the hat finally won Tiger for $850,000, there was a monstrous ovation. He tipped his hat and smiled. Who was he? All parties are still officially mum on the subject. He was obviously somebody's proxy. Who was on the other end of that phone? Wolf went much the same way. I was hoping - given that it was used to make far more adventurous music than Tiger - that it would fetch a higher price, but I guess there's no accounting for taste. (And, I will admit, Tiger is probably the prettier guitar.)

Yes, Tiger and Wolf and Jerry are all pieces of Americana, but they are so in a loose way, at least in the sense that many of the people who made them as such are still alive. I haven't been to many other auctions, but I'd venture a guess to say that the crowd at this particular event related to the items on the block in a fairly unique way. "This guitar strap," the auctioneer announced, "was signed by members of the Grateful Dead; Jerry Garcia and so forth." With that, the crowd erupted in deep jeers. "Tough crowd," the auctioneer said, sounding a bit like a bemused Kindergarten teacher. When the boos didn't subside, she looked around in a minor panic. She couldn't read off the names of the rest of the band members. She didn't know 'em. She pressed on. It went for $5,500.


Nobody won the motorcycle. Nobody met the reserve place. That really crushed me. When it came up, the crowd screamed at the auctioneer to start it up to prove that it worked. She came back with answer about how it would be illegal to start it up indoors. "Bullshit," somebody cried back.

"This chopper..." she started.

"It's not a chopper, it's a bike!" somebody shouted, in a reverse of Bruce Willis's famous line from "Pulp Fiction".

Regardless, nobody won the thing.

I will admit that I did have a fantasy for what would happen to the guitars, one whose logical impossibility I am not prepared to admit. Someone, I hoped, would win one of the guitars. He would also snatch up the signed guitar strap, the leather jacket, the motorcycle, and the (possibly real) sheet of acid signed by Tim Leary. He would casually stroll up to the stage, don the leather jacket, strap the guitar onto his back, munch down some of the acid, hop on the bike, rev the fucker up, and charge it down the aisle of Studio 54, out onto 54th Street, over to the West Side Highway, up and out of the city...

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Dat was beautiful Booche.

I am sure Garcia himself could not have spelled better.

Humanity has placed it's passion, (creative endeavor) intricately woven into form thru it's music, art, literature.. and still we are at war. Why can't we live what we sing?

The intricate value of a thing is just what we place on it. When we learn that life is worth at least as much as a guitar, we will have cracked our biggest holdback.

Great post Booche. Are you in alignment with the basic premesis or is this just a big post-it note FYI? What DID you think about it? [Cool]

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Without delving too deeply into our humanity, who is the guy in the ball cap?

Jerry wanted the guitars to go to Irwin, whatever happened to them after that is whatever Irwin wanted to do with them. Jerry gave us so much through those vehicles, it would be hard to hear someone else play them, but at the same time, a guitar is made to be played. At least his skull wasnt up for sale.

I found that segment about the 'tapes for sale' pretty weird at first, only to continue reading and find that they were pulled from the auction.

Generally, I found it a fantastic read and that is why I stuck it up as a Post-It note.

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I'd have to say you have not failed my faith in you...the guitars belong to Jerry I don't care who the hell paid for em. It was in big part his effort that earned the money to pay for em..so once again the motivational dollar sticks it's face in sacred spaces and grabs the cheese.

Who cares. It's only money and they are only guitars...but the essence behind them is where the distortion starts and ends. Jerry's music lives forever as does Jerry and the guitars eventually will decay or get nuked or get flooded out. This was not about guitars and ownership. It was someting much deeper. It was about materialism vs soul. Who won?

The tapes are very typical of the armageddon factor. Intrinsic value versus the almighty dollar which will even prostitute itself over the intrinsic value. Humph! What a pile of masks

The guy in the ball cap? HHMM...Either Jerry has a secret admirer or.....you don't have em do ya Booche?

Those guitars do deserve to be played and maybe they are getting a good workout as we speak. One thing for sure, they are exactly where Jerry wanted them to be. Anyone with his creative talent in the body, has got to be a creative genius outside of that. In the cosmic war, Jerry's heart will always win.

So you can take off that overdressed look and go for something powerfully, uniquely Booche's heart..or are you still going to hide?


PS...it was a fantastic read and I do thank you for it Booche. Getting off the soap box in favor of yard work..my brain has just run empty..later Capone


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I am not even going to try and figure out what you could possibly mean. Without hearing your tone of voice or seeing your body movements, I cant imagine what you must be trying to say. By being straight up and honest, I dont think I am hiding anything. Maybe if people take what I say and look for a deeper meaning, they may 'assume' I am hiding something, but that is a waste of their own time. If I were hiding something, it would be a waste of my own time and energy as well.

I said it like I meant it, take it for what it's worth. Its my heart.........

I dont have either guitar, but if I did, I would invite you over to play it.

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Glad to hear it...a straight shooter no BS.....I just couldn't get a real read on you from 90% of your posts but now I can stand by my original read of your Avatar. Don't take it personally. We are all hiding, for the time being. By design. That doesn't make a lot of sense to you cause it's the world I live in..to you it is the ramblings of tired old man...

No worries. I think you are just fine there Booche...You are actually helping me resolve stuff believe it or not. I think all the scancs are mighty fine and people here are more real than most.

Thanks for the unofficial invite to play the guitar, but I never had the pleasure of learning so I live music vicariously...jus


But if I did play, I'd take you up on it.

Chiao [Cool]

PS If you ever discover who's the guy in the ball cap, please post it!

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The reason you couldnt read me from 90% of my posts is because 90% of my language is missing when I post on a message board. If that is what you mean by hiding, then I understand but I certainly am not pawning myself off as some 22 year old female, questioning my sexual desires and needs [Razz]

That would be cool though....................

Hey Treyter, you out there some where honey-pie?

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lol......Nyeh...sorry.. you got that wrong Booche.

But keep that imagination alive.

Reality is a lot less interesting than that.

Guess I'll soon have to give up this gig.

No more old man scanc.

Promise when I go you'll post a

R.I.P. smiley for me?

Speakin o Treter..where is that Scanc?....

Seems he disappeared after D & T

on Saturday.

Oh well. He'll turn up.


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