Day Of The Living Dead

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After Jerry Garcia, the bearded, avuncular guitarist for the Grateful Dead, died of a heart attack while in a drug-rehab facility in 1995, one of the band's two drummers, Mickey Hart, gradually withdrew from life. He stopped going out as much, and he wouldn't play Grateful Dead music at all; he couldn't even listen to it. "I didn't play it in the house for about a year and a half," Hart says, remembering. "Oh man, are you kidding? I would cry. It was just too painful. Jerry was my best friend and the heart of the band."

Then a package arrived. It was from Paul and Linda McCartney. Inside was a video of the Dead's early days, circa 1967, which featured photos of Garcia and Hart and the rest of the band, set to old Dead music. Hart and his wife and his five-year-old daughter danced as they watched. Not long afterward, when Bruce Hornsby--a pop pianist with his own solo career who had played with the Dead off and on--suggested reforming the band, Hart was ready. It was time.

This summer core Dead members Hart, guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh--along with Hornsby, guitarist Steve Kimock (from the Bay Area-band Zero), guitarist Mark Karan (who has played with the Rembrandts), drummer John Molo (from Hornsby's band) and jazz saxophonist Dave Ellis--are touring as "the Other Ones," a band that, while not the Dead, is named after a Dead song and performs material from the Dead catalog. Weir, for his part, was eager to play the old Dead songs again but reluctant to tour under the Grateful Dead name. Says Weir: "Without Pigpen [keyboardist Ron McKernan, a band member who died in 1973], without Jerry, this band has taken a few too many hits to be called the Grateful Dead. It doesn't look too good when I see other bands out touring with one or two original members and the rest hired 30 years later. I'm not ready for the nostalgia circuit yet."

So the new band is not a flashback, it's a move forward; it's not a reunion, but a kind of reincarnation. The Other Ones are headlining the Furthur Festival, which started on June 25 and will be playing dates around the country through the end of July. So far, the festival has proved to be one of the summer's most popular musical tours, selling out most stops.

Not all the surviving Dead opted to join up. According to his band mates, Bill Kreutzmann, one of the Dead's drummers, was too comfortable in Hawaii to return to the road. Hart says all the band members are "secure" financially and that the Other Ones was launched not for commercial reasons but as an extension of the Dead's musical adventure. "This is another permutation of the Grateful Dead, another mutation," says Hart. "We're morphing into something else. And that's as it should be. When you lose a piece of you, if the body, the corpus, is strong enough, you grow another arm, another leg, and you're off and running. How long will we go? It depends on how it feels."

The breakup of the Grateful Dead left a void in the lives of many fans that other, newer bands playing in the Dead tradition, like Blues Traveler, Phish and the Dave Matthews Band, have been unable to fill completely. Says John Connor, a 27-year-old fan from Chicago who has seen 28 Dead shows: "Dave Matthews has a lot of talent, but he's still a rookie on the hippie countercultural scene." Deadheads have been eager to see the Other Ones, but in a melancholy sort of way. Says Paul Wozniak, a 35-year-old fan who has seen the Dead perform more than 300 times and attended a recent show by the Other Ones: "They can measure up musically, but it will never be what it was."

The Other Ones proves the Dead isn't dead. Judging from a recent San Francisco show, the band shares the Dead's spirit of improvisation and musical wanderlust. Still, without Garcia's gray-haired, gracious presence, there's a hole. No one in the band has his unlikely charisma. Nonetheless, it's gratifying to see Weir, Lesh and Hart together again; they communicate without words--with looks, with licks--and have a connection onstage that can come only from years of playing together. As for the new Other Ones, Hornsby's piano and Ellis' sax add jazzy warmth to the mix, but Karan and Kimock, while competent players, are still learning how to fit in.

Hart says the hard truth is that even before Garcia's death, the Dead needed a change, having played more than 2,300 shows over 30 years. "It burns you out when you play the same repertoire, even though it's vast," says Hart. "The music got old. Now we've gone back to it--and it's fresh all over again."