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Garcia Fans Flock to Haight in Their Summer of Sadness : Tributes: San Francisco becomes a mecca for Grateful Dead mourners.

August 11, 1995|DAVID FERRELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Here in Haight-Ashbury, where rock music and alienation whipped up the early drug-fueled fires of the '60s hippie movement, Jerry Garcia's faithful streamed in throughout the night and all day Thursday.

They turned a trash can into a tombstone and laid flowers and lit candles around it. Mark Gentry showed up in a psychedelic bus with tepee poles lashed to the roof, having come straight from a hippie gathering near Mt. Shasta. David Kimberling found a battered hubcap and joined a street corner percussion group, chanting and drumming long into the night at the venerable juncture of Haight and Ashbury streets.

Word of the death of the Haight's home-grown rock icon, who strummed his guitar here for flower children in the Summer of Love 28 years ago, touched off a pilgrimage home for many of those who saw Garcia's band, the Grateful Dead, as more than just a musical and commercial phenomenon. The Dead and their bearded, 53-year-old lead singer stood as symbols of an era--a vibrant, difficult, idealistic time that slowly is fading from the scene.

To the generation he helped to shape, Garcia inspired a degree of devotion that many struggled Thursday to express. It was a connection between a man and his time and a way of life. To see it end, as it most likely did Wednesday with Garcia's death of a heart attack in a drug rehab center, left many of his most ardent admirers needing to trace their roots, to see where it all started, to somehow find a way to fill the void.

"Jerry brought to focus the way we all want to be, in our hearts," said Bruce Geer, who stood teary-eyed on the steps of the gray Victorian home at 710 Ashbury St., where Garcia lived during the Grateful Dead's formative years. "And we lost that. We will never have that again."

Geer was among the many thousands of fans--40- and 50-somethings as well as younger converts--for whom the Grateful Dead contributed major cuts on the soundtrack of their lives. For the past eight years, Geer has traveled the country, attending Dead concerts and selling pancakes to finance his travels.

Among those zealous legions--the Deadheads--there suddenly is enormous uncertainty about what they will do, where they will turn for meaning in life, Geer said.

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"That's what people are crying about--what's next?" he said, adapting a line from one of Garcia's contemporaries, Bob Dylan: "The times are a changing."

But the nomadic Deadheads were not the only mourners who felt the sting of losing Garcia, and the need to return to hippie roots.

Nob Hill resident Trish Roberts, 48, heard about Garcia's death from a friend late Wednesday night and confirmed it with a call to a radio station.

"I just fell apart," she said.

On Thursday, she reported to her job as a word processor, but her boss saw how she looked and wouldn't let her stay. "I said, 'I'll get it together.' She said, 'Go home and get it together.' "

So Roberts came down to the Haight, a short-haired, professional woman now reflecting on her hippie days--the happiest times of her life.

Lesley Segedy felt some of the same compulsion. Though she is nearing 50 and holds down a job at a science library, Segedy spent the morning at Haight and Ashbury taking pictures of a sidewalk memorial: bouquets, candles, photos of Garcia tacked up next to written tributes: "Thanks for everything, Jerry. Much love."

Segedy was wearing a beaded necklace and psychedelic cap.

"It's hard to imagine," she said of a San Francisco without Garcia. "I can't imagine how this will affect the Haight."

While she spoke, two men showed up to offer their own tribute: Jorge Molina playing a conch and Paul Pena blowing into a five-foot-long digeridoo, an Australian instrument crafted from a hollow eucalyptus branch. Stopping to chant in what he called a Tuvan style, still practiced in a part of Siberia near Mongolia, Pena brought an extra touch of the surreal to the Haight's avant-garde strip of funky shops and pizza eateries: "Aaaaaa-iiii-aaaaaaa-iii-eeeeeeeeiii . . . "

The two performers, who inevitably drew the curious despite their requests for solitude, called themselves neighborhood regulars since the '60s and emulators of Garcia's artistic freedom. Part of Garcia's legacy is a musical style bearing the influence of rock, folk, country and other forms, and a willingness to encourage free expression among younger bands and singers.

Molina was a traveling Tourhead for awhile before veering off into musical experimentation with the conch. Pena, a guitarist, said that during the '60s he opened for the Dead a few times at such places as Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto and other Bay Area clubs.

"I'm just saying goodby, thanking him for all he's done for me," Pena said. "I wanted to say goodby and give him whatever energetic support he needs on his transition--and I hope someone will do the same for me when I check out."

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