From the Merry Pranksters to the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia’s former wife opens up about what the age of free love was really like
I came home from Vietnam in 1966 and plunged into the hippie movement — began my own “long, strange trip”– and had a good time at it. Todtay, I’m still drinking beer, smoking pot, and listening to the Grateful Dead. — wfw
It’s a bright, crisp morning on a leafy street in Eugene, Oregon. Inside her plant-filled home lined with scientific books on psilocybin and posters of the Grateful Dead, Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia, legendary godmother of the hippie counterculture, Jerry’s ex-wife, and mother of their two daughters, sits on a red leather couch dressed in a red shirt and purple pants. Now 76, with shoulder-length gray hair and black-framed glasses, she’s reading me an excerpt from her unpublished memoir, which she just dug out of an old brown box. It’s a familiar story from a revelatory point of view: her own.
“The Beatles came to the old Cow Palace down in the mudflat south of San Francisco,” she reads. “Someone got us all tickets and we dressed up to go.”
It was August 31, 1965, and everyone piled into Furthur, the painted school bus that would soon become one of the most renowned icons of the Sixties. “We mustered the instruments up on the roof thinking to lead a parade to the Cow Palace. The bus, however, was in a hiccupy mood and would only get moving 25 miles an hour up the hill, choking and gasping, overloaded and full of very high Pranksters.”
In those days, Mountain Girl was the brash, 19-year-old “it girl” of the nascent psychedelic underground. She’d fled her hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York, to become the unlikely teenage matriarch for the counterculture’s most celebrated influencers, the Merry Pranksters. Led by Ken Kesey, the swashbuckling author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the communal crew of seekers and misfits road-tripped the USA in Furthur, experimenting with the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that would come to define their generation. Their adventures, as immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s seminal book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” inspired legions of young people eager to break the shackles of the 1950s and embark on a new age of personal freedom. And none of the Pranksters embodied that emerging spirit more than Mountain Girl.
Long Strange Trip: A look at the 30-year career of The Grateful Dead.