The living room of Deborah Koons Garcia’s suburban Marin County, Calif., house would hardly draw a second glance from a die-hard Deadhead. Look around — it’s practically impossible to find a single telltale artifact that would reveal that, just months ago, Jerry Garcia lived here. But as coexecutor of Jerry’s estate, Koons Garcia does have a fair amount of Grateful Dead merchandise — it’s just that it is under wraps, awaiting her approval. She opens a desk drawer. ”This is something I said no to,” she says, pulling out a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ”Life’s Like a Bowl of Jerrys” and a June Cleaver-type mom holding up a bowl of cherries, each one bearing her late husband’s beatific visage. ”I’m tempted, though,” she adds, almost as if inviting a second opinion. It may be tacky, but it makes her laugh, and that means a lot these days.
Koons Garcia, 45, has just completed a particularly difficult task—pulling together Harrington Street (Delacorte, $22.95), the book that Jerry was working on when he died last August at age 53. It may surprise Garcia’s fans that he chose to devote his memoir — a vivid, funky mix of original art and text — to the days before he became a rock & roll icon. ”He really never talked about the ’60s, unless an interviewer asked him,” Koons Garcia says. ”A lot of those places that were famous for everybody having such a great time were gigs to him. But he was very fascinated by the stuff that went on in his childhood, by how rich and colorful a place San Francisco was when he was growing up in the late ’40s and ’50s.”
Always closer to whimsy than introspection, Garcia nonetheless deals with some emotionally ripe tableaux in the book—getting thrown into a pool by a drunk and being saved by his father at age 2 or 3, watching his beloved dad drown in a river when he was 5, being raised by maternal grandparents who never seemed to speak a word to each other. Though Koons Garcia says she experienced only her husband’s sanguine side, she attributes the mournfulness inherent in much of the Grateful Dead’s music to the death of Jerry’s dad, which haunted his adult life.
She curls up on a couch with one of her dogs, Scooter (a golden retriever mix who still gets excited, hoping it’s Jerry, every time a car pulls up), asleep below her. A filmmaker whose first feature, Poco Loco, recently premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival (and got a good notice from Variety as ”a quirkster”), Koons Garcia finds herself on that odd cusp between grief and resumption. After finishing Poco Loco and marrying Jerry in 1994 — they had dated and then drifted apart in the mid-1970s — she’d put her directing ambitions on hold to accompany him on tour. ”I tried to spend as much time with him as I could…because of his health. I didn’t know how long he’d be around, so I didn’t want to take off for six months to shoot a film.”
Koons Garcia is convinced that Jerry would have wanted her to go back to work. As a kid, she says, he was terribly upset by how deeply his mother grieved for his father. ”So I feel it’s better for me — and better for him, wherever he is — if, rather than taking to my bed for five years, I try to be smart about how to make my life alone work for me. And Jerry’s an inspiration to me: He loved to work.”