Jerry Garcia’s abundant songwriting went hand in hand with his frequent drug use. So when he was arrested in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on January 19, 1985 for possessing narcotics, no surprise that his confiscated briefcase full of drugs also had unfinished songs in it. Those works, from his rich collaboration with Grateful Dead writer Robert Hunter, are nowhere to be found in evidence. Hunter wants them back, drugs or not.
In a Rolling Stone interview, Hunter spoke at length about his kinship with the Grateful Dead and closeness to Garcia. But the carry-on full of party favors was the most bizarre story of them all:
The time Jerry got busted in Golden Gate Park, they took his briefcase. I haven’t gone searching for it, but I happen to know that briefcase had a number of new songs he was working on. And if the police still have them, I’d like them back, please. It doesn’t seem right. A lot of those songs disappeared. I would give [Bob] Weir the only copy of a song, and he’d put it in his back pocket and he would do the wash and there would go that song. And he’d say, “Do you remember any of that song?” and I’d say, “Maybe I can remember a verse or two.” But that’s one good thing about word processors coming along — there are no more lost songs.
The San Francisco Examiner printed an account of the arrest that year called “Dead’s Garcia Held for drugs in GG Park” that describes him as “very, very nervous but polite” during the stop. Arresting officer Mark Gamble wrote in his report that he saw “an open briefcase lying on the passenger seat, which had 23 packets containing ‘brown and white substances’,” presumed heroin and cocaine respectively.
A leader of the era’s psychedelic sound, Garcia had fallen to his own addiction, Hunter notes, and had to be confronted about his costly drug problem. That intervention still didn’t turn up the missing songs however, nor did it save the band. The treasure hunt for these unclaimed tunes isn’t over by any means. Trixie Garcia, daughter of the late Dead Head Jerry, wants to recover the briefcase and other lost items from that hazy time.
Officer Grace Gatpandan from the SFPD spoke to the San Francisco Examiner, offering only slim hope that anything from 30 years ago could survive in storage:
“They purge stuff. I don’t know if they still have it,” she said. “They actually could have it. For some reason they could have kept it.”
The memory of Garcia survives today because of quirky tales like this one, and because he grabbed people with his music. He could convince them of the promise in songs yet unheard. Whether or not these lost sheets are ever found, there’s an undeniable, strong desire for them to exist even as ideas.