A rare piece of art created by late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia became available as a non-fungible token, or NFT, on Wednesday, May 5, to coincide with the 56th anniversary of the first time the band played together, as the Warlocks, at Magoo’s Pizza Parlor in Menlo Park in 1965.
The one-of-a-kind digital piece titled “Gift” was created by Garcia in 1990 and is being released by the Jerry Garcia Foundation, which is run by his fourth wife, Manasha Garcia, (nee Matheson) and youngest daughter, Keelin. It is available for auction on the peer-to-peer SuperRare website, with carbon offsetting by a company called Aerial.
The list price for “Gift” is 309 Ethereum cryptocurrency, which is equivalent to a little more than $1 million.
The artwork features a psychedelic figure with a mohawk and rat tail, wearing quasi-religious garments and holding a cane. The auction caption describes him as “a smiling forward-thinking interstellar being” who plays a musical staff: “We experience his colorful epiphany of giving and receiving in a range of rainbow hues — purples, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and blues. We experience ‘Gift’ as a realization of gratitude, an uplifting vision perceived through tangible abstractions.”
It is the first official NFT offered by a member of the Grateful Dead.
“One of the most interesting things about Dead Heads is the cross-generational reach,” Grateful Dead publicist and historian Dennis McNally told The Chronicle. “So while I’m old and not even entirely sure what an NFT actually is, there’s an enormous slice of Dead Heads for whom this is a comfortable concept — and if it comes from Jerry’s creativity. I suspect they’ll want it very much. And I’m confident Jerry would love the idea of his work entering the digital/virtual realm.”
Garcia frequently referred to himself as “an artist who played music.” He attended the San Francisco Art Institute and produced more than 2,000 artworks in his lifetime, many featured in everything from gallery shows to a tie collection carried by major department stores.
A portion of the sale of “Gift” will benefit the preservation of coral reefs globally, a cause championed by Garcia during his frequent scuba diving trips to Hawaii with Manasha before his death in 1995.
56 years ago today @GratefulDead played their first gig, at Magoo’s Pizza Parlour in Menlo Park, CA. They were then The Warlocks, becoming the Grateful Dead in December 1965. pic.twitter.com/gsiISKrivT
— David Lemieux (@lemieuxdavid) May 5, 2021
For the uninitiated, an NFT is a digital item or piece of art that includes a snippet of code stored on a blockchain establishing its authenticity and who owns it. It can be bought, sold and traded like a painting, baseball card or any other piece of memorabilia using the Ethereum cryptocurrency.
“Quite a lot of Jerry’s art was created on a Mac, and he was more than ready to slide into the digital realm,” McNally said. “Sometime in the ’90s, Bob Weir’s lyricist, John Barlow, took Jerry to a fairly early-on VR demonstration in Silicon Valley — ironically, just a couple of blocks from Shoreline Amphitheatre. Jerry loved it, and came out saying, ‘This is the new acid.’ I can’t imagine him being more impressed than that.”
Garcia’s fine art was featured in the “Art in Pop” museum exhibition in 2014 at the Le Magasin — Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Grenoble, France. They can also be viewed at the Garcia Weir Gallery online.
Garcia and Manasha lived together for six years and were married in a spiritual ceremony in San Anselmo in 1990 before they split in 1992.
She founded the Jerry Garcia Foundation with Keelin in 2015 to support “humanitarian, environmental and artistic causes.” Earlier this year, they released a collection of Garcia’s studio leftovers, “Front Street Outtakes,” which included recordings from a 1994 session featuring the Grateful Dead guitarist collaborating with Indian American guitarist Sanjay Mishra.
Aidin Vaziri Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop music critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @MusicSF