Happy 73rd Birthday Pigpen: How Pigpen Helped Us All Understand the Blues

Garcia one recalled that Pigpen was, “the heart and soul of the Grateful Dead”. While it is true that as Deadheads we can look at nearly any member of the Dead and find their heart and soul contributions Pigpen was the first individual in the Dead community to illustrate the impermanence of life. With this in mind, the loss of Pigpen was perhaps the first point in Dead history where the name, “Grateful Dead”, took on a double meaning. Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, just as his gravestone, “Was And Is Now Forever One of The Grateful Dead”. Some folks may claim this gravestone etching is ominous. On the other hand, I would make the claim that Pig’s gravestone marks a triumph of artistic and emotional expression over what many perceive as, “the end”. Pigpen’s voice and delivery of the blues was so sincere you could feel it tingle your bones.

Pigpen was always the man at the end of dark spacey segments waiting to bring everyone the good news of, “TURN ON YOUR LOVELIGHT!”. Those 60s jams got dark and twisty sometimes, but there was nothing to fear. Pigpen was ready to take us all home. Much like post space, “Stella Blue” and “Comes A Time”s that would come later in Dead history Pigpen taught Deadheads the art of being human. Just as life, jams can get chaotic and bending; but Pig taught me that all you’ve got to do is turn your lovelight on. And don’t be afraid to say, “It Hurts Me Too”.

Let’s take a look at a handful of Pigpen tunes performed by the Dead and let’s see if we can see any recurring themes...

Pain In My Heart
It Hurts Me Too
Who Cares
Come, Back Baby,
Sick and Tired
Broken Heart
Hard To Handle

I see the recurring theme of a plain picture. A plain picture of agony or plain discontent of the heart. A magical staple of the Dead is their ability to express the inexpressible. Songs like, “Dark Star” and “Terrapin Station” take us to places of the imagination that seem familiar yet strikingly strange each time. Pigpen brought the yin to the yang of the Dead. There are some moments when the soul cries out pure blues and Pigpen was there and still is there for any Deadhead ready to yelp to the sky. Thanks, Pig... Oh, and thank a taper.

Today September 8, 2018, marks what would be Pig’s 73rd birthday. Despite being forty-five years removed from Pigpen’s death Dead and Company, Phil and the Terrapin Family Band, Jrad, and DSO still delivery the tunes of our beloved blues hero to the stage. The reasons for why Pigpen’s legacy has held on so tight are not because of his mere name association with the Grateful Dead; we remember Pigpen because he brought a unique light to all of our hearts. With this in mind, in memory of our friend Pig on his 73rd birthday let’s crank up our favorite blues tune and let the pain seep out.

Pigpen of the Grateful Dead pondering in thought.


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