“That’s a Dark Star over there, and a Sugar Magnolia tree over in the corner. We’ve got China Cat Sunflowers, Purple Sage, American Beauties. We’ve got to get some Scarlet Begonias—they’ll be in pretty soon.”
Jim Fox is the unofficial, unpaid caretaker of the virtually unknown Jerry Garcia memorial in Fairfax. The small memorial, consisting of Grateful Dead–themed plantings around a plaque reading “Saying Thank You For A Real Good Time,” is outta sight—literally. Placed at ground level on a small embankment along Elsie Lane behind downtown, it’s often completely obscured from view by parked cars.
“It’s so hidden nobody knows about it,” says the thoughtful, soft-spoken Fox, a local computer programmer and lighting-engineer. “The people across the street didn’t even know about it.”
According to Fox, the present memorial has been around for 15 years. “It was built by Rudy, the park man here, six months after Jerry died. He got a bunch of people together.”
Fox didn’t become aware of the memorial until much later. “Somebody showed me [the memorial] and it was all barren except for one little flower,” he says. “I thought, ‘We need some flowers here.’ So I started planting seeds—that’s all I could afford.”
Since then Fox has taken over the role of maintaining the present memorial while keeping dreams alive for a grander replacement, proposed to be built down the street on the hillside below the Fairfax Pavilion and featuring a small statue of a winged guitar.
“We’ve worked with Stanley Mouse on the design for the statue,” he says. Mouse is the famous artist known for ’60s rock posters and Grateful Dead album covers; he and fellow artist Alton Kelley designed the skeleton-and-roses theme that became a Dead icon.
Fox says he has a sculptor lined up to build the statue, and he’s received approvals in principle from the Fairfax Parks and Recreation Commission and Design Review Board. What he needs now is funding.
“It’ll probably cost a bit of money—probably about $25,000 or so by the time we run power and water and level it and add pedestals and benches and the statue and overhead and stuff.”
Alas, Fox says no money has yet been raised. “I haven’t really tried and don’t know how,” he laments. “There should be money around. It’s hard enough for me just to keep this garden going. I’ve got too much to do.”
“We should do some benefit at the Pavilion,” he continues. “Jerry played the Pavilion twice. And he played at the [old] twice. This site is kinda halfway in between. Now that [on Sir Francis Drake—rumor has it Lesh plans a music venue there after the store moves], that could be a great impetus.”
Fox also designs Gaga-esque light installation clothes, performs as the Penguin Man, and has a number of other projects going on. But, that doesn't stop him from doing what he can for the memorial, which for now means tending the Jerry garden. “Every year I get the Chamber to put in maybe twenty or thirty bucks,” he says. “I end up spending about a hundred bucks a year on this thing and I can’t afford it. I water it every day when it needs it.”
Fox points out a new planting—cabernet grapes—which relate to a personal Jerry experience he had.
“I was at a Dead show backstage a long time ago at the Oakland Coliseum—I think it was a New Year’s show or something. You can drive a semi around that backstage area. And after the show I was in a little trailer back there—a little empty office trailer, not even a piece of paper in it. I was with a friend, and Jerry walked in with a bottle of Cab and sat down and drank it with us.”
Contrary to what you might think, Fox wasn’t a quintessential Deadhead. “I liked to go to the shows. I liked their music. But I’m not a rabid Dead fan—not one of those people who know all the words to all the songs and the set lists. I never toured or anything. When they were around I loved to go to the shows. They were fun.”
But Fox sees a larger significance in Jerry and the Dead. “Jerry was like the godfather of the whole hippie movement,” he says. “All the new values that came out of the ’60s—ecology, peace, drug use, everything—he seeded and spread all over the world. It’s still there today. And it’s affected mainstream politics and everything. That probably never would have happened otherwise.”
“Jerry was very special to a lot of people,” he adds, “but the memorial isn’t just about Jerry—it’s in memory of the movement.”
For more information or to contribute to the new Jerry memorial, visit jerrymemorial.com.