Being raised by a rock star would seem to be every teenager’s dream, unless you happen to be that teenager. Then, things can get weird. Trixie Garcia had her first psychedelic experience when she was one and a half. A bag of mushrooms had been left sitting out. Trixie’s parents – the late Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia and the prototypical hippie chick Mountain Girl – were not particularly alarmed. “My mom was like, ‘Oh, it made you more communicative!'” says Trixie, now thirty and a painter living in the Bay Area. “Most of the kids in the scene had some early dosing incident. My sister got into some acid-spiked orange juice.”
The flip side of Trixie Garcia’s childhood might be that of Anna Gabriel, who grew up in a modest cottage in the city of Bath, in the English countryside. Her father, Peter Gabriel, insisted he’d never done drugs and actually made her promise not to smoke cigarettes until her eighteenth birthday, in exchange for a car. He still doesn’t know about Anna’s tattoo (a flower, on her ankle), clandestinely inked during his 1993 Secret World Tour. For Anna – now a thirty-year-old filmmaker – the most harrowing experience involving her father’s fame was the time she inadvertently made out to one of his songs: “It was ‘In Your Eyes,’ of course. I was with one of my first high school boyfriends and a three-song special came on the radio. I had to stop. It was like he was in the room!”
The rock & roll parents who most readily come to mind tend to be the most inappropriate. There’s Courtney Love telling People how she tried to make her 2003 OxyContin overdose “fun” for her eleven-year-old daughter, Frances Bean, who made Love green tea while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. Or 50 Cent outfitting his six-year-old son, Marquise, with a miniature bulletproof vest. And of course, there is the rock family America knows best, Ozzy Osbourne‘s. If The Osbournes is one’s only insight into such matters, it would be understandable to assume the children of rock stars are spoiled rich kids whose loving but overly permissive parents have bequeathed them foul mouths, personal publicists and stints in rehab before their eighteenth birthdays.
But consider, as a counterpoint, Ozzy’s longtime bandmate Geezer Butler, the bassist who wrote many of Black Sabbath‘s most evil-sounding lyrics and who once drunkenly menaced AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young with a knife during a tour in England. As a parent, it turns out, Butler is as buttoned-down as they come. “If they made a program called The Butlers, it would be the most boring thing ever,” he says. “It would be my son doing his homework, me reading a book – right now, I’m reading the new Philip Roth – and my wife watching TV.”
The sedate image is confirmed by Butler’s twenty-year-old son, James, a history student at Oxford University currently focusing on Stalinist Russia. “At home, my dad listens to a lot of Norah Jones,” he says. “My dad, coming from quite a humble background, wanted to provide what he wasn’t able to get for himself, so he made sure to send us to private school, and I was always encouraged to read from an early age. I remember years ago being around the Osbournes’ house and hearing Ozzy tell all these crazy stories from on the road. But my dad never did that. Everything I’ve heard about those days, I’ve read in magazines or heard at school from friends.”
And even those tales may have been more fiction than fact. “A lot of the things James has heard have been exaggerated, as well,” Geezer says. “But how many women you’ve been with, how many times you’ve OD’d — those just aren’t the things you really talk to your kids about, are they?”
There’s a mysterious gravitational pull that seems to bond the children of legendary musicians. Encounter enough of them and it starts to feel like a secret society. They’ve all grown up with parents who have simultaneously rejected society’s rules and reaped its rewards, and they all recognize certain traits in each other.
Rufus Wainwright’s father is folk singer Loudon Wainwright III; his mother is folk singer Kate McGarrigle. When Rufus moved from Montreal to Los Angeles in the mid-Nineties to pursue his own music career, he began playing at clubs like Largo, where he met other aspiring musicians — many of whom, it turned out, were also the offspring of musicians. Soon, an odd coterie had formed. There was Chris Stills, the son of Crosby, Stills and Nash singer-guitarist Stephen Stills. And Adam Cohen, the son of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen (Adam is now the frontman for Low Millions, which scored a recent hit with the single “Eleanor”). Harper Simon, Paul’s eldest, was around, as was Sean Lennon.
“We befriended each other,” says Rufus. “I guess because, at the end of the day, we could relate to each other.”
The connection is often intense. “It’s not like some automatic pass into this club,” stresses Chris Stills. “It’s just that we might be hip to — how would I put it? It’s kind of like we grew up behind the stage, so we’re privy to the smoke and mirrors and the strings holding up the puppets. Most people just have their eye on the puppets. So that knowledge bonds us.”
When Nona Gaye first met Sean Lennon, she says, “I felt like I was talking to myself.” Nona was nine years old when her father, Marvin Gaye, was shot and killed by his own father; Sean was five when his father, John Lennon, was shot and killed by a deranged fan. “My father was just such a beautiful force in so many people’s lives, and Sean’s father did such similar things,” says Nona, a thirty-year-old actress who has appeared in Alt and the Matrix sequels. “And now we both have this feeling of, ‘I have to carry on this legacy in my own way.’ And who else knows how I feel? I just had to give him a great big hug and go, ‘Oh! Somebody knows!'”
Alexa Joel – the daughter of singer Billy Joel and supermodel Christie Brinkley had never met any other children of rock stars before the photo shoot for this issue’s cover. Yet she too felt an immediate bond: “I think one of the reasons we all got along is because nobody was like, ‘Oh, that’s Stevie Wonder’s daughter!’ That’s Marvin Gaye’s daughter!’ ‘That’s Paul Simon’s son.’ I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I meet people and someone will say, ‘This is Billy Joel’s daughter.’ I used to get mad and say, ‘My name is Alexa!’ Harper [SimonJ and I were talking about how it was really nice, for once, to just discuss our own work and what we wanted to do with our own lives.”
In fact, Alexa spent most of her childhood avoiding the trappings of celebrity. “My parents would ask me, ‘Do you want to go to this movie premiere with me or watch me accept this award?” But it was embarrassing,” she says. “When you’re, like, eleven or twelve years old, you don’t want people to make a fuss over your parents. You just want your parents to be normal.”
Now a nineteen-year-old freshman at New York University, Alexa is thinking about switching her major from musical theater to English. “I’ve tried to leave some room for her to grow and find her own way,” says Billy Joel. “She’s an excellent songwriter. But when she tells me that I’m an influence on her, I don’t necessarily want to be, because with her name, she may have some difficulty being taken seriously. I don’t want to impinge on her ability to have a career as a musician, so I’m a little shy about being too involved.”
Many children of rock stars decide, quite naturally, to get into the family business. Perhaps there’s a gift for melody in the genes; perhaps growing up in a creative environment simply inspires them and makes such a career seem like a realistic possibility. But the notion of rocking-by-birthright has always been a tough sell. Fairly or unfairly, growing up in a world of fame and luxury does not lend itself to much street credibility.
“I don’t like people to think, ‘Maybe they just did music because their daddy did,'” says Otis Redding III, the son of the late soul legend. “When you’re born into music and you love it, it’s yours every day, whether you’re successful or not.”
Redding got tired of hearing A&R guys tell him, “Think about your old man’s stuff. Make sure your lyrics are really, really strong.” His goal, he says, was “to get better as a songwriter, and then you’ve got people telling you all the time, ‘You need to be listening to your daddy!’ I learned that just because you’re Otis Redding’s son, ain’t nobody gonna bend over backward for you. Or maybe they will too much. But you know – you just gotta get in where you fit in.”
On a chilly night last December, the audience in the tiny club Tonic, an experimentalmusic venue on New York’s Lower East Side, included Yoko Ono (sitting up front, in a folding chair) and members of the Strokes, as well as Ben Taylor (son of James), Ethan Browne (son of Jackson) and Sebastian Robertson (son of Robbie). The occasion was an unannounced show by Sean Lennon, Harper Simon, and Yuka Honda, of the New York-based Japanese art-pop band Cibo Matto. The three play together periodically – Sean on acoustic guitar and vocals, Harper on electric guitar and Honda on keyboards. The music is gentle folk rock with some jagged edges, shifting into psychedelia at one point when a tabla player joins them for a song. Harper, though talented, displays a tentative stage presence. He started playing guitar at the age of ten. He’s thirty-two now, but he’s only become confident as a performer in the past few years. “I’ve really struggled with playing music,” Harper admits. “It’s hard to put yourself out there – just because my dad is so damn good. But the truth is, music has always been a passion for me. And when you’re ten years old, you’re just trying to learn barre chords. You’re not thinking, ‘Oh, maybe going into a field where one of your parents has had a huge success is not the greatest idea.'”
Harper and Sean are both wary about being identified as the children of rock stars, and Harper only warms to the subject of being Paul Simon’s son after several whiskeys. He looks quite a bit like his father – circa One Trick Pony – only with a less gaunt face and an expensive-looking messy haircut. Harper spent most of the Nineties living in the Lower East Side, trying to get over his performance anxiety and taking odd jobs, like portraying a junkie punk-rock kid in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead.
“That was sort of a parody of my life at the time,” Harper says. He moved to London four years ago, partly to escape the New York scene, partly to seek anonymity. When he heard, through his friend Stella McCartney, the designer and daughter of Sir Paul, that an eclectic local band called Menlo Park needed a new guitar player, he met with the group and got the job. Since then, he has relished every positive review that makes no mention of his heritage.
When Menlo Park played a gig at Tonic last year, Sean surprised Harper by turning up in the audience. The two have known each other since they were kids: They grew up together in the Dakota, an apartment building that overlooks Central Park. Sean is twenty-nine, and far more relaxed onstage, though his banter with the audience displays a defensive level of self-deprecation. At the Tonic gig, he openly discusses how his record label, Capitol, has delayed the release of his second album, Spectacle, because it lacks a marketable single.
Sean began playing music a few years after his father’s death, when he requested piano lessons. “You know, this might sound really cheesy,” he says, “and I don’t want it to come across in an overly sentimental way, but on some level, my earliest memories of playing piano were a desire to be closer to my dad, who I lost. Because I did associate him with music. So I think a lot of the days upon days I spent just sitting alone at the piano were kind of the closest sense I could experience of being with him. That’s how I look at it, anyway. The closer I come to music, the closer I come to understanding him.”
Sean divulges this bit of self-analysis very reluctantly and quickly changes the subject. Like Harper, he does not want to be known exclusively as his father’s son. “I’m not ashamed of it or trying to avoid it or anything like that,” Sean says, “but my life isn’t only defined in terms of the celebrity of my parents and therefore by my default celebrity.”
Still, like many other children of rock stars, Sean has found breaking free from his parents’ fame a tricky proposition. For one thing, he’s been in the spotlight since the day he was born. For another – well, look at him. Sporting round, thin-framed spectacles and a beard fit for crossing Abbey Road, he bears an uncanny resemblance to his father.
His parents were fully aware of the burden that Sean would bear. “John and I were very careful about not trying to influence Sean musically or telling him who we were,” says Ono. “Sean came home from school one day and said, ‘Daddy, were you a Beatle?’ John had never mentioned it to him. He didn’t have us playing certain music and saying, ‘Listen! This is us!'” Ono chuckles. “But you know, now he knows every lick, every intro, every beat of the Beatles’ music, of John’s music, of my music. Privately, that makes me very happy. I don’t know how he found out, but obviously he does some listening.”
A few months after the Tonic gig, Sean is sitting in his mother’s private gallery on the ground floor of her SoHo loft. John and Yoko lived here briefly in the early Seven’ ties before moving uptown to the Dakota. Lighting a Marlboro, Sean sinks back into a plush white chair. Behind him, a vast white wall is covered with seventy-two small abstract drawings by Ono, hung in neat rows of nine. He’s facing a larger canvas, also by his mother, which features a huge knife wound dripping blood-red paint. Sean is wearing a pinstripe suit jacket over a burgundy V-neck sweater. There’s something quiet about his entire affect, quiet bordering on fragile — from his high, thin voice to his mild demeanor to, of course, the inevitable association one makes between John Lennon’s son and sudden, senseless loss.
“I don’t think being a musician is something I consciously decided I wanted to do,” he says. “I think it’s something I was already doing.” He pauses. “I’m a little uncomfortable with what I’ve been saying,” he continues. “It’s a little too tear-jerky. But in my desire to explore music, which is abstractly connected to my father, at some point I became a musician. Now I’ve been playing music all my life, and that’s the way I interact with the visible universe. I’ve come to realize that only a few things take away my anxiety, and one of them is playing music. Then maybe saunas and exercise. Reading, too. But if I could not sleep and just play music twenty-four hours a day, that’s what I would do.”
Do you remember the point you realized your parents were extremely famous?
“Um, yeah. That was definitely when my dad died. It was clear at the time. The crowds of people outside the house, for months and months – years, in fact. It was overwhelming. I was five, so before that my experience was pretty insular. So it went from a relatively insular childhood to looking out the window, seeing thousands of people singing and holding candles. It was a pretty profound experience.”
Do fans of your father expect certain things from you?
“People come up to me all the time and say, “You don’t understand how important your father’s music was to me.’ Which I guess is a sweet thing to say, but I feel like, ‘Actually, you don’t understand. I’m closer to him than you could ever imagine, and for you to say that is ridiculous. How can I not understand? It’s you who don’t understand that my relationship with him goes way beyond music.’ But I don’t blame anyone for thinking that way. You have this experience that’s real and vital and moving and intense, and you don’t think anyone else could understand how you feel.”
Sean’s 1998 debut, Into the Sun, had a title pun that may or may not have been intentional, but the album was a fairly well-received indie-rock take on what Sean calls “easy, breezy Seventies music.” He opened for Beck, Sonic Youth and, weirdly, the theatrical German heavy-metal band Rammstein. (“There were leather studs everywhere,” he recalls. “Their fans had a murderous intent toward me.”) He also began making the scene – most conspicuously with recent romantic interest Lizzie Jagger. Sean declines to discuss the matter, but the eugenic possibilities of such a match captured the imaginations of tabloid editors around the world. There were shots of the couple hitting clubs, with Sean sporting a Stones T-shirt, and quotes from the likes of Lizzie’s mother, Jerry Hall, who declared the pair “so in love” and revealed that Sean had serenaded Lizzie with a rendition of “Imagine.”
As for his own music, Sean understands the baggage he carries, and the preconceptions Beatles fans might bring to his work. ‘I went to see Charles Mingus’ son play – I didn’t know anything about him – and stupidly, I had assumed it was going to be jazz,” Scan says. “It wasn’t. And it’s funny, because of anybody, I should not be the one to fall for that stereotypical, preconceived notion of the son or daughter of so-and-so. But I was like, ‘It’s not jazz? Why?”
One of the perks of having a musician for a parent is that, if you’re an especially cute or inspirational kid, you might get your own song. Sean Lennon got “Beautiful Boy.” Nona Gaye got “I Want to Be Where You Are.” Aisha Morris, Stevie Wonder‘s daughter, got “Isn’t She Lovely.” Harper Simon got “St. Judy’s Comet,” of which he says, “I’m generally opposed to rock songs about your children. But that’s a sweet one.”
Rufus Wainwright got two songs — one, “Rufus Is a Tit Man,” from his dad, and another, “First Born Son,” from his mom. “I loved ‘Rufus Is a Tit Man,'” says Rufus, who is gay. “It’s about me breast-feeding. I would be five or six years old in the audience, screaming out, ‘Sing “Rufus Is a Tit Man!”‘ And ‘First Born Son’ is amazing. It’s an unabashed song about how the firstborn is the one who’ll break everyone’s heart. It’s almost a benediction. Like, it’s OK if I take over the show.”
Growing up in Canada, Rufus rebelled against the purist folk scene of his parents by becoming a self-described “fourteen-year-old opera queen.” “That kind of horrified them for a while,” he says. “For one thing, it was so unobservant of the modern age. And also, it was unabashedly gay. They liked the pure, simple line, and I decided to go for baroque. My confidence was appalling. My father just wanted me to mow the lawn: “Why don’t you relax and stop trying to write requiems?'”
Rufus’ parents broke up when he was three, and Loudon Wainwright III spent much of his son’s childhood on the road, so their relationship had always been a rocky one. The potential conflicts of ego only became trickier to avoid as Rufus’ star began to rise, while folk music was increasingly marginalized in the culture at large.
“My own fame was extremely difficult for my father,” says Rufus, who, at thirty-one, has released four critically acclaimed albums. “We had a horrible relationship for about six months when my first record came out – where, on the one hand, I didn’t know how to deal with the press and be respectful of his feelings and, on the other hand, he came down very heavy-handed on me for certain things I’d say in my ignorance. We were ready to kill each other. I said he abandoned me as a child and that yes, I would be way more famous than he ever was, and that I was cooler and more in touch with the kids.”
The breaking point came during a photo shoot for a Rolling Stone father-and-sons photo essay five years ago. Near the end of the session, the photographer was forced to suggest, “Could you guys maybe touch each other?” “My father was feeling very uncomfortable and I was feeling very brazen,” Rufus says. “You could see it in the picture.” After the shoot, the Wainwrights went out to dinner. Rufus had a few drinks and told his father that, thanks to him, he’d finally made it back into Rolling Stone. “He never quite forgave me for that comment,” Rufus says. “A lot of patching up had to be done after that.”
The Western World Headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is located on a quiet residential street just off Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles. Along with a white-columned temple, a bookstore and a vegetarian restaurant called Govinda’s, the society owns a number of the bungalows lining the street, where men in pumpkin-colored dhotis stroll by with groceries and prayer books.
On an overcast January afternoon, Elijah Blue Allman sits at an umbrellacovered table on Govinda’s brick patio, looking exactly the way his publicist described him the night before. (“He’s got dirty blond hair. He usually wears a black Kangol cap, but forward. And he’ll probably be wearing a puffy vest, the kind that Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future.”) The middle button of Elijah’s vest is buttoned, and a C-clamp key ring hangs from the pocket of his Army green sweatpants.
Elijah’s parents are Gregg Allman, the singer and keyboardist of the Allman Brothers Band, and Cher. The pair married on June soth, 1975, four days after Cher’s divorce from Sonny Bono. This may have proved rash, as by July 9th, they had separated. Now twenty-eight, Elijah — a teen guitar prodigy who auditioned for Nine Inch Nails when he was seventeen and came close to getting the gig — is primarily focused on his industrial-metal band, Deadsy. The group’s second album, Commencement, was released by DreamWorks in 2002, with a video directed by Fred Durst. Elijah was also a big L.A. scenemaker, romantically linked to the actress Heather Graham and fellow rock kids Nicole Richie (she wears a Deadsy T-shirt in an episode of The Simple Life) and Bijou Phillips; his cell-phone numberwas recently posted on the Internet when Paris Hilton’s Sidekick was hacked.
Since the release of Commencement, though, things haven’t been going smoothly. The album didn’t sell, DreamWorks fell victim to a record-company merger and the band has yet to be re-signed. Elijah, while touring, became addicted to painkillers, and he’s been in and out of rehab ever since. These days, with a slightly rounder face, a thin blond mustache and a scab on his nose, he looks more like his dad than the eyeliner-sporting goth kid brooding on various Deadsy fan sites. Though he speaks quickly, with a gruff-voiced intensity, Elijah also seems quite guarded, at first barely making eye contact.
“I love coming down here — I’m really into Vedic science,” Elijah says, taking a forkful of green beans and bulgur rice. He’s referring to the Vedas, the sacred texts that serve as the basis of the Krishna sect. He’s quick to add that he’s not a full Krishna devotee, explaining, “I’m way too fallen, man.” As if to stress his unworthiness, he stares intently at a pretty blond girl as she walks by, then shoots me a lascivious grin.
Growing up, Elijah didn’t spend much time with either of his parents. From the age of eight on, he attended six different boarding schools on both coasts. During Elijah’s formative years, his father was a nonpresence – constantly touring, addicted to heroin and dating the likes of sixteen-year-old future porn star Savannah. His mother, meanwhile, was busy making movies, pursuing a successful solo career and maintaining a flamboyant social life. “I’d always gravitate toward the female dancers on my mom’s tours – not in a sexual way but because they were giving me some of that maternal thing I wasn’t getting from my mom,” Elijah says. “As much as she would try to make life normal for me, it never happened.”
It’s debatable whether or not “dating Gene Simmons” constitutes a good-faith attempt at normality on Cher’s part. Elijah told VHI’s Behind the Music that his favorite childhood mom-boyfriend was Val Kilmer: “He gave me a human scalp for my birthday, and from then on, I just loved him.” He also cites his older half-sister, Chastity, and friends at boarding school as bigger musical influences than either of his parents, as they turned him on to edgier artists like Gary Numan, Bauhaus and Brian Eno. Time spent at home was often on the surreal side. Robert Downey Jr. and Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens would come by for barbecues. Elijah even earned a mention in The Andy Warhol Diaries – “I forget what day, but it was in 1985” – when, during a visit by Warhol, he ran around the house “destroying something.”
By age thirteen, Elijah acknowledges, he was “starting to get a little unruly.” He tried to re-connect with his dad, going on tour with the band. “I sought him out,” Elijah says. “Not that he was ready to do any fathering at that point.” Gregg Allman was one of rock’s most legendary substance abusers; Cher reportedly broke up with him after he passed out in a plate of spaghetti. “I started smoking a little pot,” Elijah says. “Nothing out of line for backstage at an Allman Brothers show. Some of the crew guys would take me under their wing. Red Dog. Joe Dan. Twigs. I wouldn’t stay under any wing for too long.”
Shortly thereafter, in an unorthodox attempt at mother-son bonding, Cher decided to add Elijah to her touring band. “I was getting pretty ripping on the guitar, and she was doing so much touring, she thought it would be a way for us to spend more time together,” he says. He made his debut at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards. One might assume that watching your mom straddle an aircraft-carrier cannon while exposing her tattooed buttocks to a group of sailors might stir some level of Oedipal discomfort, but Elijah displays little emotion in his recall.
“I was so programmed to see that kind of stuff from such an early age, it would have been strange for me if she wasn’t dressed like that,” he says. “But I just toured with her for a little while. Once I got older, I was like, ‘This isn’t too cool.’ People think that you sit there and listen to your parents’ music. But who wants to be interested in anything that has to do with your parents when you’re a teenager? Nobody I know.”
Indeed, with Deadsy, Elijah does not draw on the legacy of either of his parents’ music in the slightest way. “It was definitely like acting out,” says Elijah, who had to borrow money to record his first demo. “That first band sounded like suicide music. Not the band Suicide. It was music to kill yourself to. Slower than anything. Heavy and evil. Just me and a drummer. I wanted to shock people with something that was so perverse and ill.
“The weird thing about my mom is, after we got signed, she got a little bit – I don’t know – maybe resentful? She was threatened a little bit. I guess because I was the only other one in the family to get into music. For my mom, it was an ego thing. I was pretty detached from her at the time. Like every kid, I just wanted to get the fuck-you money. And, for me, have the fuck-you band. And get the fuck-you record deal. And, you know, say, Tuck you.'”
Elijah pauses. Indian ragas softly emanate from a speaker above the Krishna center’s entrance. These days, he is concentrating on staying sober and putting out a new Deadsy album. His relationship with both of his parents seems to have improved. Cher was instrumental in helping Elijah before he went into rehab. “I had a bunch of talks with my mom,” he says. “You know, when you get as far gone as I was, it’s not like you’re saying, ‘Of course I shouldn’t be wasted on drugs.’ You kind of have to take other people’s word for it.”
Elijah has been also been trying to get to know his father better. He recently told him about his drug problem and, in true rock fashion, that turned out to be a bonding experience. “It’s been good, because it’s something we have in common,” Elijah says. “He’s doing great now. He’s been sober for the past seven years. But he’s fifty-five. So at forty-eight he finally figured it out. I don’t wanna do that. I hate to say this, but I didn’t want to be my dad. I love my dad, but he wouldn’t want me to be him either. Not reaching my potential is a devastating prospect for me.”
Trixie Garcia lives in a vintage gray bungalow in Oakland, California. The house is nestled on a hill in a relatively ungentrified neighborhood, just blocks from a strip of Vietnamese shops and restaurants. Thirty-five years ago, Trixie’s parents, Jerry Garcia and Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams Garcia, were the Kurt and Courtney of freak-rock-era San Francisco. Before Mountain Girl was Mountain Girl, she was the middle-class daughter of academics. Then she discovered psychedelic drugs and met the writer Ken Kesey, with whom she had her eldest daughter, Sunshine. After splitting with Kesey, she hooked up with Garcia, just as the Grateful Dead were beginning to meld live rock & roll with consciousness-expanding drugs; they had two daughters together, eventually marrying in 1981.
“It’s just such aweird family,” Trixie says. “If I wasn’t with the Grateful Dead, I was with the Merry Pranksters.” When Trixie was six, Mountain Girl moved her girls to a farm in rural Oregon, near Kesey’s commune, in part to get away from the harder drugs that had invaded the Dead scene.
Ask Trixie Garcia a question she thinks has an obvious answer – e.g., “Did your parents ever give you a drug talk?” or “How old were you the first time you were allowed to wander around a Dead show unsupervised?” – and she will fix you with a hard stare and a sly smile that’s all her dad. That bemused look, both Trixie’s and Jerry’s, reads as a gentle “Gimme a break, you square.” It’s a look that seems to have been made permanent, after years of gazing at the straight world from far outside.
The answers to the above questions, incidentally, are no (“I mean, I had the best drug education ever – it was pretty much watch and learn”) and whatever age you learn to walk (“We weren’t coddled. We had to figure it out for ourselves”). Aside from helping to manage her dad’s musical estate, Trixie mostly paints – these days, a cool series of geishas in traditional poses but with skulls instead of faces. (“It was only after I started doing these paintings that I realized I’ve been looking at psychedelic skull art all my life.”) She has long dark hair that’s slightly witchy-woman and lively eyes (also her father’s) set in an otherwise sleepy face (ditto). Though her house is filled with what might be interpreted as stoner paraphernalia – multiple Xboxes and an enormous toy-robot collection, with Method Man and Cypress Hill playing softly in the background – making presumptions based largely on someone’s genetics seems a bit unfair.
“Wanna do a bong hit?” Trixie asks a few minutes later.
OK, but still, stoner, with all the slackness it implies, is not a word that applies to Trixie, who is among the sharpest and most articulate of the rock children. Nodding at a painting of Tupac Shakur, she explains, “I did that the year he died, because we were friends in high school. I dated one of his friends. I guess it was my way to rebel.
“My older sister did punk rock. I did hip-hop. My parents didn’t like it at all.” Once, when her dad was on tour, Trixie threw a big party at the house. Tupac and all of her hip-hop friends came. They weren’t exactly clear on what the Grateful Dead was. “That my dad was a rich, famous guy was all they needed to know to make me hang-outable,” Trixie says. “I think I’ve searched out people who don’t really know about him, so I can do my own thing anonymously.” She chuckles. “But then I end up getting mad that they don’t know.”
At any rate, the house ended up trashed – things stolen, keyboards thrown out of windows. “My poor dad,” Trixie says, laughing. “He was so nonconfrontational. Such a pushover. All he did, he left a note the next time he went on tour: ‘Dear Trixie, Please don’t have a party with more than a thousand people.'”
Jerry Garcia would begin smoking heroin soon after his family’s move to Oregon. His wife and daughters did not return to the Bay Area until his lapse into a diabetic coma in 1986 — “he’d been living off Tang and Twinkies for ten years,” Trixie says – though the family often spent summers and holidays together.
In talking about her childhood, Trixie goes back and forth between expressing a clear love for her parents and, at the same time, acknowledging the clear shortcomings of certain of their hands-off approaches to child-rearing. For instance, she describes Mountain Girl as “a really great mother” who, on the farm, tended a garden, cooked wonderful meals and made the girls shear sheep and knit sweaters. But Mountain Girl could also be quite embarrassing in public (making loud noises, sticking things up her nose), and at night she would often be doing acid with the Pranksters. “My mom’s partying, it wasn’t in an immature way – it was in a mind-altering, expand-your-consciousness, social-experiment kind of way,” Trixie is careful to point out. “But still. It does become a role reversal, in a way, being a kid raised by kids. You end up being the one saying, ‘No, you shouldn’t do that. That’s unsafe.’ When I started really acting out, in high school, I was running the house. I suppose it was a classic plea for discipline, like, ‘Please fucking do something! I’m gonna kill myself over here! Be a parent!’ There were a couple of moments where my dad was on the verge of almost putting his foot down but then was like, ‘Fuck it. I give up.'”
Was it ever scary, having all of the adults around you tripping?
“No, because they were just such professionals. It would be like straight people having a cocktail party. They’d been doing it for so long by the time I came along, they could do anything while they were tripping. Playing poker. Making dinner. They weren’t having these trips like, ‘Oh, look at my hands! The floor is moving!’ They were beyond that. On the other hand, in the crowds at the Dead shows, you’d see it all. Identity crises. Back-rub circles. Hugathons. But yeah, even today, I don’t like doing drugs with my mom. She’s just such a pro. I’m never as good at having fun on psychedelics, and so I end up feeling really insecure.
“You know, I was a real straight kid. Early rebellion for me, before hip-hop, was trying to be straight. I wanted to have matching socks and American cheese and get an office job. My parents would be like, “What is wrong with you, little square?’ Like, ‘Oh, God, one of our own!’ That would have disappointed them the most. If I’d discovered Jesus and become a soccer mom, I think it would’ve really broken their hearts.”
What did your dad thinly of the scene that surrounded him?
“The funny thing is, Jerry and the rest of the band were a bunch of cynical, shittalking, dark-humored guys. A band of pirates, really. And they were being followed around by these tofu-eating love people.”
Ultimately, Trixie seems to feel like her parents’ status as social explorers makes whatever mistakes they made as parents forgivable. “In retrospect, our parents probably wished they’d protected us more. But they were pioneers. It was always ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I didn’t realize how small ‘us’ was until I went to public school in rural Oregon.”
Moving into another room, Trixie perches on the edge of an enormous beanbag chair with a jungle print, resting her head on a hand. “I was talking to my friend the other day about where my happy place is – you know, when you close your eyes and see the field of flowers or whatever,” she says. “Mine is on the top of the bus, Furthur. with Kesey, crossing the Bay Bridge, on our way to a Dead show. Just a perfect night.”
What’s the most important thing your parents taught you?
“I don’t implement it always, so it’s hard – I have my own trouble enjoying life — but they taught me that it’s about the now. About having fun and not being heavy. About the joy of being free from the norm. I think youth lasts forever, or a youthful perspective. You don’t ever have to let go of that. There’s always things to discover and value. I can only hope to be as dynamic and interesting as some of the people I grew up around.”
This story is from the April 7th, 2005 story from the Rolling Stone.