Somebody Has To Do Something. . . It Seems Pathetic That It Has To Be Us

Jerry Garcia? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Celebrities often use their charisma to highlight social or environmental movements. The prominent guitarist Jerry Garcia of “The Grateful Dead” rock band advocated for the preservation of the world’s rain forests, and he apparently spoke with a mixture of candor, humility, and sadness about his involvement:

Someone has to do something. It’s just incredibly pathetic it has to be us.

Would you please help me to find an exact quotation and citation?

Quote Investigator: On September 13, 1988 members of “The Grateful Dead” participated in a press conference in New York promoting a benefit concert supporting organizations working to preserve rain forests. The lead guitarist delivered a slightly garbled version of the statement specified in the inquiry. YouTube has a short video from the press event, and Garcia speaks the line starting at 47 seconds. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Jerry Garcia: Somebody has to do something. It seems incredibly, in, in fact, it seems pathetic that it has to be us, you know.

The description supplied by the YouTube uploader states that the clip was selected from the personal collection of filmmaker Len Dell’Amico.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

On September 28, 1988 “Variety” published a piece mentioning the press conference and naming three of the organizations that were part of the environmental coalition: Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, and Cultural Survival. In the following excerpt, “MSG” stands for the entertainment venue “Madison Square Garden” where the band was playing. The word “seems” was omitted from Garcia’s statement: 2

“Somebody has to do something (to stop the unharnessed defoliation),” Garcia said at the press conference, which was replayed for MSG fans during intermission. “It’s pathetic that it has to be us.”

On October 10, 1988 “The Courier-News” of Bridgewater, New Jersey printed a piece with an accurate version of Garcia’s remark: 3

Speaking at the United Nations, musician Jerry Garcia advised Deadheads and others: “Plunge into this and find out what you can — the first step is to find out stuff.”

Garcia said the group was convinced by Greenpeace activists to tell people that the rain-forest issue is one of global survival.

“It seems pathetic that it has to be us,” he said.

The November 3, 1988 issue of “Rolling Stone” magazine mentioned the September 24 benefit concert by “The Grateful Dead” and included a quotation ascribed to Garcia that differed from his words at the September 13 New York press conference: 4

“We’ve never agreed on anything,” said Jerry Garcia of the band’s decision to back the coalition. “This isn’t a weekend charity — we’ve put a lot of time into this because it’s terribly important. It’s imminently life threatening. Somebody needs to do something — it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”

The “Rolling Stone” version above contained the phrase “just incredibly pathetic” instead of “seems pathetic”. It is possible that Garcia delivered both versions at different times. The line on September 13 was greeted with laughter and applause which may have encouraged him to employ it again.

Magazine issues are often available before their cover dates. The quotation above from the November 3 issue was also printed in the October 31, 1988 issue of the “Kansas City Times” of Missouri which acknowledged the “Rolling Stone”. 5

In December 1988 “Newsweek” printed a collection of miscellaneous quotations on a page titled “Overheard”. The “Rolling Stone” version of Garcia’s remark was included: 6

“Somebody needs to do something—it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”

JERRY GARCIA of the Grateful Dead, on his group’s support for efforts to save the world’s rain forests

Also in December 1988, the “Orange County Register” of California printed this: 7

It is an indisputable fact that the Amazon Rain Forest is being turned into a giant supermarket, with parking for 700 million. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was recently quoted as saying, “Somebody needs to do something. It’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”

In conclusion, Jerry Garcia should receive credit for what he said in the video clip from the September 13, 1988 press conference. The version of the quotation in the “Rolling Stone” may have been spoken by Garcia at a different time. QI remains uncertain about the origin of the variant quotation.

Image Notes: Picture of waterfall in Brazilian rainforest from Yolanda at Pixabay. Image has been resized and cropped.

(Great thanks to Mike Caulfield whose tweet led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Eugene Eric Kim whose tweet encouraged Caulfield to communicate with QI. Special thanks to wonderful research colleagues who identified and shared important citations. Barbara Schmidt located the crucial video clip of Jerry Garcia. Barry Popik located the September 28, 1988 citation. Donna Halper located the October 10, 1988 citation. Jesse Sheidlower precisely located the “Newsweek” citation based on the inexact information from a Google Books snippet match. Also, thanks to Popik for his previously posted exploration which found citations beginning in December 1988.)

Notes:

  1. YouTube video, Title: Grateful Dead Press Conference, Uploaded on Oct 28, 2010, Uploaded by: EverythingMustGoFilm, Description: Press conference of Grateful Dead members held at United Nations in New York on September 13, 1988. (Location and date from superimposed text on video). Description from uploader: Clip from Len Dell’Amico’s personal collection. Quotation begins: 0 minutes 47 seconds of 2 minutes 22 seconds. (Accessed on youtube.com on March 23, 2019) link
  2. 1988 September 28, Variety, Volume 332, Issue 10, Music: The Dead ‘Green’ Rainforests by Jim Robbins. Quote Page 71, Column 1 and 2, Los Angeles, California. (Variety Database; Verified by researcher Barry Popik)
  3. 1988 October 10, The Courier-News, Verdant no more (Continuation title: Jungle: Plainfield educator studies rain forest) by Bernice Paglia (Courier-News Staff Writer), Start Page B1, Quote Page B3, Column 5, Bridgewater, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1988 November 3, Rolling Stone, Department: Music – The News, Graceful Dead aid rain forests by Fred Goodman, Quote Page 17, Column 1 and 2, Straight Arrow Publishers, New York. (Verified with microfiche)
  5. 1988 October 31, Kansas City Times, Grateful Dead to help save the life of the rain forests, Quote Page B5, Column 1, Kansas City, Missouri. (NewsBank Access World News)
  6. 1988 December 12, Newsweek, Overheard, Quote Page 17, Column 1, Newsweek Inc., New York. (ProQuest News, Policy & Politics Magazine Archive)
  7. 1988 December 26, Orange County Register (Evening Edition), Spare the ax and spoil the Christmas tree by Stephanie Brush, Quote Page f02, Santa Ana, California. (ProQuest US Newstream)