Some people who live in Ashland just don't belong anywhere else; Terry Miner is one of those people.
Miner moved to Ashland in 1995, "the week before Jerry Garcia died," he says. With his long, graying hair, purple handmade batik Grateful Dead T-shirt and hand-me-down Converse sneakers, he hops around tapping his feet and plays his guitar as a street musician downtown.
"I got into street performing in 1980 because philosophically I don't want someone telling me if I'm good enough to perform, so I'd take it right out there, so I didn't have to be good to perform."
About 10 years ago, Miner attracted local attention by performing in a pair of big blue swim flippers and a homemade costume. "I started in the fall and played into winter because I was out of money and I actually paid my rent with that and collected bottles," says Miner. "I never had any separation of me from this alter ego. It was always me singing and being in this costume."
Part of the costume included Christmas lights that he plugged in outside of Starbucks. But, as Miner says, if you act like a clown, people will treat you like a clown, and eventually he had to give it up.
Miner recently revived his live street performing, sans flippers and Christmas lights. "People smile at me all day," Miner says. "This is such a great place to be. You walk around and wonder, why am I worried about anything?"
Miner is frequently asked to loan out his guitar, so he has devised a tiered pricing system. "For $1, I'll play a song, for $2, I won't play a song, and for $3, they can play my guitar," Miner says. "I never get the $3, but I have been paid not to play before."
When asked how the Grateful Dead has influenced his own music, Miner talks about the magical ways of the Grateful Dead almost like a reverend to his congregation. "Their lyrics are all mystical and hard-to-understand things that turn out to have actual metaphorical relevance in your everyday life," Miner says. "You're like an amoeba, and it's my religion, it's cosmic ecstasy."
Miner's time on the streets has provided great fodder for stories, he says, starting from the time he moved here.
"I went to join what I thought would be a big mourning circle in Lithia Park for Jerry Garcia with candles, and I was the only one there," Miner says. "But this hippie girl came out of the woods, and says, 'I'll help you out, let's go sit by the creek, smoke pot and sing Grateful Dead songs.'"
Miner not only plays solo, he is also part of a "nine- or 10-piece psychedelic San Francisco-sound guitar-and-horn band," he says. The band calls itself Pearly Gates with those Hell Bound Horns. "The four-piece horn section I call the balding leading the blind; two are blind and two are balding."
The two blind members of the band set up all the equipment. "It takes us a long time to set up; we pretty much stay out of their way, because they know where everything is."
Like an aging Deadhead, he has a roundabout way of getting his point across. "I was going to say something, with the last comment I made, and then I decided to stop because I didn't want to bring something else into it," Miner says, "and now of course I can't remember what that was — another reason I like the Grateful Dead because you can be playing and you can forget what you're playing."
The Pearly Gates has four songwriters and five singers, and the lyrics to its songs are heavily influenced by the Grateful Dead. "The Pearly Gates have a lot of songs about death and the afterlife and spooky stuff, and that's pretty cool, I like that a lot," Miner says. "Half scary — it's got to be half scary."
A simple and creative soul whose favorite color is blue, favorite food is cheese and favorite beer is Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miner has never been married and has no children because, as he puts it, "overpopulation was a big deal in the '70s."
For a fan of such dark, mystical music, he also includes a good deal of humor into his songs and street act. "I'm always looking for jokes, and I'll try them out on people and I'll actually work at them," Miner says. When asked if this is something he learned from the Grateful Dead he simply replies, "the crowd laughs a lot, but that's the drugs."
Miner can be spotted driving around town in his Jackson Pollock-inspired Volkswagen bug covered in random paint splatters. "It's the third car I've painted in four different ways," Miner says.
Miner isn't the only creator behind the unique look of his car; he also gets the help of local high schoolers with free time on their hands to help in the creation.
This summer locals can expect to see Miner jamming for tips in the Plaza, letting others jam on his guitar for a small fee, or practicing his jokes on theatergoers. As Miner says, "what did the Deadhead say when the drugs wore off? God, this music sucks."
Mandy Valencia is a filmmaker and writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.