[UPDATE 11/21/22]: In an effort to refute claims made by Steve Cabella about the origins of a pipe allegedly gifted to Jerry Garcia by Owsley “Bear” Stanley, Bear’s son Starfinder Stanley has shared new photos of a pipe known to have been produced by the Grateful Dead sound engineer and LSD chemist.
“It looks nothing like the thing Cabella is flogging,” Stanley said of the hand-carved hash pipe, which resembles a fish.
Starfinder also addressed claims that his father assigned spirit animals to his companions, which he previously referred to as “utter cultural appropriation bullsh–t.”
“Bear was called Bear because he sprouted body hair before his friends when they hit puberty and his friends teased him that he was turning into a Bear,” Stanley told Live For Live Music. “He liked the nickname, and it proved useful to have an alternate name when ‘Owsley’ became well known for acid in the scene.”
Referring to Cabella’s claim that Bear assigned the nickname “Owl” to his longtime girlfriend Melissa Cargill because it was her spirit animal, Stanley said, “[Bear] never referred to Melissa as ‘Owl.’ Trust me, I asked her directly.” Starfinder also denied that Bear adopted a pet owl because of any spirit animal beliefs: “Terry the Tramp, a Hells Angel friend, gave him a burrowing owl because HIS name sounded like ‘OWL-sley.’ And while Bear thought names should have meaning (hence naming me Starfinder and my sister Redbird), it wasn’t related to any spirit animal claptrap.”
He went on to clarify that Melissa named Redbird, not Bear, though “his opinions on the importance of meaningful naming were at play in Redbird’s naming. He did name me Starfinder,” he added, “because I was born on the longest night of the year, not because stars are my totem.”
Stanley also explained the reason why he takes umbrage with Cabella’s claims, saying, “He is trying to make Bear into some hippie caricature to suit his narrative, for his own profiteering. I find it offensive. Bear was a unique character, with many idiosyncrasies, but Cabella wasn’t privy to what is what.”
Photos provided to Live For Live Music by Starfinder Stanley show a hand-carved fish pipe that bears little resemblance to Jerry’s lost pipe. Could it be that both pipes were made by Bear, or does this evidence put that theory to rest once and for all? Take a look and decide for yourself…
[11/2/22]: Rolling Stone recently published a feature about a pipe belonging Jerry Garcia that was allegedly handcrafted by Grateful Dead patron, sound engineer, and LSD chemist Owsley “Bear” Stanley. Now, Stanley’s son Starfinder has come forward to dispute the pipe’s origins.
“This is, to be blunt about it, a steaming pile of horsecrap,” Starfinder wrote in a statement to Live For Live Music. “The pipe in question does not in any way resemble my father’s artwork.” He went on to deny claims made by Steve Cabella, the pipe’s current owner, that Bear would “anoint people with a spirit animal” or give them “spirit pipes,” calling such practices “utter cultural appropriation bullsh–t.”
“Bear would never put someone else’s art on anything he made,” he added, referring to the carving on the bottom of the pipe, which clearly resembles the cover to Garcia’s Cats Under The Stars album artwork designed by Stanley Miller, a.k.a. Mouse.
Live For Live Music reached out to Cabella, who said a letter of provenance provided by the Merl Saunders estate “clearly states the facts of [the pipe’s] history as they know it from firsthand knowledge” and attributes the pipe to Bear’s hand. Cabella said the letter also says, “This is Jerry’s pipe and only Jerry’s pipe. Nobody else used it,” which he cited as evidence that it was cherished by the Grateful Dead guitarist. “It wasn’t a germ thing,” he said. “Jerry definitely shared drugs with people.”
He continued, “The reason it was lost was Jerry was busted in 1985 in Golden Gate Park. And after that, he gifted the pipe to Merl Saunders, and Merl promptly hid it because it wasn’t Merl’s spirit. It wasn’t Merl’s pipe. He respected Jerry’s love of this pipe, and Jerry’s love of the person who made the pipe. So he wasn’t gonna use it.
“So it was hidden behind a built-in bed that could not be moved until the room was remodeled. That’s when the pipe was found. It wasn’t just behind some headboard in the corner of a room, you know. It was hidden, and it was hidden for a purpose. It was hidden to protect it and preserve it. And why would you do that to a pipe unless it was very, very special?”
As for the claims about spirit animals, Cabella pointed to names like “Bear” and “Owl”—a moniker he gave longtime girlfriend and fellow chemist Melissa Cargill before adopting a pet owl—as proof that he did assign spiritual totems to his closest companions. Cabella also referenced “an email conversation with Owsley’s widow in which she mentions she has a pipe called ‘Owl.'”
A comparison with the pipe in question could help confirm its origin, but no such analysis has been done, and it seems unlikely as, according to Cabella, the authentic Owsley-made spirit pipe is kept private for spiritual reasons.
“If you believe in the spirit animal, the concept of the spirit animal and a pipe to release that spirit animal, then you don’t talk about it,” Cabella said. “That’s probably why Jerry didn’t share the pipe. You don’t share it, you don’t talk about it. So nobody really wants to talk about their pipes.”
There is no dispute that the pipe did in fact belong to Jerry Garcia, but the question remains, did Owsley Stanley make it and give it to Jerry? And if not, who did?