Amir Bar-Lev’s 4-hour documentary on The Grateful Dead has its moments: Al Franken explaining the subtleties of Althea, Robert Hunter stating that his lyrics “are clear”, as well as archival footage of an army platoon on LSD. And of course there is the music – Uncle John’s Band, Sugar Magnolia, Dark Star and Playin’ in the Band and on – along with reams of concert footage. However, as melancholically sweet as these moments might be, the narrative is skewed, emphasizing the mania and addiction, a tough go for anyone not a Deadhead. The story of Jerry Garcia as the unwilling guru/god throughout his life is ironically reinforced throughout the film, focusing almost exclusively on his reclusive genius while tip-toeing around the personal wreckage an addict leaves behind, which leaves the viewer wondering how the others might have coped the past 22 years since his death.Which is the biggest gap of all in the film, ignoring the fact that Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart have all been consistently touring, chasing a sound as rapturous as ever.
I’m trying to figure out this moment, like a glimpse from the ridge, the sun just right, the river and valley streaming out, where the getting to where is gotten to and there might be nothing more. It’s the end of the first set opener – Sugar Magnolia – for The Closing of Winterland on New Year’s Eve 1978. Bobby is raring to go, strumming and, well, bobbing, while Jerry watches, amused by these simple chords that we are all ready to jump and die for.And they go on, Bobby strumming and bobbing, Jerry beatific, Donna unwittingly caught in the whirligig of this remarkable everything thing.And because it’s recorded, I watch it again and again and come to the realization that a simple thing is not that at all.