Grateful Dead Film: “Long Strange Trip” Indeed

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.

Jerry & Bobby & Everything of That

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.

The Deadhead Shrug

“Ticket?” The conductor held out his hand.

The Deadhead moved the thin plastic bag to his other hand and absently dug into a pocket. “I had it, man.”

“I need your ticket.”

“Yeah.” The Deadhead’s scruffy beard and dirty jacket and pants stood out in rumpled contrast to the commuters on their way home to Connecticut. “I had it.”

“You’ll have to get off at the next stop.”

“I can’t do that, man.”

The conductor was perhaps reflecting on how such cases are handled in Scotland. “Ticket is $14.”

The Deadhead offered a crumpled dollar bill. “I have this, man.”

The conductor glared back. “Next stop.”

“Listen, man, I…” He held out his hands and raised his shoulders in a pathetic, slow motion shrug.

The conductor continued on through the car. “Tickets, please.”

The Deadhead stayed where he was, half hiding between cars, slumped in the corner, hoping the conductor wouldn’t come back. And he didn’t.

The Deadhead got off at his stop, Port Chester where there was a Phil Lesh concert, and adjusted his pants and CVS bag on the platform.

It struck me, as I walked past, how I’d seen this same character many times before, so often at Grateful Dead concerts, everything sweet and cool as long as they got what they wanted: free rides, food and tickets.

The issue was significant enough for Jerry Garcia to write Day Job, in which he preached to his followers: If you ask me, which I know you don’t/ I’d tell you to do what I know you won’t/ Keep your day job until your night job pays.jerry-garciaThe Deadheads never liked that song much, giving it that tell-tale Deadhead Shrug, ironically enough, the same shrug offered by The Dead’s management and promoter David Shapiro when only 10% of the people got tickets through the mail order while Ticketmaster, Stubhub, etc feasted on profits. “Sorry, man, hope to see you there.”

Oh well, there’s always the music.Lesh&Friends

The Big, Bad Business of The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead create an environment like no other. 20130404-grateful-dead-1977-600x-1365096057It is a simple thing, marvelous and sweet, just music, but music to live in, breathless and divine at moments, raucous at others, insane in between, just music, music that never seems to end.
c22f469e79d5ff7255f96d7838c7e7c4.jpgYeah, I love The Grateful Dead. That’s why I wanted to go to the 50th Anniversary Shows in Chicago. That’s why I entered the mail order. UoMoO2HThat’s why, even after only 10% of the orders were fulfilled (not for me) in some sort of unpleasant insider deal with Ticketmaster, Stubhub, Ebay, etc, I tried again.

That’s why, even with tickets marked up as much as 1200% (yes, twelve thousand percent), I am still considering going to one of the nights. And that’s also why I’m questioning the whole thing…or to be more honest, why I’m so pissed off at the band right now. Mr. Fox Gone MadThis astronomical pricing indicate that there is a possibility of Jerry Garcia might show up when it’s going to be Trey Anastasio instead, a guitarist known for his obsessive Zappa-like changes, and on-stage shenanigans.trampolineThe ugly tenor established by the promoters of this event indicate that this show could even feature a bastardized setlist or two. And it could be real bad: Day Job – Big Boss Man – Money – Deal – Money Money – Might As Well – Sell Out.

The Dead do not have a good business history, messing up Grateful Dead Records and every big concert they staged; as Bob Weir admitted many years ago, “We always blow the big shows”.

DeadWoodIndeed, for this show of shows, how is that Deadheads will even get in…slider2…when the market for tickets has been cornered by Deadheads who have lost their way?24-guys-smoking-cigars-after-weddingThe band has never been known for empathy. Many anecdotes in Dennis McNally’s What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been focus on the band members’ personal indifference toward one another, including when drummer Bill Kreutzmann had to leave a tour to visit his gravely ill father, and only Bob Weir bothered to talk to him about it.

The musicians are known for their personal indulgences in sex, booze and drugs, and not much else…except of course for the music. GRK850614-02-FPIt is the music that is supposed to take us away from the scourge that is us, the burden of who we actually are, this detritus, our ugly state. And, yes, this music really can do that. It’s just that now The Dead are demanding a heavy price..and it isn’t just money. And yet…I still wanna go. How much is it again?

Ticket Frenzy for Grateful Dead’s 50th Anniversary Shows

I’m a little worked up. I just entered the ticket lottery for the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary show in Chicago on July 4th…but I didn’t decorate my envelope.Dead 50th logoYes, I realize that this thing is over-hyped and over-priced (and that the lead guitarist is Trey Anastasio of Phish and not Jerry Garcia), but the thing is I really like the music.

I’ve seen the various incarnations over the past 20 years, including Phil Lesh & Friends, Ratdog, Further and The Dead, and have always enjoyed it.

Phil Lesh plays Forest Hills, 2014

Phil Lesh and Friends plays Forest Hills, 2014

In other words, as too many have already said, I’m thinking this thing just might be epic.

And so I followed all of the directions from Grateful Dead Ticket Srvices (GDTSTOO) exactly as scripted. I wrote how many tickets I wanted (2) and for which night (July 4) on the envelope. Screenshot (908)I filled out the 3 x 5 index card with all of the required information. I inserted a neatly addressed SASE. I filled out three different money orders – for the lower priced ticket ($95.50), the price difference with the higher priced one ($120.00) and the fee for priority mail return ($9.00). (Not Fedex!!) I did all of that. And I posted it on the very first day, right behind another meticulous fan who scoffed. “We don’t have a chance.”

The only thing I failed to do was decorate my envelope, something that is stated as being “welcome”. This is where I think that I made a mistake. As one Deadhead mused on-line, “I don’t want my order thrown onto the scalper’s pile!” envelopeAnd while that logic might makes sense, I still don’t see why I have to decorate my envelope. I mean, I’m not a toddler, nor am I ever stoned. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. It actually seems a cult-ish, dare I say conformist, thing to demand. If you don’t decorate, we know you’re a greed-head capitalist! (Which I’m really not.)

Anyway, so I didn’t do it, and now I have second thoughts. ‘Cause, the truth is I want to be there. I have to be there! They could open with El Paso-Lazy Lightnin’-Supplication-Me & My Uncle-El Paso-Supplication-Smokestack Lightnin’-Mountains of the Moon-El Paso! I mean, Holy God, it’s possible! They really could do that! deadplayelpasoBut what can I do now?

Maybe I should send an letter of apology and decorate that! What about a picture of Jerry dancing with those little bears and a steal-your-face sun above them all?jerry-garcia-dancing-bears I bet that no one’s thought of that!

Still Angry with Philip Seymour Hoffman

I get that Philip Seymour Hoffman had an addiction. I get that he was a sensitive person who ate himself up with his intensity and devotion to his work.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in "Owning Mahoney"

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Owning Mahoney”

And I get that there is a black hole staring back at all of us. 20140131_222323

And I know that there are few, if any, who can match, Hoffman’s talent, his roles in Happiness, Magnolia, Doubt and on stage as Willy Loman.

"Death of a Salesman"

“Death of a Salesman”

But I’m still pissed off at the guy. His death makes me lousy. Not sad. Mad.

Hoffman in "Happiness"
Hoffman in “Happiness”

His energy is gone, fucking gone. I can’t forgive him. Not yet.

And I expect it to be a while before that changes, considering that I’ve yet to forgive Jerry Garcia for his dumb-ass death…18 years back..Jerry Garcia

Good Old Dead

I failed Music in Grade 8.  Mr. Clements said I was a “capable student in theory class, but very little effort (was) shown all year instrumentally” resulting in a 47% final grade.It was the only class that I failed in school – except of course for Grade 13 Physics which doesn’t count because I didn’t go to class. (The teacher was confused: “I find it difficult to understand why a student would let himself get into a situation like this” and awarded (?) me a final grade of 21%.)I know nothing about performing music (clearly) but I am an obsessive listener. Music is magical and mysterious, all-consuming, so much more so because of its temporal nature, overwhelmingly there, and then…gone. Music is a dream I remember and must get back to.I have great regard for so many musicians – Alan Sparrowhawk (Low), Robert Pollard (GBV), Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab) and Mozart (eponymous) to cite a few – but nothing compares to the collective of The Grateful Dead. This group played over 2300 concerts spanning 1967-1995 and acquired a devoted following, worshipful during the performances as everything was offered from psychedelic (China Cat Sunflower) and traditional folk (I Know Your Rider) to country (Me & My Uncle) and rock ‘n roll (Sugar Magnolia), covering practically everyone in between (Not Fade Away), and weaving it all through the holy and endless jam…but the thing about The Grateful Dead for me isn’t so much the songs, singing along, as how remarkable it is for making my mind work.Truth be told, I was stuck as to how to write this blog and listened to The Grateful Dead’s Augusta, Maine concert (October 12, 1984) to get myself on track. That’s where the idea of posting my failing grades came from, citing the Augusta show, indeed focusing back on how the music affects my mind, not to mention helping me fix a problematic scene in My Bad Side, structuring a Middle School lesson on Film Theory and remembering to call my therapist.

The funny thing is that the members of Grateful Dead, well known for the remarkable stage camaraderie, are not so well regarded for their inter-personal skills. (Read Dennis McNally’s A Long Strange Trip for more on that.) It’s unnerving thinking about what a personal wreck Jerry Garcia was; indeed it is profoundly sad, especially knowing that he was in the thralls of heroin for the Augusta concert cited above. What do I do with that? The music is so wonderful, so crystalline and pure; it is of another world. Is that what I should have tried for my Grade 8 clarinet test? That sure would have shown Mr. Clements. Only if.