Grateful Dead documentary details deification, downfall of Jerry Garcia

The first interview I ever did with the Grateful Dead was in the summer of 1973. They had just returned to Marin after playing with the Band and the Allman Brothers for a massive crowd of 600,000 at Watkins Glen, a racetrack in upstate New York.

That festival was bigger than Woodstock, and the young musicians were still awestruck by the size of it and their growing Deadhead fan base. But Jerry Garcia, the band’s charismatic lead guitarist, was already sick and tired of being famous. I don’t remember him smiling when he joked that his face was becoming a household word. It was as if he could look into his future, foreseeing the fanatical adulation that would eventually become so toxic that he would feel the need to escape through heroin, an addiction he was trying to kick when he died of a heart attack in 1995 in a Forest Knolls drug treatment facility.

A year after that 1973 interview, the Dead were so burned out from a European tour, the grind of playing 80 shows a year, the toll of hard drugs and the strain of lugging around their gargantuan “Wall of Sound” PA system, that they decided to take an extended hiatus. In fact, they were on the verge of breaking up, which would have been OK with Garcia.

“For a long time I dragged my feet over total commitment (to the Grateful Dead),” he told me in an interview I did with him in 1989. “For a while, I thought the Grateful Dead might be a CIA plot. For a long time I vacillated.”

The apotheosis of Jerry Garcia, the band’s reluctant rock star, is at the sad center of Deadhead director Amir Bar-Lev’s “Long Strange Trip,” a marathon rockumentary that screens May 14 as part of Doclands, the California Film Institute’s inaugural documentary film festival. It hits theaters May 26 and streams on Amazon Prime on June 2.

From light to heavy

Broken up into six “acts,” the film is all fun and hippie games in the beginning. Four hours later, it leaves you with a heavy heart, feeling like you’ve just lost your best friend.

It begins happily enough, as this collection of friends from Palo Alto start playing acoustically as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. They soon morph into an electrified blues/rock outfit called the Warlocks. Then, after discovering that an East Coast band (later the Velvet Underground) was already calling itself that, they christened themselves the Grateful Dead, a name Garcia picked randomly from a dictionary.

He admitted the name was “creepy,” but he was attracted to what he called its “striking combination of words.”

Young Jerry, a “post beatnik proto hippie” banjo player-turned guitar hero, saw the Dead as a way to experience a sense of adventure and freedom that was inspired by his idol Jack Kerouac’s life-changing novel “On the Road.”

“I want to be concerned with things that are weird,” he says in the film. “That seems like fun.”

The documentary traces the Dead’s history from Ken Kesey’s Acid

Source:: East Bay – Entertainment

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