Long Strange Trip
“Long Strange Trip” is a movie that every Deadhead in the kozmic universe will want to see, and with good reason: At three hours and 58 minutes, it has the sprawl and generosity of a good Dead show, yet there’s nothing indulgent about it — it’s an ardent piece of documentary classicism. The film counts Martin Scorsese among its executive producers, and it was directed by Amir Bar-Lev (“The Tillman Story”), who works with the historical meticulousness a subject like this one deserves. Bar-Lev, who grew up in the Bay Area, uses the long-form running time to digress where he sees fit, but mostly he stays hooked to the center of his subject: how the Grateful Dead, after rising to prominence as an electric jam band in the late ’60s — the hippie minstrels of the Haight-Ashbury circus — took on a wriggling, effusive identity of their own that could be shaped and guided but never fully controlled.
LIke: Long Strange Trip
In an earlier era, a movie like “Long Strange Trip” would have been passed around on VHS or DVD, but it was really made (in every way) for the exploding age of television. It’s set to debut on June 2 on Amazon Prime Video, where it will now have a chance to reach many more eyeballs than it would have before. Deadheads will drink it in and debate it, poring over every detail it works in and leaves out, yet the ultimate recommendation I can give the movie is this: I’m one of those people who can’t stand the Grateful Dead (I think they have about four or five good songs, and if I never heard “Casey Jones” or “Truckin’” again you’d hear no strenuous objection from me), yet I found “Long Strange Trip” enthralling. For the first time, it made me see, and feel, and understand the slovenly glory of what they were up to, even if my ears still process their music as monotonous roots-rock wallpaper.
The movie builds its vibrant portrait of Jerry Garcia from the ground up. Born in San Francisco in 1942, Garcia was five years old when his father died on a fishing trip, and the movie details his boyhood fixation on the Frankenstein monster. Later, he moved on to the Beats and “Breathless,” Ken Kesey’s acid-tripping Merry Pranksters and the intoxicating jingle-jangle of the banjo, an instrument he practiced obsessively. When the Dead started out, in 1965, they were the druggie version of a bluegrass/folk band, calling themselves the Warlocks until they learned that there was another band called the Warlocks, who would soon change their name as well (to the Velvet Underground). The story of how Jerry’s band came to call themselves the Grateful Dead has a spooky resonance. The name was discovered through a random plunge into the dictionary, yet it expressed something light and dark, ebullient and self-destructive in Garcia’s nature.Long Strange Trip
#Long Strange Trip
Long Strange Trip By the time of their 1972 tour of Europe, they’d become a roving commune, with dozens of mouths to feed. The road was the only thing keeping them solvent; doing shows, night after night, turned into a hamster wheel they couldn’t climb off. But that’s how the road became their brand. The Dead evolved into the living spectre of the counterculture — not a nostalgia act, but the one band that made it seem as though the communal dream of the ’60s was alive, today, right in front of you. To go to a Dead show was to merge with the dream, to be part of it. The Deadheads, a tie-dyed, dirty-rasta-braided barefoot horde of acid-tripping devotion, were the phenomenon driving that train.
The story of Jerry Garcia’s downfall has been amply chronicled, and though “Long Strange Trip” doesn’t delve as much as it might have into his relentless appetites, notably his on-and-off heroin addiction, it culminates in a haunting portrait of Garcia the rock star who became a rock messiah until it ate him alive. The grind of the tour with no end wore him down, yet he refused to give it up. The other band members recall how they tried to coerce him into taking a break, but he would say no, he couldn’t let the fans down. That was mostly an excuse. (Even on the rare occasions when they did stop for a breather, Jerry just went right out on tour with his own band.) “Long Strange Trip” captures one of the most potent and eccentric sagas in the history of rock & roll, but in the end it’s the story of a lone artist-addict — the man who, more than any other, symbolized the communality of rock yet wound up as spiritually isolated as Elvis. He was high on the music, the love, the adulation, the followers, the dream. It was the road that became his ultimate addiction.Long Strange Trip