The Grateful Dead are one of those bands who arc through our last several decades in a number of forms always lead by the ever charismatic lead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia (He ain’t just a favorite flavor of ice cream!), and this six part docu-series does a nice job telling their story and connecting us with the excitement their fans have enjoyed for so long. (Full disclosure, I’m not really a fan, have never been to a dead show, and only own a couple of CDs! But, this series, especially the first few episodes did such a nice job attaching us to their roots and styles of playing and the camaraderie that was shared it’s hard to stop watching.)
Coming up in the age of the “folk scare” through the blues band mid-to late sixties era and onto a voice of their own in the seventies and eighties basically defining the LDS-inspired trippy-rock movement, the Dead weren’t just a creative conglomerate they were an institution that operated like a family, sometimes much to their detriment. For years they barely netted a profit, but devoting themselves to endless tortuous touring to connect with their fans in a nearly ancient-world prophet style — alas Garcia was considered by many to be an almost religious figure (which didn’t always sit well with him)– wound up with a giant following and an enormous reverence for songs and solos. It was a brilliant model, but one that ultimately cost them dearly in terms of finances and friends!
If you want to see someone who is basically developmentally arrested at a teenager’s level listen to Bob Weir discuss almost anything. He was just sixteen when he was recruited and JG was his big brother and mentor throughout. A whole life of doing nothing but the art of music and taking a lot of drugs has its downside! By the time we’re entering the death of keyboardist Pigpen we’re being let in on the chaos (they can be rather forgiven in some terms for not knowing exactly what to expect, but that 27 club was well established by that time ripping through bands like Canned Heat the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Hendrix and numerous others! He wasn’t the last tragedy they would face, but they lost their blues driving force.
Garcia was loathe to helm the band, and while he was the defacto chief he rarely wanted to step up and make the choices for the whole. Something interesting about this is that these survivor bands are rarely as established as we outsiders tend to think. So much about our lives, especially in arts, is basically held together so tenuously as to be nearly ephemeral. So much great stuff never does happen, but the good stuff that does is not a result of master planning, it’s a result of happy accidents. I sound like a Malcolm Gladwell book here, but the truth is almost too difficult to comprehend. This is why so many people get fooled by conspiracy theory crap. They can’t believe the world really isn’t controlled and directed. And we have a tendency in hindsight to “design” the world so it comes out the way we know it.
let the Grateful Dead be a key to understanding how disparate people can manage to create a beautiful noise despite there being virtually no physical forces compelling it! Lots of hard practice effort though – for sure.
For Free On Prime!