Amazon Prime just released a six-part documentary on the Grateful Dead. What deadhead could pass that up? Directed by Justin Kreutzman, of drummer pedigree, this film does the group justice, so Thank You, Justin, for a Real Good Time.
The first five parts were full of music and pics that reignited memories and split my face with smile. The freewheeling drug-saturated early days, the years they gleefully flipped off Warner Brothers, their gradual acclimation to studio work and the resulting touring promotions that knocked them out with fun. And always the music, the music that was at the core of the experience for us all.
In fact, I never thought much about the band members – they were just the guys who played the music. I didn’t know if they were married, had kids, or how old they were. The Dead were far more a unit than individuals. When they worked, they were magic, magic that saturated thousands of us with the beauty of their separate geniuses, the whole more than the sum of the parts. They were a multiplicity.
The songs that still make me cry are Garcia/Hunter collaborations. Impossible to separate the music from the lyric. I will always be thankful for those shows, as I am still thankful for the metaphors that appear, so many years later, in the flow of my life. I’ve never been able to decide if it is the poetry, the philosophy, or the tune that takes my attention, but this music has formed the backbone of my own approach to living and I rotate through albums and taped shows depending on my own needs at the moment. The Dead have been my prophets.
But Part six was all about Garcia, an apologia for his passing and an attempt to rationalize our loss. All about how gargantuan the phenomenon of the Grateful Dead had become, and all about how well he didn’t take responsibility. How awful, I thought, would be such sprawling influence and craven celebrity? But, I also thought, if you are up there putting yourself forward for comment, then you had better be able suck up the response, whatever that is. Or perhaps not.
Dead shows, once their faces were plastered on popular magazine covers, went completely out of control, over the top, and in a couple of cases, right through the fence. What must it have been like for the band to watch this happen, to realize that there were more people partying outside than inside the venue? That the scene had turned not only drugged but drunk and more than disorderly? Volatile, rude, dangerous; the exact opposite of the music. How would you like to be responsible for that? They stole his face right off of his head. . .
And so, was it overdose or suicide? Probably both. But in my opinion, there was never ever a person with more right to end at will than Jerry Garcia. My loss is not his, and if enough is enough, then it is none of my business. I can only assume his soul needed rocking, and more power to him.
There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night.
And if you go, no one may follow - that path is for your steps alone.