Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Twenty Thoughts About Long Strange Trip

1.

Let’s get this out of the way: this is one of the best music documentaries ever made. Take away the films about a show–Woodstock, Stop Making Sense, Last Waltz–and it’s mostly dreck and filler cluttering up the bottom rungs of your Netflix queue: white guys recounting stories about arguing with the record company; hagiographies that blip by all the corpses; tedious chronologies. Some are fun, in a background kind of way, half your ear listening for an interesting story and tootling around on your computer.

Not Long Strange Trip. Might be art. I think it’s art, but we’ll have to wait to see if they hang it in a museum.

2.

If I were a suicidal guy named Art, I would hang myself in a museum.

3.

Possible Television Spin-Offs Of Long Strange Trip I Would Watch Religiously

Glabba Humb? with Sam Cutler Sam Cutler drives around in a van–which he may or may not live in–yelling at traffic and telling stories. (Sam Cutler will be sub-titled, as he’s almost incomprehensible.)

Al Franken Brooks No Shit About His Althea Choice Each week, a new Deadhead enters Senator Franken’s office and makes a case for an Althea that is not the Althea from 5/8/81; Senator Franken refuses to listen to their argument and has the Capitol Police throw them out of the building. Then, he draws America freehand.

4.

Frankenstein is about hubris. It’s Greek, and Greek stories were about hubris. Greek plays had dick jokes and sword fights, but the stories were about hubris. The gods have always reserved certain rights for themselves, and when poly became mono, Yahweh continued the practice. Vengeance is mine saith the Lord. Shoplifters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, or maybe chained to a rock and eaten by an eagle.

But that’s the book. Movie’s different, because while the themes and philosophies in the novel are lasting and fascinating, the plot is dippy and turgid–too much chitty-chat and not enough pitchfork-wielding townsfolk–and it’s got the wrong ending, by which I mean the right ending: monster lives, doctor dies. Hollywood has never given a shit about whether an ending was wrong or right, just as long as it was happy, and so the doctor ends the film toasting his pregnant wife, and poor old Boris burns to death in a fake castle. Even more than the original novel, the movie should have been called Prometheus Unbound. Hubris goes unpunished, and man is free to do whatever he wants.

And with this freedom, he makes monsters.

5.

Alternate title for the film: Four Hours of Garcia Smoking.

6.

There is an almost-complete lack of hippy-dippitude to the presentation that I find refreshing, welcome, and pleasing. Don’t get me wrong: Mickey’s still yammering about magic, and Bobby spends the entire film in either the lotus position or a Tesla; I mean the aesthetic choices of the visuals. The film’s split into chapters, and the font looks like this:

Amir Bar-Lev could have easily gone with that scribbly poster shit where you can barely read the words; he did not. Good work, Amir Bar-Lev.

Why do you insist on using the man’s full name?

It’s a good name. “Amir Bar-Lev” sounds like a minor Egyptian deity.

The god of laundry baskets.

Something like that.

7.

John Perry Barlow is an old man, so it is not fair when he stands over the grave of his friend, who was a young man, but it doesn’t make it less true. I saw it on my teevee, so it must be true.

8.

There’s at least a dozen bits of footage in here that are jaw-dropping: Garcia in pigtails wandering around Egypt (in color), and the Acid Tests (also in color), and Keith chopping out lines on a dinner plate while Mrs. Donna Jean drinks angrily at him, and the entire band being subtly terrorized by a Hells Angel in some random dressing room.

9.

But, you know: they let the Hells Angel in, so it’s tough to muster up too much sympathy, and good for the film in letting JPB call out Garcia’s bullshit re: the Angels. Militantly passive-aggressive to the end, Garcia floats some bullshit about “the good needing the evil to exist,” to which JPB quite reasonably points out that, while good might require evil, good doesn’t have to give evil a backstage pass.

10.

I won’t spoil it, but the person you would least expect to be in the film gets the biggest laugh.

11.

Doctor Frankenstein knew what he was doing. He didn’t have to make the monster so big; he didn’t have to make him so strong. He could have walked away.

12.

Englishtown isn’t mentioned, nor Cornell. Bill Graham is seen in passing, but not discussed. You do not hear the names Winterland, or Fillmore, or Woodstock. Tom Constanten is not in the film, and neither is Vince or Bruce Hornsby, but TC casts a shadow.

“The Grateful Dead is Jerry Garcia’s backup band,” the abstemious keyboardist once said, and according to Long Strange Trip, he was right. I saw it on my teevee, so it must be true.

13.

Fuck gatecrashers and bumrushers. Bill Graham was right: dig a moat, fill it with gasoline, and burn baby burn. After two or three minutes of entitled behavior from smirking Deadheads, there’s a shot of a cop punching a kid in the jaw and you almost root for the cop.

You need to stop reading books about Nixon.

These smelly children cannot just decide which laws to follow and which to disregard.

Quit it.

The Silent Majority is on my side.

Please concentrate.

The Dead!

Riiiiight.

I forget this blog is about the Dead sometimes.

It’s in the title, champ.

Might be about Joyce’s lesser work.

The Dead was not Joyce’s lesser work. You’re just saying that because you understood it when you read it, as opposed to everything else the man ever drunkenly dictated.

Can you concentrate, please?

Just write “14.”

Fine.

14.

The movie’s about Garcia, but he’s not the hero.

15.

Long Strange Trip is not a comedy, obviously, but there are some deeply funny moments which I won’t ruin but just congratulate Amir Bar-Lev on the best hard cut I’ve seen in a while. Parish is on one side of it, Sam Cutler the other. Trust me.

That laugh is a universal one, but there are also Enthusiast-specific giggles. For example, Bobby has not quite mastered seatbelts yet. Again: trust me.

16.

Not to toot my own tooter, but I write Pigpen well. At one point in the Acid Test footage, you can hear him yell at the soundman, “Skip all that babblin’ and give us our power!” and I thought maybe I had written that line.

17.

Kerouac gets mentioned multiple times. On The Road. (You were expecting Phil to start waxing critical about The Town and the City?) The rolls of typing paper, taped into an infinite scroll, bennies and coffee and three weeks of sweat and double-blinking eyes and WHAMMO a masterpiece. Garcia mentioned this as an influence.

And Jack really did that, honest, sat there and birthed On The Road in less than a month, but only after writing at least eight drafts of the novel over the course of the previous decade.

Spontaneity is much easier when you practice it.

18.

At a certain point, neutrality becomes cowardice.

19.

Go see the damn movie.

20.

There is a shot at the end. Garcia has died and Bobby, present-day Bobby, drives through the mist: it is nighttime and foggy and the cabin is illuminated by a massive touchscreen glowing expensive blue; the car has been named after a mad scientist and conditions on the ground make it impossible to see whether there are dangers ahead. An old man, alive, with young friends, dead, and that does not seem fair, but I saw it on my teevee so it must be true.

The fog is so thick that anything could be right around the corner.

8 Comments

  1. James SF Snukka

    May 14, 2017 at 1:31 am

    As on a non-vip I ofcourse have not seen the film, I’m lucky enough to live in a city where it will be shown and have bought a ticket. All to say, I don’t understand most of this but one thing i do know is that the 5/8/81 althea is nothing short of perfect.

  2. Robin Russell

    May 14, 2017 at 2:42 am

    Is there any chance this is going to be released on DVD? Out here in the West Carolinas we don’t have the bandwidth for streaming.

  3. Can’t wait to watch it. I haven’t chewed on any of what you wrote enough to comment, except that part about Joyce’s lesser works. I’ll come right out any say it: Too light on the arses full of farts.

  4. My jaw dropped at some of that footage too (the Candyman rehearsal, the ealry banjo footage…). Have to say though, I was really hoping they’d unearthed some of that Englishtown footage that I know has to out there.

    • Thoughts On The Dead

      May 14, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      The Candyman footage was incredible. I really hope there’s going to be extras in the DVD release.

  5. You said

    “I won’t spoil it, but the person you would least expect to be in the film gets the biggest laugh.”

    Deborah Koons does a Wavy Gravy impersonation?

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