I’m not a Grateful Dead fan. There is a lot of stigma about being a hippy, drug taking, being smelly, etc. attached to their music. I’ve never given them more thought than when I became obsessed with that one song Box of Rain for years after watching the end of Freaks and Geeks.
If it never happened to you, I suggest you go and listen to it before watching this documentary. It will make it a lot easier to get over Bob Weir’s hippy bullshit at the beginning, because it is a great song, and will mean there will be at least a hint of engagement. Without that, I would have probably sat on Facebook/Instagram/photobooth for at least an hour of it.
In 1965, Bob Weir joined legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia on a drug-filled bus-van at the age of 16, stopped going to school and instead ‘followed his bliss’ to play music instead. I mentioned the hippy bullshit already, didn’t I?
In telling of his beginnings, there is a lot of that bullshit, but at the same time, Weir comes across as tremendously humble and likeable. No small feat for a member of one of the biggest bands to ever have existed. At the beginning of the film we see him going through possessions, mentioning them in terms of feelings and memories as opposed to objects showing his fame and talent. It’s cool. He also has really big brown eyes and the most Old-Man-America voice ever. I just wanted to hug him the whole time and tell him he’s great.
While ‘following his bliss’ *ouch*, Weir attends the Acid Test. A party where they put LSD in the Kool-Aid, and everyone starts hallucinating, acting like animals and having sex. Yet, something was missing… what could it be? Music! So Weir picked up a guitar, Garcia picked up a guitar, and the Grateful Dead were formed.
The rest of the documentary has people like Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and the National discuss Weir’s second fiddle position in the band, and how he is incredible, and how Garcia couldn’t have been the guitarist he was without him, all the while being one of the Kindest Men in Rock. Weir on the other hand, focuses on how amazing the whole experience was and how amazing Garcia was. It is lovely to see a friendship like that, spanning the decades of fame, drugs and women. There are references to them being each other’s family throughout the film.
As I said, I’ve kind of always dismissed the Grateful, but the soundtrack to the film, paired with psychedelic illustrations and clips of Weir in his heyday, is perfect. The lilting Americana and country guitar, the psychedelic lyrics packed with metaphors – it captures who both Weir and Garcia are and were.
They’re just a couple of nice guys who connected with shitloads of people through their free spirited, peace and love, uh… vibe. Their brand of improvised psychedelia was formed through LSD, but the friendship also played a huge factor in their ability to stretch songs out to 15-minutes live *yawn.*
Two peas in a pod, BFF’s, whatever you want to call it, it existed with them and is without a doubt what made the Grateful Dead the band they were. This makes it pretty heartbreaking when we hear Weir acknowledge Garcia’s struggle with drugs and his death. Annoyingly, the most interesting part of this film about Weir is in fact, Jerry Garcia’s death.
Weir talks about how Deadheads weren’t like other fans out there, which is true. They are diehards, they camp out at gigs, and they made it impossible for Garcia to leave his house, which meant he became reclusive and escaped through heroin. Weir, on the other hand, focused on health and spirituality, and speaks about how he tried to do what he could for Jerry.
We see Garcia’s daughter cry. We see Weir talk at Garcia’s funeral. It makes for upsetting viewing. The impact of Garcia’s death is evident. This is where the hippy bullshit ends. When he settles down and makes a family of his own without his ‘brother’ Jerry. His reconnection with his biological parents is also an extremely touching point of the film.
I mean, what do I say though. I’m not a fan. I can’t say that outside of the Deadhead zone, Weir himself has had a particularly impactful career in music. There is no doubting he is lovely, there is no doubting that leaving home at 16 to take drugs on a bus and tour the world with a band is insane, but that’s about it.
He settles down and becomes happy. The soundtrack makes you sleepy-happy, but I’m not going to go out and buy all their records now. I discovered Brokedown Palace, but seriously, that’s it. I haven’t got much to say. It’s forgettable to the likes of me, but I know he will mean a whole lot to a whole big massive insane mass of people. Just a shame it was maybe the least engaging film ever made. Hippies, eh?