“[Jerry was] a complicated, creatively talented and unconventional person…he had an equal proclivity for transcendence and self-destruction.”
Amir Bar-Lev’s rockumentary, Long Strange Trip, about the Grateful Dead, is aptly named for what is arguably the band’s most famous lyric: What a long, strange trip it’s been. The film takes you on a four-hour ride (much like the band’s live shows) but this is not just another indulgent music doc.
Executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, the film digs deeply into the bizarre phenomenon that surrounded “The Dead” for decades—obsessive fans, called Deadheads, became a cult-like following that elevated the band’s ringmaster, Jerry Garcia (Aug. 1, 1942–Aug. 9, 1995), to a status he never wanted.
The must-see film includes 17 interviews, 1,100 rare photos and loads of footage you’ve never seen. Deadheads will be ecstatic. Bar-Lev doesn’t tell you what to think. Instead he offers many points of view. One theory is that the die-hard Deadheads were the major cause of Garcia’s descent into heroin. I didn’t buy that so I reached out to Grateful Dead insider Dennis McNally, whose book, A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, provided Bar-Lev with much of the band’s story. McNally spent 30 years with the band beginning when Garcia invited him to become their biographer in 1981.
When I asked McNally if he thought it was the Deadheads that drove Garcia to abuse heroin, or if he felt, as I do, that it was a progression from one addiction to another. McNally answered:
“I don’t think there’s an inherent progression [of addiction], I mean everybody starts with milk, too, you know? He turned to self-medication for any number of reasons… His father died when he was four, he didn’t get the attention from his mother that he felt he deserved. Eventually, yes, but not specifically the fame. It was the responsibility. Jerry wanted to be Huckleberry Finn, well, if Huckleberry Finn was allowed to smoke joints and play guitar and cruise down the river on a raft.”
Learn more about Long Strange Trip and how Amir Bar-Lev examines Jerry Garcia’s heroin abuse while remaining the ringmaster of the Grateful Dead in the full article New Grateful Dead Documentary Examines Jerry Garcia’s Relationship with Heroin at The Fix.