For anyone who read my most recent posts, you know I was not a fan of the music-making that took place in Santa Clara, CA. at the Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead celebration. To clarify, my intent is not to diminish the experience of those who were there or those who genuinely loved the music. So much goes into a concert experience and these particular concerts are so very emotionally charged. I’ve not talked to one single person who was in attendance in either Santa Clara or Chicago who did not remark on the amazing energy that was present in both stadiums. Through the roof. The outpouring of love must have been tremendous. That experience in itself transcends the quality of the music-making, no question. The sheer celebration and flood of emotional and spiritual experiences. The sheer importance of this music in our lives, this bond we share through it, the journeys we’ve taken both internally and externally, the absolute life-affirming nature of the entire Grateful Dead experience.
You can read my post on the first night here.
It’s an odd experience feeling disappointment around something so very special and important in my life. Some have shared my experience and interpretation, others have their own and it varies wildly. No experience is wrong.
I’ve been accused by some in the past few days of judging too harshly and being overly vocal about it. Maybe that’s true, but it seems more to me like there’s this unspoken notion that it’s clear heresy to express disappointment surrounding this occasion, to criticize any element of it. In essence, to have my own experience and voice it. It feels like going to see the Grateful Dead in 1994 and 1995 and commenting on Garcia’s playing and health. To me, something was clearly going on. It seemed like he was using again, in very ill health and the music suffered greatly. When I remarked on it at the time, there were those that suggested I was just being negative. But there’s nothing more I would have rather been doing than celebrating Garcia and this music and the band that I love. Perhaps for those who had just hopped on the bus at that time and had little previous experience to compare to, 1995 was a stellar year in Grateful Dead history and Garcia was in top form. But history has shown us that was not the case. There are very few out there now who would deny the difference, the change, the obvious.
Let me begin by saying I love these guys. I’ve been a hardcore DeadHead since 1975. It was a joy to see Phil Lesh smiling and having so much fun up there on stage for the first night of the 5-night Fare Thee Well 50th celebration of the Grateful Dead with the “core-four” remaining members of the band plus guests.
For many of us, there is no Grateful Dead without Jerry Garcia. But the songs themselves and Garcia’s legacy seem to be (and hopefully are) undying; The spirit of the band, the essence of the music and all that it has inspired. And the band certainly tried to capture that spirit with what might well be the most ballsy setlist imaginable for a first night gig of this long-anticipated reunion. It was a DeadHead dream come true in terms of song choices. Not a single post-1970 tune was played. The jams were long and casual. Incredible rarities like Cream Puff War and What’s Become of The Baby were played, as well as one of the most beloved trifectas of all time, Dark Star-> St. Stephen-> The Eleven (with the William Tell bridge!!!). On the surface, this looks amazing. Unfortunately in my opinion, the quality of musicianship on display could not match the clear and loving intent of all involved.
Filmmaker William Friedkin was recently interviewed for a piece in The Telegraph titled “Superhero movies are ruining cinema, says Exorcist director William Friedkin.”
I agree with Friedkin’s sentiment and I would take it one step further and say that it’s not “Superhero movies” that are ruining cinema, but that those films are a product of what has so dramatically changed since the 70’s.
The corporate greed and the paint-by-numbers mentality that has now driven cinema for many decades is, in itself, a product of a state of mind that has been vigorously taught, conditioned, indoctrinated and embraced in the U.S. Its impact is reflected in all aspects of our lives socially, culturally, politically and, yes, artistically…
I suppose this makes me intolerant. As “articulate” as Maggie Gallagher, author of a recent article in the National Review titled Why I, Unlike Senator Rubio, Would Not Attend a Gay Wedding, is attempting to be, what I am left with is the damaging horror that is so many religions. The fact that Gallagher believes that attending a gay wedding “would be witnessing and celebrating your attempt not only to commit yourself to a relationship that keeps you from God’s plan but, worse, I would be witnessing and celebrating your attempt to hold the man you love to a vow that he will avoid God’s plan,” is immensely disturbing. Not surprising, mind you, but deeply troubling nonetheless.
I liked SELMA. And I thought it suffered a bit from the usual standard biopic pitfalls of not digging more deeply into the complex areas inherent in its story and characters, as well as not trusting actual events to be powerful enough of a story to not have to alter history to create extra drama or to paint a more “desirable” picture. That said, I still found the film effecting and it stayed with me longer than either THE IMITATION GAME or THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, the other 2 biopics from last year made in a similar mold.
For me, these kinds of linear tellings of stories with historical beats that need to be hit always feel too manufactured to me. Which isn’t to say they don’t have impact or are not good films. Many are, and this one is. But there’s a deeper level of human experience, the human condition, that these types of films never quite manage to reveal for me. More often than not, this begins at the script stage. These films often feel like the events themselves were strung out in a line with index cards and the characters’ personal struggles inserted to up the drama instead of revealing and exploring the many layers and complexities of the human beings and their struggles being portrayed. For me, the film MR. TURNER was the only biopic I saw from last year that transcended this issue. Perhaps because the filmmaker/writer, Mike Leigh, knows that it’s the characters’ inner journeys that dictate the “events” that unfold and not the other way around.
I post the below article written by Stewart Sallo in the Boulder Weekly titled LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, NOT THE GRATEFUL DEAD not because I agree with it, but to represent part of the experience Dead-Heads are having. This article is far more cynical than I am. I would prefer to believe the remaining members of the Grateful Dead had the best of intentions here in trying to satisfy the many needs involved. And I think it turned out to be a far greater beast than any of them anticipated.
Perhaps that’s naive, I dunno. I can certainly see it as an opportunity to both celebrate the Grateful Dead’s 50 years AND make some money. This is, after all, one of the ways in which these guys earn their living. And they’ve hit retirement age now. They still play music, but they no longer tour and they rarely cut albums. So yes, this was also a chance to make some money. I hold no grudge with that. It’s just unfortunate that this event has also created much heartache and disappointment for many.