The challenge of Long Strange Trip is somehow distilling all of that mythology into a coherent narrative, an exceedingly tall order that Bar-Lev pulls off with considerable deftness. Long Strange Trip has the rhythm of a Dead bootleg, eschewing a linear narrative focused on familiar historical benchmarks for a more digressive approach that nonetheless pushes the story forward at a steady clip. Along with interviewing surviving members and utilizing rarely seen footage to conjure Garcia’s spirit — including an incredible aborted documentary from the early ’70s that the band sabotaged by dosing the film crew — Bar-Lev introduces us to the Dead’s sizable crew of roadies, road managers, office staff, lyricists, ex-girlfiends, drinking buddies and other assorted hangers-on. There’s also space afforded to fans (including celebrities like Al Franken) who have spent years scouring tapes in a Talmudic pursuit of the perfect “Althea” guitar solo. But if Long Strange Trip occasionally teeters on the precipice of excess — which, again, is entirely appropriate given the subject matter — the focus always pulls pack to Garcia, a quintessentially American iconoclast who spent his life pursuing fun and freedom at all costs.
But even after writing about the film and interviewing Bar-Lev, I still wanted to talk more about Long Strange Trip. So I called up critic, author, and Dead scholar Jesse Jarnow to get his thoughts on the film. Inevitably, this conversation turned into an extended geek-out session about the Dead, from Robert Hunter’s indelible lyrics to Brent Mydland’s soft-rock pre-Dead hit single. We had so much fun that we spoke for about as long as the “Dark Star” from 12/6/73.
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