He was a friend of mine..

Garcia and Grisman

.. now he's dead and gone

Review of the Grateful Dawg movie at the NFT

We met up for a pre-film drink at the Hole in the Wall before heading off to the National Film Theatre

The movie was introduced by the organiser of the film festival it was being shown at. He told us he had been so pleased to have been offered the film (it turned out to be the first European showing of the movie) but that he was even more pleased that the film's director and one of its stars were here as well. Then to our surprise he introduced Gillian Grisman!

As an introduction, Gillian pointed out that "It's not a Grateful Dead film." adding that "I hope all you 'Deadheads' won't be too disappointed!" The musical content of the film explores Garcia's passion for American folk music and in particular the bluegrass genre.

Gillian told us excitedly that this was her first time in London, and she was very pleased to be "showcasing her first feature film, which was being shown for the first time outside of the States & Canada". To huge applause she then brought on her father and star of the show, David Grisman who said "I'm real proud of my daughter Gillian, she did a great job."

We agree - this film is a must-see - do go and see it if you get the chance It's a homage to Garcia and the music and video footage are superb.

In between the concert footage and snippets of rehearsals, there's loads of recollections from various people associated with both Garcia and Grisman over the years they hung out together: from the likes of Bill Monroe, Jim Kerwin, Joe Craven, Bela Fleck right down to Grisman's kids - the youngest of which Monroe seemed to be about 12 (though he had some very coherent memories of Jerry).

goofing in the studio

There's a lovely scene where Jerry & DG are rehearsing together and Jerry's trying to read a music book or something, and he's peering right up close as if he's very, very short-sighted.

. . oh, and the Evil Widow Koons featured too.

But despite that, the movie is magic.

As Alasdair said: "I had a lump in my throat for the entire movie, laughed a few times and shed a couple of tears. Great stuff."

After the movie had finished Gillian and David came back to talk to us.

He was a friend of mine Gillian described Grateful Dawg as "a patchwork quilt", and she explained how she started the project when she had been going through a lot of home movies. She decided to make a documentary out of them, and said that "you don't always have to shoot with the intention of making a film - so long as you think out of the box. I'm a good scavenger." She wanted "to make a film about the Jerry Garcia that I knew and their friendship. because it was about music, it was about making music and about the history of music." David Grisman talked about the nature of his musical partnership with Garcia: "The times we got together were kind of special. We didn't really spend a lot of time together, but when we did we made the most of it."

We then got the chance to ask some questions

CJ: "I see that throughout the years you played together you both wore black T-shirts. Who started wearing them first - Jerry or David?"

DG - laughing: "Garcia - he's older than me." CJ: "A recurring theme of the film was that Garcia could relax with the Garcia Grisman band more than the Dead - it was an escape. Do you thing Jerry considered himself trapped in the Dead for the last 5 years?

DG: "Nuh, not really . . . ."

GG: "Trapped? Like he was a caged animal or something, grrrr!"

DG: "No, he just liked to relax and he felt at home here."

(The whole film had a relaxed air about it. During rehearsals a two or three year old boy - DG's son now aged 12 or so - would wander around in front of the mics, occasionally making way for the dog that was also free to roam about.)

Q?: "The film had only still photos from the Old & In The Way era - is there no video footage available?"

DG: "There's very little of anything for OAITW - or Old & In The Gray, as we now call it. Not that many stills either."

He told a great story about when Bear got out of prison and had been replaced as official Dead recordist so he appointed him self recordist for OaitW. He would set up microphones to record the band and garcia would kick them over again.

Q?: "What did the Deborah Koons Garcia contribute to the movie to be name as creative consultant"

. . . . and the answer included the great line

GG: "Well the Dead were a family but it was a dysfunctional one"

BG: "When are you (DG) going to tour the UK?"

DG: "When I can find a tour promoter who will have me."

Q?: "Did you have any favourite gigs you played together?"

DG: "Well, not really, there were a lot of great shows and nothing really sticks out in my mind . . . I suppose the Warfield run from 12/7/91 (parts of which feature in the movie) was pretty good."

CJ: "Is there much more Garcia/Grisman stuff to be released?"

DG: "There's some more - we recorded everything - and a lot of it is very interesting."

He told another story about how Garcia used to insist on plugging in his acoustic guitar. So Grisman would record it on 3 channels, two using microphones and one using the lead. As soon as Garcia had gone he would erase the channel recorded using the pick up.

Q?: "Did you ever get to see the Dead?"

DG: "Only four times. Three times when I was playing with the Dead, and once when I was playing in the band that was on before them (the Rowan Brothers)."

Q?: "Did you like the Dead?"

DG: "It's not really my bag, but I appreciate the fact that they opened up areas of rock music, especially the audiences. They were also on a trip of exposing people to different kinds of music, which was to their credit."

Signed ticket


Afterwards a few of us got the chance to meet, shake hands, get autographs, and have our photos taken with Dave (thats me second from the right), and we also handed out flyers about Eurodead!

This review was written by Andrew Clarke, Bill Giles, Chris Jones, Alasdair Macdonald & Kevin Shewan and originally posted to eurotraders .

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Footnote: The day we went to see Grateful Dawg was 10 November 2001 which was the day Ken Kesey died

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Photos by Susana Millman, Dexter Johnson and Gary Nichols

NFT Photos by Bill Giles scanned in by CJ