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Review of Grateful Dawg in the Globe and Mail


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Grateful for the music makers

Grateful Dawg

Produced and directed

by Gillian Grisman

Featuring David Grisman

and Jerry Garcia

Classification: NA

Rating: **½

This one is for the fans. And given that the fans here are the legions who still bow down before the defunct Grateful Dead and its deceased lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, Grateful Dawg should do very well indeed.

The film maps the musical collaboration between Garcia and mandolin master David Grisman over 30 years, with particular emphasis on 1987-1995. During that stretch, the paterfamilias of the Deadheads visited Grisman's leafy pad cum recording studio in California's fabled Marin County on dozens of occasions. There, with the tapes and video cameras rolling easy, he and Grisman indulged their love of the many idioms that fall under the rubric "American music," mixing interpretations of sea shanties, blues and old folk songs with Miles Davis tunes, reggae and country songs and original material. (The film's title refers to the blend that Grisman thinks was achieved between Garcia's music and "dawg music," his own fusion of bluegrass and jazz.)

Directed by Grisman's daughter, Gillian, Grateful Dawg intercuts interviews with Grisman, Garcia and their associates with still photographs and tapings of rehearsals, jams, recording sessions and concerts. Included also is the heretofore unreleased video the duo did for their rousing rendition of The Thrill is Gone, released on a Grammy-nominated record in 1991. Besides the music, that video is perhaps most notable for the fact it has Garcia and Grisman, hard-core devotees of the T-shirt/sweat pants/sneakers aesthetic, in dark suits, ties and fedoras -- likely an unprecedented feat, never repeated.

Grateful Dawg is an amiable bit of filmmaking. It's clear Grisman, who is now 56, and Garcia, who died in 1995 at 53, had a strong bond as virtuoso string players with a wide and easy command of many musical traditions. It's just as clear, too, that they weren't soulmates à la Damon and Pythias, Verlaine and Rimbaud, Lennon and McCartney.

Saying that, of course, isn't saying very much: Unlike women, guys tend to need a medium to bond, be it playing touch football, watching hockey, drinking beers at a strip club, or debating the merits of a John Coltrane solo.

With Garcia and Grisman, it seems to have been playing acoustic music, with the additional perk, for Garcia, of using his partner's shady grove as a refuge from the demands of being King of the Deadheads.

What this means for Grateful Dawg is that you get much music but little insight into, say, the troubled soul of Jerry Garcia, or Grisman's business dealings with Garcia's widow, Deborah Koons. With most of the patter from the film's talking heads being of the "Jerry-was-a-bright-funny-guy/Something-special-went-down-here" variety, it's essentially a cozy extended music-video pastiche with documentary flourishes.

Fortunately, the music is great, and it's handled with great integrity.

By that, I mean you don't get the hippie equivalent of Ken Burns's Jazz, where, if you recall, the airing of significant pieces of music was forever being cut off by the often insignificant musings of Wynton Marsalis or his acolytes. Here you get complete performances of songs, including charming readings of the Dead's Friend of the Devil and the shaggy-dog classic Jenny Jenkins.

Musically, the film's centrepiece is Arabia, a sprawling, multipart original. Here, director Grisman intertwines rehearsal and concert footage with chunks of dialogue, showing how the piece was built up section by often frustrating section. It takes up almost 25 per cent of the film's 81-minute running time, but it earns this pride of place by being a compelling demonstration of the perspiration, inspiration and serendipity that inform the creative act.

Booche's note:

Personally, I cant wait to see that Arabia segment! I have really been getting into that song over that past couple of months from recent Garcia/Grisman shows i have collected. The last one I got on CD clocks in at over 18 minutes

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Check out the one in the Sun..... It states that Deadheads may be surprised to learn about Jerry's other creative side, since they were too stoned at the time to notice.!!!!!

You have no idea how pissed this made me. Why are we all, always stoned as far as the press is concerned.

I mean really how many Deadheads didn't have that knowledge....... It was almost his dominant personality. Of course, she probably has never heard of the Jerry Garcia Band, Old and in the Way, Legion of mary or Reconstruction......

Send this bitch an email at:

Liz Braun


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Here is what I wrote to the Letters to the Editor at the Toronto Sun (feel free to copy and paste this and send it to them again and again).....

Dear Liz Braun, and Editor,

First of all I am dissapointed with your website. Why is there no way to find out who is the entertainment editor? I do not wish to write a letter to the general editor, but the entertainment editor who would have in fact proofread this artice- "Dawg-gone it". Please forward this mail to that editor.

Your Toronto Sun article entitled "Dawg-gone-it!" has caused outrage amongst my circle of friends who consider themselves to be musicologists, and Deadheads alike. You can check on the Forum of www.phishsanctuary.com to check on the conversation.

The article states...... "Grateful Dead fans wondering how they could have been unaware of this side of Garcia's creativity should consider that maybe they were too stoned at the time to notice."

I find this an unbelievably crass, and generalizing statement. Jerry Garcia played bluegrass, and traditional music long before the Grateful Dead even existed (and before the Warlocks for that matter), in fact Jerry Garcia seldom played electric instruments in the early years. For you to insinuate that Deadheads were using illegal narcotics, and hence missed out on this side of his personality is ridiculous. I hope I don't have to enlighten you to the fact that not all Deadheads use marijuana. And even for those who do get "stoned", I can say with certainty that at some time over the course of the 30 odd years from 1964 to 1995 when Jerry Garcia was playing bluegrass music, there was at least one day when they were not high, and were aware of his "other side".

The traditionalist approach to music and performing was his dominant personality. Of course, you did not mention the Jerry Garcia Band, Old and in the Way, Legion of Mary or Reconstruction, all side project outside of the Grateful Dead, when he displayed his love and abilities with all music such as soul, R+B, experiemental, blues, traditional, bluegrass and rock.

I just find it unfathomable in this day and age when all walks of life must consider their statements so as to not generalize, that someone such as yourself could make such an ignorant and downright stupic comment. I found it very interesting that an article reviewing the same film appeared in the Globe and Mail with no mention of these kinds of remarks, just a good review of an excellent film.

I hope you reconsider your views, as the Toronto Sun can ill afford to alienate a core group of readers who only touch your rag of a paper as a result of it's (usually excellent) Entertainment section.

Sean Taylor

St. Catharines, ON

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This is what I sent in:

Toronto Sun:

re: Dawg-gone it! (an article by Liz Braun)

The article is not very informative, and supports no cohesive thoughts whatsoever. Written in a prose that would appeal to a 6 year old, with stark generalizations that make evident the writer's utter lack of knowledge with regards to the actual subject.

In this age of unlimited access to information, it is offending to me that an article with such little insight can be published.

Isn't it time that writer's do a little more research on a subject in order to propose an actual perspective on a subject?

I think so.


Chris Hood

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Two points for me:

1)The Toronto Sun is a low-end newspaper with a grade 7 or 8 readers level. The writters there would probably rate Britney Spears with more musical talent then Jerry Garcia and as stated in a message above have proven their ignorance time and time again with some of the worst reviews I've ever read.

2)Stoners usually are "into" music more then non-stoners which makes the writters statement not only stereotypical but also very very wrong.

Extra point: I believe that most (good) musicians are stoners also, do they have trouble keeping track of what band they are in.

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Also, how come the people writing about these musical reviews always seem to have no idea whats going on. Like why dont they slam NSYNC,etc as a bunch of pop, no-talent, lip synchers that is designed for children to appreciate, when they write a review about the pop stars.

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An excellent letter, Northern Wish, and an interesting discussion.

This whole idea of stereotyping Dead fans as stoners also relates to jambands in general. There are many people who think jamband = stoner band that is lazy and likes to wank on instruments. I've had email and personal discussions more than a few people, including band members and managers, who feel that the label jamband hurts that bands chance of reaching a larger audience because it does come with the stoner/lazy stereotype. I guess there are two choice available if that is the case - either change the name to something other than jamband or change the stereotype. Oops, I forgot about the third choice - accept the stereotype as fact and work very hard to show that it is the truth smile.gif" border="0

Have a great weekend everyone!!!

Peace, Mark

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The current issue of Now Magazine has a good review of Grateful Dawg. The woman who reviewed the film is not a Deadhead, but defininately a music fan. She gave the film 3 out of 5, stating that she wanted to see more interviews with Garcia - there are only 2 audio only interview Garcia segments in the film. She also pointed out that a lot of the footage was out of focus. This is not a critique of Garcia and Grisman's music, it's a critique of material availibility and editing techniques. She also wanted to see more background on Gerry's Dead work. This is fair because documentaries should strive to educate and entertain people, not just Deadheads.

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I believe I just spelled Jerry Garcia, Gerry Garcia. I guess my 30 Dead cds, multiple Dead pictures and concert photos, countless records and bootlegs and a personal guitar hero of mine, is not enough for me to spell Jerry's name correctly. No excuse. Even a stoner Deadhead ( referring to the Toronto Sun/Star articles ) wouldn't get his name wrong.

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I almost expect those sort of generalizations in dead related articles. It was a very ignorant comment to make, stating that everyone was too stoned to notice Jerry's other works.

EVERYONE that is into the Dead are well aware of Jerry's high lonesome sound.

I don't think the comment needs to be taken so negatively, I'm sure it is merely some easy to find "humour" that comes from a pool of cliched quips.

Your letter to them is warrented as they should pay closer attention to what they publish.

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I think the comment should be taken negatively no matter what. Remember that god-awful review of Phish in 99 at the Molson Amp?

They did the exact same thing then. I am in the process of writing a response like I did in 99 and it is of the same vein as NorthernWishes'

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I just wish that I wasn't such a chronic stoner. I just heard that Jerry Garcia also had a solo band, calld the Jerry Garcia Band! WTF!?

Also toured with the bluegrass moniker Old and in the Way somewhere in the 70's too.

I'd better get off the smoke. Just today I found out that the girl playing Lucy in this movie...http://us.imdb.com/Title?0275022

apparantly has a band or something.

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I think it is true that we have more musical knowledge than most people tend to give us credit for...but we're all over the subculture...not all over what makes money - and we'll never get past the crappy poppy catchy shit that the general population easts up just like a stupid little puppy eats his own fecal matter...I've seen it...the culture creates fashion and stereotypes and poor ethics and it's all regurgitated by the popular media, only to be eaten up again by the majority of the population, each time with less nutrituinal value. Every one of us should have jobs working for the entertainment sections of the media, specializing in music, but we don't. i'm in school, most of you guys and girls have jobs not relating to entertainment(i would assume) - it's our passion and it's generally dismissed by the big wheels that turn a profit. The real problem isn't with the writers it's with the people that hire the writers, the music industry, the mass media, and everyone in between for not speaking up and demanding a better product. Most people get psychological release through vacations and interaction with people...we do that too, but we get release through our music too - which can't really be said for too many other genres of fans. Problems could also be traced back to parents that don't care about what their kids are listening to...not neccessarily lyrical content, but musical content. Also, educators don't stress the merits of being well rounded people having well rounded minds and good imaginations. I know I suffer from being a nimrod sometimes, feeling all blah and unimaginative but then I put on a great piece of musical genuis and I'm happy again...it's unfortunate that more people can't get the release that we can and it should really be our jobs to get it to the public.

too bad we don't all live in my dreamworld...

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Well said Canned Beats. I was especially drawn to your reference to the role of educators. Interestinly enough I only minutes ago completed a seven page paper/rant about what schools "should be doing" for my philosphy of education class. As a young person entering this profession I continually struggle with ways to incorporate my life experiences within our subculture. I struggle for various reasons from the old "if I have to explain it you wouldn't understand" Deadhead curse, to worrying about bein perceived as a hippy/burnout/stoner/flake etc.

The thesis of my paper was that schools should be restructured in a way that they emulate the outside world as it "should" be, not as it currently is. Of course everyone has, or I hope they have a personal vision of that world. For myself and many of our tribe, this is a world characterized by individuality and cohesion, freedom, imagination, creativity,risk taking, and kindness. It's a funny thing, our subculture has alot to share with others in terms of education, but how do we do it? Even funnier, is that quite often we don't always want to share it. We want to be understood, but sometimes we don't. The more our culture spreads the more mainstream it becomes, the more commodified. Tough call, but I'll surely be reading some of Hunter's words and playin Dead tunes during my grade 7 english class. I suppose thats as good a place as any to start

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