Long Strange Trip: an Impact of LSD on the Grateful Dead

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Long Strange Trip: an Impact Of LSD On The Grateful Dead

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In the history of all bands, I believe that many can argue that among the greatests, if not at the very top of the list of greatests, would be the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead came about in the 60’s, starting with Jerry Garcia as the leader, even if he did not care to be labeled as such. Something that is quite obvious when doing research on the Grateful Dead is that drugs had a heavy influence on the scene, as with many other bands to date. One particular drug, LSD, had a huge impact on the music and camaraderie of the Grateful Dead, and is a heavy influencer on what the Grateful Dead has become and represents still to this day. The significance of these facts could quite possibly change anyone’s mind on what the effects of LSD may hold for the user in life. In the documentary, “Long Strange Trip,” these ideas are heavily discussed, and I found upon watching this documentary that LSD is a large focal point for the Dead. To go further into depth with these concepts, I will be using the narrative criticism to analyze “Long Strange Trip,” and, specifically, it’s discussion on the Dead’s famous usage of LSD.

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To begin, the artifact that I reviewed, “Long Strange Trip,” a six-part documentary done in 2017 on the Grateful Dead. The documentary discussed the history of how the Grateful Dead came to be, along with how the uses of LSD and other drugs influenced the band and its music, and the following that came about the most interesting and ironically well documented band in history. The first part of the documentary went into depth about how the Grateful Dead became the Grateful Dead. Although the Dead is not a bluegrass band, bluegrass was one of the first influencers for the Dead. In the early 1960’s, Jerry Garcia picked up a banjo and fell in love with it, played it so much to the point that it became tiresome. Jerry, along with Bob Weir, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Bob Hunter began the bluegrass band, “Mother McRhea’s Uptown Jug Champions. ” From there, Jerry eventually picked up the electric guitar and invited Phil Lesh to join as a bass player and Bill Kreutzmann on the drums, and the group became “The Warlocks. ”

During this time, a man by the name of Ken Kesey was hosting “Acid Tests,” in which people would pay to come take the drug, LSD, and “trip” together. The Warlocks would often attend these events and play some music, which would further have great influence on the life of the Grateful Dead. After finding out that another band had the name “The Warlocks,” Jerry discovered the term, ‘Grateful Dead,’ and felt that the expression held true to the feeling that he was trying to achieve. Thus, the group chose to further call themselves, “The Grateful Dead. ” From there, the documentary reviewed the difficulties the Warner Brothers, who represented the Dead, had in getting the band to create a sellable record. The Grateful Dead preferred performance over recording studios because they had developed an improvisational way of moving through the music, which would cause songs to go on for an insane amount of time. Furthermore, the Dead enjoyed experimenting with different sounds and techniques. All these factors lead to a large amount of money spent by Warner Brothers. Eventually, though, the Grateful Dead was able to come out with an extremely psychedelic record labeled, “Aoxomoxoa. ” Later, after moving from Haight-Ashbury to the country, their experiences in a new environment helped influence their second record, “Workingman’s Dead. ” Over the years, more people would come to join the band, such as Keith and Donna Godchaux, and some would leave the band, often by death, such as Pigpen. Later episodes went into discussions on the fans of the Grateful Dead, who are otherwise known as “Deadheads. ” Throughout the history of the Dead, the fan base has grown quite extensively, with many Deadheads often following the Dead to all their shows. Quite a bit of this fan base was due to the tapes that some Deadheads started recording at each show. Although Warner Brothers was not fond of the tape recording, the tapes furthered the fame of the Dead. “There’s a central irony to the whole thing, which is the band that was sort of most dedicated to the ephemeral experience of playing live, performing something once in a certain way, is the band that’s been sort of most obsessively recorded and catalogued in history. ” (Nick Paumgarten, episode 5).

The documentary ends by discussing how intense fame, consistent performances with little to no breaks, and heroin use lead to Jerry’s death in 1995. Next, it is important to note that the best form of criticism to use for “Long Strange Trip,” would most definitely be narrative criticism, due to the story-telling aspect of the documentary. Sonja Foss discusses this form of criticism in her textbook, Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. According to Foss, to analyze the objective of an artifact through narrative criticism, one must identify the “features or elements” of a narrative; i. e. the setting, characters, narrator, events, temporal relations, casual relations, audience, themes, and type of narrative. When researching the topic of narrative criticism, the subject of the Bible or the Gospel comes up most often. (Although this has nothing to do with the Dead, it is quite possible that some Deadheads would consider the music from the Grateful Dead as gospel, as some of the crazier fans believe that Jerry Garcia was a prophet). “The questions we ask of the texts we read are as important as the answers we are led to. Most readers of the New Testament for almost two thousand years have asked religious questions. What does the text mean? What does it mean to me? To us? To our faith and our lives?” (Elizabeth Struthers Malbon p. 24). In the book, Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, as edited by Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore, Malbon discusses how the use of criticism can help on understand the text in the New Testament. Another religious scholar, by the name of Jeremy Bouma talks about how he uses narrative criticism to review the story aspect of the gospel. “Like any story, this Gospel–the entirety of Scripture, really—is complete with point of view, narrators, plot points, characters, climax, setting, denouement, and everything else that makes a story sparkle. ” (Bouma). Bouma then goes on to criticising Mark 8:27-33 through the use of narrative analyzation. According to Foss, in analyzing an artifact with narrative criticism, one must go through three steps. The first step is to identify the main objective of the artifact. The second step is to identify the key features of the narrative that help provide answers to the objective.

Lastly, one must determine if the narrative really does help provide answers to the objective. Moving on, as mentioned before, narrative criticism is the best way to analyze the discussion of LSD on “Long Strange Trip. ” The artifact at hand explains to the audience about how drugs, influenced many life events for the Grateful Dead. LSD in particular had influences in their music, its fan-base, and fun times within their “dysfunctional family. ” Although the main objective of “Long Strange Trip,” is to tell the story of the Grateful Dead, the topic of LSD came up a myriad of times and it is quite obviously a major focal point of the story in its entirety. “As the psychedelic ‘60s emerge and evolve, the use of LSD dissolves egos within the band initially called “The Warlocks,” and inform the communal ethos that defines the Dead’s early lifestyle and its music. ” (Glenn Kenny). The narrative contributes to the objective of the discussion on LSD usage by beginning with the earlier stories of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests of the early 1960’s, the Dead who were involved or not involved with participation of the Acid Tests, and how it grew to affect their entire lives. During the time of the Acid Tests as hosted by Ken Kesey, Jerry and his crew so far called themselves, “The Warlocks. ” The Warlocks would often attend these events, and although they were not obligated to play some tunes, they often did so anyways as a way of experimenting with the music with experimenting with psychedelics. “. . . the Acid Test experience really formed the band… as a… group mind. And the audience was a part of that. I remember distinctly receiving, like, literal communications from the audience. Nothing in words.

Sometimes it was actual musical ideas, little fragments in melody. That’s how the Grateful Dead evolved as they did, was because everyone listened really hard to each other. That’s the only way it can happen. You have to listen. ” (Phil Lesh, episode 1). Although most of The Warlocks all loved the experience of the LSD, Jerry in particular found something that he had been looking for within the experience, stating that, “Psychedelics are probably the single most significant experience in my life. ” Shortly after The Warlocks started attending the Acid Tests, Phil Lesh discovered that there was another band that called themselves ‘The Warlocks,’ and told the band they needed to change their name. The involvement of using LSD gave the group a sense of “spiritual rebirth,” and when the idea to use the name ‘Grateful Dead,’ came into place, Jerry felt that the concept of Grateful Dead was in relation to their psychedelic experiences thus far. This was only the beginning of how LSD usage would influence their lives. This influence had a huge impact on the kind of music the Grateful Dead played. In an interview on Jerry Garcia, in which he was talking about his bluegrass days, he mentioned that he loved that genre because it was “conversational,” and that the instruments “talked to each other. ” Jerry’s inspiration from bluegrass and the musical experiments he went through with The Warlocks in the Acid Tests taught the band as a whole how to improvise as a collective while performing. “There was a conscious decision to be involved in something that was living, and the Grateful Dead, that’s it. ” (Jerry Garcia, episode 1).

Furthermore, the weirdness that came along with LSD usage helped the Dead enjoy different sounds and sound techniques. This later influenced the building of Owsley “The Bear” Stanley’s Wall of Sound and Mickey Hart’s Time and Space Machine. The preferred improvisational performance style mixed with their interest in sound would later cause issues with Warner Brothers, who had picked up the Dead to represent under their label, as the Dead spent a lot of time and money to be able to produce sellable records. Another effect of their performance styles mixed with the use of LSD also had impacts on the fans of the Dead, also known as the Deadheads. It is assumed that, although not all Deadheads participated in drug use at shows, many of them did, especially with the psychedelic types of drugs. LSD would cause the listener to have a stronger reaction to the music the Dead created. Studies have been made on the topic of emotional response to music and how it is heightened by the use of LSD. The journal titled, “LSD enhances the emotional response to music,” discusses just that, and outlines studies done on this topic as well. “Results demonstrated that the emotional response to music is enhanced by LSD, especially the emotions “wonder”, “transcendence”, “power” and “tenderness”. ” (M. Kaelen). As mentioned before, the Dead enjoyed experimenting with different sounds. “There would be a period in the second set (of the Dead shows) where you would be actually brought back to the very elemental essence of music by the drums and space sections. Percussive rhythms from the jungle… or from the desert in the Middle East… I think that’s what made Grateful Dead music so appealing for people who were tripping, was that it was a way of having experiences that were almost a primordial initiation. ” (Steve Silberman, episode 5).

Moving on, LSD influenced the camaraderie between the band, the tech crew, and “The Family” that all were involved with the Dead. ‘Tripping’ with friends often causes people to become closer with each other, due to spending quality time in a weird space together, and when the use of psychedelics becomes a regular pass-time, this notion becomes much stronger. “We began to embrace this lifestyle of all for one and one for all. We always had that feeling in the Grateful Dead, mostly emanating out of Jerry, and all of the guys, that we were intricately a part of it, helping them get down the road and to create the music. ” (Steve Parish, episode 3). Lastly, the Dead often used LSD as a sort of “defense mechanism. ” This is reviewed in “Long Strange Journey,” for two particular instances. For example, in attending the Playboy After Hours Show, the Dead found themselves submerged in the middle of what Jerry referred to as an “artificial party,” and made it their business to turn it into an “authentic party,” by dosing the coffee with LSD. Another story goes to say that, Warner Brothers decided they wanted to create a film on the Dead, but Jerry and his crew were not into it. “The film crew slowly became under the influence of psychedelics… They start off with a very formal idea of what you do to film a band, and slowly it got weirder and weirder… [The film crew] just succumed. They didn’t have sufficient psychedelic experience to overcome the effect of the acid and, you know, make a film… In fact, if you give acid to people and you ask them to paint or do creative things, they mostly produce absolute chaos. ” (Sam Cutler, episode 2). This inevitably caused the film to become unusable. Probably the most important idea to pick up from the heavy LSD usage within the scene revolved around the Grateful Dead is the idea that Jerry expressed of having fun and being alive. Within every example of how LSD affected this group of people, the viewer of the documentary can clearly see that the aspect of having fun was and still is everywhere with the Grateful Dead. I think this is why there is such a huge following for the Grateful Dead, because the fun of life helps us to feel more free. For American Deadheads especially, this idea is most appealing to our nature as Americans. “The Grateful Dead… they were attempting to redefine… what it means to be an American artist. What, in fact, it means to be an American. ” (Sam Cutler, episode 2).

The Grateful Dead began in a time when Americans were starting to realize how important freedom and fun living is to us, and so that is what the Grateful Dead always stood for. In conclusion, after reviewing the artifact “Long Strange Trip,” it is extremely obvious that the Grateful Dead partook in a lot of LSD and it had a big impact on all of their lives, including their music and performance, their fan-base, and the camaraderie within ‘The Family. ” A lot of what LSD helped to influence for the Dead is the importance of having fun in life and being alive. This analysis could be used in any rhetorical theories about the Grateful Dead and or the influence of the psychedelic drug, LSD. Furthermore, it would be interesting to critique more artifacts that revolve around the Grateful Dead. For example, one could possibly use the metaphor criticism to analyze all the music for the Dead. Lastly, it is important to know that although the Dead survived and thrived from the Acid Tests, the reader should note that LSD is still a drug and, “a lot of the LSD experience is not fun… you have to work your way through some stuff. ” (Bob Weir, episode 1), and to tread lightly if they decide to partake in the usage of it.

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