Jerry Garcia had been at the undertaker's about five minutes when a filmed valentine to his true believers hit the street. Your enthusiasm for Tie-Died: Rock 'n Roll's Most Deadicated Fans will likely depend on your tolerance for cult argot in general and Deadhead blather in particular, but make no mistake about it: Andrew Behar's documentary, shot on the road in the summer of 1994, is aimed squarely at the grief-stricken faithful.
There's the Colorado State veterinary student (also a vet of 122 Grateful Dead shows) who says he dreams of being the tour's official animal doctor. And there's the stoned teenager who tells us, "It's just flowing--that's what I'm into now," as well as the movie's several screeds against mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. Through it all, Tie-Died celebrates the ad hoc family that was and the spirit of peace and freedom that supposedly drifted through the parking lot on a cloud of patchouli oil.
Now that the Dead are really dead, the film will obviously be bittersweet for fans. Among outsiders, it may wear out its welcome in about twenty minutes--this cultural phenomenon was not exactly a monument to literacy or articulate speech.
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Tie-Died contains no Grateful Dead music, and it never gets inside an actual concert venue. Instead, Behar and his crew slogged around the lots interviewing the fans. There are ravaged Sixties hippies ("Nine-to-five jobs suck, man!"), assorted bus gypsies ("The van broke down like seven times!"), even a couple whose child was conceived and born at a Dead show--presumably not the same one. Saucer-eyed teeny-boppers rhapsodize about the "love vibe" Garcia and the boys have bestowed on a new generation of crunchies. Spinners spin. Drummers drum. Assorted Wharf Rats deliver their sermons on sobriety. And seldom is heard a discouraging word--if you don't count the old hand from Boston carping about how younger fans have ruined the scene, or a wary tour vendor who claims he now sleeps with a weapon.
An ecstatic young woman named Nikki Badua talks about the angels who appeared to her in an Oregon forest. Eight-year-old David Hussey tells us he's about to see his 100th Dead show. And writer Gail Harte, up there in her fifties now, lets us in on her persistent erotic fantasies about Bob Weir. Clearly, the bubble-gummers and burnouts and beggars hoping for a Miracle Ticket all have this one thing in common. Now that it's over, what Tie-Died really shows us is a lost tribe in the making. By most standards, that's also a tragedy in the making.