A Grateful Dead musical would be as entertaining as staring at a brick wall

The last time I tripped mushrooms, it went down exactly the way you might imagine it: I was sitting on a patio nursing a beer when an elfin bearded dude — wearing, I shit you not, a stovepipe hat — bounded up and told me to open my hand. I did, and he deposited a warm, tangled ball of 'shrooms in my palm, closed my fingers over it, said "A gift for you" and pranced off without another word. What else was I going to do? I ate them immediately. About an hour later, I bought a bag of Skittles, then spent approximately the next three hours saying to nobody in particular, "The colors. My God, look at the colors."

My point is, psychedelia is redundant. If I happen to be on mushrooms, yeah, it's entertaining to watch a movie with lots of crazy colors and morphing figures designed to simulate my tripping experience, but it's just as entertaining to stare at a brick wall for two hours, because check it out, it's totally moving. And if I don't happen to be on mushrooms, a movie designed to simulate that experience is pretty fucking boring.

Needless to say, then, I wasn't a huge fan of Across the Universe, which flaccidly lumped together a few fistfuls of flower-power clichés toward the end of setting some 33 Beatles covers to crazy trippy visuals and a largely incoherent plot that featured Bono, creepily, as Dr. Robert. I just didn't really see the point of it. But I'm even less a fan of the idea of the same movie but with the Grateful Dead.


Across the Universe

Nevertheless, it's looking like that movie is going to get made. Across the Universe's journey began with Bruce Kaufan, an International Creative Management agent who managed to acquire the rights to all those Beatles songs, and last week he procured the rights to the Dead's entire catalogue. Currently, the project has no studio, producer or script, but it's the unfortunate reality of the world we live in that it eventually will. Derivative crap somehow finds a way.

I'm biased about this. Before I had a roommate who listened almost exclusively to a shockingly comprehensive collection of Grateful Dead concert bootlegs, I was more or less indifferent — but after that experience, even the faintest sound of Jerry Garcia's guitar tone emanating from a grocery-store PA fills me with rage. Even objectively, though, I think it's safe to say that the Grateful Dead is not that great of a band. Their songs, pared down to the standard-issue three or four minutes, would not be much better than just decent, but drawn out to noodling length, they're downright tedious.

Of course, psychedelic music is different than a psychedelic movie; the Beatles, after all, did some pretty cool shit with psychedelia. Tape-looping, stereo-panning, sampling: It's all designed to fuck with tripping people, but it's interesting enough to stand on its own. The Grateful Dead just played songs for a really long time. It's not even that interesting if you're tripping. And if you're not? You might as well be staring at a brick wall.


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