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Thursday, June 8

Sam Cutler thoughts on Long Strange Trip

LONG STRANGE TRIP – my thoughts on the film

Sam Cutler who was one of my favorite personalities from the magnificent movie that will make the world understand us freaks. While also pleasing us freaks to no end. Here is his thoughts on the best film about the best movie. 

From Sam's FB Page 

Where the hell to BEGIN? Well, let’s begin with love. I loved the film. I loved that so many of the people in the film expressed love, LIVED in love, loved one another, and MOST OF ALL, loved Jerry. I became for a few years another person in that psychedelic army of people all over the planet who loved that gentle and so-loving man and his band. I was just so amazingly fortunate to have been his tour manager, co-manager (with Jon McIntyre and David Parker) and his agent, through my company Out of Town Tours from 1970 - 74.

Amir Bar Lev, the mountain-climber’s mountain-climber, sure picked one hell of a hill to climb when he decided to make this film! Solo unaided up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite has nothing on the perils associated with trying to ‘capture’ who what where how and when on the Grateful Dead. It’s an ‘impossible task’ on a rational level, but thankfully rationality was never a particularly necessary attribute around the band and the family - in fact, it seemed sometimes that the wackier things were, the better. It never seemed to represent too much of a problem, and (of course) people loved the madness, but only up to a point! When it got to be too much, the good ol’ Grateful Dead simply ‘retreated’ or ‘practiced invisibility’.

Jerry might not have been the whole ship, but he sure as heck was the vessel. AND the anchor! I was struck by what people decided to say in the film - what they articulated as ‘appropriate for posterity’. How (for example) some of the more ‘fey’ representatives of the family laughed uproariously at the notion that latter-day dead-heads could be told (or asked) to behave and not come to shows if they didn’t have tickets; whilst on the other hand, these same modern day ‘libertarians’ (so hip and so free) could happily suggest that there were too many nasty hairy Hells Angels back-stage for their taste. Jerry, bless him, kept it all in balance. For example, he point-blank refused to sign any letter to the fans when their behaviour became an issue, and he pointedly welcomed the Hells Angels to concerts as he welcomed anyone who loved the music.

The film left me an emotional mess. In the midst of it all I burst into tears and had to be comforted by my son Bodhi. It was, at times, unbelievably painful to see the mistakes we made, the errors of judgement, the poor planning, the rampant nihilism, that led like some tragic operatic shuffle towards Jerry’s demise. BUT, conversely, it was thrilling to see how all of those too-human errors that we made were happily embraced by the family and the band and laughed about, and thus in some crazy unexplainable way ‘survived’. Embracing ‘failures’ was surely one of the distinctive markers of the magnificence of the Grateful Dead. There was room for all. 

One little thing stands out as a perfect example of the Grateful Dead’s approach and how posterity has somehow ‘misinterpreted’ what happened. The record company hated the tapers because they believe it would damage the band’s record sales. The band was in a quandary. It was decided that the taping couldn’t be allowed. Myself and the crew had the unenviable task of implementing this ‘edict’. That lasted for two shows at the most, then we brought up the situation in the dressing room prior to a show. We had all taken a trip and were getting high. We explained to Jerry “we aint cops, we don’t wanna be cops” and the policy of stopping taping was then and there abandoned as it was unanimously agreed that asking ANYONE to ‘police’ the tapers was a bridge too far. That was it. No big deal. We tried it. (banning the tapers) It didn’t work, so we immediately abandoned it and moved on. This was later interpreted by some Wall Street people as a supreme example of the Grateful Dead’s business ‘acumen’ which directly led thru the distribution of the tapers recordings to the bands huge commercial success. As if we'd planned it all ! You have to laugh!

WHERE did I cry in the film? Where did I laugh? When Barbara said that Jerry told her “I’d just like to live on the ice-cream money”. I thought THAT was so poignant that I cried like a baby. Poor Jerry, the thing that he had spent his life creating and nurturing consumed him in the end, and it seemed as if no-one could save him, though they all surely tried. The ONE thing that they COULD have done, they DIDN’T DO !!!! Namely, they could have ‘abandoned ship’. Called the whole thing to a halt and simply STOPPED. Jerry could have scuba-dived for the rest of his days. BUT, no-one could bring themselves to do it, and Jerry, poor Jerry, disappeared down the dumb rabbit-hole of heroin. PigPen had died, Keith had died, Brent had gone before him - tragic and ghastly precursors of what was to come. Vince followed thereafter.

The film captured it all. It was heart-breaking, and yet in the end it was MORE than simply THAT. It was an epic trip those guys wrote on the pages of their lives, an adventure of Homeric proportion and Shakespearian intensity, that has had no equal. Phil said some beautiful soulful things, as did Micky and Billy and Bobby – these guys were the true psychedelic explorers of their time and showed us how to LIVE. Phil said: “the Grateful Dead was the best thing that ever happened to me” and that goes for me too, and everyone else that was ‘on the bus’. As soon as I’ve ‘recovered’ I want to see the film again .. and again. It has so MUCH depth and is so subtle.

Amir Bar Lev is to be congratulated on a magnificent achievement. The Grateful Dead never quite managed to capture the ‘sound of heavy air’ in the recording studio, but Amir got it on film. In the end, the movie rendered me speechless and just simply GRATEFUL to all the guys in the band and all the people in the family for the four years I was involved. They were the best years of my life.

Sam Cutler ©2017