Rubrics and Tendrils of Richard Gehr

13 September 1995

Rock 'n' Roll's Most Deadicated Fans
Directed by Andrew Behar

Even tie-die ain't what it used to be. Hippie nation's freak flag started out as the lovingly hand-tied and -dipped creations of someone's artistically inclined "old lady." Today's psychedelic sportswear is silk-screened for mass consumption. Sort of like post-"Touch of Grey" Deadhead culture itself.

Andrew Behar's sympathetic documentary about tour culture, though, looks like the real thing. Unlike Thomas Goetz's exploitative Voice feature of a couple weeks back, Tie-Died does more than scratch the scene's decadent surface. Beatific true believers, snaggle-toothed road gypsies, glassy-eyed cultists, adventurous nuclear families, spinning dervishes, fresh-faced day trippers, visionary stoners, Ivy League stat keepers, and greedy vendors all make their respective case for whatever it is they do at a Dead show. As a longtime-Deadhead pal said when he saw the film, "There's road dust in every frame."

Strange attractors on America's cultural landscape for thirty years, the Grateful Dead provided the most subtly potent band-audience synergy in the history of rock. Which is why the absence of their music in Tie-Died nearly upends the film. Behar makes do with the background pulse of parking-lot drum circles--hence the magnificent irony of the ersatz ethnicity running through this overwhelmingly white subculture.

In A Conversation With Ken Kesey , the Peter Shapiro short that precedes Tie-Died , the writer cum dairy farmer's thumbnail appraisal of the Dead's appeal gracefully sets the stage for Behar's strange parade. Kesey's faith in the band's endurance, recorded before Jerry Garcia's August 9 death of course, is a most Dead-worthy bittersweet reminder of death's merciless hand.