Tie-Died: Rock 'n Roll's Most Deadicated Fans
1995, R, 88 min. Directed by Andrew Behar.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 22, 1995
What could be more timely than a film about the Grateful Dead's camp followers, the Deadheads who follow the band from location to location and create something of a mobile village in location after location? It would be crass to call it good fortune but Tie-Died, which was shot during the Grateful Dead's 1994 Summer Tour, had, at least, the good timing to be geared for release the month following Jerry Garcia's much-publicized death. For its part, the movie is a solid documentary about the Deadhead nomads who travel from city to city in search of alternative community and another hit of Dead magic. Tie-Died contains no performance footage of the Dead; the movie's focus is entirely on this mass entourage phenomenon. The virtual villages that form in the stadium parking lots along the Dead tour are composed of tens of thousands of people. Most are there for the vibe, others are there to vend items such as food, T-shirts, and crystals. Most of them have been doing it for a while, some even for decades and now come with their own children. Tie-Died might be best viewed as a tabula rasa, as open to meaning and transmutation as Jerry Garcia's guitar-playing. Both can beckon to the great beyond or diddle the frets endlessly. What each viewer of Tie-Died may find is a merely a sharper reflection of what was already possessed going in. Some will find a deeper understanding of this specific scene and keys to unlocking the societal phenomenon of tribal identity. Deadheads will find affirmation, naysayers will find stoned babble, and social scientists will find a windfall of subject matter. But that's cool, too. As the Dead might sing, “Take what you need and leave the rest.” Interestingly, Tie-Died also captures a sense of disorder and ugliness creeping into the scene: the mendacity of certain vendors, the increase in violence and theft, the drifting of the years, and the growing number of drug busts due to undercover narcs infiltrating the crowd. Time is also given to the editors of High Times and Relix magazines to rail against the criminal sentencing laws that require “mandatory minimums.” Here, the movie drops all documentarian pretenses and whole-heartedly editorializes in favor of the abolition of mandatory minimums. Despite the multi-generational make-up of the Deadlot community, one can also observe the absence of people of color and ethnicity. When interviewed, a kid with a mohawk complains of ill treatment by the crowd. But the only thing that I can guarantee that everyone will see in common is this: more VWs per inch onscreen than in any movie since Herbie starred in The Love Bug.