A new, four-hour documentary about the Grateful Dead, Long Strange Trip, is opening in theaters tomorrow, and it promises to tell “the untold story” of the band. And while bassist Phil Lesh has seen only parts of it, he says, “It’s only telling part of the story.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone for an upcoming article about the 50th anniversary of the Monterey International Pop Festival, the bassist also discussed how it’s impossible for any documentary – even one that’s a sixth of a day long – to tell the band’s complete story. “The Grateful Dead is sort of a phenomenon that you cannot encapsulate in any one medium or any one event or any one film or recording,” he says. “It’s great as far as it goes, but it’s not the whole story.”
“It’s like a blind man feeling a leg and saying it’s a tree or touching a tail and saying it’s a rope,” Lesh muses.
Because it’s difficult to comprehensively tell the band’s story, Lesh expects filmmakers to make additional Grateful Dead docs that will cover many different aspects of the band’s story. He also says that he doesn’t wish Long Strange Trip, which was produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story, Happy Valley), had chosen a different focus. “I think that the producers and directors had a certain vision and that they realized that just as well as they possibly could,” he says.
In other Lesh news, the bassist has a number of gigs lined up with his Terrapin Family Band this summer in addition to the “Phil Lesh and Friends” appearance at Monterey. He and the Terrapin Family Band will also be reuniting with Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir at August’s Lockn’ Festival to perform the Dead’s 1977 album Terrapin Station – home to the 16-minute “Terrapin Part 1” suite – in its entirety. The bassist and guitarist last played together at Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads festival this past March.
“It’s the 40th anniversary of [Terrapin Station] and it’s one of those touchstone pieces of work that we’ve been performing ever since,” Lesh says of why they’re reuniting. “It just never loses its freshness for us, so it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Weir has been playing with Dead & Company – a group that also features Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, as well as guitarist John Mayer – ever since the Dead musicians had reunited with Lesh for their Fare Thee Well concerts in 2015. Asked whether he’d considered inviting Hart and Kreutzmann along for the Terrapin Station performance, Lesh says he has not. “We have a drummer,” he explains. And as for whether he’s on good terms with them, he says, “We don’t really communicate much at all, but that’s just the way of the world.”
Beyond that, though, he says he’s excited by what Weir and the drummers have done with Dead & Company. “I think they’re doing a great job,” he says. “They’re bringing the music to the people just like we always wanted to do, and I commend them for it. I hope they’re having a good time.
“It’s not something I could do myself,” he adds. “I’m done with that kind of touring.”