On-screen: The Grateful Dead’s Dark Star opens with a meandering, upbeat tone on footage of huge crowds of peaceful anti-war protestors taken at venues throughout Washington, DC. Early footage in Dark Star shows the DC police in force everywhere in the face of large throngs of peace marchers. Much of the American social spectrum is in evidence at peace demonstrations with signs proclaiming “Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace” and “Gays for Peace” mingled among hippies and Vietnam War veterans at the White House, along the Potomac River, on the National Mall, and at the Reflecting Pool.
Progression of The Grateful Dead’s DARK STAR into greater discord sets a darker tone as a fitting backdrop to the candlelight anti-war marching of former POW’s and wheelchair-borne Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The Vietnam Vets’ angry repudiation of the Vietnam War by littering the home of American presidents with their medals marks a turning point in DARK STAR. Conflict between anti-war demonstrators and battalions of police on foot or in horse-mounted cavalry formation produce the many inevitable arrests.
The Grateful Dead’s diffuse ending of DARK STAR against an armory full of tired plastic-handcuffed hippie protestors sets the stage for a complete change of sentiment in the following segment at Woodstock: “I’m goin’ up the country…tired of the way I’ve been dogged around!
Soundtrack Notes: The Grateful Dead first released DARK STAR as a single in 1968 by Warner Brothers, and soon after it became their signature song. This version of DARK STAR was included on The Grateful Dead’s LIVE/DEAD, released in 1969 on Warner Brothers Records. Many other performances of DARK STAR are available among The Grateful Dead’s live recordings.
Context: Many times between the years 1965 and 1974, the armies of the anti-war movement occupied the nations capital, but none had so profound an effect on the course of the war than the 1971 protest march of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Decorated combat soldiers – some on crutches, others in wheelchairs – flung their medals and their purple hearts onto the White House lawn, in perhaps the most dramatic indictment of war ever filmed.
Years later, the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Robert O. Miller, had this to say: “Because I lost the use of three-quarters of my body, I would want there to be a reason for the war to have been fought…[but] what happened to me and what happened to my friends was for nothing.”