The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir (2014) Directed by Mike Fleiss



Astrid:
Grateful Dead has always passed me by without me really noticing or trying. I have not been too interested in their music, nothing has pulled me towards them. Of course, I have been aware of them for a long time, but that's all. They've been a part of the clich├ęs I've learned about hippies, the 1960s and 70s California and drug culture in the USA. My distance and intentional ignorance is partly due to my preconceptions of their music. Funnily enough, The Other One offered me enough musical examples of the Grateful Dead to confirm that I don't need to dig any deeper. Musically speaking, not my thing. Not my kind of flower power bus.



Still, The Other One was a very interesting and entertaining documentary with a genuine warm heart.
Bob Weir came across as intelligent, endearing, wild and strangely mundane. What was really impressive was the way Weir has held on to his core values even through mega-stardom and the excessive touring, the fan culture and the general crazy ride that has been his personal life from the get-go as an adopted child. Weir seems to be a level-headed dreamer with endless resources and a love for unnecessarily complicated chord progressions mixed with hilariously 'arty' vocal style.  It appears to me that there is a juxtaposition between the Grateful Dead attitude towards popularity ("fame is boring" says Weir) or success, and the diehard fan culture associated with the band.

Bob Weir as an older man
Another layer of interest which is not touched upon in this documentary is Grateful Dead's involvement in being the first rock band whose fans used an earlier version of the web/internet to communicate with each other. Lyricist John Berry Barlow is one of the loud voices fighting for freedom online even now. While there are clearly subversive elements here, the gendered rock myths remain: the documentary depicts Weir as a ladies man and the catch of the band. His marriage to his fan who was only 15-years-old when she started appearing at GD gigs is also presented as a sign of his adorable and successful masculinity. It is as if the documentary wants to portray him a certain way despite the fact that Weir himself does not seem bothered about his image or his masculinity.

Nick:
I think it's important to get this off my chest straight away: I think the Grateful Dead are a bit useless. I mean, awful, unlistenable, proggy, hippie nonsense. I know people that love this band and really rate their stuff, especially the two albums Workingman's Dead & American Beauty. To be fair, I know both albums but haven't lived with them long enough to form much of a critical opinion. Yes, I know Jerry Garcia is revered. They also feature in Tom Wolfe's fun and trippy new journalism/LSD exploration The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. They also contributed to the worst Dylan album (hey, worst album period), yep, Dylan & The Dead. There's also internet rights influence and the first band (probably) to build a massive audience outside the recognized mainstream (i.e.underground). They are counter-culture heavyweights, anti-establishment and more. I should love them, but to me they sound like a bunch of musos just jamming on their instruments. I started to play music to destroy this kind of self-indulgent navel gazing (not punk rock). Yet, having watched this documentary on GT's guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, a grudging respect for some of their values stay with me.

The early Dead look almost cool, Weir is second from left
Weir is a strange fish. He's liberal and decent and believes in many fine things. He also comes across as a bit sexist and dinosaur like, especially when discussing the opposite sex. We get it Bob, you fucked a lot of women, and being the only half decent looking guy in The Grateful Dead (not difficult) a lot of those ladies wound up in your bed. To be fair to Weir, he's not so boastful as matter of fact about this, like a lot of things. Fleiss' documentary is rudimentary and not particularly stylish, it doesn't add anything new to the rock doc. But with Weir as the focus, he doesn't really have to do too much to make it watchable and interesting. A lot of The Other One... is about family, whether it's Weir finding his own, his adopted family, or his very close relationship with Garcia. You also get some Neil Cassidy and the Merry Pranksters through association. Has history been unkind to these Beat-characters? They seem increasingly like  people that were very out of it before anyone else was, and looked/act as embarrassing as people that are really out of it now.

Garcia and Weir were as close as brothers
This documentary offers insight into Garcia's problems – which really were disabling for him. There's also a sense from the film that The Grateful Dead forged their own path and special relationship with their audience (Deadheads), which, unlike fandom for most bands, following the Dead literally was a way of life. And this is probably what I'm missing from the band and ultimately this documentary. It's about time and place, location and lives. I grew up in an environment where I knew no-one who rated The Grateful Dead. As I got older, I picked my ok-to-like-hippies and the Dead ain't in that group. And unlike Weir, I'm a snob and not very forgiving of things that I don't like, whatever the good intentions. You could do much worse than spend sometime with The Grateful Dead I'm sure, but there's nothing here for me. Bob seems decent, if a little bit like he's from some Jurassic world that doesn't exist anymore (other than for those people in it). But he's smart and streetwise (he's done the drugs), and yeah he's a survivor. So, don't like the music, but respect the man.

Comments

  1. Wow. Nick and I finally agree on something musically. The Dead are indeed as useless as tits on a boar hog. I will steer clear of the documentary, letting y'all suffer through it for me. Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Lord.

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  2. Still worth watching despite the music. thanks for commenting.
    Nick

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  3. This information is really good and thanks a ton for sharing it :-) I m looking forward desperately for the next post of yours..

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  4. no idea how i got here seems some kind of an anti-intellectual abyss disconnected from american music. leaving soon

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