Anyone making a movie about a member of the Grateful Dead would naturally gravitate toward Jerry Garcia. But director Mike Fleiss, best known for co-directing the 2011 doc God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, had other ideas. “I wanted to give Bob [Weir] his moment to shine,” Fleiss says. “I wanted to shine a light on his contributions to culture and rock and roll.”
Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23rd, The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir delivers what its title promises: a documentary devoted solely to the life of the Dead’s longtime singer, songwriter and guitarist. In new interviews, Weir talks about his childhood problems with dyslexia, his early days with the Dead, his feelings about Garcia, and other topics bound to enthrall Deadheads. Executive produced by Justin Kreutzmann (Bill’s son), The Other One also includes commentary from the other members of the Dead (Mickey Hart says the band “used to take Bob’s run-off” when it came to groupies), fascinating footage of Weir’s return visit to the Dead’s communal home in Haight-Ashbury, and an interview with his biological father (Weir was adopted). And, yes, there’s plenty of music: footage of Weir with the Dead along with clips from his recent acoustic shows and a live performance of “Cassidy” with members of the National. Fleiss talks about what he learned during his two years making the film:
Weir knows his place in Dead history.
Early on, Fleiss knew what he wanted to call the movie — but then had to break it to Weir. “We were having dinner in Mill Valley, just the two of us, and he said, ‘Well, what do you think the title of the movie is?’” Fleiss recalls. “And I was reluctant to tell him — it’s somewhat diminishing to say you’re not the big star in a seminal band, because of Jerry’s shadow and all that. But I said, ‘The fact that you wrote this song,’ and so forth, and ‘I think it should be called The Other One.’ I was nervous as shit to say that to him. And he said, ‘Of course it is.’ I was so relieved. We never discussed it again.”
The Dead sometimes had mixed feelings about Deadheads.
In the film, Weir expresses ambivalence about the fans who followed the band around: “If it rings those lofty bells for them, what’s wrong with that?” he says. “At the same time, if it takes your life down, that’s another story…if you’re a kid and you want to spend a summer on the road, that’s one thing. If you’re selling drugs, I have limited sympathy.” For Fleiss, who attended over 200 shows himself, those comments came as a revelation. “There was an assumption that if you had seen 250 or 300 shows and never missed a show in three years, that was a badge of honor,” he says. “But the band saw that as a slippery slope and not necessarily a good thing. Bob talked about that. That was fascinating to me.”
Weir’s guitar playing is even more complex than we’ve thought.
Fleiss, who plays guitar, has watched Eddie Van Halen and Tony Iommi play up-close to pick up a few tips. Weir’s technique, he learned, was trickier. “With Bob, I thought, ‘Wow, here’s my chance to learn how to play “Let it Grow’” and some of his other songs,” he says. “I sat with him in a room and watched him play countless hours — and I never learned one thing. His fingering and chording are so unique and so important to the sound of the Dead. He’s a crazy virtuoso with chord structure.”
The Dead aren’t as up on their vintage concert tapes as fans are.
“They don’t remember the shows Deadheads talk about all the time,” Fleiss chuckles. “Maybe because they played several thousand shows or were partying. So when I would say, ‘Do you remember that great “Dear Mr. Fantasy” at Red Rocks?’’ he wouldn’t remember.”
Weir and Garcia were closer in ways Fleiss didn’t expect.
While touring Weir’s Mill Valley house, Fleiss caught sign of Weir’s collection of Dead goodies. “It was curious to see how much Jerry memorabilia was there,” he says. “There are pictures of Jerry and a banjo Jerry gave him and a Jerry bobble-head. He really loved Jerry. After Jerry died, Bob had a void in his life. It was surprising to hear how he only saw one way to cope with Jerry’s death and that was to keep on playing. That experience with Jerry’s death cemented that in his life. He doesn’t know how to live his life without plugging in his guitar and stepping out in front of people.” With a palpable sense of mixed feelings and regret, Weir admits on camera that during one period he was Garcia’s “bag man: “I carried his dope around for him, ‘cuz no. 1, he knew I wasn’t going to get into it. And secondly, he knew I wasn’t going to give him more than he told me to. And he trusted me to do that.” Fleiss was stunned by that confession: “That freaked me out,” he says.
Weir’s passion for football made it into Dead shows.
“He’s a freak for the 49ers,” Fleiss says. “He told me he would check scores for their games during shows. All the hippies are out there twirling and dosed to the gills and not thinking about the NFC, but Bob would be asking someone what’s the score for the 49ers game? The jock world and the Deadhead world don’t seem to be connected, but for Bob, they are.”
You never know who’s going to be a Weir or Dead fan.
The Other One includes tributes to Weir from actor Peter Coyote, Bruce Hornsby, Phish’s Mike Gordon, and Perry Farrell (who covered “Ripple” with Jane’s Addiction on the Dead tribute album Deadicated). But Fleiss was pleasantly surprised by two Weir fans who came forward. “Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads — I didn’t think those two musical styles had any sort of connection. And Sammy Hagar, who’s a larger-than-life metal frontman crazy guy. It didn’t seem there was any connection between the vibe of the Grateful Dead and Sammy. But those guys are incredibly tight friends. They both love music and Sammy lives up the street from Bob. They’re tight bros.”
Like many of us, Weir likes a good real-estate open house.
During his research, Fleiss considered a move to Marin County, and to his surprise, Weir not only sent the director real estate listings but accompanied him to at least one visit. “We visited an open house and it freaked out some of the people there—there was the great Bob Weir looking at their house and standing in their living room,” Fleiss says. “He started telling stories about Mill Valley. So many rock stars live on another planet. Ozzy’s just out there. He’s on a different planet. Bob lives on planet earth.”