The Grateful Dead and Bob Weir’s long strange trip

Posted at 3:49 PM, Apr 25, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-25 15:49:54-04

(CNN) — “The Deadheads had it wrong,” says director Mike Fleiss.

And to rub it in, he says it while standing next to Bob Weir, the Grateful Dead’s co-founder, at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir.”

Fleiss’ new documentary about Weir’s life follows the legendary guitarist from his troubled youth to today. And while Weir says the movie means he’s now “off the hook” in terms of ever writing a memoir, he’s still not very comfortable talking about himself and the way he’s seen by fans.

Weir says in the film he doesn’t “trust pride” and tells people he’s more interested in looking forward than back, although he admits at his age “there’s always something to remind you of your past.”

For Weir, when it comes to looking back at all of the concerts and experiences he had, what he misses most now are the moments the band spent together offstage.

“I kind of miss the laughs, the yucks, because we kept each other amused,” Weir says. “That’s the only way we were able to stick together for all those years. People would come backstage, and they’d listen to some of the repartee, the interplay going back, and they’d just leave the room going (fanning himself) these guys are nuts! But we had a lot of fun.”

That fun contributed to the improvisational style that made the band so popular. Weir says he was influenced by jazz pianists when it came to creating his signature style on the guitar. And while the band learned how to extend the rhythm of a song playing live for audiences high on LSD, their approach to writing songs was extemporaneous.

“The same song on a different day was a different song. As we were writing or arranging a tune that came to us, from whomever, we didn’t have a formulaic way of approaching things,” Weir says. “It was pretty much will-o’-the-wisp, if you will.”

Although fans are hoping for a Grateful Dead reunion, the film might be the best way for Deadheads to get some new material from the band. All Weir says about the possibility of getting back together is, “We’ve got our best people on it.”

Reunion show or not, Fleiss promises fans will learn something new in his film. A self-described Deadhead, Fleiss says he learned a lot during the making of this film because “most of the things the Deadheads thought about the band — how they related to the fans and the music and the fans and the jams — it was all wrong.”

And with that in mind, here are five things you may not have known about Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead.

When Weir was a teenager he ran away with author and LSD advocate Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters after a Beatles concert.

Kesey wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and the “Pranksters” were immortalized by Tom Wolfe in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Some of the Dead’s first gigs were at the acid test parties Kesey would throw, where everyone was given an LSD-laced drink of Kool-Aid (the drug was legal at the time).

Weir remembers shows where he would see the guitars move like “snakes” and the musical notes were visible. He admits sometimes the band would have to “flee” when it all got to be too much. But when it came to the Deadheads who would later follow the iconic band around from show to show, Weir says he wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. He considers the lifestyle in the film, saying if following the band rang “lofty bells for them, what’s wrong with that? But if it takes your life down, that’s another story.” He expressed particularly limited sympathy for drug dealers, but if someone had the talent to make a living following the group, he tipped his hat to them.

Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia used to take scuba diving vacations together.

There’s a scene in the film where the pair are diving on a reef and Garcia tickles an eel on the chin under water. Weir says the pair had “a lot of fun underwater,” and that Garcia especially loved diving because underwater he was weightless.

Drugs and partying were always associated with the Grateful Dead.

Weir says there were times when the band members were worried about Jerry Garcia’s drug use and considered holding an intervention for their frontman. Ultimately they decided to do what they could for him without that confrontation. Weir talks in the film about how he had to be Jerry Garcia’s “bag man” for a time, holding Garcia’s drugs. According to Weir, Garcia was doing heroin, marijuana and cocaine, and he would trust Weir to hold it because not only was the (relatively) health conscious Weir not going to use it, he would also limit how much Garcia could have at once.

Weir was also more than willing to have a good time on his own. In 1994 on the night the Dead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Weir says he spent the night “partying fairly heavily,” and “when the fog lifted” he was under a table with the legendary Chuck Berry. “We saw the wrong end of sunrise,” Weir says of the morning after the ceremony.

Their biggest hit “Touch of Grey” brought them a level of stardom they didn’t really want.

Weir says the band always hoped to have success and sidestep fame. But after the release of that song, the entire group, and Jerry Garcia in particular, found themselves at the center of some outrageous behavior by their fans. In the film one story told is about how a fan purposefully tried to have a van driving Jerry Garcia injure him so he would have some connection to the star. After “Touch of Grey,” according to Weir, they were unable to go out in public like they used to and often were forced to stay in their hotel rooms on the road.

He was the ladies man of the group, and always had the most women of the band.

In the documentary, the Grateful Dead is referred to in the early years as “beautiful Bobby and the ugly brothers.” Drummer Mickey Hart says they all used to “take Bob’s runoff.” Now a happily married father of two daughters, Weir says he spent 30 years “shopping around” before settling down. He met his wife Natascha after a show when she was 15 years old and she sneaked backstage. They say the relationship was platonic until years later, after Jerry Garcia’s death and as Weir was “edging towards 50.” He says he looked around to see if he could be an aging “rock and roll tomcat” gracefully and “it didn’t look promising.”

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