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Although not always described in the film in the most flattering of terms, Deadheads will find plenty to savor in The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir, Mike Fleiss’ revelatory documentary about the Grateful Dead’s legendary rhythm guitarist. Containing fascinating archival footage, copious musical performances and extensive interviews with Weir, his contemporaries and many of the famous musicians he’s influenced, the film receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival should have a long ancillary life following its inevitable theatrical release.
Weir, labeled the “heartthrob” of the band — drummer Mickey Hart describes how he and the other members used to enjoy the benefits of the handsome guitarist’s surplus of groupies — here delivers a frank account of his life and musical career. Born in 1947 and raised by adoptive parents in Atherton, California, he suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia as a child, his schooling suffering as a result. His life changed in 1964 when, at 16-years-old, he met Jerry Garcia, with whom he formed the band The Warlocks that also included Phil Lesh, Ron “Pigpen” Mckernan and Bill Kreutzman.
Dropping out of school and briefly running off with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, Weir honed his unique guitar style in gigs ranging from “Acid Test” parties featuring copious amounts of drugs to topless clubs where the band’s penchant for lengthy jams caused the exhausted strippers to complain.
Renamed the Grateful Dead, the band lived together in a house at 710 Ashbury Street in San Francisco, where Weir shared a room with Neal Cassady who famously inspired Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. One of the film’s most evocative segments features Weir revisiting the house and giving his wife and children a tour describing where each of the members lived.
After the 1970 release of their seminal albums American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead the band hit new heights of fame, inspiring the growing legions of fans who followed them on tour. Weir reveals ambivalent feelings about their followers, lauding them for their fervent loyalty while at the same time wondering if they were messing up their lives and professing no sympathy for those who sold drugs.
“People were celebrating us way beyond which seemed reasonable,” he says.
The film delves deeply into his intensely close relationship with Garcia, who he describes as being like an older brother. He frankly confesses that he served as the guitarist’s “bagman,” doling out his drugs in carefully prescribed amounts. This, of course, didn’t prevent Garcia’s death at age 53 in 1995, which effectively ended the band. Weir, who says that the last words Garcia spoke to him was the offhand comment “always a hoot” after a show, says that he dealt with his grief by almost immediately going back on the road with his side project, RatDog.
Among the other topics addressed are Weir’s late in life evolution into married life and fatherhood and his eventual reconnection with his birth parents.
Besides his Grateful Dead bandmates Lesh, Hart and Kreutzman — the latter’s son Justin is one of the film’s executive producers — those testifying to Weir’s musical gifts include such musicians as Jorma Kaukonen, Lee Ranaldo, Sammy Hagar, Jerry Harrison and Mike Gordon of Phish, the band that arguably has most closely inherited the Grateful Dead’s mantle.
Featuring footage of vintage performances by the Dead as well as Weir’s recent acoustic shows and a rendition of the song “Cassidy” in which he’s accompanied by members of the National, The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir serves as a well-deserved tribute to a musician whose stature belies the film’s title.
Tribeca Film Festival (Next Entertainment)
Director: Mike Fleiss
Producers: Marc Weingarten, Mike Fleiss
Executive producers: Justin Kreutzmann, Martin Hilton
Director of photography: Dan Friedman
Editors: Martin Hilton, Rich Fox
Not rated, 85 min.
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