J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tribeca ’14: The Other One

Bob Weir never had an ice cream named after him. He always played second banana to Jerry Garcia, but he got a disproportionate share of the perks that come to a rock band tour, if you get the drift. The dean of the jam band scene now gets his overdue ovation in Mike Fleiss’s The Other One: the Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir, which screens during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Weir was adopted at birth by a well-to-do San Francisco couple who were not very San Francisco. He had the city in his blood anyway. An undiagnosed dyslexic, Weir underperformed academically, but found his niche in music. A fast-friendship with the somewhat older and more established Jerry Garcia led to the establishment of what was initially a jug band. After a detour with the Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead were on their way.

The cooperative Weir revisits all the major sites of The Dead creation story, even though most are now completely unrecognizable. He granted Fleiss extensive face time, including valuable interview segments explaining his surprising musical influences, such as the great jazz artist, McCoy Tyner. He also dispels any suspicion of a rivalry with Garcia once and for all. In fact, we get a picture of a genuinely touching friendship between the band members. Frankly, third parties suggest Garcia rather regretted his exalted position with Deadheads, whereas Weir was relieved to be spared their intense devotion.

Weir is about as laidback as fans would expect, but he has some thoughtful insights to offer viewers. However, Fleiss misses a conspicuous opportunity to push for some consistency on the subject of drug use. Weir might have fond (if hazy) memories of the drug-fueled early days, but Garcia’s sad drug-related end clearly still distresses him.

As a gentle exercise in Grateful Dead revisionism, Fleiss and his assembled talking heads argue Weir played a more active role as a songwriter and an architect of the group’s overall sound than many Garcia partisans realize. Without question, Fleiss and company are more concerned about giving Weir his just due than inviting messy soul searching—and so be it. Other One tells an interesting story, at a healthy pace, but it is not completely blinkered from reality. Recommended for all jam band listeners, The Other One screens again tomorrow (4/26) as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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