Director: Mike Fleiss
Cast: Bob Weir
Watch The Other One online in the UK: Netflix UK
Who’s Bob Weir? For followers of the group (Deadheads), he was the hot guy amid a bunch of ugly blokes. For non-Grateful Dead fans, he’s a guitarist of whom they might have heard. Either way, he has always been the “other one”; the guy in the band who wasn’t Jerry Garcia.
Mike Fleiss’ documentary fully embraces that idea, which makes it an intriguing watch.
The problem with biographical documentaries, particularly those about creatives and artists, is that they tend to be hagiographic, portraying their famous subject with few warts and even fewer flaws. The start of The Other One explains that at 16, Bob Weir founded The Grateful Dead, described as “the most enduring American rock band in history”. Fleiss cuts together the familiar sights, from vox pops with friends to recollections by Weir himself – “I took LSD every Saturday without fail for about a year,” he grins.
The story of the group’s career serves as a trip down memory lane for existing fans and a handy introduction for newcomers: Weir moving into a house with the entire band; their growing fame, as 15 year old groupies turn up backstage. But Fleiss does something more interesting than the standard rags-to-riches (or, in the Grateful Dead’s case, rags-to-rich-rags) tale: he presents Bob’s life by refracting it through the lens of others.
First, we discover his friendship with Neal Cassady, a central figure in the Beat Generation. Weir marvels at his ability to “have a conservation with a table of people all one-on-one” or his knack of speeding through traffic without hitting other cars. “His body was here,” he observes, still in awe, “his soul was wherever he wanted it to be.”
But it is his bond with Garcia that proves the most definitive, one that sees him help Jerry through his heroin addiction (he was his trusted “bag man”) as well as support him on-stage. Weir, though, is far from your typical rhythm guitarist merely keeping time: he studies John Coltrane and pianists to develop his accompaniment skills, learning to invert chords and throw in harmonic counterparts. The band grew into a bunch of musicians who automatically followed “whoever was leading the story the furthest, the fastest” – a trait that led to their distinctive long jams, which would annoy dancers in bars during their early days.
“I could tell where Jerry was going and be there when he got there with a little surprise for him,” explains Weir. Ambitious and dedicated, yet humble, Bob makes for likeable company, full of amusing anecdotes and behind-the-scene factoids for regular listeners. Tributes from other rock stars only emphasise how unassuming a subject he is. But the editing undercuts any overbearing praise by continually moving the focus onto those around Weir: between the legendary figures of Cassady and Garcia, he comes across as more comfortable talking about other people than himself.
More than footage of Bob performing with members of The National, or him with his family, it’s seeing that musical bond between first and second guitarist that proves the movie’s real achievement – Jerry inspiring a scarily loyal following, while Weir quietly slips passing melodies into his background part.
“If you don’t have an ego, you can be the best number two on the planet,” says Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar. It’s impressively short and packed with psychedelic performances, but that’s what makes The Other One different to most music documentaries: seeing a supporting character in the spotlight.
The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Photo: Herb Greene