One of my favorite things is discovering a band that is already established, and you get to immerse yourself in their entire catalog, seeing the choices they made from one album to the next, etc. It’s been a while since there’s been a band I dove headlong into like that, but here I am with a band that can be somewhat divisive, but also a band you’ve certainly heard of: Grateful Dead.
I can’t honestly say I ever disliked the Grateful Dead, I just dismissed them as a drug band for hippies and never really gave them a chance. I knew Truckin’ and Casey Jones from the radio growing up, and that was about it. Then, it was with great surprise that I found out that my first wife’s favorite band was, in fact, the Dead. I listened to them a little, and realized they had some pretty good songs, but overall they just didn’t quite do it for me. To make a long story short, their music chipped away at me over the years, and now I’m in the middle of a Grateful Dead-fueled obsession. I’ve also decided to learn more about the guitarist who isn’t Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir. So when I found out there was a documentary on Netflix about Weir, I was all over it.
Talk about an interesting life! Weir recounts the early days, hanging out at the local music shop as a teenager and meeting Jerry Garcia, who at the time was known around town as sort of a hotshot banjo player. They hit it off immediately and formed a band. After a couple of evolutionary steps, they settled on the name Grateful Dead and started to develop a psychedelic rock sound, a change of pace from the more folksy jug band they initially started.
The film walks through The Dead’s career in fairly broad strokes, as it is really for the more casual fan, or the non-fan who knows nothing about the band. And while this is certainly not a “warts and all” documentary, they do address things that could’ve been left unspoken: the copious amounts of drugs they took in the early days; Weir’s voracious sexual appetite on the road (and how much the rest of the band appreciated him attracting women to the group); the seeming disdain Weir had for some of the fans they amassed in the late 80s after their song Touch of Grey made it onto the charts; and Garcia’s ailing health due to morbid obesity and heroin use. In fact, on that last topic, the film grows unexpectedly sad—seeing fans mourn Garcia’s death, one of Jerry’s daughters who clearly still misses her dad, and Weir himself, who said after a brief mourning period he went back out on the road with his band Ratdog, in part because if Garcia found out he was moping around at home and not out playing music, “he’d be furious.”
The film does end on a heartwarming note, however, as the adopted Weir locates his biological parents and forms a friendship with his father. I’m quite the sucker for music documentaries, so it would go without saying that I enjoyed The Other One, but as an ever-emerging Deadhead, it was a nice way to get a brief history of a band that was once described as, “not the best at what they do, but they’re the only ones who do what they do.”