Q&A: Bob Weir on the Grateful Dead
LOS ANGELES - It's been more than 40 years since a fateful New Year's Eve encounter connected Bob Weir with Jerry Garcia and started a rock band, the Grateful Dead, that would become the eternal poster child for 1960s psychedelic music.
Now, nine years after Garcia died of a heart attack, the Grateful Dead remains about as busy as ever - on numerous fronts.
Band members, who now call themselves The Dead, are digitizing the group's entire library of some 2,500 concert recordings and plan to eventually make them all available online. They also continue to record and tour, with Weir on the road this spring with his spin-off group, RatDog, and then this summer with The Dead.
The band's core fan base also remains avid_ so much so that Weir, in Los Angeles to promote the release of a double-CD retrospective called "Weir Here," must resort to wearing disguises in public or holing up in hotel rooms under false names. One of his pseudonyms phonetically results in an obscenity.
Addressed by it when he opens the door to his hotel room, Weir laughs and suggests he prefers to be called Bobby.
Then, the 56-year-old musician sits down to reflect on four decades of music, as well as at the road that lies ahead.
AP: What do you think has given the Grateful Dead's music such an enduring quality with so many people?
Weir: We keep ourselves into it by approaching every tune every night as a whole new deal and trying to find new ways to interpret older material and trying to find new places to go. And I think that's what keeps it enduring for the audience. We're the kind of people who require a little adventure in our lives, and so the music we make is going to reflect that. And I think the people who come to hear us and keep coming back are also the kind of people who require that.
AP: You must have fans at this point who never saw the original Grateful Dead.
Weir: At this point there are tried and true RatDog fans, a number of whom have seen upwards of a hundred shows and have never seen the Dead. It's safe to say that they probably would have been Dead fans back in the day. ... I was talking to a girl who is a fan the other day and this kind of blew me away. She was telling me that her parents were big fans and that she remembered hearing me sing and hearing us play from in the womb and that she was singing those songs before she learned to talk. I think I believe her (laughing). But still, that's something to think about.
AP: You called yourselves The Other Ones for a time after Jerry's death and now The Dead. Has Grateful Dead been retired as a touring name?
Weir: Yeah. I mean at this point I think there may be more of us dead than alive. So let's have a little truth in advertising.
AP: You also have your own children now who are very young (daughters 2 and 6). Has fatherhood changed you?
Weir. Oh hell yeah (laughing). We don't have broadband at this hotel, but most of the hotels on this tour it seems, just this year, are starting to offer broadband. I've got this Apple iChat audiovisual that I use to have breakfast with my kids and stuff like that. The other day I spent most of an hour breaking up fights over the Internet. "Put that down. Don't grab, don't grab. Be nice to your sister." All that kind of stuff. And then my girls will draw something real quick and show me. It's a lot of fun.
AP: Are there any younger music groups you pay particular attention to?
Weir: I don't pay attention to any current popular music. If I have time to listen to music, I want to go as far from where I live as I can. I want it to be a real vacation. ... what grabs me is modern classical and mainstream jazz. And I've been trying to crack the code of Indian classical music.
AP: Any thoughts on still going out on the road with The Dead after all these years and all the changes you've been through?
Weir: You know, I'll offer this: That I don't miss Jerry (Garcia) because he's very much alive for me. I can feel him every moment when I'm on stage, to the point where I can very nearly hear him. It's pretty real for me. This may be what they call abnormal psychology, but it's pretty real for me. It's pretty much the same as it's ever been. I can tell when we're headed for something he's either pleased with or not pleased with, and I can go ahead and be headstrong like I always was, always have been, and things will work out or they won't. Just like they always did. What I miss about him is the yucks we had backstage (long pause). But I've got plenty of yucks with the guys I travel with these days, so it's not that big a deal.
AP: So, is it safe to say retirement is not on your horizon?
Weir: What great musician ever retired? I don't put myself in that category, but that's what I aspire to.
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