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Mike Fleiss

Jun 28/2015
INTERVIEW Tiffany Haligua PHOTOGRAPHY Herb Greene

We’ve all seen the bumper stickers – the line of rainbow coloured, collared bears dancing along the back of some asthmatic old car on its way to a festival. Beyond the bears, we’ve delighted in the genius ice cream flavour that is “Cherry Garcia,” or thought that wearing a wreath of red roses would be the perfect accessory to a rock show.

The almost cult-like status of The Grateful Dead is so prevalent, so omnipresent, so engrained into our society that many people don’t even realize what the tie-dyed, trippy references harken back to. Which is a shame. Their music was innovative and spoke for a generation of young souls who couldn’t explain what escape they needed until they heard it booming out of a speaker during an acid trip. The idea of the Grateful Dead has somewhat taken over the music of the Grateful Dead for subsequent generations.

Director Mike Fleiss has successfully managed to bring it back to the music with his new documentary The Other One. He lets the story of the band be told first-hand through the oft-overshadowed Bob Weir (lead singer, rhythm guitarist and writer) as well as 30 years worth of archive and interviews. This isn’t just a story of hedonism and drug trips (although there’s a lot of that, too.) It’s a story of a few guys who bonded over music in Palo Alto and became a family, while at the same time creating an empire and a musical legacy which, it seems, will forever have a place in our society – whether we realize it or not.
Georgie got the chance to speak with Mike Fleiss about the making of the documentary, The Other One, which is available to view now on Netflix.

G—First of all congratulations on the documentary, it’s wonderful!

Mike Fleiss—I’m glad you liked it. It was a lot of fun to make. I am a solidly established Deadhead. I did my first documentary about Ozzy Osbourne two years ago, and I found that I really had a good time doing that so I wanted to do another one. I thought, well my favourite band is the Grateful Dead.

G—Being an established Deadhead for a long time, what does their music mean to you?

It brings you back to those days where you’re young and high on drugs – high on the right drug.

MF—It brings you back to those days where you’re young and high on drugs – high on the right drug. It keeps you in a mellow, easygoing vibe.

It’s also got the greatest guitar playing. I’ve been playing guitar since I was six years old and to me they have the two best guitar players that I’ve ever seen in rock music. Jerry, being the lead player, and Bobby playing rhythm.

G—You use so much archive in the film and it’s amazingly illustrative. It really brings you back to that time. I was wondering what your process was going through 30 years of archive?

MF—We got a lot of photos and video from Bob and his sister and wife that hadn’t been seen before. [Jeff Kristen], the executive producers on the movie, had spent some time floating around with the band. He had a home movie camera and was filming a lot. We also researched it for more than a year.

G—Did you feel a certain responsibility toward Grateful Dead fans in making this documentary? Showing the legacy through Bob Weir’s life?

MF—For me, as a real fan of the band, it was a risky proposition in some ways because if people hated it that would really have sucked. If Deadheads or Bob didn’t like it I would have been disappointing a lot of people.

I remember when I went to show Bob the first rough cut – I was terrified. We went into his studio – the studio that he gives you a tour of in the documentary – and I had to sit in the back of the room because I couldn’t watch his reaction. If he were unhappy about something it would have been devastating. But he loved it.

G—Being such a big fan to begin with, was it intimidating for you to get so close to Bob?

MF—Bob is the real deal. He’s so cool and laid back. You don’t feel intimidated when you’re with him. He’s really warm and generous.

G—It’s really nice when your heroes turn out to be good guys as well.

MF—It’s almost unprecedented. Nine times out of 10 they’re slightly underwhelming, slightly deflating. Bob is the real thing.

G—In the documentary, Carolyn Garcia describes Bob as the magical object in the middle of the band.

MF—I love that.

G—Is that how you would describe him?

MF—I think there were a bunch of magical objects in the Grateful Dead. Bob has a sort of zest for living – especially in those days – that I think inspired those guys. He loved doing everything. If it sounded like an adventure he would do it, and I think that’s probably what she was referring to.

G—That’s great.

MF—Bob has a great enthusiasm for the music. He loves it and loves to play.

G—In the movie you touch on the cult status of the band, especially in the late ‘80s, and the almost deification of Jerry Garcia. What are your thoughts on that? Is that deification of Garcia deserved and why did you choose to address it in the documentary?

I think it pertains to the theme of the movie, which is that Bob has in some ways been living in Jerry’s gargantuan shadow. Bob is the other one but is still a great one.

MF—I think it pertains to the theme of the movie, which is that Bob has in some ways been living in Jerry’s gargantuan shadow. Bob is the other one but is still a great one. If you think about the songs, there are a lot of great songs that Bob wrote for the Grateful Dead.

G—As you say, Bob was sort of in the shadow of Jerry Garcia and he seems like such a humble guy. Are you hoping that this documentary is going bring Bob’s achievements out of the shadows a bit?

MF—Yeah, I would like that. I think people who are familiar with the Grateful Dead know the massive contribution that Bob has made. Maybe some of the newer fans that watch this will see Bob in a different way – a better way. That would be cool.

G—Personally, I think you do a great job of it.

MF—Thank you. This was a labour of love. I’ve done so many TV shows and a bunch of movies but this is by far my favourite project.

It was a dream come true for me.

G—He talks in the film about the fans that come to the shows for the party and the atmosphere. He seems to sort of frown upon it when they’re not there for the music. But that’s kind of how they started. Did he ever reconcile that with you?

MF—That’s a complicated thing and was one of the most fascinating things he said during the 40 some odd hours of interviews we did. Bob wasn’t doing a lot of drugs. He liked to drink a little bit but he wasn’t doing heroin like Jerry. He was a health food, exercise guy and was in fantastic shape. I don’t think Bob saw it as a productive thing to be totally fucked up on drugs. He didn’t really dig the fact that at some point the band had become synonymous with doing a lot of drugs.

G—They’ve got some much anticipated reunion shows coming up. Were you hoping that the film might sort of create a symbiotic relationship with that tour?

MF—That would be cool but they are going to have to go the pay per view or theater screenings for that. Those are the hardest concert tickets to get that I can remember seeing in a long time. I don’t even know, maybe ever!

G—Last question for you, Mike – Bob has this great line where he says that he was just following his “bliss”. I was wondering, was this movie for you following your bliss?

MF—Oh, yeah, this was the best. The only bummer about this movie is now it’s over and I don’t get to work on it anymore.

The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is available on Netflix now.

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