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Music and the Creative Spirit

Bob Weir: The Music Never Stopped

By Published: January 17, 2009
LP: Pablo Cassal's said that "The heart of a melody can never be put down on paper" and in a sense, that was the magic of the Grateful Dead in performance. At times, one couldn't help thinking that there was no other place in the world where you would rather be.

BW: The moment that the music kicked in and the heavens opened, you were in that moment and nowhere else, and there isn't anywhere else that anyone ought to be. (laughs) We were no longer in the physical realm anymore. We were far past that.

LP: There was also a transformative power with the Dead. When exactly did you guys know that the music you were creating had this kind of transformative or perhaps even spiritual power?

BW: Well it was undeniable the first time that it happened to us and that was all that we needed to know. Of course we could also feel that the audience was sharing in that. We knew we had a good thing going.

LP: Were you conscious of trying to get inside the center of the sound and were you aware of what you were creating?

BW: We were not consciously creating it, but we were conscious of finding it. And when we found it, we found it without looking. We were aware of it and it's like mantra. I hate to wax metaphysical on you but in the Vedic Tradition, sound perceives reality.

LP: The Dead's music was also completely committed in its vision. It was very, very sure of its direction, yet at the same time, it remained open to new possibilities. That in itself is a contradiction. Can you explain what made it work?

BW: We were just kids following our footsteps. That said, there were some interesting places where people would find contradiction but usually where we found none. If you are able to find that thread, the contradiction completely falls by the wayside and everything falls into place. We never had any idea what we were chasing but when we caught it, we knew it.

LP: Is there a separation between expressing love through music and where your soul or spirit begins to influence the creation?

BW: When we get to where we want to go, time evaporates and there is no sense of time. The only sense of time is the beat but that's different. It's not the clock ticking. That time is infinite and elastic. And given that we evolved to a timeless place, there is no act of creation. It just is. I'm not doing it, it's just there.

LP: The great innovators have always pushed on the boundaries of creativity. This was clearly the case of the Dead but towards the end that might not have always been the case. And as most musicians as they mature, they become more conservative with their creative approach. But with your more recent work with Ratdog, there seems to be more confidence and a desire to take more risks in your search for creative discoveries. You are pushing on those boundaries again. What drives you? What makes it work?

BW: I really cannot take all that much credit with Ratdog because all the band members have just as much influence with the writing as I do. But that's the way I wanted it because it brought the band together and with my experience of setting music and lyrics together, stories can merge out of that. But everybody was invested in the writing and it gave us a sense of what we could do and it worked very well for us.

LP: But you personally must have been very open to it.

BW: My responsibility on stage is to leave nobody in the audience behind. So once again, we read the audience and we try to develop our shows so that we are opening up ourselves every night and at the same time, try to gauge how open the audience is becoming.

LP: One of the areas that separate creative artists from most other musicians is that most are interested in the answers, but artists are more interested in the questions, in the search itself. This was clearly part of the foundation of the Dead but the chances of six like minds coming together (Weir laughs) searching within that same universe is quite extraordinary. Visionaries are rare and usually walk alone. When did you guys know that you had something special in a creative way?

BW: Well, the Beatles were notable for that.

Each one of us had our own particular pied-a-terre, nebulous amorphous pieta tear, and we kind of relied on each other to pursue our own direction. However, as soon as a melody or a harmonic progression started to emerge, everyone would ferociously kick in, trying to push and develop where they found it wanting to go. Everybody was different, so it developed in surprising ways.

LP: There is a quote from Dennis McNally's book (A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead) where a club manager states, "You guys will never make it, you're too weird!" (both laugh). But you guys always received criticism yet always followed your own creative vision. Did you consider the criticism validation of your work?

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