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Music and the Creative Spirit

Bob Weir: The Music Never Stopped

By Published: January 17, 2009
BW: Claude Monet developed cataracts in his eyes and his color perception slowly changed over the years. For him, all of those fantastic colors were just natural, but to the rest of the world, they were super natural. And he had no idea what was happening to him but after he had cataract surgery, he wanted to destroy all of his paintings. So your perception changes over the years and though I feel passionate, there is nothing that I would rather do than catch that next wave on stage.

LP: There is now a younger generation coming to Ratdog performances. Do you sense the same vibe from this audience and the same search for wanting something more?

BW: It's still the same. It's the kindred spirits. It's a certain kind of person that requires a little bit of adventure in their lives and in their music. And we are more than happy to provide that because that's what has kept us going. We are all kindred spirits and actually, I'm just a professional adolescent anyway.

LP: Can this culture sustain itself for many more generations?

BW: I think it has been in our culture since the fusion of African and European music. By the time of the late 20s,' people were listening to Afro Euro music. That was open ended music and there was adventure there. There were jazz bands that were jammin' and the more rigid folks responded with, "Stop this noise! Stop this noise!" They couldn't relate. Look at what happened when Stravinsky debuted the "Right of Spring". People hooted, booed and stomped out but the younger folks got it. And Stravinsky was only about 21 at that time.

In our culture today, there is an understanding that art can be derived from a more elemental part of ones being and its there before one reaches adolescence. And just before early adulthood, the more intelligent ones start to develop enough appreciation for art and music that they can handle the complexity in art. They are going to go with this new creative form and it was proven again with the emergence of rock and roll. And when I talk about rock and roll, I am talking about a specific period and era, a specific kind of music. After the late 50s and very early 60s, it had already started to dissipate, turning into rock music, the heavily amplified electric bass and driving stuff. The lithe part of rock and roll was gone. I developed that awareness a little further on in my career and by the time I was in my mid to late 20s, I had realized that, "this isn't rock and roll," this is something else." It's good and I don't mean to devalue it, it's just that it's not rock and roll. If you are going to play rock and roll, it has to have the swamp factor with varying degrees of shuffle within straight rhythm, which is mathematically imprecise and necessarily so. And a certain kind of person can do that but you have to be free of neurosis; neurosis being the inability to accept ambiguity.

LP: The following quote is from the great classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin: Improvisation is not the expression of accident but rather of the accumulated yearning, dreams and wisdom of our very soul. Does that resonate with you?

BW: I agree with that to a certain point but accidents do happen. An intuitive improvisatory musician hears an accident and immediately makes that a positive development. But Yehudi Menuhin probably said that back before Bitches Brew. Today, if someone adds a note that doesn't necessarily work, somebody else in the band might hear it a little differently and compile something completely different where that mistake now works and it's all because of the collaborative experience. And suddenly, "Oh, there's a new harmonic territory here that we are going to overlay and then find meaning in the juxtaposition."

LP: There is an argument that can be made that perhaps no other time in history did music have such a profound affect on society and politics than the 60s. It was a time when music actually did make a difference in society and in a positive way. Did you know at that time that music was having this type of influence?

BW: We were pretty aware of that, yeah. But I think you can attribute that to the baby boomer demographics. There were a lot of kids listening to youth oriented music and from that; anthems emerged that shaped the culture of youth. We were a part of that. We were generating that kind of stuff but also appreciating that kind of stuff. We were embodying it and commenting on it. Everyone was doing that.

LP: The band never stood on a pedestal and made political statements yet you supported causes that you believed in. Your actions spoke louder than words. Is it still that way for you?


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