MH works out with a music and fitness legend
Bob Weir, the 72-year-old founding member of the Grateful Dead, is running around the outdoor Jiffy Lube Live amphitheatre in Bristow, Virginia. It’s 35°C in the mid-Atlantic summer sun. “We’ll start off by going for a trot,” he said a few minutes ago, after stepping out of his tour bus wearing a sleeveless shirt, three-quarter-leg sweats and toe shoes. He looks like an American Civil War general who is really into CrossFit. Five minutes into this run, he has covered a lot of ground, verbally as well as physically: how to incorporate his Apple Watch into his workouts, how finding the right shoes changed his life, how he meditates on tour. But right now, he wants to tell a little story about his ol’ pal Rolling Thunder.
“When I became an exercise junkie in my twenties, I used to turn my ankles a bunch. I had a friend, a Shoshone healer: Rolling Thunder. I used to see him work on people with an owl’s wing and cedar smoke. I said, ‘Chief, would you consider doctoring my ankles?’ He stood me up and said, ‘When you’re running, have you ever thought about looking down at where you put your feet?’” He pauses for effect. “And I haven’t turned my ankle since.” Weir is not your ordinary rocker.
At my age, if you let it go, it ain’t coming back
Weir started the Grateful Dead aged 16 in San Francisco, playing rhythm guitar and sharing vocals with lead guitarist and fellow co-founder Jerry Garcia. You may be aware that he sang “Truckin’”, “Playing in the Band” and “Sugar Magnolia”. You might even have heard that he is currently playing three-hour shows and packing Madison Square Garden. But the thing you probably didn’t appreciate is that he thinks of himself as an athlete as much as a musician – maybe more.
He says that you need to do three things to be happy. First, “Dedicate your life to the pursuit of a sense of purpose.” Second, you should meditate, which he did on his bus right before this interview. Third, work out, which he’s doing right now.
“This is not the fun part,” he says about the intervals he is about to do: 20-second sprint, 20-second walk on a hill at a 45-degree incline. A daunting angle for anyone, much less a septuagenarian. Up and down he goes. “That was the warm-up,” he says.
Weir has stayed fit with what today might be called “intentional consumption”. “I’ve tried to be aware of how stuff affects me, what food or drugs make me burn bright and which ones tend to dull me, so that I can be better at what I’m trying to do.” And he has always worked out on tour. In the mid-1970s, after seeing a chiropractor about his back, he began his trotting habit, going for a run in whatever neighbourhood his tour bus happened to be parked in: the middle of Detroit, beside the Great Pyramid, wherever.
Now, he walks over to the wheeled metal cart full of workout equipment that accompanies him on every tour, grabs a 10kg mace and does halos over his head to loosen his shoulder and upper back muscles. His workouts focus on rotation and mobility, much of it targeting his back and glutes. And there’s a lot of twisting, which strengthens his core.
You don’t just pick up a heavy mace and start doing this: someone has to teach you. And you have to work up to it. Weir got hooked on CrossFit a few years ago. One of his go-to drills is beating a huge tyre with his weighty mace. “The practice goes back thousands of years. The old original martial art was learning how to swing a big heavy thing and keep yourself balanced and collected.”
Despite his lifelong commitment to training and the exercise videos on his Instagram, he says he has never been an evangelist about fitness. He has never tried to lure band members into training: “I never pushed it, because I don’t think it’s my right. It’s a lot like pushing religion. I don’t think any human has a right to do that.”
But he is starting to see the power of the mission. “This is something guys my age can do, and it will make an immense difference if grace and happiness are among your goals.” Other than a little arthritis, he feels good these days. “I remember looking in the mirror in my twenties and thinking, ‘Holy shit. I’m ripped!’ That was probably the peak of it. I’m getting to a place now where I’m rivalling that. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got going.” Though he’s no longer climbing amp stacks, he’s still performing three-hour concerts of 20 or so songs. (His current catalogue spans about 200.)
“At my age, if you let it go, it ain’t coming back,” he says. “I have a lot of stuff I want to get to. And I gotta fuckin’ live to do it.” So, if he’s gonna live, he has to double down on his workouts, adopt new practices, meet new people. When you see Weir onstage with Dead & Company, you’re witnessing a striver, a runner, a gym rat, a classic American jock. You’re witnessing a man who is never going to stop playing.
Weir isn’t the only artist swapping rock’n’roll tropes for better health.
To keep those hips gyrating at 76, Jagger spends six days a week tackling eight-mile runs, swimming and even ballet.
The 55-year-old now lives in the Bahamas, training outside and focusing on bodyweight pull-ups and squats.
Having overhauled his diet and training, the 52-year-old DJ has eased into his sixth decade with six-pack abs.
Author: Ross Mccammon
Source: Men’s Health: How I Built My Body: Grateful Dead founder, Bob Weir