THERE’S A LOT GOING ON HERE. Bob Weir, 72-year-old founding member of the Grateful Dead, is running around Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater in Bristow, Virginia, on a 95 degree day in June. “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 tee, capri-length sweats, and toed shoes. He looks like a Civil War general who’s really into CrossFit. Five minutes into this run, he’s already covered a lot of ground: how to incorporate his Apple watch into his workouts, how the 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.
“I got hit with a chop block when I was a defensive end in high school. My ankles were weak for years,” says Weir, in full canter now, starting to sweat a little. “So when I became an exercise junkie in my 20s, I used to turn my ankles a bunch. Anyway, 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?’ ”
Here he pauses for effect.
“And I haven’t turned my ankle since.”
Everything Weir talks about during this and the other conversations we’d have over the next few weeks would involve the powerful themes found in that mildly amusing vignette.
BOB WEIR may be the former rhythm guitarist and co–lead singer of the Grateful Dead, which he founded at 16 years old (16!) with Jerry Garcia in San Francisco. He may have sung “Truckin’,” “Playing in the Band,” and “Sugar Magnolia.” He may currently be playing three-hour shows with his band Bob Weir and Wolf Bros and packing venues like Madison Square Garden this month alongside John Mayer and former Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann in Dead & Company, but the essential thing about Bob Weir—the thing even some Deadheads might not fully grasp—is that he thinks of himself as a jock as much as a musician. Maybe more.
Bob (“Bob’s fine. Bobby. Your choice.”) likes to say you need to do three things to be happy. You need to “dedicate your life to the pursuit of a sense of purpose.” You need to meditate, which he did on his bus right before this interview. And you need to work out, which he’s doing right now, although we’ve paused for a moment while he positions himself at the bottom of the vast, steep grass hill that makes up the back of this open-air concert venue.
“This is not the fun part,” he says about the intervals he’s about to do. Tabata style. Twenty-second sprint, 20-second walk. It’s easily a 45 degree incline—a daunting angle for anyone, much less a septuagenarian. Bob stands there in what seems like Should I actually do this? contemplation. Turns out he’s just waiting for his Apple watch to beep. When it does, off he goes. The watch beeps again, and he turns to walk down the hill. Then another beep and he sprints back up. He goes up and down, up and down until he reaches the top, where he takes a breather. A few seconds later, he’s gone over the hill and into the amphitheater. When I catch up, he’s heading back to his bus. “That was the warmup,” he says.
VER 56 YEARS of performing, he’s never looked anything other than fit, and he’s never sounded anything other than amped. There’s no difference between his vocal commitment to “Cassidy” or “Mama Tried” or “The Other One” in the late ’60s and early ’70s and the versions he sings in 2019. He’s always brought it. Always. Maybe that’s because his togetherness, his essential responsibility, is what allowed Jerry to be Jerry, even as Garcia deteriorated before everyone’s eyes in the years before he died in 1995.
Bob was aware of the counterbalance, though not acutely. “I admired Jerry because he didn’t give a shit about any of that, and I think he admired me because I did. I admired his ability to just say, ‘Fuck it. I’m going to suck down a couple of cheeseburgers and a pizza and a couple of White Russians, and I’m going to be fine about that.’ Working out was just too much effort and too much pain.”
Bob 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 brighter and which ones tend to dull me, so that I can be better at what I’m trying to do.” And he’s always worked out on tour. In the mid-’70s, after seeing a chiropractor about his back, he began his trotting habit, going for a run in whatever neighborhood his tour bus happened to be parked in: the middle of Detroit, beside the Great Pyramid, wherever.
And there’s always been football—the subject that comes up most in our conversations. His love of the sport began when he played linebacker in high school. From the mid-’80s until five years ago, he was on the roster of the Tamalpais Chiefs flag-football team in his longtime hometown in the Bay Area. He talks about that team with the reverence with which he talks about music. “It’s the most complicated sport there is. You’ve got people with virtually every kind of body type who specialize in doing what that body type can do. All that comes together, and if the team moves as one, it’s really pretty awesome.”
Sort of like a band.
“I can still throw a ball that you can hear comin’,” he says. That ability is supported by what he’s doing now, as bemused food-service vendors walk by: throwing a 20-pound medicine ball to a member of his staff. First with two hands, then with one. A few minutes later, he pulls on some knee pads and picks up the TRX bands, which have been secured to the forklift that Bob ordered up before our run. He does skaters and lunges.
Bob walks over to the wheeled metal cart full of workout equipment that accompanies him on every tour and grabs a 20-pound mace and does halos over his head to loosen his shoulder and upper-back muscles. He orbits the mace around his head and then moves to a kneel and then back up again to do the other side. Over and over. His workouts focus on rotation and mobility. A lot of shoulder work. A lot of stuff that targets his posterior chain—his back and glutes. And a lot of twisting, which strengthens his core.
You don’t just pick up a heavy mace and start doing that. Someone has to teach you. And you have to work up to it.
He got hooked on CrossFit a few years back. “A couple of my friends and I were frequenting the San Francisco facility and managed to snake one of the instructors to train us out at my place, where I set up a little outdoor gym. I’m always on the lookout for functional stuff that’s fun to do.” One of his go-to drills is beating a huge tire with a gada mace. “The practice goes back thousands of years. The old original martial art was learning how to swing a big heavy thing and keep your balance and keep yourself collected. You can feel when you’re slipping from the proper form; there’s a timelessness about it.”
Despite his lifelong commitment to working out, despite his Instagram full of exercise videos, he says he’s never been an evangelist. He never tried to get the other guys in the band into working out, he says. “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’s starting to see the power of the mission now. “This is something guys my age can do, and it will make an immense difference in what they call your golden years if grace and happiness are goals of yours.” Other than a little arthritis, he feels good these days. “I remember looking in the mirror in my 20s and thinking, Holy shit. I’m ripped! That was probably the peak of it. I’m getting to a place now where I’m rivaling that. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got going now.”
At home, he has a workout group with his old football crew. They organize their routine for the day on a whiteboard, like a set list. He says his general goal is just to have “some gas left in the tank after the show.” Although he’s not climbing PA stacks like he used to, he’s still performing three-hour concerts of 20 or so songs. (His current catalog is about 200.)
It’s a physical effort. “If I want a dynamic drop, I’m going to signal that. I’ll just dip a shoulder. They know that the drop is coming, but nobody knows exactly when, and I never know exactly when until right before it happens. I find that the more that I move, the better I play, the more I get into the swing of things.”
A lot like a quarterback.
“I might have been, come to think of it. Organizational stuff is one of my strong suits, and a quarterback is an organizational kind of guy. Jerry was something of an elusive yet powerful running back. He could do it all. But I was cueing the up and down because Jerry was fucking busy.”
Bob wants to point out, though, that it’s not exactly him doing the quarterbacking. “When I walk onstage, I leave the building. The guy people take photographs of is not there. I’ve pretty much taken leave of the regular world. It’s another place entirely. Things are different there. I’m a combination of the characters that come and visit us in the songs and the storyteller who brings these characters around. I’ve given up even attempting to see which song is going to sit up and beg on a given night.”
“AT MY AGE, if you let it go, it ain’t coming back” was one of the first things Bob said to me in Virginia. “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—really live—he has to double down on his workouts, adopt new practices, meet new people. And do this story. “One of my goals for this interview is to open some communication with your outfit,” he said in his dressing room after the show. Turns out he wasn’t making small talk. Bob sent me a text one Monday afternoon a few weeks after the interview, a list of stuff he wants to try: Bob wants to get into underwater workouts. “I saw a video clip of a guy working out underwater; he took a kettlebell from the bottom of a squat position and powered into a backflip and came back around to the squat. I wanna do stuff like that.” And more mace techniques. And yoga trapeze.
When you see Bob onstage with Dead & Company, you’re witnessing a striver, a runner, a gym rat, a jock. You’re witnessing a man who was probably all over the stadium earlier and may have worked out on the ground your blanket’s on.
You’re witnessing a guy who, playing middle linebacker in 1962 at 15 years old, ran through a hole in the line and got to the quarterback right as he was handing off the ball, who felt the weight of 21 guys fall on top of him, who was knocked out for a few seconds but somehow woke up and felt the ball underneath him.
“The moment comes back every now and again,” Bob says. “It’s that thrill of grace that travels up your spine whenever you’re doing things right.” You could be playing football. You could be quarterbacking onstage. You could be doing intervals up the ass end of an amphitheater. You could be getting your ankles doctored by a Shoshone healer. You could be doing the stepper at a hotel gym. But fitness leads to magic. That day in ’62, Bob trotted off the field after the play to recover, to soak in the glory. As he got to the sideline, his coach looked at him and said, “Weir! Get the fuck back out there! You’re on offense!”
And that’s where he’s stayed: on offense. He’s still playing. He never came out of the game.
Author: Ross Mccammon
Source: Mens Health: The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir Is 72 and Still Working Out Like a Beast