What Dead Lyrics Are Your Favorite?

Here are some Grateful Dead songs with poetic musings that will be with me always.

June 13, 2019

Waiting to emcee. Fare Thee Well: 50 Years of the Grateful Dead 7/3/15

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The Grateful Dead was one of the rare bands to employ a dedicated lyricist. Procul Harum, for example, had Keith Reid. The Grateful Dead leaned on Robert Hunter. Of all the bands that filled my college years, The Grateful Dead had a gift for lyrics that penetrated my thick skull. These were songs you could quote as if you were a scholar quoting Shelley or Keats. Dead and Friends are at Wrigley Field Friday and Saturday and WXRT has chosen The Grateful Dead for a Friday Feature. Here are some Grateful Dead songs with poetic musings that will be with me always.

 

The song that I play when I want people to ponder the profundity of the human condition is always “Ripple.” Hunter wrote it with Jerry and the entire song is fairly brilliant.

There is a road, no simple highway

Between the dawn and the dark of night

And if you go no one may follow

That path is for your steps alone

 

I have never understood the appeal of “Touch of Grey.” It is their biggest “hit” and for radio stations that might play just one Dead song, this is the one they choose. A pity. However, as a reflection from an aging band, these words of affirmation work for me.

I will get by

I will survive

 

The power of “Box of Rain” may come with the knowledge that Phil Lesh was writing this for his dying father. A collaboration with Hunter. And on July 9th, 1995, it was the final song ever played by The Grateful Dead. It was at Soldier Field and of you were there.

Maybe you're tired and broken

Your tongue is twisted

With words half spoken

And thoughts unclear

What do you want me to do

To do for you to see you through

A box of rain will ease the pain

And love will see you through

 

Don’t tell anyone this, but the first time I heard Uncle John’s Band, I thought they were singing “Come see Uncle Tom’s cabin.” I’m glad I listened a second time. Here’s a rhyming couplet that reminds me to take nothing for granted.

Well the first days are the hardest days, don't you worry any more,

Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.

 

It’s funny the way Dead lyrics traipse thru our daily rounds. When you walk out the door on a summer day and greet the sun, the words “Sunshine daydream” may just spill out of your brain.

Or maybe the contents of Jerry Garcia’s “Wheel” are what you need to describe the impermanence of our world. It is also reminiscent of Bob Dylan's "Don't speak too soon cuz the wheel's still in spin."

The wheel is turning and you can't slow down
You can't let go and you can't hold on
You can't go back and you can't stand still
If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will

Of all the lyrics that have been repeated and borrowed, there are no lines that have been cemented in our collective cultural consciousness like these words from “Truckin.’”

 

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me,

Other times I can barely see.

Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been.

 

Keep it strange.

 

-Lin

Fare Thee Well at Soldier Field. (Photo by Dave Suarez)