Over the New Year’s holiday, my boyfriend and I watched the Amazon/Scorsese produced documentary series, Long Strange Trip, about The Grateful Dead. My boyfriend is a big fan of the band and has been since he was a young teenager. As for me, though I love a handful of songs by the band, I’d never known much about them and had been put off some by the fandom in the ’90s. It was an unfair reason to be put off about a band, but I think I’d made assumptions from what I perceived, and never returned to their music until I met my boyfriend.
Music sharing is a special of our relationship. It was a big part of our first connection to each other and remains something that I cherish between us. The fact that he loves the band so much made me curious to hear more, and learn more about the band. He’s opened my eyes and ears up to a lot of music. Hopefully, I’ve done the same for him.
The fantastic documentary series (I highly recommend it, even if you are not a fan – maybe especially if you aren’t a fan) changed a lot of my views on the band, and even my thoughts on the fans. I’m on a quest to discover/rediscover more of their music in the new year. I’m starting with the album American Beauty, which includes the first Dead song I remember hearing. “Ripple”. A song that remains my favorite of theirs…at least for now. That could change as my quest unfolds.
“Ripple” by Grateful Dead
from the album, American Beauty (1970)
“Ripple in still water.
When there is no pebble tossed,
nor wind to blow.”
“Ripple” is track six on the 1970 album, American Beauty. It was released as the “B-Side” to the single “Truckin’.” (from Wikipedia)
“Ripple” was written by Robert Hunter while he was in London. He wrote it in the same afternoon that he wrote “Brokedown Palace” and “To Lay Me Down”. Robert wrote the lyrics. Jerry wrote the music to “Ripple”.
Several lines throughout the song have been compared to the 23rd Psalm of the Bible.
The harp mentioned at the beginning suggest the musical instrument that traditionally accompanied the psalms. The still water, the cup, the road at night, and some other subtle pieces all suggest a connection. Though I can hear Psalms in the lyrics, the song has always reminded me more of Eastern Religion, specifically Buddhism.
The Dead performed an electric version of “Ripple” at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, on September 3, 1988. It was the first they’d done so since 1971. According to Dennis McNally’s A Long Strange Trip, this came after Bob Weir got the request from a young man who was dying of an unidentified illness. Upon getting the request, Weir bet Garcia $10 that he wouldn’t be able to remember the lyrics. Garcia took the bet and won. Weir, however, never paid up.
“Ripple” (live, “Electric”, 1988) by Grateful Dead
“Ripple” was first performed during a show at San Francisco’s Fillmore West, in August of 1970. It was the same night that the tracks “Brokedown Palace”, “Operator, and “Truckin'” were first played in public. “Ripple” was played during the first set, which was acoustic.
Alright, back to my quest, and the rest of 1970’s Dead album, American Beauty. You can expect more song and/or album features as my Grateful Dead “trip” continues.