Blair's Golden Road Blog - “Listen to the river sing sweet songs…”
By Blair Jackson
My 18-year-old daughter just had a week no one should have to experience. As Regan and I were coming out of the screening of the 7/18/89 Alpine show at the recent Meet-Up at the Movies, floating on air, we got a call from her telling us that three of her friends—all high school seniors—had been involved in a horrible automobile accident south of the Bay Area on Highway 101. One boy was killed, a second was in a coma, the third in critical condition but expected to recover. The past week has been a swirl of disbelief, grief and soul searching, as both students and parents have struggled to cope with this unthinkable tragedy, offer support to all who need it and also try to carry on with the other things in our lives. It’s not easy buckling down to read a chapter on comparative government when one of your pals is undergoing his second brain surgery in three days. Nor for us, as parents, to see our daughter entering what is new emotional territory for her and many of her closest friends. There have been solemn get-togethers and a beautiful candlelight vigil, and teachers and counselors at the high school have been sympathetic and helpful.
A few nights ago, my daughter was headed out of the house and surprised me by suddenly asking, “Can you find me version of ‘Brokedown Palace’ I can play in the car?” She has always enjoyed the Dead on some level, knows a lot of their songs to varying degrees and has become more interested in their music over the past year, especially since seeing Furthur during the last New Year’s run. I have heard her idly singing bits of “Brokedown Palace” around the house from time to time; maybe it’s from all those nights I sang it to her as I rocked her to sleep when she was a baby.
I had about 30 seconds of panic wondering which version I should choose before I went with the obvious one: the pristine studio recording from American Beauty, right out of “Ripple” (another song she knows), sweet as can be. The next morning she reported she’d listened to both songs a few times and it had made her feel better. And that eased my worried soul a bit to hear that. How wonderful it is that we can take solace from songs; relieve some of the emotional burdens we all carry.
“Ripple” and “Brokedown Palace” have brought me through sad and confused times and also, as often, put an even bigger smile of my face when I was happy. There was always something that felt right about ending a great weekend of Dead shows with a beautiful “Brokedown,” as fans and band got to sing to each other: “Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell /Listen to the river sing sweet songs/ To rock my soul.” What a profoundly gentle and loving sentiment. I felt it strongly listening to Furthur end their recent Beacon Theatre run on that lovely grace note. And Crystal Hall from the Mickey Hart Band sings it as well as anyone these days; her version is in my head now, too.
Sometimes at a concert or listening to tape, I don’t know the song that’s going to affect me until I’m in the middle of it. A line will trigger some thought or memory and suddenly “The Wheel” is a revelation, or some line from “Stella Blue” or “Comes a Time” is the one that touches my heart in unforeseen ways. For me, “Attics of My Life” may be the single most affecting song in the entire Hunter-Garcia canon, at once mysterious (with its “cloudy dreams unreal” and “secret space of dreams”), frank about our frailties and so full of compassion and empathy. It always gets me. It is spiritual in the most uplifting and undogmatic way.
There are times I feel the quest in “Terrapin” is my own (down to being trapped in the lion’s den) and that’s the song that speaks to me, or I’m hurtling out of control and hanging on for dear life in “The Other One,” with Cowboy Neal at the wheel (at least someone else is driving!). I’ve been the Lost Sailor and had many a day Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad. A well-placed “Bertha’ might wash the blues away. Conversely, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” can be a cold slap of reality to remind us of life’s fragility. And a lot of the songs are marvelous escapes, where we briefly encounter the myriad characters that populate the Grateful Dead universe—from gentle Jack Jones to Delia DeLyon to Jack Straw from Wichita to Althea to Loose Lucy—and then move on, perhaps more observers than participants. I love a good yarn (although there are life lessons in them, too).
It’s an infinite, ever-changing tapestry that continues to yield new meanings and emotions, that changes as I change, and as the particulars of my world—and those I love—shift in both subtle and obvious ways. It seems as if there’s always a Dead song out there in the ether to shed light and move me brightly.
What are some of the Grateful Dead songs that have been important to you—in good times and bad?
Phil's recent renditions of "Unbroken Chain" are beautiful and consoling.
Good call - "Mission in the Rain". Works for me every time, too...
i don't usually comment here but "Mission in the Rain" is a song that really gets to me.
"I'm ready to give everything for anything i take"
"Ten years ago, i walked this street my dreams were riding tall
tonight i would be thankful lord, for any dreams at all
some folks would be happy just to have one dream come true
but every thing you gather is just more that you can lose"
gets me every time.
Healing thoughts to the kids involved, your daughter and all coming to grips with this far too common high school tragedy.
It is one my daughter experienced four years ago at the start of her senior year when her friend was lost in a crash and several others hurt.
Much in your blog deeply touched me because it is just as I've experienced the Dead's music. .Soundtrack of my life is a cliche, but it is always there for fun, support, grief and inspiration
American Beauty was my go-to lullabye for my daughter when she was a baby. I recall many nights and walks softly singing Box of Rain, Ripple, even FOTD. I affectionately refer to her as my Dead spawn. She's gonna graduate college in a few days and she, her mom and I are going to celebrate with a DSO concert.
The studio version of Ripple>Brokedown Palace was a good choice. It is a stunning bit of beauty. What other band has been able to pull off something like that? Spiritual ballads that don't feel fake in any way. They don't feel like product; more like perfect gentle poetry which the band is moved by as much as we all are. I wish they did th Ripple>Brokedown pairing more often in concert. The only version I know of offhand is 08-18-70 which unfortunatelly is a listenable, but rough audience recording. It is still great if you can deal with that. It is my favorite of the accoustic sets, due to both that and from having more of the gospel tunes than usual. That and the next night are two of the shows I most wish good version would emerge. Just the other day while going through the Europe 72 anniversaries I was struck by the Brokedown Palace from 04-11-72. Specifically, it was Keith's playing that got me. Subtle, but perfect.
Comes A Time is the song that gets me the most though. It helps that it usually followed such ferocious jamming. Couldn't be a better contrast. The 76-77 versions also featured some of Garcia's most lyrical soloing. Time stands still on the version from Dick's Pick's 29 (05-21-77). Oh to have been there.
First and foremost, my heart goes out to your daughter and her friends.
Regarding the musical aspect of your post, rather than picking this or that song, I just want to note how amazing it seems that Hunter was not even 30 when he wrote such profound lyrics as those on American Beauty, especially those mentioned by you. Makes me also think of how young Lennon/McCartney were when they wrote "In My Life." To me, these lyrics have always had the wisdom of the elders notwithstanding the youth of the writers.
So many Grateful Dead songs have the ability to touch my heart, but some seem to be able to do it every time I hear them. Wharf Rat is one. Box of Rain is another. To Lay Me Down is one more. Brokedown Palace? Yeah. I remember seeing Rat Dog in Austin, Texas in 2003 and they did Brokedown Palace as the encore -- acapella. Makes my eyes water just to think of that night. I think tears of joy and sorrow come from the same place-It's our heart reminding us of what it means to be human. Fragile, momentary, noble in purpose, not always noble in deed. But inspiration moves us brightly. And we know we are supposed to be together in this tribe. I feel so blessed to be able to pass these tunes along to our children, so that they can use this music to climb mountains and endure the deepest valleys. So kind thoughts and prayers to Blair's daughter's friends. Warm winds blowin'.
At my final GD show in Salt Lake City 1995, I became separated from my friends and found myself in somewhat strange environs far from home when suddenly, it seemed, bubbling up out of Space appeared Visions of Johanna. For no apparent reason I got all weepy, alone in the dark. Probably meaningless coincidence, but for me it turned out to be my final memory of Jerry.
In a more general way, I've always felt Uncle John's Band is a song like a glass of whiskey: Equally perfect for joyously celebrating and poignantly drowning your sorrows.
"Box of Rain" brought me to tears while driving to work one morning in 2004; I had to pull over. My mother,who was dying of cancer,passed almost exactly 24 hours later.
to ease my soul!
Previous mentions of Box of Rain, Ripple and Brokedown Palace have all been soothing during times of sadness and disappointment. Jerry's Brokedown Palace from Telluride in 1987 is a very special version.
A few posts back, Cosmicbadger referred to JGB doing Sugaree: I'm trying to download that Keystone show, but apparently the show isn't available to pull, as my download speed has been sitting on 0.0% for quite some time. Jeff Knudsen used Dick Latvala's audience recording to create the torrent file.
I'll check-in later to see if a seeder will oblige.
Back to the soccer match in Manchester!