Grateful Dead

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.

“Water Lily Pond and Weeping Willow”
by Claude Monet, 1919.

“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?


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Joined: Jun 4 2007
Great column.


Weird coincidence....just before I put my two year olds down for a nap earlier today just randomly played Ripple from AB on the iPad. I saw their enchanted faces and felt myself getting misty eyed.

To Lay Me Down definitely a song that move me. Puts me in a space like nothing else.

Comes A Time another.

Almost 20 years ago now when embroiled in personal problems I used to play I Will Take You Home right before collapsing at 4 am. It was comforting but also I think it was telling myself "you are going to get through this and one day it will be about you giving back to your kids...not living this selfish, empty existence." And fortunately, that came true.

Joined: Jun 4 2007
Great column.


Deadicated's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007
Wise choice ...

Mr. Jackson. You're a good Dad. American Beauty had to accompany my daughter when she went away to school. I hope she has leaned on it when times got tough.
The song Comes A Time has always been wonderful consolation and a refuge of sorts. In the late '70's I was introduced to it through Reflections and later was completely slayed by it when I heard the December '71 versions. And 17 years ago, when Hundred Year Hall came out, I was stoked with anticipation hoping it's version would surpass my faves. It didn't, but was still really good. I just finished listening to the 4/26/72 box version and have a new appreciation, not only for the unabridged show but for the song. Wow!!! It's easy to see why it's so highly regarded.

All the best,


marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
and also

What Eileen Law Said.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
following on Badger's post

I second Sugaree, although the one that hauled me out of the pit was the one Jer played at the Keystone Palo Alto in January '81, and I don't think I've ever heard a tape of it. On the face of it, it's such a dark song, but like Badger says, maybe it's something about the, not authority exactly, but high-level sureness, with which Jer's guitar navigates it.

fluffanutter's picture
Joined: Feb 25 2012
As I thought about your story & your daughter's grief

I recalled last night the two teenagers weaving through traffic in a very congested commercial strip at about twice the posted speed limit. All I could think was "Casey Jones you better watch your speed."

There is a very graphic video that has been out there for a couple of years now about teens driving and texting/talking. While I don't know the reason for that accident, I know it is a video I would have my teens watch before they started driving.

It is a combination of me getting older and the number of new gadgets on the dashboard to cause distracted driving that is causing me to feel more unsafe, even as I slow down and drive more defensively.

uponscrutiny's picture
Joined: Jan 18 2010
I find that

Learning to play these gems on my acoustic guitar is quite healing.

With the recent passing of Levon Helm I sat down and played

To Lay Me Down over and over.

Robert Hunter should get the Medal of Freedom.

Byerly's picture
Joined: Dec 12 2011
Grateful Therapy

In times of confusion..."Sure don't know what I'm going for, I'm going to go for it for sure"

I always go to Morning Dew when I see something tragic on the news like tornados that affect communities

Death don't have no mercy from "Live Dead" will bring me to the sudden death of my dad and it gets me at the most inopportune times. But a good cry is not always a bad thing

As I ordered tickets for Ga & NC summer tour my wife asked me what my motivation was to travel 4 hour from the Charlotte area to see a show, why not wait and just go to Cary. My answer was:

"It Keeps Me Sane"

cosmicbadger's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
words and music

My thoughts are with your daughter, her friends and their families. Such loss and trauma is way too much for young folks to endure.

There is no doubt about the healing powers of music and especially the Hunter Garcia canon. It is not just the words, it is the whole feeling created by the combination of words and music, a feeling of constancy, pushing on into the dark or the light, trying to take life's burdens seriously, but lightly too. They have helped me many times.

Reflections has already been mentioned, but not just for Come's a Time, also the wonderful Mission in the Rain and the (non Garcia Hunter) I'll take a Melody. That outro weaving 'Shine on, keep on shining' with the sweet guitar has healed many a dark moment. Row Jimmy also has that feeling of enduring constancy, I have no idea what it is about, but it has healing powers too.

In a particularly period of immense personal stress Sugaree from March 18 1977 (yes that show again) literally saved my sanity. I listened to it over and over. Again it wasn't really the words, it was the constancy of the rhythm and the meditations of Jerry's guitar, always wandering, but always with sure direction.

Joined: Sep 11 2007
come round again

I am so sorry to hear of this tragedy. Car accidents are a whole category of unspeakable violence, I hope you and Regan keep talking and healing. As a teen and 20-something Deadhead, and with all that exuberant tour-hounding implied, I tried really hard to keep a clear head about safe travel to and from the shows. It was not easy with the music and who knows what rattling in my head for hours (days?). Without a doubt, listening to Reflections for the first quiet hour in the car post-show was like a mantra, our getaway prayer. I agree, Comes A Time was the one that really sunk in, every time. And that whole record, and Jerry's first solo LP, are just amazing gifts in song to us, Hunter/Garcia documentary grace.


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