Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Hour no. 242

Grateful Dead Hour by David Gans

I think this is the only time I ever built a Grateful Dead Hour show around a single song, but hey - "Dark Star" is a huge part of what the Grateful Dead is all about.

The first thing you hear is a studio recording of "Dark Star" that was released as a single in April of 1968, with "Born Cross-Eyed" (according to the Grateful Dead Discography, a different mix of the Anthem of the Sun track) on the B side.

As the track fades at the end, you hear a bit of Jerry Garcia banjo, and lyricist Robert Hunter's voice reading these words:

Spinning a set of stars through which the tattered tails of axis rolls about the waxen wind of never set to motion in the unbecoming round about the season hardly matters nor the wise through which the stars were set in spin.

Hunter wrote those words out for me during an interview on December 12, 1977. "I moved out to New Mexico about the time the Grateful Dead really started working as an entity," he told me. "I wrote 'Alligator' and 'China Cat [Sunflower],' and... mailed them back, and they set them to music."

After returning to San Francisco, Hunter said, "I ran into Phil [Lesh], who said they were going to Rio Nido [on the Russian River, north of San Francisco] to play a gig. I went along, heard the music to 'Dark Star,' and wrote part of the words that day.

"Garcia asked me how I'd like to be 'lyricist in residence' for the Dead. I thought it was pretty far out, but I might like it fine. I thought of myself as a serious writer, and rock'n'roll wasn't exactly what I had planned for myself, but things were changing. It seemed like it might be a nice thing to do."

Hunter laughed and said again, "A nice thing...

"I had written lyrics off and on since I was seventeen," Hunter continued, "but I fancied myself a short-story writer and a novelist. I never thought I was writing rock'n'roll, and I didn't think of the Grateful Dead as a rock'n'roll band. I thought we were creating a new form; I still do, to some degree. There was a feeling of a pregnant somethingness happening."

My transcript ends there, but note I wrote on the same page as Hunter's "spinning a set of stars" text says that he finished the "Dark Star" lyric in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle, a few blocks from the Dead's home at 710 Ashbury Street.

Regarding the 2/2/70 "Dark Star," as I said in my narration: "I've always liked this particular version of this improvisation: very sweet and lyrical."

The December 1992 "Dark Star" is edited together from two performances: the band played the first half on December 12 and then "finished" it four nights later. I thought it would be fun to combine them for a radio broadcast, so I found appropriate musical moments later in the 12/12 performance and earlier in 12/16's, and merged them seamlessly. December 16, 1992 was later released as Dick's Picks Volume 27.

One more note about "Dark Star": In an interview on March 5, 1983, Bill Kreutzmann told me: "'Dark Star' was a free entity. It had a head, it had chords - but man, it could be played in a straight feeling, a shuffle feeling. It just changes. It was a total mood indicator: you can tell how everybody was feeling by the way that song was played."

Thanks for listening!
David Gans
gdhour [at]

Grateful Dead Hour no. 242
Week of May 10, 1993

Grateful Dead, What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

Grateful Dead 2/2/70 Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Grateful Dead 12/12/92 and 12/16/92

Time 52:28

Listen Now.


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Joined: Sep 4 2007
Dec 92

Its 10 months since this was pinned up on , but i just heard the wonderful program .

I used to live in Iowa , from 85 -99 . Now i live in my country of birth , Chile

But when in Iowa , i didnt have a radio station near my town that aired the DH . Now , thanks to the flabbergasting initiative of GDP , we / i / all of us can hear these superb programs . This one wasnt any exception . The D star from 1992 is just exactly perfect

wharf rat's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
The (Dark) Star of David

I've never heard this studio version until now. I'm glad they slowed down the tempo on later performances so we could savor every note. Nice work putting it all together for us Dave.

Joined: Aug 16 2007
GDH + 'Dark Star' = Ultimate Marriage

I taped this program when it first aired (geez, 14 years ago now). The tape got wore out and eventually lost. As I have a great fondness for both this radio program and the amazing improvisation for guitar, bass and drums known as 'Dark Star' ..... played by men who were put on this earth to play was beyond desription to see this show posted and to hear this performance again.
There have been by my count 63 Dark Stars aired on the GDH, not counting rebroadcasts, excerpts, performances by others than the Grateful Dead, the coupla times the 'Live Dead' version has aired, etc. These include a remarkable version from 12.26.69 in Texas which sounds understandably more like a 1970 version than a '69, three from 1970 proper (2.2.70 and 9.19.70 are both music-of-the-gods type stuff and superior to the much bally-hooed 2.13.70 IMO), eight from 1972 (!), and four each from '73 and '74. While the well has dried up some in recent years (most airings of Dark Star on the GDH these days consist of, again, rebroadcasts, late-era perfromances, versions featured from recent commercial releases aired as a way of promoting the release, etc.) this is probably most due to the ever-changing climate in (as David might say) 'DeadLand.' (And to be accurate, there have been a few notable exceptions to this, for example program # 920 featured the 4.17.72 perfromance, # 820, 3.1.69; # 712, 10.20.68; # 707, 7.25.74).
Point here is this new series featuring 'old,' archived GDH's being brought back is tremendously exciting for me and perhaps for many of us who, on any given night long ago didn't own a radio, weren't aware the program was actually airing in their town, couldn't get good reception on their radio because of inclement weather, weren't lucky enough to live in a locale where the program aired, FORGOT to tune in (DOHHHhhhhh), on and on and on.
I humbly and gently bow to David, the band, and the folks at for making this happen.

Son of August West

darkstar's picture
Joined: Jun 7 2007
Dark Star Connected

I taped this GDH when it first aired on the radio. GDH then was one of the best ways to get quality nuggets of the Dead's music without having to deal with those traders tripping on their egos who horded their quality stashes of tapes.

Anyway the 2/2/70 is a very fine Dark Star and is nice precursor to 2/13/70. According to Deadbase, it's the first Dark Star after TC left the band. When TC started playing organ he helped give Dark Star more fluidity than Pigpen's stiff organ riff did. When TC left the band, the void of any keyboards in the song again helped further increase the Dead's fluidity in Dark Star. The Dead's maximum fluid state in almost any of their songs happened with Mickey's void between 2/19/71 and 10/19/74. I think they really stiffened up and lost their sound with their complete hiatus from not only live performance, but from playing with each other in the studio from 9/28/75 through rehearsals for their first show back on 6/3/76.

Back to Dark Star. The Dead sometimes split up Dark Star and Playing In The Band within shows, runs and tours. I really like what David did here by merging Dark Star from 12/12/92 and 12/16/92. It really is one complete Dark Star with a lot of fun music in between.

Thanks David.

Joined: Jun 5 2007

thanks again for the GDH post!
dark star is when the music plays the band!

chopperbob's picture
Joined: Jun 16 2007
thanks that just what I

thanks that just what I needed tonight , now for a ride

SFink's picture
Joined: Jun 5 2007
thanks to all the workers

Between the dead hour and the tapers section you make my Mondays and Wednesdays the best days of the week.

Hal R's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
Thank you David

Dark Star is the highest peak in the Grateful Dead mountain range I wander in every day. I survey and contemplate the universe and self from its' heights.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman-Song of Myself

JDHOG's picture
Joined: Jun 15 2007
Thank ya, thank ya

Oh yes. Mine ears be happy!

johnnyg's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007
Nice work

Shall we go?

“The Omnipotent Grateful Dead!”


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